Written and Directed by: HARRISON ATKINS  

Harrison Artkins
Kati Skelton
Daniel Johnson


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Q&A with Harrison Atkins

conducted by Jordan Alexander

Harrison Atkin’s latest short film Untitled Quartinbe Movie, picks up where his previous work left off, situating us in the present communal feeling of informational uncertainty and personal malaise.  Similar to his previous films, relationships and rationality offer no sure footing to the main character, resulting in a series of Kafka-esque scenarios to overcome, or possibly just get through. The accessibility of Harrison’s narratives invite the viewer to perceive a world that we both know, and are dually mystified by in the same beat. There are jokes in strange places—the dispersed six pack of Diet Sunkist cans in the fridge, did the director actually buy these for the movie or does he just like them?— a sincerity of the craft in the lighting and camera choices, and a remarkably odd feeling of warmth derived from each film’s resolution. It’s hard to explain, but it feels good to watch a Harrison Atkins movie, like finding yourself in a game you didn’t know you were playing.  I wanted to learn a bit more about what drives the aesthetic wheels behind one of my favorite directors, so we sat down with some questions and answers.

How are you finding your quarantine?

It’s generally very serene.  I just putter around my apartment all day.  Intermittently, there are interludes of going insane.  Generally I think everybody I know is getting increasingly nutball.  All the psychic energy of “public life” is now being focused into online interactions, which I think is zany and (at the time of this writing) still kind of pleasantly novel.

What do you miss most about our pre-isolation world?

Recently I've been missing sitting on my friends’ couches.

And the least?

LA smog has disappeared.  That's nice.  It's pretty outside.  

You didn’t have a crew obviously, so what part of making “untitled quartinbe movie” was the most challenging, or fun?

I truly had no desire to make it at first.  My friend was putting on a festival of films made by filmmakers in this virus era and asked me to make a film out-of-competition.  I agreed to make something but was feeling so anxious and depressed, I had absolutely no inspiration.  Days later I took a walk and started having ideas for gags, so I just wrote them down while I was walking.  Then I figured I might as well shoot em.  I kept thinking about some quote — I have no memory of to whom it's attributed or whether this is even right, but the gist of it is something like, “If you have the ability to make comedy, you have the responsibility to.”  Once I was filming myself in my apartment, it was actually quite fun and sort of escapist.  Gave me something to concentrate on.  I shot with my 5D and used a tape measure to estimate focus. Took sound on my phone, which is why it generally sounds sort of bad.  

Your first feature length film, Lace Crater, is easy to love - a restrained horror comedy genre piece about a girl who has sex with a ghost and gets an STD.

A.) Is this an auto-biographical story?

Thank you!  No, it’s not at all autobiographical in an objective way.  But also probably all the movies are autobiographical.

B) Do you believe in the supernatural?

I think there’s more going on than meets the eye, but I don’t pretend to have a clue either way.  

All of your films (that I’ve seen), play with vaguely surreal premises and contain evocative music cues, which act almost as their own characters within the story. I always think of the moment in Blissful Banquet, when the main character sits at his computer and this pulsing staticky alien sound arrives from somewhere. It’s a perfect sound in that it creates its own story twist.

That’s not a question it’s just an appreciation, the question is: do your film ideas ever begin with sounds?

I think generally the formal elements of film ideas occur to me sort of more holistically, but definitely I’ve had experiences of feeling particularly inspired by a piece of music — especially as a tonal reference point or to help kind of geolocate a vibe of a thing. But I think equally often there can be a sensation of a moment that feels like it doesn’t have clothes on or something, and then there’s like a process of clothing or costuming the moment in sound, to arrive at a tableau that feels adorned appropriately.  I think the rubric there can be extremely subjective.  But broadly speaking sound and sound design have always been truly vital components of the trip, for me.  I think I’ve gone from being very maximalist with regard to sound design to now experimenting sometimes with a lighter or more stripped down approach.

What area of life do you mine your ideas from the most?

The sweet spot for me is usually more intuitive than intellectual.  If an idea occurs to me, I try to just allow it to express itself without getting in my own way.  I like to vibe out on operating in a way that is, increasingly, as automatic as possible.  It’s like, you spend a lot of time honing your instincts and then when you’re working it’s just playtime.

If you were able to go back in time and meet your 12 year old self, what do you think he would say to you?

Do you know how to throw a boomerang??

And lastly, what’s next for you, or what was next for you before all this started?

I mean, you know, I don’t know.  There are various things I've been working on.  I have some movies of assorted sizes and scopes in various stages of “gonna make soon.”  I just finished the 25th draft of a script that I really love.  But otherwise I’m just trying to nurture relationships right now.  Enjoying banal things.  Experimenting with a different pace. I was thinking about starting an anonymous twitter account to argue with people but that seems like a bad idea.  Like a lot of people, I’m feeling a lot of skepticism toward the cult of productivity this month.

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Harrison Atkins is an American independent filmmaker.  His work has screened around the world at film festivals including TIFF,Sundance, SXSW, Berlin, Sitges, and many more.

He edited MADELINE’S MADELINE (d. Josephine Decker), called “one of the boldest and most invigorating American films of the 21st century” by Indiewire and “an ecstatic, anguished, fiercely empathetic masterwork" by The New Yorker.  It premiered at Sundance and was distributed by Oscilloscope in 2018.

His feature directorial debut LACE CRATER premiered at TIFF in 2015 and screened at numerous international film festivals before being distributed theatrically and on VOD in 2016.  His short films including CHOCOLATE HEART, BLISSFUL BANQUET, and DOOR ON THE LEFT have screened all over the place and received online accolades like ‘Short Of The Week’ and ‘Vimeo Staff Pick.

He is the co-executive producer and editor of the Netflix original series EASY, directed by Joe Swanberg.


EST 2020


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EST 2020