Happy Monday, boys and girls! It’s time for another installment of our monthly feature Staff Favorites, showcasing our favorite work from the Staff Picks channel this month.

March has been full of formal experimentation: Fuga expertly blends 2D and 3D animation and live-action in an ambitious work of operatic melodrama. Meanwhile, the McSweeney’s-inspired This is a Generic Brand Video — a sly satire composed entirely from stock footage — wins the title of best fake ad ever.

A true highlight, though, is a film that barely snuck in under the deadline. In fact, it debuted today. In Battle of the Jazz Guitarist, filmmaker Mark Columbus explores the story of his dad, the “Jimi Hendrix of Fiji,” who left his music career behind to start a life and family in America. The film is an internal monologue from Mark’s perspective, told entirely through subtitles. We were lucky enough to chat with Mark about the strange directions taken by his seemingly straightforward film:

Vimeo: Where did the idea to use subtitles come from?

Mark: In my first year of film school I was browsing a random computer at school in the editing bays and came across a short film file on the desktop called Le Batteur du Bolero by Patrice Leconte with Jacques Villeret.

I really love this actor. I laughed so hard. I thought it was so brilliant. I wanted to make it my own. Aside from that, I also don't like the sound of my voice, and also, I wanted to showcase my dad's music.

Vimeo: Were you ever tempted to do anything effectsy with the green screen?

Mark: Haha yeah! In the beginning of this project (financed by Adobe as encouragement for UCLA students to showcase green screen/After Effects) it was supposed to be a tribute video with the intention of using the green screen to showcase old photos of his past. But thanks to my lack of ability in After Effects, along with advice from my professor who said putting anything in the green screen would distract from the story, I ultimately decided not to. It was something I had felt conflicted about for a long time, and I think I made the right choice. Some think it's funny, some think it's lame, but in fact, it's because I suck big time at After Effects!

Vimeo: How much of the script was written before you shot vs in or after the edit? It feels like it evolved quite organically — did it?

Mark: Good question! None of the script was written beforehand, but parts of it were conceived on set. For instance, I generally knew that I wanted to shoot him playing from this or that angle, then I gave freedom to my DP to roll anytime he felt he saw something interesting or compelling, and I also knew that I wanted to have some sort of visually compelling ending. I had an inkling of what the script was in terms of beats and stuff, but by no means did I know the content beforehand, or have a strict plan or blueprint as to how or if it was going to work as I do with most my other films. The entire storyline was made and found in the editing room over Thanksgiving weekend.

Vimeo: How was this film received initially, and what are you up to now?

Mark: I had a lot of support. It's played in front of a lot of people in various parts of the world, and most of the reactions have been overwhelmingly positive. One of the first people I showed it to, a professor at UCLA, said it was conniving and a hit against my father. That bothered me at first, but I never got that criticism again after him, so he might have misinterpreted it. I think there is a lot of love in it, and I hope other people see that.

Just today actually I wrapped principal photography on my comedy TV pilot about a 15-year-old boy who joins a super lame suburban gang in Los Feliz/East Los Angeles in rebellion against his mom and her new, strict boyfriend. It's like Bottle Rocket meets Eastbound and Down with a very Los Angeles urban flair. I'd love for this to be on Adult Swim or Netflix or Hulu. I just watched all the dailies and it's going to be great — I am so excited about it. The actors are so talented. You can check screenshots and a trailer here on my website!!

Vimeo: What does your dad think of the film?

Mark: He hasn't seen it yet. I'll probably show him now since it's a Vimeo Staff Pick now haha.

Vimeo: Has your father been playing more music lately?

Mark: Yes! He has. He knows the film has had some success, and he knows everyone loves his music, and that has given him strength to keep continuing I think.

+ More from the Staff Blog Archive


This conversation is missing your voice. Please join Vimeo or log in.