The Rumpus Interview with David Fishkind

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When I asked David Fishkind to do this interview it was because I had questions. I’ve known David, now, for a little while–we both went to NYU, where we were active in the creative writing program–but at the time I contacted him to see if he wanted to do this we hadn’t talked in several months. I wasn’t sure what he was up to, if he was still writing, if his drinking had progressed to problematic, etc. Then these vimeo videos started appearing.  He would post them on his blog or his facebook page, and I thought “oh ok, he’s not writing, that’s a shame.”  But then, some night, I sat down in front of my computer and watched all of the videos in succession–though not connected by plot or character or narrative, each installment is described as part of a whole, a “feature length visual thriller” called Visage, the description says.  What I found was: the videos are short and weird and entrancing.  They remind me of the non-skateboard parts of skate videos or the collected works of some sort of idiot given a camera and taken places.  They have this detached, purposeless menace to them.  They are compelling and creepy and I didn’t understand what was happening so I asked questions.

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The Rumpus: I think I’m going to begin with a question.  What I really like about Visage is how its description, “a visual thriller,” really almost profoundly affects my viewing experience in that what I’m watching is usually not very thrilling — a man playing with a dog, a river, some driving — but, having been told that what I’m watching is “a thriller,” the stakes feel like they’ve automatically been raised in a weird, non-specific way.  For example, that man and dog playing is suddenly pretty terrifying because what the dog is trying to do is bite the man and even though it’s pretty clear that both the man and the dog know they are just playing, those dog’s teeth look pretty sharp and the man’s hand is totally inside the dog’s mouth–but I wouldn’t have thought to look at it this way had the word “thriller” not prompted me to that sort of viewing.  I guess my question is why that word “thriller”?

David Fishkind: I think you sort of already said it. I wanted to make videos of things I like.  Things that are, by themselves, normally, pretty docile—even boring.  But I wanted people to watch them and I wanted people to like them.  By calling the project a “thriller,” I can force the viewer to process the film through a certain context—a context, which, I believe, people want to view film through (I want to watch thrilling things)—such that they will be more excited and more curious and more determined to feel something or react somehow to the product.  The word “thriller” is also sort of a funny word and is juxtaposed against the matter-of-fact, non-assuming nature of Visage.  Now a video of a TV showing an excerpt of Terminator 2: Judgment Day is part of a larger, bigger concept—it itself being a thriller and now part of a separate thriller.  Another reason I view the project as a “thriller” is in the use of copious zooms.  Zooms are a common effect in the genre and seem not only powerful visually, but also emotionally and in cultural weight.  I like zooms and I like zooms in thrillers.  I like thrillers.  Together, the images are exciting and scary and disturbing to me, and I want to project that onto the audience’s perception.

Rumpus: Another thing I like a lot is how each segment doesn’t have a beginning or an end.  Each thing doesn’t have a set up or a conclusion, there are no goals that need accomplishing; and I’m realizing more and more that’s a thing that appeals greatly to me, especially in film.  I find so many movies so frustrating because they always feel like they have to explain things to you, like there need to be motivations and reasons for everything, but usually I just don’t believe them (them being all of the above, I guess).  I think that’s what I like about Lynch.  He just thrusts characters into these sort of formless, (again) non-specific settings and everybody’s just really confused all the time, which seems really honest in a way.  I’m thinking about those Rabbits in particular.  I guess a question would be: what are you using to film Visage?  Are the segments planned or opportunistic?

Fishkind: I like Lynch and I would be crass to not here recognize his immense influence on me as an artist and just a person in general.  Those rabbits.  Yeah, those rabbits are basically all over the blueprint behind Visage.  I guess now that I think about it, I watched Wild At Heart, Lost Highway, and Inland Empire in the week that I first started seriously compiling and posting Visage on Vimeo.  Also I rewatched Twin Peaks in its entirety during a bulk of filming, and around the time I started doing labor on a farm and camping in New Hampshire.  Lynch is in there quite a bit.  He’s everywhere really.

To actually get to your questions, I’m using a Flip camera in all of my filming.  Not only is it handy and high quality, it’s also been discontinued, which is hilarious and sort of special.  I’d like to be one of the first and last people to complete a feature length film on a Flip camera.

I’ve been asking myself the “planned or opportunistic” question for a while now.  I guess it has to be a little of both.  For instance, nothing is set up, adjusted, or filmed to ad nauseam.  I try to simply capture things as they are, in the moment they are happening.  However, I do have to remember to bring my camera around and take out my camera and move to the best possible position to film.  Many times I’ve found myself wishing I had it with me.  Today, for instance, I was watching goats chew on their legs and defecate and bare their teeth, and I really regretted not putting the Flip in my pocket this morning.  The days when I get a lot of footage are days when I’m looking to get a lot of footage.  The world is hilarious and scary; everything is basically worth filming in my opinion, but awareness and intention and excitement is what eventually fuels the actual finished best product, so I sort of have to plan to capture the opportunistic.

Rumpus: I’m going to keep going with Lynch because I know we’ve both spent a decent amount of time watching his stuff recently.  This is something we’ve talked about: Bill Pullman playing saxophone in Lost Highway.  I’d say, like the word “thriller” coloring my experience of Visage, the fact that Bill Pullman’s character in that movie is a saxophone player of the compunction he is colors my understanding of his character, and the film, in a similar way.  Also, the fact that Bill Pullman turns into another person in that movie is perhaps the most exciting thing I can think of right now.  I’m going to talk about music now, apropos of saxophones. Visage doesn’t employ much extra-diagetic music, except for in short bursts.  What’s up with that?  How do you like to use music and film together?

Fishkind: Man, that movie is scary.  That saxophone is scary.  Really scary.  I had to turn the volume way down and the light on in the kitchen to the get through that first club scene.  Music is a really important part of Visage, I think, but in a strange way.  Where Lynch seems to employ music at the forefront and ambiance of his work (I’m thinking Blue Velvet, Mulholland Dr. and Twin Peaks, in addition to Lost Highway), I try to use music to change the pace and direction of film.  I don’t want to use the word esoteric, but it comes to mind.  I’ll leave it at that.  In most of the videos in which I apply outside music, I have it in mind when I’m looking through the lens.  I see the sky open up and I think, “This is like the first song on Disintegration,” I see an ant crawling across a picnic table and I hear the black metal in my head.  I just can’t help it.  Music is a big part of my daily life, so a lot of other moments have music happening naturally, coming from the TV, my laptop, the car stereo, etc.  I just remembered that in one part I actually use a Lynch song (“Just You” from Season 2 of Twin Peaks) as I zoom in on a controlled fire, with “You Really Got Me” playing in the background of the raw filmed sequence.

Rumpus: I’m going to keep going with music even though I just asked you about it and I don’t really know what I’m going to ask at the end of this typing.  There’s a video you made of you chopping wood and you’re chopping wood to the band Sleep. First of all, I wanted to say good choice (re: music).  Second, I wanted to say your initial chop, when the axe glances off the wood and goes into the dirt, I have watched countless times.  I move the mouse arrow to the point in the video’s timeline when you are on the downswing of that chop and as soon as the axe hits the ground, I click, thus enabling me to watch the same chop many times in quick succession.  The noise it makes is so weird and it’s ingrained in me now. Pcckkthoowup would be how I would type it.  But it’s also funny that you are normally a writer, a person concerned with literature, and now you are making a movie having never done that before and with no intention (as far as I know) of becoming a “real filmmaker.”  Do you think about this at all?  Are you interested in making movies beyond Visage?  Another question is: do you think about how the majority of the people who know you (I think) and will see this (Visage) are also writers?  Do you ever think about context in which Visage will be watched?  Are you going to put it on a DVD?

Fishkind: I just want to point out that the video you’re referring to (“David Fishkind Chopping Wood, Summer 2011”) is not a part of Visage, as it includes established setting, intention, dialogue, character, and is filmed on my laptop.  However, I’m glad you mentioned it because it can, and should, be viewed as a companion to Visage, and in response to my interests in comedy and Lynch.

As I have always been interested in literature, I have always been interested in film.  I think before I even considered writing seriously, I had images of movies I wanted to make—usually scenes of intense things: a domestic dispute, someone driving with a serious facial expression, walking through halls and on sidewalks, filmed by using a dolly and following behind or to the side, and so forth.  I don’t know what being a “real filmmaker” means, just as I don’t know what being a “real writer” means.  I feel like I might be, or not be, both of these things, and I can entirely see an outside person taking either side of that argument.  To answer your question though, I do think a lot about making movies, very much so beyond Visage, throughout my entire life if possible.  I would love to use professional equipment and work with experienced, ambitious people.  A lot of my friends at college are studying film, and we talk a lot about working together at some point, though I’m not convinced they take me very seriously.  The word esoteric comes to mind again, I’m sorry.  I think a lot of people who will see Visage are writers, but I think a lot of people who will see it also go to school with me or know people who go to school with me, which opens the opportunity to get reactions and input from aspiring filmmakers and the like.  I don’t really care about the context in which the finished film will be watched—just that it will be watched, and hopefully enjoyed, by a lot of people.  I have not thought about distribution, but I want it to be easy for people to watch.  I will most likely put the finished product into one, feature-length Vimeo.  If a DVD is released, expect a lot of cool shit to go with it, and for it to cost money, but that is very far in the future I think.

Rumpus: One thing I realized the other day that is obvious but I never think about is how a movie (most, like Hollywood movies I mean) are 90 min visual narratives that were filmed wildly out of order.  I was reminded of this fact and at first I got really pissed off, like it seems so complicated, such a logistical nightmare to make a movie in this way, but then I realized it’s totally awesome.  Do you ever think about that?  Also, how did Visage begin?  Where did the idea come from?  What was the first thing you filmed?

Fishkind: I have thought about that. Man, yeah. When I think about how somebody’s hair length changes throughout a movie, I think about how they’re filming things out of the chronological order of the story, and the direction of the movie itself.  I often find myself distracted when I think about moments like that.  Like, what if, after someone’s hair is shaved in the filming of a feature, a director realizes that he wanted to film another scene with that character’s long hair.  I guess wigs may be involved.  It really bothers me though. If I made a Hollywood style film, it would probably just move forward and I wouldn’t go back to film other things. That reminds me of something Lore Segal said at a reading we attended together last year. She explained her writing regimen called to finish a section entirely, editing and all, to never return, before moving on to the next. That seems like a really good way to make movies. I guess that’s why Visage is being created, and initially released, in distinct parts, among other reasons.

Visage’s origins were not created with intention.  I traveled back to my parents’ house with my sister and brother-in-law for spring break, and, having reached a new, unwanted, strange, horribly rooted and confused state of consciousness, I went on a four or five day bender.  During that time, I asked my father repeatedly for his Flip camera, to which he expressed hesitation, believing I would take it and not give it back (in his defense, that is exactly what happened).  My mother found it for me, and I commenced filming a great deal of footage of that time at home—a lot of dogs, alcohol, my room, sitting in the passenger seat of a Camry, snow, the sky, my parents’ kitchen and living rooms— from which the first five parts of Visage came.  I continued to aimlessly film when I returned to New York and uploaded all the videos onto my laptop, essentially forgetting about them.  When I returned home, last month, for my first real extended stay in two years, I went through my computer and my Flip camera and realized I had hours of wonderful footage.  I started to break stuff down, watching it over and over again, cutting and adding music and extracting the files to .movs.  I uploaded some stuff to Vimeo, made a funny caption (“From David Fishkind’s forthcoming feature length visual thriller ‘Visage.’ All rights reserved. © 2011”), sent some links to friends, and finally realized that I truly wanted to work seriously on this project.  So I guess the idea to make a feature-length visual thriller came from wanting to make a funny caption for a collection of similarly devised videos.


Andrew James Weatherhead is from Chicago, Illinois. At one point, his grandparents lived in Florida. He currently lives in New York and is getting his MFA from The New School. He also blogs. More from this author →