Jason Hallows is no stranger to the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. In fact, his entry into this year’s SBIFF is his eighth short to be featured at the fest. For Memorial, Hallows’ camera follows a young man named Danny as he receives and reacts to a call from his recently deceased best friend. What unfolds is a short but sweet tale about mourning, loss, and the power of friendships in times of personal strife.
Below, we chat with Hallows about the inspiration behind Memorial and what he has lined up next. [Note: While originally cut in black and white, Memorial will be screened in color for SBIFF patrons.]
Can you tell me a little bit about the inspiration for Memorial?
The main story in Memorial comes from a journal entry that I wrote a few years ago about a spam email I received. It was an email from a recently deceased friend and when I saw his name in my inbox I was surprised. There was no subject on the email — of course I knew it was spam — but way down deep inside, in the part of me that still believes in magical things, I thought, “What if it’s not spam? What if he figured out a way to contact me via email from the beyond?” I couldn’t delete it; I had to open it. Unfortunately, it was an email about achieving longer, firmer erections and, at that point, I was glad that it was spam and not an email from my deceased friend with penis product info to share.
Is Danny based on a specific person/people in your life?
He’s not really based on anyone in particular. He’s just a standard everyman that has been presented with a ridiculous situation.
What made you decide to make the film in black & white?
Actually, I’ll be showing the color version of Memorial [during the film fest]. In my original submission I fell in love with the black and white cut but, as time went on and I kept working on the edit, it became clear that the black and white wasn’t serving any real purpose. My DP, Aron Ives, captured such rich, vibrant colors that I had to do the final edit in color.
In your mind, how does the cab driver play into the story?
Tammy’s section of the story is about loss as well, but it’s also about maintaining yourself and your integrity through a rough period. She has a down to earth, unshakable quality to her that she sheds when she confronts her soon-to-be ex-friend. He, on the other hand, can’t shed his tough guy facade and admit that he actually likes Tammy. Witnessing Tammy’s ordeal and vulnerability deepens her friendship with Danny and gains her membership in the memorial. It is at the memorial when she ultimately decides that she will remain hopeful and keep her heart open.
Can you tell me a bit about why Tammy is the only one to know the box’s contents?
Tammy is a third party with no deep connection to the deceased, so she has nothing to really gain or lose by looking in the box. When she does, the audience sees her innocently smile at its contents before closing the box again. It serves to tell the audience that the box contains nothing strange or dark or weird. This part of the story was my way of dealing with the things we leave behind when we die. The things that are discovered by loved ones as they pack up our stuff. It seems to me that the things we hide from one another are less embarrassing than we might think.
Similarly, what was your reasoning for not having his widow peer in?
I think Francis has realized that she would rather just say goodbye to the Tommy that she knew. Whatever is in his box of things is not as important as preserving her memory of the man she loved.
What do you hope that viewers take away from the film?
I never really hope that anybody takes anything away from my short films. I just hope that they like them and find them to be interesting stories. Short films are a strange beast. I think when I first started making them I looked at them as a demo-reel of sorts and I really wanted to show what I could do technically. But as I’ve made more and more of them I’ve started to see them as a place to experiment with storytelling, develop as a director, and really just try things out. Sometimes people dig it and sometimes they don’t, but either way I grow as a filmmaker.
What’s up next for you? More festivals? A feature? I’ll probably send Memorial out to a few more festivals and continue working on my feature. This is our eighth short film to play at SBIFF and to hopefully make humble rounds on the festival circuit. We really want to make the leap into a larger story format. Coincidentally, it does seem that every year our shorts get a minute or two longer. At this rate in a few years we’ll be making a 90-minute short film.
Memorial screens as part of the Santa Barbara Shorts on Thu., Jan. 31, 4:30 p.m,, at the Lobero Theatre and Sat., Feb. 2, 7 p.m., at the Museum of Art.