Spencer Susser on his Tropfest-winning Shiny
Spencer Susser last night.
American filmmaker Spencer Susser has a long history in Australia.
He was camera operator on Nash Edgerton's shorts Lucky, Spider and Bear, and collaborated with David Michôd on I Love Sarah Jane, a zombie short starring a pre-Alice Mia Wasikowska, and on his feature debut, Hesher, starring Joseph Gorden-Levitt.
Since then he's directed an episode of the TV show Hemlock Grove, and made several shorts – one of which took out Tropfest's top prize last night.
Shiny is a brief (less than four minutes) stop-motion animation Susser made with fellow Los Angeleno Daniel 'Cloud' Campos, a former dancer who toured with Madonna and is, according to Susser, "quite a well known B-boy".
The pair met through a mutual friend, Australian director Michael Gracey, and discovered a shared "let's-go-make-stuff gene", said Susser.
"Originally Cloud and I had made a stop-motion commercial for a big cool company that I can't mention (laughs). That was our first time doing stop-motion".
"Long story short, they didn't end up using what we made. They held on to it but it never made it to air, and they owned it because they paid for it. We thought – 'screw that, we need to make something for ourselves'. As we figured it out we thought we should make it for Tropfest".
The idea came from Campos, and a floor strewn with dirty laundry.
"Cloud had made a mess of his clothes one day, and he was in the stop-motion headspace because we had done this other project, so he animated his clothes doing a Michael Jackson routine".
"He was going to post it on his Instagram and his wife said 'no, don't do that, it's too good an idea'. Then he called me and we decided to make a little story out of it".
That little story finally debuted last night, and Susser is still riding high.
"When you make a film, maybe you get 400 or 500 people in a theatre, if you're lucky. The experience of watching a film [at Tropfest], hearing an audience react, on such a huge scale – there's nothing like it".
The thrift with which the film was made is something the filmmaker sees as essential to the spirit of the festival.
"We shot it on a very basic camera, there was no budget. It was just about being creative, and that's such an important thing".
Afterwards Susser had the chance to talk shop with at least one illustrious judge.
"I had a great chat with Mel [Gibson], which is pretty wild. I was asking him about how he staged some of the battle sequences in Braveheart. Then he takes out his phone and wanted to show me a shot from the film he just made. This amazing shot from it. I loved it, because he was just like a kid, like every other filmmaker I know, excited about film. It was humbling".