What were you busy with this April? A nice Easter family get-together, a well-deserved spring break from school, or some quality time in the sun, after a drastic improvement in the weather? Maybe all three? Well, we were busy sorting out yet another batch of quality films – He Calls Them All By Name came out as the winner, and so we’ve sat down with director Chad Sogas to find out more about TMFF’s latest Film of the Month.
JL: Many congratulations on the win, Chad! What were your expectations when you completed this project?
Chad: Thank you so much! I’m really flattered by TMFF’s response to the film. It’s really encouraging. My initial expectations were to make a film with a strong point of view and extremely high production value. As I first started to circulate the script to collaborators, they were all really excited by the material. Majority of the crew, especially our DP Greg Schmitt and editor Katie Turinski, are well established in commercial advertising. The producers, Edward Gouttierre, Chris Vanderloo and Zach Jones, and I have been working together for years, so I think we were all excited to take these skillsets we’ve been honing in other parts of the industry and apply them to a narrative film.
JL: Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you get to make films?
Chad: Movies have always been a big part of my life. I got into filmmaking through my love of writing. I was an English major in college and after taking a screenwriting course, I was hooked. I didn’t go to film school, but it’s been extremely important to learn as much as possible about the craft of filmmaking. I made short films and did internships throughout my twenties. I then transitioned to working professionally on commercial and film sets in production and the grip and electric departments. I did time in the art department as well. For the past six years I have worked as a commercial editor. I have tried to be as hands on with as many different departments as possible. I just enjoy filmmaking and feel really lucky to have learned so much about all aspects of it.
JL: You have described He Calls Them All By Name as a Gothic satire. How did you get to this choice of genre?
Chad: It had everything to do with timing. I wrote this during the summer of 2016. At the time I was obsessed with Flannery O’Connor’s Southern gothic fiction and was feeling troubled by the divisive culture in the US associated with the Presidential election. I was seeing a lot of correlation between the two. I had no interest in making a film about politics, so, much like O’Connor’s short stories, I decided to use satire and metaphor to help express myself. The goal with the film is not to convince anyone of a particular message. I am much more excited to leave room for the audience to continue thinking about the film once it has finished, and Gothic satire is the perfect vehicle to tell such a story.
JL: What other filmmakers/films did you find inspiration in for this particular project?
Chad: The Night of the Hunter, Treasure of the Sierra Madre and In Cold Blood were big influences. I’m a big Akira Kurowsawa fan so I was constantly rewatching his films, studying his use of the camera, especially the forest shots in Rashoman. Ivan’s Childhood was a reference I kept going back to. The Sword of Doom! I kept re-watching Sword of Doom to study the framings and compositions. I made a reference video that highlighted specific shots from all these movies (that’s now posted on the website [https://hecallsthem.com/media/]) which was a great shorthand when communicating ideas to department heads about the world I was looking to create.
The biggest influence on the film was actually not cinematic. As I’ve previously mentioned, I was obsessed with Flannery O’Connor’s short stories the summer I wrote this. Her writing is so captivating. It can be hilarious and horrifying all in the same sentence. My goal was to make a short film that could engage with viewers in the same way. Walker Evans photography was also really inspiring to the film as well.
JL: Where did the shooting process take place, and how long did it last for?
Chad: We shot in Colton, OR (which is about an hour outside of Portland) over three short nights, last July. I say short because the sun sets really late in the Pacific Northwest and rises really early. So we had roughly 8 hours every night before the birds would start chirping at 5am as the sun began to rise. We got so lucky with our location. The barn we used was built in the late 1800’s BY HAND, so our art department had very little to do in way of set-dressing. It was basically waiting for us to show up and make a movie there. The Moeller family, who runs the farm where we shot, were incredible. They were so excited for us to be there and more than willing to accommodate the production. I was completely prepared for them to question our fire effect leading up to their barn, but they didn’t bat an eye. They would sit in lawn chairs, having a picnic off to the side, and watch us work through the night. It was a really special experience.
JL: While certainly entertaining in its own right, your film also subtly exposes the drastic effects that tunnel vision might have, be it from a religious, cultural or ideological standpoint. Was this the key element on which the film was subsequently built, or did it pop up at a later point?
Chad: That was definitely the jumping off point. I started writing the script right after the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention during the summer of 2016. I found both events really horrifying. It was clear from watching them just how divisive the political culture in the US had become. Even the respective sides couldn’t seem to agree on prospective candidates and all each side seemed concerned with advertising was how their opponents were to blame for all the country’s problems. It was a really emotional experience watching these events. I knew I didn’t want to be literal, especially with a heavy topic like politics. My biggest challenge when writing was to make sure that I was including enough and giving people something to think about, but not leave them feeling like they just received a lecture for 15 minutes.
JL: Greg P. Schmitt also won our Cinematographer of the Month award. We were extremely impressed with the visuals, which we also found very fitting within the overall atmosphere. How happy are you with the final result?
Chad: Greg’s award is definitely deserved. I couldn’t be happier with the cinematography! Greg is so talented, and I felt extremely lucky to collaborate with him on the film. When he is not shooting commercials all over the globe, Greg is a fixture of the Portland, OR production community, in which I worked for six years, so I was well aware of his abilities. He and I had multiple conversations about what the film should look like and quickly found that we were inspired by the same cinematographers, but THEN to get to set and see the monitor – I was blown away! Especially considering that this was such a small production! We had minimal crew and very little time. Greg and the whole crew deserve so much credit. His whole camera team were incredible. Our Camera Op, Efrem Peter, was relentless. He operated handheld the majority of the shoot, at a blistering pace, which was only made possible by our solid grip and electric team – Jeff T. Smith, Matt Semchee, Lauren Karcey, and Taylor Stump. And our friends at Joint Editorial in Portland, OR definitely deserve credit for their superior finishing work as well. I was a spoiled to work with such talented filmmakers, from start to finish.
JL: Have you worked with any of the three actors on other projects, or was this your first collaboration?
Chad: This was my first collaboration with all the actors; however, I was really lucky to find Ted Rooney and Austin Hillebrecht extremely early in the process. It took some time to cast the role of Ol’Tucky, but it was definitely worth the wait because John Branch was phenomenal in the part. I felt spoiled to work with these actors. It definitely made my life easier. It’s so confidence inducing to know that your actors are stepping onto set prepared and ready to find those unexpected moments that really help make a scene special.
JL: Do you have any new projects lined up?
Chad: I am currently working on a couple short film projects I hope to shoot this summer/fall. I am also in the process of writing a feature length script for He Calls Them All By Name. I am taking some time now to do more research on Southern US culture during the early 20th century. I just really loved working with this material and feel like there is so much more that can be explored with this story and these characters.
JL: Thanks so much for chatting with us, Chad! We’re looking forward to seeing more of your work in the future!