This month we chat with Director Chris Tenzis, who's first short film, A Man and His Pants, premiered at SXSW and won the Audience Award at the Northwest FIlm & Video Festival. 

Tenzis also studied at the London Film School and the American Film Institute, and is currently with Sony Pictures Animation.

His latest work Big Touch is an Afro-Surrealist short film about a giant woman and a tiny man who through the power of touch, experience an unexpected transformation. We find out more below.

Can you tell us a little about your background and your route into directing? 

My background is in theatre. The only reason I was able to attend university was because of a performing arts scholarship. Because I was around other acting students, it made sense to take advantage of those resources and so we collaborated on a feature film which I directed.

Would you say you have a directing style? How did you arrive at it?

Anyone who knows me knows that I am very particular in my taste. To me, people on screen talking is deadening, even though those are the films that receive a deluge of accolades: Beautiful people saying beautiful words that are exactly what they think and feel in a world with a definitive moral compass and without ambiguity is a bludgeoning experience. Give me mess. I want visual clarity, to be sure, but it should yield an inexplicably beautiful emotion from the viewer. 

What is it that surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel wrote in 1960? "But that the white eyelid of the screen reflect its proper light, the Universe would go up in flames. But for the moment we can sleep in peace: the light of the cinema is conveniently dosified (sic) and shackled". The latter part refers to the unfortunate reality that although mystery is a basic element of all works of art, it's generally lacking on the screen.

I'd like to add that mystery in cinema can occur unintentionally, which is why I hold no distinction between what's considered fine cinema and exploitation cinema. 

Anyone who knows me knows that I am very particular in my taste

Chris Tenzis – Big Touch

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Did you study filmmaking? How did you learn your craft?

Oh yeah, I went to school but my taste and knowledge are not the sum total of formal education, by any means.  My real film education happened at the Scala Cinema in London between September 1990 through May 1993, when they were forced to shutter their doors after they could no longer afford their solicitor fees after an illegal screening of A Clockwork Orange. There were many of us who were ditching class to spend all day and night at The Scala. The Scala was the perfect juxtaposition of classic art house cinema and trash. When I'm making a film, the litmus is always, "Would this have played at The Scala?"

I don't have regrets about my formal education. I studied at the London Film School, had a private tutorial with Ian Christie at the BFI, then later went to the American Film Institute. That education was about relationships, but not filmmaking. I cherish those relationships and collaborators but ultimately, Jean Cocteau nailed it when he said, "What one should do with the young is to give them a portable camera and forbid them to observe any rules except those they invent for themselves as they go along."

That education was about relationships, but not filmmaking.

What other directors' work do you admire? 

I'm at the tail end of going through a Gialli phase and have been binging as much of the genre as I can. Mario Bava pioneered the genre but he did so much more than Gialli and his sense of color is extraordinary.  At the same time, I've been gorging on Ken Russell.  There are countless others. Dušan Makavejev, Věra Chytilová, William Klein, Bella Tarr, Agnes Varda, John Cassavetes, Chaplin.  And I love Mary Poppins.

ABOVE: Behind the scenes on the Big Touch shoot.

What was the inspiration behind Big Touch?

Big Touch was inspired by the hyperrealism of sculptor Ron Mueck whose subjects are people suspended in time by the weight of their emotions. Some of Mueck’s sculptures are gigantic, towering over the observer, and other times they’re so small that they need to be placed on a pedestal to be at eye level. I wondered if their size was in direct relation to their feelings; not that one felt more than another, but that the feelings themselves dictated their size. 

I wondered if their size was in direct relation to their feelings; not that one felt more than another, but that the feelings themselves dictated their size. 

For example, a man was tiny because he felt marginalised and helpless, and a woman was huge because she was swelling with love yet had no place to put it. Then I wondered, what would happen if Mueck’s creations could touch each other? Would they perhaps equalise in size because, for a moment’s relief, they would be reminded that they were not the sum total of the singularity of an emotion, but that they also had bodies with which to feel?

Where do you find the inspiration for your projects?

In the shower, or when I'm washing dishes. I guess water needs to be involved.

What were the biggest challenges you faced in pulling this project together?  

We had two days and no money. Time and money, as usual.

Above: Director Chris Tenzis with Cinematographer Teck Siang Lim.

What have you learned during the process of making the film?

The most important thing is to have fun. It translates to the screen. If everyone is relaxed and having fun, feel well loved and fed, the film will work out.

What are your hopes and plans for the future?

 I'm currently writing a cookbook based on the 1987 British cult comedy Withnail & I. For about seven years now in Los Angeles, I've been hosting these Withnail screenings during which people not only drink along with the film, but also eat. The book will detail how to turn the film into an at-home interactive experience that goes beyond the drinking. I gotta brag, it's a gorgeously hedonistic experience and I can't wait to share it with other Withnail fanatics! Richard E. Grant please email me!

Take a look at Chris Tenzis' shots Unsigned page here.

You can check out some of the amazing work put out by unsigned directors in our monthly shots Unsigned Showcase, here.