It is always awesome to discover filmmakers and dig into their mind and see what makes them tick. This weeks episode I had the pleasure of bumping into Michael Andrés Ordoñez, who of Colombian descent, directs films that feature Asian actors & what he describes as ‘Echoes of Japan’. Currently in his senior year at CSU Northridge, he studied film theory, cinematography, literature, and cultural anthropology while majoring in film production via the CTVA program. His passion is to tell stories that focus on our cultural roots and the possibilities within our community and its people- folk cinema. Having watched a few of his films, I felt he was a voice my readers needed to hear! Click below to read the interview…
Give the JapanCinema.net readers a bit of information on yourself and your experience as a filmmaker.
Maicol: Hello, Japan Cinema readers! My name is Maicol Andrés Ordoñez and I’m a filmmaker who’s in love with the art. I’m infatuated with films. I was born in Colombia and now I’m an LA native and that’s how things seemed to work out. My role as an artist has transitioned from theater geek, to geek writer, to actor, to film director. My experience as a filmmaker has been to live life thoroughly, to probe everything, from the mundane to the frightfully outrageous. Werner Herzog said something like, “the best film school is to just get up and walk 500 miles in any direction.” Those are words to live by because living life is all the training in art you’ll ever need.
As someone who wears multiple hats on your films – what is your favorite part of filmmaking and why?
Maicol: My favorite part of filmmaking is the editing process. Pre-production is a bore, all the planning is usually thrown out the window anyway and pre-visualizing everything leaves you with little creative work when you’re there. Not my style. Production is fun if you know your way around actors and a camera because things get interesting then. You find you can make your film a live conversation where the story comes alive before you and you record it like a documentarian. And in a lot of ways making films feels no different than making a documentary since all the fiction and pretending involved is still grounded in reality and you yourself are present with a camera to capture all of it. Editing is the best part because you get to shape a film out of nothing but images. That’s all films are after shooting a pile of random images and you get to shape them into something meaningful. You work as a sculptor. Of course some films are planned out to a tee but I suggest you filmmakers just go out and make a film up as you go along. Keep a story and some characters and some beats in your heart and then see what happens. When those abstract images stare you in the face in the editing room you really get that creativity working because you are forced to find a narrative from scratch. It’s a very exciting process to make something from what seems like nothing.
HYPNOTCHKA is a really interesting piece of filmmaking. It primarily focuses on an Asian girl and you describe it as a cross between a dream and a scribbled diary entry. Could you elaborate?
Maicol: A few years back my friend Souraya e-mailed me a dream she’d scribbled down and titled it “her” and I think she suggested I make it into a movie but I didn’t really pay it any mind. Now, at the time half my friends were Japanese immigrants studying alongside me and for some reason my friend’s dream and the idea of this lonely, desperate girl stuck in an empty world connected with the way a lot of my Japanese buddies felt about living here. They felt comfort in their community and in the friendship of guys like me but there were days that they would sit in their rooms and feel painfully far from home and disconnected from the present and yearned for something, anything at all, to get interesting. Souraya’s dream and their LA experience seemed to compliment one another in a natural way.
Living alone for the first time I even found myself relating to their alienation and so did Souraya, especially Souraya, who had just been evacuated to LA from her home in Beirut! The reason I feel it is like a scribbled diary entry is because HYPNOTCHKA captures these everyday and often ignored experiences like, “I woke up today, there’s blood on my sheet, fuck, now what? I look out the window and there’s fuck else to do. Guess I’ll do some laundry.” Yet in dreams, these sort of mundane experiences are amplified, the emotions feel more real than they do in waking life, and I thought it would be cool to record those feelings on tape. I felt that others who felt that kind of disconnect from their surroundings would appreciate that there’s a storyteller out there that feels what they feel. HYPNOTCHKA is supposed to be a companion for lonely travelers from within the city or from afar. At least that’s my hope.
Does a film such as this one exist with minimal direction or is there a lot of takes? What is the worst thing that’s ever happened on one of your indie film shoots?
Maicol: I never used a shot list with this movie. We made everything up as we went along and we just riffed off this vibe my actors, Shiori Ideta and Mitch Benson, and I felt fit the story. There were few takes so we could cover lots of ground and it was fun not knowing how the picture would turn out. It’s funny, there are actually whole scenes that were cut out we had come up with. In one I play Shiori’s neighbor who desperately wants her to come inside his room and in another Shiori follows Mitch, who plays this ridiculous bum, into an alleyway and discovers him smacking around a prostitute. It was pretty crazy stuff but in the end we cut it out. Now I miss that footage. The worst thing that ever happened on a film shoot happened after the film was done! I had saved a thriller I had made, my most ambitious film, with a narrative and everything, on a portable hard drive that fried and deleted everything on it. That was crushing, losing a film I made forever, but then I said, “that’s life.” I think a professor from school still has the last remaining dvd but I’m afraid to look at it. I want it to remain this ‘lost masterpiece’ that is gone forever!
What are some of your other projects?
Maicol: I’m a week away from shooting my newest film! The name is BROKEN KISSES. It’s about two lovers in a small desert town. A young man whisks away his young woman and they confront their relationship and their past in a barren motel. I’m excited because it’s a FILM shot with FILM in full, vibrant super 35! BROKEN KISSES is pure new wave and deeply personal folk cinema. I hope you and your readers get to see it in a festival near you.
Do you have any advice for the amateur filmmakers reading this?
Maicol: So, I’m a director, right? But before deciding to direct I originally thought I’d be a film critic. It seemed perfect when I started college. I thought, “all you have to do is watch movies and write about them? Cool.” That lasted for about two semesters until I discovered this film club on campus where you’d meet a kid with a cool camera and you went out and made movies and after a week I was hooked. I love movies, I’ve been an actor since I was a little kid, and I write: it made sense. If you have a film club at school and you want to make movies: JOIN IT. I’m serious. If all they do is watch movies go in there and motivate those kids to go out and shoot. You can throw a rock and you’ll meet someone with a DSLR and Final Cut Pro on their Macbook. We’re in a crazy age where we can all be visual storytellers and spend close to nothing and people will watch it!
This is the age of folk cinema, folks. Homegrown, lo-fi flicks are en vogue in a time where half the movies in theaters totally suck and believe me when I say people are hungry to see what unique cinematic offerings YOU have to give. Your movie can be anything from your cat playing a piano to a badass police shootout to a meditation on loneliness and alienation in LA. Anything at all as long as the work is true to you. Go out with some friends and make a movie and see what you learn about yourself and others. I can guarantee it’s a lot.