Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Are you afraid of Americans?

Interview with AJ Strout, of Letter A Films, regarding their new feature film

Independent film company, Letter A Films, is concocting a new project. "This Is Not Your Movie" is a drama which tackles social and political issues in America, delving head first into a critical subject. Well armed AJ Strout has agreed to tell us about her newest creation, before its release:

Stick Men Creation: Could you give us a brief rundown as to what got you started on Letter A films?

AJ Strout: I started Letter A Films two years ago as an outlet of personal expression. Since then, however, my very talented cast and crew have helped me shape it into a body of work that reflects our interests in serious subject matter. Voyeurism, the individual, psychology and, more recently, social and political concerns.

SMC: How would you best describe your newest project?

AJ: My most recent project is called "This Is Not Your Movie," which is a self-reflexive feature film. It explores the social landscape of individuals caught up in the pressures of urban American society. It gently touches on socio-political issues, like the class struggle, while exposing some of my personal views on the psychology of those who fail to live up to American social norms. The most central theme of the piece, however, is focused on individual choice. With the film I am attempting to express that, even though accountability is important, an individual's issues/shortcomings are directly related to their genetic make up, their environment, and their social climate. In other words, most people have very little control over the events in their lives. Choice is just as fluid as chance.

SMC: Who do you plan to reach with this project?

AJ: Letter A Films is a mixture of working professionals and college students. As such, I am hoping to reach an audience of the same demographics. I've been taught to write what I know, which I think ultimately appeals to similar individuals. That's not to say, however, that I wish to eliminate any potential audience member from viewing the piece. I would be very satisfied with a broad audience. It is not, however, a film for children. The film is laden with sexual suggestions, drug use and abuse, and physical violence.

SMC: In what way does it differ from your previous work at Letter A films?

AJ: This particular film differs from the shorts displayed on the Letter A Films website in a serious way. It was my first year at Pitzer College in Claremont, CA that opened my social and political views up, inspiring me to write this film. My short pieces, on the other hand, are a creative display of my growing professional skills in narrative, cinematography, and video production. 

SMC: Have you encountered any difficulties during production? If so, what have your mistakes taught you?

AJ: I have, indeed, experienced difficulties with "This is Not Your Movie". Several months ago we had cast a really neat young woman as the lead. A lack of communication and differences in schedules, however, prompted her to leave the project. Since then I've been much more vigilant and aggressive about making sure my cast and crew receive all of the information they need about the project. In the end, however, the issues caused by our lead dropping the project were a blessing in disguise since we found a much better fit for the role, Brenna Rhea.

SMC: Depending on how much you've gotten done so far, is there anything you'd like to modify that might improve the quality of your project, or do you consider it irreproachably complete?

AJ: There is always something I would love to improve upon with my projects. Since my business partner and I personally produce and fund these projects, we are always in need of new equipment and better locations. This is especially true during these tough economic times when we can't replace broken items. In other words, I'd like to modify my studio and rent some kick-ass locations to film in. 

SMC: How do you usually handle last minute changes?

AJ: Last minute changes are a must when you're independent. The weather, light conditions, broken equipment, sick cast or crew, and any number of other issues can go wrong at any given time. As such, I have to be quick on my toes and my wits. I also have to keep my cool, which I've learned to do for the most part. The key to handling last minute changes is, literally, stopping production for a moment, taking a breath, and asking myself "How can I get this shot now that this has happened?"

SMC: What/ who where you inspired by during this project?

AJ: As I mentioned, my first year at Pitzer College inspired me to write this piece. Last year I took a film theory class called "The Language of Film," which is basically a film literature class. In it I learned how to break down a film and/or script to its basic pieces and read it as a piece of literature. A lot more theory and intellectual reasoning goes into a good film, than does a piece of sheer entertainment like Spiderman. That's not to say that I don't like sheer entertainment, but I definitely have a taste for more meaningful material. And now that I understand the critical thinking that great directors like Godard use, I'm excited to say some poignant things with my work.

SMC: What are the political/ sociological views you would like to express with this work? Are they your own?

AJ: As I touched on, I want to explore the class struggle in the western world, as well as the social and psychological make up of individuals who don't fit into the social norms and constructs that are laid before us. Are they my own views? Well, I think that most people start off as a kind of a blank slate when it comes to opinions on matters like the ones I'm approaching. I know that's true for me. I didn't have an opinion on my own personal/political issues until I began learning through a liberal pedagogy. Now I feel that I have plenty to say because I've been equipped, so to speak, with the right tools in which to think. Critical thinking is very important. As for the school I chose, I've always leaned to the left a bit. So Pitzer College was the right choice for me. 

SMC: Considering how heated the US elections are this year, would you mind stating your current political views?

AJ: I don't mind at all, mentioning my political views. I think it's very important that we begin to mend the divide between all the parties by logically and open-mindedly expressing our views one by one. Being afraid to speak one's mind is in direct conflict with what our country stands for. And compromise is really the way to make decisions for delicate topics. When communication breaks down, compromise cannot be met. That being said, I am proudly a democrat and I support President Obama. I feel that the petty debasement of his office is a dishonest way to approach the problems in this country. I think we all need to pull together and look objectively at his achievements. He has, in fact, lowered taxes on the poor, working, and middle class in America. He has, in fact, helped large numbers of people find ways to afford health care. And he has, in fact, repaired many of the relationships America has destroyed with other nations in the past. These are very admirable actions. I only hope that republicans and corporate leadership alike will realize that regardless of what our corporate charters say in America, the purpose of corporations is not just to make money, but to improve the welfare of all the people in their community. They can do that by accepting a larger portion of the responsibility for funding our infrastructure and social programs which will otherwise be cut, harming everyone including the companies themselves.

SMC: Do you feel there is an overall message you'd like to send with all of your films?

AJ: Up until my career began at Pitzer, my main goal was to entertain people. Working people are spending more time working, and less time playing. This is unhealthy. At the same time, however, mass media often works as a placebo, a distraction to working westerners who, in my opinion, should get more involved with the way our system is handled. So, personally, I'd like to find a balance between entertaining people and inspiring them to seek changes in the American way of life. It's equally important, however, for me to remind my audience that I'm one of them. I have no interest in preaching to, or alienating anyone. I simply want to express my reason and my opinions, and hopefully inspire others to do the same.

SMC: What do you think needs to be changed in our current society?

AJ: I feel that I must approach my opinions of "what needs to be changed in our current society" very carefully. I believe that a basic understanding of politics, social issues, psychology, and social groups is necessary for changes to be made. So I feel very strongly about promoting awareness and education. That being said, I think we need to invest heavily in educational grants, scholarships, and even build more schools.

SMC: Lastly, what doors do you hope to open with this project? (Will it give way to future ones? Do you intend on impacting people globally/ on a large scale?...)

AJ: I think it would be very naive of me to think that I will reach a global audience with this film. It is a hope, of course, but I am a realist. I'll be happy if I can take the piece to a festival, and even more happy if I've inspired even one person to look further into the issues that this film raises awareness of.

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