EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling directors of films nominated for the John Cassavetes Award or Best First Feature Award at the 2009 Independent Spirit Awards.
Antonio Campos’ film “Afterschool” is a nominee for the Best First Feature Award at the 2009 Independent Spirit Awards.
From the Independent Spirit Awards website: “Afterschool” is set in the insulated world of a New England prep school. Robert, a withdrawn student who more or less lives on the Internet, unwittingly captures on video the sudden deaths by drug overdose of a pair of popular twin girls. As the school goes through an official mourning process, complete with the production of a memorial video, Robert becomes increasingly fragile. Solace, comfort, and true resolution are out of reach, and there is nothing but distraction and displacement.
I’m 25. I was born in New York City and grew up in New York City and currently live in New York City. I made my first short film when I was 13 at the New York Film Academy, when I lied about my age and said I was 16 to get in. After that, I continued making shorts with my friends and interned at a few different places—The Shooting Gallery, Clinica Estetico, and Parseghian Planco (management company). Then I went to NYU Film School but have a semester left to graduate.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?
Movies were the thing that everyone in my family could connect with—our Saturday night dinners were spent talking about the films we had seen that week and what we wanted to see. At a certain point, my father said “Enough with this Hollywood crap!”, and from then on, my family and I saw at least one film at the Angelika every week. After that, I started to go to retrospectives and started to pay attention to the name that followed the “Directed by” credit more and more. When I was 13, I rented “A Clockwork Orange” and became fascinated with Stanley Kubrick. And after that, for some reason, I had this feeling that I understood what a director did or at least what they were responsible for, and felt like I had to try it. That next summer I went to the New York Film Academy.
Please discuss the project that you have been nominated for a Spirit Award for. How or what prompted the idea for the film and how did it evolve?
9/11 happened at the beginning of my senior year of high school, and my best friend’s father was in one of the towers. That year ended with one of my close friends dying in a freak accident while on vacation. The combination of these two events and being in New York during and after 9/11 raised a lot of issues about mortality and culpability and guilt in me at a very early age. And I decided to explore them in a film. Over the years, the story changed a great deal, as the world changed and as I changed. One of the big elements of the film is the boy’s obsession with viral videos and the presence of the internet in that form. When I was in high school and even when I submitted the treatment for the script to the Cannes Residence, none of that was in there. But while writing in Paris, and trying to figure out who my main character was or at least what he was interested in, I had the idea that he was in a video class and that he would be obsessed with watching. I didn’t want to make him a filmmaker or someone remotely interested in film, but someone who just loved observing reality, catching very special moments whether they be sweet or shocking. By adding this element to the story, I found a way of connecting with him that I hadn’t before and also I had found a way into the story itself.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
Arriving at the idea of the boy’s interest in video was a huge transition for me creatively and got me out of a slump I was in for some time. But a major issue was raising the money and getting the equipment and film stock we needed to make the film we wanted to make, which included a 35MM camera, anamorphic lenses, and film stock. My producers Josh Mond and Sean Durkin spent most of the time while I was away writing meeting with investors and putting together the budget, which was quite small. Then Josh spent a great deal of time talking and pleading with vendors to get the deals that would allow us to make the film.
Please describe your experience of finding out you were nominated for a Spirit Award…
It was a really pleasant surprise. We hadn’t even imagined that we’d get Best First Feature, it seemed like a great category but something that we wouldn’t be considered for, especially since we haven’t been distributed yet.
What were some your favorite independent films of 2008?
“Towelhead,” “Ballast,” “Liverpool,” “Rachel Getting Married,” “Unmade Beds,” “Frontier Blues,” “The Pool,” “Involuntary,” “Tulpan.”
How do you define “independent film” and how has this definition changed for you personally throughout your career?
Independent film has become a genre when really it is a way of working. Budget really has nothing to do with it though, obviously, more often than not, indie filmmakers are working on shoe string budgets. But I still consider most of the films by guys like Paul Thomas Anderson and the Coen Brothers independent films. Stanley Kubrick was an independent filmmaker in my eyes. It is simply that you are making a film in a way that is personal and unique to you, and following the set of rules you have set out for yourself, not those of a studio or audience expectation.
What’s next for you?
Josh Mond and I are producing our partner Sean Durkin’s first feature “Martha Marcy May Marlene” this summer, and hopefully my next script “Momma” soon after that. Looking into possibly adapting something, but still in the process of figuring it all out.