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Interview with Chris Tevebaugh

Born in Champaign Illinois but raised mostly among the southern United States, Christopher Tevebaugh is a narrative and documentary director living in Columbia, South Carolina. He is known for Honor the Father (2014), Runaway Runway: The Flower the Squid and the Apology (2013) and Sazerac (2012). He studied Architecture and Design at ULL and Media Arts at USC.
(taken from IMDB)

Thank you so much for taking your time to do this. I hope you don't mind if we just get right into it. Where was Honor the Father was shot? 

We shot in a barn location in The-Middle-of-Nowhere, South Carolina.  It took two and a half months of searching for us to find a location we were happy with.  The owner was incredibly accommodating it was a great location.  We had also locked down a 250 year old cabin atop a mountain, however three days before the shoot the movie lost its entire budget.  Although we got the mountain cabin pro bono we couldn't pay for the gas to get up there.  In three days the script was entirely rewritten from the ground up.  Two musical numbers were outright replaced, all dialog struck since we could no longer afford a production sound person, so the barn inherited the responsibility of telling the entire story.  I can't say enough how the barn location saved the shoot.

The film looks great but the film would fall apart if the music didn't work. Who is the band? 

The band is called The Restoration.  They are South Carolina locals; everyone who hears their music likes them, but it's when they play live that people fall in love.  Originally I had cast actors to play the roles in the musical but due to last minute budget problems I was forced to fall back on the band.  They had always been the backup plan, personally I had pushed for them since day one.  I could see in Daniel and Lisa the potential for greatness.  However, even directors have bosses.  The money said “trained actors” so that was the plan.  I'm very happy the movie ended up with the band playing the characters because they are great people and in terms of performance the best I’ve worked with.  The band is currently working on new stuff not as narrative as in Honor the Father.  However I’ve had a sneak peak; everyone should be very excited.

Who wrote the story? 

Daniel, who plays Roman in the movie, wrote the original story and music.  My producer Erik Lee and I managed the adaptation.  Our story actually takes place in-between songs from the album.  Erik and I constructed the new narrative using songs already existing; our story has since become canon.

Was the film inspired by the music? 

Absolutely the film was inspired by the music, that's where everything started.  However, I have a rule for producing movies; always tell the story in your heart at the time you're telling it.  Early in preproduction the story started with Honor the Father music yet gradually the sort of criteria or motivation that I used to gauge the direction the production would follow stemmed from my own life.  In particular I made a mistake and lost a friend; the movie for me branches off from that guilt and connects with stories found between the album.

What camera was it shot on? 

It was shot by DP Pierce Cook using his own RED Epic camera.  It was pleasure working with him and the RED as well.

Where did you go to school? 

I went to school for Media Arts at USC; the South Carolina one. My film education was abysmal.  I am only successful because I work with good people, because I work on set often, and because I was challenged with a terrific education in Architecture at ULL in Louisiana.  The skills I learned in architecture are perfect for directing movies.

I think that's an incredibly valuable lesson for young film makers or anybody pursuing a career in the arts. The education is more often than not in the doing, the picking up of a camera or a paintbrush or a notebook is how you learn. School can only get you so far. Most people learn how to do their jobs while they are doing them. So, art isn't any different. You get good at anything by fucking up and coming back at it the next day, muscle memory and tenacity. Who are the filmmakers that inspired you to starting shooting movies? 

Werner Herzog, Darren Aronofsky, there is some Francis Ford Coppola in there, and little tiny moments and techniques garnered from different places: non-famous directors, short filmmakers, some interesting dynamic I saw in a commercial ten years ago.  Every project has a handful of strong lines of inspiration and a hodgepodge of anything else that just happens to work.

Do you have any plans for a feature? 

My producer and I recently wrote a short sci-fi, we are looking into expanding it into a feature.  The full story has been fleshed out for the short so plenty of it exists to draw on, it's just a matter of feeling what's right for us and for when and how we decide to produce it.  I have attached a poster for the movie (entitled Stasis).  If anyone is interested in any capacity, please message me and maybe we can get this thing off the ground.

Stasis summary: Alone in deep space, Myra Walker awakes from a dream-like hibernation to find her ship critically damaged.  As life support shuts down, she comes to terms with the world she left behind and the mission that lies in jeopardy.

Alone in space... I'm not sure that anything gives me the creeps more than imaging life support shutting down. On second thought Pennywise from Stephen Kings It has a slight edge over being trapped in space with a diminishing supply of oxygen but its still a terrible thought.   

Whisperings was the first film I saw of yours. I was impressed with the visual style of the film but when I found out you shot the film for $100 I was stunned.

After watching the film I have to ask; have you seen Days of Heaven?

Days of Heaven is a movie people are constantly bringing up in reference to Whisperings.  I haven't seen the movie but I will it sounds incredible.  

(images from Days of Heaven)

Days of Heaven might be one of the finest looking films ever made, its by far my favorite Terrence Malick movie. The imagery is hauntingly beautiful and Criterion put out a gorgeous Blu-Ray of the film last year. A must watch for any film fan. So, did you have a visual road map when you were making it?

Whisperings had been specifically designed to emulate Rodger Deakins it was a cinematographic exercise.  I used to do a lot of small movies as sort of experiments.  Though as a rule I won't spend time making something not  even as an experiment unless it can later be used as an independent artistic or entertainment piece.  That's why the band was asked to be involved.  We wanted music so we could focus on image instead of sound and The Restoration does concept albums with stories so that gave me some character stuff to dive into.  I read and watched a lot of interviews with Rodger Deakens in order to have an Idea of how he would shoot.  Later Honor the Father had some residual benefits from that Deakens cinematographic language as well.

(images from The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford)

Of course, Rodger Deakins, that makes perfect sense. It hadn't occurred to me when I was watching your film but I can absolutely see it. He has done beautiful work for years and specifically the work he has done for the Cohen Brothers and Sam Mendes is remarkable, not to mention the woefully underrated Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford, that film is truly stunning. 

For a good example of experiment taking on entertainment value I have a link to my first animation.  My professor for experimental film asked the class to make a camera less fill by scratching or writing on 16mm.  Two days before our films where due she bragged in class how she was too smart for her animation students and that's why they couldn't keep up with assignments, all but four students had to quit the class mid semester.  I was infuriated and decided to learn animation to prove it was her teaching poorly and not the because the students couldn't keep up.  I only had two days so the technical results aren't stellar (my first work as an experiment was designed to teach me as many things as quickly as possible) but the story used that problem as an advantage.  Notice how the animation starts with simple techniques and gradually gets more complex, that's because the story was evolving as I learned new techniques.

Experimenting with techniques and styles is incredibly important for all artists at all stages. It only adds to your tool set and makes you all the better at your craft. That you learned animation as a "fuck you" to a professor is hilarious. I'm sure it wasn't at the time but the end result with the foreknowledge of why you were making the film is fantastic. It shows a little bit of a punk rock streak that I admire

Again I'd like to thank Chris for doing this interview he's a talented young film maker to keep an eye on. You can see more of his work on VimeoFacebookTwitterLinked In or IMDB