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Alex Bohs on location during the filming of his short film MUM

We were very impressed with the filmmaking–especially the sound design–on filmmaker Alex Bohs’s short film MUM so as is usually the case I requested an interview. Mr. Bohs was in the process of relocating but he took the time out to answer my questions in some detail.

If you haven’t seen it yet, or need a reminder, here is the film again.

Let’s start with the idea for MUM, how did that come about? What were you doing/thinking when you had that first spark of an idea?
Usually I’m pretty solid at pinpointing where an idea comes from but since this story was written many moons ago and personally came about during one of my most transitional chapters, there’s a great deal of fog to the seedlings of MUM, however, I can say it came from a darker, lonelier time that was entirely all my doing. I know that sounds rather over-dramatic but it’s undeniable if you read an early draft that MUM came from a very real William, struggling to embrace many personal aspects about himself until someone came along and really showed him the power of vulnerability.

Working with my main film collaborator/MUM’s outstanding designer, Amanda Brinton, during pre-prod, stripping away the personal excess in light of the more powerful, universal themes.

Working with my main film collaborator/MUM’s outstanding designer, Amanda Brinton, during pre pro, stripping away the personal excess in light of the more powerful, universal themes.

So much of the power of the film is derived from that editing/sound design style. How did you visualise/plan for it?
While in film school, I actually took a lot of sound courses (and even debated at one point whether or not to split my focus on direction and sound because I just loved how much power audio added to a story) so I knew early on I wanted to do something seemingly carried by visuals but truthfully carried by sound (or lack there of). This was actually pretty easy to plan because when I was in the early stages with Ms. Brinton and McBurnett, we focused on those few silent moments that would powerfully convey William’s current state. Once those were decided, I knew the rest would be cake because silence is such a risky thing to get right (especially with a short run time).

How much of that evocative sound design was achieved from location sound, and how much foley work did you require?
Cannot begin to thank the dynamic duo known as Twin Sound (Erik and Joseph Duemig) enough as this required ZERO foley work because of their persistence capturing all necessary sound on set (even when I thought it was unnecessary). Not to give a cop-out answer but since it was decided very early on in pre-prod that sound was to be an extension of William, the mixing and sound design was pretty simple in post for there was never a moment of uncertainty in that department: making strong sonic choices was the only way this story would work.

Setting up the shot with DP, Ben McBurnett, David Thomases (William) and Jake Cohen (Thomas)

Setting up the shot with DP, Ben McBurnett, David Thomases (William) and Jake Cohen (Thomas)

What did you film this on? How many days? How long did the film take in post?
Thanks to the hard work by our glorious DP, Ben McBurnett, we were actually lucky enough to shoot on the RED One, RED Epic, and a little bit on an Alexa. Considering this was my first film NOT shot primarily on a DSLR, I had quite the incredible introduction to industry-level instruments. Major props to Daufenbach Camera as well for all that ridiculous underwater housing.

Principal took only 6 days thanks to the ladies and gents on set who were truly pros at making efficiency and quality work in tandem. Very much a dream team scenario.

As far as post is concerned, I actually had a cut completed before graduation in May 2013 but let it simmer over the summer while I embarked on a good amount of travel and other small-scale projects. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to still be riding the festival circuit with my pre-MUM short (Finding Franklin) so there wasn’t a direct rush to get a new narrative out. Little did I know distancing myself would be the best decision I made for MUM as I changed a great deal in those months and I think the cuts made upon returning to William’s world made the piece so much stronger: beautiful (subtle) discoveries.

Casting for MUM by Alex bohs

Please allow me to compliment you on casting. Where did you find your actors? And how hard/easy was it to get them to sign on for this project?
Casting a silent film is pretty darn tootin’ tricky so I must applaud Jason Knade (fellow Chicagoan filmmmaker/MUM’s producer) for understanding the story and putting together some ridiculously on-point casting sessions at his Pilsen loft space. I honestly dreaded this part of the process a little because the game plan was to have the actors read the text message conversations between William/Thomas (which were longer in early drafts of the script) and sit in silent scenarios for screen tests so the pressure was abnormally high and something I had never experienced before. Thankfully though, it was pretty apparent who William would be the moment David Thomases came in and sat to read with Jake Cohen/Thomas (who I had the privilege of working with prior on Finding Franklin). Their chemistry was absolute gold. Just adorable. They were very relaxed and joked with one another right off the bat so it made the whole situation easier to witness first hand that wonderful (always unexpected) spark between two actors.

What was your hope for this film? Is it being realized yet?
With every film I take on, my main hope is always to connect. I just find it so beautiful to create/share a bond with so many different individuals all over the world just by making something simple and relatable (while also maintaining a sense of originality and my own personality/life experience laced within). With that said, it never gets easier trying to put into words just how rewarding it is to receive hundreds of responses from family, friends and even strangers, expressing how much the film means to them. It’s been specifically surreal with MUM as this is a very personal film to me so knowing it has found a home in others as a personal experience is absolutely inspiring and a rather poignant solidification that my hope for MUM is certainly being realized.

The Vimeo Staff Pick: is that becoming the equivalent of a Sundance selection yet? What does it mean to have that recognition for your film?
As someone who has truly thrived off of and found my voice amongst the festival world since high school, my heart breaks a little to think about this concept (online screening overtaking theatrical viewing) ever becoming a full on reality, however, I’d be lying and rather foolish if I said the times aren’t a-changin’ (and need to be doing so). Every art form has had to adapt to technology or pay the consequences so it’s only fitting that film does so too and now with the power Vimeo’s Staff Picks have, making the Sundance comparison is pretty perfect.

Personally speaking, having lightning strike three times now has been the single-most-vital part for getting my work out there to an audience I could only dream of nabbing. Considering I’m usually pegged as either an “LGBTQ” or “student” filmmaker, getting the chance to be amongst such a wide and eclectic group of storytellers labeled only as “creators,” has been pretty surreal and comforting. I guess you could say I’m living proof that the recognition is real and that Vimeo is certainly onto something with the range of films they single out.

While I still may favor seeing my work on the big screen (nothing beats an old, historic theater) and in rich film/LGBTQ communities (personal fav being Frameline in San Fran’s Castro District), however, to hear non-LGBTQ ladies and gents connect with the gay-centric stories and characters in my films has been quite an eye-opening and heart-warming reminder that the times are also a-changin’ in culture as well.

It took a while for me to realize that the title of the film had more to do with silence than a female parent which also led to an assumption around the OneSmallWindow office that this was a British film. Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? How long have you been a filmmaker? Did you study it, or pick it up on the job?
You’re certainly not the first person to assume that. It’s funny actually because I didn’t realize the popularity of that terminology until we launched the Kickstarter and got a lot of questions about how mothers fit into the storyline. Fun-fact: our composer (Will Manning) is actually from the UK so it’s been amazing to bring some of that creative English juice into the predominately Midwest melting pot.

As far as myself, I was born and raised in a very small town in good ol’ Indiana so the majority of my childhood was spent transforming farmland into worlds of my choice behind a VHS camcorder. Fast forward a decade to Columbia College Chicago where I was able to put those early piss poor excuses of moviemaking to good use.

I think every storyteller (no matter the medium) will agree that those impressionable early, truly free, years are the most important in finding one’s voice, so, it’s only fitting to thank my family and friends over the years for allowing me the chance to explore and experience life for I finally feel like I am starting to find what I bring to the world of film.

What’s next for you professionally?
I actually just moved to LA a couple days ago so ask me that in a couple weeks and I’ll hopefully have a much better answer but I am currently wrapping up post on a doc I partially shot/directed/edited for Vitamin Angels/Vitamin Water that will be premiering in January. I’m really excited about it as it was one of the single-most inspiring and eye-opening experiences I’ve had. No joke. More info on that will be available soon (via alexbohs.com). Other than that, I have a feature screenplay I fall more in love with upon each revision and would be an absolute dream come true to bring to life plus a slew of videography projects in the editing oven so expect some more filmic gems from me very soon.