Interview with Filmmakers Mariam Khodeir & Andrea Quintero (GRAY MATTERS)

GRAY MATTERS was the winner of BEST ANIMATION at the May 2022 ANIMATION Feedback Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

Mariam: There were certainly a few reasons. My friend and co-director Andrea Quintero, whom I’ve known for 8 years now, makes beautiful clay miniatures that, ever since I saw them, I’ve wanted to use them to tell a short and sweet story. But the idea became really loud and persistent during Covid and the lockdown, and as we all of a sudden collectively felt like we got locked into our minds, it was evident that the best way out was to tell a story that would allow Andrea and I to collaborate again, to have fun as filmmakers, and experiment with what we have and could learn to do from home. We thought since we were spending most of our time in our heads anyways, there was nothing more fitting than to tell the world about our brains.

Andrea: It’s been a long time since we, Mariam and I, wanted to create something together. quarantine was a great excuse cause I was out of work and we both have a long time in our hands.

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

Mariam: I believe we took around ten months to a year to finish the film. Of course we had to pause sometimes because of unfavorable circumstances. Most of the work and time though was in pre-production, and then I would say production and post, each took around the same time.

Andrea: It took us close to a year to go from concept to script to then casting the voice-over, creating all the art involved in the animation, and, of course, finally, the editing because of the correction and the audio. Also, it was all around a pretty stressful time, so sometimes that would make it last longer.

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

Mariam: Playfully Inquisitive

Andrea: Fun and educational.

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

Mariam: Besides the fact that neither one of us is an animator, one other big challenge we faced was that we were each in a different country. I was in Egypt and Andrea was in Mexico so we had to work around the huge time difference in directing the project. We prepared the shoot down to the tiniest detail because we knew once we started, we wouldn’t be able to give notes or make drastic changes while we’re shooting. Our voice over talent was also in Toronto so directing him remotely was also a very interesting experience that we needed to perfect before starting the shoot.

Andrea: We both are not specialists in stop motion animation, so learning, making mistakes, and getting frustrated was the hardest part. Still, it also gave us great motivation to finish the project.

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

Mariam: Oh my God, It felt so surreal and wonderful. As a filmmaker, it’s the best feeling in the world when someone not only connects to your work but also understands exactly every aspect of the making and why you made the choices you made. The feedback video absolutely made us feel all of that and gave us an overwhelming sense of pride and excitement to tell more stories and make more films.

Andrea: Complete happiness and excitement to listen to the feedback. It was so refreshing and actually inspired us to go further with new projects.

Watch the Audience Feedback Video:

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

Mariam: From a very early age, make-believe was always my game of choice. I started actually writing films and shows for my friends to act out around the age of 10, and it hasn’t stopped since.

I think to me, it was always a means of expression. It wasn’t something I expected to turn into a career or anything
like that, but rather just my way of experiencing life. But then I began taking it seriously and decided to study filmmaking after I screened my first short film at the ’48 hours film project’ in Egypt, and it won the Audience Award. From that point on, my calling was clear and the goal became to pursue a filmmaking career.

Andrea: In my fourth semester in college; I made a project of experimental photography, which was a film with photos, so it was then when I realized this is it.

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

Mariam: That’s a hard one, I’d say probably The Lion King and maybe Beauty and the Beast. I feel like as a kid, I watched them too many times, and to this day, if one of them is ever on tv, I would definitely sit and watch, arguably with the same level of excitement too.

Andrea: That’s a very very hard question; Fargo is one of my favorites to rewatch. It feels like every time I see it, it’s new, even though I already know all the dialogues. I love the Cohen Brothers.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

Mariam: I mean, we loved the feedback video so much; it was such an original idea and like nothing I had encountered before. With the same concept in mind, if there is a way to create a virtual space where we could network and interact with the lovely people who give us the feedback and other filmmakers, that would be amazing. You could maybe create rooms online arranged by genre or job on the film, or what have you, where one could jump from one room to another, talk to diverse people in the industry, and make new connections. I believe this could be beneficial in helping us find potential collaborators, producers, agents, etc.

Andrea: Just keep on sharing the films with people, young people, and inviting us to share the experience with them. It’s amazing.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

Mariam: It’s been great. It was the first time I used FilmFreeway or even submitted to film festivals, so you know, I didn’t really know what to expect. But it’s been immensely rewarding and fun; every time our film gets selected by a festival, FilmFreeway celebrates us with colorful confetti and throws us what feels a lot like a virtual party; it’s awesome.

Andrea: It’s been quite great, we received good responses, and it’s a great way to get the project out there without it taking us way too much time.

10. What is your favorite meal?

Mariam: My favorite meal is an Egyptian dish called Mesaa’a. It’s basically fried eggplants with minced beef, salsa, and peppers, I guess. It’s pretty tasty. You should absolutely come to Egypt and try it.

Andrea: Enchiladas de mole (Mexican Food)

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

Mariam: I’m working on two projects right now, one is also a short animated film that I wrote a few years ago and would love to make. It’s a 3D animation so finding the right animators for the job has been a little challenging. The other project I’m working on is my first feature film, a dark fantasy. I’m still in the writing process and will hopefully soon be done with my first draft.

Andrea: Always a new creation, an annual film, and of course, in collaboration with Mariam. Currently, I’m creating an illustrated coloring art book and working on some photographic projects, but after all the feedback on the post-experience with this film, all I want to do is start creating a new one.

By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival www.wildsound.ca

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