UNPOPCULTR PREMIERE: "To-Do" A Short Film by Efe Kabba
Interview by LaChelle Chrysanne
It seems being daunted by all of the things we want to do but can never seem to make time for has become a social norm. In her debut short film, Efe Kabba perfectly captures just how this self-induced pressure can drive someone to madness. We had the pleasure of chatting with her about the film and the incessant need to bite off more than we can chew, that so many of us can relate to.
UC: Your short film “To-Do” touches on the never ending list of personal obligations we seek to fulfill and how that ultimately can wear us down. Talk to me a bit about how you came up with this concept.
EK: I was working at a full-time media job going into an office from 9 to 5. It was kind of a creative job in the sense that I was coming up with ideas and concepts but it wasn't truly the kind of stuff I wanted to be making and at the end of the day it made me feel really drained. And at that time I wasn't like really making stuff for myself. Separate from that, I've just always been a really ambitious person and I usually take on a lot more than I can chew. There's so much in life that I want to experience and do and a lot of it is linked to working. But it's also other things like taking care of myself, going to the gym every day, meditating, finding time to volunteer and just being your highest self. A lot of times I find that to be extremely overwhelming. Going to a job from 9 to 5, working 40 plus hours a week and then trying to go to the gym a few times a week but then also feeling like I want to make stuff for myself but not having that time to. It leaves you feeling less than for not accomplishing all these things. Another layer is kind of seeing people around me and my peers, at least through the lens of social media. It seems that people are doing so much and accomplishing so much and I'm just like “How are people doing that?” Basically all of that combined together kind of inspired me to do something like this. I wanted to express the desire to be perfect but also understand that it's ridiculous to feel that I'm less than because I can't do everything.
"I think being ambitious is a positive but I do think that if we don't take the time to cultivate other parts of our lives other than doing work that can be like detrimental to our well-being"
UC: Well, it’s interesting you said that because yes, social media is a huge culprit but also living in New York plays a role as well. Can you talk to me some more about the other intersections and how that affects that frame of thinking?
EK: Living in New York, I think we’re obviously surrounded by people who are overly ambitious and kind of forget to take time to connect with other people, to take care of themselves, and living in that environment puts a lot of pressure on you. There actually was a brief period of time where I had traveled for a year. I saw the world and other kinds of ways of living. I lived in Berlin and in Berlin people value recreation time a lot more and just spending time with people. When I got back to the U.S. I was in that mindset and felt that working and doing everything wasn’t the most important thing in life. But honestly, living in New York I kind of got sucked back into that mentality. It's not completely negative. I think being ambitious is a positive but I do think that if we don't take the time to cultivate other parts of our lives other than doing work, that can be like detrimental to our well-being.
UC: Yeah, because what's the point of achieving all these goals if you achieve them and then what? If you haven't built meaningful relationships or if you haven’t had any of your own experiences.
EK: Yeah, exactly. And I I tend to compare myself a lot to people and it's one of the things that I'm working on and just learning how to be being aware of. If I am comparing myself to someone else or feeling jealous or sitting in that emotion and trying to be like “No, I'm happy for that person. We're not the same person and we don't have to be”. A lot of the anxiety that I was trying to express through the film comes from that, the feeling that people around me are accomplishing so much.
The protagonist is imagining the perfect version of herself and that is typically what people are trying to project to the world; this spotless veneer. But we see at the end...Oh wait I don’t know if we’re going to… [Laughs]
UC: We'll post the video above the interview[Laughs].
EK: But it all falls apart and there's this juxtaposition that I try to convey through the colors. In the beginning it’s kind of dark and dreary and it turns into this Technicolor world where she's perfect but that can't be sustained and you see the imperfections are beautiful too.
UC: You mentioned color and stylistically it's minimal but it's very effective visually because of the way that you used color. The set kind of reminds me a lot of Funny Face. Tell me about how you went about approaching that and what influenced your decision to portray it that way as opposed to a more documentarian type of style?
EK: Originally the technique that I wanted to use incorporated this thing called the Movi Pro where you put a camera in it and it just spins in 360. It was going to be a video that appeared to be only one take with the camera rotating 360 degrees, but it would be cut in the same way that the film is cut right now. But basically the camera would be kind of like turning, it would still be in one room and she'd be walking around the space and changing into different outfits and different positions. I just thought it would be a really interesting way to show a thought process.
The Movi didn't work because we couldn’t get it to work exactly how I wanted it to so my cinematographer, Jovon, and I decided to take a different approach. She’s still kind of going around in a circle in the room and to me, that technique symbolizes your mind racing. I chose all the primary colors because those are the basis for all the other colors. It's simplistic, it’s minimalistic, and I was semi-inspired by films of the French New Wave specifically, Godard.
A lot of his stuff uses only primary colors. There's this etherealness to a lot of his films and that’s what I wanted this to be; this ethereal, otherworldly space which is like her mind. I don't know if you noticed but there's the scene where this red lighting; it's a direct kind of callback to Contempt. He is one of the filmmakers that does really interesting things visually. And colors are really powerful. If you think about a grey day when everything is kind of subdued, it makes us feel a certain way versus when it’s super sunny out and the colors are bright. It actually does have an effect on how we perceive the world.
UC: With regard to narration and writing the script, how did you come about that decision? The film is like the inner monologue in our head but the protagonist has a very significant tone; semi sarcastic, which I like.
EK: Yes [laughs]. I actually really love writing in monologue form and I think a lot of my favorite writing that I've done in the past is just one character talking. I think a voiceover can go either way. Going along with what you said it’s clearly a stream of consciousness and inner monologue seemed like the right fit for the theme. The character is loosely based off of my own feelings. She isn't this cheery bright person. She has anxiety, she tries her best but she's still likes dark things. I intended it to be kind of darkly comedic in a way. Even though she's striving for this thing she knows deep down that it's fucking ridiculous. So I think that's where the tone comes from. In her head she's trying to convince herself that this is a realistic thing or even a positive thing. And when she sees that happen, she goes “Fuck!” That's the one line that is actually non-narration. It’s “Fuuu….uuuck”, it was just that feeling of… Fuuu...ck.
UC: It was very effective because you have this kind of Pleasantville atmosphere that you've created but instead of creating a Pleasantville type of character you put someone in there that was more well-rounded and that really speaks to the overarching message of the film which is that we're human beings.
EK: When I was writing I wasn’t trying to create something that's relatable but the feedback that I've gotten so far from the people who have seen it is like ‘It's super relatable!’ That kind of makes me feel connected to people when they can say ‘Yeah, we feel this way’, even though people are not projecting that all the time. If the film could be longer and I could show more of who the character is she would kind of be a little bit not cranky but not like a saccharin person, you know what I mean? A little disillusioned about life and trying not to be because obviously she's like ‘I want to do meditation’.
UC: How long did it take you to make the film and did you experience some of those feelings that your protagonist did while creating it?
EK: [Laughs] All together I don't think it took me that long. I was working on it probably on and off for three or four months and then got let go from that job that I talked about earlier. My energy and my creative spirit were sucked out of me. Once I was able to get out of it, there was an actual change and I was like ‘Holy shit!’. And I had the script and I was just like ‘You need to make this.’ So it probably was another three months before we actually shot it but we made a lot of the props and stuff from scratch, so pre-production took a long time. After that I basically was editing and doing all of the animation and stuff for myself and while juggling all other parts of my life and like I said I take on too much. [Laughs] So, it took me quite a while; I would say from when I wrote it to when I finished the final draft of the edit; probably like two years.
UC: Did you ever just wanted to give up?
EK: No but, I mean there were times where I didn't look at it for two months. It wasn’t like I was working on it consistently for two years. This was the first thing I’ve made since college. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself. There was a lot of self-doubt happening like ‘Am I a filmmaker? Am I good? Who would even want to see this? What's the point?’ all of these thoughts.
UC: You were experiencing imposter syndrome.
EK: Of course, yeah. Imposter syndrome is really real and I think that's probably also why I took a lot longer but I think I'm okay with it now. There was a point where I felt kind of embarrassed about it especially because I didn't have anything to show for it, you know? It goes back to this thing of having to be this person who's constantly making things. For me, I know it seemed like two years was too long for a short film. Just a lot of self-doubt and I haven't truly shared a lot of the work that I’ve made; actually. This is the first time that I'm sharing it with more than three or four people. All of that just kind of built up the anxiety.
UC: When you took time off from working on the project and you came back to it; did you feel more connected to it? Did you feel like certain pieces that were not coming together were a little bit more aligned? Because sometimes taking a break can help.
EK: Yeah, I think it did. I always knew exactly what it would look like. My process; not every director has this, and my process isn’t always like this for every project but for “to-do” I literally knew how I was going to edit it from the start. When we were shooting it I knew what would cut with each other, it was so exact. But there's a segment where I do a little bit of animation. It's the one moment in the film where like the Technicolor dream has a crack in the system and I didn't know how to visually capture that and so that went through a few iterations. I think I'm happy with what I chose and I think if had not taken that space it probably wouldn't have happened, you know?
"I have all these expectations for myself but at the end of the day I just have to be kind to myself and know that I'm good just right where I am."
UC: When it comes to art, a lot of times people have this perception that we're supposed to just be churning shit out. Especially in American culture we’re a culture of consumers and everything is about instant gratification; so who is to say two years is too long for a seven-minute short when you took your time and you had a better result than if you would have been like ‘Okay, well it's been six months and this isn't done yet. Maybe I should just give up and quit or maybe I should just put it out as it is.’ Do you think that in taking your time with this project it is going to help you for future projects?
EK: Totally, I think that it's funny because although I completely agree that I think artists should have that space in some ways I feel like I've grown so much since then that it almost doesn't feel like it is mine. I've made it but there is this slight disconnect from it because I'm two years older and I've gone through lots of experiences and I'm like ‘I want to make something else’ so that I can add them to the world and have that be it.
I had a crew and it was great. They helped me shoot it but from start to finish I was instrumental in every part of it. I did the costume, the art direction, I taught myself how to color correct, I did animation and I haven’t done animation in a few years. That's also probably part of why it took time because I actually like to teach myself how to do stuff. I learned skills that I know I’m going to be able to do with more ease for my next projects. Self-doubt will probably still be there [laughs] but it’s not like intense.
UC: So, last question: what is the main message you want people to take away from your film?
EK: I don't know if I like the idea of a message. If this resonates with you then that's awesome. How I described this film is just my brain building up with all these ideas and being blocked and not being able to get it out. This was literally my brain vomiting and it's really personal for me. It captures my anxiety and I hope that people connect with it. I have all these expectations for myself but at the end of the day I just have to be kind to myself and know that I'm good just right where I am, you know what I mean? It's good to be ambitious but also where I am right now is amazing.
Learn more about Efe's work at www.efekabba.com + follow her on social media at @efeseestheworld