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Letting The Accidents Happen: A Miniflix Interview With Macks Milner

Macks has been wanting to make films since he was young. He first got his taste of film school training at Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy in Chicago (now Flashpoint Academy, a campus of Columbia College Hollywood). From there, he’s made many shorts, including CAR, THE SWEET LIFE, DALE and MILKMAN. He also has an excellent debut feature, LIGHTNING, in which he also gives a comedic performance. This film is yet to be released.

What we appreciate most about Macks’ filmography is the diversity in tone and genre. He moves from dark, brooding character studies to hilarious parody work to truly strange experimental techniques, all with an incredible ease and assurance. While he typically chooses to tailor his visual style to the particular story he’s telling, all are connected by frank, understated dialogue and ability to look deeply into the truthful, sometimes uncomfortable, nature of being human.

In the chance of a lifetime, Macks got to attend the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, where a short of his was selected for screening. Macks talks with us about his experience at La Croisette, the development of his filmmaking style and what Claire Denis told him about making his next project.

Miniflix: Since you’d wanted to be a director for awhile, especially coming into college, do you feel that your filmmaking style — or the style that you wanted to emulate — changed at all as you were growing up and going through this program?

Macks: Absolutely. When I first went in, I was expecting to get really into surrealist kind of stuff. Not exactly Lynchian, but highly stylized and singular. But now I’m all about realism. Mumblecore stuff plays a huge influence in stuff I’m creating now. Or the Dardennes brothers kind of stuff. Just fly on the wall, regular people kind of filmmaking. It would be sweet though — to be able to merge those two into something. I think that’s what I ultimately want to shoot for.

Macks’ THE SWEET LIFE played in the Short Film Corner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Miniflix: How do you approach a short film versus a feature? Are you of the mind that making a short film is more of a calling-card, proof-of-concept kind of thing, or do you treat it the same as you would a feature?

Macks: Look, there’s no rules. You can do whatever you want. But the shorts that I’m drawn to just give you a window into a much larger world or story. If somebody wants you to expand on that, or if you want to expand on it, go ahead and do it. Or if it’s just something that’s supposed to be little, poetic, slice-of-life. It really doesn’t matter. I’m not into these shorts with a first, second and third act that’s like crunching a ninety-minute movie into ten minutes.

Miniflix: When you are making a short film, and maybe nearing the end of production, do you already know what you want to do with it? Can you already tell what kind of festival you’d want to submit it to or if it’s just a film that will stay on the hard drive?

Macks: Yeah, usually they stay on the hard drive, or maybe I’ll throw them up on the internet. If I feel like it can have an audience, then I will shove it in some festivals. Or if I just want to get my name out there somewhere.

Miniflix: How do you know if it’s going to hit the right buttons for an audience? Just by knowing what festivals want?

Macks: Every festival seems like it has its kind of niche about what kinds of stories they like to promote…I’m really into cheap aesthetics, but I know that a lot of festivals aren’t. So in that case I’ll just throw it up on the internet.

Miniflix: So what’s the story behind getting into Cannes?

Macks: Thanks to Flashpoint! I don’t know exactly how they did it, but they found a way to get students to Cannes by submitting shorts that were made during your time at Flashpoint and that were made for a Flashpoint project. They had like 6 to 8 that were submitted, from throughout Flashpoint’s entire existence as a program. All of the films, including THE SWEET LIFE, were submitted in a bundle to Cannes. They accepted it. I don’t think it quite turned out to be the way they made it seem. Instead of being in the festival, or in competition, we were in a Short Film Corner. This means you are still within the big festival, but your film only plays on a little computer in a little corner of the festival. People won’t know about it unless you go around telling them to go online, at these computers, and type in your film. There’s like 960 films total in the Short Film Corner.

Miniflix: Wow.

Macks: So it wasn’t what they made it out to be. But it was still an amazing opportunity just to be there. Everyone who is there wants to network. For example, one day I was just outside the train station and this one guy just comes up to me and asks if I’m here for the festival. I said that I had a film in the Short Film Corner. So he said, “Okay, here’s my card, give me your number, we’ll be in touch.”.And that was it — then he left. A six second interaction. The following day he sent me this email about opportunities to work in France. So plenty of people are out there and they want to connect with pretty much anybody, anybody who’s standing by a train even. It’s a cool atmosphere for sure…If you want to talk to anybody, you’re gonna meet somebody there.

Miniflix: How do you feel about film festivals in general? Do you think they are overall built for the good of a filmmaker? Or does the fact that there are so many now dilute the impact of bigger festivals like Cannes?

Macks: If you’re a filmmaker, all that should matter to you is showing your work. You shouldn’t care about how many people see it, as long as someone is seeing it. You shouldn’t care if it’s getting distribution or money or financing or whatever. It’s just amazing to have your film play somewhere and not just having to share it on a YouTube link. And then you always meet people. I’m a people person and I love to meet people. You know, everyday people at your jobs, or even your family, may not always be into movies as much you are, but when you go to these festivals, people can talk for hours about it.

Miniflix: How do you approach your filmography? Are you thinking about every movie or project as a career move or are you just doing whatever comes to you?

Macks: I just don’t know how anyone who’s successful in filmmaking ever thought they were going to be successful, and went in doing these deliberate steps to be successful. From my very little research into filmmakers I like, it’s all pretty much mostly an accident. So just have fun and do what you wanna do, put it out there. I think that attitude comes off in any project you made. I mean, sure, it’s not a perfect recipe for success, but I just don’t know anyone who, while making a movie was like “This is incredible, this is going to be a huge success, this is gonna be amazing”. I think the most successful ones are usually like “This is a nightmare, what are we going to do?” Or even just thinking “eh, it’s fine, let’s just have fun”.

On the set of DALE

Miniflix: So is this it for short films? Are you only doing features from now on?

Macks: So I asked Claire Denis, while at Cannes, “What is more beneficial to filmmakers: shorts or features”? She was just like “Oh, eff that. Just do it however you want. There’s no one path at all.” So, I say, if you want to make features, make features. If you want to make shorts, make shorts. I still feel like doing shorts is probably the best way — just make sure to send them to festivals and get your name out there as opposed to trying to send features out there. If they don’t know who you are, it’s harder for them to take a feature….I do want to get another short done, because I’m pretty sure that the Cannes Short Film Corner will take any film. So I just want to make something quick, send it in and go back to Cannes.

Miniflix: You heard it hear first. Everyone can be in the Cannes Film Festival by way of the Short Film Corner. Any favorite short films that you’d like to recommend?

Macks: Yeah, I saw these shorts while in film school by Ben Briand. I thought he’d have made a feature by now, but I don’t think he’s made one yet. The first short film of his is called APRICOT which is awesome, and the second is SOME STATIC STARTED.

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