It’s possible this entire movie takes place in the mind of a dog. Possible. But not likely.
Interview with Director John C. Kelley
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
Thanks! This Video is Harmless was originally part of an art gallery installation of 11 short looping scenes called HARMLESS. The goal was to create a collapsed film that occurred all at once, on different screens. It transformed the movie into a place that viewers could navigate in any direction or pace. I edited a trailer together for the gallery and saw that the scenes flowed pretty nicely together, so I made a short linear edit of a few of the scenes to bring to festivals and screenings. The focus of the linear edit was to create a “negative shape” – a shape that is revealed by the edges of the things that surround it, not by its own image. So it became an experiment in a light touch, and suggestion – finding out how much we could imply, without showing anything.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
This project was constructed to achieve a mood that is similar to finding a wild animal in your backyard early in the morning: it’s beautiful, but also threatening. The purpose of the film, really, is to put audience members into that headspace. So if that sounds interesting, I’ve got three minutes of it for you.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
Well there is definitely an element of removal central to the film—trying to get a narrative or sense of narrative across without ever actually showing anything. I wanted to see what happened to a horror movie when you stripped everything away that made it horror in the first place. The result seemed to be that these films are about loss, either remembered or anticipated, but at the heart of it is loss.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?
The story began as art installation horror film and in the process of making it I removed as many moments and elements as possible, beginning with an identifiable threat, then action or violence, then dialogue, then chronology all together. It is as reductive as I could get while still maintaining a consistent mood. Every moment, image or piece of music left is there for a reason.
I think it can be easy to pile things sky high, with tons of shots and locations and characters, but it takes a lot of hard work to be economic and efficient. The goal of this reduction, or minimal treatment was to create a short film that opened up a line of thinking that exists outside of those 3 minutes. That you can come back to it, and work at figuring out the story after having seen it. It’s almost a group of cinematic clues at this point.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
The thing that I’ve enjoyed the most is hearing the stories that people have attached to the film – the ways in which they explain to me what they’ve seen. The project makes a point of being open and not explaining too much, and I think if anything that it has become a place where people put their thoughts and feelings. The details tend to be all over the place, but everyone gets at the same general feeling.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
No, I think it just affirms that people are creative. Even if they don’t feel like they are, they can put pieces together, make connections, and construct some sense of narrative. And that’s the other bit – people need a story it seems. Just visual ephemera isn’t enough for the average movie-goer. While there is a specific story to Harmless, it’s details are remote, and I have been really impressed with audience members’ efforts to figure it out!
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I’m just happy for people to see it. This is its second year playing at festivals and I’ve moved on to new projects, but I like that it still has its own life – that it asks enough questions to keep playing. Also, this is something we as filmmakers really take for granted but I really love the ubiquity of this media – it can be everywhere at the same time, with very limited quality loss. And if it can be everywhere at once, shouldn’t it be? Lots of opportunity there. So I’m happy for as many people as possible to spend the three minutes with it.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
I’d love to move towards a more collaborative process in making short films, or even a feature at some point in the future. Harmless was just me with a backpack and a skateboard. I wrote, shot, and edited it; wrote and recorded the music, etc. If the film finds a niche audience, I’d just like to be a part of that conversation. See what like minds can come up with.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
Much of this has to do with pacing, color, music and cuts. If the film succeeds with a viewer it allows them to slow down, to appreciate slowness and beauty and maybe be anxious about that beauty as well. All of those formal decisions made while shooting and editing are there just to impact a viewer emotionally. I was very happy when a friend’s mom saw the trailer and said “something bad is going to happen, isn’t it?”
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
“what the hell was that all about”
Would you like to add anything else?
I guess I’d like to direct folks to my website, www.johnckelley.com It has lots of projects that you can browse, some films, some artwork.
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I’m currently working on a project dealing with my years of playing music in Austin, Texas: reassessing the failures there and trying to learn from it. The act of listening to or writing music is central for my process – and that’s probably clear from the film – but I’d like to directly take on the topic with a short film that travels through time a bit in order to reframe the examination as a more cultural one. How do we interact with music? Writing, performing, listening, moving, and how do these activities define us?
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
Film Title: This Video is Harmless
Length: 2 minutes, 50 seconds
Director: John C. Kelley
Producer: John C. Kelley
Writer: John C. Kelley
About the writer, director and producer:
John C. Kelley is an artist and musician living in Knoxville, TN. His work has screened in 13 countries, and at museums, galleries, and dive-bars nationally. He is currently an Assistant Professor of 4D and Transmedia Design in the School of Art at the University of Tennessee.
Looking for: producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists
Release date: August 2015