Patrick Hogan discusses his career, Indie filmmaking, and his recent short film “Virtually”

"...And hopefully after watching the movie they take away the lesson I learned on Guam – we don’t’ survive alone. We survive together..."

Patrick Hogan’s career has largely centered on sound editing. In this capacity he has worked on projects such as Shrek the Third, Nip/Tuck, The Vampire Diaries, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and is currently the supervising sound editor on the upcoming Roswell, New Mexico. Hogan is also a multifaceted talent who has written and directed a short film The Business Card and the feature-length movie Pope Dreams. His most recent project is the short scifi film called Virtually. Wanting to learn more about his career and Virtually, I was able to interview Hogan for ScifiPulse.

You can learn more about him by checking out his homepage and by following him on Twitter at @soccernurd.

Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?

Patrick Hogan: My first favorite movie was Star Wars. Cliché, but true. It was that first magical, cinematic escape into another world. An early book series I fell in love with The Lord of the Rings. What really resonated with me in that story, even at a young age, was the idea that it wasn’t the strongest warriors with the magical swords that saved the day, but, in the end, a simple friendship. Samwise was the hero in that story, and as a storyteller that message wasn’t lost on me. Another book from my youth that I will always keep with me is Lord of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor.  Besides being a sentimental pick (the book was the final Christmas gift from my grandmother before she passed away) it was my first glimpse into a totally different part of America from my own– a story told from the POV of someone very different from me – a young African-American girl growing up during the Great Depression. Besides opening my eyes to the history of racism in this country, it still serves to this day as a reminder that my POV is only one of many and that the best stories are a way to open up and share your POV with the others.

Yanes: Given that you are from Guam, do you feel the island’s culture impacted how you approach storytelling?

Hogan: I actually haven’t thought much about this, but thinking right now, I suppose it has.  Guam is a small island, relatively speaking, and the people there are so caring and interconnected.  I think one common thread in my movies is the idea that human’s crave and need connectedness.  We cannot thrive, yet alone survive, alone.  I think the best movies (and stories) touch on universal themes with their specific characters and Guam has instilled in me that sense that we don’t survive alone, we survive in community.

Yanes: You have a lot of experience promoting your work at festivals. What has this experience taught you about selling yourself and your ideas at festivals? Is there any advice in regards to festivals you wish you would have been told about years ago?

Hogan: It’s taught me to save some money for travel and motels, ha.  From a practical standpoint, doing the festival circuit isn’t cheap. But it’s so rewarding. Films are made to be shared, and one way you can grow as a filmmaker is to go to the festivals and watch your audience watch your film – see what they respond to, and what they don’t respond to, and learn as a storyteller from it.  One of my fondest memories from the festival circuit of my feature film Pope Dreams was being at Stony Brook Film Festival (a wonderful festival, by the way) and watching an audience of nearly 1,000 people watch my film.  I actually snuck to the front of the theater and tucked into a little alcove and faced the audience and spent the entire film watching the audience watch my movie.

Specifically, in regards to selling yourself at the festivals—what I learned is that while the film you’ve made got you to the festival – that film is now in the past.  What you are now selling is your potential for the future – you need to go to festivals with your next projects ready to go – your next script, your next plan of action, whatever it is you hope to do – it needs to be ready to go.  It’s fun to bask in the compliments about your current film, but you need to be ready to make the next, because that is what you are “selling” at the festivals.  The current film is just the proof that you can do it.

Yanes: You have an MFA from USC. In retrospect, how much do you think your MFA education has helped you develop your career? Do you think that people need an MFA to build an entertainment career?

Hogan: It helped. And I’m glad I went to USC and got the degree.  I made invaluable connections at USC and learned a lot.  That said, it is totally unnecessary.

I think different people can follow different paths to their goals.  For me, getting that MFA was important.  But it wasn’t the only path that you can take.  I will say, no amount of classroom lectures and discussion can replace on-the-set learning.  So even if you are in the best film school in the country, you still need to be out on sets, volunteering, and PA’ing and working your way up the chain of responsibility on sets.  And I also think learning all the different facets of film production and post-production are vital.  A director who only studies directing and not editing and sound and production design and cinematography and acting is usually a very limited director.

Yanes: Your recent short film is Virtually. What was the inspiration for this project?

Hogan: Virtually began when I was walking down the hallway at work one day and thinking about the prior few years of my time writing and working on scripts with various producers and realizing that not only had none of the scripts been produced but none of the projects were stories that really resonated with me. And while walking down this hallway I made a promise to myself that I would make a film, not just write it, but actually make a film that I myself would have been a fan of as an audience member.

I wanted to make a movie that I wouldn’t just be proud of as a filmmaker but also make a movie that I would love as an audience member.

So right there, while standing in the hallway, I came up with the setting and the main character and the basic story, based on my love of science fiction and more specifically allegorical science fiction; stories set on a distant world or in a distant future that comment on the human condition and are applicable to our world of today.

And before long I had come up with a story that is a study in survival with the central theme being, “Is survival really survival if you are all alone? Is life worth living without human interaction? Are you really alive if you are completely alone?”

Yanes: I appreciate how you divided the real world from the virtual word through your use of color and scenery. How did you come to decide on these visuals for the story?

Hogan: Once I knew I was going to make this film, I called Chris Furukawa-Burgon.  Chris had been the Gaffer on my feature film Pope Dreams and we had kept in touch over the intervening years as Chris became a wonderful cinematographer and the DP on many amazing short films and feature films. And I asked him if he’d be interesting in doing this short film with me and sent him the script and luckily for me he said yes.

So we sat down after he’d read it and discussed how to tell the story visually, and we were on the same page right away – we would avoid the typical desert apocalyptic looks of warm colors, lot of red and orange, and instead make the desert cold, lots of cyan and grayish-blue.  And save all that warmth for when we went to the virtual world.  Everything from the lighting to the sets to the costuming and props would follow that scheme and Danielle Lopez, our production designer and Alexander Schwab, our colorist, really helped carry that idea through all phases of production – the real world is cold and scary and the virtual world is warm and safe.  Which plays into the story and journey that our protagonist, Bixby, is on.  Finding a safe refuge that allows her to put her guard down, even if it isn’t real.  I find that the use of subtle tools like color and sound can really go a long way to helping set the tone and tell the story of your film and I’m really happy with how that turned out in Virtually.

Yanes: Given that VR tech is improving everyday and that the content made only for VR systems is increasing, what are your thoughts on VR? Specifically, do you see VR systems replacing televisions and theaters in the near future?

Hogan: I honestly don’t know.  I’ve been on the sound-side of a couple VR projects, and they were very cool and fun to do.  But I still haven’t figured out how to tell a dramatic narrative story using the technology.  I still see two problems to overcome – the first is the dramatic narrative – in films (and TV) we very carefully lead an audience down a path for maximum dramatic effect.  We have you look where we want you to look when we want you to look.  We don’t cut to the angle under the table, revealing that the bad guy is holding a gun, until it will achieve maximum dramatic effect and tension.  But the VR world takes all those tools away from us.  The audience member is given a 360-degree unlimited view and can look wherever they want.  What happens when the audience is looking the opposite direction when the bad guy pulls out his gun and it’s supposed to be the big shocking moment?  I’m not saying that you can’t craft dramatic, compelling stories in the virtual world, but I have a feeling that after the novelty of being “inside” the story wears off, filmmakers are going to need to figure out how to re-create that drama and tension in other ways.

The second issue I have is that VR makes the film-going experience an individual one.  Are movie-theaters going to become large rooms full of cubicles with a person standing in each of them, all wearing their own goggles?  Part of the joy of going to the movies (and film festivals) is that it is a communal experience and you get to experience the movie with other people – both friends and strangers.  I feel like VR takes away that communal experience, which in some ways is very sad.  Again, that’s not to say that there won’t be brilliant VR material to come in the future, but right not it is definitely more suited to the videogame realm.  I’m sure we will see more VR venues and exciting new ideas, but I’m not ready to declare the traditional movie theater dead just yet.

Yanes: What are your long-term plans for Virtually? Specifically, do you want to turn this into a full-length movie or mainly use it as evidence of your talent?

Hogan: Well, I’m really proud of the film and the work of all the amazingly talented artists who worked on it.  So the first thing I want to do is get the film out into the world and let people see it.  We’ve just applied to our first batch of film festivals and now I have to be patient (not easy) and wait to hear back from them.  Hopefully the festivals are receptive and we get to spend the first half of 2019 traveling all over the country sharing the film with audiences.  If that is successful, we hope to then broaden our audience with streaming deals for domestic and international so that everyone can see the movie.

During this period of waiting, I’ll be working on a couple feature-length follow up scripts.  Originally, I had planned on Virtually just being a short film and no plans for a feature length version – I planned on making a sequel that is feature length.  A movie that is not only longer but much bigger in scope.  So I’m well on my way with that script.  But many of the people who have already seen Virtually are asking me about a feature-length version because they loved it so much, so that has got my mind spinning and I might also tackle that in the coming months.  And because you can never be busy enough, I am also writing a more romantic-comedy/sci-fi feature film with my wife, who produced Virtually and is a romance novelist.  I might take a sequence from that script to make another short film at the end of 2019 if time permits, unless someone wants to green-light one of the Virtually scripts before then.  I think my wife would forgive me for taking some time off that project if that happens.

Yanes: When people finish watching Virtually, what do you hope people take away from the story?

Hogan: I suppose first and foremost I want them to be entertained.  And if the movie moves them and inspires them– even better.  And hopefully after watching the movie they take away the lesson I learned on Guam – we don’t’ survive alone.  We survive together.  I think nowadays that’s a lesson we all need to be reminded of every so often.

Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?

Hogan: On the sound-editing front, I am supervising the sound for the CW show, Roswell, New Mexico and the YouTube Originals series Cobra Kai.  On the writing and directing front, I hope to get one of the follow-up feature scripts into development in 2019 and if there is a hole in my schedule somewhere, I’ll be making another short film, currently without a title, that is in the romantic-comedy/sci-fi genre.

Remember, you can learn more about him by checking out his homepage and by following him on Twitter at @soccernurd.

And remember to follow me on twitter @NicholasYanes, and to follow Scifipulse on twitter at @SciFiPulse and on facebook.

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