Interview with Sean Babas (Director) December 5, 2010December 6, 2010 by: Shauna O'Donnell
December 5, 2010
SEAN BABAS (Director)
HEY SEAN, THANKS FOR TALKING WITH ME.
LET’S START AT THE BEGINNING. AT WHAT AGE DID YOU REALIZE THAT YOU WANTED TO BE A DIRECTOR? DID SOMETHING SPECIFIC SPARK YOUR INTEREST IN THE CAREER?
Oh we’re starting off with the tricky one. (laughs) It’s hard for me to put an exact age on when I started my love for film. I will say this though: I’m, unfortunately, not the classic story of being a 5 year old and picking up a VHS camera to film everything. I think it mostly started when I was about 15, and my story will probably start to become more common as the years progress. I had a big love for extreme sports, including skateboarding, freerunning, and snowboarding, and I was always shooting videos – constantly making them better. More visual, more excitement, bringing entertainment behind the tricks. These days, you see a lot of sports enthusiasts creating some pretty amazing videos, and I figured, maybe I can use this in something useful. That’s when I found I could tell stories I had in my head through something; film.
WHAT KIND OF SCHOOLING IS INVOLVED IN LEARNING HOW TO BE A DIRECTOR/CINEMATOGRAPHER?
It’s hard to answer this, because I know that whichever way I do, I’m going to get bashed from both sides. In all honesty, the schooling you need is your decision. Film school can teach you a lot about production, industry standards, and what it takes to make an in-line, respected filmmaker. (pauses) But there’s so many things film school won’t teach you, and the things you can learn in just one day on set will far outnumber several months of sitting in a classroom. If you make a mistake, you’ll learn a lot quicker to not do that again than to read it from a textbook. Film school will teach you how a perfect set in a perfect world will run. But that’s never the case, and unless you accept that, you’re going to fall flat on your face after you walk out with your degree. I’d say the most important, beneficial schooling involved with film is what you learn on set.
WHERE DID YOU GO TO SCHOOL FOR IT? HOW LONG DID IT TAKE?
If we go back to where I grew up, I went to Troy High, where they offered a fairly good program/set of classes for students to take that were interested in video production. I was already doing my own projects so the program didn’t teach me too much, but it was definitely fun, and the school has invested a good amount of money into it. I’m currently attending Columbia College in Chicago. I plan to finish and get my degree, but it’s still not a set-in-stone goal of mine. As with any field, having a degree won’t guarantee you a job. I’ve seen so many film students graduate from school, only to not find work and have a useless piece of paper in their hand. What’s even more fascinating about film is the lack of need for a degree. In all honestly, your work speaks for itself, not your degree. If you have a good reel, some solid projects to show, and a good reputation, nobody is going to ask you for your degree. I’ve done music videos and commercials for people all over the country, and not one asked me for my degree before we started shooting. That’s a big thing to say, but it’s true. I’m not trying to say don’t scrap the thought of film school, but the main point of school is to learn about the process. Not to think you’ll be guaranteed a job once you get that piece of paper.
WHAT KIND OF DEGREE DO YOU GET ONCE YOU FINISH SCHOOL?
After film school you get the degree of reputation. And that’s something that’s up to you to make sure happens. Too often I see amazingly talented young artists forced to go to their back up plan because they weren’t able to emerge in their field. If there’s two things I try to tell people, it’s: 1. The people you surround yourself with will determine your success. If you surround yourself with successful people, you’ll be “used” to that level of quality and ask yourself why you’re not doing the same level of work. 2. Show your talent. Don’t sit back and simply figure that others will stumble upon your work. Push it out there, network yourself. As everyone has heard, it’s not all about what you know, but also who you know. Put your work on every site imaginable, that’s more places and chances for people to see it. You never know if you’ll get that one right person to see it.
WHAT TYPE OF FILMS HAVE YOU DIRECTED SO FAR? HAVE YOU ALSO DONE ANY COMMERCIAL WORK?
The funny thing is, apart from some non-serious high school things, I haven’t directed a single short film yet. As of right now, I’ve been focusing completely on my music video and commercial work, mostly to network. As for music videos, I’ve primarily been focusing on the rock videos. But I do rap as well (laughs). It’s funny because all my friends joke around with me about me being a white, suburban kid making extremely hood and ghetto videos. Oh jeez. I really do love both worlds though. As for commercial work, I’ve done a lot that hasn’t really been publicized, but the main one so far was my Chevy Camaro project, which ended up getting pushed to dealer websites and on Chevy’s global market pages. I’ve always said that once I do my first short film, I’m going to do it right. But as for now, I’m just trying to get my name pushed out across the country before I do.
YOU HAVE WORKED WITH SOME BANDS IN THE PAST DIRECTING THEIR VIDEOS. WHO ARE THEY? WHERE CAN WE CHECK OUT THESE VIDEOS?
I’ve worked with a lot of bands. My first was Frequency Fifty Four. Working with those guys was fantastic, all of them have great hearts and all incredibly appreciative of everything. That video ended up helping them get signed with DBM/Warner Records and got screened at the Florida Music Festival. From there, everything branched out. I worked with Fifth Way, classic rockers of Detroit. Man do they have a sound behind them, and awesome energy. I also got hooked up with Joan Red from Tennessee, who toured with Frequency Fifty Four for a while. Working with those guys was awesome, because their music is my favorite style of rock, and I fell in love with all of their tracks. We ended up shooting their radio single “You Be the Hero” instead of one of their secret new tracks (laughs), oops, did I say that? Because I felt that we would eventually be doing a video for that as well, and my visions for You Be the Hero were too strong to waste. There’s also a few others that are all shot that’ll be released pretty soon, from Michigan and Florida. You’ll have to check in on my page to keep updated with those.
WHAT ARE THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF A FILM DIRECTOR?
Everything. I don’t care what film school teaches you, a director needs to know everything. Film school will teach that the director’s purpose is to simply worry about the acting; that shots, lighting, set design, and more, those are all up to other people. No. A good director will have knowledge with all of the parts of a project. I even argue with my director of photography about what color temperature we should be shooting at. If a director can’t bring everything together, then he’s simply a guide for the actors. When I work with my director of photography, Tom Valko, I tell him the framing of the shot, what’ll happen in it, and the camera movement. I try to make his job as simple as possible: Light it. The same goes for everyone else I have the opportunity of bringing onto my sets. The director needs to have everything planned out and visioned to make the crew do exactly what they should and nothing more. It’s a daunting task, but it’s definitely worth it.
WHAT METHOD OF DIRECTING DO YOU PREFER TO USE?
My methods of directing. Hmm. I guess you could say I really like to establish a close, personal connection with everyone on set. I’m not the classic director with the megaphone. I feel that makes everyone either feel intimidated or stressed to be bossed around. I talk to people one on one. I’ll pull an actor or actress aside, away from everyone else, and coach them through what I’m visioning, rather than yell at them above everyone. I feel that making this connection is vital to keeping everyone positive on set. On the set for Joan Red, I actually spent a day with the actress who played the mother, Michelle Peterson, to get to know her better rather than step right in and start directing her. A good director needs to make people realize he’s not the boss of the set, that he simply wants to bring his vision to life in a positive, effective manner.
WHICH DIRECTOR HAVE YOU MOST BEEN INSPIRED BY?
There’s no way I can name just one. I’m friends with so many directors, and they’ve all inspired me in one way or another. Matt Alonzo showed me that it’s possible to keep pushing and keep the projects rolling, to not quit at just 3 or 4 a year. I think that guy pumps out 30 or 40 music videos a year. Michael Chait has been a really good friend of mine. He’s been my “quality check” to ask myself why I’m not shooting on a higher level. Then there’s my two Detroit boys, Gerard Victor and Dante Marshall. They’ve taught me the true spirit behind film, and that you should always keep positive and laid back with everything. Finally, my favorite feature film directors would have to be the Hughes brothers (Book of Eli), Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down, American Gangster), Tony Scott (Man on Fire, Taking of Pelham 123) and Roland Emmerich (Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day, Godzilla).
WHAT IS THE ULTIMATE GOAL FOR YOU AS A DIRECTOR?
My ultimate goal is to make my way up to a feature film. Note that I said make my way up. I think a big problem with the generation today is they simply say “I want to make a movie”, but don’t realize that you can’t just do that. You need to build up to it. Doing your own short films can do that. But that won’t get your name out there a whole lot if you haven’t worked with a lot of people. Music videos and commercials will do that, and investors will see that. It’s probably bold to say, but I really do want to start developing and pushing my plans for my first feature by the time I’m 24 or 25. In Hollywood, that’s unheard of. But with how things are going these days with both technology and your ability to get your name out there, maybe I’ll be able to show the industry it’s possible.
DO YOU HOPE TO HAVE YOUR OWN MOVIE STUDIO ONE DAY?
Nope. I don’t like the idea of owning studios, nor the general idea of them. I love shooting real things, going into real environments and showing real backgrounds. Sure, a studio may generate money, but I want to always focus on shooting my own projects, rather than running a studio for others to shoot in.
DO YOU BELONG TO THE DIRECTORS GUILD OF AMERICA?
Do I? I don’t know, I should look into it (laughs). I focus on making sure I make films, not get caught up in other things.
I WAS LOOKING THROUGH YOUR PICTURES AND NOTICED THAT YOU ARE ALSO A BRILLIANT PHOTOGRAPHER. SOME OF THE PICTURES ALMOST LOOK CARTOONISH. HOW IS THAT EFFECT ACCOMPLISHED?
Aw thanks. Photography is also a big thing for me, and it goes hand in hand with filmmaking. As for my methods, it’s either the way I edit them or is sometimes me taking the photo at four different exposures, then blending them together. I can get the brightest of the brights, the most vivid colors, and then also the darkest of the darks, and everything in between. I then combine them into one picture so you can see absolutely everything.
DO YOU HAVE ANY UPCOMING PROJECTS WE SHOULD BE LOOKING OUT FOR?
Lots. I’m going to be doing an internet ad series for Chevy’s new Volt, which is pretty awesome. I took it for a test drive with their head of communications, Rob Peterson, and was amazed by how it drove. It looks like I’ll also be going into the Pop music video industry, with the group Otto Vector starting me off. That’ll be a really fun project, futuristic style. There’s some others that I’m keeping under wraps. I’ll be shooting my first “legitimate” short film this summer, so be on the look out for its release in the fall of 2011.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR OTHER HOBBIES?
Lots. I stay busy. In the winter I’m an avid snowboarder, mostly sticking in the terrain park. In the summer I wakeboard by my summer home in northern Michigan, Charlevoix specifically. I don’t really play video games, but I’ll play Call of Duty when I’m with my friends. I love traveling, I’m honestly the geek who has the flier with all the info about the place I’m at and its historical background. Of course I also always have some camera on me. The iPhone’s new little HD camera is great for travels. I shoot some stuff then edit it on Apple’s little iMovie app right on there. I’m a tech geek.
IF SOMEONE IS INTERESTED IN CONTACTING YOU, WHERE SHOULD THEY DO THAT?
They can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org), or they can visit me on Facebook and message me there. Both work. It’s funny to see the world as it is today, that a business relationship can actually start out on Facebook, but it works.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THE INTERVIEW. I WISH YOU THE VERY BEST FOR YOUR FUTURE. BEFORE I LET YOU GO WAS THERE ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD OR SAY?
If there’s anything else I’d want to say to people, it’s that if you love something and put your time and effort into it, the rest will go from there. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look like you haven’t been noticed yet, because people are always looking, and if you keep pushing yourself out there, it’s only a matter of time until the right person gets a hold of you. And, well, the rest will be history. I also need to give a huge thanks to my main film crew, Tom Valko, Alex Faulker, and Chad Dougherty. A big thanks to my dad, Robert Babas, just for everything. And to everyone else who’s supported me and helped me out over the years. Teamwork makes the dreamwork.