Spotlight on Shorts: Death to the Tinman

“Death to the Tinman” is a short film I found a few years ago.  It’s directed by Ray Tintori and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2007 where it won the short filmmaking award. It was his senior film at Wesleyan University. Since then Tintori has gone on to direct several music videos for several bands such as MGMT and The Killers.

On its surface it’s a simple tale of love and loss, but it also deals with more complex issues such as religion and intolerance.   As the title would suggest, it draws its influence from the Wizard of Oz books by L. Frank Baum. It’s a good example of using a well-known story, old enough to be in public domain, and expanding upon it.

The black and white cinematography gives it an old 1930’s Universal monster movie feel to it.   Although I don’t have any information on the type of budget he was working with, I have to imagine it wasn’t much. Although the film has a period feel to it, the costumes are more modern day, some so simplistic that they look like they came from a Party City. Sometimes it looks like it could pass for something Ed Wood would have put together. Even the Tinman’s suit looks like it was pieced together with old trashcans.

The look of “Death to the Tinman” is something I believe beginning filmmakers can learn from. It’s a great example of a film that substitutes expensive set pieces and costumes with a whole lot of character. When dealing with stories that seem to require extravagant production values, purposely giving it a super low budget, almost duct taped together feel can give it a quirky, childlike mood provided you have a strong story to back it up.

Tintori says that he was influenced by the likes of Werner Hertzog. Tintori had this to say about his contemporary,

“The Herzog thing was also about not being afraid to do enormously complicated stuff: Shooting with an airplane that we built that we were trying to fly all the time. He’s just extremely brave physically, and (this was) a film a that would be physically exhausting to make because you were out in the real world trudging around in a snowstorm or in swamps or something like that.”

He also lists Spike Jonze as an influence, which I think is a little more apparent.

Tintori notes that since he made the film while he was in college, he tried to stick to familiar territory. This is good advice for beginning filmmakers that might try to wow audiences with their first film by tackling complicated subjects that may be out of their realm of experience. Sticking to what you know before culminating strong research habits can allow filmmakers to put out quality work that comes from the heart. Kevin Smith is a great example of someone who has benefitted from this, making his first film Clerks about his experiences working in a convenience store.

Tintori gives what I thin is his best piece of advice on this subject,

“Yeah, I think that sometimes young filmmakers feel like they need to prove themselves by tackling issues that are really older people’s stories. So you end up getting these festivals with a ton of films by really young kids trying to tell stories about middle-aged people going through traumatic, angst-ridden moments in their life, but you get the feeling that the filmmakers actually have no first-hand knowledge of living through any of those things. So while they’re trying to be truthful, it ends up ringing very false. I recently taught a class at the University of Virginia and one of the things I said to the students was to recognize their own level of immaturity and try to make films that knowingly operate on that level.”

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