Joel Guelzo: I Have To Make This Work

August 30, 2019
Co-writer / Director of sci-fi flick, Norman, reveals the commitment and sacrifices of filmmaking, which has been rewarded with a premiere at the SciFi Film Festival in Sydney.

What have been the science-fiction works – books, films, art of any kind – that have inspired your work and forged your love for the genre?

I would have to say hands down it is 2001: A Space Odyssey. I still remember the first time I saw the film on tv as a kid, and afterwards, I was so confused, almost in shock. To be honest, I had no idea what the story was about, but I fell in love with it instantly because of the insane attention to detail in every aspect of the film. Every time I watch the film, I am beyond amazed with how precision went into this production. There was no detail left untouched. I remember learning years later that early in the film, HAL 9000 slightly cheats at chess against the character Frank, which is an incredible detail, albeit small, that HAL cannot be trusted. There are lots of other reasons why this movie has affected me from an early age, but I think specifically it was the almost obsession level of detail that was thought through in every scene, that really just solidified into my brain. With NORMAN, I wanted to take advantage of my limited budget by adding to the quality in any way I could, and that specifically was to add an attention to detail that was hopefully seen in every frame of the film. I wanted NORMAN to essentially be bursting at the seams with uniqueness and attention to detail.

How did the original concept for your film take shape? What aspects of your film’s narrative and your protagonist’s journey were most important to you?

The main idea for NORMAN that truly made me want to make this film and to keep at it for over 7 long years, was that it was a story not about a time traveller who wanted to save the world. It was a personal story about a man who used time travel as a means to escape his personal grief and problems in life. I wanted to tell this story about how life’s problems don’t go away just because you keep trying to run away from them. In NORMAN, he travels the farthest anyone has ever travelled to escape his problems, yet he still has them right with him, and they build the more he tries to control his life and the world around him. He goes on a journey to literally and figuratively learn to live in the present. To live one day at a time, and to come to grip with his own responsibilities and mistakes.

Does the science-fiction genre have deep roots in the art and cultural history of your homeland? Were the resources, facilities and talent pool required to bring your film to life easily sourced?

I’m going to be honest here, I don’t really follow a lot about filmmaking and its history. As a kid, I just remember watching everything. To me, a movie was just that, a movie, be it early black and white Godzilla movies, subtitled foreign films, spaghetti westerns, Twilight Zone episodes or Groucho Marx movies. The things I do love and can’t get enough of, is learning about things like who came up with that famous cut in Lawrence of Arabia from the matchstick to the epic wide shot of the sun rising over the desert. It’s not that I don’t like the history of film, but it’s more to do with how my brain works. I am kind of the black sheep of the family, in the sense that I just view things differently than most, for good and for bad. I was the kid who would sit and just watch other people play. I would just take it all in, and want to figure out why certain people were the way they were. I grew up reading Isaac Asimov and really enjoyed the complex stories he would tell and specifically the rules for how A.I. and robots might work in his future.

When it came to resources, facilities, and talent pool to make NORMAN, it was always a struggle, not from the people who wanted to help, but mostly from how hard it was to plan and gather up all the help needed for various scenes to film, when you are making a movie with zero budget. I am blessed to have incredible friends who stuck with me for 7 years, and an amazing brother Jonah who did all the sound design for me, that pulled through for me in every way that I could hope. You can’t ask for much more. NORMAN took 7 years not because of lack of funds, but because I wanted the very best in every facet of the film, but the only way I could achieve this was to wait and bug everyone for years and years, for free time to work on this or that, which eventually became the final film. I really wanted the best from everyone that worked on this film. It definitely came at a cost of time and effort, but it was something I wasn’t willing to give up if it meant cutting corners and knowing I could have done more to make the film better. I knew I couldn’t live with myself If I didn’t give my all. I wanted to start well and end well, and I learned so much about myself, life and friends a long the way.

Joel Guelzo

Describe for us the very best day you had in the life cycle of your film…

One of my fondest memories was many years into the making of NORMAN when I had received one of the first completed tracks of the music for the film. This was the area I was most afraid wouldn’t live up to my expectations.

I was sitting on the toilet, and a message beeps on my phone. I saw it was from my composer Daniel Ciurlizza. It was the first bit of music finished for the film. I hit play, and just began to weep like a child. I say this because this to me is what being a filmmaker is like. It’s truly busting your rear for years on end, with sometimes no end in sight, and nobody who can truly tell you if it will all be worth it in the end. Then all of a sudden, for just a moment, you feel like you captured pure magic and emotion in a bottle. Maybe it works for others, maybe it isn’t as great as I think, but for myself in that moment, I will never forget how happy I was to know that my film is in great hands. Daniel had created music that went above and beyond anything I could have hoped for. Maybe this is too much information to share, but to me, it was truly one of the best days of my life. I could see my film come to life. I tried to plan every aspect of NORMAN, from the shots, how the UI would look on screen, how the sound would be, how the scenes would edit, and to the tiniest degree of deciding if the character A.N.I. in the film that is an artificial Intelligence with a working screen, would have her user interface blurred by 5% or 6%. To me, all of these details add up to either making a film good or great. I wanted great, and I worked as hard as I could to get there. I am grateful for all the friends and family who believed in my vision and trusted me to get it there.

Norman screens at the SciFi Film Festival on Sunday, September 8 at 3.30pm.

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