Can a ten-year-old boy resurrect the dead? Ask Nina Gielen, director of Arts and Crafts, whose film premiered on Seed&Spark this past June.
With a delightfully artistic supernatural twist, Arts and Crafts is more than a heartwarming story about a boy who loses his mother. I guess a dead (no pun intended) giveaway is the soundtrack: from the start of the film, pulsating electronic music lets us know that we are in for something a little out of the ordinary.
The film is beautifully shot and features a color palette that pulls heavily on blue and grey tones. The color scheme alternates between the seemingly contradictory warmth of nighttime—indoor lighting, shadows, reds and pinks—and the coolness of daytime, with its many blues and greens.
Curious about her process, I reached out to director Nina Gielen on Seed&Spark. Below is our conversation via email.
Sophia Cowley for Film Inquiry: What inspired Arts and Crafts?
Nina Gielen: Really just this question of how to deal with a loved one’s death, something we’re all faced with at some point in our lives. Misha, the boy in the film, is faced with his mother’s death at a pretty young age, and so his initial response is just denial. The kernel of an idea that really sparked the film as a whole was: What if this distraught kid was so incredibly eager to get his dead mom back that it didn’t even matter what state or form she came back in? Which then sort of became the key scene.
Congrats on getting your film on Seed&Spark! Can you tell us how that happened?
Nina Gielen: The film was selected to screen as part of this very cool local monthly screening series called IndieWorks, for their Halloween edition. We ended up being selected as the best-of-fest entry for that night and subsequently got to take part in their larger annual “Best of” showcase. IndieWorks is run by a filmmaker named Christina Raia, who also happens to work for Seed&Spark as their Director of Crowdfunding. She recommended the film to the acquisitions team there, they reviewed it, and ended up picking it up for distribution.
The acting in this short is seriously impressive. What was your casting process like?
Nina Gielen: Thank you! We worked with a casting director on this film, Rachel Reiss of Liz Lewis Casting Partners, who brought in actors to audition—including Adam Keane who stars as Misha, Morgan Priester who plays Misha’s school friend, and Dylan Chalfy, the dad (everyone except for Liz Parker, the mom, who was a friend of producer Azmi Mert Erdem’s).
We had one round of auditions and one round of callbacks, during which we paired up some of the father-son candidates to see them together, as well as the two boys. For these types of indie short film projects, I had in the past always just done the casting myself (or rather, with the help of a coproducer), but having an actual casting director on board for this was really helpful. Also, the fact that we did this as a SAG project I think helped bring in more actors to audition.
On Seed&Spark, Arts and Crafts is listed as “horror” (as well as “family” and “drama”). I suppose there is one scene where this label comes into play; was it always your intention to include horror elements?
Nina Gielen: It’s funny, because while the drama elements were always part of it as well; we actually started out with much more of a straight-up horror concept than the final version ended up being. (At the crowd-funding stage, we’d describe the project as Ponette meets Mama.) I think the further along we got with it, the more we realized how vital to the story the themes of loss and grieving were, and those things just took over. So it turned into what I would probably describe as a spooky but also melancholy family film. (A friend of mine suggested “supernatural drama.”)
That scene you refer to, when we workshopped a rough cut of the film, people responded in a way that made us realize that keeping the graphic aspects to a minimum actually made for a much more effective piece. So yes, there was always supposed to be a horror aspect, but we deliberately kept it relatively discreet in the end.
I love the music in this film. Where did the soundtrack come from?
Nina Gielen: The score was composed by Harlan Muir, whom I knew from a previous project—that one was actually a superhero comedy! Harlan is this incredibly versatile composer who makes all sorts of interesting music. He was actually part of the team from the very beginning, and we had offered downloads of two of his albums as rewards during our crowd-funding campaign. Two of the musical numbers were written specifically for the film, and two were preexisting. During the edit, we had a selection from Équinoxe by French electronic musician Jean-Michel Jarre in there for the title sequence as a temp track, so that served a tiny bit as an inspiration for the opening track.
Did you work with Cinefemme to get Arts and Crafts made? What was it like getting the film funded?
Nina Gielen: I am a member of Cinefemme, but this film actually predates my joining the group. We ran a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter to raise about 50%-60% of our budget—they made it a staff pick at the time, which was cool. My parents also contributed a good chunk, and the rest of it was self-financed from savings.
I think I applied for one or two small grants too at the time, which did not come through (unsurprisingly, since few filmmakers are able to fund their work with grants, unfortunately). Even though it was a low-budget effort—always a weird thing to say when you’re still talking about thousands of dollars, but filmmaking is is just super expensive—we wanted to make sure everyone who worked on the project got paid something, and we were able to do that.
What advice can you give to other female filmmakers, especially those who are looking to get their projects green-lit?
Nina Gielen: The most important thing for me has been finding a community of fellow filmmakers. It’s so difficult and daunting to make any type of film that you really need people who’ve got your back and can support you, keep you motivated, and hopefully also become your collaborators. Here in New York there are a few great organizations specifically for women, like NYWIFT (NY Women in Film and Television), NYC Women Filmmakers, and Film Fatales (which is focused on feature filmmakers, however).
Cinefemme of course is based on the West Coast but now also has an NYC affiliate. A few years ago, I joined an awesome filmmaking collective called Filmshop, of which I’ve since become a chapter co-leader. I workshopped Arts and Crafts within Filmshop several times at various stages, which undoubtedly made it a better film! Some of the group’s members also ended up crewing on the film. So that’s one thing I would recommend, joining a local film group—or even founding one if it doesn’t exist yet.
Another important factor I think is actively seeking out other female filmmakers as collaborators—because there is strength in numbers, and better representation will help change a filmmaking landscape that still largely favors men … which in turn will lead to more women’s films getting made. Arts and Crafts had a lot of women in key crew positions (such as our d.p., production designer, editor, production manager, and a.d., to name a few), which I’m kind of proud of.
What is next on the horizon for you?
Nina Gielen: I’m currently developing my first feature project, called Magic Window (still a working title)—about a 12-year-old boy from a troubled home who falls in love with his father’s friend, an adult man. So it’s kind of a coming-of-age story, but there’s also a true-crime angle to it; the film is inspired by an incident that happened in Florida in the early 2000s. I was lucky enough to take that project through NYWIFT’s From Script to Preproduction development lab last year. I’m currently seeking producing partners with prior feature experience, since I’ve never made one. It’s going to take a concerted effort, but I’d like to shoot it within the next two years. It’s exciting and scary.
Another project currently in the works is this horror anthology that I’m developing with a few fellow Filmshoppers. It’s going to consist of five stand-alone stories all set in the same location, an NYC apartment building, loosely connected by a handful of recurring characters. For inspiration we looked at classic supernatural anthologies like Trilogy of Terror or Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath, but also contemporary ones like Holidays or the V/H/S series. I’m pretty excited about that one too.
And finally, I’m helping my brother Christoph Gielen, who’s a photographer, produce his upcoming documentary/experimental hybrid on maximum security prisons, called Supermax. We’re hoping to launch that into production by the end of the year.
Thank you to Nina for the interview! Arts and Crafts is available to watch on Seed&Spark.
Do you have any favorites on Seed&Spark? Let us know what films you recommend in the comments below!
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