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Thursday, November 6, 2008


Gerardo Naranjo, Tobias Datum, Shaz Bennett in Guanajuato Mexico

One of my personal heroes is an AFI and an AFI FEST Alumnus, David Lynch, but he’s not the only one. At the world-renowned AFI Conservatory, the emphasis is on narrative visual storytelling and personal expression. Filmmaking is a collaborative art and each class breaks into teams that mirror a real production environment. Those teams collaborate and produce more films than at any other graduate-level film program.

Since 1969, over 3,500 artists have graduated from the AFI Conservatory. Every year at AFI FEST we are thrilled to include some of these talented Alumni.

One in particular this year, Tobias Datum, graduated from AFI with an emphasis in cinematography. He’s had an extraordinary year with the success of Azazel Jacob’s film MOMMA’S MAN out of Sundance. (Jacobs is also an AFI Alumnus and on the Narrative Jury this year at AFI FEST.

Datum then collaborated with acclaimed Mexican filmmaker, and AFI Alum, Gerardo Naranjo on I’M GONNA EXPLODE, which is screening in our World Cinema section.

I had an opportunity to talk to Datum before the festival.

Where are you from originally? How did you first hear about AFI and what made you decide to come to school there?

I’m from Frankfurt, Germany. I decided after graduating from film school in Berlin, that it would be good to try out the US. Since I wanted to study cinematography I decided to apply to AFI.

AFI is a built on the conservatory model with a focus on the collaboration of the artists in film—can you talk about the people you met at AFI and how those working relationships developed?

AFI is not very big, so after a week there you know all the faces and can make out the people that interest you. Then you are making all these “cycle projects” [AFI teams collaborate and produce more films than at any other graduate-level film program] together. So, it doesn’t take long before you connect with people you might want to work with. The backgrounds of the Fellows in my year and the year before me were very diverse. There were people from all over the world, and they all had various levels of experience in film. Some had not been on a set before. Meeting all those people and working with them did provide a variety of inspiration since everybody’s background was so different. Learning about people and yourself is a very important aspect of filmmaking, and AFI had a very diverse group of students who were all interested in the same thing but not exclusively film nerds

How did you start working with Azazel Jacobs and Gerardo Naranjo?

Aza and Gerardo were a year ahead of me. I knew Aza a little bit but we didn’t work together until after AFI. I had shot a film called HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS SPENT THEIR SUMMER that was directed by Georgina Garcia Riedel who was also in their class. I think that film got them interested in maybe working together. After that, I helped Aza and Gerardo when they were shooting THE GOODTIMESKID but was already committed to shoot another project so I helped them for only four days. Then Gerardo asked me to shoot DRAMA/MEX and last year Aza and I did MOMMA’S MAN.

I must say that I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to meet and work with such a talented group of people who have also become some of my best friends.
The year Aza, Gerardo and Georgina came out of AFI (2001) was a really good year for talent. Mikal Lazarev and Goran Dukic, who made WRISTCUTTERS, graduated that year, too.

Where did you shoot I’M GONNA EXPLODE?

We shot some interiors is Mexico City and the rest was shot in the city of Guanujuato.

What did you shoot on?

We shot Super 35 3-perf on Kodak 5279 Vision2 Expression 500T. Zeiss with high speed lenses on a moviecam MK2 compact, for most of the time.

Do you speak Spanish? I understand most of the crew was local?
I learned just enough to be able to communicate with the crew. But I don’t really speak Spanish. But, we understood what we were trying to accomplish.

Can you talk about working with Gerardo Naranjo as a director?
We are different in some ways. Gerardo knows a lot of movies and has studied them. I have not seen that many movies and most of them I forget. So usually he tells me some movies I should watch and then we have conversations about them in regards to the film we are trying to make. For I’M GONNA EXPLODE it was clear that it was stylistically based on our experience with DRAMA/MEX so we went from there.

He makes a lot of drawings and scrap collages and I don’t. We talk a lot about the movie beforehand while going through the script and scouting, and most of the time we come up with similar stuff. But he is over-prepared so that there is always something to fall back on. It’s hard for me to rationalize this, because I am not so sure myself how I work. I follow my instincts a lot and try to just listen and pay attention.

While shooting, we usually started the day with a coffee and watching some dailies. Then we decided what to shoot depending on how the actors and Gerardo felt. We had a relatively long schedule of, I think, 40 days, so we had a good amount of time. A lot of people on this movie also worked on DRAMA/MEX, so it was a family affair. For me it felt like I am the distant cousin of the Mexican family that comes to visit and we have a family event that lasts for a few weeks. I did end up with a hangover actually.

The biggest struggle was to keep the set intimate, because there were considerably more people working on I’M GONNA EXPLODE than on DRAMA/MEX.

Will this be the first time seeing the film on the big screen?
No I saw it in NYC before, but since I live here it’s the hometown screening.

It’s a homecoming of sorts.

AFI Alumni Films playing at AFI FEST

This year’s AFI FEST includes these films of AFI Conservatory Alumni filmmakers:
ADAM RESURRECTED: Paul Schrader (Dir.)
A NECESSARY DEATH: Daniel Stamm (Dir./Scr.), Zoltan Honti (DP), David Kashevaroff (ED), Brian Udovich (Prod.),
BUCKETS: Nick Simon (Dir.), Todd Serlin (Prod./Scr.), Patrick Russo (DP), Michael Griffin (ED), Elizabeth Chase (Scr. ED)
THE CHASER: Shinho Lee (Scr.), Sujin Kim (Prod.)
DEADGIRL: Harris Charalambous (DP)
DEFIANCE: Edward Zwick (Dir./Scr./Prod.), Marshall Herskovitz (Exec. Prod.), Pieter Jan Brugge (Prod.), Steven Rosenblum (ED), Scott
Jacobs (PA)
THE DESERT WITHIN: German Mendez (Exec. Prod.), Ana
Garcia (ED)
DOWNTOWN LA: Nick Higgins (Dir.)
I’M GONNA EXPLODE: Gerardo Naranjo (Dir./Scr./Prod.), Tobias Datum (DP),
THE SOLOIST: Susannah Grant (Scr.)
WORLD’S APART: Kim Magnusson (Exec. Prod.),
THE WRESTLER: Darren Aronofsky (Dir./Prod.).

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