CD: To begin, I would love to hear a little bit about your history in filmmaking. Where did you begin as a storyteller?
EE: I started directing when I was 15-years-old at a non-profit after school program called “Youth Sounds” in Oakland, CA. My mentors encouraged me to direct my first short film called "Inertia" about a group of students who rebel against their math teacher. The film was accepted into 17 festivals across the U.S., including the Newport Beach Film Festival and the San
Francisco International Film Festival where it won the Golden Gate Award in the Youth Category. With my prize earning, I bought my own Panasonic DVX 100b and a pair of Sennheiser Lavaliers and began shooting short documentaries and music videos around the Bay Area.
CD: This film has a brilliant connection to the spoken and visual poetry we experience as the audience. Could you give a background on how this project came to be? Did Horace Gold’s words come first, or was it a collaboration in full?
EE: As a music video director, I’ll often research artists who I want to work with. I came across Horace Gold’s music online and saw some of his performances. He has amazing style and I knew I could do something really interesting with him. We set up a meeting and he told me that he wanted to do a visual prelude to his album “POISON.” At the meeting, he read the poem
out-loud, and my head began to race with abstract visuals to shoot. Horace truly is a great writer and artist. All I did was turn his words into images.
CD: The cinematography here is beautiful without a doubt. What were some of your earliest ideas when planning out this film, in terms of the cinematography, that you felt you needed to best communicate this message?
EE: Thank you! I’m very specific when it comes to cinematography and how I visualize my films. However for “POISON,” I didn’t create an official shot list on purpose because I have a habit of being too overly prepared and it gives me little freedom to experiment. This time, I purely wanted us to play with the character and the space, keeping in mind that each shot must convey repetition, isolation and loneliness. I talked through some set-ups that I knew I wanted to capture with my Cinematographer, Alex Pollini, to get us started. The ice cubes in the glass, the feet walking along a patch of light on the carpet, the jump cuts of Horace around the room – these were all planned scenarios. The rest, for the most part, was improvised.
Also, Alex and I both agreed that shooting on film would add an extra layer to our character by conveying the time period with a vintage look. But film is so expensive and we weren’t sure if it would work. So, we actually shot each set-up twice: once on his Sony FS7 and once with an 8MM camera – ultimately creating two different versions of the same film.
CD: You mention the magnificent “Meshes of the Afternoon” as a source for inspiration here, do you have other surrealist inspirations, whether it be film/photography or painting, that you borrow from? If so, who?
EE: For “POISON,” I used the film “Nightingale” featuring David Oyelowo as visual inspiration. The film largely takes place in a 1950’s home where Oyelowo obsesses over having his old Army buddy over for dinner. Because Horace already has a vintage feel to his music, I knew I wanted to do a vintage style video. I felt “Nightingale” was an appropriate visual
reference for “POISON” because they both deal with similar themes of obsession, addiction and heartbreak. Plus, Oyelowo is a recluse in the film and I deal with heartbreak in a very solitary way, so I knew I wanted Horace’s character to feel the same – trapped in a house as things around him remind him of his addiction. The mirror shot is my way of paying homage
to “Nightingale” because there are a few scenes that stood out to me where Oyelowo is sitting in front of a partitioned vanity mirror, conveying his disjointed personality, and I wanted Horace’s character to feel the same – slightly insane.
CD: What are some of your greatest influences in film, cinematography, and storytelling in general?
EE: Spike Jonze inspires me a lot, career-wise and creatively, especially growing up shooting short films and music videos. He reminds me to have fun as a filmmaker. Bend reality. Change the way these stories are told. Be different. I also love the fact that he can be an Oscar winning director, but he can also dress-up like an old lady and prank people on the street
for Jackass. Artists create because they want to create. They’re not constrained to just one thing. That’s what I aspire to do – I want to make work that I’m passionate about.
CD: When making this film, what were the largest issues you had to overcome? Were there any problems you thought you might run into that you simply did not?
EE: Coloring the 8MM film was really difficult. Patrick Taylor colored the Sony FS7 footage, but I tackled the film footage myself. Something about how it was telecined made the video files really hard to color. Each time I exported, the colors looked really wonky. I took me weeks to finish coloring 120 seconds.
CD: While on set, were there any unexpected moments or “happy accidents,” that aided you in the final story we see?
EE: I accidentally didn’t shoot enough footage! I’ve never done that before. There’s a part in the film where the camera tracks left to right past a bedroom doorframe to see Horace sitting on the floor. The shot repeats over and over again with Horace doing different actions. That’s partly because I didn’t have any other footage to put there. But it ended up working out
because the repeated movement of the camera matches our theme of repetition for our film.
CD: What is your personal favorite moment from your film, either visually or for your to create?
EE: I love the 2nd shot of the film where we slowly track down the side of the table to reveal Horace gazing lovingly at a spinning glass of alcohol. That’s my favorite. That inspiration came from another short that I shot with spinning tea in a teacup. The effect didn’t work properly, so I’m really proud of how it turned out in “POISON.”
CD: If you could say, is there any certain thought or feeling you hope your audiences walk away with?
EE: Moved. Sometimes we set out to make these poignant films and if the audience doesn’t feel it, it can come off as pointless and pretentious.
CD: Looking forward, what projects and stories are you looking to tell that we can see in the future?
EE: I recently directed a spec commercial as a fellow of the Commercial Directors Diversity Program, which is partnered with the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP). Through the program, we receive a small grant to direct our own spec commercials and I wrote my idea for Homeboy Industries – a non-profit organization that rehabilitates formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women. The spec features the journey of a man who tries to get his life together after prison. He’s finally given a chance at Homeboy Bakery, where we begin to see his life change for the better. The main character is played by Richard Cabral, who worked at Homeboy in real-life before becoming an Emmy-Nominated Actor.