Making Pariatha / by Zack Handler

Today I wrapped up my 9 minute experimental horror fantasy Pariatha. This film has been the culmination of a deepened understanding of various crafts, everything from visual effects development to miniature set fabrication to directing. 

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The film is a mix of the Romantic and the grotesque. It came partially from having had  so many images on my laptop of really intricate spiders and moths. Meanwhile all my ideas at the time were about Preraphaelite damsels because that was the art I was looking at. So much of my energy was going toward exploring the intersection of the sublime  and the outlandish. Pariatha is made up of the word Pariah and Golgotha (Cavalry), so the name heavily reflects that.

I got the idea for the film staring at an image of Black Sabbath's Master of Reality cover three years ago. The colors were warped, and the copy looked purple and alien-green. I was really excited by how immediate my associations were with this collection of colors. It made me feel like  unadulterated scifi-horror could be concentrated into a potent nectar you could inject into someone. I'd had an idea for a giant eating stars already, and I'd drawn a uniboobed creature forever ago that I always kept in the back of my mind knowing I wanted to see it in a film. Ultimately, the color palette ended up being the glue that brought a lot of ideas I had together.

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I made the sets in my tiny apartment. Friends came over and helped me on weekends to make huge paper mache stalagmites which we then texturized with spackle. I used a similar process for the rocks.

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Casting was a trip. I aggressively put calls up on every site I could. But those who showed up and those I called back were averse to the nudity. No one with the neoclassical look I needed was willing to be nude for the entirety of the film. Shoot dates were less than a month away and I hadn't cast anyone. I started resorting to desperate measures. I put a post up on Craigslist which went about how you would expect it to. I started messaging people on random platforms like Vimeo and Instagram telling them they had the look I wanted.  But when asked if they'd consider being nude in a film, I seldom got a reply. Finally the cast came from friends of friends after my thousandth plea on social media for any connects to beautiful nude models. The Jealous Lover came from a society with a database of nude models I asked to look at.

Working with my friend Ryan as the giant was excellent. I learned a lot about using animals to direct actors on this shoot. I sent Ryan clips of Greenland Sharks and Butoh performers and told him those were his physical references. I think he took the direction fantastically. I also had a great experience with Kurt and Shelby, the lovers. They were quick and had no reservations about getting up close and personal rehearsing in the nude. I hope to work with them both again, and I have a hell of a lot of ideas with naked people so I'm sure I will. Eusebio, the jealous lover, blew my mind. He was very analytical and spent a lot of time trying to figure out the character. A less seasoned actor could've two -dimensionalized him as an antagonist. I will say that after a brief rehearsal the day of shooting, I saw Eusebio perform his scenes for the first time at the same time the camera did. I watched him scream indignantly and weep like a child after never having seen him do the scene before, and that's the take that made it in the film. I think that's pretty cool.

Production went smoothly save the fire alarm going off on the soundstage while we were filming the Giant sequences. My friend/actor playing the Giant had to have his hand held down staircases as we waited outside for the alarm to be investigated. He couldn't see through his contacts. I think people got a kick out of seeing an androgynous half-naked white figure chilling in the lobby.

The Giant waiting in the lobby after the fire alarm was pulled.

The Giant waiting in the lobby after the fire alarm was pulled.

It was me and my two friends/animators shooting the stop motion sequences the week after principle photography. I'd fabricated most of the creature puppets in the weeks prior. I originally was going to use silicone but decided it would make the creatures' faces too stiff and emotionless (I didn't have the means to make multiple heads for each). 

After picture locking with my editor Nick, we scrapped half of the plot which was convoluted anyway. He helped me shave an insane amount of fat off of it. Immediately after completing the cut, I reckoned with something I had been avoiding: there was too much black and shadow in the film. For building an extra-dimensional world, It felt too theatrical to me. There just wasn't enough landscape nor trippy sky. My teacher and friend had spoken to this many rough cuts ago. So about a year since wrapping production, I spent a greater half of a year building miniature sets in my studio. I then spent another several months comping everything together myself. This was particularly challenging because the computers I had access to started lagging from the sheer number of linked After Effects compositions in my timeline. This slowed down the VFX a lot. I went in to work on weekends to use my computer there for months. But it did get done, and from there I sent the cut to one of my closest friends for score. 

Anyway, it's done now and I felt the need to get out some brief notes on process so I remember them myself! 

Check out the trailer!