Steve Mims, lecturer in the Department of Radio-Television-Film, answers a few questions about his recently debuted short film “Honorarium.” Mims released the film during South by Southwest, and it was featured again at the Austin Jewish Film Festival.
What is “Honorarium” about?
Fundamentally it’s about how we deal with people. In this case, it’s about dealing with someone you’d rather not be involved with because of his political beliefs.
The Austin Chronicle describes the film in a recent article: “Without giving too much away, “Honorarium” tells the story of the brief but ominously eventful interaction between Philip Holbrook, a controversial public speaker arriving from out of town, and his possibly sympathetic driver/minder, Anne Bowers. It’s an intense 12-plus minutes that ultimately has the slightly off-kilter tone and feel of some of the best of Rod Serling’s original Twilight Zone episodes, excising the supernatural in favor of subtle social commentary.”
What was it about this social situation that intrigued you?
Under the best circumstances it can be awkward. Under the worst circumstances it’s terrible. Small-talk can work, but when it doesn’t I’d rather be somewhere else.
The actors didn’t have any previous film experience. Why was that OK for this film?
Reid Nelson (who plays Philip Holbrook) has a theatrical background in New York. He’d never been in a film before. We developed the story together, and we wrote the part for him. He’s a bright guy and it really helped to build a part to suit him. I’ve known Alex Gehring (who plays Anne Bowers) for years because she grew up being friends with my daughter Elizabeth. She’s bright and funny and has an unusual, arresting look. She naturally has a screen presence and she’s photogenic. Alex Sole (the 95 year-old man in the film) we found the day before the shoot. It was a miracle. He took direction well. I think we did three takes, at the most, of one of his shots. Finally, Arak Avakian (the kid at the end of the film) is in school with my son Elliott at McCallum High. He looked the part and he did a perfect job.
How do you balance teaching, and filming as a hobby? Is there a lot of overlap?
I’ve been making films since I was twelve. I work professionally all the time as a writer, director, cinematographer and editor. Since I teach film and work in film, the two really complement each other quite well. Film is an area that changes, technically, all the time, so I’ve had to keep up with the technology both to do my professional work and keep my students up to date.
Have your students seen “Honorarium”?
Yes. My RTF366k class watched a rough cut last October and gave me feedback about it and met Reid Nelson in my class. Then I ran the final film for them at the end of the term. “Honorarium” is a subtle, little film and it really helped to have them see both versions to test the film to see if it worked as I hoped it would. Two members of the crew were former 366K students of mine. John Mace served as gaffer (he put up the lights on the set) and Andrew Alden Miller recorded sound. I’m lucky to have great students that I can sometimes draw upon for projects.