Hero Film Festival & Awards celebrates depictions of heroism in film. Films selected to be honored during this first edition of the festival will be announced in September.
This week, as we continue to spotlight filmmakers who have submitted their work to the festival, our own Nicholas Crawford (NC) interviewed filmmaker Tyler Jones (TJ) of the short film, Out of the Woods.
Introducing Out of the Woods
Struggling with Shy Cryptid Syndrome, social anxiety for cryptids, Big Foot and his two best friends decide to venture into the world of improv comedy.
Jones is a recent graduate of Old Dominion University majoring in Communications, with a Film and Television Production concentration. A cinephile from a very young age, filmmaking seemed to be the natural next step. Aside from film, he has performed as a comedian and loves to write, read and play video games.
NC: This film features one of the most unique ideas I’ve ever heard, can you discuss how the idea came to you?
TJ: My life was in a transitional period when I first got to ODU, often resulting in me spending time alone. I’ve always loved aliens, ghosts and cryptids. When I was thinking about how I felt then, I jotted down a short story about Bigfoot having social anxiety. That story evolved into this film.
NC: What made you decide to tell this story?
TJ: As could be expected from any film school student, I wanted to make a film that I could say I directed. It makes you sound fancy and successful at Thanksgiving dinner. As for the reason I chose this particular script, it essentially became a little bit of a love letter to my friends.
Joining ODU’s Film Club changed my time at school because I not only had an organization to keep me active, I also had a true group of friends there. That weird patch in my life was much easier to conquer with their help. I knew I didn’t have to do things alone. When I applied that mindset to this short story of Bigfoot, it became a script I wanted to make for anyone who was going through something similar.
NC: Tell me about the production group that helped you make this film come true, The ODU Film Club.
TJ: The Old Dominion University Film Club was founded to allow students a chance to participate in filmmaking outside of the ODU curriculum. The members were able to create free of criteria or constraints with the necessary equipment and crew.
When I joined the group, the leader at the time, Jake Brinn, fought so hard for students to make their films. Subsequent leaders Tyler Britt and Caitlin Whitaker have continued this goal, and it’s been instrumental in getting a lot of filmmakers in the program to realize how much they can do with a good team.
NC: Independent filmmaking is never easy; what was your greatest challenge during the production process?
TJ: I was a first time director, with many members of my crew filling roles for the first time as well. Having to be a more vocal and active part of the process, I struggled during the transition from writing to directing. Budget and time are also always an issue on a set, no matter how big the project. However, the most difficult part was the Loch Ness Monster puppet. She was the most impractical element of this film and we had to think around that. At least no one can say I’m not ambitious.
NC: The subject of social anxiety is at the forefront of this film. Is this something you have struggled with in the past, and if so, what has helped you to overcome it?
TJ: I have dealt with mental illness in my life, certainly at the time of this film. Social anxiety has never been a big issue for me, but I do suffer from general anxiety and depression. I think those parts of my brain made me a little less trusting of people, which blended into Bigfoot’s story.
Being forced into a situation where I had to trust others has helped me significantly. In that sense, filmmaking has been somewhat therapeutic. I was in a collaborative setting where I knew that each of us cared and shared a common goal. It helps to know that you can lean on others sometimes; you don’t need to hold everything inside.
NC: These creatures have such an incredible quirky design. Can you discuss the process of you conceptualizing and creating them?
TJ: Thank you! When we were discussing production design, tourist traps kept popping into my head, the kinds of places with fake Bigfoot tracks and moon rocks from alien invasions. They are usually tacky and trying to get you to buy as many kitschy objects as they can. I wanted my cryptids to give those places a bit of credibility in how cheesy they looked. I pictured them as friendly, approachable, and ripped straight out of a 50’s B-movie. Nessie looks a tad scary without eyelids, but I think otherwise they are pretty cute.
NC: If nothing else, what do you hope the audience will take away from Out of the Woods?
TJ: No situation is insurmountable if you try your hardest and ask for help from the people who love you. This world can be a very scary place, but there is a lot of good in it too.
NC: What do you think makes Out of the Woods a good match for the Hero Film Festival?
TJ: This film covers an area of mental health I know I needed to hear; you, in and of yourself, don’t need to take down your trouble completely on your own. Above all, a great support system is so valuable and it takes courage to open yourself up to that.
Also, Elli Ransom, the actress/puppeteer in that Nessie costume, could have tripped in that death contraption, hurt herself and ruined 80 hours of construction. She did it anyway. If that’s not bravery, I don’t know what is.
Find Resources for dealing with mental illness at FeelingKindaBlue.org