Interview with Filmmakers Zach Duer & Scotty Hardwig (MASS)

MASS played to rave reviews at the June 2021 EXPERIMENTAL Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

Zach Duer: This work is a happy accident. In working on another virtual choreographic performance piece, I made a programming error and accidentally set thousands of avatars performing the same movement to all have the same starting place, but starting at different times in the animation. The result was so striking we made it into its own piece.

Scotty Hardwig: Like Zach said, this work appeared somewhat by accident as we were experimenting with motion capture rigging onto digital bodies for a VR suite called Time Garden. As an artist and a scholar, I’ve always been interested in the glitch art movements of the 1990s, and I was drawn to the imagery of this particular scene because it seemed glitch dance at its finest. It also spoke to me against the backdrop of living through this pandemic, because we see a mass of mossy green bodies all overlapping and reaching upward. It feels like closeness and hope, albeit dystopian, in a time when we have all been so isolated.

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

Given the above, about 2 hours. The related piece from which this spawned started more than 2 years ago and has occupied thousands of work hours. It’s hard to separate them.

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

upsetting beauty

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

Zach: Mapping the captured movement of Scotty onto the virtual avatar.

Scotty: editing together the scraps of imagery and video into something that felt cohesive — as we said before, the creation of this piece was kind of a mistake, so re-crafting that detritus into a polished product was tricky

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

Zach: I love to hear the off-the-cuff impressions that people get! Something that the work resembles to them, or a connection they made, or a feeling they had. After making something and spending time with it, it’s hard to come back to that same first impression, and it’s so amazing to hear!

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

Zach: In 2007-2009 when I was doing a master’s in music composition in electronic music and I got tired of asking audiences to only engage their ears and no other parts of their bodies. It goes beyond films too!

Scotty: When I was in graduate school and learned about this beautiful art form called screendance — I had never encountered it before, or hybrid video forms in general, and immediately fell in love. Ever since, I’ve wanted to expand the definitions of what a moving body can be, and what dance can become in digital and filmic space.

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

Zach: I have no idea.

Scotty: Probably Star Wars… the one with the Ewoks.

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

Scotty: I like FilmFreeway a lot — it keeps everything super organized, and has lots of helpful tools for managing submissions. All in all, it’s a great platform.

9. What is your favorite meal?

Zach: Homemade tostada monstrosities that I’ve made since I was a teenager

Scotty: I’m a huge fan of cabbage and asparagus — anything containing garden-fresh vegetables is basically my jam.

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

Zach: So many things! Machine learning and choreography is the most salient

Scotty: Zach and I work together a lot, so we are currently working on a machine learning AI system for recognizing human movement. I also perform and teach a lot internationally, so I’ll be performing in a virtual work called ENGRAM 4 this July at Bates Dance Festival . After that, Zach and I will be in Salt Lake City for a research residency working with Drones as interactive performers in a dance. We’re super excited to get back into live performance this summer!

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