Memoirs of a Superfan Vol. 11.8
Superfan meets a Super Fan
ONE-MINDED, by Sébastien Simon and Forest Ian Etsler, played in the amazing shorts collection RELATIONSHIP STATUS-IT’S COMPLICATED. It caught my eye because of its Buddhist theme (a sutra was quoted over the action throughout, providing a spiritual perspective on the nature of the self and reality). The human action involves a hilarious attempted heist in a Seoul apartment while the occupant is engaged in amorous pursuits. The scenes are shot from the perspective of an oscillating fan in the room, as if the fan is the all-seeing observer. That, of course, makes it my Superfan fave! Simon and Etsler were kind enough to answer a few questions by email. The interview was lightly edited for clarity. (BONUS: Simon and Etsler agreed to give MOSF readers the chance to see the film here – password “roog.”)
Born in 1982 in Indiana, US, Forest Ian Etsler first came to South Korea in 2005 as a Fulbright Grantee. After several years of teaching English and studying the Korean language, he has turned his focus to film. Recently, he assisted a Seoul-based documentary company with the directing and filming of a feature length international co-production. Since the fall of 2014, Forest is pursuing an MFA in film directing at Dongguk University in Seoul as part of the Korean Government Scholarship Program.
Born in 1983 in Alsace, France, Sébastien Simon is a graduate from the E.S.E.C film school and from Université Paris 1 – Panthéon Sorbonne, and started out as a Paris-based film editor. Now an international, nomadic director since 2011, he also works for the Busan International Short Film Festival, the Jeju-do French Film Festival, the Seoul International Extreme-Short Film Festival (South Korea) and the Rencontres Cinématographiques de Cavaillon (France).
Are you Buddhist? What inspired you to interpolate a Buddhist sutra with your very interesting comedic action, which could certainly have stood alone?
SS: No, I’m not and neither is Forest, the co-director, although we both are interested in East Asian belief systems. The narration which opens and closes our short film is actually made from chosen excerpts of the Ashtavakra Gita, an old Indian scripture which Forest was reading just as we were writing “One-minded.” It felt perfectly in tune with the themes of awakening and conscience that we were toying with in our script, and the central idea that the fan would be both a plot device and the point-of-view character and, as such, it would in fact be the only character that actually evolves throughout the film (sure enough, none of the other – human – characters changes).
FE: I’m not Buddhist neither do I prescribe to one faith-system. Like Sébastien said, we came to a point where the fan was both the POV and the main character – meaning it achieves the “peripeteia” or change, unlike the other human characters. So, we reached the conundrum of how can a fan change? From machine to what? We know some sort of animation was in store, but we weren’t clear on what variety. Nearby was the Ashtavakra Gita (which is actually Vedic, thusly pre-Buddhist) which dealt with the nature of reality. We found excerpts that matched, and decided to have a young child recite the lines. The Korean viewers would notice that the child’s Korean isn’t fluent. It’s because he’s German-Korean and 8 years old. We liked the tension of a child reciting overly complex Vedic knowledge imperfectly. Against the opening shoot it greats a wonderful cocktail of tension that we felt could be manipulated to whatever ends.
Ah, so this text predates Buddhism yet has many similar seeming concepts. I think the fan/camera’s nonjudgmental awareness/mindfulness of the evening’s proceedings was very interesting. The characters display greed, desire/lust, anger and various forms of trying to get their own needs met (variations of the three poisons of Buddhism.) However, nobody gets their needs met precisely in the way they’d like. There’s an element of frustration for everyone. But it’s all kind of okay too, from the fan’s perspective.
SS: The frustration aspect is something we were very aware of, although we were more interested in communicating this feeling to the audience: just like the fan, the audience would be all-knowing but physically restrained and bound to the mechanical oscillations of the camera. Regarding other characters, their frustrations and their “poisons,” I mostly remember that Forest and I spent a lot of time trying to justify the thieving of the burglars. “What item of value could they possibly steal that would justify their presence,” that sort of thought. Similarly, we couldn’t find a good reason for them to steal the fan and then abandon it outside, other than the sheer necessity that it be carried out. In fact we were still pondering that problem on the night of the shooting! But we decided to not even try to give a reason, and agreed that we don’t need to. Yet we’ve had that question asked quite often in post-screenings Q&A sessions! Ultimately though, the reason doesn’t matter.
FE: Very good question. To add to what Sébastien wrote, I recall having concern whether or not a mechanical, oscillating POV would work for the entirety of the shot. So, we decided to have the fan fall over, get picked up, and then be free to move as it desired. This followed the agreement that the fan is both camera-POV and main character. As well, the mechanical oscillating of the fan was all day by Sébastien’s hands on a tripod in ridiculously tight space.
A common critique we have heard is that if the humans were more debased and vile then the godliness of the fan would be more emphasized. Though a valid argument, both Sebastien and I wanted to focus on the transcendence of the mundane.
Interestingly, the fan changes in part by taking an “interest” in the people, and then actively following them, as opposed to passively oscillating. The steps in the cultivation of compassion include generating concern for another, appreciation for their suffering, and then wishing or acting for them to be free of suffering. So maybe the fan is actually becoming compassionate over the course of the film. It’s like Buddha vowing to sit until the moment of enlightenment, and you capture that moment. “Before enlightenment, I was a fan. After enlightenment, I was a fan,” to paraphrase a famous Zen saying.
SS: When we were writing the prologue and epilogue, we tried to integrate significant moments in the fan’s “life,” like when he was bought by its owner, or on the contrary abandoned. Moments that were meant to suggest a more layered and emotional relationship between the fan and the two flatmates. Somehow, we felt these scenes would be too digressive, but it was an interesting exercise to try and devise a whole backstory for the fan. One aspect of it remained: after the second lady picks it up and stares at it while smoking, on the soundtrack you can hear one of these “Roog harmonics”, but very softly and calming. We wanted to suggest that she is its true owner, and perhaps the fan would like to console her, since it knows she’s being cheated on. At that moment, we certainly thought of compassion and concern. However, the whole change in the fan’s behaviour after it falls, as much as it sparks its conscience, was first meant to break the monotony of the “passive oscillating” and allow us to go in a more emotional direction when the two ladies have their heart-to-heart conversation. So it came from a more rhythmic consideration: at that specific moment, having the fan NOT oscillate helps the actresses.
The audience is certainly enjoying the action. Do you think the fan was silently chortling as well?! I think I definitely have competition as a Superfan! After all, your fan was “God”!
SS: I don’t know if the fan is chortling! But in sound editing and sound mixing, we did give it a voice. In addition to the normal sound of the fan’s blades and air-churning, you can hear it sort of hum when the thieves invade the apartment, when the Lothario undresses, and when the second flatmate comes back home and sits in front of the fan after putting it back up (we even incorporated a sound of wounded dog just before she notices the fallen fan on the floor). On the set, we recorded our actors performing what we called “Roog harmonics,” it sounded almost like a mantra. Our tagline for the fan was: “from dog to god.” This came from one of our source of inspiration, the short novella “Roog” by Philip K. Dick which is told through the perspective of a household dog, and to which we paid homage by making it the made-up brand of the fan. We liked the idea and the challenge to represent the very theoretical notion that the fan itself would grow a conscience and, somehow, would manage to free itself from its shackles by movie’s end.
FE: It’s great to hear that people enjoyed the film. That was really the top goal was to experiment with a strange POV and to keep it enjoyable. There was a good amount of subterfuge and intended audience brainwashing done in post-production. We were lucky enough to get awarded a prize at the International Festival of Audiovisual Programs Biarrtiz in France, so some of that paid off–quite literally. Thank you for your interest, and we look forward to sharing other projects with you in the future–as well as visiting CAAMFest in the future.
What are you working on next?
As co-directors, we are currently finishing postproduction for a narrative short film which we shot in Busan, South Korea, in the fall of 2015: “The Troubled Troubadour.” It tells the story of an old musician’s journey aboard a canoe mounted on wheels along an abandoned train tracks and blends in various influences: Greek and Norse mythologies, Buddhism, Korean shamanism, American blues myths…here is a link for the teaser.
Since fall 2014, we have also been regularly filming for a feature documentary which we want to complete in 2016. It is titled “The Kono Conundrum” and follows Tetsu Kono, a Japanese man who has developed an almost obsessive passion for Korea films and who has been attending dozen of Korean film festivals every year…for the last eleven years!
OMG – he sounds like the Japanese version of me! My conundrums are figuring out which movies to see on screener vs. in the theater, and which of all the great films to write about! I’m glad I chose yours! Thank you!
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Ravi Chandra, M.D. is a psychiatrist and writer in San Francisco. He writes The Pacific Heart blog for Psychology Today. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, or best of all, sign up for an occasional newsletter at www.RaviChandraMD.com, and find out about his upcoming book on the psychology of social networks through a Buddhist lens, Facebuddha: Transcendence in the Age of Social Networks, and his e-book on Asian American Anger, now available for free download. More CAAMFest MOSF blog posts can be found here and here.