Please tell us about how it started for you. What or who made you fall in love with cinema? How did you learn the craft of filmmaking and how many projects did you work on before moving to Geneva Jacuzzi's Casket?
My father has always been a major movie buff. While I was growing up in Northern Virginia, in the 1980s, my brother and I would watch a movie almost every night with our dad. From ‘Blade Runner’ (1982), ‘Tron ‘(1982), ‘Red Dawn’ (1984), ‘Star Wars’ (1977-1983), all the James Bond films (1962-1989), to the Pink Panther movies (1963-1978), ‘Risky Business’ (1983), ‘Gotcha’ (1985), ‘Porky’s’ (1981-1985), and all the John Hughes films (1984-1989). My dad had an extensive collection of VHS tapes. My brother and I would sneak in midnight viewings of such movies as ‘Eraserhead’ (1977), ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971), ‘The Shining’ (1980), ‘Brazil’ (1985), ‘Dreamscape’ (1984), ‘Scanners’ (1981), and ‘Time Bandits’ (1981).
Later on, as a young teenager, after we had moved back to California (where my parents were originally from), I would hang out in small mom-and-pop video stores. I would obsessively rent all the films from their ‘cult film’ sections, where I discovered anime like ‘Akira’ (1988), ‘BubbleGum Crisis’ (1987), and ‘Galaxy Express 999’ (1981), and more independent films like ‘Delicatessen’ (1991), ‘Shallow Grave ‘(1994), ‘Repoman’ (1984), ‘Sid and Nancy’ (1986), ‘The Great Rock and Roll Swindle’ (1980), and my favorite, ‘Pink Floyd: The Wall' (1982).
It was ‘Pink Floyd: The Wall’ that I would end up watching nearly every day. I was 13 and would watch it on a small VHS/TV combo while obsessively sketching ideas and creatures in my large black sketchbooks. I loved the non-linear storytelling and minimal dialogue. The words of the songs would carry all of the abstract story. I was blown away by the psychedelic animation that would paint the inner workings of a disturbed mind. The protagonist, attempting to find meaning in the chaos of life, and amongst the oppressive authority of school and a society that demanded absolute conformity.
When I was 14, I started making cut-out, stop-motion projects inspired by Terry Gilliam's strange animations in the movies of Monty Python.
I graduated High School early in Orange County, California, to start attending Orange Coast College (OCC). It was a fantastic experience for a 16-year old, Chris Friend. I took every class I wanted, regardless of the requirements of the degree programs. I enrolled in improv-acting classes, film-making classes (editing both on VCR consoles and cutting 16mm by hand). I took life drawing classes, sculpture classes, photography classes (with enormous darkroom work areas), and even an archeology class.
After four years at OCC/ I transferred to a classical art school in Laguna Beach, Laguna School of Art and Design. I studied oil painting taught in the classical style, as well as studying animation under Chuck Jones’s specialized program.
After two years, I transferred to Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena, where I furthered my classical oil painting studies and life drawing. I also took fine-art sculpture classes, and an amazing advertising class taught by Roland Young, designer of the Beatle’s ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ album art.
I was hungry to make a type of art form that combined all these disciplines that I loved. I developed a mythos from a project I had been working on since being a teenager, a card game called $BURN$. I started to lay out the world-building and writing short, surrealist stories set in this universe. After ten years of working in the food industry to support my art studies, in Colorado and Northern California, I decided to move back to Los Angeles and start pursuing work in the film industry. I began with small gigs, editing independent film projects. I eventually received an unpaid internship, at a then small, start-up called Dirty Robber in Silverlake. I quickly learned a great deal about VFX support tasks. These tasks included articulated rotoscoping, tracking, and composting. I was the greatest help to the team with the tasks that used skills that overlapped my base skills in drawing and painting. I excelled quickly.
After I became an invaluable asset, I starting getting hired for many jobs, roughly equating to full-time work.
Martin Roe, the twice-Oscar nominated founder of Dirty Robber; seeing my self-motivated, multi-talented ability to carry off large tasks unsupervised, begin to give me small directing gigs.
One such gig started off as a low-budget lyric video for the Dropkick Murphys. I wrote a treatment outlining an abstract, black and white, POV of a working-class man’s day in a life, told in fragments. The band loved the treatment and soon I was off with a Canon 5D cinema camera. For three days, I was running around Los Angeles, shooting documentary-style photos and footage of working people in tattoo parlors, Irish pubs, graveyards, public buses, train tracks, and on the street.
The video became the official video for the song ‘Rose Tattoo’ (2012) and is now the Dropkick Murphys’ number one video at over 130 million views.
From there, I began to work with many different clients with my own independent outfit called VisionFriend. Mostly I have been a VFX supervisor and a primary VFX artist on music videos and commercial spots. Sometimes I would be pulled onto small teams to take on much larger projects, like doing all the visuals for Lady Gaga’s 2017 Joanne World Tour. That is the great thing about Hollywood and the film industry; you are often working on a different project, nearly every month, using very different skill sets.
Where did the idea for the film come from? How long did it take to get formed into what it is now?
The idea came from my personal mythos $BURN$. What started as a card game project in my teenhood, morphed into my prime mythos for storytelling in all forms. When I take on a personal project that I fund myself, I tell a story from my $BURN$ mythos.
$BURN$ is a way for me to address my concerns and interests about society and the future. I am very interested in the changes in culture throughout history and the emergence of the cybernetics field in post-WW II America and England.
The term Cybernetics has been greatly abused by pop sci-fi culture and recently has become simply to mean ‘bionics’. Bionics is the science of augmenting humans and animals with machine and computer components. Cybernetics, however, was coined in 1834 by French physicist and mathematician Adre-Marie Ampere to describe the science of civil government. Asre-Marie used the word “cybernetique” from the Greek “kybernētikḗ”, meaning governance. Norbert Wiener used the word as “Cybernetics” in his 1948 book of the same name. He defined it as ‘the study of control and communication in the animal and the machine.’
Cybernetics concerns itself with how information travels in human networks; how information is withheld, processed, received, and acted upon.
In my mythos, the world is run by a single religion\video game called $BURN$. Similar to the Olympics in Ancient Greece, a person’s standing in life and government is tied into their performance in a perpetual game. Also, like in Ancient Greece; all thoughts, dreams, and aspirations are channeled through various priests of innumerous religious cults.
The main character of “Geneva Jacuzzi’s Casket”, Kate Shaw, has a job in the world government, the World Wellness Watch (WWW), similar to these cult priests. The experiences she goes through are modeled from the mystery schools of Ancient Greece.
This project has taken me four years to complete. Because of the fact that it was self-funded, I had to free large chunks of time to do the extremely time-intensive visual effects and animations myself. So typically, I would work some very stressful, tight deadline, industry gigs to save enough money to buy myself time to complete the next chunk of work.
Your film is quite experimental and surrealistic. Tell us about what you were going for. What were the themes you wanted to reflect in the film?
When I first wrote up the treatment for this project, I knew exactly the type of workflow I wanted to experiment with. Upon moving back to Los Angeles in 2010 and starting to work in the film industry, I was extremely inspired by the live performances of Geneva Jacuzzi. My dream was to make a long-lasting, cult classic centered around her energy for people to enjoy for years to come.
When the opportunity arose for me to finally work with Geneva, I knew that I didn’t want to just make a ‘music video’ for her. I have been in the film industry for so long now, and worked on so many music video productions, that I have become disillusioned with the standards and low expectations when it comes to actual substance and meaning. It is often three setups of the artist performing, rapidly cut together under an intense timeline. ‘Music videos’ often made to be digested quickly and never to be seen again.
I wanted to make something more in line with ‘Pink Floyd: The Wall’ or ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’. Because I was funding it myself, I knew that resources would be extremely thin. If I wanted to do something dense and complicated, I would have to pay for it personally in time and dedication.
I knew I wanted to create a film that was short but would hold up to, and actually, demand, repeat viewings. I dreamed to make something that would actually become better in time.
The plot of ‘Geneva Jacuzzi’s Casket’ is fragmented and like a mystery, is meant to require work to uncover. I made the clues clear and in the proper places, so that deeper meaning could be found.
The short film is actually a memory. A memory in the mind of XYXZ-03, the final incarnation of XYXZ. She is forced to revisit the memory over and over again for all eternity, like the Harold Ramis film, ’Groundhogs Day’ (1994). The film is the mental prison that XYXZ-03 is kept in. However, she can communicate with and inform her previous self, XYXZ-02 and thus have some control over the branching outcomes.
XYXZ-03 is in love with Kate and the Earth, even though XYXZ-03 destroyed the Earth and crucified Kate long ago. Kate Shaw becomes the psychic template for the future of humanity.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of independent filmmaking and working with small budgets? Does it liberate the filmmaker or limit his or her freedom? How do you think filmmakers can overcome the problems that arise when making independent films?
Yes, I think there are a lot of advantages to working with a limited budget.
I believe that my first Dropkick Murphys video got 130 million views because I was free to do whatever I wanted with it. I, a solo-film maker, was given free rein due to the low exceptions given to the final product. As soon as the budget increases, everybody wants to get involved and the stress to make the project succeed is often the very thing that makes it boring and dull.
As soon as an artist starts accepting outside money, that is when they start letting go of their control over the final product.
I prefer to keep money and art separate. I have the jobs I do for money, and I have my personal art. When working a job, I completely support the client’s vision with no expectations for myself, except to make it the highest quality product possible. For my own personal art, I like to make something that is absolutely, 100 percent, what I want to see brought into this world.
What were the challenges that you faced when making this film? Tell us about the production and your experiences of making the film.
The main challenge was the time. I had storyboarded all of the shots out in complete detail at the very beginning. I had a detailed animatic before we even started production. However, everything we shot turned out so good. Beyond my expectations really. I knew that my visual effects/animation sections had to live up to the quality of Geneva’s performances, Ajax’s costumes, Cody William Smith’s excellent Director of Photography work with the incredible Arris Alexa camera, and Hunter Peterson’s ability to bring my set designs into the physical world.
I did about six months of non-stop VFX work on ‘Geneva Jacuzzi’s Casket’ before my money ran out and I had to start hustling for work again. After 6 weeks of 14 hour days, I would be absolutely exhausted and would still have to dive back into my very complicated personal project. After the first two years of doing that pattern full-time without being able to go out and socialize, or relax, I began to get pretty depressed and frustrated.
I took a sort of break to get back to drawing. I drew a 78-unique card, $BURN$ tarot deck. It is to be released when the short film finally wraps up on the festival circuit. After being creatively refreshed, I was able to dive back into the project and address the remaining work
Tell us about your festival run. Have film festivals provided you with the experience and exposure you needed? On a similar note, what is your opinion on the fact that most film festivals have become online?
The festivals have been fantastic. I can’t express the feeling of working for so long, solo on a project, not being able to show other people, and then finally getting feedback and praise from around the world.
We have applied to over 300 festivals spanning throughout the length of the year 2021. Just two months into that, we already have over 15 ‘First Place’ wins in categories such as: ‘Best Experimental Film’, ‘Best Music Video’, ‘Best VFX’, and even ‘Best of the Month’. We have received over 15 nominations in the ‘Finalist’ categories, and various ‘Outstanding Achievement’ awards in an array of categories; from ‘Best Costume Design’ to ‘Best Hair and Makeup’ for Geneva herself. She is a trained and highly talented beautician, in addition to being a world-renowned musician and performance artist who has been showcased at some of the most prestigious art museums in the world. Geneva Jacuzzi is also a film director, and even works as an editor on other artist projects when she wishes.
What was the reaction of those who watched your film? Was the feedback what you hoped for?
Before submitting to festivals, I asked for opinions and notes from many friends, coworkers, and clients. 2021 Oscar-winner, and my former boss, Martin Roe, gave me a phenomenal response. He was extremely excited for me and completely understood everything I was going for. Other respected friends wrote back similarly glowing responses. At that point, I knew that ‘Geneva Jacuzzi’s Casket’ was ready to go out to the world’s many wonderful film festivals. A great number of those festivals have truly loved us so far. When we first started submitting, I was completely blown away at our 83% acceptance rate. Then all of our ‘First Place’ awards began to pour in. I was stunned and elated.
Are you planning to make more short films or will you move to feature films soon?
I’m definitely ready to move on to features for the next project. I actually have my next film fully in development. It is going to be a feature-length musical called ‘The Purgatory Cycle’. It is a continuation of my $BURN$ mythos, and actually a direct sequel to my previous $BURN$ short film, ‘Strike Three’. The main character of ‘Strike Three’; played by an acclaimed British Actress, and my friend, Charlie Robinson, is a pizza-delivery driver from Los Angeles 2033 named ‘Cross’. She has been beamed aboard a flying saucer from Venus operated by highly intelligent, sentient ferns. Cross goes on a spiritual journey while in a sensory deprivation room aboard the flying saucer.
‘The Purgatory Cycle’ is based on the medieval morality play “Everyman” and Cross speaks to Death along the way of her journey to have a conversation with God.
The feature-length musical is inspired by the darkly comedic rock operas which I have loved for many years, such as ‘Shock Treatment’, ‘Phantom of the Paradise’, and ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’. The first step I will be taking is performing and recording a 90-minute concept album, that will serve as the backbone to the project. After that, I will be making a 300-page graphic novel, that will function as the highly detailed storyboards, concept designs, and initial costume inspirations.
When all of this is done, I will be seeking to crowd-fund the film. At that point, I will be able to clearly articulate the whole project for investors and collaborators.
I will be bringing on mimes, musicians, dancers, and theatrical actors to do rehearsals in order to bring fresh energy to the project’s skeleton outline. I’m going to aim for minimal visual effects this time. Instead, I will be focusing on the ensemble energy of the performers.
Please tell us about your future project(s). What are you working on?
When ‘Geneva Jacuzzi’s Casket’ goes public, I have a 78-unique card, hand-drawn, tarot deck that will be released alongside it. I have completed artwork on all the cards and am on the final edit for the 100-page, lore booklet that will accompany the deck.
$BURN$ started as a card game when I was a teenager, and this is the first step to finally making that a reality. My teenage self will be very happy with me.
I will be coming out with a modifier booklet and cards later. This will transform the divination deck into a tactical strategy game. The cards and booklet are designed to flesh out the world behind ‘Geneva Jacuzzi’s Casket’ and $BURN$ itself. I plan to give the audience plenty of material to dive into and discuss among themselves.
For me personally, after having spent so much time and energy on ‘Geneva Jacuzzi’s Casket’, my next immediate order of business is to start focusing on making money again, and finding new potential team members. That means that I will be looking to move up in my career, finding larger scale projects where I can help others realize THEIR visions.
I would love to work on one of the many Star Wars projects happening in the near future. I look forward to being able to passionately lead a team as I rebuild my resources for my next personal project. I was extremely inspired by the first two seasons of ‘The Mandalorian’ TV show. Watching the behind-the-scenes footage and seeing the team using large LED screens in conjunction with augmented reality technology, like advanced camera tracking and real-time rendering, was a revelation. Virtual Sets are the future of filmmaking.
Dave Filoni, being George Lucas’s true, real-life apprentice, has been a hero to me ever since he started as the brains behind ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ animated series. Wherever I go next, I expect to meet many talented collaborators and help lead other visionaries’ projects to glorious success.