Artist Spotlight, Pro Tips

Filmmaker Kevin Schreck Spotlights the Surreal in ‘Tangent Realms’


When Pond5 talks about being artist-friendly, we’re not just referring to our contributors and customers — we’re talking about our employees too. Among the ranks of the Pond5 team, you’ll find professional musicians, illustrators, photographers, and, of course, filmmakers. One of those filmmakers, Kevin Schreck, has been working as a video curator at Pond5 since 2013 — the year after he released his award-winning documentary Persistence of Vision, a film that explores the history of animator Richards Williams’ three-decades-in-the-making troubled epic The Thief and the Cobbler. The doc screened at dozens of festivals worldwide, helping Schreck to establish himself as filmmaker to watch. Now he’s back behind the lens on his latest project, Tangent Realms: The Worlds of C.M. Kösemen — an exploration of the life and work of a contemporary Turkish artist with a taste for the fantastic.

Tangent Realms is currently raising funds via an Indiegogo campaign, as Schreck prepares to return to Turkey in October to complete filming for the project. In the meantime, we sat down to talk about the particular challenges facing documentarians, what attracted him to Kösemen’s work, and how working at Pond5 has helped his artistic career.

The Evolutionary Nature of Documentaries

“When you’re making a documentary, it’s not as straightforward as making a narrative film, because you don’t have everything on paper,” Kevin explains, regarding his filmmaking process. “You’re building it. You’re discovering it. You’re piecing together a puzzle, essentially. After you’ve done a lot of research, you start shooting, and then, once you’ve shot some stuff, you start editing, sorting it out, and figuring out what the story is and what the flow of it is. Then you realize what else you’re missing and what you need to fill in the gaps with. Then you go shoot some more, which brings you back to editing.”

It’s this evolving nature that also often allows projects to take shape in the beginning. As with many documentary ideas, Schreck’s original interest came from a more personal place. “First I was just interested in Memo’s artwork,” he says. “This was a guy who was doing something that I don’t think anyone else was really doing, at least not in this style. It’s surrealism, but that’s surrealism with a lowercase ‘s.’ It’s not early 20th-century Surrealism. It’s surrealism in the sense of the feelings it evokes. Really, he’s combining his strong interests and knowledge in the hard sciences like zoology, biology, paleontology, mythology, anthropology — a lot of ‘ologies.'”
Artwork by C.M. Kösemen
Artwork by C.M. Kösemen

From the Cosmic to the Personal

Delving into Kösemen’s own process, the idea of something bigger began to take on more weight. “He’s taking what he knows about things like anatomy and folklore and evolution and spirit art, and putting that into these evocative world-building exercises,” Schreck explains. “He does all these different themes and series, but the constant prevalent question in Memo’s work is ‘What if?’ Sometimes it’s a big, cosmic-scale ‘what if,’ and sometimes it’s more deep and personal. It’s kind of interesting that, geographically, he’s also in a place like that. He’s sort of on the middle of the map being in Turkey and Asia Minor — a place that’s not quite Europe, not quite Asia, and not quite the Middle East, and it’s going through some tumultuous cultural and political situations too, so it’s a little bit like his art. Sometimes it’s big, sometimes it’s very small and intimate.”

This raises the question of whether filming in such an unstable region plays an onscreen role in a project like this. Schreck’s view is suitably documentarian. “I don’t really know yet,” he admits. “We’ll see what happens. 2015 and 2016 have both been very significant years for Turkey, and it’s hard to say whether 2017 will be less or more so. My philosophy is that it has to be relevant to the story. That’s an exciting thing about documentaries — that they do keep evolving as you’re working on them. We’re open to it, but it also has to serve a story, and it has to fit your creative mantra of what this movie is about. If the political situation in Turkey ends up being relevant, then, by all means, it will be a facet of the project.”
C.M. Kösemen and Kevin Schreck
C.M. Kösemen and Kevin Schreck
Meanwhile, Tangent Realms presents other new challenges for the filmmaker. Despite the success of his last film, that one was about events that had already taken place. “For a film like Persistence of Vision, if you do enough of your research, you know the story,” says Schreck. “You know the arc of it, you know how it plays out, and it’s up to you to put those pieces together. With this one, it’s a contemporary story, and it’s a sort of a vérité portrait, which I’ve also done before, but not in a while. It’s a different process of finding the material and rediscovering things, or finding things after interviewing or after shooting. Sometimes things are revealed to you in editing that you may not have noticed while shooting, that maybe hint at one thing or suggest another thing, and those need to then be brought out with the tools of making movies — editing and story structure.”
Artwork by C.M. Kösemen
Artwork by C.M. Kösemen

Finding a Creative Environment

Throughout all of this, Schreck is happy to spend his days in NYC at Pond5 HQ, where he’s able to help other artists get their work out to world while improving their own craft. “I like how it’s a job that’s relevant to my interests, where I can apply my skills and knowledge,” he says, “like having an eye for what I want in a shot, or how I would want a shot composed; how I would want to see a reel edited, or how I would want the camera to flow, to tell a story or paint a picture in just a few seconds, in a single clip, then piecing it all together. I also like how Pond5 isn’t just a place that tolerates my interests and passions, but actually encourages them.”

As for his advice to other ambitious filmmakers, Kevin stresses the importance of making sure you have an idea that you can fully dedicate yourself to. “When you’re working on a project independently like this, you have to be involved in it for a few years,” he says. “It’s like a relationship of sorts. It could be two, three, five, maybe more years. You really have to be committed to it and really be invested. Then hopefully your own interest and passion in telling that story will radiate and click with the right people.”

To learn more about Tangent Realms: The Worlds of C.M. Kösemen and donate to the project, visit the film’s Indiegogo page.