Monae’s Room

By Colleen Rowe

Raeshelle Cooke’s 20 minute short film, Monae’s Room, exposes the definition of closure after a woman falls out of the binds of a serious relationship. The darkness of Monae’s room itself exemplifies the seemingly chaotic turmoil that sits within Monae (Delea Mowatt) as she continues to isolate within her room. With a somewhat snobby sister, Kelly (J.D. Achille) enjoying the pleasure in life, with silly phone calls that Monae can’t seem to grasp under the wave of an all-encompassing depression, Cooke’s short touches upon the reality of heartbreak and how words by others cannot simply be the best medication.

The focus of the telephone within the film is important. Its classy grooves stand as a representation for loneliness, as the focus of Monae is, at times, less apparent within her darkened room. The telephone seems to be haunting her, and her inability to lose grasp of her previous relationship, along with the constant talking to herself within her own mind, might make viewers question if she is really as crazy as Kelly claims her to be.

The lighting within this film is also one of the most important of its attributes. Monae sits in darkness and uses her heartbreak as her muse, sitting tirelessly among the rubble of overused cups. Is this rubble chaining her to depression? Is there ever any solace in messes that we can’t clean up, figuratively and literally? Where do our hearts go once they are crushed and stretched out in overplayed songs that dance like evil angels on our shoulders? Monae’s Room gives some insight on a broken relationship through the blackness of wanted phone calls that, once received, we really don’t want anymore. After a certain passage of time, depression falls away and the focus of a telephone becomes less of an option, and more of a reason to put the past behind you. Monae allows this past to shift away from her inner rubble, giving her the perfect opportunity to pick up the phone when someone is actually listening.

The concept of this film is a relatable to the point where you feel yourself sitting in your own quiet room, with music that seems to bounce off the walls in short waves of depressing hope. For at the end of every terrible relationship, there is still a new one to ponder over, to make sense of the past, and with that Monae’s Room gives viewers hope in a hopeless territory.

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Filmmaker Raeshelle Cooke Invites You Inside “Monae’s Room”

Interview conducted by: Colleen Rowe

Film Syrup (FS): I understand that you are currently working on a film. What made you want to make a film based on this idea?

Raeshelle Cooke: Yeah I just recently finished editing! The film stars Delea Mowatt and JD Achille with William Smyth on camera. I wanted to make a serious film about the breakup process because a lot of people relate to this topic. I relate to this and I write about my truths. I’m going to be very honest: this film is about my experiences, only I’m exaggerating and having fun with it by making it darkly humorous. I am a hopeless romantic and speak to other hopeless romantics. Everyone’s been broken up with and have been hurt. At the time I wrote this script, I was listening to a lot of Drake’s “Take Care” album, and one of the songs on it, “Marvin’s room” really stuck with me. I also had to use the writing process as therapy. Strangely though, I find the film really funny. I had a lot of fun with it. Some people handle breakups badly. They sit in their rooms and they just go crazy. A lot of people will look at Monae as crazy but you know what, many people act this way during a breakup and don’t admit to it. Many people will, in fact, relate to this film. I’m just telling the truth and having fun with it all at the same time.

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FS: What would you say the tone of the film is? Do you think people will perceive it differently depending on their own experiences with breakups?

Raeshelle Cooke: The tone is dark because the subject matter deals with dark stuff; it deals with pain and betrayal. It deals with being tired of the foolishness that is dull life and the cold people that make it all worse. It’s like, you think you find real love, and that real love makes the cold world easier to live in, you know? But then the person you trusted and found happiness with doesn’t accept you for who you are when you open up to them, they want something or someone else and forget about you. You had all these great ideas on how your future with that one man would be, and he ruins it for no good reason. That is painful and angering and that is what I wanted to convey. That is Monae’s Room.

I used the darkness of Monae’s room and wrote the explicit lyrics you will hear in this 20 minute short, to show that anger and hurt. You hear Monae’s dark and distorted voice over the music. I wrote the lyrics raw from how I was feeling at that time, but two years and yet another breakup later, I’ve found it still relates to me today. Some people will interpret it differently based on their own experiences, some will appreciate it and find it funny or intelligent, and others will complain that the film is yet another “woman pining over a man” story. And that’s okay with me.

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FS: What do you hope to accomplish with Monae’s Room?

Raeshelle Cooke: I want to create something that is distinct from most films that are shot today. I think Monae’s room is different from what we see in a lot of films today. You see the same genres and content being made over and over, and I wanted to write and shoot something about real human relationships, real human emotions, and the rawness that goes into these emotions. I am unfiltered and very honest in my writing of this film. The story and content will either make you feel uncomfortable, make you relate, or think. It will definitely hold your attention because music and lyrics dominant it. You’ll remember it…

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FS: Where are you planning to premier the film? Is there a special screening planned?

Raeshelle Cooke: I plan to enter Monae’s room into festivals in Massachusetts and Rhode Island starting this fall and going into next year. I plan to premier the film In November of this year at a screening. Details on that coming soon.

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FS: What made you want to become a filmmaker?

Raeshelle Cooke: I have things to say and a message to get across, and creating visuals with music (my style) is a fun way to say those things. Making films is a cathartic way of releasing inner tension for me, so instead of doing something crazy, making films is a positive and productive way to get everything out in the open. People relate, listen and build relationships with you just by seeing who you are through your work. It’s a great feeling and I want to feel it over and over again.

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FS: Are there past films you’ve worked on that you’re particularly proud of?

Raeshelle Cooke: I’m just starting out as a filmmaker so I’ve finished only my fourth one (plus 2 music videos), but I’m really proud of What’s the problem with Bill Winer?, Aside from Monae’s Room (and On Her Way is a good one too), but the Bill Winer film is really personal and touching. I still get goose bumps when I watch it to this day, and I mentally go back to that time. It wasn’t a good time. But I look back and am grateful it happened, because beautiful art was created from that. I appreciate pain and what it can do. The Bill Winer film is a mature and intelligent film. I can’t believe I actually wrote it but, then again, I give credit to the fact that it actually happened. I didn’t make the film up. It’s based on a real story. Monae’s room is actually a sequel to the Bill Winer film, only it’s being told in the perspective of the woman “Bill” screwed over. I think my first feature will be the feature-length version of the Bill Winer film, which is already written. All of my films are based on real situations whether literal or metaphorical, but anyway, shout out to to the real Bill. I heard that his life now, is exactly how it turned out for “Bill” in the film.

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FS: Are there any specific techniques you used to make this film special (in regards to, editing, directing, etc.)?

Raeshelle Cooke: Yes! I had a ton of fun making the film what it turned out to be, and you’ll see it when it premiers. But first and foremost Sean J. McCall composed the music for the film, and it is an inspiration from Drake’s music. The music is distorted and dark, but hip hop at the same time. I actually altered the music at points, I reversed it as I was just having fun with it. Monae’s room is a tribute to hip hop and Drake. Love that man. The lighting is varied as it has reds, blues and black and white. I wanted to show anger, the anxiousness; the unsettled way of Monae’s emotions through the varying colors…and I think it worked. I edited the film and I think the style complements the tone perfectly. I can’t explain how though. Not in words anyway. You’ll just have to see the film!

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All photos for this interview were provided by Director: Raeshelle Cooke. For more information on Monae’s room and updates from Raeshelle, you can Follow her on Twitter.

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“Into the Silent Sea” (2013)

By Colleen Rowe

andrej Landin SBFF

(Andrej Landin post-screening of “Into the Silent Sea” at the 19th annual Stony Brook Film Festival, July 2014)

Filmmaker, Andrej Landin’s film, “Into the Silent Sea,” reveals a premise that surpasses the meaning of “short” by its simple definition. Powerfully presented, this 25 minute short taps into the emotions that wither in a man’s heart as he partakes in a journey that might be directly responsible for his emotional and physical demise.

Alexander (Zack Sayenko), a young cosmonaut, is assigned to a mission to space that has not been fully prepared. To beat the Americans, Russia must prevail in space travel and advanced technology. The larger premise revolves around Alexander’s physical and mental journey as he faces complications far away from a civilized world. Andrej Landin had explained during a Q & A at the 19th Annual Stony Brook Film Festival that he had been reading Joseph Conrad’s book, “Heart of Darkness,” and the sense of solitude that invades its pages inspired him to capture that isolation in a different way.

Why is this concept so unique? The setting is relevant to the story, but it isn’t crucial in comparison to the other aspects of this film. It is not the placing of Alexander, but the conversation he has with Italian radio engineer, Alvaro (Peter Arpesella). Alvaro picks up the astronaut’s call for rescue and they seem to become acquaintances that potentially change each other’s lives.

At times, why is it easier to speak with a stranger? The interaction is partially anonymous.

Reliving past experiences with his fellow astronaut and lover, Tanya (Tatiana DeKhtyar), Alexander tells a tale of immediate attraction and unexpected deception. The conversation between these two men via long-distance radio communication technology fills blanks into Alexander’s life and suddenly viewers feel that they experienced it with him.

There’s a retrospective scene that is particularly captivating: as the sun sets, the two young cosmonaut lovers, Alexander and Tanya, walk in a field that is worlds away from the deteriorating space craft Alexander is exiled to. Visually, this scene was necessary, depicting a safe place—a happy time—with the sky’s natural aesthetics to soften the film’s generally dark tone.

There’s a lot to be said about “Into the Silent Sea,” but my first response to those who inquire about it is: just watch it.

Depending on each viewer’s individual experiences with love and loss, this film has the potential to produce uniquely original and differing views. Controversial, challenging, and directed with purpose, this short film achieves in portraying a powerful message: Regardless of the familiar groups we identify with, it is sometimes strangers who save us from all-encompassing inner turmoil.

“Into the Silent Sea” Awards:

San Luis OBISPO International Film festival 2014 Best Student Film, BAFTA Los Angeles Grand Jury Prize 2013, Stony Brook Film Festival Special Jury Recognition 2014, Santa Fe Independent Film Festival Best Narrative Short 2013.

More: Facebook.com/IntoTheSilentSea

What Does it Mean if You’re “Sorta’ Horny” Anyway?: Review with additional information provided by Filmmaker, Don Cherel

By Colleen Rowe

sorta horny short

Photo from “Stony Brook Film Festival” website: Link

In a world where feigned perfection sells, the characters in Don Cherel’s short film, “Sorta’ Horny” (2013) are buying twenty-two-year-old Sheldon Daffner’s (Adam Silver) time to stare at the protruding horn on the side of his forehead as he waits on the customers at the diner he works for. Generally, it’s difficult not to stare at the particular individuals we see in public with birth defects and physical abnormalities—Cherel portrays this concept with his own amusing spin.

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“Sorta’ Horny” is an initially semi-depressing, comedic visual commentary on the way people react to the societally proclaimed “abnormal.” Innocently portrayed, Sheldon works at this local diner, acting noticeably timid, but friendly enough to fulfill his role as the “head waiter.” Confirmed by Cherel during a Q&A after the film showed at the 19th annual Stony Brook Film Festival (SBFF), the seemingly cheap, lower class diner is an actual building located in Pacioma, Los Angeles, a place he described as a “destination to nowhere,” used solely as a set for production purposes. Cherel explained that many Los Angeles police officers were present on the highway, infamous for questionable activity with its functional motel (rent by the hour) behind the diner set, in Pacioma. One day while shooting, Cherel thanked one of the cops for his consistent presence and he responded, “Odds are I would’ve been here anyway.”

Throughout the workday at Sheldon’s job, we see his various interactions with different customers, some who simply stare at his horn and others who actually ask him about it. The African American couple (Zondra Wilson & Michael MicQuick Davis) he waits on seems most comparable and believable—they were the easiest for the audience to relate to. Although initially noticing the horn, they are more concerned with being served their food and teasing each other. Perhaps we can learn from these characters and the way they slightly ignore Sheldon’s horn for the duration of their meal. Hashtag: not being a judgmental bigot.

Sheldon’s shift at the diner circulates around these embarrassing (for him) conversations and his interest in the new, noticeably attractive hostess, Jessica (Sara Fletcher). Cherel revealed that Sheldon’s horn, made from silicon and foam, was actually created by Tony Gardner, who has done the prosthetics for the Jackass & Farley films, along with “Bad Grandpa.” Through his research, Cherel concluded that it is physically possible to develop a callous of bone (horn).

During his break, Sheldon meets with his overbearing mother (Mary Beth Pape) in his car where she, suspicious of his mysterious behavior, begins to falsely accuse him of taking part in illicit activities. The vehicle where they meet, similar to the car from Joel and Ethan Coen’s infamous “The Big Lebowski,” was specifically chosen for this reason, Cherel, a Coen Brothers fan, told the audience at SBFF. This deliberate technique to present a familiar prop to the audience is subtly clever without risking complete imitation, associating “Sorta’ Horny” with an already popular comedy.

After a difficult interaction with childish young women (one imitates his horn with a straw, holding it with her fingers against her forehead to depict his physical appearance), Jessica, the now blatant heroine, dismisses these foolish valley girls. Sheldon makes an important decision, directly affected by the young hostess’s defensive actions for him, after this negative-turned-positive interaction with Jessica and her former “friends.” What is the secret that Sheldon’s mother suspects he is keeping in this 21 minute short and how does the empathetic Jessica change his previously regretful mind? As this film comes to a questionable end, let us ask ourselves if bullying continues as age strips us of tired immaturity?

As Sheldon finally discards his typically geeky paper bag (used for when he hyperventilates), is he losing that part of himself that helplessly attempts to shield him from social criticism. Why is he “sorta’” and not just completely horny and where does that differentiation separate the phrase? It could be considered a metaphor for atypical human beings and how they’re supposedly part-“normal” beneath the guise of social rejection, the word “sorta’” emphasizing a person who is not fully an outcast, but inherently strange.

Transcending traditional stereotypes, we are entering this age where those who are now criticized heavily by the typically “beautiful” are frequently portrayed as heroes to larger audiences than a backyard gang. What does it mean if you’re “sorta’ horny” anyway? I think we’ve all been there.

Interview with Co-Founder & Writer/Director of Congested Cat Productions, Christina Raia

Film Syrup interviewed Co-Founder & Writer/ Director of Congested Cat Productions, Christina Raia, hoping to bring to the surface this resourceful production company’s in-progress projects and creative motives. Read the following series of questions that Film Syrup presented to this independent filmmaker. Congested Cat Productions, based in the New York City area, is made up of an inspiring team of young creatives, including Raia. 

265783_10151092273807919_62753384_oFilm Syrup (FS): Among the short films you are currently working on, which do you foresee your audiences receiving best, relating to most closely, and responding to through social media, writing, etc.?

Christina Raia (CR): I think both shorts, “Not Our Living Room” and “We Had Plans,” will appeal to our audience, but the latter may resonate more with the audience we’ve acquired from our past collaborative work, “Kelsey.” Our fan base for the series was predominately female and within that mostly comprised of lesbians. I think the “Kelsey” fans appreciated that we created a series centered on a lesbian whose sole existence was not wrapped around her sexual orientation. Yes, that was a prominent aspect of her identity, but she was an individual with experiences and emotions that all people go through, who also happened to be gay. We believe in portraying people as people, and expect our audience to look at them that way, and relate to them on an emotional level. We don’t do caricatures or stereotypes. We aim to do the same with both of these shorts. However, since “We Had Plans” is about sisters (while “Not Our Living Room” is about brothers), where one is a lesbian, I believe it’ll draw in our audience a little more.

 

FS: What are your long term creative goals in your management at CongestedCat Productions, LLC? What message do you wish to send to audiences? Do you think this message has previously been achieved?

CR: CongestedCat Productions started as a branded umbrella for me and my collaborators to produce and release our creative content. However, in the three years that we’ve been around, we’ve evolved more into a company that believes in unifying and empowering independent film and filmmakers. We believe in creating and showcasing innovative and original content, not just by ourselves but by our peers as well. This is how our free monthly film screening series, IndieWorks, got started. Ultimately, we believe in portraying and giving voices to underrepresented individuals, both in terms of the content creators and content created. I do believe that is something that sets us apart from other production companies or teams because not many that I’ve encountered have made diversity and challenging social norms a priority.

 

FS: What components of your company do you feel are very essential to the industry it is based in? Is there a gray area where film meets business that takes away from creativity, or that makes business more creative?

CR:Our company was started not as a way to profit, but as a way to create. So, for us, artistic merit and creativity comes first and then it’s a matter of figuring out our strategy in gaining funding and/or an audience for each individual project. I personally never aspired to be on the business side of film but no one was knocking on my door offering to bring my work to fruition; so I had to create that opportunity for myself. Because of this, it’s been a bit of a steep learning curve for me since founding the company three years ago. However, all the team members (we like to think of ourselves as a team rather than just a company) are under 28 years old, which I think benefits us because we’re sort of coming up in this new generation of film making and film technology. We’re very aware of the more traditional methods, but are most open to more innovative ones. Often filmmakers feel pressured to conform to mainstream expectations in terms of creative choices as well more production-based aspects like casting, even in the festival circuit. Since our team aims to make less mainstream, more diverse content, we’re much more into modern digital based distribution platforms and options. For instance, creating a web series worked well with our more youthful appeal and approach both on a creative side as well as in advancing the new-media industry reach of our company.

 

FS:Where did the name “CongestedCat” derive from? Do you think it influences your interested audiences to view your videos, website, or general media? (Cats are apparently in right now).

CR: I founded CongestedCat Productions with my childhood friend Chris Carroll (who mainly acts as resident photographer and graphic designer within the company). When trying to name the company, we knew we wanted the title to have two C’s to represent our names. We tried to think of what we had in common, and the two things that came to mind were that our zodiac sign is cancer and we both love cats. The former wasn’t so appealing name-wise, so we decided to work with the latter. Chris typed into google “C Cat” and the first thing in the drop-down menu was “congested cat.” Chris said it jokingly and we laughed about it for a while, not seriously expecting to use it. However, the more we said it, the more it grew on us. We felt that when heard, the name would likely not be forgotten by people. Additionally, since the intention was for originality with a touch of familiarity to become a bit of a company trademark, we thought it’d work well because it was offbeat in a way that would force people to presume that the content they’d be seeing from us would be anything but generic or predictable.

Because the name came before we really established the team or the content we’d produce, it has very little to do with our target audience. I suppose if people like cats, though, they may be drawn to viewing our work. Our crowdfunding campaign is under the name ‘CongestedCat Shorts’ in order to attract our already existing audience that associates our company name with the content they enjoyed and supported (most notably “Kelsey” but also my upcoming feature ‘Summit,’ past shorts films or IndieWorks).

FS:Do you think the viewership of short films are majorly different from the viewership of full feature length films? Specifically, how does this question apply to CongestedCat Productions?

CR: I think that traditionally people who enjoyed short films were exclusively filmmakers themselves or cinephile types, while feature films appealed to people across the board. However, with Youtube and Vimeo becoming the norm for how people consume media content, there’s a deeper appreciation, I think, for short form content and the ability to tell a compelling story in a short amount of time. For CongestedCat, this is beneficial because we enjoy short form content and believe it’s a useful way to reach people quickly and effectively. With that said, we do have a plethora of stories and styles we want to convey; so feature films are definitely part of our long-term plans. They’ll be more of passion projects that we’ll choose to work on very selectively, and hopefully be able to build an audience around through our future shorts.

 

FS: What is the main premise of IndieWorks? What is the viewer turnout like for the screenings at People’s Lounge & Bar?

CR:IndieWorks is a way to showcase and support local filmmakers in New York City, and create a sense of community in an environment that can often be overly competitive and about stepping on each other. Ideologically, we believe in working toward a middle class of indie film where we’re all supporting each other and rising together (while still showcasing what makes us all unique), rather than hoping to be the chosen one in a group of many. So, for us, we wanted to start an event free of the politics and capitalism that tend to overrun the festival circuit and, of course, Hollywood, and create an environment where we can see and appreciate the work of our peers and allow discussions and networking that could spark collaboration and support. We have one screening of 6 films every month and average about 45 people at each event. The weather often plays a part in the turnout. The least we’ve ever had was 30 people. The most was 120 at our 1st year ‘Best of Fest’ screening 2 months ago.

To find out more about CongestedCat Productions & Indieworks: http://www.congestedcat.com/