You have vision, a story. You have mood, and a philosophy. How do you coerce these elements into a film? Tiffany Shlain, an award-winning honors graduate of University of California Berkeley, has always learned best by doing. With a fresh flmmaking history behind her, including a short called Hunter and Pandora, several interactive movies, a medical CDROM, and tons of software, Shlain has just gotten started. In her search for mentors she did a documentary on Bay area women filmmakers and co-taught a 16mm film production course at her university. Her interest in the brain and creativity inspired Zoli's Brain, her first feature film, which is now in postproduction.
Zoli's Brain, adapted from a script she crafted while still in school, was produced in 16mm black & white after graduation. "I decided to learn from experience. I raised a lot of money by throwing parties, put 40 people together for the crew and started production with about a thousand dollars." The end result was both "the highest time of my life and the hardest." Zoli's Brain, a film about creative block, was in fact written during "a creative flurry" and filmed in a surreal, madcap atmosphere which cloned the film itself. "It's about a sculptor who has a creative block" Shlain explains. "The film takes place inside his mind, which is visualized as a surreal world. All the metaphors of the mind are taken literally. There's the membrane bank, biological clock shop, the restaurant where thoughts are entertained. "Brain cells" were shot on Alcatraz. Two forces fight for control of the brain - the peace of mind patrol and the revolutionaries. The peace of mind patrol wants to censor its artist and the revolutionaries want to free him. Everyone has their vision of how he can get through his creative block."
|A still from Tiffany Shlain's Zoli's Brain. Say it ten times fast.|
Ironically, Shlain found herself trapped in the same creative block Zoli's Brain speaks of while editing the film. "All of my films kind of predict what's going to happen in my life ... While I was editing the film, the money pressures became really intense and I lost perspective. I sold everything ... began to only see the problems and was going crazy."
In many ways, Zoli's Brain is about Shlain's own creative struggle as well as that of artists in general. "The struggle is really about making a film and not worrying about what my feminist professor's gonna think of it or what my dad's gonna think of a nude shot of a man. It's really about being true to yourself and not necessarily going down to LA, not compromising what you believe in.
"I believe a mute artist is not an artist; that we need to be able to reach people, let them live through viewing. I have this one main vision, kind of like a cyclopean eye or the eye of a fly. I get a crew together and I want to make sure my vision comes out but that everyone's individual vision comes out also. That collaborative effort is definitely what I love about filmmaking."
The difficult editing period on her first feature eventually led Shlain to an interactive film class in Seattle. Here she finally had access to equipment which would "allow me to do the sound, the most important, expensive and difficult part, on computer." Now a Seattle resident, Tiffany believes multimedia is "a way of overcoming a lot of financial pressures. You can do a lot of the very expensive things on the computer and get it out to a lot of people. That's one of the biggest problems of independent films - everyone wants their film to be seen, but how do you get it shown?" She believes that independents can now compete with formerly untouchable Hollywood.
Though Tiffany still wants to make features, multimedia allows her to make films without overwhelming concern for financing and distribution concerns. "We're gonna cut the fat out of the need for distributors. Even video stores will carry CD-ROM, but nothing will replace the silver screen. The Internet will just shake things up.
"Being able to transfer films on the internet as a form of exposure for the artist is gonna be fantastic."
Shlain is currently working on a multimedia demo, which she hopes will be done by the end of the year.