Friday, May 23, 2008

Interview with Filmmaker Sam Balcomb

In late 2000 early 2001 I (Anthony) discovered the work of Sam Balcomb, then affiliated with the forthcoming film Ancanar, and since has contributed to and inspired the creative spirit. Over the course of the next few years, Jessica and I corresponded with Sam, and Raiya, grateful to them both on contributing to or taking part in several Tolkien related events we had organized. As we worked and corresponded with one another a friendship has grown out of these projects. During this time Sam has written, directed and produced several short films and forthcoming projects that has reflected his broad knowledge and love for the fantastical, which also honors those who have inspired him.

Having this in mind we felt it was time enough to catch up with our friend and share with you all his thoughts, ideas and knowledge of his inspirations, creativity and approach to telling stories.
We asked members of the Iaurond Room forum(s), the Ancanar related discussion(s), which are also featured in the latter part of the interview. Visit the forums where this interview is also published for further discussion of Sam's work

As we edit and attempt to format this interview we are having difficulty accenting some of the Q&A with images.
For a complete look at Sam's work,projects, images and video reels
please click here to visit his company RainFall Films

1) In reviewing the course of film projects, of a more fantasy or mythological nature—such as Ancanar, The Ore, Arrival at Esgaroth, trailer for The Legend of Zelda or earlier a planned venture into the life of Elessar—when can you say your interest in stories of this nature began?

My first “movie” was shot when I was ten years old, and it was a space adventure. We had to punch little holes in black construction paper to recreate outer space. But earlier than that, my dad read me The Hobbit and the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, which kindled my love of literature and myth.

1a) And, If this in part began with Tolkien and his work, can you relay to us the experience of reading and studying his work for you?

My earliest memory of Tolkien is seeing the cover of my dad’s Rings paperbacks.

The cover art was very 70’s, and all three flowed together. I remember being creeped out by a little Shelob in the crack of the mountains. Having those books read to me was the first step.
The second step took place in college, when I revisited the trilogy. I re-read Lord of the Rings in film school, during a particularly difficult time where I wasn’t sure if I was on the right path. It was one of those instances where fiction and life merged as one. I instantly had to read everything Tolkien wrote – from The Silmarillion to Lost Tales to the Histories of Middle Earth.

2) Has Tolkien's "On Fairy Stories" and his theory of sub-creation played a role in how you create and open doors to new worlds within your writing/filmmaking? If not how have your ideas formulated to tell the stories you present to us as an audience in any private/published filmmaking/ writing?

I’ve always been fascinated with sub-creation, which is an act we all do whether we’re aware of it or not. The best ideas seem to come out of nowhere – they’re not forced. Sub-creation and sub-conscious go hand in hand, I think.

One of my favorite parts of writing is coming up with backstory. Having pages of character or locale history makes writing the main story easier, even if that stuff never shows up center stage. And you never know… stuff that I wrote in the Book of Rammoth, which was never supposed to even be published on, showed up in various drafts of the script. It was nice to have that pool of history to draw from.

3) Each of the short films listed in question #1 have their own unique visual perspective, each contribution does not just have a fascinating story to tell but the story is also told in the stunning visuals, graphic, and CGI oriented part to the film.

a) Can you please elaborate first on how these are brought to life?
b) Who is involved in this process?
c) How does this affect the flow of the story is it visual first and story second? Vice versa?

I doodle incessantly. You should see my college notebooks, they’re 5% notes and 95% doodles. So writing and drawing are very much intertwined in my process, and the images get tied to the story at an early stage (but neither is superior to the other). Speaking of college, that was around the time I realized I could never pay people to create the kinds of visual effects I wanted in my films – so, I had to learn that technology on my own. It’s still an ongoing process. I definitely have more support now, which I’m eternally grateful for, but creating visual effects is still a passion of mine. It’s nice to feel so hands-on.

3) Are there more mental, creative energy/archetypes/symbols more predominant than another in each of the works you have brought to life?

A large part of my ancestral makeup is Scottish, so the Celtic myths have a particularly strong hold on me. I love the triple-spiral design, which was the Pagan Trinity (and afterwards usurped to become the Holy Trinity), so that shows up every now and then in my work.

There’s definitely a gallery of archetypes I love, that always hold tremendous narratives power. Looking back, I notice many “misunderstood, shunned hero” types. Strong female characters with hidden power. The bad guy who turns good, in order to take on the greater evil. The tricky thing is to elevate those archetypes above what we’ve seen before; there’s a thin line separating them from clich├ęs. I’m certainly not always successful.

4) From the development of Ancanar to Zelda each have a similar troupe of actors, what is it that each of these wonderful players bring to your film projects? I.e Gregory Lee Kenyon, Ralph Lister etc.

I’m a big believer in keeping your friends close in this business. It’s too easy to let people fall by the wayside. When you find someone who is talented, who you get along with well, you’ve got to hold onto them. I’m lucky enough to have made good friends and colleagues along the way, such as Gregory and Ralph. At the same time, it’s fun to bring new people on board, who become new members of our little club.

6) Throughout each of these projects we are also enchanted by a unique film score.
a) Can you tell us how it was working with your father, composer Stuart Balcomb, on these projects, and was your father/son relationship a factor in any of it?
b) In some of your work material by David Arkenstone was present, can you describe what you feel of his music and what it was like working with him?

It’s always great fun working with my dad. We have a good working relationship, and he’s very patient with me! I’ve been a lifelong fan and collector of film scores, so sometimes I will have very specific ideas or musical comments. My dad will always try my suggestions, even if they suck, but in the end he’s the creative force behind the music.

David Arkenstone was overwhelmingly kind enough to let us use tracks from his terrific Atlantis album for Ancanar’s Ocarina scene, which screened online. He even reworked his music to fit the footage better, which was great. David continues to be a good friend, and I hope we can work together again in the future.

7) In each of the cited film projects there is an equally inspiring element, that of the arms and armor. Please tell us more of the world concerning The Lonely Mountain Forge and Joe Piela, Jenna Brocius. For example the raven imagery of the black wing elves is very mysterious would you be able to elaborate further on that symbolism or on any of the other work LMF has done for you.

Joe Piela contacted me back in 2000, asking if he could send me custom made swords and armour for Ancanar. I remember being baffled – why on earth would he want to do that? How did we get this lucky? We’ve worked together, along with Jenna Brocious, ever since, and I feel honored to have such amazing friends.

Jenna crafted the Black Wing arms for Ancanar, which are gorgeous pieces of art. The Ravens are a symbolic standard for one of the characters, but beyond that I probably shouldn’t say…

8) From Linwe of the Iaurond Room Forum:
a)I too would love to hear a bit more about Sam's current and/or future projects. Anything feature length? More shorts? What are they about?
b)I was also wondering how The Legend of Zelda trailer project got started. Did someone approach you with the idea, or did it originate in your own brain (hehe)? How did you go about keeping it so secret?

Hi Linwe – good to hear from you! One of the reasons I started Rainfall Films was to have better management over all these projects. Between myself and my other partners (Jesse Soff, Jeff Dodson and Kholi Hicks), we’re working on feature scripts, short films, music videos and commercials. There’s nothing solid to announce just yet, but keep an eye on our website.

The Zelda trailer was originally going to be part of an ongoing series of fake trailers – not april fools, but conceptualizations of video game to film adaptations. IGN liked that idea, so we started on Zelda (one of my favorite games). By the time we finished it in October of 2007, IGN came up with the April Fools idea and went in that direction. So it was definitely fun creating the hoax, but we can’t pull that same sort of thing again. It was very hard keeping it secret, and we even had a leak two weeks before launch, when someone within the production posted a few shots in a game forum.

9) From RingFanOne of the Iaurond Room Forum: Could you edit your showreel with titles of the films, either as you did at the bottom of your mograph reel or as you did with your new music reel? Thanks!

Hi RFO! That’s not a bad idea, and would certainly help viewers identify each project. I’ll see if we can implement that on our next update, which will probably be over the summer. We’re also going to be splitting it up into two versions: showreel and visual effects.

10) In his short story collection Smoke & Mirrors, Neil Gaiman said "Fantasy—and all fiction is fantasy of one kind of another—is a mirror. A distorting mirror…which we can use to tell ourselves things we might not otherwise see." To an extent all your work is fantasy, even of a subtler kind (such as Texas Fortune) a darker kind which most people don't generally regard as fluff & fairy-tale fantasy. Do you find Gaiman's comment pertinent to your work? And how has your work mirrored your world? And anything else you'd like to comment on fantasy in general?
It’s a great quote, from a great writer. And yes, I do think it’s very pertinent, and ties in with that I mentioned above – that fiction/fantasy comes from a very subconscious level and it often affects us there. We can relate with the businessman, the athlete, the shop owner… but what about the magician, the dragon, or the demon? We can’t, and yet in many stories, we find ourselves emotionally impacted by fantastical creatures or characters. That’s the power of fantasy – as Gaiman implied, it can show or tell us things about ourselves or the world around us that is not immediately apparent.

11)If not covered already, are there any other ideas, projects, or things you have in plan that you'd like to share with us?

I’d like to mainly apologize to the Ancanar fans for the rather bumpy road of the past couple years. Raiya and I came to the agreement that the film would benefit from a single voice – having two captains on the ship just was not in the best interest of the story and the fans. I wholeheartedly support Raiya in her ongoing quest with Ancanar, and look forward to seeing what she does with it. The tricky part was how to handle the site and its updates, and having the server hacked did not help things. I hope to see the site back online soon, in whatever form Raiya thinks best.

As always—thank you for your work, for your contribution to fantasy, and for being with us today.

Thank you Anthony and Jessica, for your kind words and vote of support, and for all you have done with Heren Istarion.