Donavan Sell is the Cinematographer for the film.
How would you describe
In-World War (the film itself) in no more than seven words?
Indie sci-fi to its core.
Why did you get involved
with it? How did you hear about it?
I jumped on board after meeting Brant Smith [aka DJ Bad Vegan]. After seeing his passion and drive, I knew this was a film that was going to not only get made, but also finished and shown to people throughout the indie film world.
Did you enjoy working on
the film? What was the best part for you?
It was fun. My everyday work is in corporate and commercial production, so it was nice to break loose and get creative. Having an impossible schedule every day and then making it through was the fun part for me. It was a challenge every day, but it’s what drove me; it left me feeling like we really accomplished something everyday.
What interested you about
this film in particular?
Really it was Brant that I was interested in working with. The story was like nothing I have worked on before, and I wanted to get more long-form work on my reel, so it was a great chance to kill two birds with one stone.
How long have you been
working in film/involved with film?
I have been working in film and video since 1996. I began by working at a television studio; while I enjoyed the work, I found that I was not impressed by the quality of video at the time and wanted to create better images. This began my foray into film and shooting on 16mm and 35mm. I was never a "film guy" in the sense that I had no hero directors in mind – or cinematographers, for that matter. I was just really focused on obtaining the best image possible, and film was that medium at the time. Naturally I began shooting short films and music videos, and then worked my way into features. After a few features in Korea, I came back to the States; with Silicon Valley in my backyard, corporate video became my main stay in terms of easy days, good pay, and good recognition. After a few years in the corporate video world, I found myself getting bored with the content again, so I sought out a project that I can shoot locally that would also be a fun break from the humdrum world that is corporate video. And then I found Brant and In-World War.
What is your goal in
filmmaking generally (director, writer, director of photography, key grip,
etc.) and why?
Cinematography is my passion. I say I don’t have stories to tell, but I enjoy helping others tell theirs.
In your view, why is
filmmaking and making art important to society as a whole?
First off, it’s important for me to have a job – otherwise I think I would be an engineer or a bicycle shop owner. As for society, I think it’s good for people to express themselves and make something that inspires others to get up and do something. It keeps us driving to make better work and up the ante for generations to come.
Did helping make an indie
film leave you with a positive or negative outlook on this type of ultra-low
budget filmmaking (and why)?
It was an eye-opening experience for me, to say the least. I am used to constraints and schedules in this business – and I like it in a way – but this project kicked it all out the door. It was crazy at times, but it was also fun to just break convention and do what had to be done to make the shoot.
How do you feel about the
genre of science fiction? Is sci-fi just for fun or can we tell serious
stories that are culturally relevant? (Okay, that’s a loaded question....but
still, what do you think?)
Honestly I am not that familiar with sci-fi, and this film was a glimpse into a world that I was very unfamiliar with (there was a lot of terminology that I had to question). But I applaud the creativity it leads itself to – how you have the liberty to get creative with props and to make and realize things that don't exist in the real world. If you say a piece of plastic is a supercomputer and people interact with it as it is, the audience will believe it is.
film takes an usual sci-fi approach to issues around the so-called “war on
terror” (specifically racial profiling and Islamophobia) and the consequences
of massive personal debt -- how have these issues impacted your life and your
Rather than assuming a Fight Club attitude and wishing to destroy the credit card companies, I think the issue of debt was brought up in In-World War in a relatable way. The issue of people around the world getting deeper and deeper in debt was relevant at the time, and still is. When the film was written and made, the whole Greece debt crisis was unheard of, and the prospect of sharia law taking over the United States was not even thought of. But a lot has changed and the world keeps turning. I think it’s good to bring these issues to the forefront, as they are as relevant now as they were then – and the more people know, the more people can learn from their mistakes.
Before you started with IWW, what did you expect it to be like
working on the film?
I expected it to be very calm and structured. I tend to thrive on efficiency and I pride myself in being able to run a set that is efficient and makes our scheduled day. In this sense, IWW pushed me to the limit and beyond. The initial schedule I was given was insane compared to normal production standards – but instead of fighting as I did initially, Brant said it was going to be done, and thus I saw it as a challenge to stay on top of this totally crazy schedule. I think we came pretty close to doing so. There were a few long days in there, but for the most part we stayed on schedule.
How was it actually,
compared to that? What was exactly as you expected it? What was very different?
It was chaos! Just kidding. It was a pretty smooth-running machine, and we really did our best as a team to get our pages every day. There were longer days than others, but I think we had a very good core team and had a good rhythm going.
What did your experience
of working on IWW tell you about humanity and people in general?
It taught me that people involved with filmmaking are some of the hardest working people I know, and that I would not want to be in any other profession.
What have you been doing
since you worked on the film? What other film projects have you done?
I have been consumed by the commercial world. I joined the international cinematographer’s union and am still looking for more long-form production work.
Why should people get
involved with, donate money and/or help out on IWW?
I think people who don’t work in the business don’t really understand what it takes to get that image on the screen. A two-hour feature it can easily be two to three months of work for a whole team of talented people. And without support, these people can’t continue to do the work they do.
What else would you like
to say about your experience on IWW? Any funny anecdotes or behind the
It was a great group we had, and I would gladly work that team again.
To see more of Donavan's work: