With the 25th Anniversary of the Dusty Film & Animation Festival just around the corner (May 10 – 13 at the SVA Theatre), SVA Close Up is checking in with some of the College’s many successful alumni making names for themselves in the world of film, video and animation. For the second installment of the series, the spotlight is on cinematographer and director Vincent Peone (BFA 2007 Film and Video) who, aside from helping launch the original video department at the popular CollegeHumor.com, is also one half of the directing duo Josh + Vince. Peone recently took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions via e-mail.
When did you realize that filmmaking was what you wanted to do with your life?
It started out pretty pure. I always found it unfair that my mom was never in any family videos, because she was always behind the camera. So I decided to try our JVC VHS camera on for size. It was about the size of me. My sisters were always game to let me dress them up and make them “act” and mom and dad always got a good laugh when I’d screen my “films” for them. That was all the encouragement I needed.
What makes a great film?
On a really fundamental level, relatability. It can take many forms but I think what holds and truly captivates an audience is realism, and giving people realism requires them to connect in some way. When someone can connect with a character, a moment, an image, you’ve done your job as a filmmaker.
If you could have dinner with three filmmakers, dead or alive, who would they be and why?
Gordon Willis: Talk about a guy who’s got a tale or two to tell. He’s been within earshot of every major decision ever made on some of the greatest films of all time, by some of the greatest filmmakers of all time. He held his own too; he wasn’t afraid to take chances in the face of huge responsibility. I think that cocktail is what begets greatness.
Joel and Ethan Coen: I know that’s cheating because there are two of them, but I couldn’t resist. They’ve mastered comedy and drama, and float between the two effortlessly. I’m also infinitely intrigued by writing and/or directing duos. Filmmaking is such a collaborative medium, but not all filmmakers are collaborative. These guys aren’t just brothers, they rely on one another creatively. I think that’s really unique.
Stanley Kubrick: An obvious choice, but for good reason. Kubrick believed in craftsmanship, and that philosophy extended to every genre he busted. You see his influence in every filmmaker alive today, partly because I think it’s that level of excellence that every modern filmmaker seeks. Also, I’d be curious to see how a person with a 200 IQ would attack a three-course meal.
If you find yourself stuck in a creative rut, what gets you out of it?
Creativity is immensely sensitive and constantly needs nourishment. It’s easy to lose sight of when your focus is elsewhere. I think that’s why most people vacation—to try to separate from their less-inspired selves. For me, it all comes down to being open. As simplistic as that sounds, openness can be very difficult. The routine of everyday tasks can cause you to put your blinders up to the inspiration that’s always around you. Storytelling in any form comes from experience, and you don’t have experiences when you’re closed off. When I feel like I’m in a rut, I try to approach life with more spontaneity.
How did your time at SVA prepare you for what you’re doing today?
SVA helped me find my voice as a filmmaker. Sometimes that just means having like-minded people around to bounce ideas off of. Can a school really prepare you for your career? I don’t know. I don’t think a doctor’s really a doctor until they interact with their first patient. The most you can ask for from a college education is that you are given a schedule that allows you to send and receive information. The rest falls on you and your passion for the subject matter. For a motivated and ambitious person, SVA is a place where a spark can become a wildfire.
What advice would you give aspiring filmmakers?
Be yourself and tell your own story. Challenge yourself to make that as interesting as possible, because chances are, someone else has already told it before.