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Our Good Day Done: An Interview with Thomas Darragh

Tell us about yourself. How did you become an artist?

I’ve been deeply passionate about film since I can remember. Late in middle school, I fell in love with the filmography of David Lynch and the German expressionism movement, and translated that passion into an evergrowing body of work. Throughout high school, I wrote, directed, produced and edited multiple short films, sketches, documentaries and music videos. This has continued through my collegiate career and will (hopefully) continue after its conclusion.

What was your first job in the art field?

During the winter break of my freshman year of college, I held an internship in my hometown of New Orleans with Cross Creed Media, during which time I was responsible for reviewing and condensing information from various SAG contracts to curate credit and financial memos for producers of the 2020 film The Tax Collector. Riveting!

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

I’m a big advocate for the power of meditation. It’s helped me a lot through the years and, subsequently, I’m drawn to meditative, rhythmic cinema. A wonderful quote by Robert Bresson that succinctly defines the kind of film I’m attracted to is this: “I’d rather people feel a film before understanding it.” To take that a step further, though, I don’t even particularly care about understanding something. In fact, I’m at my happiest when, while watching a film, I have no idea what’s going on. Like meditation, the ability to intellectually let go and surrender to the movement of a piece is something I find wildly comforting. Naturally, I’m a major fan of filmmakers like Stand Brakhage and Phil Solomon because of this.

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

I like to think my mode of filmmaking is largely instinctual. To some degree, I think editing of any kind is a form of destruction. I generally find myself challenging my own ideas and decisions after I’ve made myself comfortable with them. I like to think this knee-jerk method of filmmaking makes my stuff more personal, as, for better or for worse, I’m not positing anything coming from a dishonest place of over-consideration. Art, like life, is messy. Perfection is boring.

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

For a while, like I mentioned before, Lynch’s world guided all of my artistic impulses. Now, though, I feel deeply indebted to Jean-Luc Godard’s instinctual, affectionless and impenetrable style. His disciples (Hal Hartley, Mark Rappaport, Whit Stillman) are also major influences. The single film that probably influenced me the most, though, would be Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny. No other film has so ineffably connected with me on every level.

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

The industry is changing in pretty uninteresting ways, I think. Streaming is more accessible than ever, chalk that up to COVID. Most big films now seem to be made for the Marvel audience: flashy plots with little real substance. Of course, I’m generalizing, because there are plenty of contemporary examples of films taking real risks that have something new to say. Skinamarink and TÁR come to mind. But notable big releases recently, like, say, The Menu and Bullet Train, seem to be interested in being fast, arresting and colorful, but without ever embracing maximalism. It’s pretty boring, I think. Independent filmmaking, on the other hand, is a super exciting thing to be engaged with right now. With remote work becoming more possible, creators have more time and resources than ever to focus on their work. I’m thinking mostly about small YouTube animators and video artists.

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

Challenge your own taste. Have something new to say. It’s too easy to follow trends, especially considering how the industry often punishes projects and artists that oppose contemporary taste. I’m certainly coming across more bitter than I actually am, but complacency is anti-art. There is value, of course, to reaching wide audiences, but don’t sacrifice your voice for it. This isn’t to say that easily digestible film is wrong, or that a requisite for good art is being cerebral or whatnot, but just to be wary about why you’re making something. Is it just because this is what seems to be working at a mass scale, or is this how you really want to represent yourself artistically? An effective way to avoid falling into generalized filmmaking is to really pay attention to every single aspect of every single moment that is within your control. How can lighting agree with or complicate what the scene is saying? Are you playing with the foreground and background? How does a character’s mode of speech define them? Etc. - Don’t take any piece of the mise-en-scène for granted.

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

Yes, but they don’t need to. I think film is most effective when it inspires a sort of interpersonal change, when it forces you to look inside and reconsider things.

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

I answered the first bit above, but I do think COVID changed people’s taste. I think lockdown ironically weakened everyone’s attention spans. Many people spent COVID overstimulating themselves with media to avoid natural, real-world anxieties and feelings of loneliness. TikTok boomed for this reason: fast, cheap, distracting entertainment was in high demand. This has bled out into film a good bit, I think. It’s not all bad - distractions and pop-entertainment are important - but it shouldn’t represent as much of the film world as it seems to be representing right now.

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

Currently, I’m finalizing a script I’m pretty excited about. I rarely make films with much dialogue, so I chose to challenge myself and try to tackle a very talkative project. It’s about two Marxist bank robbers who have to hide out in a safehouse after a big job. While there, they get very bored and pass the time by getting really into interior design and podcasting. It’s meant to be a tongue-in-cheek satire heavily inspired by Hal Hartley. The plan right now is to throw a little concert/fundraiser in our basement at school soon to raise money for it and hopefully shoot the project in the Spring.


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