Writer/director Brendan Sweeny, whose first film—“Era Apocrypha”—took a nomination for Best Short Film at the 71st Venice International Film Festival in 2014, spent two days at Be Electric this past November to film his second short, “Photogenia.” With seven actors and a six-person crew, Brooklyn-based Sweeny took advantage of the Be Electric to create a 30-minute film with the intimacy of a stage play and depth of a novella.
Told in three asymmetrical chapters, the film is a multi-character mosaic of intertwined lives, centering around three people who find themselves inside of a photo studio on the same day while they wrestle with the events that brought them there. What emerges is a meditation on fate and consequence, and one that points a flood light into the darkest corners of the human experience.
We spoke to Sweeny two days before Christmas, as he was taking a short break before ramping up festival submissions to get the new work in front of audiences worldwide.
Tell us about your film. How did it come about? What inspired its creation?
After my last fim, Era Apocrypha, aired in Venice and was shown around the world, I was excited to return to the short form, but wanted to do something in a new vein—something more contained, but also more open. I liked the idea of experimenting with long takes and seeing the tension that unfolds when you present characters in front of that unblinking eye. In addition, I wanted to make something that was open to interpretation—not super abstract, but more of a rorschach so that each viewer would be invited to make it their own, to experience it in their own way. I liked the idea that everyone would be watching the same film, but everyone would tie it together in their own way. Really what I wanted to strive for was for the film to be an individual experience—and feel we’ve really achieved that.
How and why did you use Be Electric’s space to bring this vision to life?
First off it was so easy. Basically, because they are a rental house, we were able to rent almost all of our equipment from Be Electric—it was all there waiting for us on the day we began shooting. Not only that, but they were super helpful, responsive, and enthusiastic that we were shooting with them. It was like they were fans as well. Also, as most of our cast was Brooklyn based (as am I), the location was convenient. I mean, being able jump on the subway and show up with essentially a backpack and get started—any time you can do that, it’s a dream. And it’s a beautiful space, too; versatile, clean, basically soundproof. For this kind project, where we filmed what amounted to one static shot of a photo studio, being at Be Electric reduced a number of challenges we might otherwise have faced so we could get to work with the project of filming from go.
What’s next for you and the Photogenia team? And will you be back to film at Be Electric soon?
We finished the film mid-November and slowed down for the holiday season. But in early 2019 we’ll figure out what the festival presence will be like. We did a private showing at a friend’s place the other night—they have a projector—and it really lends itself to being on a large screen. So we really hope it gets to travel and be shown in front of audiences that way. Because the film does have similarity to a play—people coming into and out of the frame, people off screen interacting with each monologue—replicating that theatrical experience will make it more impactful. That’ll be our next focus: giving it as large and as long of a life as possible! And yes—we’ll be back to Be Electric! I’m really excited to work with them again. My next film is still in the writing stages. All I know is it’s going to be something quite different, so we’ll see. Or should I say we’ll be in touch soon!