By: Hooman Razavi
After reviewing this unique film, I was provided with the opportunity to interview Daniel B Salas, the director of "Quids' EAGER." While reading his response, it made me to think about the process of art-creation, passion for using the medium of cinema creatively and experimenting with new cinematic tools. The eleven Q/A provides a background of film's creation, aesthetic ideas behind it, connection to previous projects and what comes next and issues related to casting and budgeting. As commented, this film is "for aspiring filmmakers and dreamers... Cinema has infinite possibility to open our eyes and mind to the fantastical world of Art.
Hooman Razavi , Phoenix Journal (PJ): How did the idea of short film came about? Was it a collective effort to compile the story or an individual spark and attempt?
Daniel Salas (DS): The initial attempt was for me and assistant director Caleb Jud to make a feature length film. Actually the original script for EAGER was much more extensive with the narrative taking on an entirely different structure. Reluctantly, I recognized the very foundation of the story needed altering. So I scratched the entire thing, keeping some plot points and characters in memory, and reworked it. Once this new version of the organism was realized, I had written a short, not the feature I initially sought.
(PJ): Is this film in line with other Quids short films? Any connection to previous projects?
(DS): Being Quids’ first short film, it can be properly mentioned that indeed, EAGER connects quite closely with another in spirit and story. My directorial debut Sow (2018) is a feature length film made a couple summers before. It was filmed in my hometown of Paradise, California with a tight group of friends serving as crew. EAGER was written during post-production Sow. Both films take place in the same fantastical world. Sow even references some characters in EAGER.
(PJ): How did you create the characters including the city of Eager, setting and subplots?
(DS): Assistant director Caleb Jud and I fashioned a bleak world many years before EAGER was a prospect. This milieu was forged for a different film all together, but as time washes all things, that original film idea was never born, instead torn apart with aspects shoved intoour triumphs.
I knew I wanted a travelogue film, akin to road trip movies, where an ambition cannot be achieved alone, while a motley crew traverses the unknown. To separate from that common trope, I opted to keeping the traveling to the boot and eventually bare foot.Growing up in a small mountain town, we walked everywhere, beyond the roads, into the forests with meetings along the rivers. The spirit of EAGER takes after my general upbringing. While I was compiling inspiration during the early stages of writing, I kept my eyes peeled for unusualities, quirks, and held conversations with strangers and peers alike wherever we crossed round town.The story of EAGER really wrote itself at first, with a plethora of other vestigial film ideas from years before making their way to this crux, until it needed the rewrite. Once I was needing a rewrite, the setting and purpose was already in motion.
(PJ): How much you see it as a successful example of an experimental film? To what extent the allegorical aspects makes it a better experimental film?
(DS): This story is unique in its own right, but what mesmerizes is the use of unusual devices –the frequent expositions, how much of the tale’s information is rumored rather than shown, the camera hanging on a shot of the environment in a calm meditation. These aspects provide a dressing for an otherwise bland salad, all from pushing the envelope on what is acceptable to my peers and to what I have seen embraced in othercinema. This regards the style of filmmaking, methods of conveying aspects of the story. As to the writing of the story itself, many characters’ deeds, behaviors, and political agenda is completely allegorical. I have always enjoyed bringing forth a dynamic character or group of characters solely through classic (often Romantic) tropes, and the trials they undergo also from similar allegorical sources. Personally, I find notes of allegory in literature to be exhilarating, intended or not. Spotting these throughout art has always touched my heart, it is breathing proof that artists and story tellers the world over have always had a deep communion with something common.
(PJ): The visual aesthetic of the film may make some viewers more confused? How is the film supposed to be visually understood and decoded?
(DS): The optimal method to viewing this film, if it is story arc you are searching for, is to follow the characters. Each character fits into this town uniquely and purposefully; their development and growth is the meatiest portion of the film. The strange or confusing visuals are primarily intended as clear weirdness to the viewer, but normalcy to the character. This town, within the world of dragons, is a fantasy, which the citizens are accustomed to; even if we the viewers are jarred, the characters are not. As story unravels and characters enter and exit the frame, search each for their duty to the town, their purpose to being on screen. The film is titled EAGER after the town named Eager, because the main character is the town, the citizens, the community.
(PJ): How did you come up with symbols and references to dragon and other identifiable objects? Could audience rely on them to navigate the labyrinth of the narrative and characterization?
(DS): This comes from the same adoration I have for allegory: fantasy is cool,and using the familiar reference of dragon (a dangerous, greedy serpent) assists in conveying the severity of the narrative’s conflict. As I’ve suggested, the characters’ arcs are your guides,so these references are idols or monsters to revere on your journey through the trials of a labyrinth.
(PJ): How was the experience working with a large cast? Was there also any issue with budgeting of the film?
(DS): The size of the cast had its issues, especially with scheduling the scenes which required many actors to be on location, which was further complicated by the use of extras. Most dates, however, only included one or two characters on location at a time. Some scenes we filmed with one actor, and on a separate date filmed the reacting character’s shots, even if they shared a scene. This method was helpful in working around scheduling, also to work around some cast members’ lack of chemistry, which developed beyond production.
There were enormous issues with budget. Production was scheduled for Dec 2018 – Mar 2019, but when a wildfire swept through Paradise in November, destroying mine and many cast and crew members’ hometown, things changed. Production was pushed to Jan – Apr 2019, and the budget was cut by 50%, since the other half aidedus in surviving the aftermath. There was some fortune when the costumes used by all characters happened to be in my car, which I used to escape the inferno. Had I taken them out and put them in the house, I would have had to return to the thrift store.
(PJ): Do you view circularity of time to be a significant element in this film? Does time matter at all?
(DS): This element was added into the film to make the character(s) involved in the circularity of time stand out from the rest of the film. Time matters, since the statement “come morning” is tossed around the dialogue, the characters anticipate the next day, which may only come along through the passage of time. When time is tinkered with, or controlled, or character(s) exist beyond the limitations of it, the hope for tomorrow is on the same page as imminent doom.
(PJ): Who in your view is this film targeted for? Could the audience understand its underlying messages? Does it really matter to you as the producer and director of the film?
(DS): My target audience is primarily aspiring moviemakers. I want young blood to view what I have succeeded in, and, considering their options, attempt. It is also these people - students, nerds, dreamers - that when confronted with a complex art piece, indulge in unmasking underlying messages, through allegory and tropes; so, it is these fanatics that are most likely to thrive off of my product.
(PJ): Does the "Eager" have any realistic manifestation and story of a real town or more a fantastical creation?
(DS): Absolutely the town of Eager is based on my hometown, with the forest and rivers, outdoor living, and strange occurrences. Eager is the spirit of Paradise. In the film, they talk about how the town of Nearly is just over the bridge from Eager. This is areference to Magalia being over the reservoir from Paradise.
(PJ): Last question, to what extent you have given thoughts on the next project? Would it be in the same line thematically and aesthetically?
(DS): The next project, through my film production company Quids, is a documentary on the Camp Fire, the wildfire that my community and I were directly affected by. So, no, my next project is nothing like EAGER. But I do have prospects for more fantasy films which will be based in the same world. Slowly, I have been building this world and its towns, so I’d like to continue to expand and reside in it with more films. As I am ever growing and altering, I hope the themes and aesthetics of my future films will be further developed and different.