Director to Watch
I was pleasantly surprised when Nathaniel Wallin shared his Spanish-language script, Paz y Alegria, with me. The joy of collaborating with him continued through the shoot and to the present. He is a quiet force, innately talented at applying pressure or uttering direction only when absolutely necessary and in just the right amount. You’ll want to watch more after reading his responses to my questions:
What was your exposure to film growing up?
– When I was little my family always used to have movie nights on the weekend so I was always aware of and enjoyed watching films. However it was a childhood friend of mine who really introduced me to the world of hollywood movies. We would spend entire weekends watching movies or getting a group of friends together to film our own. As I got a little older my dad introduced me to the works of filmmakers like George Romero, Dario Argento, Sam Raimi, and the early films of Peter Jackson. He passed on his love of zombie films to me and we bonded over a shared interest in the horror genre. It was these types of films that I believe subconsciously guided me towards the path of becoming a filmmaker. For awhile I felt that I was destined to make the next zombie/horror epic and while I’ll always be a faithful Romero fan, my identity as a filmmaker and artist has changed greatly since my youth. Today my dad and I still enjoy watching and discussing all types of movies, but horror films will always be something special between us.
My parents exposed me to every art form imaginable, but cinema for them was “for the masses” and “a waste of time.” How would you attempt to counter such a position?
– I believe that because film is “for the masses” is exactly why it is not a waste of time. I love all types of art, but film is undoubtedly one of the most accessible and therefore one of the most powerful. Going to the movies is an experience, much more so than going to a gallery or even a play. You are sitting in the dark with a large group of strangers all simultaneously going on the same emotional journey. I am constantly amazed by the power film has to evoke such strong emotions in its viewer. A very well done film puts me in a completely different state of being and will stay with me long after I have finished watching it. Likewise, a horrific and disturbing film will have me in a bad mood for days, until something else occupies my mind. Michelangelo Caravaggio is my favorite Renaissance era painter, and while I find his work incredible, a painting like Incredulity of Saint Thomas will never be as emotionally powerful as a film like Alejandro Iñárritu’s Amores Perros. There are many similarities between painting and film, or any form of art for that matter. The artist puts a part of themselves into their work, (Caravaggio would often paint himself as the man crucifying jesus) and they seek to elicit a viscerally emotional response from the viewer. I don’t believe that anyone can contest that any one form of art is superior to all the rest, but film, done well of course, unquestionably stimulates the mind in a way nothing else can. A good film leaves you with important questions to ponder and discuss.
When did you know you had to dedicate yourself to this art form?
– I always knew that I had to do something with my life that I enjoyed, something that would make me want to get up and go to work everyday. I realized my calling was in filmmaking probably soon after I started the film production program in high school. The type of films I had made with friends back in middle school were incredibly amateur, basically us in whatever costumes we could scrap together, half ad-libbing lines we were given right before we started rolling. The result was something resembling a blooper reel and were just for our enjoyment, thankfully. High school presented me with the chance to actually make a half decent film. I learned about the different roles in filmmaking, but directing was the one that stood out to me and what I enjoyed doing the most. It was at this point that I had become jaded with hollywood cinema and the boring, predictable films that have been becoming an unfortunate trend. The type of movies that make you say “I could make a better film than that!” It was around this time that I really began noticing the films being made in other countries and how obviously superior they were to anything in american cinemas. The fact is your average hollywood movie is catered to people who just want to watch guns going off and a lot of stuff blowing up. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of escapism, in fact it’s something I love about film, but it’s a slippery slope. Escaping is only part of the experience, and as I mentioned before, the emotional and mental content is what makes it art. What has happened though, is that hollywood capitalizes on these type of people (an unfortunate majority) and throws as much CGI and whatever other flavor-of-the-month gimmick they can up on screen and expect us to go “oooh isn’t that pretty” and fill the seats. And it works, very, very well. I feel it’s made the average viewer into an idiot and it disgusts me. I don’t have a problem with computer technology in film, what I hate is when it is used as a crutch to support a half thought out story and one dimensional characters. Anyone who fills a film with as much effects as they can, with complete disregard to the story, because they know it’ll make them money is simply not a filmmaker. I suppose I’m ranting to say that I always knew that if I was going to be a filmmaker it sure wouldn’t be the hollywood way. It was after I came to college that I realized the independent and international scene was where I belong as a filmmaker and artist.
What was your first attempt at making a film like?
– The first films I made in high school were only two to three minutes long but they were designed to get us to explore different camera angles and techniques. Even though they were short I was surprised at the amount of time and work that had to be put in to make them. Making longer films later in the year was an entirely different experience. Often I would work in a small group, but if I had a film that I wanted to make I would probably end up being the writer, director, cinematographer, and editor. It rarely if ever went smoothly and could be a very stressful thing, but the experience was very fun and I truly enjoyed it.
Do you always write your own scripts? If not, what are the challenges of working with someone else’s script?
– I prefer writing my own scripts because I enjoy shaping my own vision and being able to fully bring it to life. My protagonists are also extensions of some or multiple parts of myself so it is also an interesting journey in self-reflection. When working with someone else’s script the challenge becomes to stay faithful to the writer’s vision while still making the film your own. It’s a balancing act.
Do things sometimes turn out better than you imagine them?
– With film I feel that somewhere in the back of your mind you have to expect that it’s going to be a completely unmitigated disaster. Filmmaking is an incredibly complex process that involves making sure an entire team of people is not only doing their best work but is also in sync with each other. It only makes sense that everything you’ve worked so hard to bring together is just going to blow up in your face. I remember last fall I was getting ready to start filming my first Spanish film, Lola Ya No Vive Aquí and my teacher asked me how things were coming along. After I told her the plans she looked at me and said “you know it’s all going to go completely wrong, don’t you?” I nodded in agreement. “But then it will all go completely right” she added. And it did. That’s just the way filmmaking is, it’s one turbulent ride, but in the end if you believe enough in what you’re doing somehow it all comes out right. And even if it doesn’t I try and learn from the experience, so in that way, nothing is ever a complete failure.
Why films in Spanish?
– I absolutely love Spanish, it’s such an incredible and beautifully poetic language. After you finish reading this look up the song Mi Guitarra y Vos by Jorge Drexler and you’ll hear what I’m talking about. If I could speak solely Spanish everyday I probably would. When I began writing my first Spanish film I had already decided that this is the language that I want to work in professionally and I figured that it would be excellent practice. I also figured that there was no reason for me not to make a Spanish language film.
One of the comments at the screening of Paz y Alegría was without even reading the subtitles, the viewer felt the emotion of what was occurring. In what ways can film help us explore our universality?
– That’s a very interesting point. I feel that people have always instinctively clung to the identity that nationality, and consequently, language, gives them. It is not always the case, but often times through ignorance, apathy or fear of the unknown, other cultures are rejected as alien or weird. As the world keeps getting smaller the desire for cultural seclusion seems to be growing. One of the most ridiculous excuses I have heard for people not wanting to watch a foreign film is that they didn’t want to read. A possibly mind changing experience denied out of laziness. But I suppose that’s an entirely different issue. I feel that we have forgotten that aside from slight language and cultural differences, we are all of the same race and that emotions are universal. Not everyone lives the same way you do but everyone feels the same way at sometime. As far as film is concerned, I believe that it has always worked to bring people together and it is wonderful that in this day and age the connection can span the globe. However it is up to the individual to be open to the wonders a film can show them.
Who are your cinematographic heroes?
– Well, aside from the filmmakers of my childhood, Pedro Almodóvar definitely tops the list. My film, Lola Ya No Vive Aquí, is an homage to his work. I am drawn to his expressive use of color, unapologetic exploration of religion and sexuality, and strong female protagonists. He is the type of filmmaker that I would like to be, a true auteur who is so dedicated to his vision that he insists on being the one to buy the knickknacks to decorate the set. Both Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu and Alfonso Cuarón have made some amazing films, and the Korean director Chan-wook Park is also a remarkable filmmaker. I also enjoy a lot of Ridley Scott’s work, and I believe his director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven is one of the best historical epics I have seen.
As budgets grow, so does the spectrum of possibilities for a director. However, the style remains. What is your style? What will remain distinctly yours as your budgets grow?
– I feel that I am still discovering my style as a writer-director but I know that my characters will remain distinct. I take my cue from Almodóvar in that I prefer female protagonists. My women are downtrodden and disillusioned, seeking to regain themselves or right a wrong by taking control of their situation. The world has robbed them of their power so they must take it back. They are certainly more interesting than their male counterparts and provide me with a challenge when writing. As a man, I often draw on the women in my life for inspiration but I also put a lot of who I am into my female characters. The character of Lola in Lola Ya No Vive Aquí is in part a very large reflection of myself.
In one word, describe Chicago:
What are you working on next?
– I have a few ideas floating round in my head that haven’t really made it past the concept stage. I’ve been taking a break from basically all things film for the past few months, but as soon as school starts up I’ll be back at it for sure.
How can people learn more about you and get in touch with you?
– If you want to take a look at my work, the film Paz y Alegría is currently on YouTube and I am considering uploading my first Spanish film, Lola Ya No Vive Aquí, sometime soon. Since all the hip kids are on Facebook these days you can find me there as well, so if that’s your thing feel free to send me a message. E-mailing is cool too and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Paz y Alegría – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XYv-GNilNg