Notes on “Chaos Core”

Still from Chaos Core

Chaos Core is not a great film, not even a good one. Actually, it’s quite terrible, hardly a “film” in the first place, but without it I wouldn’t have been able to start making films.

I was being haunted by the curse of “the first work”; the feeling that, if I didn’t start good enough, I wouldn’t ever be able to start at all. In that sense, Chaos Core is less of a movie, and more the ceremonial dagger that allowed me to cut myself free from the ropes of my ego holding me back. One thing is to know that no artist can ever start at the top of the mountain, quite another is actually walking up that road. This film is the first step, and so, it must count.

After watching Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker and discovering the beauty of artistic filmmaking, I had promised myself at age 16 that, if everything went as planned, I would start making movies in my mid-20s. My reasoning was, I didn’t have much to say then, but I’d eventually have a film in me, something worth making. In 2013, I tried making my live action debut film, Debaser, with some my friends at the time[1]. It was a rotten piece of work that really had no legs to stand on, built on mostly just edgy decadent visuals and derivative sci-fi nonsense, but it was something.

Debaser was juvenile and hollow, so I’m not sad it didn’t continue past the second day of filming. It never came even close to being completed, and much of the footage wasn’t very good at all, but I learned a lot — about my limits as an artist, as a leader, and how much I could really count on my friends. In any case, my vision was bigger than my means, and even if everything had gone as planned, it would have been a mess anyway.

I just wasn’t ready to make real films, so I moved on to making experimental video art and music videos, just so I could learn editing and post-production for when I actually had something worth making. I decided that rarely any filmmaker has anything worthwhile to say before their 30s, so I’d wait until I felt mature enough to actually have a message, and a strong philosophy for it to stand on.

[1] — Shout out to Chilean writer Antoine Phibes and the great photographer Viviana P. Figueroa, the only ones who actually came to set.

While working with Chilean production company Merced on their audiovisual projects[2] I learned a lot about how difficult making a film can be, especially when no one wants to be there. The air on that place is stale and suffocating. There was a general air of exhaustion and resentment every time I stepped on their offices, and I always felt like an idiot drunk staggering into an old church— my sole presence felt like an insult to the staff. Their work was always rushed, unprepared, unplanned, and so even something as simple as taking a few promotional photos felt like going into emergency surgery on a battlefield. It’s hard to be creative or soulful when there’s so much bad electricity and animosity in the air.

It’s the kind of thing that would make anyone cynical about filmmaking, from the idea that “this is just the way it is”. That, in a country as poor as Chile[3], the only way to make films is by accepting mediocrity as the standard, and that anything actually good is but a miracle. That, unless you’re from old money — like filmmakers such as Sebastian Lelio or Pablo Larrain, who I respect even though they make the kinds of mainstream social films I’m the least interested in— you’re better off just assuming you will never be as good, that you’ll never have the resources so it’s not worth it to actually try.

When some of our films competed in film festivals abroad, I felt quite ashamed that, while other countries had VR shorts that looked like real movies — with proper sets, lighting rigs, etc. — ours looked more like student films done on a shoestring budget, and that the only hook we had to most audiences were some local Latin American celebrities in lead roles, and some visual or storytelling gimmicks, but not much else. The whole process felt cynical and artless, even though I truly believe some of the people in the cast and crew were trying their best[4].

Personally I believe that, even though I was rushed and pushed around just as much as anyone else in the crew, my music was still up to standard, based on the great reception the albums had with its listeners and fans (some more deservedly than others). So it’s even more unfair that, in spite of my good-willed efforts, I’m still owed money and time for my work on those films. At the same time, considering the general mediocrity of the work being done in Merced, I ultimately feel like I‘m not missing out on much anymore — the debt is void.

Still, the whole experience instilled in me a sense of fear and anxiety from the notion that the kind of wacky, epic, colorful and idiosyncratic experimental filmmaking I wanted to make was downright impossible in my circumstances, and that my plan to become a filmmaker at age 30 would be unlikely. But the desire was still there, burning strongly.

[2] —Including Leonardo Medel’s VR trilogy, Constitución, Harem, and Hotel Zentai; Claudio Paredes’ wonderful fashion film Equilibrio; and my friend Libertad Patiño’s beautiful but yet unfinished and unreleased short film Ver.

[3] — And yet not as poor as Uganda, where Wakaliwood/Ramon Film make much better movies than anything I made with Merced, with even less means than we had. We should all strive to be more like Wakaliwood.

[4] — Shout out to Alejandra Rosales, who is a tremendous film producer in what I feel is in an unfair place; Claudio Paredes, who is one of the greatest fashion designers in Chile; Marco Pereira, who’s a darn good comedy filmmaker, probably the best in the country; Alex Inostroza, the kindest and most talented make up artist I’ve worked with; and Daniel Ferreira, who’s probably one of the chillest and wisest people I’ve ever met, and whose advice helped me in paving a new path in my career.

After taking a three-year break from art in 2018, I decided I didn’t wanna focus on music as much anymore. I had mostly achieved everything I wanted from that career path, so I was ready to move on to other ventures. But while my heart was full of stories and visions, I was struggling to get them out.

My husband became my mentor at this point. He had worked in the past in post-production and editing for some Chilean film productions, and he had also left the “industry,” after feeling there was not much to do there. Having gained some hard-learned wisdoms about filmmaking in the process, he asked me a simple and yet profoundly smart question that made me question my true intentions:

“Do you wanna make films, or just be able to call yourself a filmmaker?”

Of course, I think every filmmaker must believe they’re doing it for the craft, but you can tell when someone actually loves the process — their films are just much more artful and idiosyncratic. Everyone else is just doing it for the money or the prestige, which rarely results in true greatness.

I thought of my aspiring filmmaker friends[5]. Many of them had gone to film school, and had high aspirations of becoming the future auteurs of Chilean cinema, while me, I hadn’t even finished high school but had equal aspirations, just considerably more naïve. Most of them gave up by the time they reached their late 20s. Money anxieties, pregnancies, vice, bad health, distractions —they all veered out of the art life, many of them becoming cynical with age. This still breaks my fucking heart, especially because I had none of their opportunities and probably less of their knowledge or talent, but (with as silly as it might be to care about such things) at least I had an IMDb page with a dozen works featured there, I had works to show when most of them sadly had none.

Even then, filmmaking wasn’t something I had ever made for fun, not beyond some sporadic videos here and there. I felt jealous of those filmmakers that got a camera as a kid, and played with it like any child would, falling in love with the process without the worries of money or career goals. Even more so I felt jealous of those who had built small circles of friends willing to help them with making things just for the sake of it[6]. Me, I didn’t have a camera until my mid 20s, and I didn’t play with it as much as I should have, since I was very much alone and out of ideas or visions.

So why even make movies? If I wanted to be a filmmaker, it was essential then that I would have to love the process of filmmaking, otherwise I’d only be repeating the same work conditions I was trying to escape from — the stress, the tedium, the bad electricity. If I could keep the mindset I had when making silly videos for fun, then I could probably find a way to make movies without tears. And honestly, for as little as they’re worth, I’m still proud of my work on videos like The 9's “FASat-Bravo” and Super Flat’s “The World is Not Yours”, even if they were rudimentary, flawed and mostly built out of borrowed or found footage. They were made with love, and that was worth keeping on.

[5] — I owe my old film student friends many of my first lessons in filmmaking and cinema history, so everything I make will always be indebted to them in one way or another, and I hope they feel just as proud of their contribution as I am of my work. Not naming names just in case, but y’all know who you are.

[6] — In particular I can’t deny the influence of people like Red Letter Media, Cinemassacre, Corn Pone Flicks, the aforementioned Ramon Film, early Gainax, Sam Raimi, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Kevin Smith, David Lynch, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Rudy Ray Moore, Mark Borchard, Brandon Hardesty, and all the other legends of true indie filmmaking.

However, with all the love for film I had rediscovered in my heart, I still felt unable to start my first film. I was nearing my 30th birthday and I had no plan of what to make. I felt that my first movie would have to be made before I was 31, or else I would be failing myself and the Great Will, so I had to start planning, thinking, trying to find something I could achieve with little resources and time.

By coincidence, I felt a strong urge to finish watching Twin Peaks. I had seen the first season when I was 16, from a DVD collection I had bought in Barrio Franklin at a ridiculously low price (thanks to my old friend Diego for being wise enough to point it out). I had fell in love with the show, which was unlike anything I had ever seen on TV. So it was time to go back to the old well, and in one week I watched the whole thing, including the movies and every featurette I could get my hands on.

Now, I need you to understand that I’ve never been much of a Lynch fan. I find Blue Velvet juvenile and silly. Wild at Heart I find near intolerable. I can’t even remember half of Dune. A lot of his shorts are more tedious than interesting. Films like Inland Empire and Fire Walk with Me took me many tries and lots of maturing to appreciate. So I wouldn’t wanna be described as a “fan,” more of a “respecter” or “appreciator”. Since watching Twin Peaks, however, I felt a strong urge to watch every film the man has made, because of another great question my husband asked me:

“If you were a filmmaker, who would you wish to be like?”

Would I want to make films like those of Lynch? Probably not. I’m not that enamored with 50s nostalgia, long droning takes, severe decay and rot, cinematic violence, and all those other particulars of the man’s vision.

However, I do envy the man’s ability to just make something, and inspire others to just make things. Lynch can just play around with some nonsense footage recorded with a cheap consumer camera; animate some floating heads or funny doodles; dress some people in silly outfits, throw in some dick and fart jokes, goofy music and silly non sequitur lines of dialogue; and he will consider the result equally as important as his most prestigious works. He seems absolutely unconcerned with whether people actually enjoy his works, for he himself enjoys the process and the result of making things, and allows people to judge them as they see it, on their terms — and isn’t that the only true love and mindset one can have for a craft? I wanna be like Lynch because I wanna feel that much freedom in art. So what was stopping me?

Simple: I wanna make important films, epic films. I’m extremely worried with matters such as pacing and scale, extreme aesthetics and grandiose visions[7]. But the kind of visually intense filmmaking I wish to make is hardly possible with little money… in live action. However, there was another way!

I love animation. Anime, American cartoons, European experimental animation, web shorts, everything — I’ve been a huge fan of it since I was a little child stuck to the TV. There’s a reason my Top 15 puts works like Ihatovo Fantasy: Kenji’s Spring and anime-inspired tokusatsu like Cutie Honey next to more prestige films like Passion of Joan of Arc and Eyes Wide Shut. Some of my early favorite movies and shows were animated: The Simpsons, Beauty and the Beast, Detective Conan, Animaniacs, Pokémon, Powerpuff Girls, Doraemon, Ghost Sweeper Mikami, and so many others, which I somehow had relegated to that early chapter of my life, when animation mattered a lot more to me. I decided to deep dive into the history of animation, to fall in love with it again, and watch every classic, modern, kooky and experimental film I was able to find.

And it’s true that I’ve been making pixel art since I was 12, so I can draw for sure, I’ve proven that. And unlike with live action, I wouldn’t be depending on money or friends to achieve something, even if small by scope. Animation, however, it’s its own craft. I had no idea of the principles, the proper techniques nor the reasoning behind them, and the idea of learning another craft at age 30, after learning a dozen crafts already, wasn’t the most likely of plans, but, feeling that there was no other viable path for me, then animation would have to be the way.

[7] — When I told some of my friends I wanted to be more Michael Bay than Tarkovsky, they laughed at the notion and considered me quite justifiably delusional, but the heart wants what it wants…

And then one night I just found myself with Aseprite open in one window, feeling like it was time to make something. Chaos Core was made in one night, with a simple goal and simple rules: I would make 360 frames of animation, only using two colors (black and white), without much thought or planning. I would simply doodle over and over again until I reached the one minute mark. Whether it was good or not, that was less important than having fun with it.

That night was a beautiful night. I was drinking coffee, listening to music and funny YouTube videos, just drawing anything that came to mind that made me feel something. It was all meant to be crude but direct, sincere and improvised. It’s to animation what underground Japanese noise is to music — nothing but form. For the sound, I used some vintage recordings of early stag films, manipulated and destroyed beyond measure. As for visual inspiration, I recalled the styles of experimental animators like Len Lye, Paul Glabicki, cboyardee, Hutz, FluxFilm, and David Lynch — things of that kind, although at its most punk.

The post-production was also made just for the fun of it. It had been a while since I played with some funky VirtualDub filters, and I liked the look of what came out, with the mix of noise, fake film grain, and layers of blur. I know some people hate the artificial filtering, but honestly, without it it’d be even more of an eyesore! And honestly, focusing too much on the “realness” of post-production processing is missing the point. This short, stupid and simple as it sounds and looks, is exactly what I meant it to be.

And most importantly, it was exactly the kind of spontaneous creativity I was missing so much. I absolutely agree with everyone who has given it a bad rating on Letterboxd, I think everyone is right to dislike it, as it’s at best a shitpost. But, like Lynch, I’d rather take it as seriously as anything else I’ve made, than keep devaluing my work and declaring it “just not good enough” to be considered real cinema.

So many of my most talented friends[8] have missed out on so much (at least in my opinion) by not taking their work seriously. And we’re only hurting our own chances to follow the art life by holding ourselves to such high standards. If any other great auteur of cinema had been so harsh, we’d probably had missed out on so many great works! No, it’s our duty to take ourselves seriously as artists, while still being aware that we are nothing but shitposters making silly nonsense for the love of it. We respect ourselves so we can take ourselves less seriously, so we can work and worry only about the work, and not about how the world will value it after we are done, and eventually gone. After all, art must first be loved, everything else comes after — just like people, and most of things in life!

The result is, of course, not an important film by any measure, but it was a success in the sense that I achieved everything I wanted with it, and my love for it is unironic and sincere. I owe my future as a filmmaker to it, and I’m proud to have it as the first work in my official filmography!

[8] — I particularly think of my friend Chriddof’s work, which is also mostly shitposting but there are real beautiful works of art in between, that in a fair world would have been shown in film festivals, rather than just end up stored away in some Internet Archive collection.

Thank you for reading!

all-purpose artist