Back in 2014, we asked you to tell us a ghost story. Boy did Alba Lange — winner of that particular Weekend Challenge — tell us one. Her stellar entry, ‘Every Day is Halloween,’ used classic imagery, editing, lighting, and sound techniques of the horror genre to get our skin crawling and blood boiling. In it, she tackled some of the world’s most horrifying subjects: climate change, student loans, neighbors who want to borrow ingredients — you know, the stuff that actually keeps us up at night.
Since making that winning entry, Alba has been a Vimeo staff favorite, continually wooing us with her sometimes dark, sometimes funny, occasionally eerie, and yet always intelligent short videos. I’m continually inspired by this one-woman creative force, who seems to churn out a new mini masterpiece each week — and, thus, I was teeming with questions for her. Below, this multitalented Swedish artist offers insights on inspiration, motivation, and adventures in DIY solo filmmaking.
Riley: Tell us about the first time you entered a Weekend Challenge. You won! What was that like?
Alba: That was a happy surprise! I had wanted to participate for a long [time]. I love the initiative. I didn’t know it would hit home so well. After brainstorming document after document, I eventually decided to go for the easiest, most concise idea I had. I think many of the people who visit my page found it through that!
Walk us through your creative process — from pre-production to production and on to post.
It differs, but [it] usually starts with a question, a desire to explore, or reason. Sometimes it’s an image I’m interested in creating. I’m inspired, and I start writing and drawing. No scenes, just thoughts, and the drawings usually don’t have much relevance to the subject. I brainstorm and aim my camera around with the idea in mind. When I’m fairly certain what I want to do, I write the monologue, and sometimes the events and actions.
I test some different lightings [and then] I shoot. If it’s a monologue it usually takes a few takes (I think my maximum has been 25 when it’s been tricky) to try out different lines and ways of saying them. Sometimes I warn whoever I live with first. And convince them to come act, film, click buttons … or keep out of frame.
I usually post-sync all the talking to be able to play around with different levels and layers of sound, so I sit for an evening recording the lines again while looking at the clips. This can take forever depending on how picky you want to be and how noisy your neighbors are. Then, I put it back in editing, where there’s room for some distortion and confusion. [Finally,] I export and upload to Vimeo.
Do you usually work alone?
Yes, I usually work more or less alone on my videos.
Why is that?
I’d really like to collaborate more and work in a crew dynamic. I’ve been very interested in different roles in filmmaking, and tried working on different sets with as many different tasks as I can.
But for my experiments, I’ll probably continue doing them alone. My video making started with an enthusiasm for films, and in the digital age, it seemed far-fetched for me to ‘dream of directing films’ when I could do so immediately — even on [a] micro-scale. I guess I’ve been more result-oriented than process-oriented. I have learned that it is as much of a process as it is a result, even if the result is the goal, and in the end, what will be seen and judged.
How do you come up with ideas for your videos? Where do you draw inspiration?
It differs. Sometimes it’s a question that has risen after reading an article or book, sometimes it’s a film, something someone said, a status update, someone I saw, artwork, music, a lecture, a sign. It’s usually when a grander philosophical concept is relevant to me that I can find something meaningful. I draw too, and the arts seem to be a big synesthesia; everything is intertwined, and I can find myself wanting to translate a shape or tune into video form.
On that topic — you are quite prolific! Whereas some people spend years laboring over a project, it seems like you make and upload videos whenever the inspiration strikes. Is that true? Do you have a philosophy in this regard?
I too have projects that have to take their time, but I do make videos when the inspiration strikes. I believe creativity is a muscle that can be exercised more or less in periods. I try to keep playing around, not only to keep the fingers warm, but to challenge my ideas. In a way, film is a language, and if I’m silent for too long I start losing words. That can be interesting, and sure, they’ll come back in new ways, but there’s an immense joy in these small conversations — of blathering on enough to find your own slangs and expressions.
For now, I don’t want my filmmaking to be what I made last year, but what I made last week. That can change. It’s a great way of trying out ideas, and there is more room for failing. Oh well, this idea apparently didn’t work at all, but there’ll be another soon.
When making a video just for yourself, how do you find the motivation to follow through on a project?
I’m not always motivated, and I don’t always finish. But I love when it is just something I am too into to not do. But you can’t always rely on that passion. When it becomes routine it’s easier, but usually, I’m strict with my own deadlines. If I say Tuesday, then it’s Tuesday, even if I lose some sleep.
What are the biggest challenges you face when working alone? Have you developed any tricks to help you do so?
It’s been mostly practical stuff. How do I light myself? How do I lay still on the bathroom floor, with eye drops blurring my sight and fake blood running down my face, and make sure I am in frame? And for the next take, I’ll have to get up to clean the floor, re-sweat my face, and then attempt to achieve the same position and reach the record button again.
You often use low budget, practical, DIY effects in your videos. Tell us about that.
I’ve tried to scale my big ideas down to a level I can handle, and I’ve actually come to love the aesthetic of the obviously low budget. Of course, the naive effect isn’t always what you want, but there is something interesting about solutions and creative ways to get around tricky ideas. I don’t believe film is measured in the cost of the equipment.
I think it started in some attempt to be realistic; if I’m one person with a camera, no money, flashlights, and a few evenings a week, and I want to question time, and I’m not Christopher Nolan … how can I do that? What’s around that I can use? I think that is a common trap for creators who have high standards for what we want to see, but are just starting out ourselves — that our ideas [must] play out in big budgets and technical skill. We have to work with not having it.
Have you taken acting classes?
I was in a theatre group as a kid, but otherwise, I haven’t acted in that sense. But I am passionate about acting and directing, so I do love looking at it, mimicking it, and learning the mechanisms behind what works, in what context, and why. Obviously when I film by myself, I can do however many takes I want without the pressure of other people around. I am definitely not a trained actor, even though I like drifting in and out of characters.
Your sense of comedic timing is impeccable. Where does that come from?
I’d say it’s mostly about understanding the idea and being present in what’s going on. I believe that funny is rarely about [being] sketchy, punny, and jokey, but [instead it’s] about precise movement, subtleties, and exaggerations. A pan to the side can be humorous in a Wes Anderson film. One video maker I’d really like to recommend is the editor Tony Zhou, of ‘Every Frame a Painting,’ who analyzes films and approaches by great directors. I think he says it best in his video ‘How to do visual comedy,’ where he highlights Edgar Wright’s work.
You can dance! And even your non-dancing videos are seem to be choreographed and attuned to movement. Have you taken dance classes? If so, how does that inform your work?
Dance has always been there. I have done ballet, jazz, swing, tap dancing, breaking — and I still have a terrible sense of balance. Some of my favorite films and scenes are based on dance, and movement is such an effective tool. It’s nothing I actively think about, but I end up working with movement anyway. I’m not sure why.
In your videos, it’s clear you have a keen sense of the creepy and scary. Where does that come from and why are you drawn to that aesthetic?
It’s not so much a desire to scare, but to unsettle: if I’m unsettled, I pay attention. Naivety with darkness attracts me.
I think we can be made to think and feel differently about everyday phenomena if we’re presented with them [in] a different atmosphere than we’d expect — being made to laugh at something sad, or shriek at something that really shouldn’t be scary. Too scary is laughable, too quaint is horrifying.
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
No advice will fit everyone (if it’s not, like, ‘breathe’). But I usually hear, ‘Just film!’ I don’t fully agree. If that gives you something, if it sparks off ideas or results, then just film! But now, everyone films, and a lot. I believe that to get something out of it, ask questions too: what have you just filmed? Why did you [film it]? Why does it look the way it looks? Could you have filmed something completely different and gotten the same atmosphere? Be observant [about] what you’re interested in and what challenges you need, or have someone else let you know.