Tommy Pallotta is an American film director and producer.
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Hi, I'm Tommy Pallotta. I lurk on reddit daily, but this is my first time doing an AMA.
A little bit about me: I enjoy telling stories with technology. So I blend a lot of animation and live-action. I read some interesting articles that explained the reasons behind Somali piracy that I didn't know, and then Femke Volting (whom I co-directed this film with) suggested that we animate part of it. So we did.
You can view the trailer and the interactive documentary at http://lasthijack.com/
The film is being released in New York (Quad) & LA (Downtown independent) theaters this Friday, and it will be on iTunes exclusively on October 7-14, and after the 14th on all on-demand platforms.
Ask me anything about Last Hijack (or WAKING LIFE or A SCANNER DARKLY) as well. Live from reddit NY headquarters with Victoria assisting me. AMA.
Edit: Thanks for all your questions. I have to run to something else right now. I will try to log in later tomorrow to see if there are any more questions that I can answer.
A Scanner Darkly was a great film, but I was a little leary about the cell-shading until I actually saw it. Looking back, I'm not sure it would have worked any other way. Which brings me to my question...
What's your favorite subreddit?
Like I said, I'm a huge lurker in /r/Conspiracy. And I love the inherent dramatic nature of conspiracies in general.
How come the animation style of A SCANNER DARKLY never really caught on? Or did it, and I just have no idea....
The technique is called rotoscoping, which is essentially tracing over a live image, which sounds easy, but takes a very long time to do. A SCANNER DARKLY took about 500 man hours per minute. And we had a full crew working about 18 months to do the animation for that film.
Does the parasitic nature of docs/journalism ever get to you? A crew can film a doc about a person in trouble, then eject themselves from the situation to go on and win awards, get standing ovations, and sell the film for decades - only because the original subject went through that trouble.
I have asked this of documentary directors, cinematographers, and photojournalists at various Q&As over the years. Of the dozen or so I have asked, only two really gave genuine and thoughtful answers. One yelled at me in front of the whole theater and was really offended, he had shot a doc about students being very badly treated. Watching Grey Gardens and American Movie in the same month was what made me uneasy about this kind of exploitation, and I haven't really been able to reconcile it since.
Thank you for your thoughtful question. I believe it deserves a thoughtful answer. I am going to get back to you in a few minutes.
EDIT: "Parasitic" is an interesting choice of words. Because it implies that the relationship is non-mutally beneficial. And to generalize and say that all documentaries are like that is something that I would hesitate to accept. Without a doubt, what you say is true in some instances, but I do believe that there is another side to the relationship that is not being fully explored by this question. Like an example of this would be Blackfish, where the filmmakers are not giving anything to the whales in question while making the film, but the long-term benefit is to the whales overall. And it's extremely difficult to predict how what you do will affect others in the future. I think that intent always comes through in storytelling and I think if you've seen the movies that I work on, I think that intent comes through.
Mr. Pallotta, thank you for being here! I'm trying to get in early. I'm the host of a podcast out of Indianapolis, IN. Waking Life is one of those films that kind of shaped my early love of movies. I would be absolutely be thrilled and grateful to have you on for a 20-30 minute interview that covers your career. Scanner Darkly, Slacker, the Linklater experience that you were a part of crafted some of the better work I've seen in my life. I'd also like to talk about upcoming projects and anything you'd like to promote. Would you be interested in the interview? I appreciate you taking the time for my question and the AMA as a whole. I look forward to reading your responses and hope to hear from you soon.
Call me Tommy, please. Of course, I'd love to talk to you. PM me your email address and we'll schedule.
What is Richard Linklater like to work with ?
Richard Linklater is a long-time friend of mine. And it's always great to work with friends. He's one of the smartest, most thoughtful cool people in the film business. Hope to work with him again soon.
Fun trivia: he has a pet pig. It's like, a pig-pig. It scared the shit out of me the first time I saw it.
Tommy, thanks for the reply. Super exciting! If you could, email the show at: email@example.com I'd appreciate the chat. Like I said, Waking Life was kind of an introduction to "alternative" type cinema. I look forward to hearing from you good sir.
Hi Tommy! Can I call you Tommy? Thank you for doing this AMA! Waking life is my favorite dream themed movie. Are you a lucid dreamer yourself?
No, I'm not a lucid dreamer. Linklater is actually the one who was really into lucid dreams. I prefer to let my dreams surprise me.
Holy shit-500 man hours... Is there a figure on how much those man hours cost?
The entire budget for the film was eight and a half million.
Oh cool are you the black guy that says "I'm the captain now"?
When I saw the first trailer for Captain Phillips, I thought that was a perfect line and delivery. And wished that I had thought of it, and would have loved to have been the guy that had said that!
Thanks. I do love a lot of docs, and had 100% intended to make them myself - but then I started to feel weird about them. Exposure is sometimes an OK reward for appearing in a film/news story, but it doesn't necessarily balance with what the filmmaker can get out of it. Almost all the risk is on the subjects, and almost all the reward is for the filmmaker/journalist.
Again - I would say you have to ask yourself why you are doing this. Intent is something that will always come through, and certainly something you will have to live with.
There are great news reports and documentaries that I think could be models for you. Are there films or news reports that have inspired or enlightened you, and can you aspire to those?
Thanks for answering, Tommy! I did really love the adaptation of A Scanner Darkly, and I'm sure that your enthusiasm for Philip K. Dick's work came through in the film.
Thanks for the kind words. One of the most enjoyable aspects of that film was meeting his surviving family.
I think the films that have a solid perspective, and stand behind it (Blackfish) are ones I can get behind. The filmmaker is putting something on the line in those. The ones that pretend to be neutral fly-on-the-wall films that record people's problems (Grey Gardens) are the ones that make me uneasy.
Again, this comes down to intent, and if you want to make films, it sounds like you are very thoughtful and conscientious about this and I would trust that you would make a film that avoids the issues you are bringing up here, and ultimately that seems to be your main concern.
what did you learn while making the movie?
If you visit lasthijack.com and watch the interactive documentary, it's a summary of everything that we learned about Somalia and the situation. The animation technique that we used, which really was bringing oil paintings to life in a 3-D animated environment, is super-exciting to me and it's entirely different from what I had done in the past with rotoscoping. And mixing animation with live-action, creating a hybrid, I think, is a really interesting way to tell a story. And we discovered that with animation, we can show a very subjective viewpoint, which feels like it opens up possibilities for many other stories to tell.
So like 6 million on animation?
The actors did it all for scale, so the movie came out in 2006 - I don't remember the exact budget and where that money went, but the majority of it went into the animation.
Hey Mr. Pallotta, I enjoy your work, and I was just wondering who/what your work is inspired by stylisticly? And who are you inspired by in general?
Please call me Tommy. My favorite filmmaker is Richard Linklater, it seems like a copout but it's true. I get a lot of inspiration from music. And I feel like a lot of what I try to do in animation and film is more lyrical and less traditional than most movies. I read a lot when I was younger, big fan of Philip K. Dick, and his storytelling continues to always inspire me.
what is your favorite snack?
I like a snack and drink. I made a short documentary animation called "Snack and Drink" about an autistic teen and his trip to 7/11.
Hi Tommy, What are you wearing?
T-shirt and pants and sneakers.
Where can I see your documentary, American Prince? I saw it at SXSW a few years ago and loved it. For those who don't know, it is a sequel of sorts to the lost Scorcese doc, "American Boy".
Well, it was released via BitTorrent (for all you pirates out there) by me, as a gift to the pirating community. Google "American Prince" in quotation marks and you should be able to find it.
Do you have any advice for me on getting my screenplay read, please? I loved Walking Life and A Scanner Darkly, just amazing films you could even watch with the sound off they are so amazing to look at. I would love to do what you do for a living but at 34 I am worried I am too late.
First, I don't think there is a huge barrier for age in filmmaking, so I don't think that 34 is too late. And I think filmmaking and writing benefits from experience. And then in terms of how to get it read, I would register it at the Writer's Guild (WGA), and I would send it out to everyone I could, and I think there are a lot of new platforms that are supporting people who have scripts and want them to get read by people in the industry.
How did you come up with the animation style for Waking Life? What role do you think the visual animation plays in this film?
The animation style of WAKING LIFE was co-developed with Bob Sabiston, and we had been making shorts before WAKING LIFE was ever animated. I was friends with Richard Linklater, and he started talking to me about what was going to become WAKING LIFE - and at first we were talking about shooting with digital cameras, this was 1999, about how not to shoot it in a "Hollywood" type way. And because I'd been using the digital cameras to film the underlying video for the shorts that we were making, we started talking about it, and as it became more apparent that we wanted to show this sort of lucid dream state, it seemed that the animation was a very natural fit and way to tell the story.
The animation elevates it in a surreal way. And it gives it an illogic that lends itself to a dreamlike atmosphere.
Whose your favorite director? And what film?
The filmmaker that affected me the most when I was young was Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who was a German filmmaker who was heavily influenced by Hollywood melodramas, but through a very unique German lens. One of my favorite films of his is The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, and I think the unique vision mixed with the sort of high drama was something that I didn't really see in the movies I was exposed to at a young age growing up in Texas.
What do you love about making movies? And what do you wish was different about the animation industry? Film industry?
Making movies is really hard work. But I can think of a lot of jobs that are a lot harder, and less rewarding. I love to connect with an audience, and filmmaking has been my window to see the world. I grew up in a small Texas town, and never would have imagined that I would have grown up to tell stories, meet fascinating people, and understand different cultures the way that I have.
I think people's ideas of animation and what is marketable is fairly narrow, and I wish it was easier to find an audience for more experimental animation. But that also means that the rules aren't yet defined about what can be accomplished with animation, and I think that that is very exciting.
A lot of filmmakers complain about the film "industry" and I'm one of those. But ultimately, they are reacting and responding to what the audience wants. So if people want more challenging films or different types of stories, they need to support that kind of filmmaking and the industry will respond.
If you weren't a filmmaker, what other "life path" do you think you'd find yourself on?
I'm a huge fan of bicycles, and I often fantasize about making a living somehow with bikes. I think bicycles are the best invention ever. I would like more people to ride bicycles. That sounds like the nerdiest thing in the world.
Bicycles, eh? How do you feel about Unicycles? There was a great game on Super Nintendo called "Uniracers" about, what I'm assuming are, sentient Unicycles in a dystopian future that race for someone's amusement. Would be ripe for an animated series. Your love of animation + bi/unicycles = ...
I like unicycles. I also like tricycles. And any other form of human-powered vehicle, no matter how many wheels they have. It sounds like a great idea and I would encourage you to make it.
any life lessons?
Eat right, exercise and floss. I don't know why everybody says that, but there must be a really good reason.