Paul D. Bestolarides is an independent filmmaker/freelance videographer currently teaching at San Joaquin Delta College.
Michael Thygesen is a cinematographer/freelance videographer currently teaching at Futures Explored Workshop.
After several successful collaborations, Paul and Michael decided to challenge themselves with a periodic short film: "The Lightkeeper's Story".
Set in 1939's America, a lighthouse keeper discovers a refugee washed ashore of his cliff-side home. Both characters help each other out during the wartime struggles that threaten their identity.
The film won Best Fantasy and Best Director at Top Shorts, and was described as "beautiful in any aspect", by lead judge Roy Zafrani.
We asked Paul and Michael to join us for an interview, and met two artists who aim to create movies to further illustrate a heightened awareness, or at least make the viewers think.
First of all, congratulations on winning Best Fantasy Film and Best Director at Top Shorts. Let's roll back to the start: how did you come up with this beautiful, touching story? What was the inspiration behind it, and why did you feel this was a story that you wanted to tell?
Paul Bestolarides (Writer/Director) - I had originally written an earlier version of the story at eighteen and re-visited the script after being inspired by Virginia Woolf’s novel, ‘To the Lighthouse.’ The imagery of the lighthouse was a magical place full of enigmatic sublimity. I became more interested in exploring the humanitarian consequences of freedom, than its limitations. This permitted me to explore the themes of the enduring human struggles, without forcing the dogma of political bias.
Michael Thygesen (Cinematographer) - When Paul approached me with this screenplay I was excited by the magic and fantasy aspect of it set in a very real time in history. I knew it would lend itself to some unique visuals.
Born in Stockton, California, the distance to Hollywood is... not that far! And you developed an interest in movies pretty early on. What were some of your favorite movies, that made you excited about films?
Paul Bestolarides (Writer/Director) - My favorites list always changes as well. Some of my inspirational films are Wild Strawberries (1957), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Mirror (1974), The Truman Show (1998), and Magnolia (1999).
Michael Thygesen (Cinematographer) - Some of my favorite movies (which change almost daily) are Cinema Paradiso (1988), Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), Requiem for a Dream (2000) and Little Children (2006).
Are there any film directors whose work you admire?
Michael Thygesen (Cinematographer) - Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, Darren Aronofsky, Steven Soderbergh and many more.
Paul Bestolarides (Writer/Director) - Stanley Kubrick, Ingmar Bergman, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Alfred Hitchcock to name a few.
How did you get started? What were some of your first steps in the filmmaking world?
Paul Bestolarides (Writer/Director) - I have always appreciated movies, but could not afford a camera, or film school. I spent most of my time taking pictures with a 35mm photography camera, given to me by my uncle. Film allowed me to understand what I was manipulating and focused my attention to detail in order to truly value each composition. Once I afforded a digital camera of my own, I was constantly shooting videos and editing them.
Michael Thygesen (Cinematographer) - One of the only ways that I felt like I could connect with my Father growing up was talking about movies. He was always showing me westerns in particular and he would talk about the characters as we watched. Up until I was about 21 I was afraid to try filmmaking because I didn't think it was likely for me to be able to make a living doing it. Then one day, I just said, "why not" and never looked back.
Let's chat more about The Lightkeeper's Story. Can you talk about the challenges you experienced during the production, and how did you overcome them?
Paul Bestolarides (Writer/Director) - The primary challenges of shooting this movie were the time constraints. This movie was for my Master’s Thesis for the Humanities Program. We had only a few months to plan the shoot. The entire idea was built on risks, including re-creating two different time periods, costumes, VFX and acquiring complex locations.
Michael Thygesen (Cinematographer) - The biggest challenges were the locations. Trying to find a lighthouse that would let us shoot on their property and finding a small cabin that fit the WWII era. Then we had to get to those far away locations on our next to nothing budget.
How did you get the lighthouse location?
Michael Thygesen (Cinematographer) - We researched many lighthouses along the coast of California coast, but most were either not willing to allow us to shoot for a whole day or they looked too old and dilapidated. We were fortunate to gain permission to shoot at Point Arena Lighthouse in Mendocino County, California. They were very nice and the results were visually stunning.
How did you form your creative team?
Paul Bestolarides (Writer/Director) - The most exciting part about this project is working with talented artists both from my inner circle of colleagues and around the world! I discovered Vahe Janovan, Farbod Khoshtinat and Steve Wright on an online website for freelancers. Over the years, I have created personal relationships with Michael Thygesen, Ari Figueroa, Jeff Hook and Linda Whiteman. The on-set crew consisted of close colleagues and film students, that I had invited, from my teaching job at San Joaquin Delta College. I was also introduced to artists whose work is as equally as impressive as the others – Robert Kennedy, Christian Avila and the actors Ray Medved, Trevor Grimes, Mark Ludwig and Trey Van Dyke. These were the colleagues that kept inspiration alive.
Michael Thygesen (Cinematographer) - My Gaffer Jeff Hook was great. I knew him from Film School and admired his work but never had the opportunity to work with him directly. Then I just asked him and he said yes.
Paul, you've played the violin for 9 years. Do you feel this musical knowledge helped you when communicating with your composer, Steve Wright? Tell us about the scoring process, and what was it like. Did you use any musical references to communicate your vision to the composer?
Paul Bestolarides (Writer/Director) - I think my experiences in music have helped over the years, but I think Steve Wright is the master at his own craft. It is exciting to have an original soundtrack for the movie. We spent months going over ideas over the phone [Steve lives in London] before Production. We were happy to collaborate with his wife Barbara Moncayo for the vocals. Our vision was for each character to have their own melodies to progress their stories. We used leitmotifs and specific instrumentation for each character in the movie, most notable are the vocals and piano riffs for the refugee character.
Michael, tell us a bit about your background, how did you get into cinematography?
Michael Thygesen (Cinematographer) - When I first got into film, like most young filmmakers now, I was doing everything myself. I was the director, cinematographer, editor, etc. Through this process of doing everything I soon realized that I'm not a good editor and I'm not a good director, so Cinematography was the only other option. As a young child I was always making little films with my parents’ camcorder and filming with friends. I am always so moved by cinematography when I watch a film as well. Where most people just see an actor talking about the coffee they are drinking for example, I get choked up because of the camera work during that same scene and the connotations behind what the camera did.
Michael, what was the first piece of equipment you ever owned, and how did you get it?
Michael Thygesen (Cinematographer) - My first camera was a Panasonic Mini DV Camcorder. The automatic functions in the camera allowed me focus on framing since there were no options to adjust the exposure, color temperature, etc.
What are you most proud of about this movie?
Michael Thygesen (Cinematographer) - I am most proud of the challenges that we overcame that included the overall scope of the piece.
Paul Bestolarides (Writer/Director) - I am proud that we executed the vision as intended.
Where do you both see yourselves in ten years? Paul, would you continue directing your work, or maybe focus on writing? Are you planning to explore additional genres?
Paul Bestolarides (Writer/Director) – I would like to create short films, features, and eventually novels. I enjoy experimenting with various genres and will continue making movies.
Michael Thygesen (Cinematographer) - I look forward to continuing my cinematography career in any capacity possible.
Where can our readers follow your work?
Michael Thygesen (Cinematographer) - You can follow me on Instagram at ThygesenMadeFrames, Facebook as Michael Thygesen and I have a film podcast called Slumber Party Movie Night!
Paul Bestolarides (Writer/Director) – Instagram paul_bestolarides and my YouTube channel – IndieFilmSurvival_Guide.
Is there anything you wish to add?
Paul Bestolarides (Writer/Director) – We aim to create movies to further illustrate a heightened awareness, which also includes political sentimentality that impends on the world today.
Michael Thygsen (Cinematographer) - I hope that this short film makes people think about the current issues involving immigration and acceptance of minorities.
The Lightkeeper's Story - Behind the Scenes Video