Artist Dan Seagrave talks about his new short film, The Projection.
If you think Dan Seagrave is just an album cover illustrator, think again. This Toronto-based visionary is much more than that. Surely, he has produced some of the most iconic artworks in the history of extreme music (Morbid Angel’s “Altars Of Madness”, Suffocation’s “Effigy Of The Forgotten,” etc.) but he’s the kind of artist who dares to explore all kind of visual disciplines, including filmmaking.
His latest short film, The Projection, is a real mindbender that will leave thinking about it for a long time. It’s the kind of subtle Sci-Fi meets Psychological Thriller that demands more than a viewing to realize what’s going on. Bellow, Seagrave told us in detail about the making of this stylized piece of art and what it represents for him as an artist and human being.
HMA: Congrats for The Projection. This short film is part psychological thriller, part sci-fi and part a meditation about people’s personalities. What inspired you to create this script?
Dan Seagrave: Thanks. I don’t know if inspired is the right term. These tend to be the sort of things I think about in some convoluted way or another on a fairly regular basis. I’m someone who struggles with the idea of what I could be, or what I may have been if a few things had been different along my life’s path. For example. There was a girl in my Village (Ravenshead) who had spent a lot of time in Canada, she left again, but had introduced me to the organization she was working for. In some desperate attempt to see her again, I joined up and went and worked on a native reservation in the middle of nowhere. I never saw hers out there. But this was part of an unraveling of events that led to becoming a migrant. I constantly think too much about those kinds of things. What will happen also if you try something new, or don’t try. Each thing leads to a conclusion. So the idea in the film has elements of that kind of need for not simply foreknowledge, but an all encompassing view of the whole, as unattainable, and ultimately exhausting, and futile as that is.
Shadowline. A film by Dan Seagrave from Dan Seagrave on Vimeo.
HMA: In many visual and conceptual aspects, The Projection has strong bonds with your other short films, especially with Shadowline. The are elements like the metaphorical use of cell phones, the lone character wandering the streets, the focus on one individual as the center of the story, the search of something apparently related with this character’s inner self, etc. Could we consider The Projection as a sort of a further exploration of the themes proposed on Shadowline?
Dan Seagrave: Very true. It was the thing I perhaps should have avoided—that of the lone figure in a state of confusion. But I suppose it’s a theme that I understand, as we probably all do in many ways. Isolation and fear of our potential failings, or actual regret of failings in whatever form they may take in life.
Within those two films the characters share similar traits certainly, and in a way it could be another version of the same thing. Though I didn’t consider Shadowline at all when I wrote The Projection. So again it illuminates the similar core themes that I contemplate.
The idea of someone existing with a massive emotional block that bars entry to a past event, or the idea that someone is partially aware of something dark in their past, and one side of them is attempting to delve into the truth is appealing. I don’t think of that as amnesia. I think many people live with versions of that. It could be a family relationship that you have abandoned years ago and don’t ever want to think about, or a horrible incident that you were responsible for, or a dark secret you have been told about someone else that you have put up an emotional wall to. I think the idea of facing those secrets is intriguing, especially when the mind is so good at creating avoidance issues. We all live in some semi dream state in that regard… or a state of convenient ignorance.
HMA: You shot in your current location, Toronto. Please, tell me more about the filming process, financing, post-production etc.
Dan Seagrave: It was self-financed by me. I didn’t consider the idea of crowd funding. Because it was just something I wanted to get going on, and also not an idea easily sold to anyone. I don’t think I would have got people on board to drop a dollar on this, and its quite removed from my visual art. It doesn’t posses a direct obvious connection.
It cost around 1000 dollars, and a few favors from friends, mostly for things like a hard drive, or camera cards, a microphone, and little things.
In terms of other people helping, they (cast and crew) are all friends, so that part cost nothing in a sense. The camera used was a canon 5DMK2 from my friend Steve Dagg, who helped shoot half the short, and when he wasn’t available, I shot the rest over a four day period. In terms of all the locations, I drew a storyboard for each individual shot, and had been scouting exact locations a month before to match each shot. At that point the thing becomes very efficient, because you can create a daily plan of where to start and end, which saves time, and keeps things rolling with momentum. It was all fast and in a way that’s a good thing. Steve also needed his camera back for a project so it had to be within that period. My friend Matt also supplied allot of camera equipment: rolling tripod, and other bits that I wouldn’t have otherwise had access too.
I don’t myself have all this equipment, so borrowing is was required, and will be again for the next one.
HMA: In some aspects, this is probably your most ambitious projects: It’s longer than your previous films, the acting is more character-driven, etc… How do you see it in comparison with your previous shorts?
Dan Seagrave: Its a bit more talky, but that’s only in comparison to the other very not so talky shorts. Ingrained being zero speech. But there are other characters involved in this man’s quest. So those people have to become apparent, if not so glaringly visual. I’ve tried to obscure the other people to become these shadowy figures in his life, which is kind of how he sees them, as opponents, and under suspicion. But they do need to communicate the ideas at hand. That he need help, and is seeking some kind of therapy which is unorthodox, and possibly dangerous, yet seemingly he is willing to undergo that.
Script wise, it’s a bigger deal than what I’ve done before. There was allot more dialogue actually and most of it was chopped out last minute due to the fact that I myself had to play the part of the therapist (Thorpe) when a friend I had lined up dropped out the day before. Because the schedule was set I had no choice but to take the part, and ‘learn’ the lines that I wrote. Strangely this was a good experience, because I realized how hard it is to act, and how a lot of that dialogue was quite bloated and time wasting. So I chopped it down on the spot, on the day of shooting to the bare minimum. But mainly because I just could not deliver it well. I’m no actor.
If you compare all that with Ingrained (Seagrave’s first short film), Ingrained being a nice little experimental concept, this one relies on a story, and not any fantasy backdrops or visual wonderment. Those things can go a long way. But they don’t belong in this story, its set in a version of the real world. All be it a slightly dreamy version. It’s played out as if it could be linear, or an actual time travel event… or a delusion… or a memory.
HMA: Your lead actor, Matt Cooke, has appeared in films before, and can be seen in Hollywood blockbusters like Robocop and Xmen: Days Of Future Past. How he became part of The Projection?
Dan Seagrave: Only because we know each other for years. We’re friends, and I asked him for the favor. We also just recently shot something for what will be a fake movie trailer. A comedy thing. But I need to build some props and do a bunch of effects for that. So simple seeming thing that will take me till the end of the year probably.
HMA: The film reminds me of other unconventional time-traveling movies like Primer and even Donnie Darko. Were those films, points of reference for you?
Dan Seagrave: I’ve seen all of those and liked them. But I didn’t think about them when doing this. For me I really don’t generate ideas from other sources like that, not intentionally anyway. I prefer the David Lynch approach, though I don’t meditate strictly speaking. I am someone who has always been a bit of a ‘zone out’ type. Sitting in a coffee shop staring into the reflections of the building across the road, and getting lost in thoughts. I think I have to get into a drifting headspace to generate ideas, and I am often in that headspace. No doubt everything comes from our experiences, real or pop culture alike, so you can’t say none of us are being derivative in some way. But I don’t want to do something that is knowingly referencing an existing work. For sure though, I think the concept of time travel, and its use in film is an irresistible theme. I genuinely hope that there will be a new Back to the Future series, where the car itself has been discovered at a different point in time by someone else. New cast, new stories. And I love the 1960 HG wells Time Machine film.
HMA: The ending is ambiguous and open to interpretations. Any comment about it?
Dan Seagrave: It is open to going in a few directions. For me, the Michael character has eliminated the therapist, perhaps killed him. When Michael returns into his past body (or the present as we started out) he has been washing his hands of the crime literally. The tap still running. That is to suggest that he was not himself when under the drug. Michael asks before undergoing the therapy the strange question. What happens to the mind of my future self when I take over its body? It’s suggested that his future mind has to go somewhere during that time, a ‘swap’. And his future mind has past knowledge of what has happened, what the therapist did and had planned. The therapist is meeting with Michael’s wife, and she left her job shortly after Michael’s therapy session that day. Michael is the victim of some kind of plot. The stranger chasing him, is a henchmen hired by the therapist and Michael’s wife. But his future self takes over ‘in the past’ and destroys the therapist, and in turn his plans. But its also suggested two thirds into the film, that Michael is actually trapped in a regressive therapy technique. Which would mean that everything you see is Michael playing out his memory of events, that, or his paranoid fantasy version of events. In essence you are therefore watching someone’s paranoid fears under an induced state. What can I say. I like being difficult.
HMA: I read there was also the motivation of being part a competition organized by Ridley Scott. How did you feel about not meeting the deadline for that event? What really happened?
Dan Seagrave: I wanted to get the film shot and a rough edit made to submit to that. Though I had planned to make a new short film, hearing about the deadline for that competition did help to create a bit more momentum, otherwise it probably would have lingered and taken longer to shoot. In a way that was a good thing, even if it was just a competition, it allowed me to convey the urgency to my friends and they can understand that there is a time limit on this thing. Even if it is all just a perception, and not a real deadline. i.e. the competition doesn’t care if I enter or not. But it’s good to have some kind of a deadline, so why not believe that. In the end I had a rough cut, but it was literally the last day to enter, and I could not create a render file that was small enough or of decent quality to send. The one I did have just didn’t want to upload. So it fell at the last hurdle. I put aside another 3 months later in the year doing all the postproduction stuff, so it was quite unfinished at the time of the competition really. Each shot is actually tweaked visually in some way, to get the certain depth, or dark dream quality… The raw footage is pretty bland.
HMA: I imagine you will feature the film in other festivals and competitions, right?
Dan Seagrave: It was finished in 2013, and it now resides on Vimeo and youtube.
It will be shown in Montreal at a Symposium event at Concordia University, along with Shadowline. A special event regarding the music industry which I’ve been invited to as a guest in April.
HMA: Do you have any other future movie projects in the horizon, maybe a feature film? What about keep doing paintings and album cover artworks?
Dan Seagrave: I’m not sure if what I’ve done is in any way leading toward a feature film. But for example if you are a musician or in a band you can make an album for 1000 dollars these days. And I think there is no reason to say an album has to be an hour long or 20 hours long. So I think I could simply make a film that is 1 minute, but could also be 4 hours long in future.
I think you will get more people making 2 hours indie films and putting these online, maybe as a pay per view type thing. That said. I do have a heap of ideas for short films, some horror tales, and some sci-fi ideas too. The problem is time and money and choosing what to go with. I’m drafting a few story outlines; one of them is even a comedy horror, set in Wintry Vermont town. It’s quite ludicrous, this is the one I am making the fake movie trailer for.
I am also making a part animated short which requires lots of matte art shots and composited green screen action, and again in a winter setting, which is probably my favorite setting by the looks of things. I’ve done a few courses in VFX, so I’m trying to now put that to some use.
As for cover art, they come along. It’s all word of mouth. Otherwise I am working on my personal projects which all take forever. They will never all get done.
Interview by Ramon Martos Garcia – Copyright 2013-2014 © Heavy Music Artwork.