Otis College of Art and Design graduate Scott Talbot, is a filmmaker who’s constantly evolving his style. Hailing from Portland, Maine, Scott is a firm believer in the precision of his craft. Scott has created three short films, with his latest among them, Happy For You, being described as his “most ambitious to date”.
What can you tell us about your childhood and upbringing? Any fond memories from Portland?
Growing up in Maine really shaped who I am today. I’ve been in Los Angeles for almost 13 years now, but prior to that, I was in Maine, camping, skiing, and biking. Ski racing probably gave me the work ethic I have today and my love for early mornings. More importantly, though, I think growing up in Maine gives me some perspective of the world outside the entertainment industry. It’s very easy, if you’re in LA, to get sucked into the feeling that the entire world is “Hollywood.” Sometimes that’s special, living in the history of film, and other times you just need a break.
Who or what got you into the world of filmmaking?
Hindsight is 20-20, but looking back, I don’t know how I would’ve not ended up making movies. I grew up watching a lot of movies with my family. Homemade pizza and a movie at home or an outing to the theater on the other side of town. It always felt like an event. When I first came to LA I wanted to get into animation. The dream job was always being an environment artist for Pixar, but it wasn’t long before I realized that I wanted to direct live-action films. The only problem was there wasn’t a traditional film department at my school. Luckily, I had a professor who believed in me, and he helped me get a course load that was almost entirely independent studies. I made my own little film curriculum, and I still can’t believe he gave me that much freedom.
Which filmmakers would you consider trendsetters, or the kinds that you would look up to and take inspiration from?
There are too many to list. David Fincher is a pretty big influence. Jean Pierre-Melville. I remember the first time I saw The Red Circle, I was just blown away by how much storytelling could be done with little to no dialogue. Recently, I’ve been looking at the debut features of a few filmmakers. Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave and Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash are great standouts.
What motivates your storytelling choices and themes?
My focus is really to entertain, and I’m constantly thinking about the audience. Even in short-form work, I think I have a responsibility not to waste the audience’s time. In my last few films, I have actively just thought about what would be fun to watch, and usually, that’s fun to film as well. I try not to get too philosophical or preachy. I’ve tried that before, and the process wasn’t super enjoyable.
What would you say is your calling card as a filmmaker? How do viewers know it’s a Scott Talbot film they are watching?
Probably the camera movement and tension-filled scenes. I really hate camera shake and do everything I can to get rid of it. Happy for You was about 140 shots, and I think 110 of them are stabilized in post. Everything was shot on sticks or dolly, but even then, I like to remove any bumps in the camera or drifting. I think when you lock off the camera perfectly, that’s when you really see the subtlety of an actor’s performance. And yeah, tense scenes. I love making the audience uneasy and feel like something bad is about to happen.
Happy For You stands out from the crowd thanks to some very well-written characters and performances. What was it like working with your talent, and how did you communicate your vision to them?
Thank you for the kind words. I got really lucky with the cast. They all brought their skill and passion for the work, and my job was really just keeping everything within the boundaries of the story. My biggest fears going into this film were the stunts. I was worried that how I saw the film in my head might not be safe enough or realistic. Maybe an actor would just say no on the day. I’m really grateful to Nandi Sharma for being up for anything and trusting me.
Another highlight is the overall visual execution of your short. How did you, DP Ben Meserve, and the camera and lighting team work together to create such distinct images?
Ben and I started talking really early and just figured a lot out in prep. On all my projects, I work with 3D animatics to find the shot structure of each scene, and I think we owe a lot to that previs. We had three nights to get all of our shots, and I think if we were there on the day trying to figure things out, we would’ve never finished our days on time! Beyond that, Ben and I were constantly sending inspiration back and forth of how we could shoot this film and tell the story. It was a great collaboration, and I just finished shooting my next film with him.
What was your ultimate goal with Happy For You? What are you hoping the audience walks away with?
When the credits roll at the end, I really want the audience to feel like they just watched a movie. I find that a lot of short films don’t feel like movies. They feel like beautiful scenes or montages. With my work, I really want the audience to feel like what they witnessed was substantial and shook them a little.
Can you describe the atmosphere during production? Any difficulties or setbacks that you overcame?
The shoot was a lot of fun! We had a fantastic crew, and being in the same location for the entire production really had its benefits. The shoot wasn’t without challenges, though. Three overnights in a row is tough. It’s all fun and games until you come back from your mid-day lunch at 1am. That’s when things get really difficult. Everyone worked hard though, and I think it shows. The entire film is done with a consistently high quality whether a scene was shot at 10pm or 4am.
Did you learn any lessons while on set for Happy For You? What were they, and how would you say you’ve evolved since your first project?
With every project, I think I just get more confident. It’s true what they say: you won’t be ready to direct the film until after you finish it, which is heartbreaking. But you learn so much on every film and gain so much confidence as an artist that all you can really do is keep looking forward. I think on Happy for You, I really felt the most confident creatively, but I still have a ways to go. The other lesson I learned is just to clean out the pool before you do an underwater shot. However clean it looks on the surface, still clean the damn pool!
Any further plans with Happy For You? Is it expected to hit the festival circuit sometime soon?
Currently starting its festival run with the Noho CineFest at the end of September! Every festival is an opportunity to see the film with a new audience, and there’s nothing more exciting than that. Our plan is to go through the in-person festival cycle and then submit to online short curators towards the end of those screenings.
What’s next on the agenda for you? What films can we look forward to?
I have actually just wrapped my next film. It’s a massive short that we shot in Portland, Oregon. So I’m busy editing that film but also starting to collaborate with a writer on my first feature film. It’s very early stages, but the thrill of making that jump to features is really exciting.