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Q & A with David Schmudde of Earth Circle Films

November 30, 2011 | By | Add a Comment

Interview Conducted by Molly Bandonis

Chicago DIY Film recently contacted local filmmaker, David Schmudde. Schmudde’s production company, Earth Circle Films, has been creating cutting-edge films, such as the 2010 selection for the Chicago International Film Festival, “Refuge”; and “The Assassination of Chicago’s Mayor.” In this interview, Schmudde discusses collaboration, nonlinear filmmaking, and the pros and cons of making films in Chicago.

From "The Assassination of Chicago's Mayor"

MB: Filmmaking is extremely difficult, especially in the indie or DIY arenas. Could you describe what has been the most unexpected thing to happen to you while planning, making or writing a film? Or what has been the most surprising thing?

DS: I’m a heavy planner but there are so many possible problems that might plague an indie production that my team cannot possibly consider them all.  However, we have hopefully prepared well enough that we can turn any oversights into unexpected creative opportunities.

For example, in Refuge I cut out the complete third act after watching the dailies.  The coverage that I planned was pretty dull.  The performance really wasn’t there.  The end shot wasn’t as powerful as I had imagined it.  I was really concerned at first.  But this is a film about being trapped in a cycle.  I realized that it didn’t make any sense to end it with a period – rather it should be a statement trailed with an ellipsis.  So we replaced the entire third act with a beautiful shot I picked up with my cinematographer.  Just us two, picking it up for no other reason than the fact that it was beautiful.  It just happened to be the perfect ending.

MB: I’ve also noticed that you’ve done some collaborative work: in your experience, how does collaborative filmmaking differ from individual work?

DS: I got into filmmaking for the collaborative aspect.  The creative process doesn’t work in a vacuum.  The exchange of ideas – seeing how your world looks through someone else’s eyes – is key.  Unfortunately, crews and collaborators are costly and not always available.  So my individual work tends to be smaller in ambition and more experimental in approach.  It’s published on the web, shared and then feeds back to me as other people react and respond.  That invaluable bit of collaboration then informs my larger work.  It’s an organic continuum rather than a distinct dichotomy.  Hopefully, it all informs my unique priorities as a filmmaker and gets me closer to an honest, effortless vision.
MB: How would you describe the Chicago film scene and its influence on your work?

DS: From a production standpoint, Chicago is an absolutely wonderful place to shoot.  A wide variety of unique locations, a pool of actors, great camera houses and a friendly film office compensates for some of the things that the larger markets offer.

Creatively, I still struggle to embody Chicago in what I do.  I find the city’s identity to be nebulous at times and the palpable differences between neighborhoods like Bronzeville and Lakeview difficult to resolve.  On the other hand, it’s what many people would consider an Alpha City with world-class restaurants, a healthy financial sector, a historic transportation and manufacturing center and an always evolving music scene.  In fact, I consider the music produced here to be an incredible asset for filmmakers.  Local bands and composers want to get their work out to the world and our films are one way that can happen.

David Schmudde on the set of "Refuge"

On the other hand, so much of our best filmmaking talent leaves to live out west.  It makes it difficult for the city to establish a true cinematic identity.  The people that stay seem to look around and see that the richest pool of talent lies in comedy.  And if you take a survey of independent and Hollywood film produced in Chicago, comedy absolutely has to be considered as our hallmark contribution to the larger canon of cinema.

This has been a strong influence on me.  When I’m developing a script, I’m always looking for places to release the pressure that builds over 90 minutes. Maybe not in a way that will make you laugh out loud but something surreal, unexpected and well timed.

MB: You’ve listed Gaspar Noe and other nonlinear filmmakers as influences on your work; I was wondering if any traditional filmmakers influenced you as well. Is there one particular movie or artwork that motivated you to become a filmmaker?

DS: Andrei Tarkovsky inspired me to become a filmmaker.  He expanded the grammar of cinema.  He changed what I thought was possible in a film.  He taught me that they could be simple, meditative and spiritual.  Andrei Rublev is particularly dear to me.
After that, New Hollywood directors working in their prime have had a big influence on me.  Martin Scorsese and Bob Rafelson being the foremost of those influences.

From "The Coldest Winter"

MB: What are you working on currently and would you mind describing that/those project(s)?

DS: We recently completed a narrative short called “The Assassination of Chicago’s Mayor.”  It is a period piece based on a true story – blurring the lines between justice and revenge, sanity and delusion starring David Dastmalchian.  It looks beautiful and we’re really excited about it.  The trailer is on our website.

We’ve also shot another short since then – “The Coldest Winter.”  It is set in an alternate future where two women are pushed past the boundaries of human compassion in an effort to survive.

And of course I’m developing new scripts and working on those small, experimental projects mentioned earlier.

For more on Schmudde and his thoughts on nonlinear filmmaking, check out the video below: an interview from cinefile.com conducted by our friend, Nelson Carvajal.

David Schmüdde On The Nonlinear Narrative & Filmmaking from Cinefile.com on Vimeo.

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