BYU Filmmaker makes Sundance debut
Turmoil plagued filmmaker Kohl Glass as he finished the short film "Der Ostwind."
"Sometimes," Glass said, "it was a nightmare."
"Der Ostwind" will screen at the Sundance Film Festival among the other Shorts Programs V at midnight on Jan. 19.
His wife suffered from a kidney disease since she was 18. She received a transplant in 2004 but, two years later, her body rejected it.
A week after Glass buffed the movie with his final edits last July, his wife underwent another kidney transplant.
"It’s been quite the journey to make it," Glass said regarding the film, which will compete in the Sundance Film Festival.
Despite the complications, he sent it to Sundance on wing and a prayer.
"Its one of those things," Glass said, "you always submit to Sundance. You put in your $30 submission and that’s kind of a sacrifice to the film gods."
That’s why Glass, who first began making the film while he attended BYU, was caught off guard when Sundance called him on Thursday, Nov. 30.
"It was an L.A. number and I thought, ‘I don’t have time to talk.’"
When the voice over the speaker spoke, Glass did a double-take.
"I was completely stunned," he said. "It was one of those things where I had to ask them, ‘Say your name and where you’re from again, I think you said Sundance?’"
After Sundance delivered the good news and details for this year’s festival, he was still skeptical.
"It blew me away," Glass said. "That night I totally convinced myself that it was a mistake. I thought, ‘Is someone playing a trick on me?’"
Glass said it took him about four days to realize his film was actually chosen to screen at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.
"When you make a short film, that’s the best thing that could possibly happen to it," Glass said.
The film uses a mixture of live action and computer-generated composites, Glass said. Glass couldn’t believe that he was able to finish the film.
"It blows me away sometimes to think we were able to accomplish it," Glass said. "I didn’t know what I was doing. We talk about that often, about what a complete miracle it is that we actually finished it."
The animation caused the filmmaker to toil for much longer than he anticipated.
"We took three years to do it, but if you were to take away all the technical problems you would take away probably six months to a year.
The story follows a German ace pilot known as Der Ostwind, who in despair of finding a worthy opponent is attacked by an invulnerable American. Der Ostwind becomes so obsessed with seeing his opponent’s face that he finds himself in the duel of his life.
When developing the idea for the film, Glass was fascinated with airplanes and came up with an idea of a World War I ace that was looking for a worthy opponent.
"It started out being a comedy and he finds out his opponent was a monkey and about him dealing with the fact it was a monkey," Glass said.
Glass thought the idea cold make audiences laugh and think.
"It was a funny idea, it was odd," Glass said. "It had some deeper themes about accepting and coming to terms about his worthy opponent being a monkey and recognizing who (people) are instead of just appearance."
As he and a friend, Jake Parker, started working on the project, he "lost steam and realized it was much bigger than the two of us could do."
"I shelved it and went to BYU and took it to the animation program," Glass said. "I didn’t quite understand what it would take to make one of these things and they turned me away."
So, he shelved the script again until taking a screenwriting class at BYU. "I didn’t care what happens," Glass said. "I’m going to make it because I really loved the story and themes.
When he showed class members his script, however, it didn’t go over very well.
"Everyone felt like the monkey ending offended them," Glass said. "It was a serious film, then they didn’t like the monkey. They actually kind of got mad and were angry. They liked the beginning and the end betrayed them."
His instructor Darl Larsen said, "Either make the beginning funnier or make the ending serious."
So, Glass decided the monkey had to go and the film took a serious tone. While the monkey is gone, the same themes are found throughout the film.
"(Der Ostwind) becomes very obsessed with his worthy opponent." Glass said. "He is so empty and looking for answers. He lets obsession get in the way of his character. At the end of the movie he says ‘I can satisfy my obsession or I can be honorable,’ and that’s the climax of the film."
Glass wanted the film to reflect ideals the German ace learned. That is what he thinks will move the audience.
"One of the things is the appeal," Glass said. "It has a deeper theme about honor and obsession but it has a visual appeal as well.
The film is in German with English subtitles. This way, Glass says, it remains true to the story. This combination found fans among the BYU faculty.
"They liked it a lot more and Darl took it back to the animation program and said ‘You should consider doing this,’" Glass said.
Kelly Loosli, a faculty member over the animation program liked the idea and made a suggestion to use computer animation and place actors into it.
So "Der Ostwind" was conceived. But as a student film, Glass faced the obstacle of turnover as crewmembers graduated. Until Rob Au joined the team.
"It was pretty much me and Rob, he’s the director of animation and also the producer, once he came on he spearheaded everything, everyone else was just in flux," Glass said.
By that time, the university believed Glass could make the project viable.
"Once we hit that point we went out and got some grants. I had made my first film ‘The Promethean,’ by that time and it played in festivals and it really opened doors."
At the end of the summer of 2003, Glass shot live action footage in front of a green screen.
"Eventually we finished the animation around a year ago in March," Glass said. "Then the sound took a little while and we finished in July."
With his Sundance debut only a few days away, Glass still can’t believe what has happened to his student film.
"BYU had never done anything like that before," Glass said. "It was a huge learning curve, it was a lot of technical work. It was completely amazing. I cannot believe we were able to do it."
"Der Ostwind" will screen at the Sundance Film Festival among the other Shorts Programs V at midnight on Jan. 19 at the Holiday Village Cinemas III.
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