SPACEMAN. Director, Writer, Editor—Meet Filmmaker Christopher Oliva

Editor's Note:  SPACEMAN. caught the attention of Picture this Post in the recent SHORTCUT 100 FILM FESTIVAL.  Following the festival we were able to catch up with the film's director, writer and editor—Christopher Oliva—to find out more about how this film came about and what his plans are for the future.  Read his answers to our questions below and for background also read "Shortcut 100 Film Festival Preview – Passport to Global Travel and MORE!"

Why did you decide to have your film set in Chicago?

I am from Park Ridge which is where I currently reside. My family is from the Chicago area and beyond. My dad grew up at Sheffield, Lincoln and Wrightwood. My mom was born in Tunis and immigrated to Chicago and the two families grew kinda close. So I’ve always had an affinity for the city. I love it here. Having the film set in Chicago isn’t very obvious unless you understand little things like the interior of buildings that starts from being familiar with the architecture in Chicago and the Chicagoland area. The big giveaway is the Adler Planetarium which we filmed in. I’d say that was probably the biggest sell to have the film set in the city. It’s a great museum.

Why a short film? Why this format to tell this story?

I love short films. They don’t get a poor wrap, but then again they don’t get a lot of exposure. You know, 30 plus years ago, short films used to play before feature films in theaters. Now you don’t see that except maybe before a Pixar film—which I think is great—but there’s a ton of stories that we don’t get to see because there’s not a real market for shorts.

I think I chose the format because it was all we had money for!

Ultimately, the story itself was always meant to be in short form. If someone found it interesting enough, it also acts as a proof of concept which would allow for us to expand on it. And I do have an expansion of the work already-- for a longer feature --if we wanted to pursue that. If someone wants to make a feature, we can do that. But the original intent was this short, existential, metaphorical piece.

Why did you decide to tell this story?

This all started back when the shuttle program got squashed. I kinda felt no one showed up to the funeral. The shuttle program ended and no one really cared all that much. It made me think about my childhood, which was at the peak of the shuttle program. Kids truly were interested in science and the potential of being an astronaut was incredibly exciting. So it started from there. That's where this passion and pure obsession with space came from for the character.

You look at where we’re at today, and I’m not sure there’s the same passion for science anymore. I came from a Bill Nye youth where you got excited about science. I wasn’t very good at it, but I found it fun and exciting.

As the story continued to develop, I started to find this self-reflective side of the story, which I think becomes very evident when the entire cast and crew literally is staring back at the audience at the end. We sit there as an audience almost laughing/chuckling at this character when maybe there are some of his principles that we should take a little more seriously.

Why did you become a filmmaker?

That’s a great question. I grew up on a ton of old movies. My dad showed me a lot of the serials he used to watch and a ton of the films from the golden age of Hollywood. I liked the way they made me feel.

I never thought of film as an art form 'til I got to high school and college. I saw Pulp Fiction (1994) and Network (1976) and felt that screenplays bled through the screen. I studied English literature so I had this literary criticism background and experience in creative writing. And I had this interest in how a single frame in photography can have an emotional effect on you. Film to me kind of embodied all forms of art into one medium and that can be very powerful. So it was interesting to revisit the films my father showed me from when I was child with a more developed look at the films. I enjoy telling stories and utilizing the tools within the medium to communicate ideas.

Growing up, is this where you wanted to be?

I’m not sure. Maybe? I probably wanted to be an astronaut more than anything. But I think with how much I loved film, I’d probably say this was something that I always wanted to do. It just took a while for me to figure that out.

Besides filmmaking, what are your interests?

Cubs baseball and beer. I brew my own beer. I get pretty excited about that. With the stress in the world, it’s kind of my escape from everything to just exist in another world. I brew with a buddy of mine and we try to do it twice a month from scratch. We’ve just started to harvest our own yeast from our mulberry tree so we have a strain that’s indigenous to our neighborhood. We’re not chemists but I think our beer has come a long way since we’ve started. You’re welcome to some samples if you like!

Who are your influences?

That’s an interesting question. I wonder if you would get more from my influences as a filmmaker if I named films rather than auteurs. Two of my favorite films are the original Ghost Busters (1984—I always say it’s two words and not one) and The Conversation (1974), but maybe that confuses you! I’d say Aki Kaurismäki, Kubrick, Welles (cue the eye roll), Kurowsawa. Probably Wes Anderson too. I think everything I’ve seen has been an influence—even the garbage. Hopefully you’re not too confused anymore.

Color seems to play a huge part in SPACEMAN., why did you decide to include this focus?

Yeah, color was a huge part of the film. Rob Dolan (director of photography), Katharin Mraz (production designer) and I talked a lot about that in pre-production.

There was this palette we wanted throughout that consisted of NASA colors. We wanted these colors to be sort of faded or desaturated to sort of mirror this death of NASA. So you see a lot of consistent blues and reds throughout.

In the film, we bounce quite a bit between fantasy and reality so you’ll notice that the fantastical sequences are a bit more saturated and the reality sequences are more of the dying breed. Rob did an amazing job capturing Katharin’s production design and Mikey Pehanich of The Mill really brought this to life in the color suite. He did an amazing job with Lindsey Mazur.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a life creating film?

Make a movie. Keep making them. If you’re a writer, write a movie and keep writing them. The more you work at your craft, the better you get. You need to experience what works and what doesn’t. And watch everything. I feel that you need to see the masterpieces and the not-so-masterpieces. The more films you watch the more educated you are in the craft.

Get great producers too. I had three in Caitlin Morris, Andrew Stegmeyer and Nick Schmidt.


SPACEMAN. Creative Team (LEFT TO RIGHT) Lauren Gingras Joe Kosty Josh DaSilva Andrew Stegmeyer Rob Dolan Christopher Oliva Aaron Pagel

What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had an effect on your career?

I think for me it was you can’t do it all on your own. Some people might be able to, but I think it’s very difficult to try to do everything by yourself. Collaboration is a wonderful thing and to open arms to others and listen; I feel was great for me. It opened my eyes to what was going on around me.

What makes a film great for you?

Character and journey. I also strongly feel there needs to be visual purpose in the decisions you’re making—whether that’s camera movement, or placement, or some element of visual design.

Any other comments for Picture this Post readers?

Support the local film festivals if you can. You’ll find a lot of work you didn’t know existed from a lot of passionate people who have bled to get their work made and shown. Scott Nelson and Angela Morris were fantastic in this, as was the rest of the cast. You can see Scotty at iO in the Late 90’s as well as with the Second City Touring Company. You can find Angela’s work everywhere—TV, film, commercial, theater, etc. Check out Angela Morris' Website.

And, get excited about science again. Science is great fun!





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