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An Interview with Owen Meinert, the Director of 'Call of The City'

Please introduce yourself and tell us about your education and your interest in cinema.

My name is Owen Meinert. I attained my education at Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario. I got my bachelor’s degree in Film Studies. The four years I was there centered around the history of film, and it’s impacts on culture as well as culture’s impact on cinema. I sat in classes concerning specific genres of the art as well as some of its critically renowned players, from the beginnings of the craft all the way into contemporary times.

My interest in film begin in my first year of school, when I realized that sciences and maths didn’t fit into my vision for my future. I had no interest in crunching numbers or equations to engineer bridges or coal mines or large buildings. For a moment I had no idea what to do. A roommate of mine at the time was pursuing a degree in film and that’s when I experienced the epiphany. I was somebody who constantly had his head in the clouds, dreaming of things that will never happen. But what if I brought those ideas forward to others? What if I somehow made my daydreams not only entertaining to others but marketable as well? Personally, this is what film is to me. It’s taking intangible things and creating a picture that others can see and enjoy. This is when I realized film was for me.

Seeing and reading what works aroused your interest in this medium, and as a result, what works do you owe your education in cinema to?

I think it’s difficult to grasp how much work is needed to make a film when you’re a child. As a kid I never looked for movies that looked the best or had the biggest names or received the most attention for technical details. I always chose to enjoy what entertained me. Personally, I think as long as something looks professional the artist can stop there in terms of aesthetics and choose to focus on the story. Stories, at the end of the day, are what matter. The audio/visual data will always be lost to time, but people will always remember the narrative.

With that preamble, there were a few films that stood out to me as a child. The Dark Knight Trilogy, I am Legend, Lawless, and Interstellar. These are the films I remember seeing in theaters as a kid and being absolutely blown away. They were loud but not overwhelming, deep without being overindulgent. They struck an awesome balance in terms of their looks and sound. All these films also had entertaining narratives and charismatic protagonists.

As I grew older and slowly began wading into the art and becoming more attentive, my interests began to drift towards the Film Noir genre. Fargo, Prisoner’s, The Place Beyond The Pines, No Country For Old Men. Neo-Noir pieces like these are what started to grab my attention. I loved the realistic approach to the characters and shooting styles. Another piece I’d love to mention is a short film on YouTube called “Clapping for The Wrong Reasons”. It’s a short film that my favorite hip-hop artist, Donald Glover (aka “Childish Gambino”), had made to promote a new album. The album itself came with a screenplay that the listener was supposed to read while enjoying the music. That was the first script I ever looked at and served as a beginning to my writing education.

Honestly, I think I need to dedicate my film education to Christopher Nolan, Denis Villeneuve, and The Coen Brother’s. These directors always paid extra attention to the stories they were bringing to life, and it always spoke to me.

Tell us about your first project. What difficulties did you have in the beginning?

It’s funny. Technically I made my first project while in very early grade school. My parent’s owned an old camcorder that my friends and I used to make homemade horror movies with. They were terrible.

My first real project was made when I was 23. Call of The City. An intertitle in the short states that the scene is an excerpt from a feature-length script, which is true. I wrote the full film while I was still in school and had it in my back pocket for years. A year after graduating I decided that it was time for me to begin my career. The first difficulties I had was producing the thing. As a young, amateur filmmaker you have very few connections and experience and often must do things yourself. This fact resulted in me producing this short that I also had to direct, light, and film. I had help obviously, I had my A-Cam operator and Co-DP as well as some volunteer students to hold booms and move lights.

The lack of prep and overwhelming number of responsibilities I had resulted in some ground not being covered. I forgot to get some inserts as well as take a good listen to the room tone of our set. This resulted in the dialogue being extremely noisy and unprofessional sounding. I couldn’t stand for that, so I tried fixing it. As the editor I tried to EQ the sound and throw every compressor I had at it. It was inoperable and I ended up having to do ADR with the actors in post. This whole sound debacle meant the film came out maybe a month or even two later than it should’ve.

Color grading wasn’t too fun either. The A-Cam operator Jordan Meli was professional and familiar with the camera he was using, I on the other hand was not. I had borrowed the camera from someone else and had issues figuring out the white balance and focus. Which meant that many of the shots I took came out overexposed and awkwardly colored, making it hard for me to match the colors to Jordan’s clean footage in post.

To sum up the difficulties I had I’ll say that lack of prep and unfamiliarity with my equipment were the two main contributing factors.

Is it more important to have a budget, or to have the mind to find salvation solutions in critical situations?

I think it’s important to manage your expectations, and then use experience to determine an appropriate budget. Above all I’d say your mind is an essential tool, more than money. Throwing money at an unsolvable problem only creates increased financial deficit. You need your mind to figure out a way around these problems, because that’s how you’re going to stretch whatever money you have into feasible and worthwhile results.

Do you think film festivals help filmmakers?

Absolutely. I have no experience with fronting money to self-produce an exhibition, but I’d say it’s probably marginally more expensive than paying submission fees for festivals.

Festivals are also filled with experienced veterans and experts in this field who know exactly what to do with the material they see. I myself have been guided towards opportunities I certainly wouldn’t have seen if I handled exhibition of Call of The City solo. This very interview is the result of my success in an associative festival!

Tell us about film production companies. Can one, as an inquisitive filmmaker, count on production companies?

I’ve always been someone to hold my cards close to my chest and I don’t see that changing. I wouldn’t trust a company as a whole but I would certainly build trust with an individual within said entity in order to move forward. This industry is filled with people, and that’s how you should treat your career. Don’t think about opportunities with companies but opportunities with people. You can only count upon an opportunity paying out if you trust the people associated with it.

That being said. I haven’t dealt with a production company yet, but I look forward to it. Every corner of this industry is filled with people who simply have love for the craft and want to help others who are the same. I have no doubt that many production companies contain these kinds of individuals and I’m looking forward to meeting some of them someday.

How much of the future of cinema do you think is in the hands of powerful companies like Netflix?

I think it really depends on who decides to work for them and how much power the people allow these companies to have. At the end of the day, they can own all the material they like but the viewer still has the power to turn off their television and go to a theater instead. People enjoy quality cinema whenever it comes around. If good movies are playing in the theaters, those cinemas will be full while the couches at home remain empty.

This isn’t to say that these companies are the enemy, I enjoy what I see on streaming sites and hope their good work continues. But the simple fact is that nothing defeats the big screen and great filmmakers. I think the territory we’ve seen streaming platforms take over so far, the home television, is as far as they go.

Is cinema, as some say, dead, and should we expect television and Internet broadcasts to be gaining more and more power?

I will stand by the big screen until my last breath. Cinema is not dead; you could outlaw Cinema and it still wouldn’t die. I think we’re in a transitionary period. People needed to get used to the growing popularity of internet streaming and the opportunities it offered filmmakers and other industry members. There was certainly a lull in cinema’s originality for a short while, but I think that time may be coming to an end. I’m hopeful for the future of cinema and think that it will persevere.

What skills do you think a filmmaker needs to have? Is it necessary for the filmmaker to personally understand many specialized subfields?

I think every filmmaker should understand lighting at the very least. If you want to be a successful director, you need to understand how to communicate with your technicians. At a professional level your Key Grip or Gaffer might be able to work with vague instructions, but a smooth production really comes with a director knowing exactly what he wants down to the number. If you’re able to tell the camera operator the correct position, and the gaffer the correct light, and the Key Grip the correct diffusion/flag all in one go you’re going to save time and money. Nothing is more wasteful than an indecisive director. Maybe it’s just me but I find my confidence skyrockets when I can know everything, even if I don’t need to.

Besides owning an extensive amount of functional knowledge, I’d say flexibility is the next best skill to have. Sometimes figuring out a shot is like figuring out a puzzle. You need to know when to change things around and more importantly, who needs to change things around. If you can minimize the number of adjustments across departments, you can once again save a lot of time and money.

What I mean by this is that if you absolutely need a shot, but your technicians are telling you it can’t be done, find compromise. Adjust the angle, or lighting, or change the blocking. Mess around with your creativity until you find something that’s not only what you need but do-able for everyone involved.

This also isn’t to say that you always need to make sacrifices. If what you have is the only way to get an essential shot, and you’ve already taken a step back for reconsideration, sometimes the work just must be done. Even if it’s a strenuous and long task, making the decision to take the long way around will save you time if you can know right away that it’s the only option.

Tell us about your next project, please.

I have several finished scripts ranging from feature length films to television pilots, to shorts. It’s rare that a perfect opportunity approaches an artist and allows them to make something of their choice, so I believe in continuously writing up new projects and always being prepared for whatever or whoever comes my way. It’s impossible to tell what genre of narrative a studio might demand from an artist.

If I had my way, I’d love to shoot the feature that the short Call of The City was pulled from. Given the reaction that this proof of concept received, I have no doubt that people would be enthralled with the full scope of Dante’s narrative and the pieces of our world that are painted within it.

But features are something that might have to come with another year’s experience and wisdom. I’m guessing my next project will be another short in my efforts to build my brand. I have a particular horror short, around the same length of the Call of The City short. It’s a psychological horror that takes place within a grocery store. A lone clerk working the night shift experiences a personality shift that brings the viewer into a nightmarish realm of suspense. It requires quite a bit of set dressing and practical FX, two departments I haven’t had the chance to personally direct yet. It will require imagination and I have no doubt I’ll be able to use the lessons that creating Call of The City allowed me to learn. I’m excited for my future and even more grateful at the chance to share it with an audience.


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