Dances With Films NYC 2022 Exclusive Interview: Max Stossel Talks Words That Move: See Through A Different I

Channeling a variety of different perspectives in order to contend with the emotionally vulnerable state of modern society is a difficult process for many people. But award-winning poet Max Stossel has done just that through the diverse socially and political-driven poems he’s featuring in his new documentary special, ‘Words That Move: See Through A Different I.’

The film was directed by Erin Richards, who’s known for playing Barbara Kean on the hit FOX superhero crime drama, ‘Gotham.’ More recently she helmed an episode of the CBS comedy-drama, ‘God Friended Me,’ and starred as Kelly Fisher on the recent fifth season of Netflix’s hit historical drama, ‘The Crown.’ Richards also produced ‘Words That Move’ with Stossel and Yacht Club Films.

The documentary had its World Premiere at last month’s Dances With Films NYC. The special is now streaming on its official website (and can also be viewed in its entirety above).

‘Words That Move’ is a poetic journey through a variety of different perspectives. Taking on topics like heartbreak, consciousness, social media, politics and the emotional state of the world, Stossel uses rhyme and rhythm to make the topics digestible and leave the audience feeling and laughing. His poems are emissaries of unshakable truths – insights into human nature that people are often too fearful or inattentive to name.

The movie features a live performance of nine stories told on stage at Kings Theater, each of which are presented with their own combination of live-action, VFX and animation. Like Derek Delgaudio’s ‘In and of Itself’ or Bo Burnham’s ‘Inside,’ Stossel’s special is a new category of content that’s undeniably moving and delightful. It shows that he has been able to uniquely find the rare combination of both natural internet virality and artistic acclaim.

The documentary’s nine poems include ‘Unsanity;’ ‘Luca’s Wisdom Footage,’ which features Luca Stossel; ‘Through the Mirror,’ starring Derek Hake; ‘Circle Footage;’ ‘Breaking Up in the Digital Age;’ ‘Aggressive Aliens,’ featuring Isabel Umali, Taylor Myers and Jonothon Lyon; ‘Porn;’ ‘Subway Love Footage;’ and ‘Title Sequence.’

Stossel generously took the time after ‘Words That Move’ had its World Premiere at Dances With Films NYC to talk about writing, producing and appearing in the special during an exclusive interview over Zoom. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed that he was in part driven to make the movie because he felt that filming the performance of the poems would help spread their positive messages to audiences around the world. The poet also mentioned that he was honored that the documentary had its World Premiere at Dances With Films NYC, as it’s one of the top independent film festivals in America, and truly supports indie filmmakers.

Film Factual (FF): You wrote the new documentary, ‘Words that Move: See Through a Different I.’ What was your inspiration in making the film, and how did you decide how you would present the story?

Max Stossel (MS): I had been performing this show live in theaters before COVID, and it was resonating very deeply with people. I very much wanted to create something that would let the magic of that live performance live through the screen.

One of the beauties of film is that it helps spread the essence of the story’s message. People would ask me to send some of these poems and works to them. So I’d write them out in an email, but it wouldn’t be the same; it wasn’t really what they were looking for.

So I decided to turn this show that I love into a film that people all over the world can have. That was the inspiration for making this film, and I’m really glad that we did.

FF: Besides penning the special, you also appear in the movie, alongside Isabel Umali, Taylor Myers, Jonothon Lyons, Lynette Paz, Rachel Berman and Ryan Weiss. How did you decide which poets to include in the film with you?

MS: It’s all my writing in the film. But in terms of collaborators, each one happened to make the message come to life in the best possible way.

I worked with a director named Erin Richards, who also directed an episode of ‘Gotham,’ and she really helped drive the whole project.

There were a couple of different directors who worked on different pieces. I spoke to each one about how we should transport the message of these poems through the screen.

The person who worked on ‘Subway Love’ at the end worked on an incredible adaptation of a David Foster Wallace speech. I thought he brought the work to life so beautifully.

I thought each poem had its own special voice and style. But overall, it was about how we could get the messages of the poems through the screen.

FF: Speaking of the fact that Erin helmed ‘Words That Move,’ what was your collaboration with her like throughout the project’s production?

MS: She was absolutely wonderful. We had been friends for a while beforehand, but seeing her in business mode, and being incredibly effective when she put that hat on, I saw how magical she was to also work with.

She was originally just going to direct the ‘Aliens’ piece, and then she asked, “Who’s directing the whole show?” I was like, “You are…?” She laughed and said, “Let me see if I can take that on.”

It was so much more work than she initially signed up for, but she showed up for it so spectacularly. Getting to see that side of her, and the depth of her creative spirit on this project, was amazing; it wouldn’t have survived without her.

FF: The documentary features a live performance of nine stories told on stage at Kings Theater. How did you decide which stories to include in the documentary?

MS: The live show included these nine poems, and I was attached to them. Erin was like, “Maybe we should add one more in,” but I wanted the film to honor the live show. So we ultimately decided to just do these nine pieces, which are about seeing the world through different eyes and perspectives.

Creating the live show was very much about putting these poems together. There’s also comedy and humor in this hour of poetry, as you really need to get some laughter in there to get people to want to stick through the show the whole way. So, we made sure there were funny moments in the pieces throughout. There were also a bunch of topics that felt really important to me.

FF: Besides the reading of the poems, ‘Words that Move’ also incorporates special effects and animation. Why did you decide to include those animated elements into the screen adaptation?

MS: Each poem had its own flavor, whether it was Black storytelling, special effects or animation. For me, that adds an element that allows people to focus on what the poem’s about.

For the breaking up poem, it made sense to add what we see on our phones, so adding that in the black screen in the film was really cool. For the poem about my dog, we wanted to shoot in the park, where you can see that relationship and interaction.

The circle animation was amazing; it was created without ever seeing my poem, which was created without ever seeing the animation. It just happened to sync up in this beautiful way. When I saw it, I was like, “Wow, look at beautifully they sync up!” That was a beautiful, artful coincidence. I love that animation so much.

I’m also really happy with how all of the pieces came out. The first piece was done in XR, which is sort of a new technology that allows for foreground animation. I think it was probably the first poem to ever be recorded in XR!

Normally, it would have cost us $100,000+ that we obviously didn’t have, but they were figuring out the technology, and loved the art, as well. So they said, “Okay, we’ll do this for you, and make it work for whatever your budget is.”

That was a theme throughout this whole process. The messages of these poems were just resonating with people in the arts, so they were willing tow work within our budget. I’m so grateful for all the talented people who dedicated their time and effort into making this project possible.

FF: In addition to scribing and appearing in the movie, you also served as one of the producers. Why did you decide to also produce the special?

MS: This is my baby and wanted to make it happen. I had incredible help from Yacht Club Films; they helped get us the equipment and with so many things I didn’t know how to do. Erin was also pretty much a producer on it, as well, purely out of love and friendship for me. (Stossel laughs.)

But ultimately, I had to go make this thing happen myself. It was such a hustle for me and a learning experience in figuring out how to coordinate and work with so many people and work within such a small budget. Everyone was worth more than what I was able to offer them.

But ultimately, putting everything into this piece feels both fulfilling and stressful; I honestly don’t enjoy the filmmaking process as much as I would like. But in the end, I’m so happy and excited that I’m able to have something that I can share with the world.

FF: ‘Words that Move’ had its World Premiere at Dances with Films NYC. What did it mean to you that you were able to share the documentary at the festival?

MS: That was so exciting. I saw that it was one of the top indie film festivals, and I tend to have an attitude of screw the system! We just want to celebrate art without all of the politics. So the festival really resonates with me.

I was thrilled that we not only got in, but also won an award! That was very cool and unexpected, since we made it so differently from other films. So to have it be recognized and win an award as a feature was a really cool acknowledgment. I’m glad that we were able to get that box check before we officially released it out into the world. Everyone at the festival was really so wonderful and supportive.

Fun Film Fact: ‘Words That Move’ won the audience favorite award at Dances With Films NYC.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s