Miska Draskoczy is a New York based designer and filmmaker. His latest film, ‘Perfect Heat‘, is premiering this month at the San Francisco Independent FIlm Festival and his previous short, ‘Golf Xpress‘played at TromaDance in Park City, Utah at the end of January. With a background in graphic design and fine art, Miska brings a unique approach to his filmmaking. I interviewed him about his latest works, the intersection of design, art and film and future projects.
Tell me a bit about where you are at right now, how you came to filmmaking from your graphic design work.
Well, I would say graphic design has always been the bedrock of my visual experience. I studied architecture and graphic design in college and before that lots of photography in high school. It was one of the first ways I learned to think visually and I came away from it with the idea that through even the simplest juxtaposition of visual elements, one’s personal psychology is inevitably transmitted. Give two people ten toothpicks and ask them to arrange them on a table. No one will ever do it the same, and the way each person arranges them tells you something about who they are. In the late 90’s when computers finally became fast and cheap enough to manipulate all sorts of media, this principle could be applied to shapes, photographs, music, video, everything really, with much greater ease. It became very exciting and something I always thought I would end up doing, film, started to seem more and more within reach. I had made some super8 films in high school and 3d animations in college, but it was hard to keep going without access to equipment or lots of money.
So what role does design play in your latest film, ‘Perfect Heat‘?
Beyond the focus on design of the props, sets, costume and animation, design is the metaphor that underlies the film. The film is about anxiety and the relationship between the two main characters, a doctor and patient, who are really lovers. The film takes place in three different realities where the man and woman are cast as guest and host on a talk show, lovers in a nostalgic flashback world and doctor and patient in a futuristic laboratory. In the laboratory segment the female doctor is performing experiments on the male patient to treat his anxiety using a technique called ‘contour therapy’. The idea behind this is that she is scanning his brain to produce a certain series of shapes which she can use to diagnose him – again this goes back to the idea of psychological transmission through shape. Later on the doctor sets up a target opposite the patient, wheels out a piece of lab equipment that has a gun attached to it and proceeds to blow his brains out. But instead of blood, the target is splattered with black ink blobs which overtake the laboratory reality and take us into an animated shape world inside the patient’s mind. There is a bit of masochism here, that the patient’s creativity and thoughts need to be forced out of him through violence, but also its about reducing the patient’s inner world, and in fact all worlds, to their basic building blocks, these shapes or bubbles which can morph and reshape into anything. They are the conduit between the three different realities in the film.
How did you come up with the idea for the film, is this based on personal experience?
Not literally of course, but yes, its a very personal film. Its based on my mindstate after 9/11 having lived in nyc only a few blocks from there, and the events going on with me in the years after that. I wanted to make something that was deeply connected to my life. It takes such an incredible amount of time and effort to make one of these films, over a year in this case for a ten minute piece, that it has to be of some personal meaning to me. I see the film as an experiment on my own mind, much like the patient in the film. Sometimes I’m still not sure I understand what it is that I made, I still think of ways to tease connections out of all of its parts. I learned a lot from the experience of making it.
Your film has a more traditional narrative quality to it than the video projects a lot of graphic designers are doing which tend to be more abstract and focused on the design and music.
Yes, its been a gradual evolution for me to approach narrative and story. Screenwriting is something of a foreign territory for me, the next frontier. My first big art project after college was NATOarts a fictional arts organization we created that was supposedly the conceptual art branch of NATO. I focused on designing the installations and marketing materials while my partner, Alexander Perls, was the writer. Together we went out of our way to construct very elaborate histories and narratives for all the elements of the organization, an entire fictional universe that confused viewers into thinking it was real. This is what made it interesting for me, to have conceptual art that was very rich and detailed in its execution. I am approaching film with a similar attitude, I am interested in ideas, concepts and communicating a certain emotional tone. But I want to be able to illustrate that world with a rich environment and that inevitably seems to involve stories. Once you reach a certain density of visual or other information, the human brain begins to naturally interpret a story even if there isn’t meant to be one. I want to approach story the same way I do design, seeing it as a collage process, learning the language of narrative elements and then combining those in new and interesting ways to make stories.
I liked the soundtrack for the film a lot, who composed the music?
Its a track by Mika Vainio of Pan Sonic which comes from one of his solo albums, Ydin. I was originally using the music as a temp track and trying to find composers, but I felt that it fit so perfectly I might as well try and ask if I could use it. I got in touch with Mika and Ivan Coh of Wavetrap records who put out Ydin and they both agreed. I was thrilled, it was like a dream come true. I am a huge fan of Mika’s music. One of the great joys in filmmaking is watching the combination of music and moving image come together. Its like cheese and meat, peanut butter and jelly.
What are your thoughts on Japan and Japanese design?
I was in Japan several years ago, actually we shot a film for the NATOarts project there. It was amazing, I was totally blown away by the alienness of the experience, it felt like visiting another planet. I thought Tokyo would be quite dirty and scary, like something out of Akira. But instead everything seemed very clean and well organized. The shapes of the buildings were unlike anyplace I’d been before, a lot of them look like ship parts with round portholes for windows and metal walls. I love the uniqueness and intensity of Japanese design, there is clearly a lot of passion in Japan for visual communication.
Tell me briefly a little bit about your last film, ‘Golf Xpress’.
Golf Xpress was my first serious attempt to combine design with filmmaking. Its an interactive golf tutorial hosted by a synthetic personality, Bruce Johnson, who has a penchant for violence and psychosis. Bruce Johnson is trapped in his cheesy commercial world of sports TV that is falling apart, devouring itself and him. I think a lot of this film was inspired by my frustration at working in the corporate design world at the time. I wrote it with a poet friend of mine, Peter Twickler, who also plays the lead role. Its a dark comedy, it was great fun to make.
What do you have planned for future projects?
I’m focusing mostly on directing and animating film and video projects and I do client design work through my company snow23. I’m finishing up an animated video about a school shooting for the german based band, Circ, and I’d love to do more videos in the future. One of the things I love about filmmaking is that it is a collaborative process and I’m always looking for new designers, musicians, writers, etc. to work with. As far as my personal work goes, I’m getting into screenwriting and working towards writing and directing a feature. One of the script ideas I’m developing is based on the life of the italian designer Carlo Mollino. After he died in the seventies, they discovered a secret cache of erotic polaroid photos he
had been taking of women in his villa. The film would follow his life and the obsession he had with these women, in fact (this is my own embellishment) his desire to become a woman and how this ultimately leads to his death.
Miska Draskoczy / snow23
Address: 515 Greenwich Street, #203, New York, NY 10013
Text: Ben Upham