Paul Trillo's Unfinished Story

Still from Paul Trillo's "How to Fly a Kite"

Paul Trillo (Film 2007) is a filmmaker, an illustrator, and, above all, a storyteller. Since graduating in 2007 he's been blazing a unique path --first in the Bay Area, and lately in New York -- with a prodigious output of dynamic, experimental short films and music videos. His new short film Happy Birthday Mr. Bracewell will be screening at the Cannes Film Festival's Short Film Corner in May.

It is a matter-of-fact fictional piece about a man named Gray Bracewell whose birthday is also the anniversary of the day his wife left him three years previous. Events depicted involve a long-lost brother, a decent bit of time travel, and the possibility of recapturing a love lost.

I spoke with Trillo in March 2012 about his recent projects and how CCA helped shape his artistic vision.

What are you working on now?

Today I was shooting some pick-up shots for a new corporate-sponsored short film. The company approached me and six or so other directors to do a series of shorts revolving around the idea of an "everyday adventure." It's an awesome opportunity; I have complete creative control over the project. There's no set title yet. I'm thinking something along the lines of A Truncated Story of Infinity. It's about looking at a single day, and the infinite variations within that day, through a kaleidoscopic lens.

There are numerous visual experiments I'm working on that relate to the notion of infinity. I'm attempting to combine my narrative work with my experimental work -- using visual effects that are linked to the story -- to find ways that they mesh. It's a fun elaboration on what I'm trying to define as my own style.

How did Happy Birthday Mr. Bracewell come about?

Mr. Bracewell was inspired by a few lonely and disorganized storefront offices in San Francisco. The ones with just a single person working inside -- an insurance agent, a realtor, et cetera. It's so striking to see! I built the character around that image of a man overwhelmed by paperwork, a sort of archaic symbol today. From there I started playing with this anxiety of time, which became a theme throughout the film. Bracewell is haunted by the past, terribly burdened by it.

How did you decide to attend CCA?

The campus had a great energy that I didn't feel anywhere else. The Oakland campus in particular. It didn't feel like an institution. It seemed conducive to creativity.

Did you arrive at CCA wanting to study film, or did you come to film via some other discipline?

When I applied, my portfolio was mainly drawing and illustration. I also had a VHS tape of some films I'd done during high school, at a video academy at Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo. When I arrived at CCA I quickly switched to film and video, and later took classes with professor Rob Epstein. Rob had a huge influence on me.

I learned how to approach a subject in my own way, how to develop my own voice as a director, how to develop recurring themes, images, and techniques. I did an Independent Study with Rob my senior year, where he helped me one-on-one with a feature-length script. Jeanne Finley also helped a great deal with developing that script. I have great respect for the faculty at CCA.

I liked the fact that I could focus more on the conceptual than on the technical -- learning who I was as an artist, and having that as a core foundation to build on. I wouldn't have gotten that at another school, I don't think.

CCA's interdisciplinary approach allowed me to dabble in other interests, and I wouldn't have had that flexibility at other schools, either. It was more about the individual professors than the department or program. There's a communal feel, more about floating freely to whatever you're drawn to. Most of my friends at CCA were not even involved in the Film Program.

How did your work evolve while you were in school?

I was fairly productive during that time, motivated by my own curiosity. I worked on a lot of stuff that wasn't necessarily for classes. Another student, Noah Cunningham, and I would make about a video a week, whether it was for a class or not. We worked in the Media Center and had easy access to equipment. We were creating stuff nonstop! It was great to explore various weird ideas and spend a day making something strange.

One of our videos, Disaster Series ended up winning the first season of the VH1 Web Junk 2.0 Award for Best Viral Video. It was pretty exciting to get that kind of national acknowledgment while we were still in school.

What was life like immediately after you graduated?

My collaborations with Noah were not as frequent. We were roommates, but our work took us in different directions. I worked a lot in advertising doing editing, motion graphics, and writing. It was fun, yet frustrating at times. There wasn't enough of my own personal work happening, and at the office, ideas would get compromised, projects would get canceled. But one really beneficial aspect of the job was learning how to interact with people.

I honed my pitch, how to present my ideas to someone and make them interesting. It was a reality check of sorts, to understand the obstacles you encounter, what you have to go through to get your ideas made.

I'm glad to be back doing my own work now. I'd like to remain in this state of creating my own projects rather than sitting around and thinking about them while working for other people. It's a hard lifestyle to maintain, though!

When did you move to New York?

In November 2011. I grew up in Marin and spent my whole life in the Bay Area, so coming to New York has been a nice spark, new fuel for inspiration. You'll see this in my latest short, which has an NYC tone. It's been fun to discover new locations in a new city, little spots that other people might overlook.

Do you always have ideas in the back of your mind for new music videos, or do you wait until you have a specific song to work with before you create something?

It's somewhere in between. I generally have a few ideas ahead of time; there's always something I've been wanting to try out. With the Teebs "Moments" video I was experimenting with the Chroma key effect used for green screen but instead of using colored smoke I used something like 200 smoke bombs to blend one visual element into another.

I had to do a few tests to really figure out how the effect would work properly. After I had assembled a rough video I contacted the artist, Teebs, and got the okay to use the song. In this circumstance, the concept came first, then the idea of making it a music video came later.

The Teebs "Moments" video will appear in iDn magazine and in the Vimeo Festival this month.

Your video for the Peach Kings' "Thieves and Kings" has a very engaging "What am I looking at??" effect. How did you achieve that?

For the Peach Kings video I was a experimenting with shutter bursts of still images. In post production I slowed the image sequences down, forcing the computer to morph each frame into the next. You get what feel like seamless transitions. The Peach Kings are friends of mine and we came up with the story for the video very spontaneously, although I didn't know if the effect was going to work. I was running on only a few hours of sleep, because we shot it during preproduction for Mr. Bracewell!

What's afoot for you in the near future?

This year I've been doing various freelance work here in New York. I'm also working on submitting Happy Birthday Mr. Bracewell to festivals. With Andrew Georgopoulos, who collaborated with me on Mr. Bracewell, I'm hoping to start working on a feature-length production by the end of the year.

We're focusing our energies right now on raising funds. A feature always seems a bit like a fantasy, although I'm realizing it's not so grandiose. But we've got a long road ahead of us.

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