A stimulating chat with director Andrew De Zen

To tickle your creative fancy, we're launching a series of Q&As with the imaginative minds behind inspiring finds.

Stimulant wants to stimulate your mind a little more.

We show you all the work that comes out of creative agencies and artists’ workshops in Canada (sometimes outside our borders, too). You can form an opinion about a polished piece of film featured on Stimulant and other blogs around the web, but is that really enough to inspire? Perhaps. But we plan to go deeper with a new series that talks to the creatives, artists, filmmakers, musicians, designers etc. about their latest projects or commercial campaigns.

First up is Frankie director Andrew De Zen and his film We Aren’t Strangers.

The piece is being released as the first in a series of short films called Of Walls & Mountains. Watch the film and read what De Zen has to say about it (in our email interview) below.

Do you have a project or campaign with an interesting backstory? We’re looking for more work to feature from creative folks like you. So don’t be shy (nor modest) and send Jen Horn a note telling us more at jhorn@brunico.com.

We know what the film isn’t about (strangers). So what is it about?

De Zen: The film is a visual and abstract exploration of insecurity, loneliness, and the anxieties that come with technology in today’s era. How it can affect ourselves, our connection with each other, and our connection with the natural world.

The concept of the film came out of the initial idea of wanting to create narrative pieces that are more focused on artistic self-expression than a traditional narrative plot.

Tell us about how you developed the concept.

De Zen: I didn’t write a script for We Aren’t Strangers.

Instead I created a beat sheet and started writing down poem verses that were emotionally touching on the certain themes I wanted to explore: technology, relationships and anxiety.

It’s closer to a visual poem than anything and I didn’t want an audience to finish the film and come out of it with an “Oh, okay, I get it now” mentality. Instead I wanted to capture the frustrated, emotional anxiety I was going through at the moment that seems to just build up in each of us at key points of our lives. That chaos and turmoil we have within ourselves. So that’s where the dancer came out of.

All the little character vignettes that pepper the story symbolize the different things I wanted to touch on. And I wanted viewers to get a basic, vague notion of what it’s exploring, but more importantly I wanted them to be emotionally moved in some sort of way.

What went into production?

De Zen: Production and shooting consisted of multiple locations in Toronto, Canada and in areas outside of the city like Niagara.

We had an amazing skeleton crew that consisted of some of my closest collaborators. My DP, Kris Bonnell, is the person who has pretty much shot all of my work and we have a pretty interesting collaborative process.

We shot for about five days and did a lot of driving. The cast was really great about all of this. Driving to one location for five hours in Niagara, just to shoot for 20 minutes because of the desired natural light we needed. Most of production went about in that sort of way.

We shot our first three days at the end of May, then we had to wait about two/three months so we could shoot some of our exterior locations like the vineyard. At the time we started production, all the vegetation was still dead. So this project has really been kicking around for some time this year. We shot on the Red Epic Dragon and used Kowa anamorphic lenses.

So this is part one of a series of three films. Can you give us a teaser of what’s next?

De Zen: All these films deal with the internal anxieties I’ve been going through at the time of development.

We Aren’t Strangers is about the anxieties of youth in today’s day: social media, technology, loneliness and how that’s all connected emotionally.

The Wall is part two and we’re just about done post-production on the film. That will be releasing at the end of the month or in December and we’re all very excited about it. The film is another visually abstract short film, but focuses on exploring perseverance and will power through sports and athletes. The many walls we all face in our lives and how we choose to face them. We shot on 35mm film and that was the first time I worked with the format of film and that was very exciting.

The final film in the series is called Stories We Tell Ourselves and deals with heartbreak and the strangeness of memories and time. It is currently in pre-production and we’re in the middle of casting. We’re going for government funding and pushing for a pretty decent budget that would be great to have on the film. “Stories” will be the most narrative of the three.