Sundance 2010 Interview: Co-Director Robert Machoian (CHARLIE AND THE RABBIT)

Chase Whale

by: Chase Whale
February 24th, 2010

CHARLIE AND THE RABBIT tells the adorable story of a 4-year-old on the hunt for a silly wabbit. After watching an episode of Elmer Fudd chasing Bugs Bunny around, Charlie (Elias Graham) embarks on his bicycle to a field where a rabbit lives. I'm going to stop there because this short film is just (again) adorable and you should watch it!

I spoke with co-director Robert Machoian about the short. Two of my favorite things we discuss are why they went with an older Looney Tunes cartoon vs. today's stuff, and how they managed to shoot a whole film around a little boy who's attention span ran to about 15 seconds. Check it out after the jump!

Chase Whale: This is quite an adorable story. Where did the idea spark from?

Robert Machoian: Glad that you enjoyed Charlie and the Rabbit. The idea sparked from the first film we made titled ELLA AND THE ASTRONAUT. I have a daughter and at the time she was five and I was thinking a lot about how I was going to teach her to be a woman in today's society, thinking a lot about how to get her not to be into Britney Spears, and the likes. And so through a series of conversations, Rodrigo and I came up with ELLA AND THE ASTRONAUT. After making that film we decided to do a series of film on youth that really looks at youth or a child as individuals, attempting to remove the youth tropes, that you find in children's films. CHARLIE AND THE RABBIT started with that same idea, what does it mean to be a man today, what are things that define a man, and how are those things changing.

CW: I love that you used an older Looney Tunes cartoon for Charlie’s inspiration. Just curious, why did you decide to go with that versus a modern day cartoon or video game?

RM: Well once we had decided on Charlie going in the woods to hunt a rabbit, we needed to have motivation. Today's cartoons seem to have totally stepped away from cartoons actually being for enjoyment, they seem to be all about education and the adventures that characters go on are learning adventures, like "Wonder Pets," or "Diego," so there wasn't any real motivation to use those cartoons. Using Bugs Bunny, that would really leave the audience wondering what Charlie was gonna do once he found the rabbit.

CW: The whole film is shot around a four-year-old, and those little guys have an attention span of about 15 seconds. What kind of difficulties did you run into when shooting with him, if any at all?

RM: You are exactly right, except Elias was actually three at the time! Shooting with him was a really big challenge, and even more so because of our shooting style. We like to do long takes so that you can spend time with the character. If we were to give any queues to Elias while shooting a scene, he'd stop and look right at us and ruin the take. Additionally he was doing this really weird thing with his mouth at the time, you can catch a glimpse of it when he begins to set up the bottles and cans. That made it really hard to do any face shots for a long period because he'd start in on the weird faces. Additionally Elias was three, so his attention span and time he was willing to give varied on the day, some days we'd get to shoot for maybe two hours, and some days we'd get to shoot for like ten minutes depending on his attitude. Rodrigo and I knew it was going to be a challenge because we'd worked with him before on a smaller experimental piece called ALEX, so I think at least knowing that helped.

CW: How long did it take to shoot?

RM: I am not exactly sure how long it took to shoot. Rodrigo was finishing up his Undergradute at CSU Monterey Bay, and I was just starting Graduate School at UC Davis, and like I said some days we'd have an hour and some days fifteen minutes, and we shot in Davis, and Rodrigo was three hours away. If we compress time I'd say it took a week.

CW: What opportunities have came your way since showing CHARLIE AND THE RABBIT at Sundance?

RM: Sundance has sparked a lot of interest in the film, we've been contacted from distributors, and other film festivals. Our hope is that once we get a feature idea that we'd like to make that having shown at Sundance will let us get in the door a little more with investors than we might normally get.

CW: What other festivals are you screening at?

RM: We are showing at the Omaha International Film Festival, and the San Joaquin Film Festival, Santa Cruz Film Festival, and Florida International Film Festival coming up. We are also showing at a festival in Tour, France, and in Montreal, Canada, coming up. We also have a great opportunity coming up this monday were we get to show both CHARLIE AND THE RABBIT, and ELLA AND THE ASTRONAUT at PIXAR!

CW: What’s next for you?

RM: Well we have a webseries that we launched a while ago called AMERICAN NOBODIES, which is a documentary series that highlights extraordinary things about ordinary Americans. We are finishing up the first season here, and are shooting a lot of the stories for the second season. We also shot the third film in the youth series titled HELEN, it's a short film about an eight year old girl who is camping and goes in the woods to pee and gets lost, it looks at the idea of fear. In our research we've learned that as a baby you are only born with two fears: the fear of falling and of loud noises, everything else is learned over time. We thought that would fear would be a good subject to explore. We are also working on a short series that we hope to release in a few months, called POCKET FILMS, which are just these little four minute films that explore moments, and moods, like a college girl attempting to fly a kite. As you may be able to tell, from the over detailedness of this response, we just love making films, short or long, we just make them and make as many as we can.

Head over to Charlie and the Rabbit to get more info. about the film!

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