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Interview with director Carson Smith

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that film making is your way of telling stories?

Watching Studio Ghibli films really opened my mind to the wonders of storytelling. I was amazed how inspiring a good story could be. After graduating from college I had a deep desire to create a film with a story that would be inspiring as well. My first studio Ghibli film, I watched was in high school.

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

I will only speak on learning animation. In this time period it is easier than ever to learn on your own time. There are so many resources available within the animation realm. That being said, I went to a formal institution to learn from professionals. I attended The Art Institute of Philadelphia. Being on a schedule to attend classes really help force you to sit down and learn. If you are not a naturally industrious person, I would recommend attending a formal school to learn animation.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

Getting started is always my biggest struggle. However, this is where passion really plays a role. If I am truly passionate about an idea, I will power through the laziness and get to creating. Once I am in the thick of things, I just keep chugging along. Even if it mean just working on the project 30 mins in one day. If you struggle staying motivated just segment work out in small chunks. It will get done slowly but surely and hopefully your interest levels will continue to rise and production will increase.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

I came to the understanding that the creative process should follow this guideline. “Change is a constant”. I had an idea that I was sure would be the final idea for the story. This was not the case. As I talked it over with a couple team-members it began to evolve and I let it happen. I took a stand when I thought it was veering away too much, but for the most part I was open to letting ideas flow for story beats. If you try to force your original ideas and don’t allow for flexibility, your final product will suffer.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

I think an issue I ran into was coordination with some animators I had brought on to help. I had one ghost me out of nowhere and another kept promising to do some work, but never did any. This unfortunately did lead to some delay in production as I worked out a replacement or just had to have the hard conversation to let someone go, who just wasn’t doing any work. Keep a calm level head in these frustrating times was key. It was a true test of patience.

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

There came a point where the writers including myself all realized that we wanted to add some more emotional punch to the story. I knew this meant making the short film longer. We were probably doubling the length which meant a lot of extra work. I wasn’t sure if it was worth it. Looking back, I can confidently say it was now. I think emotionally connecting with your audience is really important in making a film.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

We found extra talent through my editor Josh’s college network. Fullsail has a really good graduate network system that will reach out on your behalf to try and find work. I had one telephone call with each member as I brought them on and then moving forward all communication was done via Discord messaging. I never met them in person. At one point the core team (Myself, Josh, and Nate) all lived in the same house which was the perfect environment for collaboration. The fact we all lived in one house was the reason why I wanted to try and make a short film. You never get the right set of skills all living under one roof that often.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

I think as storytellers we do have some responsibility to make an entertaining story and keep the viewer engaged in the story. To do that, I have found developing an emotional connection through the character often helps. What themes or struggles will a universal audience relate to? These are questions that run through my head when developing a story. I think in this current world, adaptations are really under fire for
not feeling true to the source material. When developing an expensive project, I think it is important to keep in mind what do fans of the source material want to see and how can the showrunner/ director respect the source material while also making small improvements for visual storytelling. If the fans are happy they will do a lot of marketing for the show/movie for you.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

I am completely new to the festival scene. I think they are most useful for gauging how good your film really is. A friendly competition between peers to determine the finest film in each category is always a good test. Getting the opportunity to network with professionals is also great.

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

A filmmaker should be passionate about what they are making and be open to change as the creative process moves forward. If the idea so happens to be fresh and new then that is a bonus. Looking at what came beforehand is also an effective way to learn what has worked and what hasn’t as well. Be mindful of the past.