Interview with Bill Manolios|”Entropic Apogee”

| April 27, 2014

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A paraplegic senior races to a set of train tracks, using his motorized wheelchair as a speed demon in the desolate landscape. But as the looming train whistles, he changes course and returns to a garage that doesn’t quite conform to the logic of time and space. This is Bill Manolios’s Entropic Apogee, a surreal, melancholy journey that is equal parts nightmare and redemptive journey.

Made at The Art Institute of California – San FranciscoEntropic Apogee screens as part of the San Francisco Film Society‘s “Beyond Film School: Bay Area Student Filmmaking Showcase” at the Exploratorium’s Kanbar Forum. We caught up with Bill over email to chat about his film.

"Entropic Apogee"

Entropic Apogee

Hi Bill. Tell us about yourself and your film Entropic Apogee.

The story of a man looking for meaning in his life is one that I can relate to deeply. Before dipping my toe into filmmaking, I experimented with pursuing careers in physics, photography, and most recently as a nuclear chemist in the United States Navy. Any professional satisfaction I’ve received has been trumped by the nagging question of “What if?” This drove me to explore the story of a man with emptiness at his core and his quest for answers that we can all relate to at some point in our lives. I created this film with the thought that the only deep satisfaction we’ll ever receive may be in those moments of fantasy when we dream of a better future and romanticize our past. Littered with references to my childhood and built on hopes for my own future, Entropic Apogee is the story of one man’s search for truth.

How did you cast your lead?

The task of finding the right actor was intimidating because there was only one character in the film and no dialogue. The character’s depth was something I wanted to work out with the actor. As a result I placed more value on the man behind the performance than on what I thought I knew of the character at that time.

"Entropic Apogee"

Entropic Apogee

It was important for me to find an actor who could personally relate to the character in a way that I couldn’t, someone older and married with children. Equally important was finding someone who was willing to tolerate the experience of working on a film set with inexperienced college students. Most of all, I was looking for someone excited about the script. I fortunately found someone who’d worked on some of my classmates’ films, and I never had to audition more than one person.

Entropic Apogee has some impressive sound design. Did you have sound in mind when writing or filming?

Most of this story is told through sound design, and that idea began with the script. I wanted to tell the story from a mixed perspective through the use of an unreliable narrator. The goal of this technique is to keep the audience unsure of whether the events on screen are fantasy or reality, so we approached the sound design with the idea of blurring the lines between synced, diegetic sound effects and the non-diegetic score.

"Entropic Apogee"

Entropic Apogee

Throughout the film musical elements are used as sound effects and sound effects as musical elements to encourage the audience to question the trustworthiness of their own ears. They must decide for themselves whether the story is being told through the character’s eyes or from an objective point of view. The purpose of this is to establish a sympathetic link to the audience, who can then relate to the character’s own questionable view of his surroundings.

How was the box room constructed? Was any of it composited in post?

Everything you see on screen was achieved in camera with the exception of the occasional dramatic color cast. The set was constructed with 168 light fixtures mounted into a wooden frame and 168 softboxes crafted out of 12″ cube cardboard boxes. Each column of lights was wired in series independently of the others and assigned its own channel on a DMX controller to visualize the character’s emotional state and the journey through his memories.

"Entropic Apogee"

Entropic Apogee

From an objective viewpoint this room is an abstraction of a typical garage or storage shed where anyone might be expected to store artifacts from their past. Subjectively, and through the character’s eyes, this room represents the cumulative experiences of his entire life. This is where we used the lights, arranged in a 24×7 grid, act as a representation of time, including its perceived movement forward and backward.

You produced, directed, wrote, edited, and color corrected this film. Some filmmakers prefer having all the control; others argue it limits the creativity that can be found in collaboration. Can you list both the pros and cons of wearing many hats?

This is a situation where I had more time than money. Every cast and crew member volunteered their time to work on this film, which is typical for a film school environment, but knowing how much time would have to be invested into each of these roles, I couldn’t expect any of my classmates to sacrifice that much of themselves while also balancing school, work, and their own films. The editing in particular was time intensive due to its relationship with the sound design. The benefits of collaboration might have been diminished by this strategy, but the film certainly wasn’t constructed in vacuum. Edits were critiqued and reviewed weekly in class. Going back as far as the script, every decision was sounded on by a room of students and faculty.

Biggest challenges of making this film? Anything surprisingly easy?

Set construction was my biggest oversight on this film. It might only take 15 or 20 minutes to build a softbox out of aluminum foil, paper, and cardboard, but when you multiply that by 168 it becomes extremely time consuming. Wiring a light bulb is easy, but anything done that many times is a chore. You become aware of muscles that you didn’t know you had.

"Entropic Apogee"

Entropic Apogee

Conversely, the easiest part of this film was casting and directing my actor. The entire film rode on one man’s performance, which was worrisome initially. When it came time to shoot, the process was smooth, because we had worked out all of the details during rehearsals. My actor developed the subtleties of his character without the need for direction.

What filmmakers have influenced you?

I regularly look to Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg for inspiration. Visual storytelling is most appealing to me, and no one does it as well as they do.

Who were your favorite professors and why? How did they influence the film?

The truth is that each of my professors has something to offer, and all of them will have had an impact on every film I make, creatively and technically.

Filmmaker Bill Manolios

Filmmaker Bill Manolios

Would you have been able to make the same film without attending your school in particular?

If I hadn’t attended film school at all, definitely not. If I went through a different film program, there’s no way to tell. It might have been better or worse, but I definitely wouldn’t have come out of it with the same film. This work is a reflection of my teachers and classmates as much as it is of myself.

What do you recommend most about your film program?

Both the students and teachers at this school went above and beyond what was expected of them. If you approach your work with enthusiasm and devotion they will reciprocate that attitude back to you.

Describe your film in a single word.

Hopeful.

Bill Manolios is a Hampton Roads based freelance colorist and director of photography. He is currently writing the script for his first feature film. 

Visit Bill’s website at http://billmanolios.com/

Entropic Apogee screens as part of the San Francisco Film Society‘s “Beyond Film School: Bay Area Student Filmmaking Showcase” at the Exploratorium’s Kanbar Forum on April 5, 2014 @ 4:00pm. It will also screen at the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival as part of the SHORTS 4: NEW VISIONS showcase at the following time/s: Sunday, April 27, 2014 at 5:30 PM; Thursday, May 8, 2014 at 5 PM.

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Film School Shorts is made possible by a grant from Maurice Kanbar, celebrating the vitality and power of the moving image, and by the members of KQED.

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Credits

Series Producer
Lisa Landi

Associate Producer
Julia Shackelford

Editor
Peter Borg

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Zaldy Serrano
Christina Zee White

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John Andrieni

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Kevin Cooke
Marie K Lee

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William Lowery
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