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Filmmaker Kendy Ty

Filmmaker Kendy Ty has been a constant source of inspiration ever since I discovered his work on Vimeo. We thoroughly enjoyed his latest short film Smoke — which we featured recently in Weekend Watching — so I requested, and received this interview.

As a refresher, here is Smoke again, and the interview follows:

How did you come up with the idea of Smoke?
Smoke is a personal project I did with Audrey (Giacomini) because I was bored. I like to be involved in creative processes a lot so we both came up on the idea of making something that was a cross between Drive and Scott Pilgrim, but with a female actress. I’ve also wanted to make a film with an 80’s atmosphere—something just entertaining to watch—for a long time. We eventually found the final concept in the middle of the shoot.

When I was watching Smoke I felt like I was watching a live enactment of a video game but later on I realized that it also has the message that it might be hard to get to the top but it is more difficult to stay there. Was this your intention?
The intention is more light I guess. I used to work in the videogame industry and I just wanted to mix all the things I saw in the old retro-gaming softwares like Street of Rage on Megadrive or Final Fight on Super Nintendo. I think these backgrounds fit perfectly to the Drive mood. Another reference that inspired me is the videogame Hotline Miami. I think the artistic direction of that game is just perfect. I read some people’s reactions about my short film on Facebook complaining that it is not realistic enough. If they think the purpose of Smoke was to be realistic, they’ve got it wrong right at the beginning. It was made to be watched like a cheesy 16-bit videogame.

You have collaborated with the actress Audrey Giacomini before. How did that association begin?
Audrey Giacomini in SMOKE by Kendy Ty We met each other on a video project I did for Rainbow People, a French fashion brand. Audrey was so humble and adorable, we became friends right away. Plus we have a lot of common tastes in TV shows, movies and everything geek. So the association was very natural.

Do you believe there is a benefit with working with the same actors over and over again?
Every personal project is a way to entertain myself so this is not a problem for me to shoot with the same actor or actress. I don’t make a film to produce the best film ever, I’m not in this state of mind. I just want to spend some great moments with my friends. Making projects with them is my way to breathe between treatments I work on for my agency.

If there’s a benefit at all, it is to shoot faster than with a “stranger” because you are in synch. Audrey knows me very well and she likes to play my line producer when I forget something. She is very maternal!

How did you get your start in filmmaking?
Four years ago I made a video called Spider because I had just bought a (Canon) T2i. It was a test to see what I could do with my new toy. And Vimeo picked it for their Vimeo Staff Pick. After that, Mike Christie from Channel4 called me to make a video for his award-winning documentary called Concrete Circus. That was my first professional project.

Some of your earlier films featured strong motion graphics/animation while your recent work focuses more on storytelling and performances. How did that shift take place?
That is an interesting question. I think my photography and my cinematography weren’t so good to begin with, which is the reason why I used to incorporate more motion design and compositing techniques into my work. When you’re making VFX, you are not considered as a Director but just as a laborer in the film industry. The day I focused on live action I became a real Director I guess. So I worked a lot to improve my photography and my cinematography. My videos are shot with a cheap T2i but look like they were filmed on RED cameras. Now I really think nothing beats the beauty of reality. I’m not into fake compositing or CGI anymore.

What is your shooting and editing setup? Behind The Scenes on SMOKE by Kendy TY
On my personal projects I use a small Canon t2i with a Sigma 30mm f1.4. That’s all. No rig, no steadycam, no tripods, no expensive gears. For editing, I use After Effects CS6.

How long did it take you to make Smoke?
We had a 22-hour shoot day and then 2 days for the edit and post-production.

How do you stay low-budget and still manage to have such great locations in your shorts?
There’s no crew on the set, no additional lights. I do everything alone like directing, filming, editing and post producing. So it allows me to save a lot of money. Functioning like a one-man-band crew is a good thing for that.

All the locations are just different car parks near the actors’ homes. Nothing fancy. We shot everything in the guerrilla style without any authorizations. The same for the streets. They are just some quiet places in Paris. For the opening sequence in the bar, nobody asked me to not film because they all thought I had a camera to take some pictures. They did not figure out that I was filming. It helps a lot to know how to set the camera to film only with available lights.

You have been working on commercial projects as well, does that give you enough time to focus on your original work? How do you balance your time commitment?
I have a day job to pay my bills, I write a lot of treatments for my agency (NB Films) on huge commercial projects and the rest of the time, I make my personal films. I never sleep. Audrey Giacomini gave me a nickname: The Machine.

Your work has been popular online for a while now. Have you received any offers to direct longer works? Like a feature film?
I received an offer three years ago from a guy from Mosaic Film in the US. But I wasn’t ready at that time — not mature enough.

What is your favourite part of the filmmaking process?
I like everything equally: shooting, directing, editing, post producing! Every aspect of the creation process of a film gives its own thrill.

What’s next for you? What can we expect in 2014?
I don’t know. I’m not the kind of guy who expects or projects himself in the future. I’m more in the action, in concrete things. So, there will be more films I guess.

So What Have We Learned?

  • A single camera and a single lens may be all you need, if you know how to use the tools.
  • Keeping the crew to a bare minimum is a great way to reduce costs on a production.
  • Regular collaborators make the work easier because a certain ‘synch’ develops.
  • Inspirations, and locations, are everywhere. You just have to look.