BITS 2014 Interview: Justin McConnell on Damned Selfie

damnedselfie The comedic short film Damned Selfie had its world premiere at the 2014 edition of Blood in the Snow, as part of the Short Film Showcase.  At the festival, I sat down with writer/director Justin McConnell to talk about the film.  Please note that the interview might feature some SPOILERS for the short. (UPDATE 12/21: The short is now available online, so you can watch it before reading the interview). Sean Kelly: Where did the idea for Damned Selfie come from? Justin McConnell: Honestly, in June this year it hit me. I think probably from years of frustration dealing with the Canadian tax credit forms. I got audited and my mom’s an accountant, so for years I dealt with lots of BS bureaucracy. So, the basic idea came from me applying that to Hell. It all just sort of hit me.  Where do ideas come from in general? If you follow Douglas Adams, they just fly through space until they hit someone and then it suddenly becomes their idea. Sean: How long did it take to shoot? Justin: A day. Literally like nine hours; we went into Anchor Bay in the morning at like 10am and we finished at 6, so yeah eight hours, we shot in eight hours. I knew it was going to be something tiny, where I just got some actors together, we rehearse a bit, we go in, we shoot it, we get out. It’s a six minute film and it’s two people having a conversation basically. It took be longer to build the contraption, the guillotine thing, than it took me to shoot it. Sean: How did you think up the concept of selfies taking your own souls? Justin: Honestly, I don’t remember. I guess I started thinking of the whole photos take your soul thing and I’m a documentary filmmaker, so I know that you need a release form signed off every time you shoot somebody or something like that; you always need clearance of some sort. And then I was looking at the new privacy policy changes with Facebook, because they always change things repeatedly and if you upload a photo to Facebook, they basically own the photo. And all of that went into a pot and I realized “OK, s*** selfies. You are giving that s*** away”. Then it kind of went from there. Sean: What was the biggest challenge of making the short? Justin: Finding the right actors. I think a lot of the problems I’ve had in the past with my past work is I produce very fast – I’m a very fast producer. Like with The Collapsed, which is one of the features I’ve made, I wrote the script in three weeks and I was already in casting after three weeks, after starting to write the script, and I kind of settled. And I didn’t want to settle this time, so finding the right people to perform, to do it right, and who had comedic timing was tough. So, once I had them, I knew I had a decent short or I hoped I had a decent short. More challenges: Originally the guillotine was going to be snapping monster jaws, so I went to Chris Nash, who made Z is for Zygote – he’s a friend of mine – and he suggested using Sculpey for the teeth, which is like this clay.  So, I started making some teeth out of Sculpey and I tried bashing them against each other for fun and they just shattered. So, I went “F*** it, I’m going to build a guillotine, it’s much, much easier.” So, my first experiment with these monster jaws just didn’t look right and was too tough. Sean: Did you always intend to have a comedic tone to it? Justin: Oh yeah. You don’t make a movie about a selfie and make it serious. I’ve seen a couple shorts, where the word “selfie” is in the title, and they try to make it like a serious horror film and you’re like “You’re talking about cheesy tech, you might as well…” I haven’t done a lot of comedy in the past, so I wanted to try my hand at it, something a little dark, and I figured “Why not?” Something a little lighter. Sean: I liked the “Welcome to Hell” with the dimmer switch. Justin: Yeah, I love working dimmers into my shorts, so I figured why not show this one actually above the table. Sean: How did you feel about showing it at Blood in the Snow? Justin: I think it played well. I mean, people laughed at the right times and when you do something comedic, you just want the laughter. It played a little quiet, so I feel some of the jokes got lost. When you are watching the film and it’s quiet enough that you can hear the room noise, it kind of kills the experience and I think it played just below that level. But no, I think it went well, the reception was good, the people seemed to enjoy it, and that’s all I can really ask for. Really, it was a small short for me, so I might release it online sometime in the next little while. I’m not going to do a big film festival run with it. I think it’s fun, it’s a good web short really. I’m working on bigger and better things; the stuff that I got to put a lot of effort into. Sean: You still working on that Mark of Kane? Justin: Mark of Kane, yeah. We’ve been talking to a few really good potential co-production partners on that. That’s a big movie though. That’s like between $1.5M and $3M, so that’s going to take a while to get off the ground. But I have the option for four years, so it’ll happen. I don’t know if it’s going to happen in the next few months, but it’ll happen. I’m shooting a micro-budget in March, another horror film, I’ve been shooting a documentary, which I’m not really to talk about specially yet. There’s a lot on the go.

Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).