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Interview with Filmmaker Brennan Vance of Alma

Our filmmaker spotlight is on Brennan Vance of Alma. Vance's film was selected to be part of the NewFilmmakers Los Angeles screenings at the AT&T center in downtown Los Angeles this month. Learn about the film, his inspirations, goals and current projects.

Tell us a little bit about your project and how long you've been working on it. 

First of all, thanks for inviting me to talk about my film! This little film means a lot to me and I’m honored to screen it in LA and to have a chance to speak about it. Many, many thanks for having me. My short film Alma is just the latest variation on a theme I’ve been working on my whole creative life: my father. This film is at once an attempt to honor and understand the feelings of love and distance he and I have shared over the years, but it’s also a somber little fairy tale about infidelity, step­mothers and astral travel. Alma is one part family reconciliation drama, one part metaphysical mystery. And I was lucky enough to work closely with some great friends and family to make this story come to life and I’m very proud of what we created.

Is there anyone you'd like to thank for helping out with this film?   

I’d love to take the opportunity to thank my family for staying more than 100% supportive of my varied and impractical creative endeavors. I’d love to thank a great friend and filmmaker, Peter McLarnan, who’s been not only been a blessing of a pal but my biggest creative mentor throughout the years. And I’d love to thank the eternally loving Tamara Swanson for being there always and always.

How does it feel to have your film part of the NewFilmmakers Screening at the AT&T Center?

I have a ton of respect for the intelligent and risk ­taking spirit of the NewFilmmakers programmers. I was lucky to show with NewFilmmakers in New York as well, and really loved the experience. There are so many festivals out there but, from what I can tell, most of them don’t see the benefit of showcasing small films that are unusual, imperfect or challenge one’s idea of what a powerful film can be. I believe there is so much legitimate talent out there that never gets the chance to really blossom simply because Sundance didn't lend it’s stamp of approval to a certain film or because a certain student wasn't lucky enough to book James Franco to act for free in her grad school thesis film. The game is mostly rigged for big money “independent” films, which is why its so refreshing to find festivals and screenings that get people excited about lesser known artists and out­of­the­way films.

What inspires you?

I’ve always been moved by the more inexplicable, irrational and emotional side of the life experience spectrum. I’ve always felt truth is more tangible in instances of the unknown, in feelings that aren't easily defined or shared. That’s when life expands with possibility and shakes you. You don’t know why or how or who or what, but it shakes you nonetheless. And I feel this may be true for lots of artist ­types, but that mysterious flux of emotions and the life events they revolve around become incredibly important to me. I believe they are what give my life a unique shape and lend an almost mystical meaning to my experiences as a human. They are what make me uniquely me, the sorta DNA of the soul. I don’t know if it’s artistic hubris or a simply a genuine personal need, but I constantly feel this necessity to crystallize those feelings and turn them into something concrete, coherent and greater than myself. If I don’t do something with those feelings, I feel a real sadness, as if those parts of me will be wasted somehow. So I guess what inspires me is to try to pay closer attention to my own experience, to record those feelings and share them, so that they may live on a bit longer than their natural lifespan.

Who are your influences and who do you admire?

I have a few artistic influences that I keep studying and stealing from: Andrei Tarkovsky, Michael Haneke, the photographer Alec Soth. A friend recently gave me a really beautiful book by Nathaniel Dorsky, called Devotional Cinema. It’s a beautiful piece of writing about simplicity and sincerity. But most of the people that I admire are my family and friends that are working hard every day, living generous and loving lives. They are very skillful at supporting my creative pursuits but, more importantly, they often remind me that life is bigger than art, and that we are here on Earth to enjoy one another, grow up and be patient.

What lessons have you learned from the industry so far?

From what I’ve gathered, trying to make a living as a feature filmmaker is like trying to get in the starting lineup for the Yankees. There are so many hungry and talented people doing exactly what you’re doing and, more often than not, doing it with a greater degree of success. But in the end, it’s not about how many festival laurels are on your movie poster or how many people like your trailer on Vimeo. Forget the Yankees, man. It’s about being true to what got you in the game in the first place, making art that is really meaningful to you and, hopefully, meaningful to whatever audience you can find to share it with.
If you could collaborate with anybody, who would it be? Speaking of baseball, I’d love to make a film with that knuckleballer RA Dickey.

What is the toughest experience you've ever had to overcome?  

I’m hoping this question is about filmmaking and not about high school, but I’ll say my single most difficult experience has been finding the time, the money, the opportunity to make this short
film ‘Alma.’ It’s been a few years coming now, and I’m so excited to have pulled it all together. That’s the thing with making art, you have to be patient and simultaneously crafty (sometimes bordering on unlawful) in how you find the right resources, equipment, and locations to make your projects happen. I’ve only been in the back of a squad car once in the name of art.

What is the best piece of advice someone has given to you?

Once when I was feeling a bit down on my luck, my step-­father once said, “It’s laughter that gets you through every time. Laughter and food.” His meaning, if I interpreted it right, was to remind me to always keep a spring in my step and that I was welcome at his house for dinner any time I was too broke to buy groceries.

What advice would you give to new filmmakers starting out in the industry?   

Advice is a really awkward thing because there are few true experts out there (especially when comes to something as mercurial as a film career) and who’s to say what worked for them will work for you? There is so much luck and happenstance in life and work. I’d say take all that advice from hacks like me with a healthy scoop of salt and instead trust your own experience and whatever is happening in your life. If you wait to make a film until you've met all the criteria of Indiewire’s latest blog post about HOW TO MAKE YOUR INDIE FILM A FESTIVAL DARLING AND GET BIG RICH WITH VOD!!!! You’ll never make anything and never learn anything and never have any FUN. Figure out how to not bog yourself down with the crappy advice of others who don’t know you or what your life is like. Then humble yourself to what’s actually possible for your situation and do your best to make something you like. And try to be a nice person in the process. I could certainly take my own advice more often.

Where can we expect to see you next?   

I’m writing my first feature at the moment and trying not to think about Yankees tryouts next spring.

Let our readers know where they can find more information about you and your projects. 

There’s a dreamy little trailer for Alma on my website. You might enjoy it:

Anything else you'd like to add? 

It’s been a pleasure to have the opportunity to talk about my film. Thank you! And I wish an extra blessed day to anyone who’s made it this far into the interview. Love to you all, Brennan.

For more information, visit:

About the Author

Formerly an editor at Demand Media, writer at Citysearch, The Examiner and proofreader at The Los Angeles Daily News, Christy Buena decided to start Disarray Magazine because she missed writing what she wanted. From hiring writers, to contacting publicists and making assignments, Christy is responsible for the editorial strategy of Disarray Magazine. Get to know the team of talented contributors.
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