Note: The original review reproduced here first appeared in Cult Critic Magazine, and was written by Moumita Deb.
Directed by Robert David Duncan/ Reviewed by Moumita Deb
Bearing testimony to some revolutionary cell phone cinematography, the sheer enigma of a movie magic happens in an instant in Room 403 Spinoza Hotel. It’s an alchemy of elements that, for whatever reason, creates something much more valuable when woven together in beautiful tapestry of surreal collage of images - the formula that has been sought for generations by filmmakers.
The film really stands out remarkably, both for its brevity and impact. Thought of just runtime 2 minutes 20 seconds, it delivers the same emotional punch, the same sense of wonder, the same movie magic as its much longer counterparts.
The film is a brilliant education in concision, implication, distillation, and, the raw power of moving images, settles down with devastating charm. It follows its own rules, which is why it’s nearly impossible to find a formula or designate a definite genre to Spinoza Hotel. Often, it can be understood only in retrospect, as the impact of the images with an equally imposing voice over, play themselves over and over again in our head.
Like a rolling stone, this film by Robert David Duncan creates, and is carried along,by its own momentum. It tumbles out in monologue and imagery, giving the piece the same relentless force as the ambiguous concept of liminal space,it talks about, through the space creature’s heart-rending soliloquy. By the end, the narrator is nearly touched by the emotional impact of his own words, and so are we. It may seem like the film is telling us about the anguish of ethereal creatures paying an imaginary visit to earth. In reality, it’s throwing us into the deep end. In just a few minutes, when you say you’re a silent sufferer,it conveys all the pain, panic, and glory of silent suffering itself.
It doesn’t take long to establish characters an audience cares about. Throughout the film The Wall with symbolic graffiti scribbled, stands with all its might and glory as a substantially personified character, giving meaning and poise to the narration. And not even for a second in the middle does it ever seem to drag. But these primal moments with the characters are essential for the final punch to land perfectly. When it does, we feel a huge emotional burden for this well-established character we have barely spent 140 seconds with. Without even realizing it, we bond intensely, and as their world sinks, so does ours.
The theme is so beautifully executed that it elevates itself into the realm of higher cinema. A journey to explore a liminal world-between-worlds where great and very unconventional spirits dwell. The film moves through time, space, and metaphor at the perfect pace (not plodding or breakneck), giving us a sense of history and significance of inner conflicts of cosmic creatures and their corporeal existence, their virulent grudge against space exploration and experimentation and finally a maddening obsession to transform the body to pure radio emissions - all becomes miraculously convincing through the lens of the filmmaker.
This hypnotic little film perfectly captures the quirky and colourful world of the haunting liminal existence that is neither here nor there. It is betwixt and between the moment that was and the one yet to be; a transition from who we were to who we are. Walk within the mists and explore between the illusion and reality.
The beauty of this film quite evidently lies in its simplicity without any intricate craftsmanship. It relies on composition, colours, and spot-on narration to create its charm. Somehow, even without any human characters, story, or dialogue, Room 403 Spinoza Hotel has managed to create a two-minutes sensation we can watch over and over again, and still find something new to appreciate.
While brilliantly executed, Room 403 Spinoza Hotel is truly a concept-driven piece. It’s the idea that sticks with you more than the film does. In that way, its two-minute run time works to its advantage. Just long enough to plant an idea in your mind, but not so long that it exhausts its possibilities. It makes you want more but refuses to indulge. And like all good films, it twists just enough at the end to provide a bit of closure to gratify the viewers ‘ever questioning mind.
The film vouches a deep pondering into the ontological relationship between perceptions of reality and the imagined from this threshold where fantasy meets reality, or where reality and fantasy may cross over and exchange places; and happily indulges in fictional characters who visit this space and later depart with a refreshed vision of the world , so to speak or as failures who remain there, doomed to a condition of perpetual uncertainty, anxiety or moral paralysis.
The film is essentially a testimony, executed with no cuts, no music, and just two graphics to indicate dialogue. A brilliant little machine of a film indeed!
Thank you so much Moumita Deb and Cult Critic The Film Magazine for this wonderful review, I really appreciate it!
This is a copy of an interview originally published in the Kenya Rock Film Festival Journal. Reproduced here with thanks.
ROFFEKE: This collaboration begun with your status update:
“I like to make myself available as an actor to one or two indie projects in the summers as a way to give back and say thanks for all the support I've enjoyed with my own projects. If you have a part you'd like to write me into or have me consider, do feel free to be in touch and we'll see what can work out. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm5399017”
How important is it for actors to “give back” and what are the advantages of doing this?
ROBERT: In the indie no-budget film world, we are almost always begging favours and hoping people can help us, often for free. That's an unfortunate reality of the work, and even if we have a tiny bit of money, we can never pay people what they are worth. So the art of making indie films becomes a lot about trading favours, and that's where "paying it forward" is a good habit to get into. For my part as a producer-director, I can help by giving people a good experience on my films. I try to keep the days short, with an eye to efficiency and respectfulness. I'd like people to go home feeling good about the work so that they will help someone else some day. I can also help by making sure people get IMDb credits right away, and by doing my best to have the films get out into festivals and beyond so our work gets out there. I also like to offer people their "one-up" position as much as possible, which was a piece of advice I got from a director who was very helpful to me early-on. What this means is a supporting or character type actor can get a shot at a lead role, a background actor can try out having some lines for a change, a person who hasn't done sound but wants to learn can hoist a boom and get a bit of field experience with the recording gadgetry; basically it means that people can try out the next level up that they are aspiring to. For this reason, I see my productions as training vehicles for people, and we treat them as educational opportunities, creating a culture of sharing knowledge and taking chances on people so they can grow. So when I look back on all the goodwill people have extended to me, I like to give back by offering to help others when I can. For me, the most fun way to do that is by offering my time as an actor, since it is what I like to do most, and making my own films and being responsible for the work of others can actually take me away from acting for the pure joy of it!
ROFFEKE: The project required you to improvise. How does improvisation help actors to improve their skills/craft?
ROBERT: Improvisation turns accidents into gifts! A table that gets knocked down on stage unintentionally by an actor can turn into a hilarious moment or a great character reveal. It's all in how you handle things. By training in improv, an actor gains a great sense of being present in the moment with maximum flexibility and a willingness to say "yes" to all sorts of things that happen. It creates a great framework for fun story development with a spirit of playfulness. One of the improv games I like is one where an actor says something, and the other actor says "Yes, and..." and then adds another little bit to the story, passing it back or on to someone else who says "Yes, and..." There are various versions of that kind of game, but they all create a sense of positivity that keeps something growing and building, and each person comes to realize that they don't have to say something totally amazing, but rather they just have to be accepting of what is sent their way and build on it a little bit. I love improv and I encourage everyone to try to take a weekend workshop or something if they can or get a book from the library and try it with a few friends, or watch some YouTubes to see some good improv games. It's fun, and will help your acting immensely!
(Robert was gracious enough to avail "The Dance of Collaboration", an excerpt from "Improv to Improve your Business". Interested in checking it out? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org).
ROFFEKE: In this project, you went the extra mile; researching how we say hi in Sheng, putting the Shenganiguns logo in the background. What are some of the ways that actors can go the extra mile?
This was a fun project! I think it is important for actors to understand some key things, such as where their part fits into the overall story, who their character is and the function of the character in helping get the story across. It's often said there are no small parts, but actually there are, and the size and importance of the role to the story should to some extent guide the actor's preparation. A role like the one I just did for the Shenganiguns was not intended to be a major role or one of the sustaining characters responsible for carrying a lot of the story line. I saw it more as being like a single piano chord: "bom!" and you're out of there as the story moves on. A bit of funny counterpoint to whatever is going on in the main story, perhaps to illustrate the growth of the band's fame and increasing global reach. So for a character like that, I feel it is essential just to hit that one chord and not hold back. So in preparing, what I like to focus on is who the character actually is, in the sense of what type of person. I knew from the production team that he was the president of the Canadian fan club. Given my age and look, I tried to picture this guy - the kind of person who in middle age is a total fanatic for a new band. Once I start picturing the character as a whole being inhabiting my physical self, I try to isolate one main quality or trait the person has. In this case, I decided it was enthusiasm. So that is my main play - enthusiasm. Then I spice it up with a secondary trait, and I settled on fearlessness as in the sense of being without fear of trying new things - the kind of guy who would learn a few words of Sheng and Swahili and just put them out there with a big smile on his face! From that point it gets easier once you have made these first few choices. I then searched out some key phrases in Sheng from the web and lucked into this site ( https://answersafrica.com/kenyan-slangs-meanings.html ) which explained to me what Sheng was and gave me some ideas of a few words I knew I wanted to work into the scene. From that point on, I was confident that this guy's enthusiasm and willingness to try new things would carry the scene. I think that's a good tip to remember - the simpler your make your character in terms of their primary and secondary behavioural traits or makeup, the more straightforward it is to play them and there's less risk of getting bogged-down in over-thinking. Just go in and play your main notes, and play them to win!
(Check out how Robert played to win as the president of the official Canadian fan club of The Shenganiguns! Watch here)
For a more complex role, like "Dunc" in the feature film "A Legacy of Whining" my preparation was more involved. The story takes place over a single evening between two former high school friends who haven't seen each other in 30 years. I was given the direction that Dunc's main function was to burst every hopeful balloon that the other main character, Mitch, floated out there. So basically I was to be the permanently mean-spirited downer and pessimist in the face of Mitch's persistent (if unrealistic) hopefulness. But this was a feature-length film and I was one of the lead actors, so how do you sustain that kind of negativity without some kind of internal justification? So the work there became one of creating a believable set of past circumstances, personal history and worldview that would allow me to play this one kind of attitude through the whole film. The secret there was in the back story I created for my character, as to why he was there in the first place and why he is so irritable. I gave him an occupation, a justification for being in town, a triggering incident, and some reasons to be irritable and negative. Having made those private choices for myself, it became a lot more straightforward to play the character in a more textured way without forcing it. I had the luxury of time with that film because we had plenty of time to rehearse and think about things. For many projects you have to move a lot faster, and there isn't enough lead time to do a lot of work, so I focus on that one primary character trait, the one secondary trait and as much backstory as I can quickly put together. It's important, I think, to make those choices quickly and then just start stepping into being the character right away and getting the lines down.
ROFFEKE: You gave back in this project. Who are some of the people that gave back in your projects and in what ways did they do this?
ROBERT: Wow, so many people have given their time, talent, advice and other support to me over the years I could never thank them all sufficiently. This includes people who catch one of our films at a festival and say good things or people who watch on YouTube or other channels, festival programmers like you, Mildred, and others like my Patreon members, even people who were willing to walk around our little movie sets with a smile. If you check out the cast and crew for "It's About Love" and my other films, you'll see a lot of familiar faces! My successes are the product of a ton of goodwill, and I hope I can give back also through my books, festival, support, time, advice, teaching and other ways. I think it's cool if you look at my IMDb and trace the interrelationships among people and see the many times I have worked with other people, you can definitely get the sense of there being a real film family or families there. As an example, Ross Munro wrote the part of "Dunc" in "A Legacy of Whining" with me in mind, and I then wrote Ross a lead role as "Rick" in "It's About Love" because I enjoyed working with him and knew his work ethic. I met cinematographer Ron Heaps on "A Legacy of Whining" and we have all worked together several times since, and so it goes, spinning this cool web of connectivity, and each person also brings their own network of goodwill with them and it grows. Now I've worked with you, Mildred, and it would be cool to do that again some day!
ROFFEKE: Advice for aspiring actors?
ROBERT: Make your own stuff! It's the single best piece of advice I can give to an actor. Turn your smartphone on yourself and speak for a minute on all the frustrations and joys of your day as an actor. Stage a simple scene with a friend that has a funny twist or a cool life lesson. Have fun! If you don't know how to edit video, ask someone who knows editing to help you edit that piece into a one-minute film with beginning and ending titles. Load it up on FilmFreeway or other similar sites and submit it to a festival, or better yet, five festivals. Maybe you'll get into a festival! Eventually, you can put it up on YouTube or Vimeo or similar sites and reach even more people who can see and appreciate your talents. From that point on, you are a creator, instead of being someone who waits to be chosen for a part by someone else. You are now a writer-director-producer who also acts, and that is a much more powerful place to be in your career. As you learn and grow your skills you will get better at all aspects of your craft and your projects will get more complex and interesting. Plus, filmmakers love working with actors who know how to make films, because they bring a lot of knowledge that improves their acting, things like understanding continuity between takes and other insights into the process of filmmaking.The years will pass anyway, and are gone for good, so do you want to spend that time auditioning endlessly for others or making your own stuff? If you keep making stuff you will stay in the driver's seat of your own career. You can still audition all you want, but you are operating from a position of power, and it is your choice.
IMDb page: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm5399017
Patreon site: https://www.patreon.com/robertdavidduncan
Udemy course "Acting Skills for a Better Life" https://www.udemy.com/acting-skills-for-a-better-life/
Udemy course: "How to Make a Feature Film with No Money and No Car" https://www.udemy.com/how-to-make-a-feature-film-with-no-money-and-no-car/
YouTube link to "It's About Love" full movie https://youtu.be/VSSO1VjdHA8
IMDb for "A Legacy of Whining" with trailer https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3766040
The following is the text of an interview by the Rock and Roll Festival Kenya (ROFFEKE) and "Fat Punk" director Robert David Duncan.
WINNER, MOST AVANT GARDE FILM
WINNER, BEST EXPERIMENTAL FEATURE FILM
WINNER, BEST EXPERIMENTAL, FEATURE CATEGORY
WINNER, BEST WRITER - ROBERT DAVID DUNCAN - FAT PUNK
NOMINATED, BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE FILM
NOMINATED, BEST DIRECTOR - ROBERT DAVID DUNCAN
"A triumph of solo-shot, punk-style D.I.Y. smartphone filmmaking, Fat Punk explores the space beyond life and death, where memories live on even though the world that contained them is long gone. With its themes of love, struggle, loss, coming of age and aging, Fat Punk is a beautiful tribute to the original era of punk, and the special past that lives on in each of us."
ROFFEKE: The opening images of Fat Punk are quite striking. Why graffiti as the opening images?
Robert: I wanted to be able to have a central visual frame or container for the wanderings that the protagonist takes in the film, and the graffiti-filled alleyways provided that. To some extent, he is wandering though the past - both his own, and the physical past of the city where he came of age. He perhaps is even caught somewhere between life and death, which is something each viewer can ponder and decide about, if they wish to. I had fallen in love with the alleyways of downtown Vancouver while wandering around filming other stuff, and I really liked the picture they present of art, anger, hope, decay and a beautiful array of emotions. As the main character, FP, wanders back in his mind through the life-changing summer he had decades before, the alleys seemed to represent a perfect symbol of that journey.
ROFFEKE: What technical and non-technical special effects did you use in Fat Punk?
Robert: Well, one of the first things that the viewer will pick up on is that the film is shot in first-person camera point-of-view (POV), with an unseen main character. I liked this because it meant I could make the main character really larger than life! This meant hand-holding the smartphone camera rig at a height of around 2 metres. I'm already quite tall, so this was pretty easy, and quite fun. You may notice how much everyone else in the film looks up! This also meant I could play the main character as well as the main supporting character Leo. The protagonist is unseen but heard, and Leo is seen but unheard, so it worked with me playing both.
I also faded from colour to B+W early in the film to show the transition from present day back into the memory world that the bulk of the film takes place in. I used a pencil sketch special effect during post-production that gives the film a sort of graphic novel look, which was intended to heighten the dreamlike quality of memory. Are our memories accurate, or are they created in our own minds like a film or comic book?
ROFFEKE: How much of Fat Punk is autobiographical?
Robert: Like most of my films, there is no "me" character in the story. There are, however, elements that I am familiar with, and emotional themes that I feel a real kinship with. For example, I wasn't the picked-on kid, but I was the kid who didn't join a band when I had the chance, feeling more comfortable keeping my bass-playing for home, and being a band photographer instead.
Similarly, I didn't lose my parents young, but I did lose them, and for various reasons I know what it is to feel fatherless. I think so many of us grow up without the parenting we would have wanted, and I do feel that leaves a permanent sorrow that doesn't go away. This is at the root of the relationship between the main character, FP, and his mentor, Leo. Of all the characters in the film, I perhaps identify most strongly with Leo.
ROFFEKE: Who have been the Leos (mentors) in your life?
Robert: Most of them have been teachers of one sort or another! Early on in school there was a special education teacher who took me under his wing a bit and showed me some cool things with music and other activities. I think he may have sensed a lack in my home life, as perhaps did other teachers, who would spend extra time with me, letting me talk with them. I'm still grateful for that, and for how school was a stabilizing influence in my childhood.
The mentor-protege connection is something I enjoy exploring in my stories. I have a theory that both the mentor and the protege have a lack inside them, and they unconsciously or subconsciously seek each other out. The dynamic between FP and Leo is such a positive one, and is almost a story in itself. Hopefully everyone comes across a positive influence like that at some point in their life.
I've been lucky to have other figures who have served as role models and mentors in my adult life. I try to give some of that back as well, by doing talks, teaching, coaching and writing books, sharing my knowledge. As I get older, I realize there are fewer and fewer older people around to be role models for people my age, so it kind of falls to each of us to step up and try to mentor ourselves and others.
ROFFEKE: In Fat Punk, you turned the weaknesses of having no budget into strengths. If you had a big budget, what major changes would you make to Fat Punk?
Robert: The script has gone through so many changes! The original film I wanted to make was set in 1979, a period piece, and would have had actors playing FP as a child, a teen and as a young adult. I was going to play Leo. I realized early-on that it was beyond my capacity at that time to make that film. Believe me, I tried! I did at times also consider sock puppets, shadow puppets, audio plays, a comic book, a graphic novel, a stage play script, even 3D animation which I started but couldn't get the characters to look the way I had hoped.
I started rewriting the script over and over again to try and drive out costs and complications, simplifying the story every way I could. I was getting tired of this failure or "non-success" hanging over me, so I told myself there was no way I was going to carry this untold story with me into the following year. I was either going to do it or dump it, and I think the latter would have been a shame, because I feel it is a beautiful story of love, loss and empowerment.
Around that time I started experimenting with first-person POV shooting, where I was an actor, but also the cinematographer and director. The FotoSafari MoJo-7 rig I have for my iPhone made that quite feasible. We shot my web series "The Four Letter Words" that way, with me playing an integral but unseen character, while filming and interacting with other actors. Around then I must have had the "a-ha!" moment, because I realized I could perhaps shoot "Fat Punk" from the POV of someone my age looking back in time.
It was amazing how quickly the pieces fell into place after that. This story wanted out! I wrote the final script, dropping many of the earlier story elements and some characters, in just a few days. That became the shooting script, and I only ever printed a single copy of it. Actors that I had been talking to about the longer original version were still willing to come out and do some quick cameos, and the rest is history.
In a perfect world, sure, I'd love to be sitting in a cinema or a stage audience someday and see the original period piece, as written, with all the vintage costumes, set decoration, live music and stuff, but for now, I know I've taken the story as far as I need to for the moment and am getting it out there for people to enjoy. Hopefully they like and get something from it. It was made for $500 in the end, so if nothing else, that should be an inspiration!
ROFFEKE: Favourite female director(s)?
Robert: I suspect some of the people I have in mind might prefer to be known simply as directors rather than female directors, but here goes:
They are all directors that I have a lot of respect for. I like how they experiment, push boundaries and do great work, while also being positive and supportive influences for other artists. I recently re-watched "The Savages" by Tamara Jenkins and was again really impressed with the awesome telling of such a realistic and human-scale story. I also came across a film from 1971 called "A New Leaf" and was really interested by both the writing and directing of Elaine May. In general, I think writer-directors rock!
Robert David Duncan is the author of Microshort Filmmaking
Artistic resistance is something all artists face from time to time. Understanding what it is and learning to recognize when it is happening to you will help you cope with it and become productive again. Call it a blockage, frustration, lethargy, a sense of failure - it is all similar. Having worked alongside artists for a long time, I believe that resistance often manifests itself in various forms of self-sabotage. There are things that we do, or don’t do, that result in a self-perpetuating cycle of disappointment. Here are some common manifestations of resistance and some suggested counter-attacks.
Equating a lack of success today as overall failure. These are not the same things. First, consider how you are measuring success. Fame, for example, is a poor measure of success, because it is an unlikely outcome of most artistic work, is out of your control, and is guaranteed to recede the more you chase it. Try reframing success as being more along the lines of “I am developing in my craft and having fun.” These things are more in your control. Next, realize that all artists must go through phases where they are stalled and frustrated. This is when you are laying the groundwork for your next breakthrough. Take a class, read, or go and spend time around other forms of art. Seek inspiration by returning to the sources that inspire and uplift you.
Making big announcements and not following through. There’s a real rush that comes from announcing a new project, or a lofty goal. Your brain floods with well-being, and your networks come alive with support and encouragement. The problem is that you are getting most of the happy brain chemistry that usually comes from hard work and achievement, only you are getting it up-front before you actually do the hard work. This results in a real crash afterwards once the "likes” and words of support fade. There’s nothing left but the drudgery of the work, and frankly, a lot of these projects never get completed. Consider planning and working in relative secrecy, and only making public announcements as you hit major milestones.
Finding excuses not to train and study. Too busy at work, don’t need more training, timing of a course is not good, don’t have the money, just booked some work - the list goes on. If you don’t feel up to taking a class for whatever reason, then own that and get your training elsewhere though other means. Classes are great for getting structured skills development, but they aren’t the only way to learn. Read your way through the local library about craft, techniques, artists, biographies and other related subjects. Watch artist documentaries, surf YouTube for how-to videos, do some self-study by setting an artistic challenge for yourself and meeting it. Check out free courses online at places like FutureLearn and study on your own time.
Grabbing for work compulsively. For actors this shows up as going out for every piece of work they are remotely qualified for. Sometimes this is a result of the “Damn, I just gotta book something!” feeling, which is very human. It’s easy, though, to end up overloaded with auditions, and end up doing none of them very well, because you are short of both time and inspiration. As your resume builds up, you no longer have to go out for every mom, dad or party-goer role. Be more selective and leave stuff for less-experienced actors to go after. Remember that your favorite actors don’t work every month or even every year. Focus on the parts where you can really make an impact or that will stretch you in your development. Better yet, start developing your own material and writing those roles that you dream of playing.
Adopting negative ideas and language. You’ll hear it everywhere - how tough the business is, how slow things are, how the untalented are stealing all the work, how the writing sucks and so forth. Just smile and walk away. You are better off alone working on your craft than getting into a negative mindset. Refocus yourself on your own work, on getting better at your craft, and recommitting to your own measures of success. Yes, the art world is full of setbacks and difficulties, but those who are steadily making progress in their own development, and those who focus on being prepared, relaxed and ready to work always do best. Remember, it’s supposed to be fun!
There are many other forms of resistance - and each of us has their own unique ones - but whatever yours happens to be, the most important thing is to not beat yourself up about it, but to recognize it for what it is, and find a steady, positive way to get back to the inspired self you deserve to be.
Cinemaisseur chats with award-winning Director and Fat Punk Productions Founder
PHOTO CREDIT: DIRECTOR ROBERT DAVID DUNCAN
Director Robert David Duncan is an actor, director, writer and producer who has made over 30 films, receiving over 100 official selections in festivals around the world and winning several awards. He is also an acting, filmmaking teacher, coach and has written books on acting and filmmaking. He recently completed the feature “It’s About Love” which is now heading into its festival run.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN ENTERTAINMENT AND DIRECTING?
I began acting over ten years ago when I first went to the Stella Adler Studio in New York to study. That was a great experience, as was studying with other great NY-based instructors like Roger H. Simon. My first break was getting cast in an indie feature right after getting back to Vancouver. After enjoying acting for many years, I made the move into directing and filmmaking a few years ago, and have since made many films, ranging from micro-shorts to feature length. I now also teach and coach people on acting, directing and filmmaking.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE THE ROLE OF A DIRECTOR?
I love directing. For me, a director is a chief encourager, vision communicator and safe-space creator. Because I was an actor first, I know that actors all come from different traditions and ways of working, and that generally, the more you let them work without interference, the better the product will be. I normally do my own casting, and have been fortunate to work with the same actors over and over, so I know what to expect. One thing I like to do is to work with the actors as extensively as possible before the shoot, beginning with the casting meetings, the table readings and other exchanges so that we have a clear vision of who the character is, and what the story needs. In this sense, a lot of the directing can be done before the shoot. On set, it is more like conducting an orchestra, where everyone is expert at their own instrument, and my role is to make sure everything is mixing together well to best serve the story. Everyone knows I try for a 3-take maximum, so we all focus in and make our days comfortably. I also work closely with the cinematographer in order to create a zone of safety and calm on set, so people aren’t being distracted, and they can feel safe to play and enjoy the work.
OF THE PROJECTS YOU’VE WORKED ON TO DATE, COULD YOU PLEASE TELL US WHICH PROJECTS WERE HIGHLIGHTS FOR YOU?
This has been a particularly great year, because our feature “It’s About Love” that I wrote and directed was completed and has begun its journey out into festivals. Also this year, Ross Munro‘s feature “A Legacy of Whining,” which I co-starred in, premiered and has gone into distribution. I also was one of the directors on the feature film “Breathe Easy” which was a record-setting global collaborative film effort, which was an amazing process to be a part of. It was a year of features for me, both as a director and an actor!
IF YOU COULD HAVE DIRECTED ONE MOVIE FROM ANY MOVIE IN CINEMA HISTORY, WHAT FILM WOULD YOU LOVE TO TACKLE?
Definitely “The Godfather: Part II.”; It’s a beautiful movie on so many levels.
COULD YOU NAME SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE ACTORS AND ACTRESSES OF ALL TIME, AND WHY THEY INSPIRE YOU?
Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Marisa Tomei and Sally Hawkins come to mind. They all seem to have something magically compelling going on inside them that makes their work very watchable.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE FILMS OF ALL TIME AND WHY?
The Godfather: Part II” for the story, the acting and the cinematography, “Apocalypse Now” for the amazing vision, “Moonstruck” for the rich cinematography and performances and “When Harry Met Sally” for its very human-scale comedy and drama.
IF SOMEONE WAS GOING TO MAKE YOUR LIFE INTO A MOVIE, WHO WOULD PLAY YOU?
How about Mickey Rourke? I would pay to see that!
IN THIS INDUSTRY, POPULARITY CAN BE IMPORTANT, BUT ALSO FICKLE – SO FAR WHAT ARE YOU EXPERIENCES SO FAR WITH THIS?
I think I am very lucky in that I don’t crave fame. I like having fun and making art. If the art moves someone, inspires them, makes them smile, then I’m happy. But honestly, I’d make my art anyway because I enjoy the process and the exploration. I’m not motivated to be famous, maybe because I’ve already done plenty of cool things in my life, and I feel very fortunate, lucky in love and in life.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO ACHIEVE IN CINEMA GOING FORWARD IN YOUR CAREER?
Someday, I would love to make a very richly-coloured film that beautifully tells an uplifting, inspiring story. Something like a “Moonstruck” or an “Amelie.” I also have a big weakness for rom-coms like “When Harry Met Sally.” Classic, human-scale stories.
DO YOU ENJOY INTERNATIONAL FILMS, AND DO YOU HAVE ANY FAVOURITES?
I love international films, and try to see them whenever I can. I really like films by Mike Leigh and Aki Kaurismaki for example. “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” by Taika Waititi from New Zealand was another film I really enjoyed. We are lucky in Vancouver because we have a number of festivals that focus on Asian films, South African films, Turkish films, you name it. It is a great city for world cinema. I also run my own festival for one-minute films called the Miniature Film Festival, and we regularly get submissions from over 40 different countries! l also enjoy the fact that many of the official selections in festivals I have received for my films have been all over the world, not just in North America. I think cinema is a wonderful global bridge-builder and community-creator.
WHO IS THE DREAM DIRECTOR YOU’D LIKE TO WORK WITH ONE DAY?
I would love to work with Mike Leigh, just to see his process of working with the actors and shaping the final product.
ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON ANY PROJECTS?
For sure. I have another film, “Fat Punk,” in post-production now and am developing a few new projects also. I like trying to have a balanced pipeline of projects at various stages of development so that there is always something on the horizon.
CAN YOU IDENTIFY WHAT YOU FEEL ARE YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES?
I have been told that I am a good team-builder and collaborator who creates a positive environment on set. Also I know from myself that I have a strong bias for getting things done as opposed to waiting and that can be both a strength and a potential weakness. I like to work fast and finish things, even if they are not perfect. Finished beats perfect in my book, and that could be both a strength or a weakness!
DO YOU FEEL THAT ANYTHING IS MISSING FROM THE FILM AND TV INDUSTRY TODAY?
Maybe this exists somewhere, but I would really like to see a kind of open TV channel where independent filmmakers could get their stuff slotted for programming for free, non-exclusively, similar to a public-access TV model. It would be great to reach some kind of audience with our products, even if it was just, say, one-time at 3am. Kind of a “broadcaster of last resort.” You could make it challenging to apply so that the channel wouldn’t get totally overwhelmed. Knowing there was some sort of guaranteed viewership would allow new filmmakers to work backward from that to build a more compelling business case for their films, and attract more funders. There would still be a ton of upside distribution potential to aim for, but having a floor there would help too.
COULD YOU TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY SO FAR?
I see myself as a creative explorer. Filmmaking is the latest in a series of adventures and careers I have enjoyed. I could see doing other forms of art and other adventures someday. I may always make films and act because they are things that I enjoy doing and know how to do, but I am also being drawn to other modes of expression and mixed, experimental forms of art. Onward!
You can visit Director Robert David Duncan's Website here .
(Interview courtesy of Cinemaisseur)
Turn tedious drama into playful drama to gain a new appreciation of your workplace
Ask anyone what they dislike about work, and the answer will often be “drama” in one form or another. This generally refers to the subtle but tiresome forms of drama that infect workplaces and negatively impact our feelings about work. Things like gossip, attention-seeking, secret alliances, untruthfulness, manufactured stress, manipulation and other behaviours can leave people wondering why they bother to work at all, and why people just don’t do the work at-hand without all this extra drama. Clearly, dangerous and destructive behaviours like bullying and creating hostile work environments can and should be dealt with swiftly through policy, but what about the more subtle, under-the-radar, everyday actions of people? They can be tedious, and the result is often boredom, dissatisfaction, despair, a feeling of being trapped and “checking out” in all but body. Needless to say, productivity and morale often plummet.
What if we brought an actor’s approach to the everyday drama in our work lives? Actors practice drama as a craft, as something that can be learned and improved, and to some extent as a game or a sport. As I show in my book “Acting: A guided learning journey,” actors work on several levels to understand and create characters. These characters have overarching needs that remain fairly constant throughout the entire story arc of a piece of drama. These might include a need for power, a need for recognition, a need for safety and so forth. Characters also have other more specific objectives that cover individual “scenes” and interactions with other characters. The basic actor’s character calculus goes like this:
In short, the actor wants the character to “win the scene” and get what they want or need. The tools the actor uses to achieve this on behalf of the character are called “actions.” Actions can be thought of as “verbs” that support a psychological or emotional intention. To beg, to command, to flatter, to frighten, to cajole are all examples of actions. Actions are the stock-in-trade of the actor. The exact same lines can be delivered with different actions behind them, and the response they provoke will be different as well. This is why we can watch our favourite dramas played by different actors again and again, because each actor’s portrayal of a character will be unique, despite the constraints of speaking the same lines each performance. The famous acting instructor Stella Adler said: “In your choices lies your talent.” In other words, the actions an actor chooses for their character to play is the secret sauce of great drama.
What if we choose to approach our workplaces consciously as places of drama or theatre, and use the tools and crafts of the actor to play each scene in a way that supports not only our own objectives, but also the overarching needs of the organization and ultimately the customer? What if we take control of workplace drama and make it fun, make it a craft or a sport? Let’s explore some ways in which we can use the tools and craft of the professional actor to approach everyday workplace drama, and turn it in our favour, having productive fun in the process.
If we use the tools of an actor to approach the workplace, we can turn a psychologically and emotionally draining situation into a more fun one, one that we have more control over and that is less damaging to the core of our being. By being able to factor in drama as an essentially human part of work, we can learn to master it better as a craft and have it be more of a piece of theatre. Clearly, we should get out of situations that are damaging to us, and overtly harmful behaviours in a workplace need to be dealt with and removed, but for the everyday grind of people just being people - irritating as people tend to be - a little conscious theatricality may just give us a new lease on working and bring some fun back to our work. Try it out!
Robert David Duncan is an actor, director, coach, trainer and business thinker. He holds an MBA, a doctorate in business leadership and is a graduate of the prestigious Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York. He has made over 30 films and has won several awards. He is also the author of several books on both business and creative topics, and teaches and coaches business leadership, acting , directing and filmmaking.
Sometimes the best path to success lies in what you stop doing, not what you start doing
When your gut tells you it's time to pursue a different, more artistic future, listen - early and often. The more lead time you give yourself practically and emotionally, the faster you can spring into the actions necessary to enter your next chapter.
In a film that I wrote, one of the main characters is struggling upstream against a society that wants him to return to being “normal.” That’s just not going to work for him, though, because he has decided in midlife that he no longer wants to be a “corporate tool” and has chucked his MBA and his career aside to be a screenwriter. It isn’t an easy path, because the guarantees that came with conformity are gone, and the future is uncertain, both socially and financially. He may not know precisely where he is heading, but he does know what he doesn't want to do and be anymore, and that is his secret strength. It can be yours, too.
So how to get to a more artistic future for yourself? How about stopping doing the things that are leading you away from what you want? As the great management thinker Peter F. Drucker observed, a successful strategy can lie as much in what you STOP doing as what you start doing. If you aspire to being an artist or other kind of freer person, you can often be left without a road map for how to get to a future that may only appear as a hazy image in the distance. In making the leap, we are often left without the security we once had or the guidance of a mentor who understands what we are trying to do. Start by deciding who you don't want to be and what you don't want to do, and make baby steps in those areas.
I hope you can take some comfort in the idea that you don’t have to have a clear destination in mind to get where you are going. Often it is enough at first to understand what it is you no longer want to do. Doing a fearless inventory about what you no longer like about your current vocation can be a great first step. This doesn’t mean you need to start hating on your current job, but just remember that what was once a great job for you may now need to be a great job for someone else. That is totally cool, and is to be expected as we evolve and grow.
At the same time, consider what it is that you do like about your current work, because those things can point to important transferable skills that will smooth your transition to a new working life. For example, if you liked training new staff, but hated organizational politics and meetings, perhaps you will end up teaching people your art as a freelancer someday, while doing that art for your own satisfaction the rest of the time.
At some point, you probably will need to burn some bridges, close some doors, and eliminate some easy fall-backs and retreats. But this can be done politely and professionally. Understand, though, that when you have easy outs or a safe place to go back to, you probably will go back there, deferring your dream in the process. Try to be fearless, and make a leap. A friend of mine likes to invoke the Viking saying: “Burn the boats on the shore!” Having no retreat will force you to make it work. I’ve never met anyone who failed abjectly.
So here are some thought-provokers, questions and ideas for you to explore as you chart your course into the unknown:
Wishing you all the best in your journey! If you would like to work with me as a coach who deeply understands the transition to a more artistic life, please feel free to visit my coaching page and be in touch anytime. Burn the boats!
Helping others and investing in networks really does pay off
My research topic for my doctorate in business leadership was about collaboration through online social networks and how it leads to increased innovation and improved problem solving. Before gathering my primary research data, I had to absorb all I could from the canon of scholarly literature about leadership, collaboration, social networks and a dozen or so other broad topics. This was a wonderful refresher on many great ideas about leadership, the strength of weak ties, information sharing and the power of helping others.
My primary research involved an extensive survey of individuals who used online social networks, as well as in-depth interviews with senior managers who had attempted to embrace the use of online social networks in their organizations. My research was able to show that people and organizations that used social networks to collaborate and share information were able to solve problems more effectively and were more innovative as a result.
Many of the lessons from my thesis research are universal in nature, and now that I am a filmmaker, I see how the truths of my research really play out in film directing and the business of film production. Let me share some of my insights:
I got to have a first-hand experience of many of these truths over the course of making many films in recent years. One that stands out for me is the feature film “Breathe Easy” which was a global collaboration of filmmakers from around the world who connected up via social media, and produced individual segments of the film in their home countries that all rolled up into an amazing final product, setting some new records for collaboration in film. For me personally, that was such a huge payoff for all the years I put into my doctorate, because I got to see my findings come to life in the filmmaking world that I love!
For more about the ideas in my thesis, you can read the whole thing via the link here, or get a PDF copy of the book I wrote afterwards, “Collaborative Intelligence,” here. Happy collaborating to you!
Make art because it matters to you and because it might make the world a more beautiful place
Filmmakers get a lot of advice shoved down their throats about marketability, knowing the audience, targeting, distribution and making money from their films. As an MBA who had a career in business and market research before becoming an actor and filmmaker, I’m here to tell you that none of that matters. You should make a film because you feel like it, because it’s important to you and because your movie may reach someone somewhere, and leave them uplifted or affected somehow.
People spend more on a restaurant meal than you need to spend to make a small film. What would you rather have: a meal that is down the toilet a day later or a film that lives on? It’s an individual choice, and you should feel free to make that choice in favor of making a film. With careful design, planning, and a bunch of good friends, you can even make a feature film for less than people spend on a used car or a cruise vacation. Again, are you willing to forgo the car or the vacation in favor of leaving behind a real achievement like a feature film? If so, go for it!
Notice that nobody says “How will I make my money back from this cruise vacation, or this meal?” Yet people feel free to heap economic expectations on artistic projects like films. Why is that? I suspect it is part of a societal bias that sees art as being a frivolous activity, unlike, say, making and buying plastic junk that the world doesn’t need. The fact is, the world needs more art, more beauty and more thought. So let’s take the economics out of the equation, first by looking at some likely truths:
If you can muster up $5,000 or even $10,000, and want to make a feature film, then go for it! Set a tight budget and control it mercilessly. Write for simplicity and filmability: a small number of cast and locations, no fancy stuff. Constraint breeds ingenuity, and you will find a low-cost way of getting your most important story elements across. Can’t afford to film a car crash that is pivotal to your story? Have an actor react to a heard but unseen car crash and be describing it to someone on their cell phone; insert a free sound effect for the crash later. See where I’m going? You will find a way.
We need to make art because it matters, because it is beautiful, because it can reach people, uplift them and make them think. Your film need only make you and the few people who see it happy. Maybe you will reach more people than you planned, and maybe your message will change society. But the motivation needn’t be and shouldn’t be making money. If you want to make money, do market research, define your target market, figure out what that market wants and is willing to pay for, and make that, then spend tons more money making the market aware of your product. But then you are an order-taker, not an artist, and that isn’t likely what moves you and makes your heart sing. Make your films because they matter, and share them with a world hungry for art and beauty. Forget making money, make art instead!
On the occasion of the 2016 Miniature Film Festival in Vancouver, we decided to issue a manifesto, inspired by the 100th anniversary of the Dada Manifesto, issued by Hugo Ball, and read aloud in Zurich on the occasion of the first public Dada soirée. Having seen hundreds of miniature films, we were prepared to share some thoughts on our beliefs about this art form. The Miniature Film Manifesto was read aloud by Robert David Duncan at the 2016 Miniature Film Festival. The points in our Miniature Film Manifesto are intended to provoke thought, agreement, disagreement and discourse. Above all, they are intended to include and to encourage all miniature film art and artists!
MINIATURE FILM MANIFESTO
1. Every being is an artist.
2. Art is anything that has been created, acted upon, thought about, arranged, curated or combined.
3. All imagery, including static, moving, auditory and imaginary are forms of motion picture art.
4. Rules and conventions of motion picture art are to be understood, respected, then rejected and replaced as desired.
5. Miniature in the context of motion picture art refers to a basic unit that conveys a story, thought, message, idea or feeling, rather than a specific length of time. It can range from zero seconds upward.
We hope you will feel free to react to these ideas, share them, discuss them, supplement them and even reject them. Above all, keep being an artist and keep making miniature films!
Robert David Duncan, award-winning director, actor, writer and producer with a passionate interest in art, storytelling and the whole amazing journey called life. Founder of Fat Punk Productions and Festival Director of the Miniature Film Festival.