DAVID VASSOS, DAVID HOLD THE DOOR FOR TOO LONG (2019)
Adam: Could you start by telling us your name, who you are, and what your film is in Insomniac 2019?
David: Yes, my name is David Vassos. I'm a filmmaker from Toronto, and my film in Insomniac 2019 is David Hold the Door For Too Long.
Adam: Which pretty much explains what it is.
David: You go in with very clear expectations.
Adam: I wanted to start off with that. Your film is beautifully simple. What was the process of coming up with it? Were you holding the door often and then realized it would make for a great flick?
David: Basically, yeah. It's the polite thing to do: "Oh, I'm gonna hold the door open for this person." And you know, especially when you're running around all the time, you're opening doors constantly and letting strangers in and out of buildings. But there's always that time, I just started noticing, when you're like "Are they far enough away where I shouldn't hold the door open for them? Or…is that close enough...where if I didn't...it'd be rude?" It was one of those ideas that just had been in my mind for a little while, and then, yeah, one day I was just like: “What if I just did it? What if I just made a film like that, but I stretched it out as far as possible for comedic effect?” It all builds up to the nice punch line.
Adam: In that experience in real life, there's a total mental game that you're playing: "Am I too far?" What do you think is the threshold? Five steps?
David: [Sighs] What is the threshold?...I'm looking at a door right now, so, we could do a little test.
Adam: Oh yeah, I'm looking at a door, too. That's a good idea.
[David shifts his laptop camera towards a lovely sliding door leading to a lovely backyard]
David: Alright...so welcome to lovely Prince Edward County...
Adam: Oh, wow! It is lovely.
David: So we got the door here and...
[Sorry readers...( TT___TT )...wish we could reenact David's enactment of how many steps is the appropriate amount to hold the door open for....]
David: That was seven steps. Seven steps is the limit.
Adam: Yeah. I think that was about as far back as you could be.
Adam: Being on the opposite side of it, do you feel the pressure...? If you're a walker, and you're twelve steps back...
Adam: And it's like, "Oh, now I have to run."
David: There's an immense pressure...whenever a stranger holds the door open for me, I automatically think, "Okay, now I'm in full sprint." Cause I don't want to eat up their time while they're doing this nice thing.
Adam: It's a nice thing. I would prefer them to just walk through...but I appreciate the gesture.
David: Yeah, exactly. It's just one of those funny, jumbled social interactions that happens a ton that you don't really think about until you do.
Adam: I've been thinking about it a lot since I watched the movie and now I think I've become more stubborn. If I see someone and they're twenty steps ahead and they open the door for me, I've started not to speed up...which I guess is rude, but I feel the need to break the pattern.
David: One person at a time, we're gonna change society. We're gonna change door opening holding culture one step at a time.
Adam: [Laughing] Yeah, this film it is a PSA.
David: [Laughing] Yeah, David Hold the Door Open is a very political film. It really calls for big changes in society, I think.
Adam: You often tackle comedy with a childlike curiosity - your Flying Disks film and Five Little Monkeys film, those are the first two that come to my head. The childlike curiosity in your comedy is very pure and non-cynical. Where does that approach come from?
David: I make a lot of absurd comedy films, a lot of wacky shenanigans and what not, you know? I grew up watching SpongeBob and Looney Tunes. Classic, perfect animated comedy. Then wackier live action stuff like Wayne's World. And just growing up with Youtube, especially that older Youtube style of weird sketches and nonsensical videos, it all congeals into one big absurd nonsensical sort of thing. I guess I gravitate towards the childlike aspect cause there's real, pure joy in that.
You mentioned Five Little Monkeys...we had spent the entire night binging JoJo's Bizarre Adventure and then we filmed at 2AM. We were all completely delirious and out of our minds. Just jumping on a bed with your friends is the funniest, most pumped up thing to do - ever. It's a genuinely thrilling experiences, and I guess I like capturing those moments. Also, that sense of childlike wonder fits really well with my absurdist style. As an artist you want to be unique, you want to be doing something new, cool and different...I think I'm doing that.
Adam: Yeah, definitely! You mentioned with Five Little Monkeys that your friends were all together and you were joyously making something, and I think that energy comes across in a lot of your films. You seem to have a dedicated team that understands your tone and the style that you're going for which is important in getting across your absurd humour in a human way.
David: When I first started out filmmaking it was back in late high-school. Already in high-school you have a tight-knit group of friends. I went to a smaller school as well, so there was already a sense of camaraderie there.
I guess that translated into university, except instead of people who’re from my high-school, it's people who’re specifically in the film and drama department. I go to Queens. The drama and film program there is just exceptional. It's full of the best people in the world. I love them very dearly. There's sort of a culture in which everyone is on board to create. I've been really lucky to have fallen into a place where I have a good group of people that I know share my sensibilities, who I know I can work with, who I know will have a fun time working with me, and we'll be able to make something good together.
Only some of my films are fully scripted. I tend to utilize improv a lot. When I have an idea, I just go and try it out and see what happens. Or I start with a loose outline and improv the dialogue, the flow, the pacing of it all.
I think it's fun to play in that improv-y space, especially because film is a collaborative medium. Sometimes it's hard when I'm the full creative mastermind of everything...it's hard to see outside of myself. That's why it's always important to have a team that you know you can trust. I'm very thankful for having that.
Adam: Being in film school, I've seen people get into that mindset where they think, "I have to be the genius who has everything planned and knows every little thing." But your films seem to understand that no single person can make something that's great, and you need to have the input of many different voices to create something. Everyone is smart, so listen to what everyone has to say.
David: Yeah. Basically everything that I make I either write it myself or co-write it, I direct it, and I edit it. So I'm overseeing pre-production, production, and post - all of it. Because, you know, I like to make my own work that I write, and I also like to edit my own work. So, I try to lend as much creative freedom to everyone else as possible while also trying to maintain a good course.
Adam: I feel like that is the role of the director - the “overseer” of the whole thing - rather than the genius who does everything.
David: Yeah, I agree.
Adam: David Hold the Door For Too Long isn't your most personal or deeply emotional film, but I do often see your films come from a deep, emotional place, which you then tackle through absurdity. What draws you to absurdism as a manner of expression?
David: I'm not one for subtlety, I guess. I find that the classic way to make something funny is to blow it up to the absolute, biggest proportion that it can be. There are some forms of comedy in which someone needs to be put down in a sense. Sometimes comedy can be mean. But I like how everyone can get on board with absurdist comedy, everyone is able to laugh and understand that because we can all recognize: "Oh, this is weird."
Adam: Yeah, it doesn't keep anyone out. I try to steer clear of that stuff too, where someone is always the butt of the joke. I think it's more of a challenge, and more rewarding, to make comedy where you're not making fun of someone.
David: I try to place high value on empathy in comedy - because filmmaking is essentially empathy - you're trying to get people to feel other people's feelings and trying to understand them. I think being able to do it with that factor of empathy in mind is very important. Another comedy influence of mine is the McElroy Brothers, and Justin McElroy has a really great quote: "There are two things you can do: You can be funny and mean, or you can be funny and kind. Funny and mean is the easiest. Funny and kind is worth it. And I think ultimately it's worth it."
Adam: I definitely see that in your films. That principle comes across really well. There's just a wholeheartedness that I love. We all love it here at Insomniac.
David: Yeah. I try to be a sincere, wholehearted person. So, I want that to come across in my work, because that's what I like making and doing.
Adam: You've been to Insomniac a couple of times. Have you seen anything over the years that has especially stuck with you?
David: The first year I went was two years ago, and I was absolutely blown away. I forget the name of the film, but it was the puppet one where they turn into fish...?
Adam: Yeah! The View From Here (dir. Sofia Bohdanowicz).
David: I love the musical opera thing. That blew. my. mind. I had never seen anything like that...so absurd and hilarious and artistically out there. Man, I have such a great respect for animators and puppeteers, because you have to do all of it - everything is deliberate at that point, you have to create it from scratch. From last year, I really liked Wet (dir. Sonia Beckwith). Me, Devon and Jacob were the guys who were howling constantly throughout the entire film, because it was genuinely...I'd never seen anything like it. It's absurd, but it also becomes a bit like the rake gag from The Simpsons, where the joke is that the joke has continued this long...and will still keep going. So, that film is like an endurance.
Adam: Definitely. You get to three minutes, and you kind of stop laughing for like ten seconds and you wonder, "Is this still going...?" And then it keeps going and you're like "Alright, I'm back in!" And then it goes for another three minutes. [Adam laughs].
David: Exactly! Aw, man. I love those two. I loved My Boyfriend is a Werewolf (dir. Aidan Barnes & Isaac Roberts) And also, "I'm Quitting Art Forever!" That one.
Adam: The Cotey Show (dir. Cotey Pope)!
David: That one was also very fun. I really liked the production design. I appreciate when I can see the effort being put into production design and all the mise-en-scene things. Those films are my favourites from Insomniac. But I really truly love the festival, it's such a great time.
Adam: That 'endurance test' that you mentioned about Wet is kind of how I feel in David Hold the Door For Too Long. It's only a minute, but it starts with him holding the door and you're like "Oh, is this what I think it is?" He keeps holding the door. You start laughing. And then he keeps holding the door...and you think, "Okay, he's gonna keep holding the door." The tiny moment just stretches on for so long.
David: I love the pay-off of it, too. Cause SPOILERS for my one-minute short film - I love the way the shot is set up because you don't see the other door. So, the pay-off comes out of nowhere. I've had that happen to me - where I'm holding the door open for someone and they go to a different door or a different direction. And I think, "I just wasted ten seconds of my life...how could I do this? How did this happen?"
Adam: The way he steps over the railing to reveal this other door is hilarious. There's this feeling of immense disappointment, that feeling that you just described about wasting ten seconds.
David: I'm glad that got captured. Jacob is my main collaborator for everything I do, and his physical comedy skills are just impeccable.
Adam: Insomniac is in a couple of weeks. Feeling-wise and festival-wise, what are you looking forward to?
David: I obviously want to see the films! They're always good, and there's always something I'm not expecting. I'm very excited to see my work with an audience, because that is the best feeling as a filmmaker. I've been in a couple of festivals before, but I've never gotten to go see them. So, this is the first time I get to be in an actual festival with people, getting to see my work, and I'm over-the-moon about that.
Adam: We’re very excited for people to see your film! Do you have any final things you want to say? Anything new you're working on?
David: Yeah! I'm working on a ton of things. Shoutout to everyone who has helped me on my films, all the cool kids at Queens helping me make my art come true, you're all lovely and wonderful people. Yesterday, Jacob and I were filming a new film which is an absurd, weird take on Two and a Half Men...inspired by us watching cable TV at 11PM. So that was fun. I got a couple of things that I'm editing that should hopefully come out soon. And I'm also working on a feature...so hopefully that ends up being a thing, cause long form projects are scary and big, but I'm gonna try anyway.
Also, everyone go subscribe to Golden Boy Productions on Youtube! That's my Youtube channel, that's where all my films are. Please Like, Comment, and Subscribe, as the kids say nowadays. Also follow me on twitter and Instagram @davidvassos.
Also everyone go check out my brother Nicholas’s music, he composes everything for my films and they wouldn’t be nearly as good or wacky without his music, you can find him anywhere there's music under the name Ace Vassos for his EP that he just released (https://fanlink.to/bronco) and njavassosedits for everything else he’s done (including all the music in my films) (https://soundcloud.com/user-547868766)
Also Jacob’s Youtube channel is https://youtube.com/user/lopocozo
Thank you for having me! Thank you for the interview!
Adam: Thank you. I admire your work ethic. You're always working on a lot.
David: Yes. I try to always keep moving. Bee Ba Boop!