Sunny James, currently a junior at AESA, is an accomplished visual artist and aspiring filmmaker. She has been awarded Gold Key, Silver Key and Honorable Mention Key awards from the National Scholastic Art and Writing Competition for her work in photography. She recently sat down with Graeme Mullen of the English department to discuss her artistic trajectory and upcoming projects.
See Sunny’s photography here.
Thanks for sitting down to chat, Sunny! I wanted to start out talking a little bit about the project you’re working on and what’s led up to it. How did you get interested in photography, and what made you decide to branch out into filmmaking?
Having started out in drawing and painting, and all of the fine arts, progressing to photography felt like the next step. A move forward. And once I was really interested in it, I just kind of based my whole entire life around it, and then that’s when film came into the picture. I’m working on two projects right now. One of them is more dialogue-heavy, with actual acting and stuff like that. The other one’s more, well, from an artistic point of view, there’s no dialogue. It’s kind of a way to mix photography, film, and drawing, all the things I’m interested in.
That sounds really exciting and ambitious! So, are you doing some animation in the second project? Or is it all shot footage?
It’s not digital animation in the usual sense. It’s gonna be in pieces. I’ll be taking shots from the camera and then drawing on them before I put them into the final project.
Very cool. How did you come up with the idea?
It came to mind when thinking about how I wanted my work to represent me and my artistic path and all of my interests in this area. But with that said, I’m also super interested in film as its own medium. Which is the other thing I’m working on. It’s pretty long, and as I said, pretty dialogue-heavy.
Right. I like the story a lot. I worked really hard on it. And since I obviously have no budget right now, I’d rather hold off on making this story come to life until I can do it to the best of my ability.
Do you have a working concept for the first project, the one that’s more visually focused?
I do! It’s called “10 Things to Do Before the World Ends.” That one’s really just gonna be visuals of following this girl around doing very freeing things. Not to give away too much, but there’s plans for scenes of her looking out of the sky roof of a car and sitting on the edge of a cliff, and stuff like that. Just things that make you feel good.
And so the narrative film, once that gets underway, how are you approaching production? Will there be a casting process? Are you going to be in it?
I think I would love to be in film at some point. But definitely not my own! I’d like to have a friend or someone I know personally, just so I can feel more comfortable bossing them around. With that said, I definitely would want people who are super, super committed to making it come to life—as committed as I am.
What’s your gear setup? Are you shooting this digitally?
I’m really interested in a natural look. I don’t really want it super high def. I really liked that movie Call Me By Your Name, that 35-millimeter look. Which I haven’t done a ton with. I did a little bit of still photography with a 35-millimeter, but buying film and developing it and all that is usually a lot more expensive and not as eco-friendly. So, I think I’d like to find a digital camera or editing style that has a similar look to 35-millimeter.
Do you have filmmakers that you think about when you’re conceptualizing your own work? Influences?
I think, for me, it’s more about specific films, or specific scenes that really move me. But as for filmmakers, people my age who are doing the same thing as me are hard not to be influenced or inspired by. I also love Greta Gerwig, her process and everything, even just her as a person. Her as well as Luca Guadagnino. And Harmony Korine.
How has that worked, connecting with people your own age who are interested in filmmaking? Where do you find each other?
I mean, definitely social media. There’s a lot of people following filmmaking online, especially right now. It’s not too hard to find other people who are interested, especially in Austin, with how many artists and you know, just creative minds, are around. And you guys can just bond over the fact that you’re both really committed to something.
That’s the great equalizer, right? Digital media makes all this so accessible, as a viewer and a creator. But then, on the other hand, I imagine there’s pressure to stand out when so many people are working in the same medium as you. How do you navigate that?
Right. But no matter how great you are at your school, or how great you are in your town, or city, or whatever, there’s always going to be someone who’s in the exact same position as you in a different state. So, I feel like as much as I am worried about standing out skills wise, I also just try to focus on making something that I like and something that I really am proud of. And I’m definitely my harshest critic. So, if I can make something I like, then I feel like it’s probably going to be okay. And if it not, at least it will have been for me.
You can follow Sunny James on Instagram @IsleofSunny