SxSW 2020 Interview – SLEEP PARALYSIS director William Tran

“This film is focused on a high school teenager who cannot handle the stresses of his day. After turning down plans with a girl, missing deadlines, dealing with the bully of his class, and being bombarded with endless loads of homework, he is pushed to the breaking point. Waking up in the middle of the night, he experiences the terrifying phenomenon of sleep paralysis.” Director William Tran on SLEEP PARALYSIS which screens in the Texas High School Shorts Competition of SxSW 2020 Film. 

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

It really is incredible that me and my crew have gotten into a festival this big. We are really excited, and we cannot be grateful enough. My crew and I are planning to attend SxSW this year, and we cannot wait!

What is it about Austin, either the festival or the town itself, that excites you the most?

I absolutely love Austin because of how the city showcases art. Every corner you turn, you will see either a giant graffiti poster, or a theater playing the next hit movie made by a local. I never thought of a city being able to highlight the creativity of the people, hence I come from a small town a few hours away. In my town, we get in trouble for tagging a wall. However, in Austin, that is appreciated. I really love how the city is willing to let the people express themselves in any way that they choose.

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

When I was 13, I heard of SXSW from my sister, and at the time I was just beginning my endeavours of filmmaking. Ever since then, I kept practicing the art of filmmaking and learning how to improve. I am graduating high school in the next couple of months, and I thought that since I had gained so much experience in filmmaking, I needed to get my message and films out there further. With that in mind, I got my people together to create a film for SXSW, and we sent in our film, proud of what we accomplished.

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

The project was an idea that came up when I decided to do something differently. I have been so used to making martial arts action films and I wanted to try something that I have not done before. In this case, I tapped into the horror genre. I ran through hundreds of ideas, all ranging from paranormal entities, to burglars breaking into the house in the middle of the night. However, what really inspired me to make this film was something I experienced myself. I would think the scariest thing would be something that actually exists. It was past midnight and I was covered in essays and papers that had to be done the next day. I eventually got a few hours of sleep. Though, when I woke up, I felt the pins and needles all over my arms and legs. I couldn’t breathe or move, and my eyes felt crossed. It felt almost like I was tied down to my bed. At the same time, I saw a figure standing at the foot of my bed. After a few minutes of struggling I finally shot up from my bed in a cold sweat. I was petrified, and I felt like my heart was going to explode. But at that point, I found the perfect subject to cover in a horror film.

Who are some of your main creative inspirations?

I have many different creative inspirations. As for martial arts action, Donnie Yen is my greatest inspiration. After watching Ip Man for the first time on Netflix, I could not stop watching his films and how he contributes to martial arts cinema. As for acting, my inspiration is Ki Hong Lee. He played Minho in my favorite book/movie series, THE MAZE RUNNER. In fact, the first time I saw him in that movie was the first time that I said to myself that I want to create films. Though, despite having all of these people as my inspirations, there is one person that I think stands out above all. My biggest inspiration is Christopher Cox. When he was a teenager, he gave nerf war videos a whole new meaning. He was able to make something so simple, such as shooting a nerf gun, into something that was thrilling and action packed. Honestly, when I saw his videos as a kid, I tried my best to copy them with a laptop webcam. I used to get on the laptop at midnight when I was supposed to be asleep, risking my parents yelling at me to go to bed, just to watch his videos. Ever since, I grew up watching his nerf videos, and I now plan to follow in his footsteps to be a professional filmmaker.

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?

One of the benefits of going to my school is that we have expanded the film program. We were able to get our hands on cinema cameras, which gave me the opportunity to make higher production movies. We used the Canon C200 cinema camera in this film with a 24-70 f2.8 ii lens. On the other hand, one of the best things we did was combining all of the talents that we had in filmmaking. Not only did we perfect our cinematography, but we wanted to combine the aspects of horror, fight choreography, and storytelling all in one video. In my opinion, that is one of our greatest accomplishments.

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

After SXSW, this film will be published to YouTube on the Wilted Pictures channel. As for other places, I really hope to get this film into Sundance or even into LA film festivals!

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?

A suggestion that I can make to theatres to show more short films is to advertise the short films being shown at their theatres. If they can showcase, not only the venue sizes and snacks, but also the films made by locals and other filmmakers, they will be able to draw in masses, whilst exposing the filmmakers that sent in their work.

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

If I were to say anything to any budding filmmaker, it is to have fun. I believe that if you are working on a film where you are not laughing and having fun on, then it will not turn out to be a great film. At the same time, I will always say to be open to learning more. Just never stop learning. However, like I said, have fun while you are learning. “Your work is only just as good as the fun that you had creating it.”, said William Tran. 

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

I believe my favorite short film is the one where everybody had fun making it with each other.

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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