Meghann Artes is one of our favourite filmmakers. Not only has she enjoyed success at film festivals around the US, but this talented creative’s work for Sesame Street was actually awarded an Emmy and a Peabody!
Meghann’s unique approach to filmmaking is evident in her 2014 short film ‘Speed Dating‘.
The film follows Ava, an attractive singleton on the lookout for Mr Right. Having had no luck in the love department, Ava ventures into the world of speed dating, where she meets a whole host of characters. Through this adventure, Ava realises that being single isn’t so bad after all (we can all relate, right?!).
We spoke to Meghann about her filmmaking career, ‘Speed Dating’, and asked what she has in store for us next.
Can you tell us how you first got into filmmaking? Were you always fascinated with it or did one particular movie inspire you to get into the field?
‘I have always loved movies. Going to the video store to pick out a new movie was one of my favourite things to do as a kid. Then when I was about ten years old, my father won a video camera in a raffle and had no use for it, but I sure did. Toys, our dogs, my sisters, hand-crafted sets and props – anything and everything became the subject of little movies that I would make. But even with that early experimentation, it never really dawned on me that someone like me, coming from where I came from (small town Iowa), could ever actually make movies professionally.
‘Cut to many years later when I went to college at the University of Iowa. I didn’t actually know people could get a degree in filmmaking. I started out as a business major and hated every minute of it. I think I lasted about one semester. I happened to take an elective film theory class and the teacher showed us Jan Svankmajer’s film “Food” and my whole world changed. I wanted to know how he did everything in that film. The following semester I switched my major to film and the rest is history’.
We loved the short film ‘Speed Dating’. Can you tell us where you got the idea for it?
‘I was at a point where work was keeping me very busy (I had just finished my second year teaching at DePaul University in Chicago) and I hadn’t had time to make a film in a while. Looking for inspiration, I opened some wine, called up one of my best friends, and began to reminisce on the time we both went speed dating. We moved on to the subject of dating in general and memories of dates that went less than perfectly. Almost everyone has had an experience like that.
‘I compiled some of our most off-the-wall stories and then began to put my spin on them. I have a tendency to lean toward the absurd, so my mind just let loose on all the crazy things that people encounter when looking for love’.
Tell us more about the creative process behind the film. What is involved in producing a short film? How many people do you end up working with? How long does it take from beginning to final piece?
‘”Speed Dating” was shot entirely frame by frame using Dragonframe software on a Mac laptop and two iMac desktops, with multiple Canon 6D and 7D DSLR cameras. Some of the setups took two to three hours to complete and we really pushed the computers at times – so much that we even had to tape ice packs to the iMacs to keep them cool and working while we struggled to finish the shots.
‘There was also a fairly large film crew – a team of animators, DP, AD, lighting, art department, make-up, all the normal film crew positions. The whole shoot took about 12 days.
‘In post, I used Final Cut Pro to do a rough cut, and then switched over to After Effects for the final edit as well as to complete additional animation and visual effects. The film took about two years from original concept to final output’.
What kind of themes do you most like to work with?
‘I like to focus on the ridiculous in everyday situations and using animation allows me to really amp up that ridiculousness. Animation also allows me to work with my hands and manipulate inanimate objects to convey their hidden liveliness. I’m drawn to colour and love to use saturated colours to give a bit of a surreal look to things. But for all of the digital equipment and software involved in my process, I still really love practical effects.
‘For example, when the matchmaker is smoking in the film, the smoke coming out of her mouth is made of cotton that I actually animated on a black background and then composited in later. It could just as easily have been 100 per cent created in a computer but I like the look of the real, tactile cotton over CGI’.
Can you give us a few tips on how to get into filmmaking?
‘Well, I did it by studying film in undergrad and then taking a few internships at production companies. From there, I went to grad school for animation. That is definitely a viable path to take that many people follow.
‘There is also the school of thought that says “learn by doing”, which means simply get out there and do it. Get a camera, or use your phone, whatever, and make things. For me, going to school added a structure to my learning, which I really need at times. Also, film school was a great experience where I got to spend so much time just being in rooms with movie lovers talking about movies. Either path you choose, don’t forget to watch as many movies and read as many screenplays as possible. That will help a lot!’
What can we expect from you next?
‘I just finished another pixilated short film called “Sleepy Steve“. It has just started its film festival run and has played at the Hamptons International Film Festival and the Montreal World Film Festival. I love what pixilation allows me to achieve and I’m always thinking of new things that I’d like to try with it.
‘For my next project, I’m currently in the concept stage. It’s very early in the process and I don’t want to say too much, but I can tell you that it’s going to be different in tone and style than my previous work’.