Exile is a short film that, by necessity, can’t get across as much story as a full film—but still manages a lot of good storytelling through visual details and implications.
Which already puts it ahead of a lot of science fiction that feels it necessary to dump a lot of information on the viewer. And, from a technical, writing perspective, that’s perhaps its most impressive feat.
But, as is immediately apparent from the first time you see it, it’s not the most memorable aspect.
No, for that, it’s the special effects and the message.
As for the first thing, let me be clear: this is stunning. I must mention the spoiler of there being a robot in the film, it’s much less a spoiler for me to mention that this robot looks more real, more present, weightier than some full-budget films manage with million-dollar VFX budgets.
I was gobsmacked by how good this thing moves; how much love and care went into its tiniest movements.
And then, as I said, there’s the thematic aspect of this. The movie is only 6 minutes long, so you need to go watch it yourself—but the ending and choice pieces of dialogue get across a very concerning world and a future that’s full of interesting questions.
Really, out of every aspect of filmmaking, the only issue in Exile is the acting—as it can come off as a bit flat in line delivery. The physical acting, and especially the stunt work, are all magnificent, but there are just lines that I can’t help but get jarred by—especially because of the quality of everything else.
Sadly, there’s always going to be a weakest link in any film.
But I don’t want that to deter you from seeing it.
This is good sci-fi, delivered spectacularly, both visually and conceptually, and is a good enough proof of concept that I’d willingly watch a full-length film set in this world.
Exile is less than ten minutes long; you don’t have an excuse not to watch something this impressive. The indie science fiction scene is kind of exploding lately with good content, and this is another example of what even small crews can do with enough love and care for the craft.
The technology is there, we just need more people like Mark and his crew willing to use it.
Recently, I got the privilege of watching the short film Exile, directed by Mark Freiburger. Afterward, I got to ask him a few questions about him and his movie. Here’s that interview.
“I suppose the best place to start is for you to tell us a little about yourself. What’s your background outside of filmmaking?”
The short version is that I grew up in North Carolina where I eventually attended UNCSA, then I lived in Los Angeles for some time, and finally settled down in Austin, Texas. Film is the only career I’ve ever had, but outside of it I spend as much time as I can with soon-to-be wife, and my network of friends and family. I’m also an active board member of a non-profit that feeds and educates about 600 children a day in Central America, so that is my other focused passion in life outside of film.
“There are a lot of different artistic pursuits. What drew you to film?”
I was always a storyteller as a kid. I think it was inevitable that I would have become a writer or something, but I gravitated toward film because to me it always seemed to be the highest and most complex form of storytelling. It was a combination of all the arts (human performance, music, visual/painting with light, etc.) and the idea of making a career out of the most complex form of storytelling was what drew me toward it. Additionally, I think every filmmaker has a list of films that inspired them and confirmed that this was the path they wanted to take in life – so from a macro point of view, I don’t think I’m any different from other filmmakers who were inspired by films that spoke to them early in life.
“You mentioned to me that this was a passion project. What inspired you to make this movie?”
I’ve always been a big fan of sci-fi and 4-quadrant popcorn summer movies, but, when I began my career, I was basically working in the world of micro-budget indie films – thankful to make a living in film and tell more intimate stories made for niche audiences, but a far cry from where I really wanted to be. Then a few years ago I won the “Doritos Crash the Super Bowl Contest” (but not the $1MM dollars that usually comes with the prize of winning that contest – let me be clear about that. There were special circumstances surrounding the year I entered the contest so I didn’t win the money, but I’ve been asked many times by media outlets over the years what I did with the money, despite never receiving it.) But… what did happen with winning that year was that I got to work with Michael Bay on TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION. It was an incredible experience all around, and Michael was gracious with taking the time to make sure I was learning as much as I possibly could on his set. I shadowed him, then spent a considerable amount of time learning from the VFX crew from Industrial Light and Magic. After that experience, I naively thought it was time I could finally make the leap away from making micro-budget indie films. So, I went out and wrote my own big budget sci-fi film with the intention that I would direct it. The script actually got setup at a production company who had an overall deal with Sony Pictures. But ultimately the project never went anywhere. Because of the combination of that script and the Bay experience, I started getting in more rooms around town and the opportunity to put my name in the hat to direct some bigger budget fare, but the powers-that-be kept telling me that even though I had some experience as a director I had still never directed action, sci-fi, anything with VFX (or any kind of real budget for that matter), so if I wanted to make the leap I would need to start by going out and making something on my own that would point me in that direction. That was when the initial seeds for EXILE were planted. Over time, I came up with a story I wanted to tell in the sci-fi space, saved up some money, and decided to pursue making my own sci-fi short.
“As a director, how would you describe your style on-set? Are you very involved with your cast and crew? When something goes wrong during filming, how do you handle it?”
I’m extremely involved with my cast and crew. Always have been. I’ve worked in every position as a crew member on set over the years, so I can identify with the challenges that come up in any department. And I love working with actors as well… because of my indie roots, I tend to come from a place of collaboration and deep respect for the actor. My demeanor is usually upbeat and calm on set – no matter the circumstances. Making a film is always hard – whether it’s a one-day shoot, or a shoot that spans months. And, as the director, you set the tone. I try to create an atmosphere of fun and light-heartedness as I believe you get the best work from people that way in front of, and behind the camera. I always show up prepared and with a game plan to tackle the day – if you don’t, you’re screwed. Clear communication to the entire cast and crew is so crucial, to make sure they all understand the vision and that we’re working toward making the same film together. You can still be kind to people and masterfully execute your vision without having to compromise. That’s the type of leadership approach I like to take.
“At what point during filming did it really begin to feel like Exile was coming together?”
We only had two days to shoot EXILE with a small crew, and we had the extra challenge of all the stunts and everything else combined, so we had to come to the table prepared to execute a tight game plan. Once we got through the first couple of scenes on Day 1 and moved on, I knew we had a solid working crew and would make our days in time.
“As I mentioned in my review, the special effects were incredible. Just how extensive was post-production?”
Post-production was very extensive and difficult. We had an initial game plan going into post-production that ultimately did not pan out once we got into the first couple of months of post. Self-financed, indie VFX projects, as I have come to learn, are long and hard roads if you want to do it right. Post got delayed by a few months while I was trying to find all the right new puzzle pieces to bring it together. Then I eventually came across a guy in North Carolina named Derick Childress who is a Generalist in the VFX space – meaning, he can wear every hat in the VFX process if need be. He ended up coming on board and became the film’s savior. He did about 95% of all the VFX work himself and helped me finish the film. My editor, Evan Vetter, and myself stayed in constant communication with Derick throughout the entire process. Overall, the film was in post-production for about 15 months before we finally got it finished.
“What would you like to happen with this film? Are you planning to enter it into any contests?”
I’m not entering it into any contests at this point. My plan was to always release it wide online to not only showcase a new side of me as a filmmaker, but to provide a proof-of-concept for a feature as well.
“What advice would you have for someone interested in getting into directing or filmmaking? If you were to mentor someone, how would you begin?”
I have and will always continue to mentor younger filmmakers, and I myself hope to continue to be mentored by filmmakers who are farther along in their journey than me as well. I wish Hollywood had a true apprentice system set in place but they don’t really have anything like that anymore, so it’s up to all of us to continue learning and sharing with each other so we can tell the best stories possible. As far as general advice goes, I would say if you can go to film school, give it a shot. Otherwise, there are many other ways to learn the craft – YouTube tutorials, books, film societies, etc. The internet and access to cheap filmmaking equipment have leveled the playing field. Anybody can learn the technical skills, what will help you stand out is the stories you choose to tell and the level of craft with which you tell them. Which gets me to my last piece of general advice… read, read, read… scripts, and especially fiction of any kind. If you want to be good filmmaker then you have to fill your life with stories. This will 100% make you a better storyteller and filmmaker.
“What are you doing next? Got any projects in the works?”
I have a new sci-fi script that began as a feature version of EXILE but morphed into something different in story and tone. We are about to take that script out. I also co-wrote a script based based on a little-known story from the Old Testament about ancient Israel’s one and only female military leader and judge. That script is also VFX heavy and is making the rounds. But at the time of this interview, like most of us in the world, I’m in the middle of stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19 so all the other commercial production work that I’ve been doing for the past year, which has been my bread and butter, has come to a grinding halt. So, I’m taking this much needed personal time to read more and write more.
“On what social media, websites, or other places can fans find you?”
Thank you again for the review on EXILE and for taking the time to interview me!
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