Marcos Durian has a lot to be proud of. Marcos Durian is the Director of the short film Fish Head, which just debuted at Dances with Films at the TLC Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. The film was well received and considered a celebration on many levels. It’s personal and more importantly, it’s Marcos Durian’s own story.
It’s a beautifully shot film with an important message. Fish Head can be described as a visual poem, an ode to growing up as seen through the eyes of Milo (played by talented actor Madison Rojas) as he navigates the growing pains of his youth. This coming of age story is based on actual events and portrays defining moments in the life of Milo, struggling with adversity in childhood, both with his identity and being bullied at school (for being Half Filipino). What keeps him on track? He’s guided by the strength, love, and support of Lorena, his immigrant single mother, who keeps her past private in order to protect her son.
Durian is a director on the rise. His background is in Cinematography and he served as his own Cinematographer on Fish Head, although he did have a camera/Steadicam operator for four out of the five days. “It was effortless for me to balance on this scale. I feel more in tune with the actors if I’m shooting. I absorb and feel their performance more when I’m looking through the eyepiece of the camera.” “I also spent a lot of time storyboarding, working on my shot list and blocking things out in the locations before we shot, so everything had a very natural and expedited flow to it,” said Durian.
The film is addictive to watch because the transitions are so smooth. “Fish Head” aims to be lyrical yet is deeply grounded in its characters while also dealing with universal themes. The results blend realism with a dream-like mood, where one moment flows into the next, weaving into a profoundly personal experience of the childhood events that shape us as we grow. Overall, Milo draws the audience in with his maturity and sense of individuality.
Between Film Festivals and press appearances, Marcos Durian took the time to chat with Gemma Magazine. Again, Fish Head is a beautiful film (aesthetically) with a strong message — which is a great combination. In person, Marcos is passionate, kind, and authentic with a strong presence.
What inspired you to make a film on bullying? I did hear the majority of this film is based on your childhood. Can you expand?
Well, I wrote the script in 2006. After showing it to studio heads, I was highly advised to change Milo’s ethnicity to Caucasian or African American. Overall, I did not want to do that. About 14 pages in, I ended up shelving it. I did try to work with that advice, but it just didn’t feel right. The rise of diversity in 2018 plus my dissatisfaction with my work (To date, Marcos has served primarily as a cinematographer on a large body of work, including indie films, commercials, and music videos) ignited a spark to make the film again. However, I decided to make it a short instead of a feature. I felt it would have a better effect. Now, here we are in 2019, and the two themes of this film — cultural diversity and bullying are very relevant topics today. I have wanted to tell my story for a long time. Also, “yes,” the events in this film relate to a lot of what I went through as a child.
You have described yourself as a very emotional filmmaker. What does that mean to you?
It means I’m in with the cast and crew 100 percent, also, not just as a filmmaker, but as a character too. I give everything I have when I’m on a project. “This story is very personal to me, so if tears come to my eyes, they are tears of joy,” said Durian. I also like to create a community feeling on set so that everyone feels comfortable to take risks. Overall, I’m a very collaborative director. They know what I expect, but I am open in terms of what the actors want to bring to their performance, and then there is a myriad of the two.
How does creating a community feeling benefit the filming process?
I highly enjoy speaking with the actors, hearing their backstory on the character, and getting to know them as a person. When directing, I give guidance, but I want them to make their own creative choice ultimately. I also like having an approachability with my cast. All of this creates trust and will result in a better filmmaking process.
Do you feel that various defining moments in one’s childhood define or shape their future?
Absolutely! Everything that Milo experiences are defining moments he carries with him today. “Everything that I went through as a child has shaped the person I am today,” said Durian. I feel these first events shape us, even if we do not know it at the time. (The defining moments are everlasting and open up specific corridors of the mind). Sometimes we do not have the tools yet to express what is happening, but we know it’s everlasting in memory.
What did you want to achieve when shooting? There is a “dreamy” tone to it.
I think it’s a combination of things that inform the dream-like mise-en-scene. First is the image then the sound design followed by the score. All three elements in unison. When I imagine how I want to translate what a dream-like state is I often start with a straightforward, singular idea and find inspiration from old master painters like Caravaggio, Da Vinci and Michelangelo who’s works are immediately striking and dream-like. I think it also helps that I liked many of these images and it’s how I remember them. The whispering sound of the trees that we hear throughout the film also lend a hand to a certain mood, which isn’t that easy, as leaves blowing in the wind can often sound like waves on the shore. Joy Ngiaw, our composer and I, had a few conversations about how to make a score resonate that dream-like state and I think she found a great way to translate that in a very melodic style.
How would you describe Milo?
Milo is the strong, silent type. He has a lot going on internally. Milo is one of those kids who gets it but doesn’t have the tools yet to fully understand or explain what he is going through. Overall, he’s a resilient kid within. It’s a matter of taking a step towards standing up for yourself. Also, since his dad is not around, he’s the “man” of the house in a sense and feels that pressure with his mom. They both want to protect each other.
Personally, do you feel films like Fish Head will raise awareness for bullying to stop?
I feel it will raise awareness. However, will bullying ever stop? I don’t know. Of course, schools do help, but in the end, it still happens. It’s almost like a cycle of life. Bullying is not okay, but I also feel it’s more important to learn and appreciate that it’s alright to be who you are and having the courage to stand up for yourself. If dialogue can be used instead of violence, then it can make a kid stronger and more equipped to deal with additional adversities in life.
Durian has a lot to look forward to. He’s already been named one of this year’s recipients of the Emerging Cinematographer’s Award, to be presented by the International Cinematographer’s Guild on Oct. 6 at the Television Academy (the organization behind the Emmys) in Burbank. It’s an impressive accomplishment.
Gemma will be watching and we are excited to see what’s next. It will definitely be beautiful, inspiring and so empowering. To follow Marcos, you can keep up with him on the following social platforms: