[Disclaimer: I have a small role in this film]

Director/editor/VFX specialist Damien Christian D'Amico got tired of kowtowing to his client's notes and decided to break out and make his own movie CARROT, premiering at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival on February 17th. The result is a non-stop trip down the rabbit hole of perhaps the most cryptic of all subjects: creativity itself.

Here's the trailer:

I really still reject the whole formality of filmmaking, so I always try to keep it as punk as possible.

NFS: How'd you get this idea?

Damien: I've been working in TV for 10 years and I just wanted to do something where I do whatever the fuck I want. So I thought I'd make a movie, which is something I'd never done before. I started doing some music videos, went to college, said fuck college, then got a job as an editor. Went from that to being a VFX person and then into creative directing. When you're a creative person you clearly don't fit in with regular society. You're just kind of a weirdo, you don't have a 9-5 job. You just deal with loads of rejection. My fiancé Melody said "you should made something really personal to you, so why don't you make a film about losing your creativity?" I thought that sounded kinda snappy.

NFS: How did you land on how to execute such a broad concept?

Damien: In terms of what I imagined "being creative" looking like, I imagined the kitchen sink. I have a background in VFX, but at first I was afraid of doing too many — like I was showing off or something. But thinking about this story I realized that everything should be kind of over the top, so it was appropriate to have a lot of VFX. I recognize the cliché elements of it and I grappled with that a lot. But to me that's what made the most sense and I thought it served the story.

Dustin Emery in CARROT

NFS: Originally it was a short film, then you decided to make it a feature. Then it became a short again. How did it go through these iterations?

Damien: A short seemed like a quick medium to get our idea out there. Then we thought: we're putting a lot of effort into this, so it might as well be a feature. And it is — the whole feature is shot. But after a couple years in post it became really daunting and I got to the point where I just wanted to know what people thought about it. If people are receptive to it then we'll stick to the plan and finish the feature. If people don't give a shit about it we'll move on.

Even though I'm savvy with post-production I still prefer things that are in camera because there's something visceral about it.

NFS: How much of it was planned and how much did you figure out in post?

Damien: It was all planned. Some of it was storyboarded. We really wanted to try to make a world that was super "creative" — so I tried to pull out every trick in the toolbox. Some of it CG, some of it is stop-motion, a lot of it is in-camera. It's surprising even to me how much is actually in-camera. Some things that look really complex we just did with a mirror.

Dustin Emery Wants to Join Your Band

NFS: What's a shot or sequence you're most proud of?

Damien: I like anything that's in-camera, honestly. Even though I'm savvy with post-production, I still prefer things that are in-camera because there's something visceral about it.

It was a big fuck you to society, a big fuck you to the way you're supposed to make a movie, and it still is.

NFS: Yeah, I don't have an eye for VFX but you can feel that. How did you cast the film and what was it like working with actors for the first time?

Damien: I saw Dustin [Emery] in a scene in a film and I remember thinking "There's something about this guy." Then I watched that clip kind of compulsively. I really thought he had a screen charisma, the camera really notices him. I knew he was into comedy and I think he was always trying to keep the movie super funny. He was also my tenant at the time and I had to keep giving him free rent for a bunch of months for him to keep doing it.

NFS: What's your philosophy on alcohol and moviemaking?

Damien: When we shot the feature I always looked at it as though I was trying to throw a party. I'm a super reluctant director. I never thought that I wanted to be a director, never thought I'd want to work with actors and actresses, it was just a natural progression for me. I really still reject the whole formality of filmmaking, so I always try to keep it as punk as possible. Personally I don't drink when I'm shooting though, I like to keep a clear head about me.

More than anything this whole movie is a pretty punk rock movie. It was a big fuck you to society, a big fuck you to the way you're supposed to make a movie, and it still is. I always wanted it to be super aggressive and bombastic. I just watched it back recently — I'm surprised we actually got into a festival. This movie is abrasive, and loud, and it's in your face.

I'm glad I broke all the rules so now I know what's important and what's not. 

NFS: What's the biggest evolution you've gone through as a filmmaker during this process?

Damien: Now I find myself caring a lot more about photography. I do want to make an aesthetically beautiful image. I've just been trying to be more disciplined in my photography.

CARROT VFX by Damien Christian D'Amico

NFS: What would you do differently next time?

Damien: Only everything. If I were to re-do this I'd shoot this short in maybe like a week — just block out a whole week to do it. And if it was a feature I'd block out 30 days. Next time I'm going to structure it a lot more like a real production. I came into this with a whole 'fuck you' attitude, like: "I don't need a script! I don't need all these people!" But I'd like to get a little more traditional with my approach. I'm glad I broke all the rules so now I know what's important and what's not.

This is like my student film for the school I wasn't in.

NFS: What was the most important thing you learned while making the film?

Damien: Everything. I made every mistake possible. I really hated film school because it was so stifling. They wanted you to follow all these rules. For me, I had to go out and break every single rule, do things exactly the way I wanted to do it, and then figure it out for myself. If you tell me "you need to have every actor know their script" and not learn why for yourself then you're just following some sort of protocol. I'm glad I went out and worked with actors who didn't bother to learn their lines and improvised their way through it, and were as honest to themselves as possible — but I wouldn't do that again.

Damien Christian D'Amico's CARROT

NFS: Or just at least not in all circumstances. Every film is different, every situation is different.

Damien: I went to film school and didn't have a good time and kind of resented it. This was my first project with actors, so this felt like it was my film school. When people watch it, I want them to recognize that this is everything I've learned. I'm super proud of this movie because I watch it back and it's like seeing my education on screen. I'm really confident that my next project is going to be infinitely better because this was just me figuring out what I was doing. Way better than being in school, I think.

NFS: What's next for you?

Damien: There are two projects I'm working on: the feature version of CARROT and a fictional film about the music industry, kind of like a modern day Phantom of the Opera.


Thanks to Damien for talking to us. For those in L.A. on February 17th, consider checking out the film in the Dramatic Shorts Program at the 2015 HRIFF:

WHEN: Feb 17, 2015 @ 7:00pm

WHERE: Belevarado Studios

Belevarado Film Studios Cinemas and Screening Rooms

Parking: 2107 Bellevue Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90026 Cinema Entrance: 611 North Alvarado Street Los Angeles, CA 90026

COST: $10.00 (tickets can be bought here)

Source: Vaylian Pictures — CARROT