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7th Annual Emerging Pro Finalists

FILMMAKER: Jonathan Brooks
PROJECT: 5 Skulls

DPP: What’s the story behind 5 SKULLS?

Jonathan Brooks: The story revolves around the five skull characters The Heiress, The Songstress, The Socialite, The Sergeant and The Mystic—and the discovery of their skulls, a video message on a tablet and the five 8×10 portraits of each by the main character, The Ringmaster. I wanted to create a modern film noir that was very atmospheric and that incorporated color, as well. I carefully wanted to create classic and timeless images that could work both in color or black-and-white. I was striving to intrigue the viewer and leave him/her wanting to know more about these characters and their circumstances. I ultimately wanted to leave them with certain images and scenes imbedded in their mind.

DPP: You were given a very short window to create this video. How did you manage your time? What was your workflow like?

Brooks: Immediately, I concentrated on creating the five main images that the story would revolve around. Once they were created, the story seemed to loosely fall into place and I was able to come up with the storyboard. Seeing that this was going to be such a short film, I thought it should be a bit of a teaser, but also have a flow and purpose—to introduce the five skull characters. I then concentrated on familiarizing myself with the RED EPIC kit I had been sent. At first, I was a bit intimidated by this amazing equipment, but quickly I was surprised by its ease of use. I was in awe of
the countless features of the RED and the capacity of this incredible creative tool. I had a couple of brief meetings with my partner in crime Andres Rivera and then tried to get as much preproduction stuff like additional equipment, props, locations, etc., out of the way before actual shooting began. I spent one day familiarizing myself a bit with the camera and did some test shooting in the Everglades. Then, Andres and I worked around our schedules in order to finish the project in just a matter of a few days that were spaced throughout the time frame that I had the equipment on loan.

DPP: Did you create this project specifically for this contest, or was this a piece you already had in mind and you took this opportunity to create it?


Brooks: A bit of both. I had these 13 skulls on hand from a still-image art project I was just starting to play around with, and then this fantastic opportunity helped to transform that idea into something grander.

DPP: What’s the interplay between your video and photo elements? Should viewers experience one before the other, or are they equal contributors to the overall project?
Brooks: The video and photo elements were created to work independently and also together as a whole. The overall project was constructed so that the viewer could experience them in whatever order they choose. But I do feel that the short film works best first, then followed by the viewer getting a closer look at the five still images.
DPP: Do you have a preference for still photography or filmmaking?

Brooks: My first love has always been photography, but I’ve always been an avid cinema and film fan. I had actually been dying to take a stab at film for quite a while, but was waiting for the right opportunity to arise. Having had this incredible chance has helped me to get my feet wet and stirred my juices even more for moving pictures. I have a newfound appreciation for motion that I didn’t have prior to this experience.

DPP: What inspired the five skull images? What inspired, and how did you develop, the video storyline?


Brooks: I was looking to transform my photography aesthetics to cinematography and come up with a project that had an Alfred Hitchcock-meets-Herb Ritts—my cinema and photography idols—kind of vibe. I strived for a dark and sensual atmosphere with an art film feel that remained both classic and modern. I turned to music as an inspiration. "Devil Woman" by Cliff Richards, "One Of These Nights" by The Eagles, "Dark Lady" by Cher, "Black Magic Woman" by Santana were always playing as I conceived my project. These old-school hits seemed to help merge my ideas and visions. I also wanted to make sure that my love of old classic horror films was represented in my project.

DPP: Looking to the future, what’s next for you?

Brooks: I’ll be creating a Director’s Cut using some of the footage that didn’t make it into the project. I’ll continue working on my fine-art photography and visual arts, and now that my first short film, 5 SKULLS, is under my belt, I’ll also see where that path takes me. I’ll be attempting to launch my first book project The True Cuba on It’s a project I put on hold to create 5 SKULLS. And, who knows, 5 SKULLS could develop into a longer short or independent film. I’ll forever be extremely grateful for this incredible opportunity.


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