Limited to 48 lean hours to shoot and edit a short film, Camm Slamm 2012 winners Jonathan, 31, and R.M. Robinson, 28, swang into familiar collaborative action earlier this fall. The Baltimore-based co-directing team are also tight-knit brothers who have been making movies together with serious dedication for several years, with Jonathan serving as DP and as light and sound technician, scriptwriter R.M. working closely with actors on story and character points, and additionally managing the boom mic. Both filmmakers edit the films.
Voicemail, their winning contest entry, whose highly watchable narrative tracks a troubled woman (actress Shalon Delgado) with split-personality disorder who vacillates convincingly between bespectacled matron-before-her-time and lusty, prideful prostitute. (The project will air on MPT in January; check listings for schedule to be determined.)
The Patterson High grads and Baltimore natives — Jonathan attended BCC for a time – say they’re bent on movie-making for life. Their provocative talent is not a brand-new topic in the Baltimore media.
Critic Lee Gardner called their 2010 short film China White, which debuted at the Creative Alliance, “A twisty, Tarantino-esque tale crammed with multiple intersecting storylines, underworld characters, guns, and bags of cocaine, the hour-long digital video sports the kind of flashy homemade effects Rodriguez inspired, but it also boasts canny dialog, an ambitious story, a sophisticated structure, respectable performances, and a look and style that’s more than mere veneer.”
Go here to see clips of various Robinson Brothers projects including scenes from The Shadows of Strangers, a series of short, trademark-edgy cinematic stories (certain clips involve adult subject matter).
I talked to the duo about their award-winning speed short, their shared creative vision, and whether they’ll stay in Baltimore for the long take.
Your visual style is elegant and playful at once, the writing creative/quirky. Shadows of Strangers links as a series of short stories, for example. Who/what are some of your influences?
R.M.: My brother’s and my influences range from old TV shows such as “The Twilight Zone,” “Tales from the Crypt” and “Amazing Stories” [to] movies such as Pulp Fiction, Oldboy, Sin City, City of God and many other 80’s and 90’s movies as well. Directors that were a big inspiration for us are Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg, Chan-Wook Park, Hideaki Anno and Hideo Kojima. Even video games, Japanese anime and classical music influence our work.
What is the script process?
Jonathan: When [R.M.] has an idea for a story, he pitches it to me. Sometimes we differ when it comes to story development, but usually I back off and just let him do his thing. When he’s done writing a story, I read over it and think his story is great. If there is a disagreement with a story, we always manage to compromise.
How do you divide editing duties?
R.M.: I normally lay down the first edit of any project we do, then Jonathan does the final edit, composes the music and creates any visual effects if needed.
How do you maintain a shared vision?
R.M.: That’s easy; Jonathan and I have the same taste in films. So whenever we draw storyboards or talk about what to do for the next scene, we usually come up with the same idea. It’s kind of weird when that happens, but we do have our moments where we have two different visions for a scene. When that happens, we may shoot both visions (if we have the time) or just try to compromise as best we can.
Who is better at what?
R.M.: My brother Jonathan is a better editor, but I won’t tell him that (LOL).
Do you experience sibling rivalry?
Jonathan: No, not really, my brother and I get along well. The only rivalry we have is with other duo directors, LOL.
Describe the process of making the 48-hour project together.
Jonathan: First, my brother and I both had a brainstorm session about the concept of the short. Then, we reached out to some actors/actresses that were willing not to sleep for 48 hours. Lastly, we prayed that we would film and edit everything in time!
What are you working on now?
R.M.: We have a few things in the works now, we are about to shoot a music video with an up-and-coming rapper named Mally. We are also going to begin a Kickstarter project for our next short film. It is still in development, but the story will be about a future where continued mechanization leads to a shortage of jobs for the poor working class.
What is your chief goal in the next five years? Will you stay in Baltimore?
R.M.: We really want to get the Robinson Brothers’ name out there, so that people will know that we are two great directors here in Baltimore. We’d like to turn The Shadows of Strangers into a web series. It would also be great if we could have one of our short films make it into the Maryland Film Festival. Ultimately, we want to have consistent theatrical releases of feature films and even pitch a TV series to AMC or HBO. Aside from films my brother and I are also gamers and would like to also create a video game one day.
Jonathan: Overall, my brother and I both know that if we want to push our career farther, we have to venture outside of Baltimore. However, our goal is to come back and build the local film community. We were born and raised here and we want to stay and make movies using Baltimore as the backdrop.
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