The following is an interview with writer/director Gavin Hignight, who recently released his new short sci-fi film, Fist. In this interview, Hignight chats with Fanboy Comics Managing Editor Barbra Dillon about the inspiration and influences for the science-based thriller, the various film festivals that have embraced the film, and the collaborative efforts of the entire cast and crew.
Barbra J. Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: You recently released your latest short film, Fist. For our readers who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the story and concept of the film?
Gavin Hignight: I am a reader of Popular Science Magazine. In the magazine a year or so back, there was an article on a new technology at BMI, Brain to machine interface. The article talked about the marvels of this new technology. But, to me, the photo accompanying the article was so disturbing I couldn’t concentrate on the news story itself. The result was this film. I felt like I had to make a commentary in some form or another. I’d been getting more and more into filmmaking, instead of just writing and comics and such, so a short seemed like the right medium.
BD: What inspired you to take on this subject matter, and were there any creators – filmmakers or otherwise – that influenced your work?
GH: As previously mentioned . . . I was disturbed. That was the motivator. I am a big fan of scientific and technological progress . . . but, sometimes, you do step back and say . . . “at what cost?” This was one of those moments. As for influence? Absolutely. I think everything I do for the rest of my life will have influence from David Lynch, David Cronenberg, and Rod Serling.
BD: What can you tell us about the process of working with the creative team of the film, including the cast and the crew, and the contributions of these individuals?
GH: I had met actor JD Mendonca long before making this film. We had met through friends, and I knew I wanted to work with him. I just didn’t know how or when. When this idea for this short popped into my head, I contacted him immediately. Soon after, I was shooting a documentary out in Joshua Tree about Sacred Bones Records, JD happened to be out there and helped me behind the camera. He had good ideas, and I realized by bringing him in as an actor I’d also have a collaborator for the creative process. It was a good fit. Through JD I met actor David Dean Bottrell. David Dean is a much more established actor than I am a filmmaker. I was so lucky he came in to help us out. We didn’t have much money; actually, this film was made for almost nothing, because people like David Dean, JD, George Malanche, David Alexander Willis, Dean Hurley, and others donated their time for the cause. I knew, if it was shot well, and the acting was strong, audiences wouldn’t notice the lack of production dollars, and I feel we pulled that off. JD and David Dean really delivered; it’s two of them in a room, JD only having his face to act with, his body removed from the performance, and he really pulls it off. Countering him, David Dean. I’m proud of their work.
BD: As an actor yourself, did you find that it was more refreshing or challenging to be on the other side of the camera for this project?
GH: I don’t know if I’ve ever put myself in the category of actor. I just like making s–t. That’s what it comes down to. I like to tell stories, make worlds, and find escapism in the process. Sometimes, that means being in front of the camera, sometimes that means being behind. The ultimate goal is to make something cool. To reach people somehow . . . I do like to think that being both in front of and behind of the camera gives me some insights on communicating with the actors who are on camera, but that will be something that time will tell. I don’t think the success of that can be judged off the few films I’ve done so far . . . time to make more!! Ask me that question again in ten years.
BD: Fist was an official selection of the Hollyshorts Film Festival and the Mile High Horror Film Festival. Are there any additional festivals that you hope to enter or other means by which to distribute the film?
GH: My goal with FIST was awareness. All I wanted to do is get this story and message out to as many people as possible, so festivals were not part of the original goal. I wanted to get it up on YouTube and for people to come across it, watch it, think about it, then look at the news story the film was inspired by. I was so happy with how FIST had turned out, though, that I thought I should submit this. It was actually a really hard film to make. During editing I thought I was gonna lose my freaking head, but response to what came out of that work was so strong I thought, let’s submit to just the few festivals I like, that are worth our time. Hollyshorts is arguably one of the best festivals in the world for shorts. They really reward the hard work put into a short. And, Mile High, after working with tons of Horror Festivals the last few years, I think is one of the top film festivals for horror in the US. Their quality programming and approach made me want to have something play with them again. So, I submitted. I gotta say, it was really nice having the film play on an Alamo Drafthouse screen, too.
BD: Being that we focus on all things “geek” at Fanboy Comics, would you care to geek out with us about your favorite films?
GH: Hmmm . . . as you know I can do this all day long. I’ll just focus on recent treats that have popped into my geeky life. Freaking excited about Phantasm right now. These are not great films by any means, but for the Halloween season, I just re-watched 1 and 2. I love the Tallman. I know remakes are horrible, but a revision of the original Phantasm would be pretty cool right now. More with the balls! I remember that era of walking to the neighborhood video store and picking up a movie like Phantasm from the shelf. Everything that sold a video rental was on that VHS package. I miss that era, so re-watching those films was super fun. Other than that, I don’t have just one favorite film, but the Romero Zombie films have a very special place in my undead heart.
BD: What is the most important piece of advice that you can offer to independent filmmakers who aspire to create their own projects?
GH: Never waste time. Never! Either in writing it. (Don’t kill yourself writing the first draft. You can edit, that’s what editing is for, but don’t get lost in the writing process, you gotta make it eventually, too.) Also, don’t waste time with what ends up on screen. If you have doubts, then it might need to be cut out. Even if it hurts, sometimes, you have to lose a scene. And, it does hurt, but you want your audience for 100 percent of your film, even a short, not 80 percent. Focus on the acting. Great actors and good script are all the battle. And, really it’s not, because the invisible part of winning that battle is sound. Do not skimp on sound. People will forgive a lot in indie short films, but sound is subconscious. The audience won’t know if it’s good. But, they will always know if the sound is bad.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Fist?
GH: Watch it on YouTube. If you like it or are curious about the subject matter, then Google this term after watching the film: “Jianhui robot hand.”