There is certain art that lives and breathes before it is even created. It exists as an amorphous collection of necessity that refuses to stay quiet. It springs forth from the brain, the heart, and the fingers into whatever medium the artist deems necessary. One such artist is Craig Jacobson. Craig tames this necessary art into sustenance for any who are willing to eat. Working along with Cassandra Sechler, their signature style acts as the secret ingredient rather than just a garnish. I’d like to thank Craig so much for taking time out to share with us.
Thank you so much for joining me on the Basement on a Hill! Your work has a definite artistic signature and I was wondering—what is your origin story? Why film as your medium?
Thank you for having me, it’s a pleasure! How did I come to film? It took a while actually, and I didn’t pick up a camera to do a short of my own until I was 27. My film partner, Cassandra Sechler, started making short films while she was in college at San Francisco State University around 2008, and those were Super 8mm films at first. I was primarily focusing on music at the time, and I usually supplied the music for her movies. The more she made the more I helped out and learned, and eventually I had an itch to shoot a short based on a nightmare I’d had. I bought a cheap Pentax DSLR that could shoot 720p and with Cassandra’s help I made my first short: Alligator Bitch (in 2011). After that experience I realized filmmaking was my passion. I was always very frustrated when I was working solely on music. I came to understand it was because I had a very specific vision in mind every time I wrote a song, and I knew the listener most likely wouldn’t have the same vision. Film gave me that control, and furthermore, because it’s a medium comprised of so many elements, you are able to express things and communicate in ways beyond language.
I just watched your film Elliot and it blew me away. Would you mind telling us what that film was for you?
Thank you, glad you enjoyed it! Elliot is my first feature length movie, and it was about many things in regards to the degradation of human interaction in this age of social media and new technologies. It’s very much about bad male behavior, objectification, and pursuit of desire without any sense of consequence. I also wanted to have an existential odyssey through a world in which people aren’t able to properly communicate; so a lot of the dialogue in the movie is a bit broken, or a little off. I think this is a reflection of the times in terms of how we as a species are dealing with the ways technology is forcing us to evolve, questioning the nature of identity and where we actually exist within our reality. Finally, I also wanted to incorporate elements of OCD and being a prisoner of irrational fears.
One thing worth noting is that it is definitely inspired without being an imitation. What are those inspirations?
Elliot was influenced by a lot of things, and not all of them were obvious at first. At the beginning, I was inspired by insect nests, spiders, and Soviet architecture. Most of the costumes were based on different spiders. As we started building sets, I realized the world should take on an organic feeling (since Elliot is constantly in fear and searching for safety, which is much like the desire to return to the womb). So instead of a power supply complex that looked like an actual factory, I thought it would be more interesting if it were as if Elliot was trying to maintain some giant living entity, as all of his struggles are inside of himself. I know with both of the Elliots I wanted elements of Robocop and jumping spiders in their movements. I think Evil Dead 2 played a big role in inspiring some of the camera movements and the level of torment Elliot endures. There’s a moment where the Sentries close in on Elliot from the sides which was inspired by the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park. As everything was coming together some people mentioned the film reminded them of Tetsuo. I think unconcsiously that was probably an inspiration too (as I do love that movie), but I did want Elliot to be more organic than explicitly cyber in its presentation.
So seeing as Elliot is my given name, and I too am a lowly maintenance worker that dreams his little dreams, the obvious question is: How long have you been stalking me?
Haha! I guess 4 years since that’s about how long ago we started working on the movie. Don’t worry though I only spied on weekends.
Haha, but really, why the name Elliot for your main character? It is a name that is repeated many times throughout the film, even acting as an alarm to snap him out of his fantasies.
We get these orb weaver spiders in our backyard every Fall in San Francisco, and Cassandra and I end up naming the ones that survive and get really big and fat. There was this one we named Elliot, and around that time was when I started having the initial ideas which led to this movie. I had read somewhere that orb weavers eat their webs each night and then rebuild them. I don’t know if that’s actually true, but it struck me as a very OCD thing to do. I deal with some OCD problems (which was an early inspiration for the movie), so this spider named Elliot was responsible for the name of the movie as well as using spiders as a motif in the design for the production.
What do you like about the end result of your first feature-length film? What didn’t go as planned?
Honestly, what I love the most about how it turned out is that you can see all the hard work put into it. We had a lot of extremely talented people working with us on Elliot, and there are elements of their contributions throughout the movie. I’m forever grateful to our cast and crew because you couldn’t have asked for lovelier people to work with, and they were all so creative and devoted. In terms of what didn’t go as planned, so many things didn’t go to plan on the set, but that’s the joy of DIY filmmaking! We didn’t have time to test a lot of our more elaborate props or effects, so there were a lot of “this better work” moments. We got lucky 90% of the time, but when things go wrong you just have to find a different way of accomplishing the same thing, and this is where our cast and crew were truly indispensable. What am I not happy with in regards to the end result? Naturally when you have to re-watch a movie you’re going to notice flaws and mistakes, but more than anything I think I could’ve done a better job with foley sounds, I think I was too literal with some things and that’s kind of a missed opportunity I guess, but there’s always something!
Is Elliot just a more fleshed out version of your short Wireboy, or is it delivering a different message?
Wireboy was definitely Cassandra’s baby and an entirely different story. That was my first time as an assistant director and it was such a blast. I learned so much from her making that movie, and I incorporated all of what she taught me when it came time to make the costumes and work on the sets for Elliot. We playfully call Elliot a sequel since it does deal with some of the same social media issues (and they’re both shot on VHS), but really they’re each their own thing.
What movie would you pair with Elliot if you had to curate a double feature? The first thing that comes to mind for me is Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England. I also think of Dmitry Chmelyov’s Alien Nightmare X.
That’s a really fun question! Hmm, well it’s hard to say because I can’t ever view Elliot the way a casual viewer can, but there are obvious choices drawn from comparisons people have made like Tetsuo and what not. Oh hell, maybe Brazil, Existenz, Liquid Sky, Dandy Dust, or Her just for shits and giggles.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you released Elliot solely on VHS through Magnetic Magic Rentals. What is your reasoning behind this, and do you think it limits your ability for exposure?
I absolutely loved collaborating with Magnetic Magic Rentals on the VHS releases, but we did also release Elliot on DVD and Vimeo VOD. The DVDs sold out faster than we expected and we’ll have more in stock late August. Regardless of releasing it on these other formats as well, when you self-distribute you are inherently going to have a harder time getting the word out. I can say the movie has done way better than I expected it to, which is a pleasant surprise, but we are still talking low volume sales here. However, I will say that the people who watch this movie and get it really get it.
What are you currently working on? Will I be fortunate enough to see more Craig Jacobson films, and do you intend to keep your filmmaking on the cult and genre side of the spectrum?
Oh, we’ll never stop making movies, and I do have another sci-fi feature in development! But currently Cassandra and I are working on her debut feature film: Tearful Surrender. It’s a gothic horror tale about an immortal sea siren and her witch accomplices who feast on human souls to survive, and I couldn’t be more excited because as straightforward as that sounds, nobody makes movies like Cassandra. It’s going to be very layered, surreal, and unpredictable. Very sexy too! We’ll be raising funds for it this August via Kickstarter and see where it goes from there, but no matter what that’s our next movie. I think we don’t really have a choice about being considered cult or underground or whatever because I really don’t know if we’ll ever do anything that will appeal to the masses. And that’s totally fine. We don’t make films to get into festivals, we don’t try to win awards, and we don’t play to the gallery. So maybe we’re fucked but hey, so be it!
Tearful Surrender sounds amazing! Finally, what do you hope people get out of your work, and what do you yourself hope to get out of it?
I guess what I hope to get out of it is the same as what I hope other people get out of it, which is awareness to the things inside of ourselves we all have trouble expressing as a means to reach a greater understanding of one another. Art has that power and it saddens me that the general public is taught to believe art is disposable or unimportant.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, cover your mouth when you yawn!