Artist Interviews 2022

Mitch deQuilettes  
By Julia Siedenburg

Mitch deQuilettes is a visionary uber talented director and writer. I have known Mitch for a few years now and through that time I came to admire his work more and more. And he is actually a super nice guy as well.

Mitch is also not one to show off or name drop a lot, so let me take this opportunity to do it for him: His resume shows music videos for artists like Childish Gambino, TOKiiMONSTA, Marian Hill and Swimm to Live Tour documentary videos for FLUME, branded content for The Line Hotel and numerous narrative film projects.

He just released his latest short film “Hill Hikers” online which featured beloved Anthony Carrigan, 
(Barry) so I thought I’d put even more on his plate and ask him to answer some questions for us and share some of his inspirations and insights. And the nice guy that he is, he said yes. I am so happy to be able to give you a glimpse of this great filmmaker and person that he is. So enjoy dear readers and make sure to check out more of his voice and most importantly Hill Hikers!

Describe your style to us. What are the visual, genre, and story aspects that you are known for?

I’m not entirely sure if I’m well known for anything yet. I feel I’m still establishing my name and tone. But I’d say there’s always some form of sci-fi or magical realism angle in my work– and a dash of dark comedy. I love creating films where the reality is slightly different from our own present day society. This loosens up space for characters to be strange and comedically archetypal instead of tropey. I love taking niche social issues or lesser discussed human topics and fusing them into a world where the audience can confirm its themes consciously but also be surprised that the ideas are being discussed through a unique plot scenario. It’s important to me also that the audience can laugh and have a good time. Some themes I’m currently interested in are Toxic Masculinity, Cancel Culture, Media Influence, and The Public Housing Crisis.

Who are your biggest influences?

My biggest influences are David Cronenberg, Robert Altman, and The Dardenne Brothers. All of these directors prioritize story and character over aesthetic but at the same time have pushed the visual language of cinema to brand new heights. The opening one-shot in Altman’s “The Player” has been remixed by other masters for years now. People think that the “Boogie Nights” opening is iconic, well this film is in a league of its own and puts everyone else to shame. Especially because it’s serving the story whereas other films do one-shots for technical posturing.

I think I’m drawn to these filmmakers in particular because they have this way of creating a dream-like world that is set in a very grounded realism. And their characters are always so unique and one of a kind. Every time I watch a movie from any of these master’s I learn something new.

I highly recommend “Naked Lunch” from Cronenberg. “3 Women” from Altman. And “La Promesse” from Dardenne Brothers.

Many films play homage to painters and recreate known art pieces. Do you look for inspiration in paintings as well? If so, please give some examples.

I’ve never done this. Maybe I should though.

You have worked on a variety of music videos and narrative short films. What are the pros and cons of these two art forms in your opinion? Which of those worlds do you want to focus on in the future?

I don’t think there are any cons to either. I look at each lane equally contributing to expanding my craft. With music videos I get to practice visually storytelling, camera blocking, and different aesthetic combinations. With narrative short form I get to work on blocking actors, dialogue, and character tone. Both of these mediums are all working together towards making sure my first narrative feature or show makes a ripple emotionally in the current zeitgeist.

In the midst of the pandemic, you made a film called “ Everything is canceled” that tells the story of multiple people in Los Angeles over the course of a day during the lockdown. Everything was shot from the outside looking into the people’s windows. How did you get to that idea and can you tell us more about the process of making that project and how you chose your characters? During the pandemic lockdown, my co-director Pham and I knew we needed to keep ourselves busy, otherwise anxiety would start to creep in and deteriorate our morale. So we decided to make a film that would hit two birds with one stone– keep us busy and help us connect with our close friends and family. This was such a peculiar time and though it was important to capture how us as a collective consciousness were feeling at that time. Casting was pretty simple, we contacted all of our close friends and shot them in their homes through their windows.. We didn’t know exactly what we were going to say until after we captured the moments and recorded phone interviews which would later become our throughline narration. It was a project of necessity that came out to be quite a heartfelt piece about the importance of connection during trying times.

Your newest movie Hill Hikers is a collaboration between you and your friend Elisabeth Gobar. How was the experience co-writing, co-directing, and co-editing?

I love collaboration. I become a better filmmaker every time I surrender control. Especially to a creative I deeply connect with like Elizabeth Godar. She’s truly one of a kind. A force. I met her during the pandemic and we instantly clicked. She comes from an architecture background so has a really interesting way of seeing things. The co-writing, co-directing, and co-editing I’d say was very meticulous and carefully thought out. I really enjoyed every step of the process with her.

Could you share some information about the story and the inspiration behind Hill Hikers?

Hill Hikers is a social satire mockumentary about a fictional competitive couples hiking league where they must hold hands from start to finish. The short film follows the race as we intercut between strange couples’ interviews and the race itself.

The inspiration is pretty hilarious actually…. Elizabeth and I were stoned hiking in Griffith Park in Los Angeles during the pandemic and we saw this couple holding hands, ferociously hiking up a steep incline. We instantly started riffing, creating backstories on why this couple was doing this difficult task to bond, to ascend. We couldn’t stop talking about them and eventually we thought of this strange league of hand-holding hikers. At first we were only going to make a funny IG video, but then the concept and themes began to really form into something bigger. We eventually decided that the idea was too good and made a full production out of it.

Tell us a bit about your background and upbringing?

I’m from Washington State originally. I come from a mixed family. My pops Indonesian and my mother white. My parents divorced super early and my mother remarried when I was six. At twelve my brothers and I moved with my mother and stepfather from suburbia to a small rural lake town in central WA. My parents were always working so I was either in front of a television playing video games, watching movies, or playing sports. I didn’t party much so there weren't a lot of options.

I graduated highschool and went straight to film school in Santa Barbara, moved to LA in 2010. Got fed up with working production jobs three years in and just started making my own work. Eventually it kind of snowballed into where I’m at now.

How did you discover your love for filmmaking and when did you decide that you want to pursue it as a career?

I was obsessed with watching whatever I could get my hands on after my father showed me Princess Mononoke, The Matrix, and Alien. Of course my taste has evolved over the years but at age 11 those films had a crazy impact on where I saw the limits of cinema could be pushed. I instantly became fascinated with what I could see and how my own reality could expand through viewing other worlds.

I decided to pursue it as a career at 16 years old when I got my first Sony Handycam. I couldn’t stop shooting and experimenting in Final Cut.

What are your plans for the future? Are any new projects already in mind?

I’m currently trying to get a one season miniseries off the ground. It’s a dystopian satire with themes revolving around the current housing crisis, and capitalism within government. I can’t say much else about it but that’s my main focus right now. In the meantime, I’ll be making another short film in June and working on my craft through music videos in between.

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