DIRECTOR NIC NASSUET
“I feel that filmmakers have no responsibility to culture. Artists create culture. Culture adapts to risk takers and weird thinkers. People who are responsible to culture are anchors that latch us onto a dying world and they keep us from exploring new frontiers.”Nic Nassuet is an award-winning American gothic-folk musician based in Hollywood, California, and is listed on Wikipedia as an influential gothic rock artist, and a notable neofolk artist. Nassuet branched out into filmmaking as part of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s (LACMA) Veterans Make Movies program in 2017 where he self-produced his debut experimental short, “CHRYSALIS”, on a budget of about $200. Nassuet has only two hobbies; Joining cults, and espionage, both of which he hopes to explore further in future film projects. In an Exclusive Interview with Cult Critic Nic reveals the whole idea of making his film “CHRYSALIS”, with a message of cultural understanding.
Interview by Shailik Bhaumik for Cult Critic Film Magazine
Shailik Bhaumik:Congratulations Nic, for making such an amazing cult piece ‘CHRYSALIS’. How ‘CHRYSALIS’ ignites you to transform from a musician to a filmmaker?
Nic Nassuet: Hi Shalik. Thank you so much. CHRYSALIS came about much like the music did. The voice in my head said, “Do this”, so I did it. Now the artistic product is out in the world, living its own life.
Q: Why do you feel colors, sounds, symbols are more important than languages in expressing one’s feeling?
A: Colors, sounds, and to some extent, symbols, can speak outside of cultural misunderstandings. Of course, colors, sounds, and symbols can be trapped in the same false reality that you and I, and our languages are trapped in, but in their bare essence, they transcend languages.
The color spectrum is the color spectrum regardless of where you were born, or what language you speak. Whether you see a rainbow in Japan or Canada, the higher vibrations of the visible spectrum are on one end, and the lower vibrations of the visible spectrum are on the other end. The sound frequencies are sound frequencies regardless of where in the world they are heard, although I think that the effect of sound on a person is less subtle than that of color.
You could set a person in a red room, with red clothing, and red lights, and definitely get a reaction, but it wouldn’t be as intense as if you set them anywhere in the world and played a very high pitched tone at 120 decibels. Sound has more nuance emotionally as well. There are sounds that will make anyone, of any culture, cry. There are also sounds that will make anyone, of any culture, laugh.
As it relates to symbols, a sharp edge is a sharp edge no matter where you were born. Similarly, a soft, round edge is a soft round edge. These colors, sounds, and shapes speak to us universally and without words.
Q: In ‘CHRYSALIS’, you have tried to decode the internal language that we use long before we could speak, or understand our mother tongues. Why have you chosen such a complex linguistics for your film?
A: I wouldn’t say that I was attempting to decode anything, but I was using the language of my subconscious as it speaks to me through sound, color, and scene. This method of internal communication uses a variety of cultural symbols and apparitions to make it known, but it is mostly color, shape, and sound. I don’t find this a complex linguistic form, and I think that CHRYSALIS is arranged in a way that can be understood by anyone if they quiet their analytic brain and simply absorb the material as it is presented.
Some of the material is intentionally clothed in the mythology of various cultures, but there is a reason for that. It’s like training wheels on a bicycle. If you are stuck in an analytical headspace, an understanding of that mythology could yield a deeper communication with the material, which should then encourage you to shut down and absorb instead of analyzing.
Q: What are the risks in making a Para cinema like ‘CHRYSALIS’ today? What is the future of art-house films?
A: I have no idea. I do not consider risks when creating art and I assume that I will just be throwing my money at the experience of creating. That’s the reward right there. I’m essentially buying the experience of creation, and sometimes that comes cheap other times (like when releasing an album) it doesn’t come cheap, but the rewards outweigh the expense.
I don’t know anything about art house, or experimental cinema. I do not really enjoy watching movies, and I do not pay to see movies. I only watch a few every year when I get invited to awards season screening at studios and screening rooms here in Hollywood.
Q: Is there any particular director who influenced you most? Why?
A: I can’t think of anyone. You name a director I doubt that I would be able to name one film that they made.
Q: What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?
A: Strong emotional impact with no concern for critics or luring in fans. I ignore spectacles. Give me something to really love, or hate. Make me laugh, or cry. Be consistent with the rules of your universe and get your head out of present space and time. I can’t stand “message movies” where a social or political theme is drilled into my head. I want to be outside of all of that when I engage with art, not drawn further into myself and these surface level problems created by people who are too attached to their own bodies and minds to really do anything beyond exist and die.
Q: Do filmmakers have any responsibility to culture? Do you feel that being a creative person requires that you give back or tell a particular story or not do something else? Why or why not?
A: I feel that filmmakers have no responsibility to culture. Artists create culture. Culture adapts to risk takers and weird thinkers. People who are responsible to culture are anchors that latch us onto a dying world and they keep us from exploring new frontiers. Culture is your worst enemy. Good art destroys cultures.
Art is not created by consensus. Good ideas are often ignored by the masses and sometimes feared. The second you hear yourself say “I shouldn’t do that” then you need to really grill your mind and find out why you feel that way. If the answer is anything other than “Because it doesn’t help me communicate my message”, or “because the art doesn’t want that”, then you should do it, no matter who is offended, hurt, or bothered by it.
Always comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. Without that, we suffer living death in stagnation and we doom generations to the gloom of stasis.
Q: Is it the filmmaker’s responsibility to find and develop his / her audience? Why do you feel that way? How will you collaborate with your audience, and how won’t you?
A: I really can’t speak for “filmmakers”. A lot of this is really up to the individual and their unique goals and needs. Maybe you create things that you feel need a wider audience. In that case, you should find and develop your audience. If you are trying to make money, then this is probably very important to you. Maybe you just need to express something trapped inside of you that will kill you if it doesn’t get out. In that case, I doubt that you really care much about an audience.
I am an imperfect vessel for whatever that is inside of me that tells me to create things. Part of the deal I made with ‘The Art’ is I will give it all of the opportunities to reach others. If an audience connects, then so be it. If not, then that’s fine too. My job is to try.
I do not know how I will collaborate with an audience. I never know. That’s probably pretty weird given that I’ve spent over 30 years on stage in front of live audiences. I’ll just take things as they come, I suppose, or just tune them out. It depends on my desires and goals at that point in time.
Q: When you get angry at a movie, what sets you off? Are there common qualities in cinema today that you dislike? Is there something you try to subvert or avoid or rebel against in your work?
A: Some of the things that set me off at movies are; superheroes, robots, magical powers, celebrities, vampires, witches, boy meets girl, political messages, situations designed to reprogram me into thinking like the writer/producer/investor wants me to think, war movies, the Wayans brothers, so-called comedy, remakes, sequels, studio writers, studio producers, studio executives, and fans of studio products who pay for that sort of thing.
That is by no means an exhaustive list.
I try to subvert and rebel against myself in my work. The more I think about it, and the more I try to make it something, the worse it gets. I have to stop trying in order to actually create anything. I have to just shut up and let that voice from both within and beyond dictate what happens next.
Q: What is the subject of your next project?
A: The voice hasn’t told me yet. When it does say what to do next, it probably won’t be specific. It will just give me colors, images, sounds, and maybe a few words. Then I have to go and do the thing and the rest falls into place, usually without my knowledge.
Q: Generally speaking, when we want to learn about a film, we talk to the director. But those who make films know how much they really collaborate. What makes a fruitful collaboration? What do you do to enhance the collaborative process?
A: A fruitful collaboration is when a bunch of weirdos has weird ideas and open minds then decide to go and have fun together. To enhance the process I avoid cynics, spiteful people, and those who react to stimulus instead of making conscious decisions. As the person responsible for bringing others to the table, I think it is probably very important to be trustworthy with the time, emotions, and energy that others have invested in me and to not expose them to harmful or toxic personalities.
Q: “It all starts with the script.” Maybe not, but when do you know a script is ready to shoot, and what is your process of getting it there?
A: My “script” was a bunch of poorly drawn symbols and images on loose sheets of paper. I shoot it when I can get everyone together, and then rewrite it at least a dozen times as we are shooting, sometimes as the camera is rolling. You can’t create something like this and have anything set in stone or feel married to an outcome. You accepted the ticket, and now you take the ride, wherever that leads. You can’t dictate the outcome. You have to be ready to change the entire concept at the whim of the art. When the art tells you what to do, you just do it. You don’t have a say in the matter.
Q: Film, perhaps more than any other popular art form, is the compromise between art and commerce. How has your art been shaped by both the money you have had or not had? Do you create with budget limitations in mind?
A: To major studios there is no art, just commerce. They have to make money or people lose their jobs. Their only concern is getting a return on investment. To others, there is no concern for commerce at all.
Personally, I don’t really think about the budget. If I don’t have money, then I don’t spend money. If I have money, then I choose what to spend it on. If I don’t have the funds to complete the project, then that’s where the ride ends. I don’t feel sad, or regret when that happens, I just create until I can’t anymore. Then I go and do something else. I enjoy the ride. If I wasn’t going to let myself relax into it and just have fun with the process of creation, I wouldn’t have started the project. I just do what the art says me to do, and it fills in the rest. If the money only allows me to afford creating for one day, then that’s all that I am supposed to do.
Q: What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?
A: I think that I’ve been to maybe three film festivals in my life. At the last one, I just drank the free booze, and ate the free food at the private industry mixer then went home. I didn’t see any movies.
I guess they’re necessary to someone, or else they wouldn’t exist. There are a lot of rich people at the big film festivals and if enough people with money see something that they don’t really understand they’ll call it a brilliant work of art because they don’t want to look stupid in front of their rich friends. When that happens, you get a distribution deal.
I get the most out of festivals by going to parties, making new friends, and getting free food and drinks. I think that free drinks and friend making are very important for people who want to make movies. If you can’t figure out how to get free drinks and make friends then you probably aren’t resourceful enough to make movies or music.
Q: My last question, before we say goodbye: Why people would wait for watching the next film of Nic Nassuet?
A: Because people understand the need to deconstruct the structures of power and white supremacy through art and film, and people know that it is necessary to band together with filmmakers whose struggles intersect with the plights of all historically disadvantaged persons around the globe in order to create positive social change and to manifest social justice.
I don’t really believe any of that, it just sounded like a very art house thing to say.
I have no idea what “art house” means.
Shailik: Thank you so much for your time Nic. From the entire Cult Critic team we wish, you the best.
Nic: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
Shailik Bhaumik is an award-winning filmmaker and entrepreneur. Known for his feature film “Dasein”, Shailik is the founder and Chairman of Human Lab Corporation, a Multinational Film Company whose mission it is to help Independent Filmmakers survive and thrive in this highly competitive industry. Shailik oversees worldwide operations including production, distribution, and marketing for HLC’s live-action films, as well as films released under the HLC banner.