Hailing from New York, Princeton graduate and former professional lacrosse player, Sean Hartofilis, brought his magnificently surreal second feature Covadonga to Manchester International Film Festival this weekend. His first full-length film, Beach Pillows, saw him win the Van Gogh World Cinema Screenwriting award at the 2013 Amsterdam Film Festival.
Hartofilis writes, directs and stars in the film which sees our lead, Martin Ravin, confront his own past when a young couple hijack his canoe for a moonlight ride and only the boy returns to shore. Following the screening and Q&A, he was kind enough to spend some time and allow me to ask a few questions of my own.
Millicent: You mentioned in the Q&A that the writing process was only a few weeks, did you write it alone or was it a shared effort?
Sean: I wrote it completely alone, but I would always discuss my work with my wife or brother or something.
Millicent: And the editing?
Sean: Yes. I would show my wife often.
Millicent: To get a fresh pair of eyes.
Sean: Yeah, exactly. Like, ‘am I not crazy?’ And then, you can send stuff to the crew and I have a few friends in the field, like I imagine anyone who does creative work also, and it’s good to hear what they think. You really just want to be reaffirmed and encouraged because you can get stale on something just from looking at the same thing. So, whenever someone else gets excited it just sort of renews your passion.
Millicent: I’m a big fan of interesting camera and editing choices and the guitar shot really stood out to me. How did you manage that? Did you do the whole dropping your phone through the strings or something?
(In the film we see through the strings from inside a guitar to the person he’s playing to.)
Sean: No, but you could pull it off like that! We had another guitar, like a junk guitar that I’d had forever that was only a couple bucks at a thrift store. So, we just cut a hole in the back and set the camera and lens right in there and I played over it. It was a shot I was excited about as well!
Millicent: Taking it back a bit, how did you come into filmmaking? Is it something you studied or had a passion for growing up?
Sean: I was definitely super interested and a big film fan growing up, and I was a writer. In college I started making movies.
Millicent: What is it you studied?
Sean: I studied politics. But film wasn’t a major at Princeton where I went to school. So I took the film classes they offered which was Introductory and then Advanced Film and Video Practice, and I probably spent more time on those classes than all my other classes combined, just making movies and in the editing room. That’s where I learned Final Cut, which I’m still using; and you just kind of get started. So no, I didn’t go to film school. I think everyone basically has access to the equipment now and as long as you have the equipment and people to make movies with it doesn’t matter. As long as you’re doing it, studying it, loving it; that’s it.
Millicent: One thing I noticed in the first act was the scene in which the couple are headed to the boat and you’re on the balcony watching and talking to yourself. It felt, to me, like you were actually talking to the audience. Was that intentional? And a completely unrelated comparison, but I got Deadpool vibes from the wit and timing in that dialogue.
Sean: That’s really funny, I think that’s exactly the vibe of what’s happening there. Especially, whenever a character is talking out loud and there’s nobody else there, then you are kind of talking to the audience, it’s like an old Shakespeare thing. Yeah, so you are right with that. As far as the Deadpool thing, I can see the relationship to that sort of device, for sure.
Millicent: I’ll ask just one more question and let you head off. Was it the plan from the beginning of the whole process to star in it yourself? If not, how did that come about?
Sean: I think I was basically writing it and then I started writing the songs into it, into the script, and I’m kind of like ‘yeah, this is probably gonna be me’. Because I want to make it. I don’t want to have to wait for anybody or convince anybody. Then if we have a limited amount of time to make it, you just want to be doing that and not talking about it as much. Not to say collaborating with an actor isn’t exciting and bears great results because I’ve had really great experiences with it that way.
A huge thank you to Sean for taking the time to talk with me.
Beach Pillows is available on DVD & Blu-ray, iTunes and Amazon Prime.
Covadonga is yet to be released.
Sean can be found on twitter @BeachPillows
by Millicent Thomas
Millicent Thomas is a proud Mancunian who will be studying film at Bath School of Art & Design from September 2018. Hobbies include theatre, museums and waiting for Charles Xavier to show up and tell her she’s the world’s most powerful mutant. Her favourite films include Whiplash, Her, Logan and Short Term 12. You can follow her on Instagram at @millicentathomas and twitter at @_MillicentAnn