By Michael Hall
Hunter Johnsen is a third-year Film and Media student who was one of a select few picked by the Film and Media department to direct a short film he wrote for its Crew Production course.
The film, Obsolete, tells the story of a software developer who must choose between his brother and an artificial intelligence program that could end all of humanity’s struggles.
Johnsen and his 34-person crew recently finished principal photography and post-production. The film is set to premiere on March 22 at UC Santa’ Barbara’s Pollock Theater.
The student director spoke in a recent interview about his long-time passion for film and how UCSB’s Film and Media program has helped him develop as a filmmaker.
Q: What got you into filmmaking?
A: I always had a sort of affection for theater and movies. When I was really, really young I wanted to be an actor, but I developed a very quick sense of cynicism and thought it wasn’t practical. In high school I took a film summer camp that was about two weeks.
You go in on the first day and you pitch an idea…three get picked, and there’s a premiere at the end. I just fell in love with the whole process.
Q: What is it like being a part of this Crew Production course?
A: [Crew Production] is by far one of the most insane things I’ve ever done. It’s similar to the [summer] program I had done but far more outrageous.
Q: Like on steroids?
A: Yeah, I mean, the two-week program I did, we were all kids. We were shooting on little handycams and we would all do every role. Both of the ideas I had pitched the years I did it got picked, so I was developing stories with kids, acting with other kids, and editing with other kids. From that, I got used to wearing many different hats.
Q: So how has Crew Production differed from your previous experiences?
A: With this, it’s a whole other animal ... I pitched my idea, we found out I was picked, and then the next step was to get a crew together ... find the people who are interested in your project, assign them to a role, and start getting to work to make the film actually happen.
And because part of the class is developing a crew, I got to focus solely on directing. I was also the writer so I was doing edits here and there, but this time I got to solely focus on directing. That’s the biggest difference. It makes this very, very rewarding. And to get an idea that I pitch to as large a scale as this is validating.
Q: In what ways did the school and the department contribute to your production?
A: The biggest things have been resources. We have the soundstage, which has tons of equipment: lights, cameras, lenses, tripods, dollies, monitors. They make it a lot easier to not have to spend a large chunk of your budget on equipment. And the class is helpful because you get to have instructors help you out a little bit. But just the ability to have access to good, near – if not equal to – industry-standard equipment has been phenomenal.
Q: Are there any specific classes or professors who have been instrumental in your movie-making process?
A: Absolutely. Ross Melnick is my teacher for 101C [History of Cinema: New Waves and Beyond] and that class opened up my eyes. I can’t really say that one specific teacher has been instrumental. Melnick has been a good resource, a calming presence for what’s expected of me, and how one pursues the position of director and how you take on that role.
Q: What have you learned from this filmmaking experience?
A: That there is a truth in the saying “follow your bliss.” It’s an expression I’ve heard from the Hollywood industry ... from a guy named Dan Harmon [co-creator of Rick and Morty]. It just means that whatever the thing you’re into is, do it. Do it to its fullest extent. I’ve thought for sure that this movie wasn’t going to get picked. I thought people would think it’s boring – the idea of someone talking to their computer in the basement for five or so minutes. I thought people wouldn’t accept that and wouldn’t be interested. But I wrote it anyway because of that advice.
So, no matter how weird, or just out there and niche or broad and general or basic or generic you think your idea is, you have to just follow it. Because even if I didn’t get picked, this is the idea I liked.
Michael Hall is a third-year student at UC Santa Barbara, majoring in Film and Media Studies.