Interview: Jason Bognacki – Not Just 'Another' Filmmaker (2014)

Interview first published (in slightly shorter form) by Grolsch FilmWorks

Jason Bognacki likes to mix his media. A musician as well as a writer/director, his film work is a deliriously distorted freakout marrying recognisable genre tropes to a heady audiovisual aesthetic and a barely coherent, dream-logic narrative mode. His latest feature, the low-budget, high-aesthetic Another [now renamed Mark of the Witch], is a coming-of-age ‘cult’ trip like no other. Grolsch FilmWorks’ Anton Bitel chatted over e-mail with Jason prior to its European première at this year’s FrightFest.

Grolsch FilmWorks: Your early film work all revolves around Loma Lynda. Who is that, and what’s it all about?

Jason Bognacki: Loma Lynda: Episode II through XXXXVII were a set of feature length music and film performances – that I created and scored – that were performed live. It was a continually evolving experimental film piece that was performed at the Sundance Film Festival, Coachella Music and Film Festival, Museum of Contemporary Art – Los Angeles, The Viper Room, and other music, film and art venues across the country. The film was made from found 8mm, Super 8, 16mm, and original Super 8 and 16mm film content. It outlined the story of young woman, Lynda, who moves to Los Angeles and is swept up into a doomsday cult.

Loma Lynda: The Red Door is a 45min featurette about a schizophrenic who in hoping to find out who she really is commits horrible murderous acts with her fantasy self Loma. The act of murder places Lynda back in the horrific moment when her life was forever changed and her psyche shattered into its current broken state. I later dropped the Loma Lynda and titled the film simply The Red Door.

After completing The Red Door I had enough scenes filmed for another film titled Beyond The Red Door which has not been completed yet.

I believe that Another started life as a short film. How has it evolved into a feature, and what are the differences?

Another did start as a short, but early on in the production we decided to expand the story and make it feature length. My wife and I were about to have a baby at the time so we planned on finishing production on the short film and stopping down to have our son, and then once things settled down we started filming again. The newborn little guy even made it into the feature. It became a do-or-die moment when we found out we were having a baby, and if we didn’t grab the opportunity there might not be another time to make a feature film.

The original short film has a different ending. We’ve talked about adding it as a special feature when Another gets released.

You not only directed Another, but also wrote it, shot it, edited it, and contributed to its VFX, ensuring that the final product is a very singular auteurist vision. What are the advantages and disadvantages of having so much individual control over a film?

This film only could have been made this way. Financially there was no other way to produce Another. I think the advantages are obvious, at the end of the day you don’t have to answer to anyone other than your audience. This can be very freeing at first, but with hindsight I can see the disadvantages of creating in a bubble. Also this way of making a film takes a very long time.

Your film, with its striking, beautiful imagery, looks like a million dollars, but was made for a whole lot less. What’s your advice to budding filmmakers on how to get the most from a low budget?

Having no money really stretches you creatively, and forces you to adapt to the technical challenges. This can actually lead to some every interesting solutions to production problems. With modern cameras, a few lights, and 1-2 crew you can make something that looks like a million bucks.

The single best piece of advice I received while making this film was, “Don’t Give Up.” It’s simple but it’s so true. Making a film is a big commitment and life will happen, you have to be adaptable and stubborn as hell. On Another we ran into some pretty big life-changing road blocks in addition to having a baby, but we were able to recover and turn things around and persevere.

You really have to love your film, and not in a high school sweetheart sort of way, more like a cut off your own ear and drop it in the mail as a Valentine sort of way. You really have to be part mad to take on something like this.

With its utter disregard for spatio-temporal continuities, its canted angles, its slowed-down distortions, its jittery editing, the mannered delivery of its dialogue and its hallucinatory imagery, Another conveys the feel of a bad trip – and its heroine works in a pharmacy. Is your ideal viewer on drugs? Or to put it another way, is it your aim to unsettle, to disorient and to freak out the viewer in every way you can?

I have to laugh at the first part of the question. If our viewers aren’t on drugs when they start Another, they might feel like they are after seeing it.

I’ve always been interested in in-between states, not drug induced states, but those of sleepwalking and night terrors. There is nothing more terrifying than being trapped in a state; not awake and not asleep, conscious enough to experience the world as it could never be but unconscious enough to where anything could be. When one has an episode like this the world is transformed into a surreal place of the hyperreal. We as viewers are dipped below the surface along with Jordyn [Another‘s protagonist] into another plane of existence – one that is just familiar enough to be terrifying.

Using subtle off kilter techniques, like music that is slightly out of phase, unexpected editing, overly lush visuals and exaggerated character mannerism, forces the viewer to question things that they wouldn’t normally question. It keeps the audience on edge, and aware on a different level and before they know it they are sinking into the depths of the nightmare along with Jordyn.

In your closing-credits acknowledgements, you thank Jess Franco and Dario Argento, who are obvious influences on both your visual and storytelling style (especially the former’s feverdream Vampyros Lesbos and the latter’s witchy weirdfest Suspiria). What are your other influences?

I love people watching and daydreaming plot ideas around the interesting faces I see. I have taken a lot of street photography as character reference. Here are some of the images I’ve taken.

I am really influenced by music when script writing. Its not uncommon for me to compose music when writing. It helps paint the scene for me. A lot of the music I wrote for The Red Door came from those writing/composing sessions.

Is Another a modern-day fairytale? a coming-of-age allegory? a disquisition on the legacy eternally bequeathed by mothers to daughters? a supernatural dramatization of the endless battle between good and evil? a study of paranoid schizophrenia? or all of these things?

I like to think of Another almost like a fantastical book of fairytales that has gone through the wash and all the colors and stories have blended and fused together. Much like classical fairy tales passed down through oral traditions, the themes and ideas have warped together to create something new. If the classic stories of Snow White, and other Grimms’ fairy tales were told for a thousand years, how would the plots evolve and warp into new forms? This hybridizing of story form is very interesting to me.

I do consider Another a tragic allegory of a young woman who undergoes a dark coming of age and magical transformation into the demon she is destined to become. I think the moral of Another is that life doesn’t always have a happy ending, the will to survive is the strongest motivation, and above all… mother knows best.

As Jordyn, gamine and doe-eyed Paulie Rojas is the film’s Snow White, while also evoking the coutured elegance of Audrey Hepburn – and though a confused and ingenuous 18 year old, she also has ‘another’, altogether less young and innocent side. She is both a complex, conflicted character in the film, and also its icon for youthful transience. How did you come to find and cast her?    

Paulie answered a casting ad for Another and when she came in to audition her head shot was that of Audrey Hepburn from a different film she had done. We immediately had the idea “Wouldn’t it be great if Audrey Hepburn did a horror film!” We were looking for someone who looked fragile to the touch but who could transform into a forceful, demonic presence…We knew we had someone very special to play the role of Jordyn.

What’s next?

I have few ideas in development and it looks like we are securing funding for the next project soon. I can say its a genre film, hopefully unlike anything you’ve seen before.