Interview with Dennis Alexander Ogburn

| April 15, 2014

Both delightful and grotesque, Dennis Ogburn’s Drøm is the kind of nightmarish, experimental cinema that elicits a few smirks and giggles, albeit recessed in the dirtiest parts of our minds. To describe the film would be futile: it really has to be seen, heard and even felt.

Made at USF, Drøm screened as part of the San Francisco Film Society‘s Beyond Film School: Bay Area Student Filmmaking Showcase at the Exploratorium’s Kanbar Forum.

"Drom"

Drom

Tell us a little about your background and about your film.

I grew up in Eugene, Oregon with my mother, father and brother. Film has been a constant in my life ever since about the third grade, and we have remained close to this day. It’s the constant that has created the hopeful yet delusional filmmaker I am today.

I think we can safely categorize your film as surrealist. Or maybe not. What’s your take?

It is safe to say that Drøm exists within, but not limited to, the parameters of surrealism. The majority of the film’s content deals in dreams; it comprises most the film, beyond the more reality-based bookends that start and finish the film. But even those beg a certain surrealistic interpretation perhaps. Drøm embodies surrealism in its evocation of absurdity. Absurdity as an aspect of surrealism is very attractive to me, I suppose. It provides a vehicle to explore and cultivate absurd ideas. As dreams rarely make cohesive sense, the film depicts that quality, attempting to have fun with that opportunity and present some rather absurd situations.

It’s funny, because sometimes surrealism is seen cinematically as something deadly serious. But when you look at old films by Bunuel and René Clair, they have whimsical elements. What do you think?

I agree that surrealism in film is more typically applied seriously. I think that’s what interested me approaching surrealism from a lighter, more comedic angle. But the motivation was not exactly to show the silly side of surrealism, but rather to lightly make fun of serious art films that use it so somberly. In that way it is satire. If the movie itself was a person, it would be a very pretentious disillusioned person that took themselves and their imagery very seriously, I however laugh at this person. If I have made my film correctly, I hope other people will find this person funny as well.

Ok, your main character gets rubbed up on by a guy in a dog suit and a librarian with an endowed booty. Why the character’s disinterest in sexual interaction?

I actually never considered sexual disinterest a theme of the film until you just now pointed it out to me. It certainly seems true though now that you mention. To me, more than my character struggling with sexual disinterest, he is disinterested in interaction with others, he simply wants to be alone. But it is certainly true that two sexual advances are made against him. I suppose I belong to the school of thought that, the film’s meaning is ultimately decided by its audience. So both our interpretations, all interpretations I suppose are valid.

Audiences generally have a predisposed idea of what they’re getting into with a film, and sometimes, an experimental film really throws a wrench in people’s cogs. I mean, when people listen to classical music or look at an abstract painting, they don’t seem to be as panicked about finding a solid meaning. What do you want or need for your audiences to take away from your film? And do you feel narrative is sometimes an unfair measuring tool?

If my audience was limited to but one reaction and one only, I’d want them to think the film is funny. To make my audience laugh is my simplest objective. Like mentioned earlier, I believe that once I’ve made it and pushed it out into the world, the fate of the film belongs to the audience. I don’t think I have any specific responses I wish to achieve, I want people to like it of course, but I am happy with a response in general, and it has been a source of entertainment to me since I have shown Drøm to witness people’s varying responses. I feel measuring through narrative as a general system to interpret film is sort of silly, different films put different significance on narrative; Drøm is not a film that does.

"Drom"

Drom

In one way Drøm is meant to be an absurd exercise in surrealism. In another way, in its most surface level interpretation, it is a story of a man, a man who does not want to sleep, the reasons why are hopefully self evident by the end of the film. To me an overarching theme; the one I thought of while writing and making the film is the idea of unwanted attention. Loneliness is a common character trait in film, and an  even more common theme in art as a whole. I wanted to explore a character who existed in the inverse of that depiction, one that enjoyed his solitude. The absurdity, beyond the very obvious application of, frisky librarians and cake molestation, is that solitude seems to be unobtainable for him. Solitude cannot be reached even in his dreams.

Tell us about the circumstances of this film as a class assignment. How were feedback and presentation handled?

The film assignment began from a sentence prompt I drew from an envelope. The sentence as I vaguely recall said “things that keep you up at night”. So, I imagined a character trying to keep himself awake and all the things he would do to remain awake, but very quickly became more intrigued why this character was so apprehensive about sleep. Then each scene more or less presented themselves to me, I couldn’t tell you where those ideas came from exactly, it was as if I was catching butterflies in a pitch black cave, I didn’t exactly recognize what I’d caught or know where it came from for that matter, but I can say for certain that I was the one who caught them, I am the only one that has access to the vacant, odd cavernous cave that is my brain. Once the ideas exposed themselves, I committed them to paper in the form of a script and a storyboard. It was through these that I primarily communicated my vision for Drøm to my collaborators. But given my inadequacies in articulation, a lot of their cooperation was probably in faith that I wouldn’t crash us into the side of a building.

"Drom"

Drom

My professor Danny Plotnick structured the semester so we regularly present our work to the class and receive feedback from both sources. For this particular project, that particular feedback was never all that encouraging at first. But, the response I got at the final screening, that included films from all the advanced production classes at USF, was the best response I have ever received, so it made up for it.

I’m seeing Lynch, I’m seeing Maya Deren. Am I on the right path? What filmmakers have influenced you?

Lynch I would admit is my closest and truest inspiration for Drøm; Deren I am unfortunately unacquainted with. Beyond David Lynch, the influences are an amalgamation of a bunch of things, I’m unsure, at least consciously of the influences beyond Mr. Lynch. But beyond this particular film, Wes Anderson is a major influence and inspiration to me, my previous film, Skills, admittedly would have been a different film if it wasn’t for the excess of time I have spent in the company of his movies. Other notable influences to me include, Woody Allen, early Danny Boyle, Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, David Wain, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Quentin Tarantino to name a few.

What is your advice to prospective film students trying to pick a school?

My advice to future film students, is to make a film first, at least try to. See if you enjoy it first of all. Hopefully this can allude some sense of what interests you most about it, where your talent lies and what you might want to learn more about. Apply those conclusions to schools, or maybe apply them right to your next film.

Filmmaker Dennis Alexander Ogburn

Filmmaker Dennis Alexander Ogburn

No one says you got to go to film school. But to offer a less romantic response, go to a school in a city where you want to make your career, because other than experience, a great benefit film school provides is its connections.

Describe your film in a single word.

My word to describe Drøm is “odd”. The word represents its truest embodiment. Plus it is vague and interpretive, just like Drøm .

Dennis Ogburn is a San Francisco-based student filmmaker. He is currently producing a short subject documentary about Prince.

Drøm screened as part of the San Francisco Film Society‘s Beyond Film School: Bay Area Student Filmmaking Showcase at the Exploratorium’s Kanbar Forum.

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