Every year UTV Studios presents the NAU Student Film Festival, showcasing the year’s best student films in one friendly and highly competitive night. This year was no different.
On May 6, 15 films premiered at the Orpheum Theater during the 2018 NAU Film Festival including Death by Cellulose, a film essay exploring the relationship between humanity and memories, Elevator Pitches, a film about a failed writer’s absurd story pitches, and Jillian Payne, a documentary about a young woman’s account as a sex slave.
Of the 12 awards given out during the night, one film managed to nab half. That film: Faerie. With a total of six awards including Special Achievement in Costume Design, Audience Choice for Fiction and Grand Jury Prize for Fiction, Faerie captured the imagination of both the audience and the grand jury with a complex and insightful monster tale. Directed by Eric Joseph Lynch and written by Spenser Williamson, Faerie follows a grieving widower’s return to his timberland home while his daughter meets the Hunter and the hunted in the woods. After working on a rewrite of the film Harshaw, which took home Special Achievement in Production Design and Cinematography, the two senior Creative Media and Film majors began working together as a duo.
Flagstaff Live! sat down to talk with the director/writer duo about their influences, how loss and grief translate into their films and the unexpected success of Faerie.
Flag Live!: How did you two meet and start to work together?
Eric Joseph Lynch: I met Spenser almost exactly a year ago, at the film festival last year. I didn’t know who he was. He had a couple films up, and so did I. We were competing, and we didn’t like each other (laughs).
Spenser Williamson: Yeah, there’s a natural competitive nature against the other films, but at that film festival I actually did walk up to [Eric] and introduce myself because I knew we were both going to be in UTV next semester. I introduced myself and was like, “If you need help rewriting the script we’re doing next semester. Let me know” And he was like, “Yeah, I’ll hit you up.” And he never hit me up (laugh). Just months of silence.
Lynch: He did well at the festival. I did well. It was a lot of fun. Then next semester—he comes in as a writer. I’m more of a director, and then I was like, “Well, let’s try this. Let’s see what’s good.” We got together and realized pretty quickly that he knows what he’s doing. I kind of know what I’m doing. And it was like, “Let’s work together. Let’s make this work.”
We rewrote Harshaw together with a whole team. It got so much better. That was the second time I’d done that, but where I really learned that you really got to work with other people and more voices only lets the best ideas rise in service.
Williamson: But you also have to know when to disregard other people’s opinions. It’s a happy balance. You need feedback, but too much feedback will corrupt the story.
Flag Live!: Too many cooks.
Flag Live!: What about each other’s writing style or directing style prompted a collaboration between you two?
Williamson: I think it was born almost out of necessity. We gravitated toward each other because we were two of the hardest working people in the program, and we would spend 10-hour days in one room just writing or doing shot lists or working on story boards, and I think it was just the fact that we both wanted to be there wholeheartedly.
Lynch: I mean, I don’t think anybody else was doing what we were doing in terms of putting in the amount of hours. It was like, “Well, let’s keep doing this together because no one else is.”
Flag Live!: You worked with Peter Kersting for Faerie. I worked with him at The Lumberjack, so I’ve worked with him in that regard, but I was just curious how he works in a more creative atmosphere like film.
Williamson: (laughs) So Peter is high intensity, as you know.
Lynch: His natural state is intense (laughs).
William: And the character Miles is not an intense character—very quiet and reserved. So it was really important for Eric to tell him, “You got to stay in character. You can’t be joking around in between takes,” because then it was just taking everyone out of it.
Lynch: One of the most rewarding experiences for me was one of our first rehearsals with him, after we were like, “I think we’re going to cast him because he’s got the look. We can make this work.”
We spent an hour and a half in the library beating Peter out of Peter and making him Miles, and it was so amazing to watch him get angry at us and then get depressed about being angry at us. And then I was like, “Hey, that’s Miles. That worked for us.”
Flag Live!: In terms of writing, directing and storytelling, what are some of your biggest influences?
Williamson: I’m from McEwensville, Pennsylvania. Growing up in a small town, you have to find ways to entertain yourself. I grew up between corn fields and forest, so I was outside all of the time, and I had four older brothers, so we would just play make believe. We would make up stories and play the characters. And then one day I was like, “You know what would be cool, if I started writing the stories down.” So that’s really where it started.
My influences I guess—Ernest Hemmingway, favorite writer of all time I would say. Wes Anderson for filmmakers.
Lynch: Spenser, I feel like it comes from your childhood. Mine comes from my early adult life. I’m from Long Island originally. I grew up in Tucson. I had a great childhood. I didn’t have a lot of conflict in my life. I took a nosedive in my life when I was 16 and made a lot of bad choices and kind of got my act together when I was about 20, and that whole process gave me just a lifetime’s worth of experience in a very short period of time, and I became very interested in storytelling. I read like three books a week my first two years of community college after I got my act together.
I mean, I always watch movies. I’ve always loved movies. Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorites. Scorsese. You can’t go wrong there. I mean, I don’t want to be the next this. I’d rather be my own thing. Just watching so much content and going through what I went through, I’m always interested in what other people’s stories are.
Like when I walked in the room here, we see this deer sitting on this couch. I’m like, “What’s the story there?” I see stories wherever I go, and I try to reverse engineer where they come from, and then it sparks an idea of where I want to take it from there.
Flag Live!: With Harshaw and Faerie, these are both stories involving loss and grief. Why are these kinds of stories and characters ones you would like to explore?
Williamson: Those are the most interesting characters, the self-reflective characters, the people who are so conscious that it’s almost tearing them apart. Those are the people you like to watch because when you’re at your lowest you like to see people at their lowest because you can relate.
From a life perspective, my uncle passed away close to eight years ago. It was devastating to me, but he was my father’s best friend. He was best man at my father’s wedding, and that changed my father completely. He still is not the same man after that. So growing up, seeing that, you kind of see that internalization, and you have to find a way to express that. I think I capture that through film.
Lynch: I can relate just by the shame and guilt I feel in my life, the choices that I’ve made and overcoming that and having that chip on my shoulder since I was 20 years on.
Putting aside that, from a directing standpoint, directing characters who have so much internal conflict adds so many layers to everything they do. So, every single action they do, it’s informed by that internal conflict, and it makes directing more fun.
Flag Live!: Did you expect Faerie to do so well at the NAU Film Festival?
Lynch: We did not at all. What was more important to me was if people got it.
Williamson: It goes without saying, you have to be crazy to be a filmmaker or to try to be a filmmaker. Maybe you do it for personal triumphs, but really you’re making movies for people, for people to watch and enjoy, even if that’s one person. So I think every time someone walks up to you and they’re like, “We like that film. This was my favorite part,” and you can tell they’re just jazzed to watch it, you did your job.
Lynch: It’s that way with feedback, too. When this isn’t working or that isn’t working. You’ve got to accept it because it’s not just for you. It’s for the people who are going to watch it or read it or absorb it. So that was the best part. Not the awards. It was people getting it and enjoying it.