By Talbert Toole
*Editor’s Note: In light of the annual Oxford Film Festival (OFF), Hottytoddy.com conducted a series of Q&A’s with some of this year’s local filmmakers to highlight the work that will be shown at this year’s festival (Feb. 6-10).
Alex Thiel, a Jackson, Mississippi native, studied cinema at the University of Mississippi. He said his passion for film dates back many years ago when he began making “silly little short films” in junior high. Only once he was in college at Ole Miss did he start pursuing filmmaking more seriously.
Thiel works at Saint Leo by day but tries to manage to find time for writing and music. In addition to Thiel’s music video “Cellar Below,” which features The Great Dying and assistant director Reid Haynie, his films “Right Now” by Swear Tapes and “The Price Was Right” by Andrew Bryant will also be screened during the festival.
Hottytoddy: How many films have you submitted to the film festival or is this the first one to be submitted? Explain your experience and process of being a part of the festival.
Thiel: This year I have three music videos playing at the festival. I also had one music video play the festival in 2017. Even when I don’t have a film playing, I volunteer with the OFF staff every year. I recommend getting involved with the festival to anyone in Oxford with an interest in arts and entertainment. But even if that’s not your bent, it still feels like a huge, welcoming family that has a crazy reunion every February, and I recommend to everyone I meet (especially newcomers) to get involved.
Hottytoddy: Describe the process of making your film.
Thiel: For “Cellar Below,” we didn’t have much of a plan going in. Will Griffith (The Great Dying) knew he wanted a spooky, sinister video for this dark song off his debut album, Bloody Noses & Roses. At the time, I was working at Yalobusha Brewery and Heartbreak Coffee in Water Valley, housed in the old Hendricks Machine Shop on Main Street. That served as our set. It’s such a photogenic location, once we arrived the ideas just started to snowball. The only real planning was done in the 20 minute drive from Oxford to Water Valley — the rest was pretty spontaneous, just throwing ideas off the wall and shooting late into the night.
Hottytoddy: What, if any, was the significance that the Oxford community had in your film?
Thiel: The Oxford community has been invaluable to all of my films, not just “Cellar Below.” I mostly shoot music videos these days, and the music scene here is really supportive and closely connected. Additionally, I couldn’t get these videos made without local businesses like Yalobusha and Heartbreak opening their doors to me and my crazy friends. Everything you see on screen is a result of a community effort.
Hottytoddy: What do you want the audience to experience or take away from your film?
Thiel: With any music video, I believe that my main job is to complement the song. I try to match visually whatever vibe the artist is conveying in the music. So for “Cellar Below,” I want the audience to feel unsettled, a little bit scared, maybe even a little haunted.
Hottytoddy: What do you look forward to at the festival?
Thiel: I love meeting new folks from all over the country at the festival and acting as an ambassador to this little gem of a community. I think this is going to be the biggest, best, most diverse year yet, and I look forward to sharing it with close friends and complete strangers.
Hottytoddy: Tell us one thing about your film that you would want others to know.
Thiel: The mysterious substance that Will drinks in the video is iced tea—only because we didn’t want to waste the real whiskey on something so trivial as an actual take.