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The Bobby Diamonds Story: An Interview with Robert Aaron Mitchell

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

For as long as I can remember I have always looked at the world in a hyper-visual way. Ever since I was a child I have been drawn to images and cameras. In fact, I still have two cameras that were given to me when I was five years old. By the time I reached high school I purchased a VHS camcorder and started making movies with my friends. We made ninja fight scenes, gangster movies and art house films. When I first watched Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly I was hooked on cinema from the first shot and sequence. There was a night a couple of friends and I rented Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and John Woo’s The Killer. That was it, I have always wanted to make movies.

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

With The Bobby Diamonds Story the biggest challenge was telling a story that featured only one person and making it compelling to sustain someone’s interest for ten minutes. The other substantial challenge was I created the film entirely by myself, while also being in front of the camera. The challenges made the process fun and really got my imagination going as I figured out how to setup the camera to achieve what I wanted to accomplish visually.

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

First and foremost, what compels me to tell stories is to entertain people. The stories I want to tell follow an outsider or someone society deems as a failure. I want to explore people who can very well pack it all up and quit. The poker game, the job, life and yet still push forward and persevere. In my genre work I want to embrace what I love about a horror film and play with the expectations and the visual language of a genre movie.

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

A new project begins with a character that is compelling and situations that are challenging and will push that character. In The Bobby Diamonds story I actually did not script the documentary I wanted cinema verité to inform my choices. Usually, a project I am working starts from the screenplay. The script is not set in stone though, I want the freedom to improvise. Sometimes a great line or an amazing shot will arrive out of blue that would that would not arrive in a very concrete approach to the screenplay.

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

As I mentioned earlier, when I was younger it was very much Sergio Leone, Quentin Tarantino, John Woo. I still very much have a great appreciation of their films. As I have gotten older, I have gravitated to Sean Baker (Tangerine, The Florida Project). Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild. Andrea Arnold, specifically American Honey. When I began going to film festivals, I began to see films by Jim Jarmusch (Mystery Train, Patterson) Takeshi Kitano, his film Sonatine is one of my all-time favorite films. Takashi Miike. Specifically, Gozu, Ichi the Killer. The first ten minutes of Dead or Alive is a master class is creating kinetic energy. Paul Schrader (Rolling Thunder, Taxi Driver, The Card Counter) has always been an inspiration especially with his last three films. Last and certainly not least Gaspar Noé. (Enter The Void) His visually style has definitely informed my approach to both the shot before me as well as mise en scène.

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

Writing only from a micro-budget, independent view point in many ways it hasn’t changed much. Telling compelling, outsider stories with not much money, access to distribution or publicity is still very difficult. One would think that the number of shows and movies might have noticeably taken a bit of a hit but large-scale productions who could afford the PPE and testing kept right along. To protect your cast and crew as an independent filmmaker is extremely important. With one’s access to resources sometimes limited I think it made independent filmmakers come up with stories that involved fewer people. Personal stories became even more personal. Cinema is getting more and more localized. With access to cameras and editing and film festivals anyone from anywhere can make a short film, a music video, a feature length movie. To steal a phrase from growing and buying food, “shop local” filmmaking has truly gone global, locally or glocal.

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

First and foremost, believe in yourself and believe in your story. As you write, shoot and edit you should be showing other people these various sections of the filmmaking process. You will hear all sorts of things. Perhaps someone doesn’t like a shot or sequence or a certain performance or the story itself. You should be open to criticism. People that you have in your inner circle are not trying to tear you down (hopefully) they want to see you and your film succeed. That being said you have to stay true to what you are making and the story you are telling. The advice and criticism should be tempered with for lack of a better term, your “vision” As you finish your film and begin the process of trying to get it out into the world and find an audience be it through film festivals, YouTube, etc. prepare yourself for rejection. This is one of the most difficult aspects of making a film is trying to get into the world. Some of our favorite movies were barely seen upon release and critically destroyed. Again, believe in yourself and your story.

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

I do believe films and stories can bring change to the world. It is extremely important to be able to see and hear different perspectives and experiences. Film is a very powerful artform. Cinema combines images, words, music, editing basically all the elements of a single other artform to tell a story. Film by how it is created can also be very manipulative. The shots and lines of protagonist can frame an argument or a point of view in a very stultifying way. Music can oftentimes lead the audience to feel a certain way. Films can change the world; it can be both positive or negative. As a filmmaker you should be aware of the power of the medium and be true to the characters and story you or telling or in the case of a documentary follow your protagonists with compassion. A documentary filmmaker is not a journalist. There is not, nor should be a detachment to the subjects you are focusing on.

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

I do not know if the pandemic has changed what people want to see. I think audiences what to see well-made, compelling films that have something to say. People that are interesting. If anything, the darker the world gets I can see audiences leaning into that darkness with scary horror films, true crime movies and documentaries. I can also see audiences wanting to look towards escapism and nostalgia. The huge financial success of Top Gun: Maverick is very much an escapist, nostalgia cinema.

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

I just finished a music video for a band a friend of mine plays in. The band is White Lie Epidemic and the song is Skudd Missle. The concept I had for the music video is, the world is ending, is it breaking news or a video game? I am writing a new film over the winter. It is going to involve some well-known historical western outlaws, time travel and horror. I am also working on creating a straight up horror film I want to shoot late next year.

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