Jeff Pinilla, a Texas native who graduated from Full Sail University is coming back to Orlando to screen his award winning short film – The Earth, the way I left it, at the Orlando Film Festival which runs from October 22nd to the 26th.
By Jason Jack Underwood
Texas native Jeff Pinilla who currently lives in New York City has quite the story. Pinilla – only 24 years old, already has an Emmy under his belt and several successful short films and documentaries. He will be coming back to Orlando to attend the Orlando Film Festival, where his latest film has been selected to screen. The ever so humble Pinilla, is excited about returning to Central Florida and participating in the festival. Check out our Q&A with him, where we focus on his latest project – The Earth, the way I left it.
Q1. “The Earth, the way I left it” is really quite poetic—first, could you describe what this film means to you?
On a personal level, this film was just about the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, from fundraising to the actual execution and marketing of the film. It’s also a very special memory I’ll continue to carry with me for the rest of my career. The amount of time we spent writing, conceptualizing, and executing this short was unforgettable because it was a collaboration of best friends doing what they love to do (and doing it well, I might add).
Q2. Without any on-screen dialogue the film relies heavily on the children to carry the story. How was your experience working with them?
I knew this story needed to be about children early on. I knew what I was walking into and I figured it wouldn’t be easy but It did allow me to be creative on set in making sure they delivered the right performances that I needed. Shooting all of the fake home movies with Justice Marshall and Amelia Osborne was a blast! Amelia was an all-star! She killed it! There was a moment where I needed her to make certain facial expressions, (confusion, happiness), her face needed to sell this moment because it was pivotal for the story. The scene went like this: Amelia is inside her house looking out of the glass doors into the backyard. She see’s someone that doesn’t belong out there and begins to interact with him. “What could this be? Should I be afraid?” Well, as a director, It’s a bit difficult to whisper motivation into a child’s ear and try to get them to pull out some life experience since they are still so very young. I decided very quickly to set up a screen door on a c-stand directly in front of her, out of frame. I stood directly behind it facing her. I instructed her to just mimic everything I was doing and we played a little game. Every tap on the door, every expression on her face, and every reaction she had was just part of an imitation game we were playing. I was directly in front of her doing the same exact moves.
Q3. The time and place of your film maintain a certain mystery veiled by the film’s well crafted production design, is this something you employ in all of your films, or did you feel it was more suited for such a personal seeming piece?
To be honest, the time and place of the story was a great addition that my co-writer and producing partner, Matt Pourviseh, added to the piece. We knew we wanted to have a theme that felt very nostalgic and there’s nothing more nostalgic than Christmas-time. The year, of course, is never explained or touched on but we do know what decade it “feels” like. This was by design.
Q4. The film’s use of Super 8 as media as well as its practical presence in the film almost feels like an ode to the medium itself. What are your thoughts on this?
Well, we knew that our approach to how we were going to shoot this was in a very classical way. We wanted to stay away from shooting something that looked like a modern indie (handheld and rugged) and we wanted it to have more of a classic Tim Burton-Fantasy World-Wide Master Shots-All Around -kind of feel. As I said before, we were going for nostalgia more than anything else and shooting actual super8 was essential in capturing that emotion.
Pinilla using super8 on to film The Earth, the way I left it.
Q5. What led you in your choice to use Sigur Rós’ Glósóli in the film? Stylistically it really works, and it’s almost ironic that the song’s own music video portrays children as well, although many of Sigur Rós’ videos have in the past.
This was another great addition added to the script by my co-writer and producer, Matt Pourviseh. I sent him a really rough draft of the script in October of 2012 which contained the final shot of the film ( if you’ve seen it, you know it’s the most hard-hitting moment of the entire short). This song was the first thing that came to his mind and eventually we ended up writing the entire final scene of the film to the song. Literally. Every line and every-frame was written in real time while we listened to the song on a constant loop. It just inspired it.
Q6. How long had you been sitting on the idea for “The Earth, the way I left it”? Can you describe the journey from concept to completion?
I had just wrapped my previous short film, Numbers on a Napkin, and a co-worker of mine was working on his own clothing line making t-shirts, hats, etc. He brought in a T-shirt design one afternoon that contained the image of an astronaut holding two mermaids by his side. This image struck me immediately. It was so out of place and so out of this world that I started thinking about making a story about an astronaut out of place. Obviously, that idea changed significantly as the years progressed but this is where the inspiration began. That t-shirt was shown to me on March 22nd 2011. (yes, that’s an accurate date)
Q7. On that note, what were some of the greatest hurdles you had to overcome to see the project through? Craziest happening?
Well, we had no money so that was a problem. We created this film with about 10,000 dollars (crowdfunded through rockethub.com) This meant no real crew. All of the snow you see in the film was created mostly by Matt Pourviseh (producer) , and our DP, Justin Simpson. That wasn’t the biggest hurdle, though. On our third and final day of shooting, our location fell apart. The house we had been filming in for the last three days wanted us out (for no real reason). Yes, this was a paid location… I can’t even begin to describe to you how helpless we felt. We had three scenes left to shoot and I give all credit to my producer, Matt, for being able to keep things as calm as possible. At this point, it was just me, Justin, and Amelia Osborne shooting the major scenes that our film opens up on. I also give major credit to our makeup artist, Rachel Hevesi, for really stepping up in keeping the children calm and focused while we handled all of the chaos.
Q8. Did you work with a familiar crew this time around? How was your working relationship on and off set for this project?
The crew I worked with was my best friends. I had Justin Simpson as our cinematographer (who was my room-mate in college ), I had Matt Pourviseh co-writing and producing, (also a best friend since college), all of the visual effects were done by good friends Jim Yeo and Mark Koenov (who was my current room-mate and fellow alumni) and of course we had some help from our friend Chad Williams (another fellow graduated) who brought us our astronaut suit all the way out from LA. Randy Wilkins also came out to help as an AC for a day which was more than we could have ever asked for so I am grateful for that as well. To this day, we do everything together.
Behind the scenes photo of Pinilla with an actor inside the astronaut suit.
Q9. What’s been your reaction to the attention that your film is accumulating? Did it catch you by surprise, or is it fulfilling what you had envisioned for the film?
Well everyone always braces themselves for the rejection letters that film festivals hand out so getting over 200 rejections was no surprise. However, when we premiered at Woodstock, I was a little shocked. It was awesome. This was a very fantastic film festival! When we were actually announced as the winners at the awards ceremony, I froze. As a filmmaker, especially with shorts, you’re always grateful that you just got into one or maybe two film festivals. You attend, you have fun, and that’s it. You never really expect to win. That moment on October 4th was unforgettable. It really makes all the pain, aches, and stress that it took to make the film very worthwhile. It’s just such an incredible feeling to get recognition from your peers.
The slate from Pnilla’s latest film.
Q10. What’s next? For you and for “The Earth, the way I left it”?
Well, I’m not really sure what’s next for me but I’m definitely not slowing down any time soon. I do know that we have some plans on making an extended version of our film. A feature length piece with the same themes and conflict is definitely in the works but there’s not much more I can say about that just yet. As far as our crew and friends, Matt Pourviseh is currently producing a feature film titled “stealing chanel” and together we both produced and post-produced another feature this past year titled “behind some dark cloud”. This should be releasing fairly soon. Justin Simpson has been working on very notable commercials and films as well and collectively we just keep on growing.
You can view a trailer for the film below and find out more about the Orlando Film Festival by clicking here.
Jason Jack Underwood is a professionally trained photographer and filmmaker. You can learn more about him by clicking here.