Danny Madden's interest in filmmaking formed at an early age. The Georgian director grew up surrounded by both his brothers, who helped him make movies, and his father, a blue-collar worker who fostered his sons' creative curiosities.
The 25-year-old filmmaker says the latter remains best exemplified in a moment that happened nearly a decade and half ago. "My dad saw The Matrix, called my mom and said to drive my brother and I, 25 minutes from our home, to the dollar Fayetteville theatre," he says. His dad, affectionately referred to as "big Kev," wanted to expose his sons to a film that was "something different."
That experience still resonates with Madden, whose early exposure to genre-bending movies would soon inform his own innovative works. After releasing a series of acclaimed animated shorts, his captivating full-length debut, Euphonia, came out online this week and can be streamed online for free.
Madden filmed much of Euphonia in his hometown of Peachtree City, Georgia, nearly 30 miles outside Atlanta. With cinematographer Jonathan Silva's help, the director and the rest of the Ornana Films crew spent most of July 2010 filming the movie, which was made with less than $1,000. "Budget was virtually nothing," he says. "[There were] a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from my parent's kitchen."
Euphonia documents a high school student who purchases a Zoom audio recorder to capture sounds in the world around him. What at first immerses him into his surrounding environments soon turns into an unhealthy obsession documenting idle chatter, natural sounds, and ambient noise.
Before making the film, Madden and his younger brother Will, the film's lead actor, each spent months walking around with the recording device to better understand how it impacted their everyday lives. When it came time to film the movie, the lead actor had also turned into a Euphonia's lead sound guy. Madden jokingly said to his brother: "Hey Will, you're going to hold the main character."
Madden, an avid animator who meticulously storyboards most projects, departed from that approach when filming Euphonia. He says that led to "serendipitous" raw moments during the filmmaking process, which meshed with their emphasis on creating an intentionally imperfect sound design. That includes varying volume levels, incidental microphone taps, and other techniques typically edited out of a final mix.
"Hearing these [microphone] rubs that people spend so much time trying to eliminate, we ended up doing the opposite," he says. "We'd add them in and mix up recorder rubs to allow them a different kind of presence."
As a result, Madden became more attune to sounds around him. To drive his point home, he manipulated parts of the film's sound, adding an effect to replicate the sound of a cell phone's distortion when close to cheap set of computer speakers. This technique innovatively drives the film's plot and creates a distorted juxtaposition between a "digital chip soundtrack" and "raw, natural" sounds. "That sound always freaked me out, especially when cell phones first started becoming prevalent," he says.
In many ways, Madden says his main character's relationship with technology parallels the ones many people have with cellphones, cameras, or laptops. It's a topic that hits close to home for the director, who stresses moderation in using those devices. "I think the beautiful part of technology [is] when it bring you places and you hear things you normally wouldn't notice," he says. "It's about how you use it."
Yet as Madden edited audio and video for Euphonia, his cautionary tale against an over-mediated society became a "self-fulfilling prophecy" as he burrowed himself into his computer and headphones. He also acknowledges that as he's started to fulfill other film obligations, like press or business conversations, he's struggled to keep a healthy balance in his life. Moreover, he's still taken aback by how some devices can permeate daily lives.
"The whole idea of living your life through a computer just never seemed to make sense to me," he says. "The capture culture that's happening. Everyone has a high-definition camera in [his or her] pockets. It becomes less about experiencing it and more about how you can bottle it up."
Not only does Euphonia challenge our everyday habits -- whether it's the urge to check our Twitter feeds, Instagram a photo, or refresh our inboxes -- it leaves viewers with a heightened sense of awareness. The film ultimately leaves an indelible mark on its viewers, given the chance to do so. It does requires onlookers' undivided attention, along with some decent headphones, but rewards those who do so.
More importantly, the film offers an enthralling experience that's forces those watching to reassess how they engage with technology. And to borrow from Madden's father, Euphonia represents a work that's truly something different.