Do You Believe in the Devil? and an interview with director Alex Grybauskas

Well, do you believe in the devil? The statistics of how many people do believe vary from time period to time period, country to country, but it's a belief as essential to some as the belief in God. What's the function of God and the Devil in our lives? Many people believe there's no such thing as either. Humanity by itself does a good job of personifying the storied traits of both. It's all a personal issue, for in the end, we may indeed face one of them, and it'll be alone. But what about before death? Do You Believe in the Devil? is a deep, dark, uncomfortably funny short film exploring how humans can be their own Devil, and what happens when it's time to pay the proverbial piper.

Refreshingly weird and not your stock deal-with-the-devil set up, I really enjoyed the veiled themes in the film. It's an intelligent discussion on morality, I think, dressed as Stephen King meets 1,000 Ways to Die. It was wonderful to chat with director Alex Grybauskas on his directorial debut short.

Miriam Lee: You sick man! Where did this idea come from?

Alex Grybauskas: It came from a couple of different places. After film school I fell into editing as a profession. I was doing that for about five years, while directing some little things on the side to make that transition into directing to build a nice portfolio. I was looking to do something that could be a small project that would feel really big. I found an old short story I wrote, which made up the opening bathroom scene, featuring a man-child grim reaper. I liked the idea of a character who was a young kid, somewhere in the netherworld missing his family. I'm a huge fan of Calvin and Hobbes, and I found an old strip where they were out sledding in the back yard talking about the devil, and whether he exists or if man really needs him. So I decided to wrap this around the idea of man being his own worst enemy, and it all came together in a weird way.

ML: For being fairly tongue in cheek and quirky, the story handles some pretty heavy themes. Was there anything that guided you creatively while making the film?

AG: The old Greek myths that had big characters and choices, stories of hubris, men getting too confident in themselves ... those were the kinds of stories I was going for, throwing all those themes together and watching how low the main character could take himself. But of course, I didn't want it to get too heavy, so I wanted to lighten it up with some tongue-in-cheek humour. I'm always interested in the supernatural, and I tried to make sure I didn't reference one particular religion too closely. I tried to keep it pretty ambiguous in terms of who exactly Danny Pickler was, and I've heard a few people give different interpretations on who that character was to them.

ML: This was your first film on your own. What was it like?

AG: I learned a lot from the experience. When I was making all the other short films in the past, it was just a super skeleton crew with me doing pretty much everything -- shooting, set design, costumes and so on. This was the first time where I got an expert in each field to work with together as a whole crew. Managing and working with all these people was daunting at first, but it ended up being really awesome, and witnessing the power of collaboration in a film was a major learning point.

ML: What was it like to have it featured at the festivals it's screened at?

AG: It's been great, I've met some really interesting people. I probably spent a good 6 to 8 months on the film. After watching it a million times I've gone over every detail, and so everything felt really serious. The first time I saw it with an audience and saw them laugh at the parts I intended to be funny, I was really happy. It's interesting to see how audiences shape what a film is, almost as much as a filmmaker does.

ML: Has anyone asked you anything particularly memorable about the film that's stood out for you?

AG: A few people have approached me, actually talking about similar drug or alcohol problems like the ones referred to in the beginning of the movie. Some people felt like they were their own worst enemy a lot of the time. It was interesting to see how the film affected some people that way.

ML: What's next for you now?

AG: I just finished a new short film. I'm very close to the final stages. It's called Monsters Big and Small, and it's adapted from a story I found online. It's another one in the fantasy realm and I'm really excited to get that out. I want to keep making shorts and keep learning from each one.

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To learn more about Alex and see the rest of his work, check out his Wordpress site here. My thanks again to Alex!

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