California on Fire utilizes time, sound, and the catastrophic effects of climate change as a backdrop to examine loss.
Hi Jeff thank you for talking to TNC, how are you handling the lockdown?
This situation is terrible but it favors introverts. This is a stunning reversal in a world made for extroverts. I say this with love, affection, and a bit of amusement: I am enjoying watching my extrovert friends flailing for attention on social media. It’s adorable.
As a filmmaker is this experience providing you with some creative inspiration?
Oh yes, but not at first. At first, I was experiencing a serious creative block. About 10 days into lockdown I got so bored that I finally deep cleaned my room and art studio. Then I started doing experiments that had been banging around in the back of my head for a long time. Now I’ve got a whole bunch of projects I’m working on.
Your film California on Fire has been selected for the 2020 ÉCU Film Festival in Paris, what has it meant to you to be part of this unique film festival for independent filmmakers?
It’s an honor! But I’m an artist so I don’t really know the film world. I consider California on Fire to be video art. After much pestering from my filmmaker friends, I entered CAOF into a number of film festivals and I feel like I’m getting lucky whenever it gets accepted into one.
What made you want to create a film that would focus on climate change?
A need to amplify the urgency of the situation.
COVID19 was not caused by climate change. However, as the ice melts ancient pathogens will be continually released. This has already happened. It’s already killed people in Russia. We could be facing many pandemics moving into the future in addition to hurricanes, flooding, and wildfires. Climate change is a disaster amplifier. The further we go down this path of wild irresponsibility to the Earth the louder it’s going to get.
What was the most challenging part of making California on Fire?
Not dying. Then funding.
Early on, as I posted time-lapse footage of the fires on social media, every news agency on the planet (seemingly) began asking for my work in exchange for exposure. Although this was flattering, it also made me angry. In post after post, massive media conglomerates showed up in the comments asking for handouts. Eventually, I realized I could be more creative about the situation. I told the news agencies they could license the footage for a fee. If they wanted it for free they could talk about my project on air. This is how I wound up with a TIME Magazine feature (among others). I used the little bits of money I got to keep myself on the road.
Looking back do you think there is anything you would have done differently?
That is a very difficult question. No, I don’t think so. Perhaps I could have started meditating earlier in the process. It took five years to make this film. I learned transcendental meditation in the second year of the process in order to deal with all the destruction I was seeing.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
I had an aversion to filmmaking! In art school, I majored in photography and avoided making films at first because it seemed overwhelming. I didn’t want to deal with it. Eventually, my muse led me there anyway. What can you do?
How important a role does time and sound play in your work?
Time and sound are my two primary mediums. They make up the entire film 50/50. Without time and sound, there is no California on Fire.
Has your approach to your projects changed much since you started out?
It constantly changes. If it’s not changing enough I get really restless. It’s not that interesting to simply do something well. It’s interesting to experiment.
"What I hope is that people will spend time with my work, and watch my films more than once."
What has been the best piece of advice you have been given?
I have no idea. I probably don’t remember it.
Do you have any tips or advice to offer fellow filmmakers?
Start now. Keep going. Never let perfection be the enemy of creativity.
What are you currently working on?
A number of different optical illusion paintings that will also be scenes in films (if I like them).
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from California on Fire?
I don’t spend time hoping about things people will take away from my art. The ambiguous and layered nature of it is quite intentional. What I hope is that people will spend time with my work, and watch my films more than once. I hope that those people then tell me their interpretations because they’re often just as good as my own.