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Posts related to Robert on his Lunch Break.


Robert on his Lunch Break has been selected to be a part of the New Narratives Film Series at this year’s Berkshire International Film Festival in Massachusetts. This free-to-the-public series is described by the festival as “a collection of movies by emerging filmmakers operating within a cinematic framework directly influenced by the arts. Not determined by commercial pressures and often made with very low budgets, these works give a glimpse into the culture and critical engagements of a new generation, and their experiments with narrative fiction.” All of these films will be shown in Theater #4 of the Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington. Robert will screened on Sunday, June 3rd at 10 a.m. This will be its East Coast premiere, as well as the first time it will be seen via DCP, a fairly recent format that yields a much higher standard of image and sound quality than anything that’s been used to show the film publicly in the past.

Have just been sent me a snapshot of the audience who attended “Robert on his Lunch Break and Other Experimental Shorts from Wisconsin’s Own” last weekend at the Wisconsin Film Festival. The photo was taken about ten minutes before the show started:


The screening was sold out and I’ve been told it went quite well. Wish I could’ve been there!


On Saturday, April 21st, at 11 a.m., the 2012 Wisconsin Film Festival will screen Robert on his Lunch Break along with eleven other films of an experimental and/or animated nature with ties to the Badger State. I am honored that my film was chosen to be a part of this screening! I won’t be able to make it to Madison then, but Mack Bates (who played the character Gerald) will be there to represent the film.

The UW Cinematheque (where the screening will take place) looks like an ultra-comfy venue for film viewing, and every year the Wisconsin Film Festival hosts a wide array of worthwhile cinema. (In 2011 they played, among other things, Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le Quattro Volte, which I saw for the first time several weeks ago and enjoyed quite a bit.)

I haven’t yet had the chance to browse through all of this year’s selections, but the film guide (which can be viewed online here) certainly looks promising. Tickets go on sale starting March 31st at noon.

Over the past several weeks I’ve been intermittently removing pesky specks and debris from the transferred Super 8 footage that made it into the final cut of Robert on his Lunch Break.

This is a simple but time-consuming process.

It involves breaking a movie clip down into an image sequence (in this case a series of Tiff files), identifying a splotch or squiggle (caused by a piece of dirt or dust the lab failed to remove prior to scanning the film), copying the same section from the previous or following frame and then pasting it on top of the offending area so that the image in question looks pristine. Once the image sequence is done being touched up, it’s turned back into a self-contained movie file and put in place of the original, “blemished” movie.

If done without a keen attention to detail this process does more harm than good, but if one knows his way around Photoshop and he’s willing to put the time in it can result in a film looking markedly better. (While I’m not done yet I’ve A-B’d the “cleaned” image sequences with the original movies and I’m definitely glad I’ve bothered to do this.)

Of course if I had any real money I would have either paid the lab to clean and scan the film again, or I would have sent the transferred footage to a post-production house that has some sort of high-end program with an algorithm that removes specks and debris automatically.

But alas, I am, at least for the time being, a low-budget filmmaker.

Some might think, “Why bother? Hardly anyone notices stuff like that, those little specks and debris and whatnot.”

Well, I do. I’ve seen the film many times now and since I think it’s a work of art I treat it as such, doing what I can to improve it. Before the year is over I’d like to release a limited run of bluray discs, and if I’m going to bother doing that it would be best if the film were presented in the highest quality possible.

Anyway, the reason I’ve decided to post about this is that I had a minor revelation while going over the film for the umpteenth time…

It occurred to me that the shots in which Robert is opposite Nika weren’t quite appropriate. In hindsight the expressions on my face and my general demeanor weren’t too effective in the context of those particular moments in the film–Robert appeared too irked by the encounter with Bradley and not relieved enough by Nika’s presence.

Originally I thought that Robert should look visibly upset and uncomfortable at that point in the scene, but in retrospect I went too far in that direction and should have settled on a more amiable disposition for my character. I ran this by my mom, a film-savvy retired art teacher who’s seen Robert on his Lunch Break many times, and she totally agreed.

So, long story short, I reshot those parts of the film, and I’m quite happy with the results:


Liva, one of the programmers at 2Annas in Latvia, just sent me this lovely snapshot of one the audiences who saw Robert on his Lunch Break (and the other films in Programme II of the 2Annas Projector) back in December:


Looks nice and cozy. I hope they enjoyed the film.


Robert on his Lunch Break will see its official Baltic premiere in Riga, Latvia on December 21st, with a subsequent showing on the 27th. These screenings are in conjunction with the 2Annas International Short Film Festival, as an out-of-competition warm-up for the main event in May.

Here’s their Latvian translation of the Robert synopsis:

Roberts ir nopietns, un mazliet izklaidīgs ofisa darbinieks, kurš gaida, kad tiks sagatavots ēdiens līdzņemšanai. Kamēr viņš ieelpo svaigu gaisu un blenž tukšumā, viņam uzmācas Bredlijs, bezausaina galva ar acīm, kas līdzinās notekcaurumiem, sākot viņa virzienā raidīt – iespējams, telepātiski – niknus verbālus lādiņus, nemākulīgi cenšoties tos pasniegt kā labus padomus.

To learn more about these screenings (and the other films in the program), click here.

The premiere was a success.

In the hours leading up to the screening I grew restless, wondering how it would go and whether I was prepared enough for the Q&A.

But when I arrived at Woodland Pattern at quarter to seven and saw familiar faces, whatever misgivings I might have had disappeared right away and without much effort I was in Affable Artist Mode for the rest of the evening.

I neglected to take a lot of pictures–for the most part I was too busy socializing–but here’s a snapshot of my friend Sara and me outside the venue five minutes before the show started:


And here’s a photo I took of the audience mere seconds before the program began:


A total of 27 people were in attendance–a decent turnout for a screening of three under-the-radar films by a more or less unknown filmmaker (who hasn’t lived in Milwaukee for over four years now).


I’m of the mindset that a good work of art is a good work of art no matter how many people experience it–a film can be seen by two people, two-thousand people, or two-million people and its inherent value is (more or less) the same.

Nonetheless, it seems unfortunate that an artist would create something worthwhile without being able to share it with more than a handful of others.

So, even if Robert on his Lunch Break isn’t destined to take the world by storm, getting it in front of a couple dozen people feels like progress.

I’ve already sent out DVDs of the film to various allies around the world, and many of these people have responded in meaningful ways, but until Friday night I’d never watched Robert with more than two people beside me.

Naturally then, it felt eventful to be able to view the film with an audience and see how it held up in a “live”/public setting.


After a brief introduction, the lights went out and the program began. The first of the films was the five-minute short Self-important Empirical Film #3, with Voice-over, which I made as an undergrad during the Winter/Spring of 2001 while attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. This film is a lot less technically accomplished than a movie like Robert, and the only surviving version wasn’t culled from the best quality transfer (originally shot on 16mm, it now only exists in standard definition video). However, it’s still aesthetically appealing and despite its flaws one of the most memorable works of art I’ve made. Screening it produced some laughs, and started the evening off on a good foot.


Next up was the concert film Fugazi’s Last Stop in Wisconsin. This three-minute effort was shot on 16mm on June 26th, 2001 while Fugazi were tearing it up at the Riverside Ballroom in Green Bay. The footage is a little underexposed, but it was transferred in high-definition so it doesn’t look too bad projected in a dark room. Normally I’m not a fan of films without any sound but in this case silence is an effective contrast to the borderline-chaotic visuals. [Dave’s note – January, 2013: I have since added ambient sound to the film. The final version can be seen here.] Also, I think it’s interesting to screen this film before Robert given that the latter is so stiff, “ascetic” and claustrophobic.


And finally: Robert on his Lunch Break. The 24-minute film went over quite well. There was a brief glitch that caused it to skip ahead ten seconds about five or six minutes into it, but other than that it went smoothly. Right away the audience picked up on the ambient humor. Sometimes, when I watch this film alone late at night, it strikes me as harrowing and ultimately depressing, but in a more “social” context the awkwardness of the main encounter feels genuinely absurd and the pregnant pauses yield a funny tension.

When the program ended and the lights were turned on, there was a nice vibe in the room. I can’t quite explain it but there was definitely a swell of enthusiasm running through the audience when I stood in front of everyone and started taking questions. If anyone reading this has seen my performance in John Koch’s Je Ne Sais Quoi, the Q&A on Friday had a similar dynamic, though in this case my irreverence was more charming than abrasive. Thankfully, for those who weren’t there, my friend Jon taped the Q&A in high-definition, so it’ll make a swell extra whenever I decide to release a DVD. And rather than going on forever it ended at the right moment, so it’s nice and concise.

After the screening there was a fun little get together at my friends’ house in Riverwest. For the occasion I brought three cases of quality beer plus a bunch of nice Mexican food (20 tacos, 3 huge burritos, 2 enchiladas, and 3 orders of rice and beans from Café Corazón). The whole night had nothing but good vibes. It was an excellent time.

Another month and lo and behold another string of rejections. Though I’m doing my best to remain optimistic, I’m resigned to the fact that Robert on his Lunch Break won’t play in any festivals of note at any point in the foreseeable future.

But instead of succumbing to apathy, I’ve grown restless, so I’ve decided to bite the bullet and arrange my own screening…

On the night of Friday, August 13th, at Woodland Pattern in Milwaukee, Robert on his Lunch Break will be shown along with three other films of mine (Ped; the always-good-for-a-laugh Self-important Empirical Film #3, with Voice-over; and the short, kinetic concert film Fugazi’s Last Stop in Wisconsin).

This will be my first official solo show.

Here is the poster I made last night:


It’s not going to win any awards, but it gets the job done. What I like most about this poster is that it eschews the use of one dominant, central image in favor of showing the film’s four main characters, each relegated to his or her own aesthetic reality–the poster, like the film itself, conveys the chasms between different subjectivities.


So far Robert on his Lunch Break hasn’t been accepted by any film festivals–I’ve been sending it out in various forms for what feels like a while now, and still: nothing.

Thankfully, though, in addition to submitting my film to festivals, I’ve been getting in touch with a handful of artists whose work I like, in the hope of getting them in on the ground floor, and also just to see what they make of it.

A DVD was mailed to American expatriate Jon Jost, whose film Frameup I adore, and whose excellent “blogs” (here and here) inspired me to go with the “Chaos Theory” theme on WordPress. Jost is known for being insanely picky, but as it turns out, “weirdly” he enjoyed the film and wants to screen it for his class at Yonsei University in Seoul. However, he warned me that I’d have trouble getting Robert into festivals–even, he made a point of noting, “experimental” ones.

A while back I also sent a copy of the film to the inimitable Peter Watkins, whose artful biography Edvard Munch I consider one of the most vital films ever made, and whose writing on the global media crisis is nothing short of required reading. Today, from his office in France, I received a kind and encouraging (but cautionary) response:

Dear Dave,

After a rather long time, I have been able to see ‘Robert on his Lunch Break’.  I think this is a very interesting and thought-provoking piece – and very humourous as well – and I certainly wish you luck with it on the film festival circuit. However, my own experience and impression of the festival circuit is not good at all, as too often they are only interested in typical Monoform crowd-pleasers, and indeed the “red carpet” syndrome is spreading to more and more festivals as the media crisis deepens. Hopefully though they will see your film as a highly unusual work, and not feel too challenged by it as it is not long in length. I was very pleased to see the steps away from the Monoform you took with this film, and I was intrigued by the close-up of the silent character. Although I assume this was a photo or a freeze-frame, I could be not entirely sure, as I thought I detected slight shifts of movement in his eyes.  I was waiting for him to say something (on screen, that is), but not knowing if he ever would, and this added another element of suspense to the work!

I will be very interested to hear what happens to the film, and the reactions to it.

Many thanks for sending me ‘Robert on his Lunch Break’

Best wishes,

Peter Watkins

To be honest, this sort of feedback means more to me than any festival.