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Call of The City: An Interview with Owen Meinert

Tell us about yourself. What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

Film is such a far cry from a regular everyday job. There are no limits, you can take the story and do whatever you want with it. The freedom that making films offered me was what made me pursue it. I was in school for science and quickly realizing that it wasn’t the field for someone like me who enjoyed daydreaming all day. I had an epiphany that film was an opportunity to turn these daydreams into a living and a way to potentially inspire others someday.

Talk about your last work. What are some of the challenges you faced during production?

Call of The City is a proof of concept. The scene itself comes from Act II of a feature-length script. I made it because I decided it was time to begin my career as a filmmaker and the perfect opportunity might not approach me for many years, so I did everything myself. I started small, I handled the production arrangements, I directed it, and even handled the lights on set. I started small because it seemed more feasible than trying to make an entire film for my very first project.

One of the challenges I faced was sound design. The scene takes place in a private room at a party. I’ve dabbled in some original musical composition myself, so I decided to make the background tracks for the music that’s supposed to be playing just outside the room. Starting these two tracks from scratch was interesting because I was essentially constructing the tone of the scene. The specific sounds I wanted to use to set the eerie tone were difficult to alter. I had to make the songs sound like they were coming through the walls of the room. But the bass and synthesizers I used were very harmonic and arduous to soften or tone down. It took a couple weeks of playing with the Eq and Reverb to find a balance I liked. Music can change the entire meaning of a project and knowing this I knew that the sound design had to be on the forefront of my concerns.

Director Owen Meinert

Unfortunately, the sound that we had taped on set proved unusable. There was too much background noise. I’ve never handled sound equipment or vocal tracks before so it wasn’t until working on the sound for a couple months and learning all there was to know that I realized we would have to move to ADR for the dialogue. This delayed the release of the short for a few months but it was a lesson well learnt.

What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?

I’ve always loved creating. When I was in school my favorite part of English class was when we got to write short stories. I was fascinated by the idea of creating a universe and being able to show it to people. I might be romanticizing the process a little bit but I just think it’s so cool that we, as filmmakers, have the ability to totally alter reality then present concepts and messages to people in ways that could potentially change the way they look at life. What keeps me interested in film is this way of communicating and inspiring anybody else who watches your work.

I find consistently myself incorporating themes of existentialism into my work. The process of trying to derive meaning from life is a universal struggle I think everybody experiences. This struggle can make you feel the entire spectrum of emotion from hopelessness to euphoria. It can cause people to turn to either religion or anarchy. I find myself being able to insert this concept into almost any kind of narrative and it always enriches the project.

I also tend to straddle the lines between surrealism and realism. I enjoy using dialogue that you can easily hear from your friends or coworkers or maybe just on the subway. I think humor, confusion, and seemingly pointless dialogue can add layers to your project that the viewer might not notice at first but will come to appreciate by the end. Surrealism fascinates me because unbelievable coincidences happen in real life all the time so putting them into movies isn’t always a crutch or plot hole if you can use it sparingly. Using these two things in tandem results in a unique contrast that fascinates the viewer as they attempt to decode what they’re watching. Before they know it they become stuck in awe and wonder.

Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project?

I usually start with a single aspect. A character, a setting, a theme. Every once in a while something will jump out at me in my mind and I just become obsessed with making a movie about it. My next move is deciding the tempo of the film. Is it going to be aimless or intense? Is the ending going to be ambiguous or definite? I’m very used to starting a movie with no written outline, almost all the planning goes on in my head. I think many screenwriters can relate to the feeling of being excited about something but being stumped by the second act because you realize that just because you have an idea, it doesn’t mean you have a screenplay.

When writing I’ll often use my propensity for daydreaming to my advantage. When I’m out and about I’ll often be putting myself in imaginary scenarios just for fun. Let’s say I’m eating in a restaurant, I might think to myself “what if a moose just walked in here right now? What if the moose gave a motivational speech? Could this be seen as a hallucination or an anomaly the government would try to get involved in? Would I be interrogated about what I saw? Would they try to erase my memory? Maybe the moose is an escaped enemy of the state? Wow, I wonder how’d I get out of this.” These are the things that often end up in my screenplays. I’ll take these wild fantasies and try to imagine how one of my characters would react if they were the ones actually experiencing it. Now suddenly I have a credible scene that fits into my movie. I obviously must filter through these crazy thoughts to find the ones that are on theme.

Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?

Denis Villeneuve, The Coen Brothers, Christopher Nolan, Donald Glover (TV), and David Fincher are names that all come to mind. Prisoners, The Place Beyond the Pines, Interstellar, Se7en, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, American Psycho, and Pulp Fiction are all films that I think had a significant affect on my filmmaking visions. Obviously I’m leaving out many titles and names. Donald Glover isn’t even a filmmaker but I love his show “Atlanta” too much to not mention it. This industry is filled with creativity and drive on every level and there’s no way I’m going to be able to name every single title or person that I admire. I’d say my taste is more Film Noir than anything else. I love creating worlds that look similar to ours, but more sinister. Making flawed characters that feel real but putting them in strange circumstances always results in a great piece of art.

How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?

There was fear in the beginning that the industry was going to change and suffer forever, but I think that time has passed. People have continued to create and release great things in this time. I don’t think film is going anywhere anytime soon just because of a pandemic. People love it too much. Creativity is about problem solving when you get down to it, at the very least this pandemic provided creators with a problem to solve and to no surprise the solutions have been entertaining.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?

I think an aspiring artist should be themselves but keep their audience in mind. Create stories that are personable. Think of your first projects like an introduction or first impression. Try and have next steps in mind while you’re making something. Think about what kind of steppingstones each project is going to provide you with.

Think ahead and be genuine. But above all, be imaginative.

Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?

Absolutely they can. Passion is often the driving force behind movements that change society, passion and inspiration is all that film is.

I think people often need to see a problem through a different lens, no pun intended, in order to understand it. This is exactly what film does. You can take a problem and show every angle and point of view, in whatever manner you choose. You can target certain demographics, and word the message of the piece in whatever way you think that audience will understand it. I think movies make people want to make change.

What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's taste?

I think people reluctantly became more open-minded over the course of the pandemic. If not open-minded than more patient. I’ve noticed the industry starting to get bold again. Marginalized sectors of film like BIPOC and LGBTQ+ have begun to get more representation and funding and recognition at awards shows. It’s awesome that minority filmmakers are finally saying “screw it, we need our own stuff”. It’s the way things were meant to be. Only the people that have lived the tragic stories of the oppressed truly know how to paint those pictures. I think North Americans were worried and tentative about how to navigate these things in film because they still wanted control of it all, which led to a lot of ingenuine projects being made with token characters and virtue signaling. But I think the industry has finally turned that corner. Asian Culture/Cinema has been especially impactful with Parasite (Bong Joon-Ho, 2019), Crazy Rich Asians (Jon M. Chu, 2018) and shows such as Squid Game, We Are All Dead, Toyko Vice, and Snowdrop.

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

I have two things in mind when I think about what I might want to make next. The first would be a horror short that takes place within a grocery store. FX and Set Dressing will have prominent roles in this production and I’m sure I’ll learn a lot during the process.

The one other option I’ll consider is a feature. I have three separate features already written and the one I’m most interested in bringing to life is the feature-length screenplay that the short Call of The City is pulled from. I’ve had this screenplay sitting on my hard drive for a while and recently just finished a third draft that I’m confident is ready for the big screen.

I expect that I’ll need partners with experience in these fields, fortunately this industry is filled with experience and friendly individuals dedicated to their craft. With enough networking I’m sure life will present me with who ever I need to achieve my goals, I’m not worried.

I have much to learn, I think that I owe it to myself and to whoever I work with in the future to continue to absorb as much information as I can about this craft. I have many scripts that are written and ready to go, I’ve been writing since 2019 and as a result I have an extensive and versatile portfolio with projects that fit any opportunity that comes my way.


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