Erik Stinson is a Person That Does Interesting Things: An Interview

Erik Stinson is a writer and filmmaker living in New York City, recently relocated from Oakland. He attends Miami Ad School and interns for DIS Magazine. He maintains an interesting Tumblr and a blog.

Last year, Erik co-directed with Eliseo Cabrera a film called Sorry I Like To Party, which the majority of this interview concerns. They’ve re-released SILTP today on Vimeo, and to mark the occasion we’ve interviewed Erik and embedded the film at the bottom of this post.

SILTP is shot entirely by VHS camera. Remember VHS? Those tape things that are ‘retro’ now? To date, the majority of Erik Stinson’s film work seems to have been taken with VHS, either because he never had enough money to get a real camera or… something else. Here:

TC: Why did you use a camera that records on VHS tapes for filming SILTP?

ES: We wanted the image to have a certain novel quality and it was too expensive to produce this novel quality using digital cameras, which we did not yet own. VHS grain also has many fetishistic features that appeal to people who grew up watching VHS tapes of Disney films: the little white tracking dots, the occasional bands of distortion, and the slightly wobbly sound track. The consumer VHS format is really just intended for family home movies (professional broadcast video cameras that use tape have always had a cleaner image). The kind of weird nostalgic stuff that nobody ever really watches a second time was exactly what we where looking for in our medium. These things together make the experience of watching very pleasurable, for some.

There was some dispute about making our next film, Martin Luther Kind Junior Way, on VHS and ultimately we decided that VHS resolution was too low to be ever shown in a theater, meaning it would bar us from any significant distribution. Higher resolution is not really desirable – it makes the video world seem too real, too vivid, but it is a necessary evil when you are making a festival-ready film (of any length or quality) with budget of less than 5,000 dollars.

Set among the houses, sidewalks, blocks, streets, bridges, and parties of Oakland, SILTP follows two brothers navigate their scene, their friendship, and their mutual interest in the same friend. There’s a fixie riding scene, an oversized t-shirt bearing a portrait of Elvis, a conversation at a party about the best way to eat pizza, a cross-dressing scene.

TC: Can you describe a moment during filming SILTP that you think is interesting?

ES: When we shot the scene where the three main characters are sitting on a bed together, both directors left the room for long periods of time and just let the camera continue filming. At one point, Eliseo got tired of waiting for something to happen between them and just left. I stayed for a while longer, occasionally taking one actor out of the room and giving them direction. I waited to start drinking until the scene was over. When we finished I went down stairs and immediately shot the preview (now banned by Beggar’s Group for copyright infringement) with Snake Cop (Kyle May of Vitamin Piss and Dead Man).

Everyone in SILTP is chill. The brothers are chill. The girl they both want is chill. The music is chill. Oakland is chill. SILTP is chill. The main characters, brothers off set as well as on, generally banter about nothing, only hitting points by implication, the points themselves ironic, dismissive, and implications of other points. I’d characterize it as ‘Mumblecore,’ which a lot of people seem to detest and dismiss as ‘bullshit,’ or something.

TC: I think that SILTP ‘naturally lends itself’ to comparison with ‘Mumblecore.’ If someone asked me what SILTP was like, I think I’d say “Yeah, it’s like a ‘Mumblecore’ film, basically.” What do you think about that?

ES: First, I would try to ask them what Mumblecore is. Because, to me it seems like most popular films that are called Mumblecore just refer to those people (I don’t remember their names) from Brooklyn (or briefly living there, like me currently) who made indie films from like ~2000-2008. Those films take place in various regions and have various plots but they are all kind of emotionally flaccid and involve subtly and contain a lot of over-educated white people.

Based on that criteria, I would not be able to call Sorry I Like To Party Mumblecore. It’s not subtle. It’s a love triangle between two Mexican brothers shot in downtown Oakland. Our movie, at the very least, contains the tragic human drama of pervasive alcoholism. The people operating the cameras were drunk on almost every shoot. The actors were drunk during every shoot. There was very little control of the mise en scene (setting of the scene in terms of props, lights, decor). The best comparison to Mumblecore is the fact that we didn’t use boom microphones, meaning dialogue is sometimes hard to hear, which is definitely the case in many early Mumblecore films.

Dialogue in SILTP is unscripted. The editing presents itself as sporadic and possibly random—scenes in SILTP don’t seem to have a semblance of beginning, middle, or end. The directors lend as much weight to the story as the setting, burying the plot beneath the graininess of VHS, fashion, hair, facial expressions, brands of beer, colloquialisms, and abrupt cutting, leaving the viewer with a vague impression of the plot and a deep, emotional understanding of the world the movie depicts.

TC: Will you explain the basis by which you edit (cutting scenes, deciding when to include a certain line, etc.)? Are there characteristics of scenes that cause you to decide to keep them/cut them? If so, what are they? What do you consider a good scene?

ES: Cutting was done (and will be done for the next film) by Eliseo. He generally chooses (and I agree) scenes by selecting the most humorous sections of footage. With a very loose story, we order the scenes. We don’t worry about continuity rules (the classic style of film editing) because most of the scenes are one long shot with the boring parts edited out. Between these long shots we sometimes put meaningless background footage (B-Roll) of locations and objects. The rhythm of verbal humor and of strange visual moments of tension and release is more important that the traditional plot or story line.

Today, Sorry I Like To Party was re-released. Watch it.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=13792308&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1

Check out the directors’ Vimeo page. TC mark

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