Stop motion, 3D, videogames, animes, 8-bit culture. With the Internet as distribution platform. The final product is We Are The Strange , an elusive and indefinite 90 minute film, where the author, M dot Strange , gathered everything that appeals to him visually, all his universe of images and styles.
What characterizes this new way of narrating through images that the author himself called ” Str8nime “, are the characters created with different media, short dialogues and a plot that can be hardly recounted. Shot with a very low budget and a basic equipment, M dot Strange’s film was presented at Sundance Festival , where “classic” filmmakers did not show particular enthusiasm. It was obviously on the Internet that, on the contrary, the extremely original work became widely known, thanks to the word passed by all the “strange people” who admired its completely different visual approach.
The work has been created by a very young artist with no technical or theoretic background, no art or cinema education, no support of a real production, as one can expect by a 90 minute film. We Are The Strange is rather the result of present times, created from a spontaneous and intuitive mix&paste of a son of the Internet and videogames who was born and raised with softwares and codes hidden in a drawer, daily nurtured by a visual aesthetics made of different messages and languages. A revolutionary work, from several points of view, though almost ignored by mass media and traditional culture: a work really in the middle between media and aesthetics, created by a non-artist in the traditional sense of the term, who nevertheless was able to create a shortcircuit among the ganglion cells of contemporary art and communication.
Without a real linear plot, a structure so appreciated by much experimental cinema as well as by present electronic cinema, structured as videogame levels, according to the often theorized and failed machinima’s schemes, We Are The Strange is that and much more than that, as M dot Strange himself tells us.
Monica Ponzini: What inspired you? Where do these characters and their world come from? In this movie you can find lots of references .
M dot Strange: The title We Are The Strange comes from a song that I made 4 or 5 years ago. My all life I felt like I was an outcast, like I wanted to do things that were different, and I always felt like I was a “strange” person. Then I thought “how cool would it be if a I made a song that reached out to all the strange people in the world”. And I’ve always been a fan of old video games I got stuck in 1986- and then I got into the Brothers Quay and Jan Svankmajer, I got into Japanese animation. I spent a lot of time in Japan , it’s a very interesting culture for me. I liked all these different things and I wanted to put them all together. Pretty much We Are The Strange is a very simple story, but behind it all it’s about being an outcast and not having your ideas and your goals really jelling with the world around you. Even in the way I made them, the characters are different type of media from the environment and within each other. I liked all these different media types and I thought that they could work together, so it was a challenge to have them all mixed together and not have your brain explode while you’re watching them. And I thought the best way to do that was to make it on my own
Monica Ponzini: The fact that you’ve done your movie all by yourself it’s remarkable. You don’t have a formal training as a video-maker, and that’s already unique. Also, when you think about a video production, you think about a team. Why did you make this choice?
M dot Strange: I’ve never taken a film class, never taken an art class, I got my degree in Kinesiology, I just used the Internet and read books. If you have a desire, if you have the passion, today you can make it happen. Everything you want to learn about, you can find it on the Internet, and a lot of the people I’m in contact with on YouTube are people who want to do the same thing they’re 14-15-year old kids who wan to be animators and are utilizing what I’m telling them, like Wikipedia-. In films schools turn out these filmmakers and these people, they’re patterns, because they’re taught. I didn’t even go to school either, I dropped out and taught myself. I want to see stuff that doesn’t fit the mold, I want to see new things that surprise me and the only way to do it is that people go and cleave their own space. When I look back I’m glad I did what I did, because now I created this extremely unique thing and that’s the only way it could have been done. I started out with a couple of people, but anybody who wants to be a director is a control freak I decided to do it myself. Also, when it comes to work, I’m really a masochist, I like the struggle. By doing the work I do all by myself, I’m totally consumed by it, I have the ” thousand-yard stare”, and I like being able to say I made a 90-minute movie all by myself. I guess it’s my competitive nature.
Monica Ponzini: Where did you get the funding for your movie?
M dot Strange: I funded it myself. My whole film over three years- cost just around 20,000 dollars. I worked as a designer and as an animator, I lived cheap, I worked cheap. Since I do everything, there was no one to pay so all there really was, was buying computers and the equipment.
Monica Ponzini: And I read that even when your computer broke, you found a way to utilize it
M dot Strange: Yeah, my laptop got smashed, but I didn’t let it stop me. At first I was desperate, because I was using it for the animations, but then I started looking at the smashed liquid crystal display and it looked like a sky, so I took photos of it and scanned it in and it became the sky at the end of the movie.
Monica Ponzini: You’re going to put online your movie at the end of October. You will distribute your movie (if we can still use this term) in a very unusual way. Why did you decide to do so?
M dot Strange: I got offers for theatrical distribution from big film companies, but I think you have to put the whole movie online for free. I’m more an artist than a business person, and my main thing was getting people to see it, even if they can’t afford it. And also now I have the film subtitled in 17 languages: my audience on YouTube did it. If a distributor bought it, he would have put it out in North America in English, but I don’t want to do that, I want to make it available there’s strange people all over the world, I want to be able to find them.
Monica Ponzini: What do you think about your audience? How would you define them?
M dot Strange: I think they’re a very a loud minority: they make themselves known, they like to do things off. But I think there’s a lot more people out there that are tired of seeing the same things, but they haven’t made the jump to say “I like this strange thing.” I’m putting it out there and the ones that are with me now are the loud minority, but they have a strong influence on the people around them. My online viewers are like my publicists, they got me television interviews, they’ve done all this stuff for me, I’d be happy to make films for this group or people forever, they’re really sincere and they’re really unique, and they feel out of place in their environment, we have this kind of bond. Even if it seems very strange this guy in his bedroom with his computers making this film- I can guarantee you that because of what I did, there’s a lot of people all over the world, probably in their bedrooms, that are cooking up films and different things right now that we’ll see in the next couple of years. And that’s the reason why I did it, and I’m inspired by those kind of stories.
Monica Ponzini: Your movie goes against a lot of traditional models, not only for the distribution, but also for the plot. More than a plot, it seemed like a video game, going through levels. Is that the way you conceived it?
M dot Strange: Yes, originally, I was even gonna have the stage name on the screen, to show you the different level. I was experimenting, and this was the start of it. My next film is not gonna be a film. I don’t really like the restrictions that are put on it. I’m taking narrative elements from films, from Kabuki and from opera and I’m putting them into a new thing. We Are The Strange was the first, that’s as close as I could have gotten to a traditional film, as far as the way the story is told. After Sundance I was thinking “OK, I’m gonna make myself more normal, conformed “, but after reading a bunch of stuff and talking to people, I decided to go even farther out. So, yes We Are The Strange is very much influenced by videogames storytelling, I actually wrote and essay on how think videogames do a better job with the traditional narratives now, than Hollywood movies do. Everyone communicates in a different way: I probably play more games and watch more animation than normal films. But we shouldn’t be afraid to create new things.
Monica Ponzini: Do you think that, aesthetically, we’re moving toward new kind of narratives?
M dot Strange: There’s a million different ways: how do our minds work, how does the world work? You have these “realistic” films and then you have David Lynch’s films that’s more like real life- but most people, just because they’re used to the genre convention, they don’t get it. There’s a million different possibilities, but they’ll never be explored if everyone keeps doing the same thing, and working within the same boundaries. For me is more exciting to make something that’s intangible: visually I se scenes and colors, and I hear the music, than I have a base understanding of the characters and the story, and I believe that you should just be free to do that. There’s always something beneath it and I think that if you do it right, it will still come to the audience.
Monica Ponzini: For your next project, are you thinking about moving out of the screen, out of the Internet and work with installations as well?
M dot Strange: It’ll still be on video, but my next I’m doing it in stereoscopic 3D, but just as far as the story is told and what you see, it’ll be something totally different. I’m open to do a lot of things, there’s only so much time. And that’s why I do want to do this new path: the old path takes so much time. If tomorrow I company wants to give me 20 million dollars to make a Ninja movie which is not too far from the truth- it would take me a lot of time. Being creative it’s about that spark and going, not having that spark and sitting around, having everyone look at it and approve it and then going.
Monica Ponzini: Are you interested in interactivity?
M dot Strange: There are separate works that I have done in the past that aren’t online any more spin-offs of my characters-. But that’s what you can do now: you can just directly connect your creative mind to the Internet and send all these things out in all these kind of media type.