VIFF 2018 Interview: N.O.N. director Zebulon Zang



“From porn to the apocalypse, a smattering of everyday concerns are worked out and brought together by a central character in search of a job.” Director Zebulon Zang on N.O.N. which screens at the 2018 VIFF.

Congratulations on your film playing and welcome to VIFF! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?

Thanks and yes this is my first time in at VIFF. I’ll definitely be heading to as many screenings as I can while I’m here. I have to admit though I’m giving preference to seeing the other locally made works in the festival. Its a chance to get to see what has been happening near you that you may have never otherwise known about. Its like access to a bunch of really smart peoples’ answer to the question of how make a movie.  Also I’m really excited about In Search of Big Country. In my head Vancouver still has a basketball team.

So how did you get into this business? Talk to me a bit about how you got your start and what you have worked on in the past.

I started out making videos more so in an art context, things that lived in galleries that looped, that were aware of the fact that people wouldn’t be likely to look at them for more than a few seconds or a few minutes if you were lucky. Like most other people I had movies that mattered a lot to me, and I think that there’s something important about a kind of emotional investment that might be contrasted with what is usually more intellectually motivated video work that exists within much of the art gallery context. Not say there aren’t significant exceptions to this, but maybe the best way to look at it is the kind of care a film has for its viewers, whether it wants them to be with them or if it wants to be antagonistic in its relationship to an audience. There are moments like this in the film but they aren’t meant to be antagonistic, they were made with a hope to promote a prolonged look at a moment, or a gesture. As this is my first film that really works with narrative there is not much to speak about in regards to past work. My past in filmmaking only really consists of watching a lot of movies, and trying to think about them as often and as much as I could. I’ve had some jobs that were fairly mindless at times which is a great time to think about movies.

How did this project come together for you? Give me a rundown from the preparation, to shooting, to post-production to now!

At the core of this project are an enormous amount of extremely kind people and an embarrassing amount of favours, and I think it should be noted that the film only really came together because of them. The people in front of the camera are for the most part not trained actors. They are, or became, friends who could fill the roles in the script in an interesting way. The year before we started shooting the film I bought an annual pass to the Vancouver Cinematheque and tried to go a few times a week to watch double features after work. I learned a lot in those months leading up to production and one of the biggest things was that actors tend to only play different versions of themselves, as though it’s just negotiating how they would react in a given situation. Some people are better are becoming someone new but I didn’t want to produce something where people were having to fight and say things that weren’t natural so I tried to fit people to roles so that “acting” wouldn’t really be necessary. The actual production took place  over a number of weekends, whenever people weren’t at work. No one quite their day jobs to make the movie happen, it was really a challenge of balancing people’s lives and the time needed to make the film. I took some time off to do the base edit and then I worked with a really tiny team, essentially the art director, and the sound designer to finish the film. The three of us were the only consistent parts of post production. The amount of actors completely dwarfs the crew on this film. Now that NON is finally out I’ve been attempting to properly communicate the things I thought it was about but have quickly realized it is better to stick with the basic physical facts of the film and leave interpretation up to other people.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

This is horribly boring but the thing that made this film actually happen was intense scheduling. Despite what you see on the screen not fitting too perfectly into normal narrative structure, the actual shooting relied heavily on bureaucracy, schedules, call times all the boring parts of the movie kept me going and kept me from getting too into my head about things. In the end it isn’t me that makes the movie but everyone else so making a system that is easiest for them to exist in was the way to go. To think about my motivation for making the film in the first place I think it is the same as anyone who makes things, that they produce what they feel is missing from the world otherwise there would be no reason to make anything. The other thing that maybe helps is the fact that I wake up really early so it lets me get a lot of work done while other people are still asleep. I do my best not to abuse performance enhancing drugs so I only drink coffee socially.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

The weird thing that happens once a project like this is finished is that I don’t remember it being difficult or challenging at all. Not to say there weren’t a lot of big challenges in making the film but I really have trouble remembering them. As for the most rewarding part of the film it was the moments when I got to watch certain characters deliver their lines with a kind of charisma and capacity that I had really hoped to see in them; having people that had never acted before really make the world of film feel real on camera.

I’m about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.

The film is shot on a Red. There were some experiments done with various other cameras but they never made it into the final movie. Coming at this film from the context of the visual arts like painting, sculpture video art and so forth, the look of the film was heavily influenced by those codes and histories. There was a lot of negotiation that went on during the project between myself, the art director and the DP around the visual construction of the film, as we each had specific goals for what we wanted scenes to look like. We all came from different worlds of image making and so it took a while for us to be able to properly translate from our own native visual language into each others. Eventually thought we managed managed to find a voice for our film that connected all of our experiences.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Vancouver?

I’m most excited to be able to show this in Vancouver because I believe it has a certain resonance with the area. The places are specific to the wider GVRD and in that way I’m curious to see what parts click with an audience familiar with this city.

After the film screens at Vancouver, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?

The life after VIFF is still being negotiated at the moment but it will end up traveling a little bit before its VHS release and it ends up at your local car wash 99 cents bin.

What would you say to someone who was being disruptive through a movie?

I would just try to join in the conversation.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

Most of the time it is more important to make things than to think about them. Until something exists you can’t fully share it, and the only way to be part of any business is to have something to exchange.

And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

Ichi the Killer!


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