By Stephanie Bousley
The first full-length film director out of New York University Tisch School of the Arts Asia, Frank Rinaldi ’11 (MFA, Kanbar, Film) pioneered his directorial debut via a microbudget feature idea, which he crowd-funded, made, and lived to tell about.
For those who had the pleasure of attending Tisch School of the Arts Asia with him, we can only speak of a skinny, intense guy who seemed to come out of the womb making films and who, upon death, will likely need to have a camera pried from his cold hands. He made all of us proud (and a tad jealous) when his second-year-student film Funny Guy, made for around $78 USD, won the Grand Jury Award for Best Experimental Short at the 2008 Slamdance Film Festival, in the “Best Experimental Short” Category. Having produced Frank’s microbudget feature, Sundowning, I can personally attest to both his talent and modesty, both of which he carries in spades.
Readers, I give you: Frank Rinaldi.
Steph: How do you define yourself as a director, stylistically; and how did you find a way to make your sensibilities work with the landscape Singapore offers?
Frank: One thing I’m always trying to do is marry my narrative sensibilities with my experimental tendencies. I think these aesthetics, or gazes can be interestingly combined when it comes to studying characters. I like to put humans in really weird situations, and then watch them negotiate their way out of insanity. Sane-seeming people in insane-seeming conflict intrigues me. Singapore is an insane land, and I think that I am a usually sane person (though many would disagree), so I found myself in the same real-world situation that I like to drop my characters inside. It was trippy.
Steph: In the Spring of 2010, what made you decide to do first, a microbudget feature film for your thesis project; and second, a microbudget feature film set in Singapore?
Frank: It was the story. The funny thing about Sundowning is that, it is a 30-page script, but the way we shot it resulted in a 90-minute movie. Plus, I wanted to test myself to see if I could make a true feature film. I guess I shall soon see if it worked.
Steph: How much did it cost and for how long did you shoot?
Frank: You know all this. You produced it.
Steph: Yeah, but I’m interviewing you.
Frank: We shot it for about $15,000 USD. The interior apartment scenes (where the bulk of the film takes place) were shot on Super 16mm (Kodak), and that portion was about a 13-day shoot. Then we shot some non-apartment scenes on VHS, for five days.
Steph: And is it safe to say the movie was funded primarily by family and friends?
Frank: For the most part. I had won a gift certificate from Slamdance that covered a lot of the post work in Los Angeles. We also flew to Bangkok, Thailand, to do processing and telecine at Technicolor there; because it was a lot cheaper than rates in Singapore.
Steph: That would have been a fun end to the production had you not got food poisoning.
Frank: I still think it was dysentery.
But all in all, I think people really came together for this project. I wanted to make the film and I did. We raised about $10K on Kickstarter, and we had a kind of fundraiser party in Singapore, which featured local artists and DJs who all performed for free in support of the project. We got the space donated too, and some of the major magazines in Singapore advertised the event for free because they liked the fact that we were doing everything ourselves.
Steph: I personally felt very supported by our classmates; most of whom either donated on Kickstarter or at the event. I felt that they were excited that we were doing this kind of project first, and that you weren’t sitting around waiting for someone else to green light the film.
Frank: Tisch was an integral part of the production. We got the equipment free, as part of my thesis package; and insurance too. I’m especially grateful to my cast and crew, all of whom worked for free; and to my roommates who put up with the fact that their home turned into a film set for several weeks.
Steph: What were the difficulties of making this project in Singapore vs. if you had made it in the US, where you’re from?
Frank: I’m not native to the region, which is to say it is not a place where I am naturally comfortable. I had to navigate a lot of cultural differences, just in terms of speaking to and reasoning with people from a different culture, who might have social strategies with which I am unfamiliar.
Steph: Do you think the film would have been better/worse/the same if it had been made in the US?
Frank: I think that if I were making films in the US, I would not have made ‘Sundowning.’ The work is very much a product of my three years in Singapore.
Steph: Aside from finishing the final sound mix on Sundowning, what else are you up to these days?
Frank: I am always on the lookout for new sources of inspiration. I am reading a lot and watching a lot of movies. Also, I have exerted much effort into building my VHS library.
Steph: Are there any upcoming Frank Rinaldi projects we should know about?
Frank: I am in the final horrible throes of researching my next film. The movie promises to be straight-up narrative, and seems to have a lot in common with Samurai movies, and Sam Raimi’s ‘The Evil Dead.’
Steph: Lastly, you always struck me (and I would imagine others) as a person who had been making films a long time. Years from now, how do you think Tisch School of the Arts Asia will have played into your long-term evolution as a filmmaker?
Frank: Asia haunts my dreams. The time between 2007-2010 had a big impact on my life, and I won’t be surprised to discover that Singapore has permanently affected my worldview.
For more information on Frank Rinaldi, including future Sundowning screenings and press, please visit the Website.