Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Interview: Esy Casey + "Jeepney"

Esy with "Thing With No Name" director and Co-Producer Sarah Friedland

Esy Casey is a 30 year-old Filipino-American filmmaker who has been making waves in the Indie film circle in the last 4 years.  A visual artist who also does graphics, illustration and photography, Esy loves telling stories and is genuinely interested in the lives and cultures of people from all over the world.

The daughter of a Filipina from Zambales and an Irish-American from Detroit (they met at the University of Chicago), she says that the "Jeepney" is the perfect metaphor for her (half Filipino, half American).  She was born in LA, but has lived in different cities growing up because of her parents' research work.

Esy is currently raising funds for her new film project, "Jeepney" - a feature-length documentary that chronicles the development of the Jeepney from a military relic to a "hotrod" mass transit vehicle.  The film will also contain vignettes of conversations and stories from drivers, passengers and policy makers to chart the iconic vehicle's uncertain future.

I interviewed Esy to give you a broader picture of the artist/filmmaker behind the "Jeepney" movie.

What made you become a filmmaker?

I fell into it in my mid-twenties, when my filmmaking partner Sarah asked me to shoot her film in South Africa (THING WITH NO NAME, 2008).

Did you make films when you were younger?

I've drawn since I can remember, and have been a photographer since my teens, but I'd never held a video camera before that first film.

I understand that you are also a graphic/visual artist. How has this influence your filmmaking?

Both share the same principles of composition, color theory, gesture and expression; it's all about subtle faces, emotions, visual cues that speak a thousand words, and catching them before they slip away.

Esy at work

Please discuss your photographic background.

My dad let me use his nice, heavy Nikon FE camera from the 70s since I was a teenager, and I loved understanding the mechanics of it, the winding and clicking and developing. It was a very material pleasure, something I wasn't sure would fulfill me with the moving picture. But I've always been attracted most to a sense of motion and rhythm in still photos and print design, and that was how I fell in love with cinematography. It tells a story, and can share a lifetime of someone else's experience in a matter of minutes, which is very exciting and can change your outlook on a certain area of the world, and in your own world.

What equipment do you use to shoot your films?

I use a Canon 7D, and sometimes a LitePanels Micro, but usually available light.

I read somewhere that you won an award?

I was nominated for the Wexler cinematography award for THING WITH NO NAME, and won a Book Design Gold Award with a group of fellow designers for the book SHOW ME HOW.
Please briefly discuss your previous film involvements (Bienvenido, Way Down In The Hole, The Court of Mysteries, Thing with No Name – as cinematographer and producer).

They've all been incredibly varied stylistically and production-wise, which keeps me on my toes and keeps me learning.

THING WITH NO NAME (available to stream on iTunes + Amazon.com) was the first film I worked on, and also one of the most powerful personal growth experiences I've ever had—so many friends passed away during that production, which made the subject matter even more urgent to communicate to a world that wasn't able to grasp what day to day life is like in the midst of an epidemic. Journalism is necessary to keep us alert to how our fellow humans are doing, but usually only the quick facts can be conveyed; documentaries are needed for a greater understanding of how we are alike, rather than different.

BIENVENIDO also gives a glimpse into the larger reasons that a boy with a wonderfully supportive family can still slip through the cracks at his school.

WAY DOWN IN THE HOLE commemorates a pivotal event in labor history whose violence gets skipped over in the history books.

THE COURT OF THE MYSTERIES also questions the veracity of local history and the myths that grow around it.

How did the “Jeepney” project develop?

I loved riding in the jeepney when I was little, it was colorful, fun and exciting to be crammed in there with all of my cousins and the open air streaming through. It saddens me that so few countries, including the US, have pretty drab, anonymous transport when trips could be more of an experience, like riding in an old train or streetcar. I noticed that jeepneys were much less decorated overall than they were in the 80s, and talked to Ed Sarao about that change, and the overall change in the country as more are working abroad, and how local skills can be lost in that process. The Philippines is such a stunning country with such a uniquely blended artistic background that it's an easily cinematic way of looking at the larger picture with the jeepney as a metaphor.

How are you planning to approach the film?

As naturalistic as possible, with a tiny crew of two, no crazy gear and lights, etc. Just capturing the vignettes of life from many perspectives, tied together through the jeepney.

What are your plans for the future?

More films, more art, more Philippines! I make tentative plans, but then great opportunities arise and lead me elsewhere.
Is there anything else you want to add?

Just that I'm very excited to start, we'll be posting behind-the-scenes at the film blog, + our Kickstarter fundraising campaign is also up; feel free to pass along the links to anybody who might be interested, in any aspect, and we can't wait to screen the final film to you.

Please help Esy raise funds for her "Jeepney" project by visiting these sites:

Here is the "Jeepney" movie teaser:

--Photos courtesy of Esy Casey and Far Flung Traveler. Trailer by Perinspire from Vimeo.com

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