Zach Stetson ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff
In the new short film Wallace Seeks Solace, which premiered at the 2013 Boston Film Festival, the horrors of a young boy’s experiences during the Holocaust are juxtaposed against the childish whimsy of Dr. Seuss through dialogue and narration. Mixing childish-sounding dialogue and narration with the horrors of the Holocaust may seem like a risky idea (it was viewed as very controversial before the film’s release) but in practice it succeeds tremendously. The rhyming dialogue and narration serve to almost magnify the horrors seen in the film as opposed to taming them. The style makes this one of the most unique films I have ever seen about the Holocaust, which is a bold statement to make considering the large amount of films that address this subject matter. The film also features some striking cinematography by Courtland Noble. We interviewed Emerson College’s own Christopher Macken (Director) and Zack Bernstein (Writer/Producer) to find out more about the creative process behind Wallace Seeks Solace.
What gave you the inspiration for the concept of the film?
ZB: I knew that I wanted to do something dark because I haven’t done that before. I also enjoy contrast and educating people. So I joined of all these ideas and it became Wallace Seeks Solace.
How does the rhyming dialogue in the film relate to the message you are trying to convey?
ZB: I wanted to keep everything in that storybook setting and use the contrast to the story’s advantage. I also wanted to use something people may be familiar with and use it to tell a more mature story from a child’s perspective.
What was it like working with children?
CM: Working with a child was very difficult. It was my directing debut so really working with any type of actor was a challenge. The secret to getting a strong performance from a child actor is largely based on casting the RIGHT child for the part right off the bat, because you can’t really predict the way a child will act on set when given direction, etc. It was definitely an experience that has made me much stronger as a director.
How did you make Boston stand in for Poland?
CM: The way we pulled this off was by keeping the camera shots extremely close. We tried to avoid large, wide shots and decided we would just play with light and shadows to create an environment that could be easily manipulated to be whatever it was we decided we wanted it to be.
CM: The major challenges of making this short film were the controversy and the funding for the project. Coming from such a far-fetched and absurd idea, we immediately received a lot of bad opinions on our film. With this negative attention came funding problems because people didn’t want to give money to the student “Nazi” film. Long story short, a miracle happened when Times of Israel magazine wanted to fund the rest of our film and do a story on us. We had a three-day shoot and every single day went so incredibly well. Besides the freezing cold, each day the entire crew came to set excited to make this very ambitious and unique story come to life. We had the most amazing crew and I really hope I get to work with everyone again. They all knew what they had to do and did their jobs with such ambition and passion that it really just blew my mind.
What was it like crowd funding with Indiegogo?
ZB: It was difficult. We made some money off Indiegogo but most of the money came from the Center for Jewish Philanthropy of Boston.
Do you have any interesting on-set stories?
CM: Shooting in a public park was very interesting. We had actors in full costumes wandering the park in between takes and that definitely caught people’s attention. People were actually quite taken aback until they realized we were shooting a film. One jogger decided to run up to one of our main actors and rip the swastika armband off and yell at him. Lots of miscommunication. I had to play the Schindler’s List soundtrack on set to try and bring the mood down and create the atmosphere I was trying to display.
Any ideas for a next project?
CM: Besides my own writing, I am collaborating with a few screenwriters from a few different schools in Boston and seeing if we can plan to shoot something this upcoming summer; short or feature. My experience on the set of Wallace Seeks Solace has really inspired me to continue directing and make that my main focus.
ZB: I’m working on my BA Capstone and I’m also trying to screen a film I made last summer!