Tell us about yourself. What Inspired you to be a filmmaker?
It all really started with wanting to communicate feelings that I couldn’t in normal conversation. From a very early age I spent a lot of time in my imagination and was obsessed with finding a way to illustrate or explain what I was thinking and feeling; so my interests have always ranged from different things like writing, to music, to film and acting. I don’t think I’ll ever choose one medium to focus on entirely but filmmaking certainly combines most of them and is what I love the most.
Talk about your last work. What are some of the challenges you faced during production?
I had the idea for The Printer about a year or so before I actually filmed it. I think one of the biggest challenges was to finally get it off the ground and come what may in terms of how it turns out. I feel very close, probably too close, to my ideas often to the point of not doing them because of a fear that it won’t come out the way I see it in my head and how I feel it. So, oftentimes the hardest thing is just to take the risk and make it real. For this project in particular there wasn’t anything difficult about the production, one location, one character, etc, so for me the hardest thing was just to trust that it’ll work. I had a great crew of friends working with me who I trusted and that’s really the best situation you can ask for. My friend Emry Brisky who I’ve collaborated with many times before was the cinematographer and also voiced the character of the Printer. The rest of the crew and talent were mostly friends I made at the UW-Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts where I graduated with a BFA in filmmaking. Thanks David Naida, Graham Zima, Aby Farrey, Samuel Breden, Joseph Bowes, Katie Fenn, and my mom Molly Mundshcau who was one of the voices over the phone.
What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?
I’m interested in how you can recreate reality in a way that matches how you feel or to illuminate certain aspects of life and play with them to get a perspective across. I don’t tend to make conscious choices of what themes or issues I want to incorporate into my work, I tend to want the idea to grow on its own. As for comedy, I’ll find myself picking up various ideas from social encounters and let my imagination fill in the rest. It can be a behavior I observe in the world or something someone says or the way they say it that struck me as interesting or funny and I’ll expand it into a scenario from there. For The Printer, I was working in a production office and my job for the day was calling around for a very specific printer that an accountant needed. After calling one nearby electronic store I actually was transferred and the guy on the other end had a peculiar tone to his voice that got me thinking “what if that was just some random guy in his living room?” and I took it from there. Usually I start with one piece like that and if it works or is good it’ll sort of reveal itself to me and my job is to discover the rest of it.
Please tell us about your vision and your method for approaching a new project?
Going off of the type of process I was explaining before, my method really consists of trying to let the idea tell me what it wants to be rather than me trying to consciously make it into something. There’s a great book called On Writing by Stephen King where he compares his writing process to excavating fossils and I think that applies to art-making in almost every medium. Basically he states that the premise of an idea is like uncovering the first piece of the fossil, and as the writer you are just slowly brushing away dirt to discover the whole skeleton. I like this approach because I tend to think we get in our own ways and projects don’t end up as good when we think of what we want them to be and what we want to get out of them. I like to think of it like I'm descending down a rabbit hole, excited to see what I’ll find and we’re I’ll end up.
Who are your filmmaking influences? What are the films that were influential for you?
I’m influenced by a lot of films, but especially for comedy, the play Waiting for Godot is a huge influence on me and I love the writing of Samuel Beckett. What really inspires me is the way the characters in many instances are longing for something they cannot have. The irony of that play really stuck with me and has influenced a lot of what I write. For instance in The Printer, the main character gets exactly what he sets out to get but by the end it’s the last thing he wants. His attempts at making a friend end up being futile; which is a common theme in absurdism, to poke fun at the purposelessness and randomness of life. The character ends up a victim of a random set of events (or the takeaway is that the person on the other end of the phone is in fact a literal printer which, hey, that works too!) Charlie Kaufman is another great example whose work I love. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which he wrote the screenplay for, is one of my favorite films. It reminds me that we can still explore themes and ideas that are dark and melancholy with an exciting sense of visual play. David Lynch is a huge influence as well. I love films like Mulholland Drive that are more dream-like and surreal. Some of my other favorite films are The Truman Show, Punch Drunk Love, Eraserhead, Burn After Reading, Frances Ha, Magnolia, The King of Comedy, Lost in Translation, Perfect Blue, Synecdoche, New York, You, The Living and I could keep going on… When it comes to comedy, an influence that I had from a very early age was Monty Python. I think the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when Sir Lancelot is running in the distance towards the castle and the guards’ blank expressions reacting to Lancelot just running in place made a permanent impact on me. I love when things happen that don’t make any sense or an aspect of life is exaggerated to an absurd level for comedic effect. I’m a huge fan of Eirc Andre and Key and Peele too. Especially the way Eric Andre invites absolute chaos into everything he does. I’m a big fan of his style and he’s one of my favorite comedians.
How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?
To be honest I’m not sure how COVID specifically affected independent filmmaking/creation. I see so much more impact with how social media and the immediacy of online content has affected independent creation. I think the most concerning aspect of how the industry is changing has a lot to do with online content and social media. We’re so oversaturated today that there seems to be, in my experience, this looming pressure that material has to be made and released at a similar pace that we’re experiencing it from day to day. It’s an intense amount of pressure that can feel suffocating. It creates the feeling that there is somehow a short track to success while this craft takes time and patience.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow or avoid?
My advice would be that this all takes time. It takes a lot of time to know who you are, what you want to say, and how you want to say it. It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed today especially with the way social media seems to accelerate the speed at which everything happens. I think it makes us feel like we should be somewhere other than where we are; that other people who are succeeding have something that we don’t. Everything we need to tell stories is already right in front of us, the challenge is to stay present and observe the world in front of you with a sense of vulnerability and a desire to discover. Don’t shoot down your own ideas. Half the job is following through with them no matter if you think they’re good or not. I think every artist has their own unique impulses and oftentimes it’s the pressures of the outside world that can make us feel like they're wrong or not good enough. The actual job is honoring those voices that come to us and seeing them through. Follow your gut. You’re not going to make the “big thing” until you’re consistent with making the little things happen.
Do you think that films/stories can bring about change in the world?
I do think films and stories can create change in the world. Sometimes it doesn’t seem so, but I think it can bring about change on a grand scale and on a personal level. Good films and stories certainly enrich people’s lives and that’s incredibly important. It’s a very beautiful thing to connect with someone on a subjective level through a movie. I think an exchange of ideas through art is how we identify ourselves and a huge part of how we communicate. No matter what you look for in a film or a story or anything artistic, it’s a vital part of what makes us human.
What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's tastes?
I don’t think the pandemic has necessarily changed people’s tastes. I think people want to be surprised and that won’t change. I think in art you either want to confront the world or escape from it, and sometimes a movie can make you do both. The film industry is definitely changing in a lot of ways and it’s hard to predict where it’s all going but I think that no matter what we can rely on audiences to tire of trends and yearn for good stories.
Please tell us about your upcoming projects. I’ve acted in a number of films in Chicago with students from different film schools such as Columbia, Art Institute of Chicago , and DePaul. As for my own projects, I am currently writing more comedy shorts and I can’t wait to submit the next one! You can follow me on my instagram page at “zacharykrueg” for updates on what I am working on! Thank you so much Tokyo International Short Film Festival!