Filmmaker Sebastian Sommer and Actress Eleanor Lambert on Vulnerability and Collaboration
Interview by Eleanor Lambert & Sebastian Sommer
Sebastian Sommer is a filmmaker who was born and raised in New York City. He has premiered his work at the Guggenheim Museum, TriBeCa Film Festival, Miami Film Festival, and The Roxy Cinema. His upcoming short film External Forces is a semi autobiographical tale about a dysfunctional filmmaker and the complicated relationships in his life. Eleanor Lambert, an actress in the film, met with Sebastian to discuss the project, its accompanying zine, life, and creativity.
Eleanor Lambert: I would love to know, in the creative process for External Forces, what came first? The movie or the zine?
Sebastian Sommer: The movie. I wanted to make something autobiographical. I wanted to make a project that spoke about depression, mental illness, and the ways technology can exacerbate those conditions. A project that was universal but that also embodied the New York City spirit. I knew that I could make something that was unique to my experience growing up here. I wrote the script and started filming, and then I made the zine once I landed on the emotional rhythm. It honestly felt really good making it, it was cathartic. I had never made a zine before and I don't know if I'll make another one. Talk about limited edition. But it was very helpful. It allowed me to visualize the world of External Forces within a different medium. To keep the story going. And I am very thankful for Chinatown Soup, a sweet little art gallery in the Lower East Side. They put out the first edition of the zine, they gave it a home.
Eleanor: I really love the way the zine is almost like a snapshot, with references to the film, and you include pages of the script, it showcases the fluidity that exists within this story, flowing from one experience to the next. It feels kind of meta.
Sebastian: That was definitely where it came from. Wanting to take the concept of External Forces and turning it into something multidimensional. The whole project is self aware.
Eleanor: And we crave that! We need for things to exist on different planes now. Otherwise it becomes too compartmentalized. Everything is constantly changing around us in the way we consume information and it's a step in the direction we are headed.
Sebastian: Absolutely. I have a question for you. As someone who stars in this project, what drew you to the script?
Eleanor: Well, for starters, the subject matter felt very raw, very honest.
Sebastian: Same here! And I had wanted to collaborate with you for a while. I was very drawn to your energy.
Eleanor: It was an opportunity that had slipped through our fingers a couple of times. I knew that you had produced and created some incredible works and I wanted to be a part of that. And this was also my first real project.
Sebastian: The first of many!
Eleanor: Yes! And I love how you work through every piece. It's a very collective process. An opportunity for everyone to come forward with their creative specifics and you're very open to that and it shows. You have a very clear vision of what you want but you're also very particular of who you let in.
Sebastian: Talking about creative synergy, I didn't look at any other zines beforehand. I didn't have any references. It was only after I had made it and released it that I started to come across other zines like "Principia Discordia" and "Book of the Subgenius" and how amazing the aesthetic looked. These zines from the 60s and 70s that could have very well inspired my work, only I had seen them afterwards. It was reassuring. I was nervous at first, that maybe my zine was too out there and too weird, but then I started to think that maybe it wasn't weird enough!
Eleanor: I admire your ability to follow through. To go from the idealogical and conceptual phase to the actual creation. How do you find your motivation?
Sebastian: It's the only thing I know how to really do. I was put on this planet to create. I was the kid in school who constantly got in trouble for day dreaming. With External Forces I knew that I wanted to push myself creatively. I was influenced by this book called "Prometheus Rising" by Robert Anton Wilson. It's all about deconstructing the mind and the way it works.
Eleanor: I love that.
Sebastian: As a performer, what kind of roles would you like to play in the future?
Eleanor: I've always loved the villain roles. They seemed the most fun to play. But performance wise, it's very easy to jump into the crying or the shouting. Usually the first layer of response is anger or fear. Then you have to strip it down to get more texture.
Sebastian: I feel like so much of acting is becoming comfortable with emotion.
Eleanor: Yes, exactly, or with vulnerability. Unlearning so many things we learned while growing up and deconstructing that.
Sebastian: I imagine that in your acting class the space is incredibly safe.
Eleanor: The safest.
Sebastian: And with moviemaking too, I think one of the worst things for talent is to feel like you’re not on the same page as everyone else. It needs to be a safe place but challenging place. Finding that middle ground. I love artists who are fearless yet sensitive. External Forces is like nothing I have ever made before.
Eleanor: How is External Forces different from your other work?
Sebastian: External Forces is special to me is because it's my last short film, but it's also a project of many firsts. It was my first time acting, my first time really putting myself out there, making something that was painfully personal, the first time acting for a lot of the cast members. It's going to be something that people look at years from now. It's also the most narrative thing I've ever done. It still has experimental qualities, but there's a very linear structure in this film. It's also my first project in two years. I went through a hibernation period in 2017 where I felt like I had exhausted myself. It's the longest I've ever spent working on one project. It's also the longest short film I have ever made. And it's my last short film. I'm moving on after this.
Eleanor: What are you planning to make next?
Sebastian: A feature film. I don't want to say too much about it yet, but it's going to be a psychological thriller and it's going to melt peoples minds.