Poison (USA | 2017, 2 min)

Directed by: Erica Eng

Horace Gold's poetic words personifies his past unhealthy relationship with alcohol through a fictional relationship with a woman. Inspired by the surrealist film "Meshes Of The Afternoon" -- POISON is an expression of addiction through repetition.

Interview:

Interview with Erica Eng, Director of “POISON”, conducted by Caleb Dawdy, Curator of Art & Experimental Film

CD: To begin, I would love to hear a little bit about your history in
filmmaking. Where did you begin as a storyteller?

EE: I started directing when I was 15-years-old at a non-profit after school
program called “Youth Sounds” in Oakland, CA. My mentors encouraged me to
direct my first short film called "Inertia" about a group of students who
rebel against their math teacher. The film was accepted into 17 festivals
across the U.S., including the Newport Beach Film Festival and the San
Francisco International Film Festival where it won the Golden Gate Award in
the Youth Category. With my prize earning, I bought my own Panasonic DVX
100b and a pair of Sennheiser Lavaliers and began shooting short
documentaries and music videos around the Bay Area.

CD: This film has a brilliant connection to the spoken and visual poetry we
experience as the audience. Could you give a background on how this project
came to be? Did Horace Gold’s words come first, or was it a collaboration
in full?

EE: As a music video director, I’ll often research artists who I want to work
with. I came across Horace Gold’s music online and saw some of his
performances. He has amazing style and I knew I could do something really
interesting with him. We set up a meeting and he told me that he wanted to
do a visual prelude to his album “POISON.” At the meeting, he read the poem
out-loud, and my head began to race with abstract visuals to shoot. Horace
truly is a great writer and artist. All I did was turn his words into
images.

CD: The cinematography here is beautiful without a doubt. What were some of
your earliest ideas when planning out this film, in terms of the
cinematography, that you felt you needed to best communicate this message?

EE: Thank you! I’m very specific when it comes to cinematography and how I
visualize my films. However for “POISON,” I didn’t create an official shot
list on purpose because I have a habit of being too overly prepared and it
gives me little freedom to experiment. This time, I purely wanted us to
play with the character and the space, keeping in mind that each shot must
convey repetition, isolation and loneliness. I talked through some set-ups
that I knew I wanted to capture with my Cinematographer, Alex Pollini, to
get us started. The ice cubes in the glass, the feet walking along a patch
of light on the carpet, the jump cuts of Horace around the room – these
were all planned scenarios. The rest, for the most part, was improvised.

Also, Alex and I both agreed that shooting on film would add an extra layer
to our character by conveying the time period with a vintage look. But film
is so expensive and we weren’t sure if it would work. So, we actually shot
each set-up twice: once on his Sony FS7 and once with an 8MM camera –
ultimately creating two different versions of the same film.

CD: You mention the magnificent “Meshes of the Afternoon” as a source for
inspiration here, do you have other surrealist inspirations, whether it be
film/photography or painting, that you borrow from? If so, who?

EE: For “POISON,” I used the film “Nightingale” featuring David Oyelowo as
visual inspiration. The film largely takes place in a 1950’s home where
Oyelowo obsesses over having his old Army buddy over for dinner. Because
Horace already has a vintage feel to his music, I knew I wanted to do a
vintage style video. I felt “Nightingale” was an appropriate visual
reference for “POISON” because they both deal with similar themes of
obsession, addiction and heartbreak. Plus, Oyelowo is a recluse in the film
and I deal with heartbreak in a very solitary way, so I knew I wanted
Horace’s character to feel the same – trapped in a house as things around
him remind him of his addiction. The mirror shot is my way of paying homage
to “Nightingale” because there are a few scenes that stood out to me where
Oyelowo is sitting in front of a partitioned vanity mirror, conveying his
disjointed personality, and I wanted Horace’s character to feel the same –
slightly insane.

CD: What are some of your greatest influences in film, cinematography, and
storytelling in general?

EE: Spike Jonze inspires me a lot, career-wise and creatively, especially
growing up shooting short films and music videos. He reminds me to have fun
as a filmmaker. Bend reality. Change the way these stories are told. Be
different. I also love the fact that he can be an Oscar winning director,
but he can also dress-up like an old lady and prank people on the street
for Jackass. Artists create because they want to create. They’re not
constrained to just one thing. That’s what I aspire to do – I want to make
work that I’m passionate about.

CD: When making this film, what were the largest issues you had to
overcome? Were there any problems you thought you might run into that you
simply did not?

EE: Coloring the 8MM film was really difficult. Patrick Taylor colored the Sony
FS7 footage, but I tackled the film footage myself. Something about how it
was telecined made the video files really hard to color. Each time I
exported, the colors looked really wonky. I took me weeks to finish
coloring 120 seconds.

CD: While on set, were there any unexpected moments or “happy accidents,”
that aided you in the final story we see?

EE: I accidentally didn’t shoot enough footage! I’ve never done that before.
There’s a part in the film where the camera tracks left to right past a
bedroom doorframe to see Horace sitting on the floor. The shot repeats over
and over again with Horace doing different actions. That’s partly because I
didn’t have any other footage to put there. But it ended up working out
because the repeated movement of the camera matches our theme of repetition
for our film.

CD: What is your personal favorite moment from your film, either visually
or for your to create?

EE: I love the 2nd shot of the film where we slowly track down the side of the
table to reveal Horace gazing lovingly at a spinning glass of alcohol.
That’s my favorite. That inspiration came from another short that I shot
with spinning tea in a teacup. The effect didn’t work properly, so I’m
really proud of how it turned out in “POISON.”

CD: If you could say, is there any certain thought or feeling you hope your
audiences walk away with?

EE: Moved. Sometimes we set out to make these poignant films and if the
audience doesn’t feel it, it can come off as pointless and pretentious.

CD: Looking forward, what projects and stories are you looking to tell
that we can see in the future?

EE: I recently directed a spec commercial as a fellow of the Commercial
Directors Diversity Program, which is partnered with the Directors Guild of
America (DGA) and the Association of Independent Commercial Producers
(AICP). Through the program, we receive a small grant to direct our own
spec commercials and I wrote my idea for Homeboy Industries – a non-profit
organization that rehabilitates formerly gang-involved and previously
incarcerated men and women. The spec features the journey of a man who
tries to get his life together after prison. He’s finally given a chance at
Homeboy Bakery, where we begin to see his life change for the better. The
main character is played by Richard Cabral, who worked at Homeboy in
real-life before becoming an Emmy-Nominated Actor.