from the website WE ARE MOVING STORIES - May 21, 2017
About the writer, director and producer of The Ape Regards His Tail:
Independent-DIY filmmaker Michael Yates has written and directed six features and has been given ‘Breakthrough Director’ and ‘Best Experimental Film’ awards by past IFS Festivals.
Key cast: Jacob Garcher, Hugo Pierre Martin
Interview with Director/Producer/Writer Michael Yates
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
Thank you. I wanted to make a film that would touch on the theme of human development in more of a sensory way versus an intellectual way. To help do that, I decided to get rid of speech and confine myself to telling one character’s story with no dialogue. (He has a voice-over in the trailer, but not in the film itself.) I didn’t even write a script; I wanted to see how much I could avoid any dependence on language.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
If you’re like me in being turned on by movies that have their own identities and don’t come off an assembly line, maybe you’ll be attracted to a film like this. Although it does have a linear story, it is definitely much more about imagery and ideas than about narrative. I like to describe it as a Twilight Zone episode directed by Werner Herzog.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
My films are all about alienated or eccentric characters; they are never just average folk you might run into. My films have ambiguous plots but I think they all deal with the big existential issues of life that anyone can relate to; survival, death, identity, choice, ambition, sex, philosophy, art, dreams, religion, science, politics; stuff like that. I think all those things play into The Ape Regards His Tail in one way or another even though it’s not a verbose or preachy film.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
It came together pretty fast and didn’t change much. I worked it all out in a few days, drawing together the resources I had available and reconciling those with what I wanted to accomplish. The basic notion of a man stranded in a mysterious landscape was the acorn of it all, and I built around that; figuring out what could have led to that situation and how one would react to it.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
Only a few people have seen it so far, including at the IFS screening. They were pretty interested in the diverse locations most of all, and it was pleasing to me that they seemed to go along with it when they realized there was not going to be a rational explanation for everything nor depend on an obvious “climax” to wrap things up. Those who can relax and get in sync with the film’s dreamlike sensibility seem to enjoy it.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
It’s always fun when people see things in a new way or have questions about things that I never considered. I think that means I was successful. It’s the opposite of the Hollywood way; which is to dumb everything down to the point where the least involved person in an audience can’t possibly be confused by anything. About this film, someone said to me, “It’s Biblical, right? The character was Adam?” That isn’t the case literally or deliberately, but in a way he has a point and it showed that he was into it and had come up with a meaning to the story that I hadn’t thought of.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on wearemovingstories.com?
I would like to promote the idea of variety in movies; not necessarily diversity of subject matter, but diversity of ambitions and techniques. Everybody wants to be J.J. Abrams or Christopher Nolan, but I wish I’d hear more people say their idols were, let’s say, Stan Brakhage, Andy Warhol or Frederick Wiseman. About my film, all I can say is, I’m proud that it’s not a rip-off of anything else, and if I was surfing channels on TV and landed on it, I would be intrigued and would want to find out what it was all about. So, I hope and have to assume there are other people out there who feel that way too.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
Movies that are enigmatic and not easily plugged into a genre are hard to sell, so I don’t have any delusions about finding distribution for it. If anyone’s interested, they’re certainly welcome to get in touch! I guess the best thing would be to make contacts for future projects, whether they be producers or other collaborators.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I’m very interested in promoting a stripped-down kind of filmmaking. I was so inspired by Pedro González-Rubio’s beautiful film Alamar, which was shot entirely by a crew of two. I just think there’s so much waste and dependence on comfort and routine in most movies. I guess that works for some people, but I find it stifling, and I think that’s why too many films are so forgettable. They feel so familiar that you lose interest almost as soon as they start. Long story short, if I can do anything to encourage young filmmakers to do whatever they feel like doing instead of buying into accepted industry standards, I’ll be happy about that.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
If everything that defines you was gone in an instant, how would you decide who you are, what you care about, and how you want to live your life?
Would you like to add anything else?
I’d like to mention my main partner on this film, the star and sole actor, Jacob Garcher. He had to be a good sport since the shoot basically meant tons of trudging around through harsh environments; getting beat by the desert sun one day or freezing to death in the ocean the next. There is a periodic abstract narration read by Hugo Martin, and I love his work because it’s in a part-British, part-German, artificial-intelligence type of voice, which is both menacing and amusing.
The score is by Sula Bassana, a great musician from Germany. He’s a one-man industry; he plays different instruments in various bands as well as doing solo stuff, producing, and running a record label too. He is in my favorite band in the world, Electric Moon. I contacted him to see if he’d be interested in doing a film score, and lo and behold he said ‘yes.’ It just goes to show, it never hurts to ask.
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
Jacob Garcher has a couple films he’s appeared in that are in post-production; so I’m looking forward to seeing those. Hugo Martin was in Westworld last year and he’s always got some interesting projects going on. He makes really cool short films backed with Shakespearean readings or his own poetry and music. Sula Bassana is constantly cranking out albums; look him up. I believe he will release a CD of this soundtrack at some point too. As for me, I haven’t decided what I’m doing next. Like a lot of people these days, I’m pretty obsessed with the current political situation, and I’m thinking of doing something about that, about the issues that led to the 2016 election, which we all know was one of the worst fiascos in recent history.
Interview: May 2017