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Interview & photos by Brynne McGregor
Mar 18, 2019
Take a peek inside our always-bustling Film/Video Studio with marketing intern Brynne McGregor. Earlier this winter, she connected with filmmakers Lisa Malloy and J.P. Sniadecki for a joint interview during a Film/Video Studio residency to complete their collaborative work A Shape of Things to Come. The "unsettling fantasy of eco-terrorism" centers on a Sonoran Desert recluse named Sundog whose life as a lone survivalist is altered by the encroachment of Border Patrol surveillance.
What is your relationship to Sundog? How did you meet and how did the presence of a camera impact your relationship?
J.P. first met Sundog while making his last feature film, El Mar La Mar (codirected with Joshua Bonnetta). Our relationship to him is as collaborators on our film, A Shape of Things to Come. He, along with the ecology of the desert, is the main protagonist, and he also served as a location scout and often the gaffer of the film, which is perhaps a rare instance wherein the main actor of a film has also held those roles. The presence of the camera allowed us to work together creatively to bring certain desires, fantasies, and experiences to cinematic life.
How long did you spend with Sundog? Were you surprised by anything during your time with him?
We shot A Shape of Things to Come from July 2017 to July 2018 over six stretches of production, each one lasting from 10 to 14 days. What surprised us most during the filming was the power and magic of the desert, and the ability to learn from it, live with it, despite its harsh extremes.
Has Sundog seen the piece in any form yet, and was he concerned with how you would represent him?
We watched a rough cut of the film together around the midpoint of production and used the ensuing conversation to shape the rest of our work together. There were times that he did not agree with certain scenes or ideas we had, and would suggest alternatives that we'd work towards, or we'd have further discussion to arrive at a compromise.
What role did this residency play in your creative and editing processes?
The residency allowed us the time and space to open our sound mix up into a 5.1 space, and to deal with some noise reduction and color problem areas with the assistance of Paul Hill. The Wexner staff overall were very helpful and we appreciated the experience. We also received feedback on a version of the film from Ohio State professors Roger Beebe, Vera Brunner-Sung, and Erica Levin, and their insight helped us better clarify the trajectory of the film.
How do your backgrounds—academic and otherwise—shape your practices as documentarians?
We are both inclined towards embracing the experiential potential of filmmaking, its immersive power and capacity to overwhelm us (and viewers) with the dense, complex, and constantly shifting nature of reality. A lot of academic endeavors and mainstream documentary aim to explain and define, both of which are not really in line with our goals as artists.
What’s next? Is there anything you might take away from A Shape of Things to Come that will inform future projects?
We are working on various projects, one of which is focused on the relationship between the built and natural environments and the vibrancy of community in Cairo, Illinois at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.