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2nd February 2019
Fatal attractions
Title of film: Moth
Director: Mackenzie Sheppard
Mackenzie Sheppard’s latest personal project, shot on 16mm, uses the moth as an analogy to humans. “Like a moth to light, we all helplessly cling to technology for life support – without knowing the outcome.”

Modern communication devices and their disconnecting affect from the natural world seems to be a theme you like exploring – in a completely new enthralling way every time. Or am I reading it incorrectly?

The initial idea for this film came about from a simple analogy. Man is to Phone as Moth is to Light. From this idea, there was a whole matrix of ideas/sub-themes that we enjoyed engaging with…disconnection, overstimulation, attention, technological daze etc.

I wanted to use the scale and helplessness of the moth as an analogy to humans. Moth’s navigate their reality by using transient orientation. They fly perpendicular to the sun and moon. It’s their master waypoint in the sky, and it guides their movements. However, city lights confuse moths and they end up flying in circles and get confused as these closer proximity lights change their distance. This leads them into exhaustion. Before they know it they are fatigued and unable to function.

I think insects find themselves in a similar state of overstimulation that we do. A state of overstimulation that eventually leads to a sort of techno-daze. Escaping from this daze and dependency can feel overwhelming, as we turn to technology or our “light” for all our answers…whether it’s to do with work, communication, personal gratification, or our health. It’s our out of body brain. And because of this we are all endanger of derealizing, depersonalizing, and disconnecting.

I believe it’s up to us in how we choose to balance ourselves. The film might come across as dark, but I hope it awakens a desire in the viewer to live life in a way that is more connected, personalized, and real than what the characters in the film are experiencing. I certainly don’t want to be one of them.

Please tell us how you mapped the narrative out and how the production process evolved.

This has been a full on collaboration with Director of Photography, Oliver Millar. And we owe special thanks to Kai Sandy (actor, producer) for helping produce it.

After we talked about the initial synopsis, and how we mapped out the narrative, the only thing that was set in stone was the ending of the film. I wanted it to climax in an underground tunnel filled with the moths all flying into the Light Monolith.

Ironically this was the first thing we decided to shoot as I had a location in mind already. Believe it or not, we shot that first shot at the beginning of 2017! Hard to believe.

It was just four of us. Kai (producer, actor), Jun (gaffer), Oliver, and myself. We were thinking to shoot it all on a Sony A7s and snorkel lens since it was a film that took place in low light. And we also wanted a distorted/weird point of view.

But Oliver also wanted to test out some short ends of old 16mm cans he had inherited from some other projects. So we rented a dodgy A-MINIMA 16mm camera and brought it along. The 16mm was a total fluke, as we kinda tossed off the idea at the beginning thinking “Ah yeah, 16mm would be cool…let’s just shoot some for fun and cut it in…but man we can’t afford to do everything like that…”

However, upon seeing the 16mm dailies, we changed our minds completely!

Oliver found a cool technique that involved taping the record button at flickered intervals that created a moth-like-flutter in the shutter/gate of the camera. It personified the camera in such a way that it felt like a POV of a light-shocked & disoriented Moth. It was the perfect personification of the camera as a Moth floating through the city.

So we decided to scrap the A7s idea and commit fully to 16mm. With this decision came the reality that this little film was going to take its shape over a much longer period of time – both because of costs and scheduling reasons. We basically decided to do scenes as the 16mm came available to us.

The second scene to be shot was the OPENING SHOT on the beach. We shot this scene off the coast of Japan in the 2nd week of January. Ironically, at the same time, we were shooting the first screen-tests of DONNY THE DRONE ¬¬– the project we released last year. It was freezing cold and Kai our producer almost got frostbite as his boots got soaked.

The glowing monolith was designed and constructed from local supplies at Tokyu Hands. It was built by Oliver and Kai, and we constructed it on my living room floor. I housed it for the two years in which we shot the film scene by scene. I’ll admit it was pretty ominous having it lurking in my bedroom staring at me everyday. It was a heavy beast to lug around!

From there we forgot about the project for a year as we all got super busy with other commercials and projects. But by mid 2018. We were ready to finish it up!

I cast several actors/actresses to play the roles of the dazed humans. Kirika, Anam Sekiguchi, Kai Hoshino Sandy, Mari Yamamoto, Louis Rault, and Nozomi De Lequasiang. All super talented and gave very interesting performances. We let them play around mostly…setting up a sandbox scenario and instructing them to imagine themselves becoming more moth-like throughout.

Through their vignettes we see disconnected relationships, techno-dazed urbanites, a light junkie, and a next-level-information-consumer. Everyone had a chance to express an idea connected to the main overarching theme. It was good fun! And relaxed experimentation!

To keep costs low for the 16mm, we needed to send all of our 16mm to Vancouver, Canada to be scanned. Our friend Norm owns his own private scanner. So it would usually mean two weeks before we ever saw any dailies! Sometimes things didn’t turn out, but other times we got results that were far better than we could have imagined and would inspire a next round of shot ideas.

By the time we were done shooting, we originally thought we could attract an artist to do a music video/short film collaboration. But that never panned out.

So in the end, we decided to commit fully to an original score in collaboration with Berlin-based AUDIFORCE. I called up Executive Producer Thomas Seuss, and composer Robster (SCHALLBAUER), and asked them to join us.

We wanted the music to personify the Monolith as an entrancingly beautiful source of light in the beginning. But by the end, it became a threatening persistent presence that the Moth’s and viewer can’t escape. They nailed it!

You seamlessly blend live action and effects into the film. Do you work closely with a vfx artists and cinematographer?

Yes. We had no idea how to make the 16mm footage and vfx seamlessly come together. In the end, we worked with a team of artists at Platige in Poland. We have collaborated with them before on MAN IN PHONE. They nailed it! It really feels as if we had real moths on set taking direction. Thank you Platige!

Did you meticulously pre-plan every detail before the shoot? Did much change by the end of the edit?

The only thing we planned was the locations. We shot all of it in mini-night shoots. In terms of the scenes we just felt our way through it as we went, and trusted that the edit would bring it together.

What were the main challenges of the production and how did you resolve them?

Main challenge was lugging this massive monolith into public locations without drawing attention to ourselves. We ninja-d around Tokyo in a small pick-up-truck freezing our nuts off.

Do you dream about your scripts?

Not really. I do have dreams where I am on set and nobody has shown me a script. That’s a fun one.

Do you have a special place where you come up with your best ideas and creativity flows?

For me personally, I am a dedicated believer in coming up with three pages of writing everyday. Keeping a healthy drain onto the page of anything that comes to mind…and I mean anything. I use a notebook and just let the stream come out. I don’t stop to think too deeply about what’s coming out. Most of the time it’s just stuff. The idea is to get the drains clear. But it’s the best way to stay fresh and cleansed. Most of the ideas I happen across have come through this process.

It’s been a year since you were held hostage in hair-raising circumstances in Bangladesh (see link) on the Donny shoot. Any narrow escapes on this project?

Thank God, no.

The only odd story from this shoot was when we shot the beach scene.

We were just finishing up as the sun rose, and a well dressed Japanese man in a bowler hat popped out of the reeds behind us and asked us if we knew this was a nude beach. It was really bizarre. We had no idea.

A fun fact about the Japanese beach we shot on is that it was the site of a shipwreck of Portuguese sailors in the 18th century. 50 sailors washed ashore weak with scurvy. They were greeted by local Amachan’s, naked female oyster divers, who were completely stark naked and held them against their warm bodies to keep them from freezing. The sailors must’ve thought they had died and gone to heaven!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

We’d like to thank everyone who advised and helped us on this project. Even at early stages before we had a full process lined up. Some cast didn’t make it into the final edit, but we’d like to thank them anyways!

LINKS:

Mackenzie Sheppard

Oliver Millar DoP

Credits