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Filmmaker Danny Sangra

Filmmaker, illustrator, photographer and graphic designer Danny Sangra has made several short films that we’ve really enjoyed watching at the OneSmallWindow.com office. So naturally we were curious about the man and his methods.

Let’s start off with one of our favourite films by Mr. Sangra — No F****** Around In Room 427 — and then scroll on beyond for the questions and answers.

Tell us a little about yourself: do you have a formal education in filmmaking? When did you make your first short film?
I studied graphic design at Central St. Martins. The main areas I focused on were film and illustration. It wasn’t a film school so the approach was more artistic than technical.

I’m not sure when I made my first short. Maybe the first year of art school. I had a video camera and made random videos about a boy who had a garden shed for a head.

My father loved film and photography, I remember being sat down to watch Kurosawa films when I was four.

You work in illustration, design, photography and filmmaking, how do you get it all to fit under one umbrella when it comes to showcasing your work to clients?
My mum always told to ‘make the things you want to make and you will be fine’.

I don’t really think about it. I make work for me first and then the clients usually pick through it and try to adapt it.

Do you write your scripts rather quickly or do they evolve over a long period?
Sometimes I write quickly and others are ideas I keep throwing around. If I’m shooting a commercial job or I can steal a camera from someone’s set, I have to come up with an idea very quickly. Mainly because I may only have a two hour window to shoot something.

You’re very prolific while maintaining a high standard of work – what is your secret?
I have no idea. I don’t ever feel prolific and I am constantly trying to achieve a high standard as I never feel I’m quite there. I generally have zero budget for my films, so I just try make something from nothing. 

I felt like 10 AM Margarita took a cue from Alphaville by Jean-Luc Godard but I’m curious to know the thought process behind the film.
Yes it has its Godard moments. I’m inspired by Godard for many reasons. 10am was mainly about getting lost in the day to day. The boy is an artist, he creates things. However he has been beaten down by clients to the point that he has forgotten about his own ability to create. In a sense he has lost his imagination, while his girlfriend is living the impossible. Time travelling. They don’t even flinch when the subject is raised. She is more concerned with his own problems than her trip to 1965.

There are two extra scenes I filmed that happen after the girl leaves. The boy is left alone and he talks about what happens next. Then another scene where Polly is in the future and she calls him to tell him about what it’s like.

It all felt too long so I cut it.

What was the biggest obstacle you faced (external or internal) when you were starting out? How did you work around it?
Money. It’s simple. Trying to pay rent and eat while also making what you want to make. I work around it by working non-stop.

What is your ‘normal’ time frame from idea to final film on your short films? Take us through a project from inception to final cut.
They are all different. I have shorts that I filmed a year ago and they are still not finished. Some I have written, filmed, edited and released in 48 hours. Most of my commercial work with clients takes longer to develop as there are more factors to work around.

Generally it starts with a scene. I look at what I have available and then build something with the elements I have.

Then it gets too complicated so I strip it back to something simple and clear. It’s easy to get carried away and I believe you should get carried away but then you have to have the ability to find some form of clarity.

Tell us a little about your process: how do you come up with the ideas? Specifically what inspired No F****** Around In Room 427 and A Lunch Break Romance?
Room 427 was my way of making a fashion film in a less obvious way. I wanted to make a story that leads you in a direction you didn’t think you were going.

on location with LUNCH BREAK ROMANCE by Danny SangraLunch Break Romance was an idea I wrote the night before I shot it. I was directing a documentary/interview with a very well known boy band. After the shoot before the equipment went back, I had few hours spare. So I took the camera to the park opposite the studio and filmed it very quickly- we had two hours of light. I knew we couldn’t record sound so that’s why I made it subtitled.

Funnily enough I was having an exhibition a few weeks later in Tokyo and I showed it first with Japanese subtitles. Then a few weeks later I released it with English subs.

[ Which makes this the perfect spot to embed the film, right? ]

What is your setup for the short films (camera/sound, post-production)?
I keep a small crew but it’s like a little family unit. For my short films I don’t like a lot of people around. I used to shoot everything and edit myself. Now I work with a DoP because it’s hard to concentrate on the acting when also concentrating on framing. I still edit my shorts. Sound is done by friends.

Jack McGinity colour grades 98% of my work these days. I’m colour blind so we have developed a good way of working.

I shoot on a varied amount of cameras. My favourite to shoot with is an Arri Alexa which I prefer to a Red. It’s a bit softer. Personally I shoot most my documentary work on a 5D with Zeiss lenses.

Tell us about Timothy Renouf and Margaret Clunie–fantastic actors both–were the three of you just mates in college, or did you find them through a painstaking audition process? Both of them have such great comic timing.
I worked with a fashion duo called Fanny and Jessy. Fran (Fanny) introduced me to Tim as I needed someone for a very dark film I made called On To The Next One. Then when I wrote 10am Tim introduced me to Margaret.

We all are friends so it makes filming feel like hanging out.

They are great to work with as they usually have little time to learn the script and I usually change it to suit the actors during the shoot.

Do you submit your films to film festivals, or do you believe totally in the power of the internet to build an audience?
Nope.  I will do but I haven’t yet. The audience I have just through Vimeo is bigger than any festival. Vimeo have the best film community set up. If I make a feature then I feel it would be more helpful to be in a festival, mainly for financial reasons. However the Vimeo set up is built for filmmakers to get their work out to a responsive audience.

Have the BBC/Film4/Hollywood come knocking yet?
I wouldn’t say knocked on the door. However there may have been a few peeks through the window.

What’s next in the evolving career of Danny Sangra? Are there feature films on the horizon?
I joined a feature film production company. There’s a feature film project that’s currently being developed…

Tell us a bit about the business/career management side of things – a sorely overlooked area in the arts. How did you develop a plan for your career? What is the best business advice you got that you can share with other artists?
I am with A+ as a commercial director. I also have an agent that handles my art, photography, graphics etc. (Breed London). Plus I have a literary agent now. These people help me to keep a focus. Mainly because they have many great filmmakers and artists on their rosters. I feel I have to keep up!

Generally though I have a constant sense of urgency. So I keep making things because I get excited when something ‘works’.

The best advice I’ve ever had is ‘Don’t worry, you can always make more’.

What is your dream, as a filmmaker?  And how close are you to realizing it?
I can’t tell you specifically because I like to keep some things to myself. I’m not as close as I’d like to be, but I’m moving forward. Which is better than nothing right?

And here is Mr. Sangra’s most recent film.