A filmmaker who slayed us with his emotive portrayals of the Latinx experience in motion poem Mariposa and music video Pa’lante, Kristian Mercado Figueroa marks his third DN appearance with a much wilder beast of a project in A Snippet Into Billie’s Mind. Created as part of YouTube and The Fader’s ongoing Artist Spotlight Stories series and featuring an exhilarating mix of styles and animation techniques, we sat down with Figueroa to discover how he melded an organic approach with a push it till it breaks mentality to dig deep into the creative process of a generation-defining artist.
Given that this film is part of the ongoing Artist Spotlight Stories series how prescriptive was the brief and the avenues you were able to pursue with Billie Eilish during the interview?
It was super open actually, YouTube and Fader were so open about the process and exploring Billie’s process in a genuine way. We talked a lot about meta-narrative structures and ways to break the mini-doc. The interview flowed well since Billie kind of just opened up. Her desire to express why the music and visual language surrounding her creative process were important to her was really clear.
I think the doc format is constantly being challenged. I always go back to Alma Har’el Love True, which challenged a lot of conventions of the doc format. I think when capturing the thought process of this generation, it was really important that the gesture was genuine and true to their expression. That meant following Billie’s own process and words and digesting it in a way that felt like it could creatively go anywhere. Mixed media style.
As an artist concerned with all the associated elements of her work how hands on was she with this project?
She def would look over everything and spent the whole day with us in the interview. So much so that she bumped another crew off to the next day just to work more with us. I totally appreciated that (I’m sure the other crew less so). So she was def very open, and shared a lot of inspiration with us in terms of the stuff she liked, and what films she loved, and even about editorial styles. I got to know her taste well. Her dad is a big Kubrick fan, we dorked out about that.
Were there any particular references outside of Billie’s work which provided inspiration for the profile?
I think social media and how we all digest culture and media today was a big reference point. When tasked with making something super current, that tries to capture something honest about our cultural moment, I really love making a work of film almost feels like a sick Instagram feed. It’s like the contemporary version of channel surfing. Kind of a cultural blender. If you were an alien from outer space, you could watch something like this and download a lot of cultural touchstones in one fell swoop.
I love working in a wild style where I don’t have to color inside the lines.
With that in mind, I think the world is even more fluid. Digital culture defies labels and genre which works for me because I love working in a wild style where I don’t have to color inside the lines as it were. Making a piece inspired by the synesthesia of such a great musician was kind of a dream come true and I’m really excited to do more collaborations like this.
How bedded into your initial treatment was the gloriously dizzying confluence of styles and techniques vs developed as the film came together? Did you have to pull back or tone it down at any point for fear of it being ‘too much’?
A bit of both. As I said, I’m a wild style dude when it comes to mixed media. My approach is def “nothing is sacred.” I think a lot of traditional directing philosophies cater to the notion that every shot matters and is precious, but I like to let go of myself and the value of any one shot. It’s about letting the piece take on a life of its own. Even if there’s a shot I loved in my head or in the storyboard, if it doesn’t work, I’ll move on and find something new to explore. The initial treatment was more like a mission statement, discussing and exploring concepts of media today and meta-narratives.
I think our power and style really emerges out of how we’ve all been pushed out of the traditional systems, and we’re making our own.
In development, the piece was a constantly shifting, organic thing that grew on its own, and I’m more like a gardener letting it grow, sometimes cutting a few leaves or watering it. We def sometimes even went too far, which was exciting, but that’s how you arrive at boundary pushing work, you kinda have to not give a fuck about rules. We would push it to the limit, until it broke, then peeled it back just enough to land in a place that felt right. It was like punk rock film making so it was exciting every step of the way. Props to Billie, Fader, and YouTube for letting us be wild AF.
Animation is a major element which permeates the doc, could you tell us more about how you gathered and then collaborated with your international animation team to create those segments?
Hahaha, it’s crazy but I have a bit of history as a designer and animation director. I’m a bit less bound by medium, I think directing can be done any way it needs to be done and animation is just a tool to tell a story. So I def did a super reach out of friends and fam that I fuck with. Anyone who has worked with me kind of knows my wild style “find it as we go” process and generally is excited by the freedom of that journey.
I def hit up the Emmy Winning Mexican American homie Isam Prado to lead one team. He kind of helped collect and organize the cel and experimental shit together. Then my Philly Filipino bro Raymo Ventura did all the crazy graphics animation and wild analog passes. Trung Bao is just my beatboxing champion do some crazy shit on the lo-fi C4D world guy, and I fuck with him so heavy, he’s like my warrior, always down for cool shit. My crew is super diverse, and we def live on the fringes of the mainstream, but we kind of like it that way.
From an animation standpoint, I got sick of how all the white boys do it and I just do it my own way, no joke. I think our power and style really emerges out of how we’ve all been pushed out of the traditional systems, and we’re making our own. I kind of treat animation and live action the same in some ways, I just go with the flow and the project thesis guides us. So I treated a lot of the animation as just shots, and Reuter, my editor, finds it narratively as we go. Sometimes we remix, sometimes we break, sometimes we re-animate as we edit, all the processes are happening at the same time.