Barnaby Clay is a true Renaissance man.
Having directed short films (“Carousel” with Chloë Sevigny, “Sickdog” with Natasha Lyonne), music videos for artists ranging from David Bowie to Rihanna, a feature-length documentary on photographer Mick Rock, and even launched a visual art installation with Danger Mouse and his wife, Yeah Yeah Yeahs rocker Karen O, he is no stranger to expanding his creativity into different mediums.
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Yet his newest frontier is feature-length narrative filmmaking, and his debut, the horror film “The Seeding,” expands on the striking imagery of his past work. The plot follows a man (Scott Haze) trapped in the desert, being taken care of by a mysterious woman (Kate Lyn Sheil), who may have an insidious agenda for keeping him safe from the roving gang of teens that are trapping him there.
The gorgeous and claustrophobic desert setting is the movie’s key special effect, as Clay keeps things bleak due to the harsh environment and limited interaction the protagonist has with people outside of this odd community.
Clay spoke to Variety about leaping from short films and music videos to features, and the biggest lessons he learned along the way.
DO expect the unexpected
I’d written and directed shorts before, but those were on my terms. I was able to film the scripts I’d written. With this, after about two days, we began to realize we were running behind schedule. By the end of the first week, I’m like, ‘Oh shit, we’re really behind,’ and I’ve gotta start rethinking things. At that point, all I wanted to do was call my writer, but I’m the writer. So we shot six-day weeks for three weeks, and on the seventh day, everybody went hiking. Meanwhile, I’m just sitting in my motel room, trying to rewrite the last 40 pages of my film. It seems so obvious to a certain extent, but I just really hadn’t thought about how much you, as a writer, need to be on call throughout the film. I was sitting on set writing in between takes, in between scenes. They’re setting up another shot over there and I’m sitting rewriting the scene they’re about to do, because I know that we just can’t do it within the time we have, or it’s not working for some reason. That was the biggest wake-up for me.
DON’T fear change — it can make things better
During production, I rewrote the entire end of the film. How the film ends now was kind of how it ended in my first draft, but I thought it was a bit too nihilistic and bleak. For some reason, I changed it. It was still pretty bleak, but slightly better and it was way more involved. From pretty much my second draft until the shooting strip script, we had a different ending. About halfway through the shoot, I started having this sense of, “We are never going to do that, because it’s such an involved scene and it has so much going on: stunt work, a lot of effects, tons of stuff.” I just felt like this is gonna be a nightmare and I’ve got to rethink this. So I’m sitting there and I came back to the original idea…that was pretty good! Then I went back, and even before I shot it, I knew that was it. Why was I thinking about this other ending? That’s ridiculous. It has to end this way, and I’d feel cheated if it was another way.
DO use every experience as a stepping stone
I was always doing short films on the side, trying to flex the narrative muscle, figure out how to work with actors, and getting more comfortable with the process. Music videos are a very good film school in terms of learning to use your resources wisely. You generally don’t have enough money or enough time, so you’ll have to shoot a five-minute short film in a day. It’s tough. You’ve got a shot list of 30 shots, which you’ve got to get done in a day. Years of doing that is very helpful when you segue to features, especially on the lower end of the budget. All of these things are stepping stones, and all the time I’m always thinking about the eventual feature.
Of course, I’ve written a bunch of other scripts along the way and tried to get them made, and just wasn’t able to get them financed. Eventually, with this one, I felt very good about the script. I was getting a very good response to it and I had just done my documentary, “Shot!”, which Magnolia picked it up and Vice was behind it. So my connections were growing as well. I was able to use that a little bit and work off that momentum. But it’s a monumental task getting anything made.
DON’T close your mind to any source of inspiration — even if you have to keep your plans small
Ideas can start from anywhere — even just from the ether. I have a folder of images on my computer with about 4,000 of them that I’ve collected over the years. If I’m ever a little stuck, I’ll go through that and — it could take me a day, because there are so many — within there, even if I’m stuck on a scene, sometimes that will just spark something. Music is also very important to me: working in the music field for so long, I used to be in bands when I was younger and I’m married to a musician. That’s something I fully utilize, listening to music and traveling somewhere in my mind.
For this film, inspiration came from the fact that it was my first narrative feature and I wanted to have control over it. The only way I’m going to have control is by writing something small, and small generally means contained. So the number one priority was to come up with something primarily with one location, a couple of actors, and maybe some background. Once you get to the nitty-gritty of it, there’s all this other stuff that comes in: stunts, post-production, all that kind of stuff. But that’s where I’m trying to keep a level of practicality in my head.
“The Seeding” is now playing in select theaters and is available on VOD. Watch the trailer below.
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