SxSW 2020 Interview – BASIC director Chelsea Devantez

“BASIC is a very short film about a dumb lil’ ho doing lil’ ho things. Honestly, the film is three minutes and three seconds long, so saying too much about it will ruin it for you. So I’ll just say this: you are a dumb lil’ ho, we are all dumb lil’ hos, and this film is about you, your friends, your family, your high school bully who got engaged at Disneyland, and all your lovers past, present and future.” Director Chelsea Devantez on BASIC which plays in the Shorts section of SxSW 2020 Film. 

Welcome to the amazing SxSW and congratulations! Are you planning to attend SxSW?

I am so thrilled to be attending SXSW for the very first time. I’ve looked up to this festival for years and have followed all the art and artists to emerge from it. I’m beyond elated to be selected this year.

How did you first hear about the SxSW and wishing to send your project into the festival?

How do you NOT hear about SXSW! The movies, musicians, and comedy to emerge from this festival are not only incredible, but they showcase art that isn’t just art for art’s sake, or art for critics sake, but art that truly connects with modern audiences. 

Tell me about the idea behind your project and getting it made!

I had had this specific idea for an unreliable narrator for a while, but I didn’t quite have the story. Then there was a night when someone who shall not be named, until I’m at least three drinks in, went through my twitter feed and deep liked a tweet that was a year old.The whole film came to me right then and there. I wrote it that night, set up production the next day, and filmed it three weeks later.

Who are some of your main creative inspirations?

Drag Queens inspire me to the nth degree in all areas of my life; comedy, style, visual presentation, pushing the borders, standing for something, having a message, using femininity as a strength, and how to DIY yourself into the most memorable bish. Some of the queens I love are Katya, Kat Sass, Trannika Rex, Valentina, and Monét X Change. The movies that changed my life as a kid will always influence me too like LOVE & BASKETBALL, A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN, TO WONG FOO THANKS FOR EVERYTHING JULIE NEWMAR, THE FIRST WIVES’ CLUB and WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING. Marylin Minter and Connor Harrington are a couple of my favorite visual artists who come to mind. I find inspiration everywhere; in my shot lists I’ve referenced everything from commercials, to shitty blockbuster movies, to someone’s wedding film, to overwrought Auteur cinema. 

How did you put this together from a technical viewpoint? What sort of cameras/lenses did you use and/or did you have any creative challenges in making it?

BASIC was shot over the course of two days in LA with a crew of four people, including myself. The crew, Kevin, Kenzie and Kelly, took on multiple roles during shooting, especially Kevin, the DP, Gaffer, Editor and Producer and we pushed ourselves to innovative ways to make the film happen in such a short amount of time with seven different locations, and as usual, no money. Kevin and I did multiple test shoots with various locations and gear before actually shooting it. All natural lighting was used for the outdoor scenes, and one of the best sources of colored light for the indoor scenes ended up coming from an app on an iPhone, which was surprising but welcome. The film was shot on two cameras: Kevin’s Sony A7 and my Canon 80d. We really did this on a shoestring budget which I’m very proud of. The most expensive element of the budget came the day before when we bought $200 worth of backup batteries that we never used. The trickiest part was finding out how to best use the Gimbal in natural lighting — the Canon had better autofocus which is how we ended up using two (very cheap!) cameras. We also didn’t have playback, because you know, money. So there was a lot of trust and extra takes involved, and practicing our shots beforehand. On one of our push in’s Kevin unlocked the balance on the camera and that’s the shot we ended up using. Kevin also downloaded some fancy software in editing to help cover up the fact that we did not have a makeup artist on set, which was amazing to watch. At one point I had to tell him to pull back because we looked too good on camera, which is a phrase I never imagined would come out of my mouth. 

After SxSW, where is it going next? Anywhere you would love to show it?

I’m ready to release this bitch to the world! It’s a very short film and it should be online, both because of its content and its length. 

What would you suggest to theatres or even film festivals as a way to show more short films theatrically or make them more accessible to audiences across the country?

I wish there was an app to host short films that connected better to Twitter and Instagram and social media.  Clicking onto a link that takes you to another platform, rather than as a video that starts playing immediately on your feed, I think can sometimes alienate and eliminate the audience who would really enjoy short films, but feel they’re inaccessible or high snobbery. 

If you know of anyone around you wanting to become a filmmaker/creator, what would you suggest to get their start?

Don’t underestimate what you can do for free. This will be unpopular, but don’t crowd source your first film and raise a ton of money. When I made my first project I barely had money for rent and I don’t come from a family with money, but when I had to bank roll my own work I became more innovative and I began to write like a producer and tell sharper stories. I’ve done one Kickstarter for $3000 and I regretted it. Making stuff on your own made me face tougher questions: Did I really need all these locations? How could I tell my story in the apartment I lived in as a location? What film tricks could I use to pull this off?  When you don’t have fancy effects or a fancy location, your writing has to get a lot better. Another piece of advice: make something short! VERY SHORT. Making a compelling one minute film is harder than making a compelling ten minute film. Don’t waste resources and money you don’t have in the beginning trying to make long work, especially because when you are just starting out people are more likely to watch something short. Teach yourself to edit — you can learn on youtube and you can rent some editing programs for $30 a month. I have signed up for that month and cancelled it on day 29 many times. The most important part of your budget is paying your talent and the crew. Last piece of advice, take a job that helps make your work possible, both financially and time wise. I now work in TV and I can finally find things on a bigger scale, but I still made this film for pennies, because I learned how to over the years, which means now I can make more things.

And finally, what is your favourite short film of all time?

The pressure “of all time” is too much! Ain’t enough Xanax to calm my brain enough to answer that. Instead I’ll mention two phenomenal comedic short films I’ve seen recently that could certainly be “of all time”, Charlie Fonville’s THE WATCHMAKER and Justine Bateman’s FIVE MINUTES. The moment this interview is over I’m going to be flooded with 100 more short films I’m obsessed with and will regret not mentioning.

This is one of the many films playing at SxSW 2020! For more information on this film, screening times and info on the entire SxSW experience, point your browser to www.sxsw.com/film!

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