Tell us about yourself. How did you become an artist?
Hi, I’m Stefan Kei DiMuzio. I grew up in the international community in Tokyo, and despite knowing the language and visiting regularly with my Japanese relatives, I often felt like an outsider. This was advantageous in my early years as a filmmaker, as I could “turn off” the heightened awareness of others that us Japanese are culturally ingrained with. My brother and I would film action scenes with prop swords in the street, the park, or our roof. I’m sure we were the source of great meiwaku, but we were respectful enough to not get into any real trouble. That’s how I got my start as an artist; by learning to not care what others saw me doing. And I believe this has carried through in my career as a filmmaker, musician, cartoonist, and stage actor.
What was your first job in the art field?
When advertising for a music gig at a local brewery, I made a short video telling people about the show. The brewery liked the video so much that they hired me to create several short ads for new beers and taproom openings. This was a ton of fun, and got me into the practice of filmmaking. It also got me a lot of free beers.
What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?
When my DSLR camera broke down in the middle of an ad shoot last year, I went on an emergency camera spree and ended up with a very powerful cinema camera. So I started producing short films mostly to justify its existence, but have ended up absolutely loving the process of visual storytelling.
I want to surprise people with what I create; breaking rules and expectations. I think playing with people’s expectations is a theme that I carry forward throughout my work.
Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project?
I get most of my ideas just as I am about to fall asleep, which both annoys and worries my wife Lauren. I’ll quickly make a note on my phone, and then later talk things out on our dog walks.
The biggest question I ask myself is: “Can I make this?” I am very susceptible to scope-creep; I’ve written simple shorts that have ballooned into three-hour-long, musical, epics. So I try to keep things simple as much as possible; especially with a one-year-old in the house.
Project planning is my best friend when it comes to indie filmmaking. Scheduling, location-scouting, and storyboarding are things I take very seriously. I spend a great deal of time envisioning shots, so when I get to a space I’ll know exactly where to place the camera, lights, and actors.
Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?
Daniels - there’s something really exciting and phrenetic about the universes (multiverses?) they create. Swiss Army Man, Everything Everywhere All At Once
Taika Waititi - There’s a heart to Taika’s artistically crafted movies that I just love. Some of his earlier stuff is so funny and well-written. Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Eagle vs Shark, Jojo Rabbit
How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?
Covid and the resulting chip shortage have made it harder than ever to buy a new camera. Despite this, I have seen so many talented filmmakers use Zoom calls and other methods to make amazing films during lockdown.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?
Avoid hollywood-gokko - where you just pretend to be a movie director. If you’re not on a set with a hundred gaffers, grips, and best boys, then there is probably no need to yell things like “camera rolling” or “action”. Just make your film. You won’t learn the language of motion picture without experiencing it come together.
Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?
Yes. Films can satirize current events, and let us experience new things in visual/audible ways that books and other media cannot. Films like The Matrix and Everything Everywhere All At Once can literally make us see the world in a new light.
I think back to my childhood and teenage years, when I felt most susceptible to changes brought on by film. Film could literally change my life back then, and is definitely having that effect on our younger generations today. We creators need to be mindful of this when telling our stories.
What do you think people like to watch these days?
The amount of short-form educational content that I watch has skyrocketed over the past few years. As I start more hobbies and let my curiosities grow, I find myself more and more on short-form video platforms. And I believe I am not alone; the amount of short-form educational content watched seems to have far outpaced long-form narrative content.
I think that people like to watch content that they either had a hand in creating, or influenced somehow. I see it in the comment sections of YouTube videos, and in the sheer amount of Kickstarter campaigns currently in progress. I think the more collaborative a project is, the more people will want to see it.
Has the pandemic changed people's taste?
I have not seen the pandemic change people’s tastes much, save for a sudden viewership spike of the 2016 movie Contagion. Studios, however, have had to adapt to social distancing and other precautions; and I’ve seen a lot more Covid safety disclaimers in movies credits post-2020.
Please tell us about your upcoming projects.
I am currently working on my first-ever medieval fantasy short. I feel like if I reveal anything else it will vanish, so I’ll leave it at that for the time being. I also run a dedicated synthesizer channel on YouTube, and am getting more involved in my local community theater.
Thank you so much for this interview. I had a ton of fun analyzing my creative side, and feel like I learned a bit about myself in the process. I can’t wait to watch all of the amazing films in your festival!