PES Talks Fresh Guacamole
I do the sound design myself. There are very specific things that I hear where I think a certain sound will help connect with an image. Usually I have to go get that sound because it doesn’t exist in a library. Occasionally I make a film where all the sounds are pulled from a library. I did KaBoom, which was a little war film that’s clearly done with war sound effects. In 2010 I did a film called The Deep, which is a trip to the bottom of the ocean. All those were realistic sounds found in Hollywood sound libraries. But on films like Western Spaghetti and Fresh Guacamole you can’t just type “cutting an avocado” [into Google]. I mean it’s….
DS: There aren’t many libraries with sixty different iterations of cutting an avocado…
PES: Yeah. Also, it’s not uncommon for me to come across a sound effect where I figure, “Oh, I can definitely find a sound effect like flushing a toilet. There must be thousands of them. I’m sure I can find one that I like” and you surprise yourself that none of them are the sound that you have in your head that will work for an image. So sometimes you’re surprised at what you can and can’t get from a sound library.
DS: We’ve talked about this before. One of the unique things about your body of work is that your films are all extremely short. Have you considered any longer form projects?
PES: Yeah, absolutely. I’m developing two feature films right now.
DS: Can you tell us about these two projects?
PES: Yeah. Do you remember Garbage Pail Kids from the eighties?
PES: It turns out that Michael Eisner owns the rights. I pitched him my idea for that property and so we’re developing and he’s financing an animated feature film. I have another idea that I’m developing with Seth Grahame-Smith. He wrote Tim Burton's Dark Shadows and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. He also wrote the mashup novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. He’s now helping tweak an original concept of mine that hopefully we’re going to set up at a studio this year. So these are longer form ideas that I’m pursuing at the same time.
DS: That's a big change from a one minute short film.
PES: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. They’ll be character-based, which is also a big leap from my films. My films themselves draw a lot more from the heritage of advertising than from narrative storytelling. You have an idea and in thirty or sixty seconds you need to communicate that idea and hopefully some of that rubs off on your product. That format is not really about character development. It’s more about telling a joke or getting a certain idea across. My films don’t really have characters unless you consider an avocado going from whole to mush a character arc.
In my opinion a short can be even more powerful because if you can make something that people want to re-watch dozens of times it really allows you to connect. People are used to responding to these short format films because commercials have been a successful medium for fifty years. So our brain is already in tune with this idea of highly condensed storytelling.
DS: Do you think the Internet, social media and the viral nature of communication have played a part in the success of your films and the type of attention they get?
PES: Yeah, absolutely. But also it’s a little bit of the chicken or the egg because I was one of the first people releasing films online. First of all, people still think it’s crazy that I made a one minute film, do you know what I mean? I remember in 2002 people thought it was ridiculous that a one minute film took an award in Annecy. From the very beginning I was always really into making short and re-watchable things. If I do my job correctly, you peer through this keyhole and you see something special you can’t forget.
Whenever I went to film festivals, I always felt people’s short films were too long. A three minute film that was one minute too long in my opinion was the equivalent of a person overstaying their welcome by one third of the time. My friends tell me I can be very, very harsh on a film. It’s like the same thing as reading scripts. If it doesn’t capture you in the first couple of pages you put it down. I feel like I’ve got a very low tolerance for films that don’t move, that are fat, that aren’t cut as leanly as possible. There are films that I like, that I feel could be stronger if they were tightened by a third. Sometimes I feel the impulse to edit other people’s films that I think are good.
DS: I agree that many films are far too long. I share your feeling that many films could be a lot leaner and their message could be delivered more succinctly and powerfully with better editing.
You mentioned that people gave you grief about a one minute film winning a major festival award. Do you still get criticized that because your films are so short, people equate that with being too “simple” and somehow not as deserving of recognition? That if it’s not a bigger film, not a longer film, then it’s somehow not as worthy a film as a more ponderous twelve minute opus that someone worked on for seven years in their basement?
PES: Yeah. That’s why the Academy recognition is really nice. In some sense I feel like people are finally coming around to voting for what they like. It’s nice to be included in that bunch [the animated short nominees]. This is a complicated question that I could probably talk about for hours. I feel that to make great art, you want something that appears simple to everyone but in fact is complex. The kind of hoops and technical stuff that I jump through for any of these films, I feel people understand that there is great complexity that goes into pulling off certain things.
What my films don’t do necessarily is they don’t traffic in human emotions, character development or arcs. Again, they’re more idea based. People go to feature films to be taken on an experience, a journey, to follow a character. But my own personal philosophy is that they also want something different that’s shorter. They can derive a lot of joy and satisfaction from something that’s short and re-watchable and has some depth to it.
I don’t go for re-watchability just so people watch the same thing over and over. I like the idea that there are things that people might miss the first time and if they watch again they discover some of the hidden things in the background. There are more layers there. But I’m kind of off in my own world just making films that make me laugh or make me satisfied as an artist. I just pursue what I feel I’d like to watch that I don’t see in the world. I don’t know if the general feeling is these are completely shallow films or frivolous films. I don’t really know.