Interview With Grzegorz Jonkajtys, Director Of “The 3rd Letter” & Other Sci-Fi Films

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Film director and writer, Grzegorz Jonkajtys

Film director and writer, Grzegorz Jonkajtys

The first movie camera was invented in the 1880s and with it dawned a form of entertainment for the masses, motion pictures. The art of filmmaking has shaped our perceptions, pushed us to develop new technology and transformed simple ideas into amazing cinematic masterpieces.

Recently, Vuze was fortunate enough to catch-up with award-winning Polish writer and film director, Grzegorz Jonkajtys (pronounced Yon-kates), to learn more about his amazing films and the creative process he employs to bring them to fruition.

For anyone unfamiliar with Greg’s (his preferred name) short films they are mesmerizing forays into the science fiction genre. From his post-apocalyptic short film Legacy (2008) to his live-action dystopian drama The 3rd Letter (2010), Greg incorporates fascinating visuals with captivating story lines that make you anxious for his next endeavor.

Without further hesitation, let’s meet Greg.

Let’s start with a bit about you. How did you get into filmmaking?

I have a background in graphic design, and graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts. After college, I dabbled in playing with motion design, and as technology (Internet, interactive CD-rom, etc.) progressed I found myself creating more and more animated elements for my projects.

A still from the short film, Ark.

Ark (2007)

In 2000, I completed my first animated short “Mantis”. For me it was a big undertaking, because I have never done such a complex CG (computer animation) work before. I had to learn everything — from technical aspects of rigging the character and animating, to lighting and final composition. Having this film in my portfolio helped me land a position with Platige Image, Poland’s leading animation studio.

Three years later, having learned a ton and having a much stronger reel, I moved to Santa Maria, California, and worked as a visual effects artist and animator. Since that time I have worked on almost 30 Hollywood films, including Sin City, Pan’s Labyrinth, Transformers, Star Trek, Iron Man 2, and many others.

The passion for telling my own stories never waned and in 2007 I completed my second short film ARK, which received a Golden Palm nomination at Cannes film festival and Best of Show award at Siggraph, the leading VFX and animation conference, that same year. Suddenly, I was bombarded with emails from agents in Hollywood wanting to represent me. It was very surreal.

From this point I directed several films, some on my own and some were collaborative. With great help from Bastiaan Koch from Marauderfilm.com I was able to bring The 3rd Letter to light. It went on to win several awards:  Best Director award from Hollywood Shorts in Los Angeles, Best Short award at New Wave LA Film Festival and many others. This helped me obtain greater commercial representation and by 2012 I got my first big break. I won a pitch with Intrepid Pictures — a feature film company that has produced The Raven, Safe House, The Cold Light of Day and several others — to direct a supernatural thriller, The Fourth Horseman. We are currently in the development process.

Who or what do you cite as major inspirations for your work?

In the late 1990s, my friend Mikolaj Kamler and me founded Aparatura, a small design studio focused on designing websites, interactive ROMs and title sequences for TV. Mikolaj’s father, Piotr Kamler, is a well-known director and animator. Meeting him and getting to know his work, was a major influence for me. Kamler’s film Chronopolis, and the fact that my father was a theatrical director and actor, both pushed me toward telling my own stories through animated films.

Still from the short file, The 3rd Letter

The 3rd Letter (2010)

I was always a big fan of science fiction and horror films. Specifically Star Wars, Blade Runner and Alien, all had major influence on me. I also love directors like Fellini, Greenaway, Kubrick, Lynch and Altman. Many of my favorite films are a mix of art film and genre film, including both versions of Solaris, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Fountain. Count me as a big fan of Neil Blomkamp too. I have been watching his career path since his first short, Tetra Vaal.

Common fictional sub-genres in your films include post-apocalyptic and dystopian. What specifically draws you to these sub-genres, as opposed to westerns or comedy, for example?

So, I never plan my stories with the genre definition first. I guess my first film, Mantis, is the only one that wasn’t really dystopian or post-apocalyptic. Typically, I come up with the plot, outline the story and it will happen to work with that particular setting.

I love sci-fi, because it allows you to inject an important layer of symbolism into the story. Apart from that and being visually interesting it adds another layer of interpretation to the narrative.

Lately, I have been thinking quite a bit about comedy. It’s a very powerful and difficult to write genre that I would love to explore some day. Of course with my track record, it would clearly be a dark comedy.

I was very taken with your short film, Legacy. It has a runtime of 2:53 (min/sec). Is the creative process, editing, filming, developing much longer?

Legacy was my third short film. In total I spent about three months on it —evenings, weekends and after my day job doing visual effects and animation.

A still from the short film, Legacy

Legacy (2008)

I had lots of fun making it. In fact, it was very organic work. At the time I had started without a definitive ending of the story in my mind. This was a film made for an online animation challenge, and I actually won first place in “individual artist video” category.

Although it is very short, I’m proud of it since it was 100% my work. Nobody else worked on it outside of the music, which was composed by Adam Skorupa.

Here is a little making of video that I did to show a mix of CGI, real background sets (shot in my backyard at the time) and practical plastic dolls that I used to create the piece.

When do story ideas usually hit you?

All the time! I have several notebooks at home, documents on the computer and an audio recorder full of little snippets or scenes that could potentially be developed into proper stories. It is my bank, so to speak. Sometimes these are just ideas for the characters, or small dialog scenes, or bigger, less specific musings. I tap into it, when I start writing a new story.

Another method that seems to work for me lately is a kind of “free brainstorming” technique that basically lets you quickly churn out ideas, words, sentences on a certain topic, almost mindlessly. After five to 15 minutes with that process you are bound to find something coherent and interesting. Very fascinating how well it works for me.

Do you plan on releasing new projects in the future? Can you share any teasers?

I’m in the process of developing a feature film for Intrepid Pictures. Apart from it, I’m working on several other short film and feature ideas. One called Snow King is a psychological fantasy set in Poland and Russia during World War II. I have been working on a teaser/proof of concept for it for awhile now.

Another project that is in early stages of development is called The Mines.

I shot a teaser scene for it. Not the actual short, rather a proof of concept sequence. It’s a b-horror type of flick, written by Stephan Bugaj, and set in some radioactive mines in Poland.

In regards to file-sharing (making content/movies free to view as opposed to only viewable by purchasing) have you found that it’s helped you with recognition, fan base and discovery as an artist?

Of course, many new contacts with agents, producers or other artists have been possible because I shared my short films online. For that type of networking sharing on the web is simply invaluable.

Where can readers see your films and learn more how to support your projects?

All my shorts and some artwork can be seen on my website. For readers that would like to view and support my films, please visit them on my Vimeo channel. Please share my work, as I would love to reach a bigger audience and connect with fans.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with us at Vuze, Greg. For our readers interested in watching Greg’s films, you can connect and watch them below. Like Greg’s movies? Support him by tipping his videos on Vimeo.

Ark

Scene from the movie, Ark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legacy

Scene from the short film, Legacy

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 3rd Letter

Scene from the short film, The 3rd Letter

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming soon! The Mines

 

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Sarah Hartshorn is a marketing, public relations and social media professional with Vuze. She blogs about content, torrents, social media and a number of other tech topics. Sarah has been involved with traditional and digital marketing since 1998.