In October 2020, I directed a music video for Matthew Herbert’s Mediterranean Dub, which remixes "Adagietto,” a track from the current classical album This Is (Not) Beethoven, by composer Arash Safaian & pianist Sebastian Knauer, which draws upon a solo piano piece to interpret the core of a whole Beethoven symphony (the 7th from 1812). Matthew Herbert stretches out this calm piano solo rework, by slowing it down, in extreme, so the melodies are elongated to another dimension. This takes “Adagietto” to a different place, as if our ears were in a mesmerizing club, the ceiling of which rises to a classical cathedral, its windows embedded in the stars. We experience elevation. To mirror this process, I visually remixed Busby Berkeley dance choreographies, from 1930 Classical Hollywood, with a contemporary YouTube Tai Chi routine. By slowing down the Tai Chi video, an eastern practice intended for calm and mental clarity, and superimposing it over the dancers, the video melts the materials into a spiritual form, my hope being that audiences feel transcendence. I am especially grateful to Philipp Ernst for bringing me on board this project.
The Lost Shaman
On the 11th of September, deep in the forests of Český ráj (Bohemian Paradise), my first feature, Confessions of a Box Man opened up the Šamana ztráta Ƹ̴Ӂ̴Ʒ, otherwise known as The Lost Shaman multimedia festival, which brought together an amazing lineup of artists and musicians from across Europe. Besides screening my film, I was also able to install a box sculpture with mannequin legs (thank you Vlček!) and perform sacred, tribal box dances for a full house. On the dawn of the last day, I ceremonially burnt my cardboard box on the green lawns of the event space, which felt like the beginning of a new journey, as the film now moves out into the world. Very appreciative to the festival organizers Ewelina Chiu, Daniel Vlček, Tereza Odehnalová, and Pavel Kraus.
Confessions of a Box Man
After five long and loving years, in the first week of August 2020 I officially released my debut feature film, Confessions of a Box Man. After working with an all-star cast of friends, students, and colleagues from Prague Film School, along with filmmakers from my first and second year, and dozens of artists in post, the film was finally born. I am especially thankful to the late Mark McKinley, of Forever Professor, who helped finance the film, along with The Lab, a Prague based production house that supervised the post-production. Please check out the stunning press kit by Jakub Tranta below, which profiles all the actors and key artists.
The complete film is now up on Vimeo and YouTube, in Czech and English; it also recently screened at the Cinema Open, Film and Audiovisual Art Festival, in November 2020, where it was honored with the Best Film award and the Eastern Nigeria Film Festival where I was humbly bestowed the Best Director award (as well as a shortlist nomination of Best Narrative Feature and Best Film). I am beyond grateful to have my film’s premiere into the world be so decorated so far and I look forward as it begins to tour from here on out. Look out for dancing and burning boxes, male leg contests, and a carboard confessional booth that houses a Catholic AI priest. All coming soon!
download PRESS KIT
Ilios - Nantesbuch
In May, I released a short titled Ilios, which I directed in collaboration with Marcel Karnapke, of CyberRäuber. My initial goal was to express something about my experience in America, where I was trapped all spring due to the shutdown. While partly a narrative about my own struggles, Ilios doubles as a meditation on nature and humanity. I am grateful for the open call from Stiftung Nantesbuch, a foundation in Bavaria, as it promted Marcel and I to create this piece. I am also extremely grateful to have collaborated with Jackson Bierfeldt, who did the sound design. After having lived together for over a month in our hometown, Amherst, Ohio, Jackson and I took to the woods, literally, staying in his grandparent’s cottage in Little Valley New York, New York. It was there, inspired by the nature around us, along with a deer skull that we discovered on the forest floor, that the text for Ilios was born.
Directors: Marcel Karnapke, Mika Johnson
Concept and VR Development: Marcel Karnapke
Script: Mika Johnson
Sound: Jackson Bierfeldt
Narrators: Mika Johnson, Jackson Bierfeldt
All is Lost
The final days of May 2020 marked the release of All is Lost, a medieval short that I directed starring Juan Raúl Díaz Fábrega, Maxmilián Hruška, and Issy Mccallum Stewart. Extremely grateful to the team of Prague Film School students who crewed this shoot and Lokomotiv Studio, in Brazil, who did the color grade, titles, and visual effects. With stunning cinematography by Felipe Corvello, haunting sound design by Kirk Pearson, and a mesmerizing score by Quarter Davis, this was a piece born of real commitment, as it’s not easy to produce a costume period drama on a shoestring budget. But we did it. Poster design by Jakub Tranta.
Summary: When a Marauder takes over the country, sets fire to the castles, and kills their lord, two doomed knights set off on horseback to join the battle against him. They don’t get far.
At the end of February 2020, my virtual reality adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, VRwandlung had its Canadian Premiere at the Goethe-Institut Montreal as a part of Nuit Blanche: an all-night event, once a year, that began in 2003. During this one night, institutions and spaces throughout the city host music, audiovisual installations, standup comedy, and more. This exhibition marked the final showing of VRwandlung before COVID-19 began to shut down cultural events around the world. Very grateful to Tomi Grgicevic for the video he made that captured the installation.
Nantesbuch - tree scanning
In February of 2020, as part of a ten-day residency at Nantesbuch, a foundation in the heart of the Bavarian Alpine foothills, I worked with artist Marcel Karnapke, of CyberRäuber, to 3D scan trees using the Leica BLK360 3D Laser Scanner. We focused on two solitary trees and several patches of forest. In cooperation with expanding focus, our project, called Found Forms, is dedicated to telling the story of trees and the fungal networks below them. Below are some screenshots and videos of these scans. This raw data will soon be transformed into more recognizable textures that are detailed and interactive and include the creation of roots and mycorrhizal fungal structures beneath the surface.
Music Video: The Envlps, The Last Star
In November of 2019, I co-directed “Last Star”: a music video for the Prague-based indie-pop duo The Envlps. Working in collaboration with director Martin Schumet, who co-directed, and Ján Tompkins, who assisted us on the edit, we remixed the major films of Marilyn Monroe’s career, our goal being to create a story that hinted at the ways in which pop culture mutates both those who join its ranks, as performers and those who consume it. By manipulating the images of Monroe, the video reproduces the performer’s own struggle with her image and examines the ways in which audiences influence the life of a performer. Monroe is the Last Star, symbolizing that all images are beyond our control; once created, they have the potential to destroy us.
Music Video: ba:zel, Situation
Back in April I directed a music video for the Prague based avant-pop duo ba:zel. The project is made up of Ewelina Chiu and Daniel Vlcek and features piano, flute, heavy bass, a fragile soprano, and post-techno/dub/grime beats.
After loading up the car, the duo and I headed out with cinematographer Tommaso Montaldo to Trosky Castle: a stunning 14th century structure about one hour from Prague in an area known as Bohemian Paradise (Český ráj). After filming the castle and nearby rock formations for several days with a drone, we went south to a village near České Budějovice to film birds of prey at the home of Milan Zaleš.
Over the next few months this footage was cut into a gorgeous three and a half minute music video color graded by Ajay Kulkarni. While I do not want to describe how the castles and birds connect - as I don’t want to ruin the surprise! - I do want to share part of what Ewelina wrote about the band’s song “Situation.”
“The concept of ‘free time’ is a terrifying catch 22. Once upon a time there was no such thing as “free time,” humans worked themselves to the bone and were glad to have a moment to rest and something to eat before catching a bit of sleep. Or they were born into prestige and their life and work was to spend, enjoy and live above the majority. Since the industrial revolution and the rise of capitalism, “free time” has become articulated and commodified. Not only do we have to earn our free time but we also have to earn for it. ‘Situation’ explores the idea that our free time is anything but.”
Above are some screenshots of the music video. Please back in October for the video’s release and check out ba:zel’s amazing music in the meantime.
Siro Creative: Midsummer
In June, I directed a commercial for a midsummer festival on the island of Seurasaari: a small forested district in Helsinki with wooden buildings transplanted from elsewhere in Finland.
During midsummer, thousands of people, both tourists and Helsinkians, attend the island’s traditional festival, which includes bonfires and dancing. Many thanks to the project’s producer, Eeva Jousi, and everyone at Siro who put their talents and energy into this commercial, which will be released in 2020. Very excited for the final piece.
Music Video: The Envlps, Stare
On March 13th, I released a music video I directed for one of my favorite bands in the Czech Republic, The Envlps: an Indie pop / synthpop duo from Prague.
While the band members and I kicked around ideas for a music video for their song “Stare” since 2017, it failed to materialize. But unable to get the song out of my head, I began to mix the song to a few clips from my favorite film noirs and loved the results. In the end, this led to my cutting up twenty two classics, co-editing the final piece with Martin Schumet, and working with color grader Ajay Kulkarni, on what would become one of my favorite creations to date. A very special thank you to Ján Tompkins: our godsend assistant editor who cut up the originals.
Siro Creative: National Museum
In December of 2018 I joined the Helsinki based creative agency Siro as a commercial director. My first project was to create a short video for the National Museum of Finland’s exhibition “Man Matter Metamorphosis – 10 000 Years of Design,” which opened to the public two months prior.
The show, which was conceptualised, curated, and designed by Florencia Colombo and Ville Kokkonen, was described as follows: “What is design other than rethinking man’s relationship to the material environment? Where do objects come from? In what ways will objects and the environment change? The exhibition 10, 000 years of design – Man, Matter, Metamorphosis challenges us to take a closer look at our relationship to objects and the environment.” The video was a pleasure to direct thanks to Siro producer Jukka Karhula, our editor, Kari Lamsa, and composer Justin Simon, whose music brings the piece to life.
PFS MasterclassFrom November 20th to 23rd, I teamed up with filmmaker Martin Schumet to co-teach an intensive four day workshop at Prague Film School which focused on getting second year students to pre-visualize their thesis films.
Rather than traditionally pre-visualize scenes using storyboards, photographs, or floorplans, we asked our students to use their cell phones to film three short exercises, over three days, with three goals in mind.
1. Make a 1 minute film that shows the experiences and discoveries that a character makes, be they related to objects, spaces or other characters.
2. A character enters a space they have never been before. Make a 1 minute film about that characters’ experience. How do you communicate what a character feels, hears, smells or tastes?
3. Make a 1 minute film that communicates absence, ambiguity, fragmentation, or some other larger concept (like God, time, or fate) through presence.
With mornings and afternoons devoted to watching examples and discussion, the students spent the rest of each day in groups co-authoring a simple narrative, shooting, and editing the captured materials, which sometimes included sound. The results, which we screened each mornings, were fascinating.
While I don’t see cell phones replacing real filmmaking equipment anytime soon, I do think they should be seen as the equivalent of the painter’s sketchbook. Making a film with a cell phone is still making a film, even if you’re just roughing out a scene; and to use them as a previs tool reminds us that making films cannot be learned on paper; nor in a classroom; nor by reading books or watching films and talking about them. Making a film is a collaborative experience that involves a camera and a continually dynamic set of changing circumstances, which is why filmmakers get better hitting record, even on their cell phones.
From November 14th to the 16th production designer and scenographer, Sebastian Soukup, and myself facilitated a three day workshop at the Bauhaus University Weimar, as part of an architecture class taught by Professor Heike Büttner. Titled “Spirited Away” the workshop focused on Delusionist architecture.
To connect our two main themes - dreams and space - we facilitated a series of interconnected rituals and conversations where mind, body, and awareness practices doubled as approaches to understanding the qualities of space, including architectural, virtual, cinematic, meditative, and sleeping space. In each case, we questioned how space can be used to tell stories related to light, sound, colors, materials, textures, and even time.
While some of the rituals were presentations, with slides or video or musical accompaniment, others were group exercises, including an observational walk around campus inside a cardboard box which was later repurposed as the walls of a makeshift Japanese tea house. Guest facilitator Hiroki Mano then served tea and led the students in a short meditation. The workshop culminated in an independent project, completed by each student who presented their work using a cardboard box, the medium par excellence. A heartfelt thanks to everyone involved as the workshop was endlessly inspiring. Please check out the video.
FAMUIn October of 2018, I began teaching a directing course at the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, otherwise known as FAMU.
It was honor to teach at the school where some of my favorite directors had attended. My course, titled “The Language of Cinema,” focused on “mastering the basics of film grammar, with an emphasis on visually translating scripted ideas into short, narrative exercises, to be shot with a cell phone.” While it felt slightly taboo to ask FAMU students to direct one film per week, using a cell phone, in a program devoted to 16mm, I also found that it worked.
The students screened their first assignment, Smartphone Lumière (a one-minute film inspired by the classic Lumière Brother’s films) next to a piano where they were invited to score their film live or invite a performer to do so. In some cases, our class improvised sound and music as a group, using whatever percussive instruments were available. Below are two of my favorite Smartphone Lumiere films, by Raff Fluir and Oksana Sanytska.
Directed by Raff Fluri
Directed by Oksana Sanytska
In another assignment students were asked to watch Bezúčelná procházka (Aimless Walk), from 1930, directed and photographed by Czech filmmaker Alexander Hackenschmied. Using a smart phone they then filmed their own one minute version of Bezúčelná procházka, using all of the shots we had learned thus far. I was very impressed by René Kmet’s resulting piece “Derive.
All is LostDuring my last year as a full time directing teacher at Prague Film School, in 2017, I was approached by a group of students in the acting program who asked me if I’d be interested in directing a film starring them.
I smiled and asked if they had a script. “No” came the answer. “Do you have an idea?” I asked. One of them, Juan Raúl Díaz Fábrega spoke up and said “What we know is that Max and I want to fight with swords!” “We also want to wear armor and ride horses,” quipped Max. Freudian, I thought. “Do you have a budget?” was my next question. “No” said Juan “But we can get one.”
So they did and from this conversation “All is Lost” was born, a medieval drama that tells the following story: When a Marauder takes over the country, sets fire to the castles, and kills their lord, two doomed knights set off on horseback to join the battle against him. They don’t get far.
While a year passed before we could complete the film, we finally wrapped in the spring of 2018. Written by Aaron Labaree, the film stars Juan Raul Diaz as Sir Mattius, Max Hruska as Sir Theodore, Issy Stewart as Leah, and a handful of others. With an original score and sound design by Kirk Pearson, “All is Lost” will be released in the fall of 2019. My heartfelt thanks to the entire team of PFS students that made this film possible, especially Felipe Corvello, whose beautiful cinematography is stunning throughout, and Lokomotiv Studio, in Brazil, who did the grade and visual effects.
Kasting KafkaOn March 15th, 2018, a press release went out from the Goethe-Institut, Prague that read “Casting 10 Kafka look-alikes for “KAFKA’S SON.” The casting was for a real scene in a feature written by Aaron Labaree that is now in development.
Making the casting a live event that audiences could attend was the brainchild of Jakob Racek, at that time the Cultural Programmer at Goethe-Institut Prague. Along with the press release, silkscreened posters, designed by Kaori Mitsushima, went up around Prague.
On a website, we advertised the following:
No acting experience necessary.
All ages, races, genders, body types encouraged to audition.
Kafka wigs, props, costumes, and make-up provided at audition.
Audition material will be provided.
Preference given to actors who “feel” or “look” like Kafka.
After the media in Prague described Kasting Kafka as one of the top ten events in Prague that week, the Goethe-Institut was flooded by both those who wanted to play Franz Kafka alongside those who came to witness the spectacle, which included judges and audience members holding up paper Kafka masks. It was our version of The Trial, only playful. The casting was captured by director Martin Schumet, whose coverage of the event will be released as its own short film this coming fall. Česká televize (Czech Television) also covered the event and invited myself and the best Kafka lookalike, Marek Lentvorsky, to the studio the next day.
A very special thanks to the judges (Jakob Racek, Ingrid Arnold, and David Woodard), director Martin Schumet, the production crew, producer Kristyna Milaberska, and wardrobe & hair and makeup team: Koko White and Kaori Mitsushima.
VRwandlungOn January 25th, a virtual reality adaptation of Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” that I conceived and directed, opened in Prague.
Produced by the Goethe-Institut Prague and Shahid Gulamali, the exhibition’s success led to press coverage in The Economist, Stern Magazine, and elsewhere throughout Europe; and thanks to that press, the exhibition, which continues to be booked, has now been to over 35 cities worldwide. As part of that tour I have presented and taught workshops on VR in Helsinki, Minsk, Riga, Sofia, Leipzig, Kiev, Frankfurt, Madrid, Tokyo, Hamburg, and Prague. My graditude goes out to the 30 plus people who made that piece and exhibition possible. A short video tells that story.
Main website: goethe.de/en/uun/akt/21150235.html
MomenTechIn January, 2018, the NYC based trio I belong to, MomenTech, was invited to create a site-specific piece that responded to two novels by the late Nigerian author Amos Tutuola, based in part on Yoruba folktales.
The final piece, "THREE GOOD CREATURES TOOK OVER OUR TROUBLE—THEY WERE:—DRUM, SONG AND DANCE," was presented on January 7, 2018, at a private home in New York City's Chinatown, as part of the “First Person Plural” performance/conversation series, which takes place in domestic settings around the city. For more information on this piece, which could be called a participatory artwork, a group exercise, a collaboration, a game, or a ritual, go HERE.
For more information on MomenTech - a multiplatform experimental production studio devoted to transnational progressism, post-humanism, neo-nomadism and futurism - go HERE.