Burnt by the Sun, written, directed & produced by Alexander Walker Miller (with Eleanor Finley as story editor and creative consultant), is a brilliant experimental film and a film we bet you have never seen before. A film made on a substantially distinctive thought. The beginning of the film may mystify you, but as the film goes on, you will get indulged, and it will win your heart. The film is made on childhood memories, put together beautifully into moving pictures. The editing is splendid. You will just feel you’re in someone’s memories. It seems like time travel while watching the film. Alexander has put his mind out in the film, and that’s what makes this film stand out. You will be able to watch the nightmarish visions live on the screen. Lastly, the title of the film is expertly chosen. We appreciate all the efforts that went into this film.
Alexander is a lifelong lover of all things relating to the moving image, semi-professional film critic & writer, student, and experimental filmmaker. We wish him all the success with his filmmaking journey.
We are electrified to have the chance to interview Alexander and know his experience of filmmaking. We wholeheartedly acknowledge the time she took to address the questions and all that it would entail.
A lifelong lover of all things relating to the moving image, semi-professional film critic & writer with numerous posts at BattleShipPretension.com and FilmInquiry.Com, student, and experimental filmmaker, movies are everything.
I’m a light hearted type who likes dark stuff….
A surreal mosaic pieced together from fractured memories and childhood recollections as told by an unnamed narrator who relives a traumatic incident from his past. A time when people went about their lives, and yet, they told tales of a predator who stalked the streets at night, sneaking into windows and adducting the innocent; this menace went by one name, Pastor Jessup.
Let’s start with the questions.
1. When did you first think of filming this, and why? What makes this film special?
After discovering how much I liked video editing and making various essay films and music videos, I began corresponding with director Rodney Ascher via email/Facebook messenger, who recognized something in what I was doing. He suggested that I check out Craig Baldwin. After going on a crash course with his material, he and I started talking via email, I sent him some of my more ambitious essay shorts, and he mentioned that I share something for his N.E.W. (New Experimental Works) showcase, I told him I had something queued up, I didn’t really, but I started experimenting with shooting and developing Super-8 film. I decided that if I was going to submit an original film, I wanted it to be composed of original footage, shot, developed, and edited by myself.
I had never really considered directing, it always seemed like a pipe dream, so I oriented more toward criticism and think pieces regarding film. But this set of circumstances really fired me up; the film is special because it actually came together, it took many different shapes, the story changed countless times, and I had some friends, namely the story editor, Eleanor Finley, talk me out of some of my bad ideas.
2. The photography is really unique and we could feel the true thoughts behind it. How did you shoot it? Share some of your experience regarding the shooting.
We had moved to a pretty desolate area; at first, I was dismayed and a little bummed out; I felt like I was surrounded by death. The tap water stinks like sulfur, it actually killed one of my plants, and our cats won’t drink it. After showering I’d break out, with eczema on my skin. I wasn’t very happy, but the landscape lent itself to the camera quite well, every turn there were these desperate, decrepit houses, ruined little cottages, growth, ivy and vines devouring trees and abandoned cars. So much is either dilapidated or abandoned. The only things that stood out were a few homes and churches. I grew to adopt these new surroundings through the lens of my camera, and it became the jumping-off point for the movie. A lot of times, it was very much in the moment, on the spot, “hey look at that” style of shooting.
3. Do you just prefer the experimental genre of filmmaking? What made you passionate about this Genre?
I wouldn’t know what else to do! So much of Burnt by the Sun is comprised of happy accidents, intuitive indulgences, and chance. I’m not sure if I “intended” to make an experimental movie but that’s what happened. I think that if I embarked on a more elaborate project, with more resources at my disposal I feel like the result would be the same or at least the tone and style.
4. Which was the most challenging part of this film while shooting?
I went about this project in a bit of a backward way, I thought if I shot, and shot and shot footage, I could “discover it” in the editing process, I figured that it works for Terence Malick and Wong Kar-Wai then it would work for me, but it turns out I’m no Terence Malick, nor am I Wong Kar-wai. So I was surrounded by a mess of footage and cobbling it together was really challenging. Fortunately, it was a long summer, and I had time to labor over long nights and weird mornings.
5. The editing in this film plays a huge role. Did you learn editing particularly? Which application would you suggest others use for editing a film?
I feel like everything happens in editing. Burnt by the Sun changed so many times in the cutting process. At one point, it was a dystopia, thank god I moved past that, or maybe I should have stuck with it? Well something worked out, after all we’re talking about the movie. Cutting is exciting and difficult, nothing feels right, and after a while you feel like you’ve cut it so many times it’s a whittled-down nub of what you started with. Maybe the most important thing is knowing when to stop. Plus some of the editing was digital, as well as splicing actual 8 and 16mm film.
And whatever I shot was developed very primitively in my bathroom with homemade solutions, so its reversal film, there’s no duplicate print, internegative or interpositive. It’s mostly tri-x reversal or expired Kodachrome that was processed the same way. That means if you lose that footage, you lose it for good, it’s gone forever; there’s no cloud drive; just kiss it goodbye. But, it’s on film, which to me is magical. Most of the effects in Burnt by the Sun are unique to film, aside from using editing software to reverse and color correct the negative, I tried to resist any digital stock effects, they look greasy, but you can’t do much these days without editing programs.
6. This film is all about childhood memories, we would like to know are all the scenes based on true events or is there something developed just for the filmmaking?
I asked myself a question “what would scare me?” And the invasion of privacy scares me. This took me to a time and place from my past. There was someone in my neighborhood who was unwell, and this person had a reputation for peeking into people’s windows. I encountered this growing up; it disturbed me profoundly. There weren’t any reports of anything escalating beyond peeping that I know of, but the complacency of the community and willingness to accept this disturbing invasion of privacy still upsets me. To this day I have a hard time sleeping by windows that are accessible from the ground level. When I was in my early twenties, I’d crush lightbulbs or glass and sprinkle the shards around the window sills in my apartment. Now I’ve graduated to blinds and shades, but that fear is always there. I guess I feel better getting this out of my system.
The child-murdering pastor character is all make-believe, there’s a lot of Hoffman in there.
7. Do you have any suggestions specifically for experimental filmmakers?
If I was going to offer any suggestions, I’d say follow those instincts that challenge and perhaps upset you. I think experimental film is important because those of us who lean into the alternative means of visual expression shirk conventions and prefer to be challenged rather than coddled. Lean into the harder aspects of your art, or the darker side of things, it could wrestle something out of you that might not have confronted otherwise. At the end of the day, do what makes you happy, and do it for yourself.
8. We are pretty sure the genre of experimental films is not as easy as the other genres. What do you think are the positives and negatives of this genre?
It’s hard because I didn’t set out to make an experimental film, but I realized that what I was making would be defined by my limitations, and those limitations bore innovation. It’s not like there was a cast and crew on this project; sometimes, I’d ask my girlfriend or a friend from work to hold a light or shoot some footage, and sometimes, I’d drive around with my camera sticking out the car window – it’s funny because I’m proud of the DIY approach but some of th
I followed my instincts, and this is where it took me, and I plan to follow them in the future. There are rules to filmmaking, some of them fundamental, most of them are conventional; I respect them, but I say fuck the rules.
9. Do you plan to make more experimental films in the future? Do you already have any story in mind? If yes, can you please share it in short?
If I make any more movies, I will likely follow the weird and alchemical process that originally inspired me. It might be mad and a little unmoored, but it’s something that tempts and excites me. If I follow a narrative thread, it will likely be anxious, paranoid, and difficult.
As far as stories go, I have many ideas, but I don’t know if any of them are good. I would like to make something that prominently features a severed head.
10. Anything else you’d like to mention that we didn’t cover?
Art is weird, art is difficult, but art is everything. If you try to do a thing, you will almost always betray what you are trying to express, and yet it could move you in ways you never imagined.
There is no right answer, just do what makes you happy, tell the stories you want to tell and try to innovate as much as possible.
We are delighted to have you to discuss your filmmaking experiences, Alexander. We believe your experience will definitely help grow other filmmakers reading this.
On a personal note, we really enjoyed watching your film and interviewing you; we hope you enjoyed it too. We look forward to more such films from you. Thanks again. Stay connected with the MDIFF Community, because we value your work!