Thursday, November 18, 2010

Chris Hansen Interview

Chris Hansen is a filmmaker and a Professor at Baylor University. I have known Chris for years and I am a fan of his work. His films include, The Proper Care And Feeding of an American Messiah, Clean Freak, & Endings.

Chris is currently raising money for his next film, An Affair. Check out this film at and if you could donate a few bucks Chris would appreciate it.

What’s your background in film/video?
I went to film school at Regent University, and that was my first real exposure to any kind of education or training in film. I majored in English in college, and I recommend that sort of thing to anyone interested in film because I essentially got to study storytelling through the great masters of literature. After film school, where my focus was on directing and screenwriting, I worked at the university for a while, eventually doing educational video projects for professors to use in their classes. It wasn’t the most fulfilling thing, creatively speaking. I had of course been writing all this time as well. Eventually, I went back to school to get my MFA in Script and Screenwriting in large part so I could transition to teaching about film. And that’s what I do now – I teach filmmaking and screenwriting, and I make films.

I love your first feature The Proper Care & Feeding of An American Messiah. In it you deal with religion in a humorous way. How did various communities take the film? Did people realize you were having fun with it?
I was concerned about that initially – I assumed people would be highly offended. But I’ve found that most religious people who see the film tell me that they know people just like the characters in the film. My point is – people tend to see other people in the characters. I am sure some have been offended, judging from comments I’ve read online, etc. But it didn’t cause a big controversy or anything. In some ways, I think it’s occasionally misunderstood. I was poking a bit of fun at the way people misuse religion. I’m a very religious person myself, so I wasn’t trying to make fun of people of true faith. The character in my film is someone who has decided that all religion is about HIM and him personally. He kind of has it completely backwards. But yes, I think most people see it as a “gentle satire” that wouldn’t highly offend most audiences.

Endings is your second feature and very ambitious. Why did you choose such an ambitious film?
I really wanted to expand what I’d tried to do previously. American Messiah was designed to capitalize on our weaknesses – it didn’t take a ton of money, and any flaws could easily be attributed to the mock documentary “style” of the film. But I didn’t want to be limited to that this time around, and I really wanted to make something with some emotional resonance. Comedy is fun – even though it’s hard – but I feel like comedic films often aren’t taken very seriously in the festival world. And these days, if you’re not making an R-rated comedy, people just don’t seem all that interested. The funny thing here is that, when I wrote Endings, I thought I was writing something suitable for a low budget because I only had three main characters, and I wrote with locations in mind that I knew I had access to in the local area. What I didn’t take into account was how many people these three individuals interact with in their separate lives before they come together. And I also didn’t think about the sheer number of locations – accessible or not – that I had written into the story. So some of my ambition was just a lack of planning for how much this would take. It ended up being exhausting for everyone, especially shooting in the heat of a Texas summer.

How is Endings doing?
Given its budget, I think it’s doing pretty well. It’s playing at some good regional film festivals, like Seattle’s True Independent Film Festival, the Atlanta Underground Film Festival, Dallas VideoFest, and Southern Winds Film Festival. I’m hopeful we’ll find someone who wants to make it more widely available.

You used an all student crew and as I understand it your film was part of a class. What was it like using students on your crew and having professional actors?
I always work with students on my films. We offer the film experience as a summer course, and students earn credit while learning what a film set is really like. They often rotate through different positions, with the exception of a few key people that we keep in place for continuity’s sake. And we hire professional actors as well as a professional DP and Sound Recordist/Mixer. Working with students in this capacity – on a professional project – can be challenging, but what you sacrifice in speed and experience, you make up for in enthusiasm. They want to be there, and they’re excited by the process. So, we move a little slower by necessity, but the professionals we hire come onto the project knowing that they’ll do some educating along the way. That’s hardest on the actors, of course, but we work hard to help the students understand how actors work and what they need in order to do their jobs well. And so far, we haven’t had any negative experiences.

What was your biggest budget item on Endings?
The DP and the postproduction sound budget were probably about neck and neck. And those are two areas you really can’t skimp on.

What would you do different next time?
This isn’t really in my control – but I’d love to have the infrastructure behind me to make the behind-the-scenes parts run a little more smoothly. That means a larger budget, of course. And it’s not that things didn’t go well, but when you have no money, the producer has to get really creative. And my producer has been incredible, but I’d like to have a larger budget to work with at some point in the future. On the other hand, I don’t want to sacrifice my autonomy. I make the movies I want to make, and I can do that in part because I’m making them very inexpensively. I just get tired of not having access to really simple locations because we can’t afford to buy them out for the day/night that we’d like to shoot there.

How do you balance teaching, making films and your family, you have four daughters, right? You got a lot going on…
Balance? What’s that? I’m not sure I have it all figured out. I’ve settled into a routine of sorts, where I make a film every few summers, and the next year after we shoot is kind of crazy while we edit the film and do the other postproduction stuff. And the next year after that is crazy in a different way while we take the film out to fests. Somewhere in the midst of that, I try to live a normal life. The truth is, I have a degree of stability that comes with a regular full-time job and a family. And I need that. My job as a professor gives me stability, but it also provides the opportunity to make films – so it’s a double positive. By its nature it’s also more flexible than other jobs, so I can travel to film festivals. So it’s not hard, in my case, to balance the filmmaking side with the film professor side (though it’s a little hard to market and distribute the films myself). What’s harder is making time for my family – but we stay involved in a lot of stuff in the community, so the schedule just dictates that I be there at certain times, and I am. Scheduling things works for me.

You are talking about doing another feature next Summer; will it be as ambitious as Endings?
This one will be much more contained. Fewer speaking parts, one key location and just a few others. I am viewing it as a challenge – can I make this story work with just these few characters and this contained set of locations?

Is there a film that was a huge influence on you? What is it about this film that influenced you?
Martin Scorsese’s work has always been a huge influence on me – I wish I could define precisely why his work has always impacted me. I think it’s the energy and detail he brings to every shot, and the complexity of the stories and the characters. I’m also a huge fan of Coppola’s and Kubrick’s films. And aside from those, the films that made me want to be a filmmaker – that first introduced me to the idea of film as an art form – were the European auteurs of the 50s and 60s: Fellini, Bergman, etc. All of them tell interesting stories in visually stunning ways. Every frame is like a painting. And then they take those frames and make them move.

Where can I buy copies of your films?
The Proper Care & Feeding of an American Messiah is available on Amazon in a special edition with deleted scenes and a making-of documentary:

You can also watch it on Hulu, which is ad supported, of course.

Clean Freak is on vimeo in its entirety:

And Endings isn’t available anywhere yet because it’s still screening in festivals.

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