Monday, April 21, 2014

The Sounds of "Sonus": An Interview with Filmmaker Mike Davis

In October, BMFI launched its inaugural Silver Screen Inspiration Short Film Contest to encourage emerging filmmakers and celebrate cinema’s rich history. From over 280 entries, four finalist short films have been chosen: "Miss Todd," "Wrong Number," "Redemption," and "Sonus." In April, see these remarkable short films on the big screen before the features that inspired them, and learn more about the finalist filmmakers on BMFInsights.

The Sounds of "Sonus"

By Kerri Grogan, Staff Assistant

Virginia-based filmmaker Mike Davis creates a fun, modern take on the silent film genre in “Sonus,” one of Bryn Mawr Film Institute’s four Silver Screen Inspiration Short Film Contest finalists. His inspiration film, Charlie Chaplin’s silent masterpiece City Lights, perfectly reflects the blend of creativity and humor that inspires Mike's work.

Recent film graduate Mike Davis is currently finishing his first feature-length screenplay and is already receiving recognition for his film work.

I got in touch with with Mike via e-mail to learn more about him and his film. Keep reading to find out about the challenges of making a film without dialogue, his musical choices, and what inspires his filmmaking style.

You recently graduated from George Mason University with a degree in film production. What do you enjoy most about the filmmaking process?

I'd have to say it’s a tie between the ideation of my films at the script level and actually watching it when it's all done. I get a lot of great ideas and screenwriting lets me dive deeper into them. I have a lot of fun crafting and sometimes pruning my stories to make them work. There's nothing like watching your idea that you've spent hours and hours working on play on screen in front of an audience. I love watching people's reactions to my films.

"Sonus" is a modern take on a silent movie. How did Charlie Chaplin's City Lights inspire your story?

Besides the obvious black and white, I really like the love story in City Lights between Chaplin's Little Tramp and the blind woman. It's one of my favorite onscreen love stories. For my film, I wanted to craft something similar, but of my own design. I think it worked.

What are some of the unique challenges you faced making a film without dialogue? How did that affect the way you told the story?

I can't really say that I ran into any challenges due to lack of dialogue. I knew exactly how I wanted to tell this story going in and I cast my actors based on their nonverbal cues and gestures. After that, in terms of directing, it was a pretty simple shoot, which is a credit to my cast. The big challenges I faced were all production based: doing everything solo, a malfunctioning camera, finding an empty study room in a busy library, filming “Sonus” simultaneously with my senior thesis film...things like that.

In "Sonus," a college student unwittingly discovers a hidden world of sound during a library trip. But is it all just in his mind?

The music that your character discovers in "Sonus" plays a big part in the story. Does the music you featured have any special relevance? What made you choose those pieces?

I'm a closet classical music fan. Personally, I'll listen to anything besides country, but only a couple of my friends know that I like classical. I'm also a big fan of all things animated. So for one of the songs, I wanted to create a Pixar vibe by relating the music to what's happening on screen.

Your filmmaking style has a lot of light-hearted humor and creativity. What films or filmmakers have had the biggest influence on your style?

The biggest influence on my style probably comes from animation and cartoons. Again, I'm a big fan of animation, and there are so many films and television shows that have influenced me in that genre. But what I like the most about them is how universal they can be. I think those are the films we remember best. Those are the films we can enjoy over and over again as a kid or an adult. Besides that, I also really enjoy the element of surprise in my work. I love catching my audience off guard. Sometimes I'll even slow down the pace of a film just so the surprise can have a bigger impact when it’s delivered. “Sonus” is probably one of my better works in terms of representing my style as a filmmaker and screenwriter.

Thanks, Mike!

See "Sonus" and the classic feature that inspired it, City Lights, on Tuesday, April 22 at 7:00 pm. The film will be shown in conjunction with a Cinema Classics Seminar. Join us on April 27 for our ACTION! Dedication Celebration, where we will announce the Silver Screen Inspiration Short Film Contest winners.

Kerri Grogan is BMFI’s Staff Assistant. She studied animation at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and moonlights as a dice-rolling, video gaming geek, animator, and comic artist.

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