Saturday, January 29, 2011

An Interview with Jon Foy, director of “Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles”


“Resurrect Dead” played at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Documentary Competition. Foy won the award for Best Director.

Flick Pick Monster: How did you conceive of this project and why did you choose this to be your first film?

Jon Foy: I think that for me a lot of this stuff happens on a gut level, so it’s really hard to know exactly why. I wanted to do something that seemed kind of fantastical, like magical realism, but this is all a documentary, it’s all true. And so I sensed that I could kind of present it is being this fantastical thing—that’s the mode of delivery, but it’s all real information and real events. That really appealed to me on that level. I’ve seen this kind of trend in Hollywood of doing films that are presented as found footage—stuff like “Blair Witch” or “Cloverfield” or things like that--- and that’s pretty cool, but to me it seemed interesting to me to go in the opposite direction, to take something as real and present it as unreal as possible [laughs].

FPM: I understand you composed the music and also edited the movie. How was that and do you like controlling all the aspects of the movie?

JF: Well, I self-funded the movie as a house cleaner. I spent 5 and half years working odd jobs. And the whole time I did clean houses. I did some other stuff: I did drug studies, I stocked shelves at a local food store. I did all sorts of crazy stuff. I was able to do everything myself because there was nobody that was controlling the money that was able to say, you’re crazy, directors don’t get to write their own scores.

I taught myself how to score specifically so that I could score this project. The score’s pretty key to the movie. I would say that goes back to what I said before about this being like a cinematic delivery: I wanted it to feel unreal, I wanted it to feel cinematic, like you’re actually seeing something that’s fictional. But again, it’s all very true-we’re not literally making anything up, it’s just that there’s this fantastical, whimsical music, and mysterious music going underneath that sort of elevates the mood of it.

I did compose the score, I edited, I shot it, I funded it, I directed it. I also did other smaller things, like the sound design and the sound mixing and the color. Pretty much everything, although I had a lot of helping as far as like dealing with concepts from Colin Smith, who also was producing the film. He would do a lot of quality control, of watching the film and letting me know, this part goes on too long, things like that, and he worked on the pacing…

FPM: What films and directors have influenced you? When I heard of this documentary, I was thinking it sounds kind of like Banksy [and his "Exit Through the Gift Shop"].

JF: We loved that movie. Well, that movie came out late in the game, in the last year or so, when our movie was being more or less wrapped up. But, yeah, certainly: we were so happy when we heard that movie came out that we actually went to the theater and saw it as soon as we could because we thought, oh my god another movie that’s kind of like ours [laughs].

I would say my influences were around the time that I was growing up—maybe around like 10 years old, I was seeing all these wonderful films that a lot of us probably grew up with. The Spielberg stuff, the early Tim Burton stuff, Star Wars-- all these wonderful escapist Hollywood films. That was the stuff that really planted the seed for me to want to be a filmmaker.

And then what happened was I got into punk rock, and that shaped my understanding of this raw approach to art and feeling as if you can do things yourself, you don’t need to hire professionals. You can just do things, and if they’re a little rough, then whatever, they’ll come across as being more honest anyway.

It is a very lo-fi film. I pretty much learned how to do everything as I went [laughs]. Not a whole lot of training or anything. So I would say a mix of those two things: those wonderful, fantastical films, and then, as viewed through the lens of someone who cobbles together things very raw and immediate, through the lens of punk rock, that’s how you end up with stuff like this [laughs].

FPM: Without spoiling anything, do you feel like you’ve found a satisfying answer to the mystery of the tiles in the making of this documentary?

JF: Well, the answer is yes and no. We leave people to decide what they think, but we present our evidence, we’re satisfied with what we discovered, and where the story took us. We felt like it was an adventure, and we shared that on film. We hope that people will enjoy it as well. And I guess people can make up their own minds, because a lot of it is conjecture, a lot of it is guesswork; we bring together things from the past… And so I guess it’s kind of interesting: we leave people to debate it afterwards and leave them to decide what they think of what we found. But hopefully it’ll be entertaining, regardless of what people come up with.

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