05 Apr Chris Louie Interview, Part 1
hello there fellow riders of the intertubes!
how is everyone out there in
radioland everywhere land?? I’m hanging out at a Starbucks in Woodland Hills waiting to meet with one of my favorite clients – the director of BOB THE BUILDER. I really enjoyed working on animation projects and hope to get to edit more in the future, love to add to my impressive collection of CAREBEARS, MY LITTLE PONY, ANGELINA BALLERINA, and of course everyone’s favorite contractor BOB THE BUILDER!
a couple weeks ago I had the chance to sit down and chat with my good friend and and member of the directing partnership “Walter Robot” – Chris Louie. I really like doing these interviews, not because I want to be a journalist, but more because I’m really stoked on the number of incredibly talented and interesting people that I’m lucky enough to call my friends. I want to learn more about their creative process AND share their work with y’all.
so without further ado, here’s the first part of the interview. Chris is [CL] and as usual, I’m [LG].
LG: so how do we know each other?
CL: it was right when I first started directing, and I was going on ANTVILLE and I remember that I liked a couple of Josh [Forbes’] videos and so I reached out to him. He was super cool and really nice. He invited me to go onto one of his sets for a Metro Station video. it was really cool – first time I’d gone onto another director’s set. And afterwards he said he was going to get drink with Lex Halaby and I was like “Whooooa Lex Halaby” [LG laughs] I know who that guy is!
and then I met Rylan and we all went out for drinks and when we were there we started spitballin’ and I told Lex how I’d been wanting to do a writers’ group and he said he had been wanting to do one for a while also. And he said that he would host it and then a couple weeks later it happened. I think it was just you, Rylan, Lex and me that first night.
LG: Yeah, I think so.
CL: that had to be four or five years ago, cause it was right when I started directing.
LG: we should look that up and see exactly when it was. we can put a plaque up in front of his old apartment.
CL: there was no name then, [LG laughs] it was just the “writers’ group.”
LG: So you said you were just start to direct at that time, how did you get into that? what did you come from before directing?
CL: I was at UCLA, not as a film major but as a sociology major but I took a bunch of classes w/ Bill [Barminski]. then after graduating I realized I wanted to start directing, so I did my own little short film. I didn’t really submit it to any festivals or anything, it was just something I wanted to do for myself. I knew I wanted to do something with film and was willing to be a PA or do whatever.
I ended up reconnecting with Bill and assisted him on a music video and a short film that he was doing. And as we were working together, we just totally hit it off and started talking about other ideas. After another job we turned into directing partners. It all kind of happened organically.
LG: How do you guys balance a “directing partnership?” Do you have strict divisions between what you guys do or is it kind of an ebb & flow?
[Here’s the very first thing Chris & Bill directed together as “Walter Robot”]
CL: Bill is an artist, so his strengths were originally rooted in his ability to draw and imagine imagery – more so than mine. and I came from a stronger story background cause I’d been writing a lot since I was younger. So those were our strong points, but there’s a lot of cross over. Like with the “Mojowski” script that we are writing now, Bill is spearheading that – and doing a great job. And I’m getting a bit more visual too.
So that being said, there’s no hard line. We have our strengths that we both know, but there’s always a back and forth.
[Chris & Bill on set]
LG: You guys have a really interesting visual style that’s in much of your work. Can you describe that and also talk about the process of bringing it to life?
CL: What makes our style consistent is that we are always the ones doing everything. The majority of the stuff that we do is just him and I going out and shooting it – then doing all the post production on our own. So that being said, everything we do has some sort of fantastical or visual effects element to it. We also like doing animation, and often we are blending those together. I think that comes from both our sensibilities – we really like that kind of stuff and from the fact that you get more ‘bang for your buck’ with that.
LG: Cause you can visualize worlds that don’t exist and bring them to life.
CL: Yeah, and they just look different. They stand out from other projects that don’t include any VFX.
LG: With the animation and the character design, is that something Bill was doing in a still format before the videos?
CL: Bill actually used to be a comic book artist. Back in the 80’s he had a comic book and when he moved to LA he continued with visual arts. A lot of times we develop the characters together. We’ll start with an idea and talk about it, then he’ll draw some ideas and I’ll give him feedback and we go from there.
LG: Your work has a lot of surrealist and magical realism influences and themes throughout it. Are there any artists or filmmakers or writers that inspire you in that direction?
CL: Definitely any fantasy stuff and movies from the 80’s and early 90’s that incorporated magical realism in a way where the film was shining a light on it, it just WAS the world. Like the movie MR. DESTINY. Jim Belushi is this down & out dude, and he’s always living in the past thinking “if I’d only hit that home-run in high school I would have made it to the Big Leagues. Now I’m down & out with my wife & kids and shit job” and then Michael Caine comes out and grants him the wish. And then back-in-time he hits the home-run and his present-day-life changes. He’s got a mansion, plays in the big leagues, has a beautiful wife – but all he wants is to get back to “normal” life.
Also DREAM HOUSE with Christopher Walken or DELIRIOUS with John Candy. In DELIRIOUS, Candy was a writer for a Soap Opera and one day he falls off a horse and wakes up inside the Soap that he’s been writing. And not only that, but he can write the world that he’s currently in. But it’s a JOHN CANDY movie, it’s not a “Charlie Kaufman/Michele Gondry/Spike Jonez” movie it was probably directed by some Joe-Shmoe.
So that’s the stuff that influences me. The films that don’t draw specific intention to their fantastical elements and are just as entertaining as they artful.
LG: Ah cool. Are you working on anything similar to that now?
CL: Yeah, we are working on something called MIXTAPE right now, it is very much that sort of style. It’s about a 17 year old dreamer kid who draws a lot and is obsessed with the past. He finds a box full of cassette tapes that are audio dairies and music from a high school girl from the 80’s. And thru listening to the tapes went enter his hand drawn fantasy of what her world was like. Those drawings transition into live action and he’s got this huge, magical vision of what her life in the 80’s was like – people flying and fireworks, very John Hughes inspired. And then he runs away from home to find her, but she doesn’t live up to any of what he had envisioned in his head.
LG: And this is something that you and Bill are currently writing?
CL: It’s already written, so we have it out to a few actresses. But you know, this stuff takes forever.
LG: And this is while you guys are doing “work for hire” stuff as well?
CL: Yeah, we need to make a living.
LG: Right, so there’s that whole life/work client/personal balance. Do you schedule specific time to work on your personal projects?
CL: Whatever has the most immediate deadline takes precedent. So right now we’re working on an animation sequence for a movie and that is the most important thing on the table right now cause they have a festival coming up.
I mean obviously it is a balance and everyone’s approach is different. Last year we worked a couple commercials that paid us pretty well and after that we were good to go and it was all Mojowski. We just focused on writing that for months after that. So if we get one or two more big commercials this year we’ll be good.
[A bit of promotional work for Mojowski]
[end Part 1.]
Next week we’ll pick up with Part 2, learn more about MOJOWSKI and talk with Chris about his amazing brother Dennis.