We had the pleasure to talk to Portuguese director, pianist and composer Filipe Melo about the making of his short film Sleepwalk.
How did you come up with the idea for the original comic book story of Sleepwalk?
I have been working on comic books with Juan [Cavia] for almost ten years. A local editor commissioned a short story, but the subject had to be food. So this clicked with the famous concept of Marcel Proust’s madeleines, the way he used them to describe smells, tastes, sounds or any sensations that remind you of your childhood and trigger emotional memories from a long time ago. This concept was exceptionally used in Ratatouille, also, so that was the leitmotiv for our short. The song also has that nostalgic, sad and happy feel – and the title connected to the main character, who realizes he has been a part of something he does not agree with for most of his life. It all made sense, in a strange way.
What interesting choices did you face when adapting the story from comic book format to film?
We had very little time to shoot – two and a half days only – so we had an animated storyboard. That helped, the end result is pretty close to the comic book and to this storyboard, we even made it available on YouTube so you can check out what was left out. We really didn’t have the time to improvise if we wanted to shoot the whole story on schedule. We did have to cut a few scenes because we didn’t have a set for a kitchen, so that was a lesson on the economy of storytelling – how not having a set available makes you rewrite some scenes. This creative editing actually improved the end result.
You have extensive experience as a pianist and musician. What motivated you to dive into storytelling and filmmaking?
I don’t think writing music or writing a screenplay is that different. The process is the same – you come up with a vague idea and you have to work until you reach something concrete, be it a script or a musical piece. I do love music, and it’s my profession, but I have an intense love for film, I love watching films, all sorts of films, I really can’t live without it. So I guess I got into it as a result of the love and curiosity I have for the art of making movies. Juan, the artist for the books, for example, works as an art director, so he really is into the film medium constantly, and I learned a lot from him. I am self taught, but I think that really takes off some pressure that I see in film students. Whenever I am on set, I feel so privileged and grateful that I just try to enjoy the experience as much as I can, and learn in the process.
Força de Produção, the company that produced the film, has been creating and managing public spectacles for years. How did Força de Produção decide to step into film production and what was the experience like?
I met Sandra (editor’s note: Sandra Faria is Força de Produção’s director) because we did a music project together that toured quite a lot, so we became close friends. When the opportunity arose to make this short happen, she said she would produce it because she trusted me and she liked the story. This was extremely important and significant for me, to know that somebody trusted me enough to give me an opportunity. I will always be thankful because she made it happen, she got the production going, and got me back into making movies after 10 years away from a set.
Aesthetic work is highly stylized. How did you approach art direction?
This, of course, has a lot to do with Juan Cavia, Walter Cornás and Federico Cantini’s work, which is phenomenal. The VFX we used were all supposed to go unnoticed, basically we wanted a very clean, almost non realistic feel to the whole scenario, so there’s a lot of hidden CGI. The work with Argentinian company Pentimento (which Federico highly recommended) was very easy and creative, because there’s a veteran grader called Jorge Russo who’s a film buff, it was a blast to discuss film references and inspirations with him. I guess we all wanted to achieve a somewhat dreamlike feel to the whole film, which is a contrast to the realistic, tough conclusion of the story.
Music is present throughout most of the film. What did you focus on when composing the music tracks?
I wanted the music to be a part of the landscape. It had to have the americana feel to it – the guitar, the fiddle – but I didn’t want it to be too present emotionally, to be dramatic – hence the drone-like qualities, almost as if was the desert wind, in the final scenes. I do love film music, so at some times I tried not to be afraid to make it more present, to make it a part of the narrative. The diner cue is a good example of this. I feel that many recent European filmmakers tend to not contemplate music in the process of making a film, sometimes not even thinking about it until the very end of post-production. I believe in the emotional power of music, and what it brings to a scene, so I am looking forward to explore this relation in the future.
What autobiographical elements do you find in the film?
I lived in the US for a few years, I went there to study jazz piano, which I couldn’t, in Portugal – and I wanted to be close to the legends of this great american artform. While I was living there, I did get to travel quite a lot, and made friends that I have to this very day, and fell in love with the country. I love the US, and I love the films and the music, they had a tremendous influence on me while I was growing up. This film is both a love letter to the country and a criticism on some aspects of the American politics, now more relevant than ever, I believe.
Any interesting or fun anecdotes that you’d like to share from the production of the film?
It was a small miracle – a group of people from Portugal, Venezuela, US, Argentina that got together to shoot a film in insane circumstances. We got lucky – we were able to finish it – but the car did get stuck in the desert sand for the very last shot of the film, so that wasn’t all that bad. Also, a small acnedote. While editing, I did find out that the old lady in the film (Gwen Van Dam) had been one of the victims in the original Halloween, or that the man at the diner (William Knight) was an actor in the first season of Star Trek. Fanboy mode on. That’s what shooting in Hollywood is like – film magic everywhere!
Images are Copyright © 2018 Força de Produção. Provided courtesy of Filipe Melo and Força de Produção.