Interview with Colin Bemis
Indie-director Colin Bemis and Flickfeast recently got together to discuss Strawberry Flavored Plastic (2018), a hit Neo-noir horror film. After several Tweets including a tantalizing partial (and spoilerific) reveal, we put some answers to a few questions.
Flickfeast: Hello Colin. Was there a key moment or event which inspired you to become a director? How did you make that decision?
CB: This is one of those answers that undoubtedly comes off as obnoxious, but it’s the truth, so I tell it: I’ve wanted to be a filmmaker since I was five years old. I’ve been a lifelong cinephile. With an increased understanding of what exactly a “filmmaker” was as I aged, I always offered a variation of “oh, I’m going to make films.” So I did.
Can you tell me about the origins for Strawberry Flavored Plastic? How does someone come up with such a twist to a genre?
CB: A good friend of mine, Jeremy Pospisil, recanted these sort of ludicrous stories about a few of his co-workers, with one in particular that always stood out as being partly psychotic and wholly fascinating. I started developing this general conceit around him, but the story quickly grew its own wings and formed itself pretty quickly. One of the largest appeals to me was the concept of sympathizing with a character whom you knew you shouldn’t; there was a complexity to that emotion alone that drew me in closer and closer to the story itself. I’m fascinated with the idea of how human beings react, and why they react in the ways that they do. This was a good template for exploring that interest.
One of the largest appeals to me was the concept of sympathizing with a character whom you knew you shouldn’t…
How far do you think Errol and Ellis would have let Noel carry on with regards to killing, given the opportunity? What would it have taken for them to submit to doing the right thing?
CB: The general abandonment of principles and morality in the wake of the opportunity for self-fulfillment and “success” is ultimately what steered Errol and Ellis off of any recognizably moral track; so I’m unsure if they would have ever found their way back to it. There are certain doors that, once you open them, lead you somewhere that positions you in a very difficult place in regards to regaining your moral high ground. It’s certainly possible. However, their actions clearly offered little indication that there was any place that was too far.
SFP has been described as “Found Footage” and as a “Mockumentary”, which definition suits SFP better? Why?
CB: There are certain tropes that surround the sub-genre of “found footage” and “mockumentaries” that can definitely be seen in Strawberry Flavored Plastic, but a “faux-documentary” is what I always refer to it as in its most literal sense. “Horror neo-noir” is probably the best way to describe it generally.
What message does this film have as a reflection on today? How do you think its relevance will continue in years to come?
CB: The idea of morality as a societal barometer of where we are as a culture is a major component of what SFP is really about. Because the concept of “morality” and “good vs. bad” is a constantly changing idea, even if there are consistencies within those evolutions. And, of course, the more general idea of what people will do to achieve their own personalized concept of “success.” Success is a tricky word in and of itself, because its definitions range wildly based on individual views of self. To some, it’s financial; to others, it’s artistic, or family-related, etc. I’d like to think our film explores that on a few different levels.
Noel- the focus and shining beacon of this neo-noir film- is genuinely a unique and intriguing character/ villain; what was the inspiration for such a person?
CB: Thank you! On the page, I think a lot of the inspiration just comes from the layering of all human beings. In reality, we all have endless facets to who we are, who we think we are, and that pesky gray area in-between. In our case, Noel was a character who was just a lot more willing to traverse those areas and speak about them. A lot of his verbalized thoughts about who he was were things that a lot of people would rather keep to themselves. However, I obviously can’t give enough credit to the totality of Noel Rose and what he became to Aidan Bristow. He’s literally one of the most gifted human beings I’ve ever met, so a massive amount of the backstory, inflections, and the overall brilliance of his performance were all his creations, and the film benefitted immensely from his contribution. I literally couldn’t have made the film without him.
Swelling with so much philosophy, references (to books…) and thought-provoking debates; do you have a favourite to elaborate on and can you hint at any hidden meanings?
CB: I think I’ve babbled long enough on the philosophical side of things! I think the swath of topics covered are really representative of a lot of the items we all think about. In this case, it’s filtered through Noel’s own psyche, which is what makes it that much more interesting (again, thanks to Aidan’s performance.) In the end, there aren’t any easy answers so much as earned answers. But one must put in the work.
CB: One of the benefits of making an indie film is the total capacity for final cut as well as creating exactly what you intended. So, I’m happy to say that I had total control of the final product of the film. I wouldn’t say there’s anything missing or anything that I would’ve added. Of course, in hindsight, there are always going to be things you would want to alter; every project, film, book, etc. are products of the time you made them, and I love that aspect.
I loved every second of it. Sincerely. Apart from the parts I didn’t.
As an ‘Indie’ Director, how was the process of creating Strawberry Flavored Plastic different to other films?
CB: Not to sound like a whiny schmuck, but the process was massively different in the forms of both process and time. I worked six days a week at my then day-job through seven months of pre-production up until four days before production began; all rehearsals and meetings were done over the telephone or via Skype. So the whole process wasn’t without its challenges, but I loved every second of it. Sincerely. Apart from the parts I didn’t.
What lessons about film making will you take forward to your next project?
CB: You pretty much learn every single thing that you need to learn on your first film if you’re also the one producing it. As with life itself, the best way to learn is to screw up almost infinitely until you square away how you can better yourself and all of your decision-making. Reading books and articles on how to make films is cute but it’s largely meaningless and void of any real value, simply because no film goes off the same way and you never know how many mini-battles you’ll face until you’re in the war itself. My advice is always just to go out and make something, because it’s in those moments where you learn what works and what doesn’t.
…which leads nicely onto: can you give Flickfeast any exclusive details about anything in the works? What other genre might you like to twist?
CB: Nothing’s been officially announced yet, but I am juggling two features that I hope to make later this year. One of the most joyous elements of writing is that it’s free, so I’ve been lucky enough to have written a lot; the genres vary pretty wildly. I will say that my next film will most likely be We’ve Dreamt of Demons and I’m hoping to get it off the ground in the Fall. It’s a psychological thriller that asks some massively relevant and timely moral questions. (Yes, I suppose I’m starting a trend in my work.)
A “perfect film” might be quite elusive but what would it look like in your eyes? What qualities do you think would make a “perfect” film experience?
CB: A vision that isn’t compromised. I think that’s always what results in the best work. Additionally, no matter the genre, there has to be an element of caring about your characters. One always has to care; if you don’t, the effects are weakened.
How do you think the film industry has changed in light of the growing impact of Social Media, especially within the “Indie” scene?
CB: We have a massively more democratic way for filmmakers to engage with their audiences; however, that also means that the market has been flooded with content. The ease and ability of nearly anyone to obtain a camera and make a film (an inherent positive, for sure) means a much more saturated marketplace. However, social media is a fantastic way to engage directly with your audience. It’s certainly an interesting time because the industry as a whole is constantly evolving, as it has been in the last few years, and nobody really knows where anything will land. It’s a bit of a free-for-all, but it’s certainly exciting.
Just simply…what was your favourite moment of making Strawberry Flavored Plastic?
CB: I have two answers to this. Firstly, the people. I genuinely love every member of my cast and my crew. These are not only delightful, smart, engaging and talented human beings, but they basically made this film for very little money, with enormous self-sacrifices of time and talent, for the sake of creating something out of nothing. They gave me their love, their belief in me and the film, and their dedication as well as their talent, and I will forever be fully indebted to every one of them. It’s a bit difficult to describe to anyone that hasn’t spent too much time on set, but you’re literally around everyone all day for a month straight. There’s very little privacy, or down time, or anything else. And when there is, we all chose to do things together. And there wasn’t one moment of exasperation, annoyance or wavering. It was lovely. Secondly, when you’re making anything, really, you don’t have a clue how it’s coming to cut together. Sure, you have a plan, and you have a script and you have a vision. But you don’t really know what the hell is going to be the result. However, there was a moment early on in shooting where I was watching a scene and just thought, “This is good.” That’s it. That moment, even if the movie ended up being absolute trash and I failed everyone completely, I had a recurring feeling of, “this moment is working.” You can’t replicate that. It’s very of the moment, and it was cathartic and lovely.
I just can’t let it go – have you read “Wool” and “Shift”? Was there a reason why the third was left out from your ‘Bookshelf of Intrigue’ (an official term, now)?
CB: I loved your Tweet about this! Alas, I must be coy. I don’t do this to build an enigma; rather, I think it’s vitally important for artists in general to not explain the inexplicable. As filmmakers, we put great thought into every aspect of a film. And, at some juncture, we have to say, “it’s done.” At that point, it becomes its own monster entirely, and belongs to us no longer. It belongs to you. I don’t believe in telling anybody how they should emotionally or intellectually react to any piece of art, or any element therein. But we do put thought into every aspect of the films we make. And it is here, good sir, that one would put in a “wink” on the “Bookshelf of Intrigue.” P.S: Can we get that trending?
We’ll certainly try. Thank you for your time.
This is Joe Bull…signing off the grid!
Our original review of Strawberry Flavored Plastic is available here.