Two diverse forms of expression are unified in the narrative short Athen Zapball. The first inspiration, Tarkovsky’s Stalker. What a horrible name. It should be called in English “Coyote” (spanish) or “Border Crosser”. What captivated me about this movie is… so entertainingly expressed in Geoff Dyer’s book Zona… Forced to use “real” locations with a non-Hollywood budget the movie uses our own “dirty present” to represent the near future. It looks so normal it could be now. The places Tarkovsky found were so strange they must be the future… It’s not bright. Tarkovsky’s wide shot towards the end of the movie of Chernobyl becomes (was/is?) prophetic. The second inspiration is William Blake’s book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Much of the “surveillance data” gathered by the omnipresent cameras generates quotes from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Examples, “One Law for the Lion and Ox is Oppression” and “Science is the Tree of Death.” For those driven mad by not being able to read the quick tickers (and no I never expected someone to be able to…) they’re here.
My favorite production moment made me feel I was Brecht discussing with Helen Weigel and Peter Lorre backstage just what was important about art. Les, Phil and I. We were tired. It was late. I asked Phil why he was doing what he was doing for the close up on the balcony. We had a great conversation. Les got involved. We talked about theme, character, purpose… and the reasons behind the piece.
Later in the editing process Les suggested adding shots and suggested that I tamper with the story, specifically with character development. This was sparked by watching the footage of Phil’s fantastic acting… Character development is stuff that I really don’t… care for… psychology… is interesting… theories… but in my mind I was making a visual of Heidegger’s essay “a Question Concerning Technology…” I’d already made a film and called it that… NonetheLes, Les’ idea stuck with me… he wanted a lasting and profound end shot that told us a story about Phil’s character Athen. I wanted to be finished. I finally figured out how to do the FX I wanted and I was done. I was not finished. Ok, a last shot. So it DOESn’T just end in his room, zap, he’s gone. What happens to Athen? Where do we go? Les originally had ideas about a woman.. a wife… a lost love… But for me the “essay” wasn’t about love.
I’m rambling. But it took a year of my life.
A month or so later… I was sitting with Les on his back porch watching feral kittens on a feral winter night… I’d just seen 2001 with my high school students and tried to explain to them the end… and I felt like I was partly examining my own film. Transpose the idea – metaphorical end shot – and – voila. (Am I sharing too much of the creative process?)
Without an ounce of dialogue this movie remains inspired and informed by words…
Did I mention the special effects disaster I got myself into by doing this? First trying to learn After Effects… I shot the “silent comedy” segments during the school year with only a desire in my mind to add background to the green screen…. and somewhere a Zapball… Never try to learn MoCHaTracking on a handheld shot with an actor wiping the frame on a giant green screen BEHIND three other actors. Finally begging was it begging can you beg over email it felt like beggingBegging Jasun, a guy who directs the rigging of NFL trucks during the season to take the time and help in his spare two days back home in Denver – to help a wayward artist he met once on a 24 hourFilmRace. I offered beer. He was so kind. He hasn’t returned calls or emails since. Reminds me of my tax guy who made me promise never to introduce any of my friends to him. Ever.