“Inside the Frame”: An Interview with Filmmaker Chris von HoffmannPosted: September 28, 2014
Filmmaking is an all-consuming venture, one that requires total commitment from everyone involved in order to succeed. It’s one of the things that makes independent film production additionally difficult, as trying to put that level of focus on something that’s essentially being performed as a hobby can be intimidating, to say the least. This hasn’t stopped Chris von Hoffmann from creating several great short films over the last few years. Von Hoffmann — whose short White Trash I reviewed at the beginning of this past summer — has been hard at work finishing his latest effort, Fuel Junkie, as well as raising funds for a planned feature film. I was lucky enough to get some time with him recently to get a look into the mind of a great new talent who’s been doing a lot with only a little.
I was a huge fan of White Trash, which has played at several film festivals already, and I’ve been incredibly curious and excited to see Fuel Junkie. Thankfully it sounds like that won’t be too far off. “We have a fine cut and by Tuesday, we’ll have an official picture lock. Then finishing up the score, doing the final mix and sound design and coloring will follow. Most likely in one month it’ll be complete,” says von Hoffmann. “I dig it. I think it’s a cool film for what it is and has a lot of stuff in there that I’ve never explored ever, as far as filmmaking is concerned.”
With Fuel Junkie much closer to completion than not, von Hoffmann can now look back on the majority of the process and appreciate both the good and the bad. “The third day we were losing time and we had a lot of stuff to shoot involving some choreography with a stunt, and when were about to do a big special effect with a blood squib, the camera stopped working and the power went out and we were losing light and time,” he laughs, “So that was a horrible moment.” But, as any good director has to do at some point, von Hoffmann kept his cool and worked through the mess, trusting his crew to help him. “I definitely trust the DPs I’ve worked with even to a point where I don’t always find watching playback very important. I think it’s a waste of people’s time and you just have to trust the DP.”
And in that regard, von Hoffman — a NY-to-LA transplant — has found that being in LA is incredibly advantageous. “When I lived in New York, people weren’t nearly as enthusiastic about working on shorts and collaborating to the utmost degree. I had a tough time finding DPs out there and editors and actors who were passionate about film. But the moment I moved to LA, I started to find so many passionate, struggling young filmmakers who all wanted do great stuff and collaborate.” It’s unfortunate news for those of us still aspiring to film in the Tri-State area, but also not surprising; there is a much greater emphasis on theatre, TV or comedy in the city than there is on film.
Of course, moving to LA and finding collaborators doesn’t mean much if you don’t have funding, and von Hoffmann, like many of his peers, has found support on the Internet. But von Hoffmann does have some advice for his fellow filmmakers: “If you’re going to make an Indiegogo campaign, I just wish filmmakers would put more time into their promo videos. I’ve seen so many Indiegogo promo videos that are just so bland and traditional. They put me to sleep.” In this regard, von Hoffmann shows that he recognizes the importance of a good pitch, and in presenting his material the right way — something that shouldn’t be surprising coming from a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson. “I remember when the first teaser for The Master came out, I must’ve watched that like 40 times in one day.”
As you can see below, he’s done a pretty good job of emulating that same sort of tone-based trailer:But Indiegogo and haunting trailers are not the only areas where von Hoffmann trends towards the cutting edge. His technical preferences also lean towards the modern end of the spectrum. “I’m definitely pro-digital for a number of reasons. Mainly because I didn’t grow up in the celluloid era so it doesn’t resonate with me as much as others. Digital’s my generation.” At the same time, he admits he does appreciate and aspire to the more classical modes of filmmaking. “You see filmmakers who were big in the 70s and 80s with their grainy grungy films, [and] then they make their recent films on digital and it just brings me to tears because that organic flare is gone. If I had the resources and budget, I would love to shoot on 35mm. I’ve shot a few things on 16mm and it was a great experience. It really feels like you’re creating something organically instead of just pushing a red button.”
Von Hoffmann’s celluloid aspirations aren’t the only ways that he’s looking ahead. With Fuel Junkie almost finished, he has some big plans in the works. The biggest is his plan for a full feature, entitled Bloodshot Animals, a story involving a teenaged outsider who falls in with a mysterious serial killer and goes on a twisted and dark journey. “Ideally I want to make Bloodshot in the fall,” von Hoffman says. “It’s a very untraditional kind of film. It’s a mashup of genres. Horror, crime, drama, little thriller, slight black comedy. I want to combine French New Wave and 80s horror with this.” A tall order, to be sure, but von Hoffmann seems committed to shoot it at all costs: “I’ve basically made an ultimatum to my co-producer that if we can’t get the ideal funds for it or an investor by spring of 2015, we’re just going to have to bite the bullet and shoot it for half the budget in fall 2015 no matter what.”
So it certainly seems that Chris von Hoffmann has some big plans brewing. Based on what I’ve seen of his work so far I’m excited for him, and for the rest of us that get to be his audience. Emblematic of my generation of young filmmakers, von Hoffmann looks to have a bright future — one that he believes will only be improved by the truths he’s learned throughout the filmmaking process. “The biggest thing for me at least is not worry so much. Like I said before, I’m a control freak and focus on everything that’s going on which can be good but also bad,” von Hoffman says. “The main thing I need to work on is only focusing 100 percent on what’s happening inside the frame, and not on what’s inside the frame and around the frame.”