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Staff Favorites: December 2014 Featuring Alexander Engel

Ian Durkin
January 15, 2015 by Ian Durkin Staff
Vimeo, Today I bring you our favorite Staff Picks from December — a little later than usual, it’s true. But we’ve had so much to share with you lately: [a shiny page full of recaps from the year]( and [our esteemed top ten videos from 2014](, for instance. But before we adapt to writing the date correctly, let’s take one last look back at the great stuff uploaded in 2014 and give a nod to our favorite videos from December. Hopefully you’ll discover something you missed. One video I found myself watching over and over was comedic short [*This Is It*]( by [Alexander Engel ]( I was curious about Alexander's approach to making "This Is It," as well as his own roommate experiences, so we sat down with him to ask a few questions. [clip:59940289] [This Is It]( from [Alexander Engel]( on [Vimeo]( **“This is It" strikes a familiar chord in anyone living with roommates, especially in New York. What made you want to create a story from this sort of dynamic? I tend to want to forget the hair in the shower sort of thing.** When invited for this interview, I said to myself, I’d keep it positive, but I gotta tell you — people are irresponsible, insensitive, and lazy. And they’re also immature. . . and dumb. I mean, I could keep going — it’s amazing the kind of stuff I experienced (slash, was guilty of) living with others in my twenties. And this movie’s resonated internationally — people relate to it everywhere. This roommate nonsense... it’s a global crisis — a real problem with humanity. I’d have been remiss not to tell this story — like it’s my civic duty, as a citizen of the world. As an adult, for the betterment of mankind — it needed to happen. Also it was a pretty funny idea. So I went with it. ![]( **Was there a specific roommate or living situation that you were able to draw a lot of material from? Any particular scene that actually happened to you?** So much of it came from personal experience. I’ve a real problem with doing dishes and had roommate who had a real problem with *that*. At night, he’d take my dirty dishes from the sink and leave them on the floor just outside my bedroom. Come morning, I’d open the door and trip over them on my way to the bathroom. But he was no saint, either — that same roommate came home drunk one night with a cat he found on the street, somehow convinced its owners abandoned it. But trust me, that cat was straight-up feral. After a week of failing to domesticate it — that is, teaching it to use a litter box — he took it to an animal shelter. He wasn’t halfway out the door before the cat scratched his face and ran away. [clip:60009573] [A Making Of This Is It]( from [Alexander Engel]( on [Vimeo]( **Ouch. Were there certain aspects going into the production of “This is it” that you knew that you wanted to focus on?** I wanted the edit to move fast. I had a 12-page script that I wanted to run no more than three minutes long. With 55 scenes, I knew most shots would last maybe two seconds in the edit. When you’re dealing with content that short, economy of information is key and you have to help your audience absorb everything as fast as possible.  In the "Making Of," you can see how ridiculous I am about the spacial blocking of props. But this was important because their size and position in frame affected how quickly the audience could register them.  And this effort wasn’t limited solely to props — it was also important the characters’ framing was consistent from scene to scene; so aside from the opening, Kip’s always on the left and Jules is always on the right. The edit then cuts back and forth from left to right, over and over, creating a visual rhythm which helps the audience anticipate where to focus. ![]( **I really enjoyed the way the story escalates quickly from the original joke and in doing so, is able to fit a lot of emotion into a short timeline. Is this something that you’ve been wanting to achieve for a while? Or, was it a surprising product of the writing process?** When I started writing, I didn’t really know how the story would escalate — I just had the two roommates and a quick one-liners device. But I’m really into dense plot-driven content. On top of that, I’m a real sucker for stories about guys pursuing girls, especially when things don’t go their way.  As a writer, you’re always looking for ways to make a story more conflictual and it really didn’t take long to add the Sister and Marla to the story. I had a roommate whose boyfriend stayed with us for three weeks in our tiny apartment. Not awesome. Then he missed his flight and didn’t book another for 10 whole days. Double not awesome.  Another time I was out with another roommate, another year, and there was this girl he knew I was into. Long story short, she came home with us and I could hear them through the walls all night long. It was conflictual. We weren’t roommates for much longer after that. ![]( **What are some videos or directors on Vimeo that you’ve enjoyed recently?** I love [Tony Zhou’s]( series, [*Every Frame A Painting*]( That guy is smart. Filmmaking has become so accessible to everyone that people forget it’s a craft — and more so, that it’s preceded by the craft of storytelling. The analyses in his video essays are not only super educational, but they also highlight the effort and craftsmanship necessary to achieve something great in this medium. [clip:113439313] [Jackie Chan - How to Do Action Comedy]( from [Tony Zhou]( on [Vimeo]( **I’m a big fan as well. What’s next for you? Any new projects that we can look forward to?** I’ve another short titled *Digits*, which is going out to festivals now. That follows a guy who loses the last two digits of a girl’s number, so he tries every combination to seek her out. After that, it’s Featuretown USA. **Can’t wait to check it out. Thanks, Alexander!**

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