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SUNDANCE Film Festival | 2019 

David Nessl 



Short Film Grand Jury Prize Nominee

Midnight Shorts Program 

25th January 2019, 23:30 - Prospector Square Theatre Park City

My dog had a dream and he told me about it. I made a movie about that dream. This is that movie.

Hi David for talking to TNC, you all set for the festival?

Yes, I'm all set for the festival. I've told CHICHI about it and he has been having more dreams recently as a result which are becoming more and more obscure and full on strange languages. I've made sure to pack all of my jars full of magic beetles so that I can perform my rituals at night while the falls. Also I've made sure to organize the schedule that's set for me by the extraterrestrials who take me so that we all understand that I'll be gone for a few weeks; even better it's more secluded in Park City for easy abductions, so as they say, "Get two birds stoned at once."

What does it mean to you to be at Sundance with CHICHI?

It's a huge accomplishment to be at Sundance because it's something that I've always dreamed of as an indie filmmaker. Having CHICHI play there is a defining moment in my career as a director and it's also good ammunition for those family holidays where I have to justify creating animations involving eggs going into dogs a$@holes and weird semi-sexual alien encounters. Also CHICHI is very self-conscious as a dog and this will give his ego a big boost, which may be good or bad.

As this is your U.S Premiere do you have any nerves ahead of a festival?

Yes, I also work in previs here in LA and have noticed that this week I've been kind of absent-minded and nervous. People keep asking me about the film and my boss even wants to screen it for everyone at work which gets me worried that people will think I'm a weirdo after watching CHICHI. Though, over the past five years, I've kind of grown to love the awkward reactions people give me after watching my films. It's a kind of personal performance art that I keep having to master and change, but which provides me with a lot of amusement. 

CHICHI is nominated for the Short Film Grand Jury Prize, does this add any extra pressure on you?

It makes it more exciting and also gives CHICHI a nice polish. I'm not sure if I feel more pressure for that as opposed to making sure everything runs smoothly for my team and family when we're at the event. I would be honoured to receive an award for CHICHI, especially a Short Film Grand Jury Prize.

Tell me a little bit about CHICHI, how did the film come about? 

CHICHI is the name of my dog. I had come up with the idea before applying to graduate school and decided that going through an MFA program would give me the opportunity to make the idea a reality. I was fortunate enough to get into USC's Division of Animation and Digital Arts and I received a lot of support to follow my original vision from the extremely talented faculty there. 


The idea of CHICHI came about back in 2014. I was tired of animal movies and TV shows perfectly suited for American audiences and I've always had a need to just blatantly create nonsensical stories that both excite and confuse people through laughter. During the pre-production stages of CHICHI, even comedies or comics that you expect truth from were becoming more and more censored and pc, so I was determined to be totally opposite in whatever I chose to create next. Originally CHICHI was meant to be much darker and full of dry cringe humour, but I noticed that my biggest fans were my young nieces so I wanted to make something that they might be able to watch as well. Also, the old man in the story is my Grandfather who passed away during pre-production, and I didn't want to have my strange animated film cause some kind of family controversy. CHICHI ended up being the best version of funny ideas inspired by my friends and family and their pets.

" passionate about your work and let others see that passion."

What was the biggest challenge you faced bringing CHICHI to life?

My biggest challenge when bringing CHICHI to life was trying to make a film with no dialogue funny, or at least funny to me. I researched a lot of odd animal sounds with my voice actors and also spent a lot of time re-recording vocal efforts that would fit each scenario. A lot of the animation was inspired by the best sounds that we recorded from foley or ADR sessions done during the final stages of production and it was fun but also taxing to make changes to animation after the fact, but well worth it. There were also entire sequences of complex animation that were cut because they just weren't necessary for the story.


Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?

Yes, I've always had a passion for filmmaking. I was inspired by my two brother's and their friend's films when I was eight or nine years old. They were funny guys and me to start borrowing their camera for my own films. Recently I've looked back on my first home movies and realized that I've always created surreal and farcical films. It's probably the most fun thing in the world creating movies with your family and friends by letting the ideas come collaboratively and having the process evolve off of other artistic perspectives. I've never laughed as hard as I did direct my friends in my first indie feature KIBBUTZ. We would record footage during the day and party hard at night...those times have always been good passion fuel. And hearing the audience laugh at your work is definitely exquisite.  

As a filmmaker how important is the collaborative process for you? 

It's easy to get stuck in your own head, and although I feel like having a singular vision is very important to any film, some of the best movies ever made were a result of collaboration. I greatly value the opinions of my cast and crew and see their input and interpretations of a character or script as pieces of the puzzle. When all those pieces fit together perfectly you bring ideas to life in the best light for the people and time you live in.

How much has your approach to your work changed since your debut film?

I feel like my work has become more refined over the years and for the better because I've experienced and understood more about the world we live in. I've definitely had some stupid ideas and many failures, but I believe that it's all about the climb like that song by Miley Cyrus when she was Hannah Montana. It's tough to try and create comedy that isn't naive or unintelligent so I think I've changed in the ways that I try to understand my subjects before diving in and showing my work to the world.


Do you have any advice or tips for a fellow filmmaker?

Some of the best advice I ever received was from a filmmaker named Brian Vincent Rhodes. Brian was the former occupant of my graduate school cubicle and he left me a note saying, "Work hard, adapt and trust yourself." That has always stuck with me in any situation I've found myself in working in entertainment because everyone has a unique voice and unique stories that only they can tell so it's important to trust your instincts to maintain your original vision. Also be passionate about your work and let others see that passion. Most people invest in a person and not a film.

What are you currently working on?

Currently, I'm developing an idea for a live-action miniseries comedy that utilizes some state of the art motion capture technology. That's really all I can tell you about it, but the person I'm hoping to cast for the lead role is going to make it amazing. 

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?

I hope people retain memories of CHICHI when they are buying hot dogs at the store, or watching infomercials on TV. It would also be wonderful if a child saw the film and then asked their parents a question about it that had to be explained in magical avoidance language that deters the child from grasping some of the concepts in the film.

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