Interview with Filmmaker Max Simonson (THE UNICORN SYMPOSIUM)

THE UNICORN SYMPOSIUM, 9min., Australia, Fashion
Directed by Max Simonson
A young woman enters a colourful clothes shop to try on some new looks only to be surprised by a group of friendly strangers who insist that it’s a very special day.

Get to know the filmmaker:

1. What motivated you to make this film?

The Unicorn Symposium was quite a serendipitous project actually! I had recently met and become friends with Morgan and Hailey, who are the founders and creative team behind VOW Studio – I first met them on my birthday no less! As it happened they were looking to produce some more video content to promote their latest collection across social media and asked if my team and I would be interested in collaborating with them on something.

I think we all expected to be doing a handful of TikTok videos at first, but as I started to think about the garments with all their striking and colourful patterns I began to wonder what kind of characters might you encounter in these clothes? What kind of world would they occupy and in what context might you meet them?

To me the patterns and designs evoke “carefree fun” and “celebration” whilst being a little bit quirky in their own way. There’s an energy to the look that says ‘I’m the centre of attention and everyday is my birthday!’ So from there I developed the idea of a character who tries on the clothes and is unwittingly transported into a world where everyone insists it’s her birthdays and wants to celebrate with her, regardless of whether it actually is her birthday or not!

As the story grew in my mind and we recruited more collaborators to contribute their own ideas, pretty soon our humble little TikTok videos had expanded into something much more ambitious and complicated! But fortunately everyone was exited about the world of the story and was up for the challenge so we knuckled down and made it happen!

At the end of the day it was all inspired and motivated by Morgan and Hailey’s wonderful creativity and confidence in our abilities as filmmakers. Without them The Unicorn Symposium really would just be a weird and fanciful dream!

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

We had about three weeks of pre-production to gather props and assemble crew, during which time I worked on the story and script. The film was then shot over one and a half days. Post-Production Lasted for about 4 months as there were lots of different versions of the film we explored in the edit to try and get it as sharp and punchy as possible. I also worked on a few other projects simultaneously so The Unicorn Symposium was a little on and off at times! So all up the film took 6 months from start to finish.

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

I think the title, ‘Unicorn Symposium’, sums it up pretty well! But that’s too easy so I would say: Colourful Chaos!

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

The biggest obstacle had to be the schedule! All the party scenes had to be shot in one day since the store would have to be closed for us to re-decorate and practically take over the whole space with cast, crew and equipment. There was a lot to get and we weren’t able to shoot everything – unfortunately we lost a limbo scene! But with the time we had I think the right things were prioritized and in the end a big part of making ambitious projects on small budgets is knowing when and how to compromise.

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

At first I was nervous! It’s always a bit scary putting your work out there for people to see and make their own assessments on, but I was completely overjoyed to hear such a positive response from the videos! It was very rewarding to hear people point out some of the little details we slipped into certain scenes, like the hats on the mannequins at the end! It’s great to know people appreciated the effort that went into this film and, most importantly, that they enjoyed the ride they were taken on!

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

I’ve wanted to make films for quite a while now! It’s hard to be sure of the precise moment of inspiration but I have vivid memories of watching the behind the scenes featurettes that would play after the credits of movies and TV shows on VHS. I remember being mesmerized by the creative and technical ingenuity that went behind bringing the dinosaurs to life in the BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs (1999) so my passion for filmmaking must have sparked some time around then!

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

It may very well be… Hot Fuzz (2007). It was one of those movies which was on TV all the time when I was young and I reckon I caught it more often than I missed it. It’s also a movie that I feel compelled to show people if they haven’t seen it – kind of like Nick Frost’s character!

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

Public screenings are always the best when possible because then you can really make a night of it to celebrate the films and connect with other creatives out there on a similar filmmaking journey. Perhaps there could be an annual screening at the end of each year to honor the films that stood out over the past 12 months?

Seeing as there is a fashion component to this festival too I wonder if there are any avenues whereby the festival could connect brands and businesses who are looking for similar videos of their own with the emerging filmmakers. I’m sure I don’t only speak for myself when I say creatives love the opportunity to connect and collaborate with new people on new projects all the time!

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

As far as I’m concerned FilmFreeway is the only way to do it! It’s so simple and straightforward to add a project and find festivals that suit its subject matter or niche.

I’ve been very happy with my experiences using FilmFreeway.

10. What is your favorite meal?

Tacos all the way! I love Mexican food!

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

I have recently moved to LA from Melbourne, Australia! So right now I’m getting myself settled here, looking for new work opportunities and connecting with other likeminded creatives who are eager to start making some crazy stuff! I’d love to continue working on fashion films – there’s a certain creative freedom in fashion that other forms of filmmaking don’t have. I’m also a big fan of horror and hope to get another creepy idea off the ground soon!

I’ll shamelessly plug my Instagram if any local creatives are keen to collaborate: @s.xvw


By matthewtoffolo

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

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