At 32, Todd Strauss-Schulson came up in Hollywood at a time when traditional director gigs for big features were few and far between. After years hustling for attention from the industry, he stumbled on an internet hit. The viral attention mixed in with his insanely creative work ethic soon landed him in the director's chair for the 2011 A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas . Now, the filmmaker is bringing his own experience with heartache to life in the short on Vimeo, "All's Fair".
You got a jump in your career with Harold and kumar - how does a young director go from music videos and shorts to a feature?
I spent about 7 years making shorts and music videos and desperately looking to get signed by an agent but just couldn't get noticed. I was like an ant with a megaphone screaming at the top of my lungs. Then one day, really out of pure frustration, I spent 500 bucks and made something personal. A short film called Mano-A-Mano https://vimeo.com/417025 that was the first time I had made something for myself. I spent all this time doing music videos and paid jobs but this was the first time I made something that I thought was funny, that my friends and I came up with, that was shot and cut with my style. And it caught fire, it became viral and very quickly all the agents I wanted to notice me did. And I got signed. And once signed I was introduced to a bunch of movie producers and studio execs and sent scripts and continued to make personal short films and eventually after 2 years, there was a critical mass of work I was making and people I was meeting and Harold and Kumar happened. But I think the lesson is, in order to be noticed and cut through you have to make personal work that really reflects who you are and what you think is funny and has your own visual aesthetic. The second I turned inward and developed the confidence to put myself into my work I got noticed.
In your off time- you've now released a short - All's Fair- what was the inspiration behind the project?
I had a pretty horrendous break up earlier this year and making this was a kind of catharsis, it was difficult to keep all that pain and love inside, it was really helpful to transform it into something creative and funny. It is a tombstone and a love letter.
The short is comedic and quirky yet touches on the sadness of breaking up and letting go- How do we get over exes in this modern digital age where we can't avoid them?
I know there has been a lot written about the digital age and how you can never really get over anyone cause everytime you sign on to facebook there they are. But I think for me, I was more interested in taking a few steps back from that and my own observation about myself was that I was making myself suffer , I was obsessing, I was looking her profile up all the time and my mind was constantly thinking about all the good times and how I could get her back. It was relentless. So more than digital age I think the issue is about suffering. And what causes it and how to release yourself from it. The lead of this movie is tormented by these fantasies of his ex girlfriend and her new boyfriend. That pain of loss is too overwhelming for him to deal with so he turns to this prostitute to sooth him, to distract him, to make the pain go away. He's resisting the pain for most of the movie. But my feeling is that resistance is suffering. Fighting and avoiding the pain makes the pain greater. If you can turn towards the pain, accept that things are going to hurt sometimes instead of spending your life avoiding the hurt. That is how to move through and ultimately passed that pain. So, for me, that is what this short is about, learning to not resist suffering.
Where do you hope to take the short?
In the past we've had lots of our work in SXSW which is a blast and it's always great to see something you've made with an audience, but the truth is that I made the short simply because I wanted to watch the short. I made it for myself. It was a form of therapy.
How important is vimeo for modern day filmmakers?
I think film festivals for short films are kinda overrated. I think they can be helpful for younger filmmakers looking for representation etc... but at a certain point if you put something on vimeo or youtube 90,000 people could watch your short in a week. Which is what happened with All's Fair. That's staggering. And at a film festival maybe you have 150 people in a room watch it. So for me, the name of the game is getting as many people to see my work as possible, and the internet is the best way.
We understand you have some exciting projects in the pipeline. Can reveal any details? - your chance for shameless plugging.
Well I just sold a TV show which is similar to this short in it's tone and sensibility, I have multiple movies in the works and am supposed to go shoot one of them in a few months that is like a mix between Terms of Endearment and Back to the Future with a little Pleasantville mixed it for good measure.