‘The Photo Man’ dir. Ben Kitnick
Mark Kologi has collected and sold millions of forgotten personal photos of complete strangers.
Director: Ben Kitnick
Producer: Ben Kitnick
DOP: Saxon Richardson
Key Cast: Mark Kologi
C8: How did you come across Mark Kologi and why did you want to tell his story?
BK: I met Mark almost two years ago at the flea market seen in the film. I was in Los Angeles working for a few months and spent most Sunday afternoons sifting through his photos. He is a fascinating character and his photos receive such profound reactions from people that I felt it was a subject matter worth exploring. I also liked how the themes of nostalgia and the interconnected lives of strangers were present in the context of a pretty earnest story.
C8: How comfortable was Mark about being on camera? Did you need to make him feel at ease at all?
BK: Mark was remarkably comfortable and equally put us at ease. There was certainly a flow to the questions we asked that allowed us to thoughtfully explore introspective topics without abruptly forcing it upon him. However, Mark really pushed to examine the philosophical side of his profession and life.
C8: How did you work with Markus Rennemann to compose the score? Did you have a specific idea of what you wanted?
BK: In pre-production, we discussed the idea of evoking melancholic nostalgia through the music. After providing the editor and I with a few scores and having him make some adjustments, Markus provided us with the finalized music. We have worked together in the past so the process was refreshingly efficient.
C8: You shot with a very small crew. What challenges did this present?
BK: Well for this film, we were in the unique position of benefiting from a minimal crew. We only used a few lenses, two cameras, a mic, tripod, and slider. I was able to spend time creating a casual and enjoyable shooting environment rather than running around micromanaging an unnecessarily large crew. I would much rather work with a few people and have the interviewee be comfortable in the spotlight than risk them feeling overwhelmed by the scale of the production and turning off their vulnerability. The smaller the crew, the greater the intimacy.
C8: If you did the whole process again is there anything you would change?
BK: If I were to change anything, I might explore more aspects of Mark’s personal history. This is something we considered in pre-production, but we decided that simplicity in the story would allow us to express certain concepts clearer and in a more focused manner. I am happy with our end result, but that might have been an interesting approach.
C8: Are there any filmmakers or films that you found inspired your work?
BK: I finally watched ‘Grey Gardens’ just prior to filming and was blown away. I was definitely inspired by the level of intimacy the Maysles’ were able to achieve with their subjects.
But in a broader sense, I was inspired by the crop of character-focused short documentaries that are finding their audiences online. Now is a great time for short form documentaries.
C8: What is the best piece of advice you have received about filmmaking?
BK: Although I didn’t receive it, something I often reflect on is a candid line by Dennis Hopper from ‘Hearts of Darkness,’ the documentary on the making of ‘Apocalypse Now.’ He says something along the lines of ‘if you know your lines, you don’t need them.’ This applies to documentaries because as long as you know what you are trying to say and have a flexible outline of the story, you can take risks and experiment while maintaining the same end goal. Sometimes a documentary will have a life of its own and go a dramatically different direction than originally intended. Having to make quick decisions and naturally letting the film evolve is the fun of filming reality.
C8: Where does ‘The Photo Man’ sit in your career? What had you done before it?
BK: This is only my second film, actually. I spent a lot of time interested in the business side of things before exploring creatively. The prior film called ‘Funny World’ was a short documentary on Space-Alien Donald, a performance artist and self-proclaimed ‘World’s Oldest Gay Canadian Rapper.’ Although the content couldn’t be more different than ‘The Photo Man’, it similarly has a heart.
C8: What do you think makes for a great collaboration?
For the crew, it’s about working with people you respect creatively. I am a genuine fan of Markus Rennemann’s music and Saxon Richardson, the cinematographer/editor, is such a talented filmmaker and so crucial to the creation of ‘The Photo Man’ that he deserves to be interviewed as much as myself.
It is also important for the entire crew to have a cohesive vision. Whether this means spending countless nights discussing various aspects of production or giving everyone a quick rundown while driving to location, being on the same page creates a smoother shoot and better film.
Documentaries are collaborations between the filmmakers and their subjects as well. For this, it’s important to maintain levels of comfort and spontaneity to the shoots. Mark and I discussed topics and ideas we wished to explore prior to filming, but he did not prepare for specific questions. This spontaneity led to the most genuine moments of emotion in the film.
C8: What is next for you? Any exciting plans?
We’re currently editing a new short documentary on an adrenaline-junkie who does demolition derby and hangs from hooks in a performance act. It is entirely visual and music-driven, so we might sit on it and turn it into a music video if the right band comes along. I’m also interested in pursuing a documentary on the complex relationship between a dominatrix and her ‘slaves.’ I enjoy the process of uncovering the heart within extreme stories.
At the moment, I’m interested in working on music videos and continuing to make documentaries. I’m only 20, so I’m not feeling the pressure of figuring life out just yet. If I’ve learned anything from these documentaries, it’s that life is best when always open and curious.