Interview with Spencer Gillis: GUN
We all have an instinctual desire to protect our loved ones. When something endangers a loved one, we are caught between the fear of the situation and the desire to protect ourselves and our families. Sometimes the means of protection boils down to purchasing a weapon or firearm for self defense. But does owning a gun unleash a darker side of a person’s personality? In GUN, Spencer Gillis explores the false sense of power brought on by owning a gun and the confrontational side of a person’s personality that can step out of the shadows as a result.
Gillis brought GUN to Kickstarter to raise $8,500 for post-production costs and festival submissions. With just ten days left in his campaign, Gillis has already raised $5,904. With the campaign’s close drawing nearer, we had the opportunity to talk to Spencer Gillis about GUN, his background in film making, and his inspirations for the film.
Q: What is your background in film making?
Spencer: Since moving to the New York City area the majority of my work has been as a camera assistant and camera operator. Starting out as a PA doing short films as a volunteer, I fell into camera utility work at a small production company in the city. After a brief stint on a feature film as an electrician I landed a gig as a camera intern for a full feature film. From there things moved really fast and I learned more in a few months than I did in all my classroom experience combined. In 2007 I became a member of the International Cinematographer’s Guild and started doing mostly feature film work with commercials, documentaries, television shows and web content sprinkled in between. Freelancing offers great opportunities to network, but also has natural breaks that I take advantage of by working on my screenplays, seeing a lot of films, and helping other people make short films. Before coming to New York City I attended the University of Iowa where I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema and Master of Arts in Film Studies.
Q: What is Gun about? Where did the idea for the film come from?
Spencer: Gun is about Roy and Karen, new parents living in suburbia, after they have a terrifying home intrusion. Roy decides to purchase a handgun for home defense, but soon becomes obsessed with mastering his new toy and the power it gives him. Karen is hurt and resentful, as her husband isn’t holding up his end of the partnership. Roy continues to become more confrontational with a neighbor and strangers, all while having dark fantasies like never before.
In essence, the film explores how the sense of power can influence the mind. The idea came to me when I had been living in the suburbs of New Jersey for a couple of years with my wife. After years of living in New York City, moving out to a quiet neighborhood completely alters your perspective. The silence draws attention to more subtle sounds, and I caught myself waking up in the middle of the night thinking I heard someone outside. In those moments you start to understand just how unprepared you are for such a contingency. This set my mind racing with ideas. I realized this was a fundamental human experience to have an urge to be able to protect yourself and your home. From there the story took on a life of its own.
Q: What is it about this project that calls to you? What makes it important to you personally?
Spencer: What I loved about this idea originally was its simplicity. I had just finished writing a feature length screenplay that was historical fiction – in other words, complicated and time intensive – so the idea of such a basic narrative was very appealing. The film also strikes at the core of human nature and provided me a wonderful chance to direct a character study. It was important to me as an opportunity to learn and experiment on a small scale that will hopefully translate when I get a shot to direct a feature film.
Q: Who are you trying to reach out to with this film? Who is your audience
and what message are you trying to convey to them with Gun?
Spencer: This film is for anyone who has woken up in the middle of the night worried about the safety of themselves or their family. Anyone who has asked themselves how they might go about protecting what is most important in their life, and the responsibility of such a task. My goal with the character of Roy was to create a protagonist that the audience found morally questionable on the one hand, yet someone with which they could identify on the other. Cinema offers a fantastic place to explore our own nature precariously through characters on the screen. Roy compels us to acknowledge primal, and sometimes dark, traits within ourselves as human beings. Each viewer experiences this acknowledgement differently, making the process more personally meaningful. For this reason the message of the film is open to interpretation. Films that always have the greatest impact on me are those that create a space for viewers to construe meaning. That space is something I strive for in my own work.
Q: Where does Gun take place? What is the importance of location to this film?
Spencer: GUN essentially takes place in two locations – the familiar and the unknown. Roy is comfortable in his suburban routine: house, yard, office, etc. Once he decides to purchase a firearm, Roy takes an exciting leap into unchartered territory: gun shop, gun range, a seedy gas station, etc. These spaces change in meaning throughout the film and play an important role in Roy’s transformation as a character. The actual shooting took place in New Jersey, but it might just as well be any suburb in the United States.
Q: Which directors and films have you drawn inspiration from for Gun?
Spencer: Two films that inspired the minimalist style of GUN are an Austrian film titled The Robber (2010) and Steve McQueen‘s film Shame (2011). A cinematographer friend of mine showed me The Robber and I immediately gravitated towards the visual style of the film. It quietly allowed the onscreen action to unfold in very few, beautifully framed shots – many of which were wide. Shame is a unique inspiration because I was lucky enough to have worked on the film as a camera assistant. The great thing about the job of assisting is you often find yourself in remarkably close proximity to the actors and director. Watching Steve McQueen work was one of the great thrills of my career. That experience inspired me to make bold decisions and taught me that in filmmaking less is usually more.
If you are interested in making a donation to GUN’s Kickstarter campaign, you can visit its official page here: http://kck.st/R9tWqE