‘War Poem’, a short film directed by Mill+ artist Ty Richardson, premiered in February as part of Motionpoems’ 8th consecutive season. The full roster of films featured 12 pieces of work that were created by young filmmakers, in response to the theme ‘Letters to the President’. Each film, based on a poem, aims to tackle issues of racism, LGBTQIA rights, immigration, war, women’s rights, gun control, educational & social welfare and judicial system reform.
Ty tells us more about how he brought ‘War Poem’ to life:
How did your work with Motionpoems come about?
This opportunity came through a friend Claire McGirr, an Associate Producer at Smuggler’s NY office. I saw her at an event in February of 2017, right after she finished a Motionpoem called ‘Things I Carry Into The World’. We got to chatting about her experience making the film, and she mentioned that she’d be serving as the Executive Producer for the upcoming eighth season of Motionpoems. At the time I was actively looking for a new short film project, so once I learned that Claire was still sourcing filmmakers I leapt at the chance to submit a treatment.
Tell us a bit about your poem and how you selected it?
My film is based on a poem called ‘War Poem’ by Nomi Stone. At the start of each season, Motionpoems sends their selection of filmmakers — this year there were 12 of us — a packet of poetry, from which you choose the poem you’d like to work with. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do a narrative-based film, so I focused my search on a piece of writing that alluded to a larger story, or at least suggested characters and/or a setting that could become tangible, visualized elements in the film.
I also decided to choose a poem on the shorter side. In addition to my appreciation for brevity, I wanted the reading of the poem to be quite drawn out, so as to allow each line to really resonate — almost like a Terrance Malick style voice-over. Such a choice also gives the visuals a chance to say something of their own in the pregnant pauses.
What was your initial thought process after you selected the poem?
For me, 'War Poem’ is about a brother and his wounded sister escaping a city of ruin in search of a place of peace. Halfway through the poem, there’s a line that reads: “But she falls and cannot walk, so he carries her.” That is such a powerful and evocative line, so I knew immediately that the film would be centered around this key image. After speaking with the poet, Nomi Stone, I was able to craft a story and characters around a singular moment.
How did The Mill help bring this to life?
I am beyond humbled by how The Mill wrapped their arms around this project. At some point during creative development, I suggested that Claire reach out to another one of our in-house filmmakers, Anais LaRocca. Ana decided to do a film as well, which really worked in our favor. We were able to do tandem productions over the course of 6 or 7 days, utilizing a lot of the same Mill+ crew and equipment.
Mill+'s Ian Bearce and Tia Perkins really made both films happen. They championed the creative and nurtured it through prep. DP Adam Carboni definitely helped me clarify some of the visual storytelling. And Ben Smith, Mill NY ECD, was hugely supportive from the beginning, especially when the time came to edit and craft our VFX shots. I’d be remiss if I didn’t use this space to formally thank them again.
Was this your first directorial piece?
This isn’t the first piece I’ve directed, but it is the first thing I’ve directed whilst at The Mill. Before coming to The Mill, I was a freelance creative director. My real directing days started towards the end of film school when I got connected to a few major record labels, like Atlantic Records and Roc Nation. I started doing music videos for emerging artists, including a visual for NYC-based electronic duo The Knocks. Along with a growing network of collaborators, I started taking on commercial gigs too. Over the course of a year or so we did branded content for PepsiCo, Mike and Ike candy, and GE, among others.
Working at The Mill has allowed me to focus more on narrative-driven content. Before diving into 'War Poem' last March, I completed another short called 'Tether', which is about an abandoned prisoner attempting to escape the shackles of his body and mind. It occupies a weird little intersection between psychological thriller and experimental dream sequence, inspired by my affinity for French New Wave cinema.
How would you describe your work?
I come from a somewhat traditional approach to independent filmmaking. My core competency is directing character-centric live action films that are, hopefully, equal parts suspenseful, thought-provoking, and visually engaging.
I consider myself a proponent of the ‘intellectual thriller.’ Films like Children of Men or Interstellar or Michael Clayton are super inspiring to me. I also love truthful stories that blend triumph and heartbreak. I just rewatched United 93 the other day and was reminded of the impact afforded by such verité filmmaking. In fact, Paul Greengrass has always been one of my favorites. I really wish I had directed Captain Phillips so that I could’ve helped Hanks do a proper Boston accent. The Bourne Ultimatum is a perfect 10 though.
A Mill+ production through and through, the beautifully shot piece was worked on by a number of Mill artists, including Editor Rachel Greco and Colorist Nate Seymour.
How do you think the grade affects this piece?
Colorist Nate Seymour: Color, being one of the last steps in the post pipeline, is about marrying together all the creative choices that come before it while also creating and maintaining a consistent tone. 'War Poem's' rock solid visual foundation, from Adam Carboni's beautiful cinematography to Rachel Greco's powerful edit, allowed me and director Ty Richardson tons of flexibility while grading. In the end, I think we achieved a look that supports the film's themes of love, determination, and tragic loss at the hands of a hellish war.Learn more about Motionpoems and see this year’s full list of films here: http://motionpoems.org/