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The Digital Den

When work is play and play is work The Digital Den

An Interview with Filmmaker Nathan Punwar

Nathan Punwar is an independent filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY. He screened his last short film, “Memory By Design,” at the New York Film Festival and Slamdance Film Festival, among others. In 2012, he edited “Charlie Is My Darling – Ireland 1965,” an hour-long documentary on The Rolling Stones constructed entirely from footage shot over one weekend, revealing unseen live performances and backstage antics of the band in their youth. His latest directorial project, a 25-minute narrative short film titled, “Loves of a Cyclops,” will be playing festivals this year. He collects the current and ongoing projects he makes with friends at the website incompleterecordings.com.

SeagateCreative: Tell us about the inspiration behind the story for your new short film, “Loves of a Cyclops?”

NP: Nathan Punwar: A few years ago, I had an image in my mind of a person with a lens for an eye — someone who saw the world through a viewfinder instead of his own eye. It was just that image. I thought I might animate it.

Over time, I started to think about what it would mean to require a device to translate the world into something that made sense, and how each animal sees the world differently. Each eye is a different lens, a different interpretation. These thoughts formed a story about a one-eyed man who can’t see the world his peers do, so he struggles to find his place in it.

SC: When you have a new, fresh idea, how do you decide if it’s worth pursuing?

NP: It’s just a matter of how persistent the idea is, how long it can stick in your head and refuse to leave. So you have no choice but to give into the idea until you get it out of your head. For me, getting it out involves walking it down every potential avenue and then backtracking to the one path that seems best to explain it to everyone else.

SC: Do you have a specific technique or ritual you use for creating?

NP: There is no technique other than to try to allow myself to be as perceptive as possible to my surroundings. This includes truly listening to people, which isn’t always as easy as it seems it should be. So there’s that, and the fine balance between it and allowing the mind to wander and float away on a tangent midday.

SC: You wrote, directed, and edited this film. Is there a particular step you find the most creative?

NP: It’s all creative and fulfilling. Writing is the most frustrating and potentially rewarding. If that goes well, and it rarely does, it makes the rest more fruitful, because you’re crafting from material that is already quality. But each part relies so precariously on the others to succeed, which is why I like doing all of it, but definitely not all at once.

SC: In terms of gear and equipment, is there a specific piece that helped you create a breakthrough in filmmaking?

NP: Simply owning a camera that we can use both casually and professionally… Even though we want to spend as much time as possible preparing to make a film as good as it can be, now we can shoot something that strikes us at any moment and repurpose it later, or play with the footage anywhere. At the very least, this means my sketchbook is no longer restricted to the page.

SC: Is there any experience you have from other art forms that play into your ability to make a film?

NP: Though I’m not a true musician, I’ve played music my whole life. I might consume more music than I do films, so a soundtrack is always on my mind. But I try other arts, even ones I’m bad at, because good films involve photography, performance, writing, design, music, fashion, architecture, lighting, and more. If one falters, so does the end result.

A film may not be pure in the same way other arts are, but it has the ability tie them together to convey something in a way that none can on their own, which is why I want to understand and answer to each and every aspect individually.

SC: How did you work on the music for this film, then?

NP: Our composer is Mike Schanzlin, and I would say he and I are on a similar wavelength with music. We make mixes together, and talk about collaborating on ideas often, even though he really knows how to record and play, and I don’t. So he turns my abstract descriptors into musical themes with his studio magic. There was one song I really wanted to include, though, outside of our original score. It’s an early demo recording by Real Estate, and the guys in the band were very cool about letting us use it in the film.

SC: Where there any significant obstacles you encountered while trying to make this film?

NP: Our greatest obstacles were really self-imposed. We decided upon three things from the beginning. The first was that we would primarily cast non-professional actors, mostly friends. The second was that we would make the film with equipment we owned or had access to, with no real budget other than what I could afford to spend out of my own pocket. The third was that we would schedule around everyone’s day jobs. For these reasons and more, it took us about a year to finish a 25-minute film. But these limitations also led us to have some of the most fun and strange experiences on our shoots, the kind you can’t have on a set where significant money is being spent every minute.

SC: What’s one piece of advice you’d give an aspiring filmmaker to help them develop their ideas?

NP: I’m still aspiring, too, so I guess my advice to myself is to take a different route each time. Whoever didn’t get the last thing might get the next thing. Even if I’m still exploring the same ideas that interest me most, at least it’ll be in new and different ways, allowing the work to discover more deeply, or at least find its way to new audiences.

SC: Where is “Loves of a Cyclops” screening and what’s next from you that we can look forward to?

NP: “Loves of a Cyclops” will be screening at festivals this year, with additional screenings in New York City. My partner Kathleen Kyllo (who produced and stars in Loves of a Cyclops) and I are attempting our first feature script together, or some kind of series, or whatever it turns into. At some point, we’ll have to figure out a way to finance these things, but for now, we’re just focused on trying to write something true and good.

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