ResFest NYC: A Conversation with Eric Henry, Director of "Wood Technology In The Design Of Structures"
by Tim LaTorre
Eric Henry's films are very difficult to describe. Working with a
digital palette, he is blessed with an entirely new set of paints and
effects, mixing text, photo stills, video, narration and sound.
His first digital film, "I Desire Only", was produced in 1991 using an
Amiga 500, regular VHS camera, 4-head VCR, and Deluxe Paint 4
software. A pixelated, black-and-white experiment on the impact of text
and images. "Bored Project Movie", which screened as part of ResFest's
predecessor the Low Res Film Festival, was produced in 1995 as Henry's
first Macintosh-based movie. Using such common household characters as a
C-3PO action figure and a supporting cast made up of tiny screws, he
explored the randomness of the daydream mind, a quality which both other
films are seeped in.
His latest film, "Wood Technology In The Design Of Structures", focuses
on the absurd extremities of modern consumerism, where humans use
technology to break through digestive limitations and become
wood-eaters. It glorifies a new surface texture for the cinema screen,
displaying a wit which could only exist on a digital medium. If Henry's
film, showing at this weekend's ResFest: New York, is an indication of
the new direction that digital cinema will move independent filmmaking,
we have a lot to look forward to.
indieWIRE: How did you find yourself falling into digital filmmaking?
Eric Henry: Well, specifically from the experience of having a computer
around because my dad had a scientific background and an interest in
computers. I was playing with these imaging technologies and finding it
fascinating to be able to capture and manipulate images. As soon as I
started bringing images into the computer for my first piece, by frame
grabbing segments of video, it introduced so much [visual] noise that it
created a textured image. It suddenly, somehow, was so much more
evocative and I thought "wow, this is great!" It really inspired me.
iW: What do you find the advantages are of working on a digital medium
over a celluloid medium?
Henry: I've never made movies except on computer. . . I never tried my
hand at film but it seems sort of intimidating. I don't know why a
computer should be less intimidating, but it was available. Let's put it
that way. With "Wood Technology" there was just no way I could have had
the situation where the movie essentially unfolds on a giant piece of
paper without lots and lots of money to do some kind of motion control
situation. There was just no way that I, personally, am going to do
something like that.
iW: Between "Bored Project Movie" and "Wood Technology" what kind of
advancements did you make?
Henry: I definitely had more confidence in pursuing an idea. It was my
experience that as I was showing clips of "Bored Project Movie" to my
friends and describing my ideas, they seemed completely lukewarm. I came
to the conclusion that I can't count on other people to make sense of
what I'm talking about, but that when all is said and done, I do seem
able to make something that is interesting. This time I was a little
more confident and a little more able to bring other people into the
process, getting friends to do some camera work and lighting and that
sort of thing. It's definitely a ramp up in terms of collaboration.
Also, working with Janet Ward, who was the woman who did the voice-over,
was the first time I used talent in the strictest sense. She was someone
that I didn't know and a professional actress. It was my first
experience at traditional directing duties. Technologically, the leap
that had to be made was that I ended up getting a faster computer
because I was still working with the Apple 6100AV, which is a 60 MHZ
computer and painfully, painfully slow. It was just impossible for the
project, especially because I had compositions in After Effects that
were several thousand pixels by several thousand pixels, representing
these big pieces of paper.
iW: Do you still do most of your work at home?
Henry: Oh yes, definitely. All of the production. The other thing that
was new was the use of a DAT recorder to go out and record some sound
effects and the voice-over. Although that, theoretically, could have
been done on computer. The only part where I hit the end of my rope was
outputting it to tape. I had sort of a rude awakening when I realized
that I didn't have and still don't have a fast enough hard drive. . . I
ended up pulling a favor from a place where I previously interned and
used their Media 100 system, which is also a total nightmare.
iW: I think your film was a highlight of the program because it stood
outside of any traditional type of film - it's not a traditional
narrative or animation or anything like that. How did you approach your
Henry: Kind of a wacko story. Basically, it's a metaphor that then gets
diverted and sent down different channels. Something that I've been
concerned with is the weird negative special effects of desire. I
suppose it's a cautionary tale about prescriptions for fullness being
self-replicating and endless. The idea is that there's some sort of
deferred coolness that comes into play, "I'll be cool when I get X," and
keeps you threading along. You never get to the frontier that you're
looking for unless you make a break with the will to prescribe. I was
trying to think about how it is possible to have this desire in the
negative. How is it possible in our culture to say something like, "I
could really try to like Jazz?" Why would you try to like something that
you don't like? How is it that people can believe in the desirability of
something that they fail to experience themselves? There's some sort of
meta-desire that says "must try to eat the thing that doesn't seem
tasty." That was one half of the epilogue.
The other half was how it is possible that you can be in a room with
someone and have the kind of contact in which the chief feature is that
it evokes the desire for contact. Somehow it's not happening. Somehow
it's just like "god, I wish there was something here, this makes me want
connection," but it's not there. It's almost as if we don't have all the right
mouth parts. Certain insects are adapted to environments to do certain things
because they have certain mouth parts that allows them to do it. This whole
mouth parts theme stuck with me. I thought about this gizmo, this
contraption, that would show a person trying to eat wood. It was the
most absurd image.