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South By Southwest 2011 Interview - "Small Beautifully Moving Parts" Annie J. Howell & Lisa Robinson

Small, Beautifully Moving Parts - At SxSW Film
by Jason Whyte

"Sarah Sparks is pregnant and feeling wholly ambivalent, despite her boyfriend’s pure
enthusiasm. A committed tech-geek, she fears she is more interested in ultrasound technology than in what’s being ultra-sounded. When her sister lures her to L.A. for what ends up being a terrorizing baby shower, Sarah keeps her rental van and hits the road in search of the source of her anxiety: her estranged mother, now living off the grid. "Small, Beautifully Moving Parts" takes a comic and poignant look at one woman’s coming-of-parenthood in the age of technology." Directors Annie J. Howell & Lisa Robinson on "Small Beautifully Moving Parts" which screens at this year's South By Southwest Film.

Is this your first film in SxSW? Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to attend the festival screenings?

We both have a lot of festival experience, but in the past, we’ve brought short films; never before a feature. Lisa went to Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes with a short a few years back; Annie’s been to SXSW twice. We’ll be there on Monday, March 14 and Tuesday March 15 to see our film play SxSW, and we are very very excited.

Could you give me a little look into your background, and what led you to the desire to want to make film?

Lisa’s grew up on both coasts, but spent most of her youth in California. She went from art to photography to making experimental films in college at UC Berkeley. In grad school, she began working with narrative. Annie grew up in the middle of the Arizona desert and went to college in the Pacific Northwest. She started out drawing comics, then worked in theatre, then dared herself to apply to film school.

Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …”

Lisa: An astronaut or a fashion designer.
Annie (age 6): Chimpanzee trainer; which was a step up from my brother, who wanted to make keys with that big loud machine.

How did this whole project come together?

Our project is inspired by our original web series, "Sparks". In film school, we were in different years, but eventually discovered our sensibilities have a lot in common. We liked the same movies and enjoyed a similar dryly comic tone. We learned over time we are both interested in technology, and the idea that its dominance in our lives has actually assumed the qualities of an emotional relationship, complete with dating, commitment, and heartbreak. So we made six episodes of the series, then felt the urge to keep going toward making a longer, more complex piece. We wrote a road movie script, devised a microbudget, and jumped in. Most of the actors are people we’ve worked with before, or who came to us through friends.

What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it the script, principal photography or post-production stage?

Our biggest challenge on the project was, simply put, size. We were so small that a normal film infrastructure was nonexistent, and although it was great to have a core team with whom we became very close, we were wearing an extraordinary number of hats. Our entire production fit into one minivan rented at LAX, which also served as the picture car. We love our NY producer Jen Dougherty, but there was no room for her in the van even if she was dying to come!

Please tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

We shot our movie on the Canon 7D. It was perfect for our scenario; small crew, stealth approach, lots of footage from inside of a moving vehicle. Our cinematographer, Charles Swanson, was excited to shoot a feature on the 7D and brought with him an amazing array of lenses and accessories. It’s a very small rig so poses some challenges, but looks gorgeous. Charles did a great job.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc)? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this project in particular?

We both love the films of Agnes Varda, Jim Jarmusch, and Jane Campion, to name a few, who all manage to be both playful and serious in their films. We both like Sofia Coppola and Lance Acord and Harris Savides, respective DP's. For this piece, we were very much inspired by the landscape of the West itself, and spent time watching the ways in which different filmmakers have photographed the wide skies of California and Arizona.

How far do you think you would want to go in this industry? Do you see yourself working on larger stories for a larger budget under the studio system, or do you feel that you would like to continue down the independent film path?

We’d like to just keep making work we’re excited about.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

The critical response to a film is still important. Our industry runs on buzz. We believe films don’t have to be “for everyone” in order to succeed, so a critical response needs to be reflexive. "Was I the intended audience for this film?”

If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?

Any theatre in the world? How about inside of Bogdanovich’s movie "The Last Picture Show" in North Texas?

What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?
We’d say "Hey, our movie is really good! You should come see it with us. We would inevitably be going, so maybe they would just want to hang out with us.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking during or conversing/texting on their cell phone while you’re watching a movie?

We’d turn around, look at them in the eye, and say, “Could you please stop doing that, right now?” We are both professors. That’s an easy one.

What do you love the most about this business of making movies?

We love seeing the ideas in our heads crawl on to the screen. That’s always interesting and a little surprising.

No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?

Surround yourself with geniuses; don’t give up.

And finally…what is your all time favourite motion picture, and why?

We both have a hard time with this question, as most filmmakers we know do. If pressed, we both can say that we love "Annie Hall", "Badlands", "Cleo From 5 to 7", "Stranger Than Paradise", "Sweetie" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off.", each for its unique approach to character, its narrative poignancy and its visual prowess.

This is one of the many films screening at the 2011 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 11-19. For more information on the film’s screening, point your browser to

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte Facebook: jasonwhyte

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originally posted: 03/10/11 07:05:23
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