Monday, June 16, 2008

A Tasty Slice of Sunshine Noir - An Interview With Pink Cigarette Director, Thomas Kanschat

I found a pink cigarette!

I recently joined a discussion about the best music to have sex to. Half-jokingly, I recommended Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By, an album that combines the talents of Dan The Automator, Kid Koala, Jennifer Charles and Mike Patton. Upon mentioning it, I got a hankering for some Mike Patton. Browsing YouTube, I stumbled across this video for the Mr. Bungle song 'Pink Cigarette'. I thought it was wickedly well-done, full of tasty details and a flavor of retro-California Noir. It wasn't until I read some of the comments that I discovered it was the work of a non-professional. It is one of the best fan videos I've ever seen. My appreciation for the piece doubled, I decided to contact and interview the filmmaker, Thomas Kanschat.

Tell me a little about your background. How did you get into film?

I just turned 20, so I've really just started, but I've been serious and focused on filmmaking since I was about 15. Even before that I would do short skits and stunts with friends on 8MM. Right now I'm attempting to finish school. Hopefully someone will hire me professionally and save me from the painful, mind-stifling prison that is college. If not, I'll probably do something like AFI.

Your IMDB entry only lists a PA credit for Death Proof. Are there other films you've worked on?

As far as professional films go, Death Proof is the only one so far and that was kind of a weird coincidence. They were filming in Santa Barbara, which is where I live, and one day I decided to sneak onto the set and ask for a job. I started the next day.

What was the genesis of the 'Pink Cigarette' video?

I was listening to the song in my car and I got this image of a demented cross-dresser, singing to a dead girl. After that I came up with a few ideas, then fleshed out the story with a friend and we started filming about two weeks later.
Despite it being a 'fan video' was Mike Patton involved at any point? Did you seek his approval beforehand or after? Have you received any feedback from him?
Mike Patton wasn't involved with the project. I went about it more like a short film. I didn't get approval from the band or label. We just went out and shot this idea. I sent a DVD copy to his record label, but I haven't heard anything from them or Patton. Hopefully he's seen it and liked it. I'm almost finished with another video to the song 'Retrovertigo', so when I complete that I plan on sending him both.
Some of the film appears to have been shot guerilla-style. I'm thinking particularly of the downtown scenes, specifically the Jamba Juice. Were those shot on the fly or did you secure those locations? BTW, where was this shot, LA, Santa Monica, Santa Barbara?
The public scenes were all shot guerilla-style. We got kicked out of a few malls and hassled a bit by security. The scene where the girl walks out of the clothing store was a particular pain in the ass. The scene in Jamba Juice was the easiest, surprisingly. We just told them we were shooting a school project and they let us shoot as much as we needed. Our age gives us a big advantage. It was all shot in Santa Barbara.
One of the reasons the film works so well is the attention to detail. Little things like, using a Volvo for the stalker's car or having the girl walk out of an ANGL. Was there a list of objectives you had to establish a 'feel'?
The only objectives were to get everything shot. I went to all the locations beforehand with my friend, who helped shoot it. We wrote out all the shots we would get and everything else just came as we went. I knew the Volvo would be a laughable touch and I didn't even notice the ANGL.
Another effective thing is the use of location. One of the advantages of being a filmmaker in California is the opportunity to shoot in an iconic setting, rich with association. Were there specific ways you sought to give your film that California look?
The California look just came naturally, I guess. We picked locations that we thought to be the most cinematic.
I'm specifically thinking of that particular brand of Sunshine Noir; films made in the Golden State by directors like Wilder, Hitchcock and Lynch. Were you seeking to reference that tradition?
Maybe subconsciously those influences showed. I'm a huge David Lynch fan and several people actually mentioned that it had a David Lynch feel to it.
Was the piece shot on video or film? If video, which camera was used and why?
It was shot on a JVC GY-HD100 and the reason being that it's my camera and it looks good enough to the point where renting one wouldn't have been necessary.
How long did the piece take to shoot?
Day wise I would say 4. Our work/school schedules conflicted with one another's. Since the budget was literally nothing, we pretty much had to adhere to the actors' schedules, since it was more of them doing me a favor.
Like a lot of people, I didn't realize it was a fan video. I think this is because of the professional quality of the piece, but also because the actor looks a little like Mike Patton. Was that intentional?
Not at all. The "actor" is just a friend of mine. He doesn't do acting of any kind. I picked him because of this particular goofy half-smile that he does, which he shows throughout the video.
Another thing that gives the piece a retro-sensibility is the Sharon Tate, deer"n-the-headlights quality of the actress. In casting that part, were you going for a specific look?
We weren't going for any specific look aside from a na/Ove teenaged/college girl. The actress is also just a friend. I picked her because she's incredibly attractive. We knew she would look great on film.
One of the locations near the end is a fancy parlor where the stalker and the girl dance. Where was that shot?
That is my friend's living room. His parents are extensive travelers, so all the bizarre and antique furnishings come from all their trips.
One of the traps you avoid is, you didn't make the film a literal adaptation of the song. You use the mood of the song without specifically referencing the lyrics. This strengthens the subjective feeling of the piece, allowing the song to become an allusory soundtrack, underpinning the images without overriding them. Was this a conscious strategy?
Yes. The song itself is about a guy who hangs himself over a girl who left him, which is the most cliched movie idea one can conjure up. The idea was solely based on the mood of the song. I'm actually just finishing up a new video for the song 'Retrovertigo'. I couldn't quite understand the meaning behind the lyrics, but the video is far from them I'm sure.
Thomas Kanschat's other projects can be seen at Untouched Productions.


  1. Fantastic! I think it's so great that you found this guy and interviewed him now - who knows where he'll go in the future? :) Very, very interesting stuff.

  2. I'm all about helping the kids.
    Actually, I feel a sort-of connection with Kanschat. My God-Parents lived in Santa Barbara and when I was 14 my Dad considered taking a job there. So, that could have been me, making films there!
    CORRECTION: I was about 11 when my dad was wooed by UCSB.

  3. Thanks for doing this interview man. I knew someone had info on that video. I had my first tattoo done while listening to the album and all things Mike Patton interest me. I work in film now also and this was an awesome alignment. Thanks again.