Showcase Filmmaker Spotlight: Samuel Valenti
By Travis Trew, Programming Associate
A recent graduate of Temple’s film program, Samuel Valenti has been to Philly Film Showcase before, with his gonzo teenage exploitation short Youth, Go to Waste!. His latest, the brilliantly titled I’VE GOT MY MIND’S EYE SET ON YOU (and part of me knows what you’re thinking), brings Valenti’s unique style to psychological horror. It’s the story of a young woman (Hannah Gold), whose mounting paranoia takes her to some grisly extremes.
PFS: How did the idea for this film come about?
SV: Before I even made my first movie, I would kind of conceptualize movies, or fantasize about them. I would come up with movie titles and try to make ridiculous plots surrounding them. So about two years ago I came up with the idea for a fake Twilight Zone anthology and I had in my mind all these short, 22-minute episodes that I wanted to have Twilight Zone-type twists. A couple of kids I graduated with have a film collective called Unchained Media and asked me if I wanted to contribute to a horror anthology. I looked through my notebooks and found a loose, rough, one-paragraph idea for this movie. I just fleshed it out into everything that I was into at the time: Woman-in-distress Polanski movies, Possession, Hitchcock paranoia. I had two weeks to write it, so I felt like that would be an easy one to write: one location, small amount of characters.
PFS: Do you tend to go into films with a particular sub-genre or set of influences in mind?
SV: I guess I’m always trying to think about what I want to achieve and what the next style will be. With the movie I did before this one, Youth, Go to Waste!, I was like, “OK I’m going to do Gregg Araki-meets-Kenneth Anger-meets-a Richard Kern movie or something.” For this one I was like, “OK, I want to do Polanski with Hitchcock paranoia, with letters and crossfades.” I guess in some weird way I’m thinking about my filmography. I know that might sound stupid, but sometimes I look at Robert Altman’s filmography. He’s not even my favorite filmmaker but I respect him so much. You look at his films and he tried everything. He’d pick something that would be a conventional kind of genre and he’d flip it on its head. So for one, I like that attitude. I kind of am always trying to think of what’s the opposite of the last thing I did. Or at least that’s what I want to start doing now. With the next movie I want to make, I’m already thinking of how I can flip everything on its head that I’ve already done.
PFS: What was it about women-in-distress movies that appealed to you on this one?
SV: It’s really weird because when I started to conceptualize the idea it was actually from a male point of view. It’s really about obsession and paranoia. I think that could be anyone. Originally it was kind of genderless. But then what happened is that the actress, Hannah Gold, was basically the only one I know that could’ve played such an insane role. So I was like, “I’m just gonna shift it and make it closer this woman-in-distress thing.” It’s more about who I have available to me. And I knew she could pull it off.
PFS: Who did the music?
SV: I did the music for it. I put fake band names at the end of my movies. I think at the end of Youth, Go to Waste! it says music by “Altar of Lust.” I just like coming up with fake band names. For this movie I pretty much did 90% of the music myself. The things that seem like loud noisy songs, I did. And then the sound designer helped smooth out some the transitions. One of the tracks toward the end was a friend who’s an upright classical bass player. So I recorded him improvising and then I produced it, stretched it out, and reversed it. You basically can’t even identify it at this point.
PFS: Do you think of music as being a big part of the films you make?
SV: Yeah, 100%. One of my least favorite parts of a lot of independent films is bad music so I feel like I have an advantage from playing music. And I’m a music snob too. One of my first jobs was working at a record store. So it’s that thing where you amass a whole bunch of reference points and knowledge about music and then you say, “What can I steal or reference?” I did that for this movie. I was listening to a bunch of black metal and German electronic music from the 70s to get me in the mood for it. And the Butthole Surfers. I think it’s almost crucial to my movies. I have some teachers who would probably say that it’s bad that I rely on it, but I feel like it comes pretty easily to me. Who doesn’t love a good score? Sometimes a score makes a movie. Sometimes I’ll watch a movie just because it has a Morricone score or something.
PFS: Both this film and your previous film Youth, Go to Waste! have really nice, distinctive text design.
SV: I’m not really sure why I do it. That’s a Godard thing. He uses text all the time. Or just even the opening of Nicholas Ray’s first movie, They Live by Night, where the text in the beginning is like exposition. Title cards are just something I’m really hyper aware of. Sometimes I feel like if I watch a movie and the title cards suck, it just sets the tone for the whole movie. Holy shit, I love title cards. They don’t even have to be crazy. Just good title cards that move at a good pace. With the title cards for this movie, in my head I was definitely like, “I just want to make something that hits people in the face.” I wanted to make sure that everyone was prepared and knew that this was going to be nonstop and kind of relentless at a certain point. Even the title is a mouthful. So in my head I was just like, “Fuck it, man. I can have text all over the place.” You could do a voiceover, but for whatever reason I felt like text was just better. Maybe I thought it’d be better for people to read and have their eyes shooting all over the place to try to follow these words. I wanted a lot of eye movement for some of these scenes.
PFS: Did you come up with the title before you’d written it?
SV: Yeah, I did. There’s some screenwriter who said that you can’t write a screenplay without having a good working title. So yeah, I did come up with part of the title, “I’ve Got My Mind’s Eye Set on You,” which sounds like a song, pretty much. It kind of looks like a song title too. It’s kind of funny, like, “Hey guys, don’t take this too seriously.” And it’s almost two titles. Maybe this goes back to me being obsessed with exploitation movies a few years ago. Those movies have multiple titles sometimes too. I always love researching those and seeing what the translation was in another country or something. I love a really good title, something that just sticks out. I feel like a lot of this movie is a lot of stuff just sticking out right in everyone’s face. But that’s cool, that’s what I went for I guess.
I’VE GOT MY MIND’S EYE SET ON YOU (and part of me knows what you’re thinking) will screen on Thursday, July 13th at the Prince Theater’s Black Box as part of Philly Film Showcase, an exhibition supporting new work by talented, up-and-coming local filmmakers.