Interview with Filmmaker Sophia Stoller (SCREAMING SHAPES)

SCREAMING SHAPES played to raves reviews at the Los Angeles Experimental, Dance, Music Festival in February 2020.

Submit to the festival via FilmFreeway:

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Sophia Stoller: The seed of the idea for this film began at an artist residency in 2017 called the Cohan Collective, directed by Robert Cohan of the Martha Graham Dance Company, Yolande Yorke-Edgell, and John Pennington. This wonderful residency brought together choreographers and composers to workshop ideas together, developing collaborations where music and dance were tightly woven together. On the first day of the residency I was paired with composer Peter S. Shin and we were tasked to create something in an hour with no prep time. We were both so inspired by what we made that we decided to continue developing it, first into a longer piece for the stage, and eventually into this film. The stage piece was performed at a number of venues, including the Walt Disney Concert Hall as part of LA Phil’s Noon to Midnight series. We felt that it could make a really interesting short, and at that point we brought in my creative partner and husband, filmmaker Peter Amodeo Gould, to collaborate on turning the stage piece into a film.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

About 2 years. We created the first 45 second version of the dance and music during the Cohan Collective in January 2017, shot the film in June 2018, and the edit was finished by December 2018.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Visceral and Raw.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Finding the location was tricky. We had a very small budget for the film and wanted to prioritize paying the dancers, so we knew we weren’t going to be able to pay for location permits. Peter (Gould) and I drove around downtown LA for hours looking for the perfect location. We eventually came across the location we ended up using and immediately knew it was the spot. I was nervous that we would get cited or be asked to leave in the middle of the shoot, so we also had a plan B location that we liked a lot less. We also made the bold choice of blocking the entire middle of the street in order to get the shots we wanted. In order to avoid traffic coming through we started shooting at 4:30am for the daytime shots and at 10pm for the night shots. And we did it all in the same day. The dancers were troopers!

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

It was great to hear that it resonated with people and to hear people’s impressions. We were actually able to attend the festival the night our film was screened, so we also got feel the energy in the theater as people were watching it, which was exciting.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

The first iteration of the piece that we created at the residency was all about the dance visualizing the music, and the music speaking the sounds of the dance. The vocal sounds in the music were pulled from a recording of a poem being read, written in response to the 2016 election in the US. Although Peter (Shin) manipulated the vocal sounds heavily so you no longer hear any words, the unusual rhythms created from the vocal sounds give the piece a wild and frenetic feeling.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Probably Back to the Future. I think my sister and I watched it every weekend for a while when we were kids, and it is still a top favorite of mine.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

FilmFreeway is very easy to use! We submitted our film to a number of festivals through that platform.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

This is a tough one. If I’m thinking over the course of my whole lifetime, probably “When Doves Cry” by Prince. But I’ve had different phases of favorite songs or most listened to songs at different points in my life.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

Well, the world is currently on pause due to Coronavirus, but Iris Company (my dance company who were the performers in the film) is in development for a new live immersive dance theater production at the renowned Sowden House in Hollywood. We are all staying home for now, but we are rehearsing on Zoom and moving forward slowly the best we can. The show was originally scheduled for August 2020, but we are unsure if that will still be possible. We are excited to hit the ground running once it is safe to resume gathering people together again. Peter (Gould) and I are also starting to dream up our next dance film collaboration.

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3 thoughts on “Interview with Filmmaker Sophia Stoller (SCREAMING SHAPES)

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