Interview by Chris Olson
Director of short film Lookouts, David Bousquet, recently sat down with us to talk about making his epic fantasy film.
How would you sum up your short film, Lookouts?
Face your monsters. Overly dramatic as it may sound, we took on a very “do, or die trying” approach to this film and that is fittingly reflected in the climax of the story. Pehn’s final trial as a Lookouts scout is to face his greatest fear, but Pehn isn’t a hero and he chooses to run instead of fight. When he’s left without hope, without faith, and without the security of his protectors, only then does he choose to turn (despite all odds) and face the Basilisk. People say it ends as a cliffhanger, but for me, the story ends when he stands and turns towards the beast. The hardest decision has been made and what happens as a result isn’t important. In my mind, he’s already won.
Can you tell us how you came to this project, and what the motivation was behind telling this story on screen?
Penny Arcade created the first Lookouts comic back in 2009 along with a sci-fi short entitled, “Automata.” Both stories used bold, visual language, and ended with a wonderful hook that really got me. When my wife Kristin (LOOKOUTS’ Producer) and I decided to make a short film just for the love of the art, we wanted to celebrate a story from a group of creatives who actively post free content online every week. At the time, PA had not converted any of their properties into motion and we were excited to create an inspired work, which we could offer back as thanks for all the years of entertainment.
You are also DoP on Lookouts. The film has a fantastic aesthetic. Did you have any particular styles, influences or goals you were bearing in mind during the filmmaking?
The “art” of filmmaking is HOW a story is translated into visuals. That’s the point of choosing this medium over any other story-telling art form. It’s visual. The look and feel of LOOKOUTS was immensely important in deciding which story we tell and how we tell it. One quick example is the “Cull” scene at the end of the film where the Ranger passes on his final words of warning and support. Earlier that year, I saw a Bacardi commercial that blew me away, visually. Its mixture of blistering red light and atmospheric fog was exactly the backdrop I wanted to separate the Ranger and his group of scouts from the village festivities going on in the distance. In addition to the bonfire and torches we positioned in the scene, we also rigged a series of road flares that gave us that intensely saturated red light that contrasts the overhead M90 “moon light,” which hung from a condor crane. The Lookouts comic uses a variety of colour washes to boost the sense of fantasy in each panel and I think the way in which our fog bled vibrant light throughout the scene mimicked that “colour wash” effect from the comic.
The casting of the film was important in this story, especially with the lead child actor.
Short timeframes allow for minimal character development. Caring about Pehn and connecting with his struggle was the real challenge of this film. We couldn’t build a complete relationship with the character in 10 minutes, but we knew we could introduce existing relationships with the people closest to Pehn. If the audience buys into those, hopefully they’ll buy into Pehn. Pehn is a difficult character to write and to play. He needed to be timid but not frail, un-heroic but not weak. You have to believe that he’s capable of picking up a dagger and running at a monster, while fully believing that he’d probably rather drop the blade and run away. Managing those contradictions in a character’s personality would be difficult for any actor, especially an 11 year old. I continue to be impressed with how patient and collected he (Kelton Roney) remained while delivering a range of emotions throughout the whole filmmaking process. Truly a young professional.
How was it working with the performers?
The boys were great. Give some sticks and costumes to a group of young boys in the forest and they instantly become method actors. They never leave character. Because this was a short film, we really had to focus on Pehn, but the personalities and dynamics of the whole troop would be fascinating to explore. Chris Cleveland and Stefanie Estes we’re a joy to work with. Stefanie contributed so much heart and emotion with so little actual screen time, I couldn’t be happier with her approach to Kliea. Chris is a powerhouse. The voice he developed for the Ranger floored us from day one of his audition to the final shot of production. He’s the type of actor you can’t look away from on screen, just fantastic.
What, in your opinion, is the toughest aspect of filmmaking in 2016?
Certainly for myself, the biggest challenge is (and always has been) making the film. I know that answer sounds uninspired, but it’s true. The single hardest thing about this entire wonderful and exhausting experience was actually getting the film made, and I don’t see that changing. Modern technologies and distribution chains have shifted how we capture cinema and how its delivered to the audience, but neither of those qualifies are “the toughest aspect” of filmmaking today. Making the art product “exist,” now that’s tough. You gotta love the struggle.
Are there any tips you would give to newcomers to directing? Things which have helped you along the way?
Directing is communicating, and “barking orders” is not directing. It’s not enough to have a good idea or to have access to the tools and people needed to interpret that idea into visuals. That translation can’t happen until you can communicate and support what’s in your head. The most important class I took during High School was an elective, forensics. Not CSI, rather speech and debate. People have such a distorted perspective on debating and often write it off as “bickering with a podium.” That’s easy to understand given our current political climate, but a real debate is much different. Learning how to listen to an argument, deconstruct it and separate the supportive elements from those that negate your position is incredibly valuable. Really, anyone in any industry that has to interact with other human beings can benefit from practicing how to present and support their ideas/opinions WHILE objectively analysing their own stance for its weaknesses. The ability to take either side of an argument at anytime is fundamental in debate, and it’s proven invaluable when communicating in a collaborative environment like a film production.
What is the next project you are working on?
We’re moving on to full-length feature work and a new script is already deep into development. REALLY exciting stuff! Narrative storytelling has entered our bloodstream; that can’t be ignored. Lookouts was a way of testing whether or not we are comfortable with longer format filmmaking, and it instantly felt like home.
What would you say if you were a dolphin
In very clear English, I would say the word, “squeak.”