In this edition of ‘Creative Pursuits’ we catch up with Fluid Director/Editor Zeke O’Donnell to talk about how he got his start, recent projects, and the secret to delivering a good sight gag.
You spent several years working as an editor for FLUID before making the leap to directing. How has your editing experience influenced your process and aesthetic as a director?
I consider myself an editor who also directs. Every director should tinker in editing. I feel that having a hand in both gives you deeper insight for both disciplines. Editing is a process similar to building. Every shot is a piece of raw material and some materials work better than others to construct a solid foundation. I found that it was extremely helpful to have been through this process over and over again before getting behind the camera. I try to conceptualize how the shots will play together, and I also try to gather lots of additional coverage that might be useful editorial pieces. I’m also much more savvy about the “fix it in post” mentality. There are certain things that can be executed well after the shoot, and some that are really best done practically, and it’s nice to be confident about these types of decisions on the fly. Aesthetically, editing has given me more appreciation of wider shots and their place in the edit. I think that a lot of my earlier directorial attempts feel a bit tight in terms of coverage so now as a director I feel that supplying more variety of coverage for an edit makes the end product much more dynamic.
How would you say your work has evolved over the years?
In college, I made videos for a comedy troupe and with my friends. It was a lot of fun, but also amateur hour in terms of how I shot and edited it. I doubt that I spent more than a couple of hours cutting any single video. Now I spend much more time agonizing over an edit. I’d like to think that my work has become more precise and thoughtful year by year.
Your recent spot work for Ski Safe shows off your aptitude for visual humor. What’s the secret to telling a good joke through imagery? Who are your icons when it comes to comedic filmmaking?
The key to visual humor is revealing the joke in a way that may catch people off guard and surprise them. Also, you have to know what’s funny about a sight gag and make sure that the tone of the performance is on key. Good talent can elevate a bad joke or ruin a good joke, so cast wisely.
When I was an adolescent, I watched Robin Hood: Men in Tights about a hundred times. Mel Brooks had a window into my soul. Comedy has changed so much since then. Judd Apatow seems to have a chokehold on the comedy market these days. Some of his stuff is really funny, honest and real which I think is refreshing.
We hear rumors that you have a history as a “performer.” What kind of performance did you do?
When I was a child I would dress as a clown and did tricks for my family. I did a fair amount of theater in high school. In college, I was in a sketch comedy group. I’ve stopped performing out of necessity. There’s too much important stuff to do on the other side of the camera. Now I have a daughter and she likes to be entertained so it might be time to get a new clown outfit.
After college you moved to NYC to work intern with Morgan Spurlock on the documentary Super Size Me. What was that like and how did that experience affect your career in film?
At the time I wasn’t sure that anything would come out of Super-Size Me. They operated out of a small office in Soho and it seemed pretty shoestring to me. They had a white board that was used to keep track of the dozen or so projects that they were trying to get off the ground. They were hustling. Super Size Me was a great idea for a film and I’m really glad that it took off the way it did. Morgan has a lot of charisma and an unwavering can-do attitude, and I believe his demeanor in no small part contributed to his success. When I started out, I was green and timid, but over the years I’ve become more loose and confident and I’d attribute that in part to working on SSM.
What would you be doing if you weren’t working in film?
I had a back up plan of becoming a doctor. It was a stupid plan, because I feel a little bit sick whenever I see blood, but I fulfilled all of my college premedical requirements in case the film thing didn’t work out. Knock on wood.
What film/music/TV show are you really enjoying right now, or what’s causing you to form a pop-cultural opinion—good or bad?
Television is going through a renaissance right now. There are so many good episodic shows that are able to dive so much deeper than film can because of their breadth. Right now I’m watching Friday Night Lights, which I find extremely enjoyable. AMC has been knocking it out of the park with Breaking Bad and Madmen. I’m not one of those people who work in our industry and don’t really watch television. I love TV! I saw a print ad on the subway the other day that said that the average American watches something like 13 years of television in their lifetime. I’m sure that figure is about accurate for me, and I don’t regret it at all. Good television is an enriching experience. That being said, there’s a lot of crap on television that scares the shit out of me. Jersey Shore, Fox News, I’m looking in your general direction.
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