Andrew J.D Robinson’s name is well known on the Indie Film circuit. Not only is he a Canadian award winning filmmaker, writer, director and producer, he is also the founder of the 15 Second Horror Film Challenge. This is held every year and includes celebrity judges.
We have reviewed many of Robinson’s horror shorts here at Lestat Horror and have previously Interviewed his partner Maura Stephens.
He has won awards such as
And What Are You Supposed to Be? (2018) Ranked 1st out of 500 entries 15 Second Horror Film Challenge
The Red Bicycle (2018) Ranked 5th out of 500 entries 15 Second Horror Film Challenge
Knock Knock (2015) Ranked 8th out of 200 entries 15 Second Horror Film Challenge
Food Pic (2018) Best 15 Second Short Story 300 Seconds Short Film Festival 2019
We had the pleasure of doing an interview with Robinson, so we can now present it to you,and share more about the man behind the camera:
At what age did you start noticing films?
Somewhere in the early 90s as a child (I was born in 1987) is when the original Star Wars trilogy, Terminator 2, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and Ghostbusters 2 profoundly broke into me. I was always an introvert, but these films were like bridges into ‘the world I live in’. Catching out of context portions of Candyman (1992) and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth on television was particularly subversive. Not only did those two films give me nightmares, they filled me with a level of excitement that admittedly is hard to replicate in ‘real life’— like going on an amusement park except back then these monsters inhabited your world. I would channel surf hoping to find them again. It would be later that I’d comprehend it as a ‘medium’.
What first got you into filmmaking?
For awhile movies ‘blew me away’ where I didn’t understand ‘how’ filmmakers did it, but my path started with getting into creating my own comic books, thinking I wanted to be a cartoonist when I grew up, and then in my early teens when DVDs started embedding into the culture (I sound old!) watching its special features started opening up a whole other frontier that ‘wow, someone ‘wrote this’, someone ‘directed it’, all these people created this ‘story’. My passion for stories, especially the motion picture, evolved into wanting to become one, which I’d start studying directors from then and on— you blew me away, but ‘how’ did you do that? ‘How’ could I pass a percent of that to someone else?
What filmmakers or directors influence you?
My earliest inspirations growing up was Tim Burton, James Cameron, and George Lucas on the sheer level of ‘getting into cinema’ whereas filmmakers I consciously studied through my teens from late 90s into mid 00s were Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Dario Argento, David Cronenberg, David Lynch, and Brian DePalma.
That filmmaker side of me identified with Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream and Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko. They felt such a part of my sensibilities and storytelling values grounded in the dark and tragic romances of the human condition. Of modern era, I receive to the work of Alfonso Cuaron, Denis Villeneuve, and Yorgos Lanthimos. Two directors I will always consciously dig deeper into adopting is John Carpenter and Hitchcock.
If you could have written any screenplay, which one would it be and why?
Christopher Nolan’s “Memento”. Nolan and Fincher are, in my eyes, our generation’s successors of Hitchcock where Memento fulfils the fundamentals of suspense, one of cinema’s most rewarding uses of its medium, in such a complex yet accessible puzzle that takes the structure of movie storytelling itself to find raw human emotions that we as an audience would otherwise not find if the film were told in a linear fashion. “When Harry Met Sally”, “Reservoir Dogs”, “Magnolia”, and “Nightcrawler” are also some of my favourite screenplays, but “Memento” subverts how we think we would make a movie and watch one. That mixed with it was an indie film was groundbreaking to me, that there was a whole other hemisphere to where these uncommon, uncharted storytelling techniques could be born from.
How important do you think indie film is now within the industry?
Always important in fact more important than perhaps the industry would underestimate. The industry does pool from indie filmmakers to align them with their franchise properties. I say underestimate because I find not enough support comes from the industry into indie films, that perhaps there’s a pyramid scheme happening where indie filmmakers feed the industry, but the industry doesn’t foster enough of a 70s cinema era of filmmakers who find funding, even if it were low to modest budgets, to take higher risks with their narratives. That though opens up a forest of factors that have ultimately changed the landscape of the industry on both sides indefinitely, but I wholeheartedly believe there’s a lot for the industry to gain with more indie film produced films. There’s more opportunities to create new franchise properties across various genres, and with the continued rise of home entertainment being many people’s go-to form of how they watch movies, there’s opportunities to have lower overhead to make this creative and economic horizon happen.
What would your advice be to newbie filmmakers?
Preparation will protect your vision and never underestimate the power of editing.
Someone can give you an opportunity, but you have to be the right person to be successful with that opportunity. This type of trade is a game of accountability, particularly how you hold yourself accountable through what skills did you adopt and how did you delegate to others to cover the ones you do not possess. There are many different types of filmmakers, two that come to mind: there are ones who can direct but can’t write, and there are ones who can write and direct but who needs a producer to keep them from going on creative tangents that deviate too far from that ‘ember’ that lit the idea to begin within.
I find newbie filmmakers start backwards where they campaign attention before courting the public to a sound product. It runs a lot of risk where if people no longer buy into ‘your brand’, you lose them. As much as a general filmmaker is one of passion, vision, perhaps a chip on their shoulder in which they seek validation from the audience because they identify with their own work, one must take all of that and adopt a critical thinking ‘producer’ mind set.
Many people want to make movies for whichever reasons, but they don’t study how to manage a production, and if you had ‘one job’ it was managing the production. Fix it in pre-production, not in post-production. It will translate your passion into precise execution. And when you are faced with curve balls and compromises, and you will in any if not all stages of production because the universe is not something you can control— it’s something you instinctually infuse with— you’ll have that ability to be poise under pressure and use critical thinking to find a new path towards fulfilling that ‘soul’ of the picture you’ve been so hungry to carve out into reality. There must be some type of ‘vision’ as to ‘what is this final product’? What is its tone? What are its values? How does every scene build to that ‘place’ you’re trying to bring your audience to?
“Project Greenlight” is one of the most humbling TV series I’ve seen. It’s ‘too’ real Lol. It shows the inner workings of a studio film pressed against time to ‘make their days’. You can see shades of yourself a little here and there like a cautionary tale. Roger Corman’s “How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime”, Lloyd Kaufman’s “Make Your Own Damn Movie”, and Robert Rodriguez’s “Rebel Without a Crew” and his and David Fincher’s audio commentaries’. All of these will up your odds to protect your vision.
You have a certain style when filming which makes your films stand out from many others. How do you decide how you film certain scenes?
It took a few years of trying on other ‘hats’— filmmakers you replicate— until you start boiling their choices down to fundamentals. One essence of ‘my style’ is when I approach a story or its particular scenes, I go into storyboarding with the absence of one. There may be some composition choices that resemble or even draw parallels to past work, sometimes on purpose whereas other times are instinctual coincidences, but I find ‘film itself’ is like a martial arts where there’s striking and grappling limited to our body. There are only so many ways you can compose a shot, however, there’s a whole other world of possibilities on how to evoke the audience to emote through a succession of combinations— how does one frame go into the other, how long does it hold, is it a close-up or wide, a push in or pull out, what’s the context, what’s the relationship with the scene prior, is this moment an answer or a question— is it both?
Sometimes a scene may want to ‘float’ and give the audience a chance to soak it in, perhaps be hypnotized, whereas other scenes may be more ‘cutting’ and seek to have the audience overcommit, perhaps flinch. If I don’t storyboard a film, I won’t make it because I will lack a deep understanding as to what is the ‘goal’ of the whole picture? Each choice must be motivated to essentially set-up the audience to later subvert their expectations, and even if they are given what they anticipate at the end of the story, the journey itself was the experience, not the ‘outcome’.
And a scene can be approached many, many ways and they all could be effective. Many choices comes down to intuition that ‘this way’ to edit a sequence together will feed towards the audience’s immersion.
Tell us more about the films you have already made.
Between 2011 to 2013 I produced surreal arthouse films, B-movie comedies between 2014 and 2015, produced upwards of a dozen 15 second horror films from 2015 to 2018, and then from 2017 and on I considered it a new chapter where I was starting to allow myself to deviate from fulfilling a genre to progressively sneaking in more and more real life drama with “The Becky Carmichael Fan Club” and “We Know You Are Home”, and my inspiration is to continue to plant my feet deeper into bringing more sincere characterizations into horror. For me, I love seeing genuine illustrations of people mixed in with the fantastical elements of the genre— it can make for some of the most provoking and rewarding experiences as an audience member. You have your thrills, thinks, and feels. “Silence of the Lambs” I find is still underrated despite its accolades. It’s one of those movies I’m in awe of. The ‘screaming of the lambs’ scene, given the context and build up of Clarice, is one of those scenes that inspire me to make movies because of how it makes me feel.
Tell us more about your 15 second horror festival and how did that come about?
It was a natural extension of my passion to foster the community which started when I’d develop comic books that fellow classmates would contribute their concepts for characters. I always loved anthologies, so ‘that’ was always an uncharted territory to explore. In 2015 I found an opportunity to co-found/program a local Ottawa anthology/festival called “The Monster Pool” in which 20-something filmmakers produced themed segments towards.
During that time, I had an additional idea building in my head which did not fit “The Monster Pool” on paper because it was international and, despite the pressures of the local community to choose ‘quality over quantity’, when it comes to community projects, to me quantity IS quality because these are real people behind these movies, and their involvement is beyond where one’s skill level is, rather, it’s the encouragement of participation. You never know where someone’s skill level may develop if they were just given an opportunity where ‘here’s the microphone, show us what you got, tell us what you want to say’— within genre criteria respectfully.
My idea was also ‘international’— my love for community kept expanding from what started with putting all my heart into Ottawa specifically to I wanted to let in the world. Why ‘just’ Ottawa? Why not ‘everyone’? There’s so many of ‘us’ other there from all walks of life who share the same fears and dreams, who are all looking to connect. If I could create a house amidst what is a decentralized international community, maybe we all would bring out the best and most inspired out of each other. I know the filmmakers who have come through the 15 Second Horror Film Challenge have made me a better filmmaker just from me soaking it all in, whether it’s their craft, or sometimes it’s ‘I get the idea they are trying to do, perhaps it doesn’t translate off paper, but it inspires me to innovate or to learn how perhaps I could’ve been lost in translation if I had taken that approach’, and even their social media presence of just knowing ‘others’ are out there. My ‘bar’ set as to where I want to blossom as a filmmaker raised so high.
The 15 Second Horror Film Challenge, like any business, should be a solution to a problem, and mine was consciously to help filmmakers with producing low risk high return, low to zero budget productions with a high return of traffic whether it’s online or at festivals. Imagine all the short and feature films that have never gone to nor will never be accepted into festivals yet here from 2015+ you have 15 second horror shorts under our banner being featured in dozens of festivals worldwide. Let’s all of us as the cosmos help all of us get there. Into 2018, Troma’s showcase of our Top 20 went viral, generating 8 million+ views across those entries. #21 trending on YouTube at its peak. One YouTuber’s comment was “What’s scarier than this film is the fact Troma is trending” Lol. Toxie for president in 2020 <3
Asides from those milestone highs, and whether that’s something that will ever be replicated by us again, it’s not what drives me to do the festival each year. It’s those quieter moments where someone may share online how this was their first film, how they always wanted to make a movie but didn’t know how to start… or even If they ever could, how they had a lot of fun with their loved ones making it. All we’ll have is our memories when it’s all said and done. That’s what we’re in the business of: people.
You are breaking out into feature films, how are you finding it from filming shorts?
Shorts were definitely pre-requisite to feature films; honing story structure, feeling comfortable when to deviate. Now the wild thing about features though is they are truly their own mountain. I’ve experienced that same ‘omg what the heck am I doing’, does this even make any Sense’ fear during my earliest stages of development, before even a first draft was close to being completed type of fear that I used to have going into short film filmmaking. What’s key is recognizing ‘nerves’ are cousins of ‘excitement’. There is a reason why I am putting a lot ‘at risk’, it’s to hone in everything you know, play to your strengths, mask weaknesses, and bring together an ensemble cast of folks who we all are passionate to serve the story.
Features have a considerable new level of risk, but like all risk, risk must be taken if there is ever to be a reward, and like any business venture taking ‘calculated risks’ is how to grow anything. Before I began sharing the script with actors, I wanted to make as informed of a call before I pulled the trigger— have played the film in my head many times, and now just feel like ‘the movie is already shot, now I have to let my feet lead the way to catch up to its future which is already written’. I’m concentrating piece by piece on performance versus outcome and ready to roll with the punches along the way.
As much as they both are ‘film’, they both have different opportunities, when done right, to reach and connect with a different type of audience members, equally in both of their respects. All my nerves have become excitement and ‘wakefulness’ towards serving the story. When the challenge at hand matches your skills, you can achieve ‘flow state/creativity’ and I find a feature film is that challenge I’m looking for. I no longer feel overwhelmed as I have throughout my life.
2018 was a particular ‘okay I’m consciously producing short films and 15 second films with a particular ‘reaction’ in mind where its general reactions have been align with those expectations’. I won the 2018 15 Second Horror Film Challenge, my other four entries all ranked and won awards, and my 2018 short films received the reviews I was after. The quasi-avant garde Becky Carmichael Fan Club received polarizing ones where you either loved or hated it whereas “We Know You Are Home” which was built to ‘tread down that middle’ between horror entertainment and feels was almost unanimously well received.
When you are writing characters, do you already have actors in mind for that part?
In its earliest stages, they inhabit themes and feelings, but as I pass by the first draft, I start to mediate on who could fulfill certain key roles and I’ll begin writing to that instinct that perhaps this role would align with their sensibilities. And sometimes a role is offered to an actor I haven’t worked with before but I tune into their current portfolio where I have an idea that if they were given ‘this material’, I would see something perhaps I know is ‘there’ but that we haven’t had the chance to see yet. Resumes don’t do much for me. Scenes they’ve starred in and recorded monologues are always how I keep actors in mind when I’m getting deeper into the revisions and I’m starting to tweak characters towards a shade of their likeness that I have a gut feeling of. And if I’ve already worked with someone before and if I have another role with them in mind, I’ll play to their hand even further beforehand.
Where do you get your ideas from?
When it comes to genre ideas, it’s an abstract ‘ether’ of everything I’ve watched— story elements a bit from everything whether I know it or not, that I’m combining in what I hope is a fresh take on a traditional meal. One string of reactions of “We Know You Are Home” aligns with what type of ideas I’ll follow-thru on are ones that manage to pack a lot in it while stitching them all together without it feeling like a convoluted mess. They’re harder to write. It would be easier to introduce a group of characters up for a body count, the end, but that doesn’t motivate me like those other ideas that if you take the time to let those seeds grow roots, you start to get excited yourself that this is something I think could surprise someone, as a whole course ‘meal’. I pulled from many mixed media and real life— it all finds a way into the work.
What would you like to see different in the film industry?
Asides from the business side of things, I safer work environment for everyone in front and behind the camera. It’s a black eye on the trade itself when there are victims of sexual misconduct and/or what could’ve been preventable work safety hazards. People are entrusting their safety in their colleagues in exceptionally vulnerable situations— predators masked behind befriending others only to later cross boundaries. Unfortunately I’ve caught word of it happening from local-local to international. It’s inexcusable. Not only yes it’s something I wish to see different in the film industry, but just in the community beyond film: common decency.
What else are you involved in?
I admin the Facebook group “Horror Filmmakers” which is an all inclusive horror resource hub for folks to promote and connect, I co-admin my local “Ottawa Actors” Facebook group which is like a community bulletin of casting calls, headshot photographers, acting workshops exclusively for Ottawa, and beyond film I take it easy with my family, extended family, and other half Maura. I can only hope others find and forge a tight circles for themselves that make you feel comfortable to be yourself, one of respect, trust, and love, even amidst our differences.
How can people see your work? And how can they join in with your 15 second film festival?
The hub for my portfolio is at http://15secondhorror.ca/workobeyfilms which routes you soon after to my YouTube channel. You can follow me over on my Facebook profile www.facebook.com/workobeyfilms where I post any news. 15 Second Horror Film Challenge is accepting entries through http://15secondhorror.ca until Oct 14th 2019 for our fifth annual year. The 15 Second Horror Film Challenge’s digital programming ramps up as Halloween draws closer, especially between Halloween and the new year. This year I don’t plan to produce any 15 second horror films, but I’m committed to “We Are The Missing” which could be ‘found’ in 2020.
I would like to say a HUGE Thank You to Andrew for giving us this Interview. We look forward to future work from Workobey Films