A mere 60 seconds is all the time five local filmmakers have been given to tell their stories in films that will be screened at the Gotta Minute Festival coming to an LRT station near you this fall, but you’ll be able to get a sneak peek at the FAVA Gala on Saturday, March 29.
Eric Spoeth is among these filmmakers, and has chosen to resurrect the character of Mr Viggs, a whimsical, Charlie Chaplin-inspired fellow who has made appearances in some of his previous work, including Mr Viggs is … The Manikin and Mr Viggs is … The Street Sweeper.
Spoeth, who has been a member of FAVA since 1999 and runs a company known as Spoeth Creations—or Spoeth Productions, when he does dramatic films (his bread and butter is currently corporate video)—encountered Mr Viggs nearly a decade ago at the Fringe Festival.
“He always amazed me and I’d watch him for hours and how people interacted with him,” Spoeth says of Mr Viggs, who is played by street performer Dan Virgoe. “One day I’d been watching him on Whyte Avenue and he was standing totally motionless—nobody was walking by. It was the middle of the day on a weekday and I didn’t see him break character once. In fact, I didn’t see him blink for 10 minutes and when I saw that I realized he’s got something special. I’d seen other buskers around the world and he seemed to have a classical air to him, and I approached him one day and said I’d like to make a film about him.”
Virgoe was hesitant about the idea initially, stating he did not want to do a film featuring his signature robotic routine, as it was a schtick he was trying to move away from in order to showcase his other skills. The story behind Mr Viggs is that he is a traveller who roams from town to town in search of work and tries to get the girl in each scenario, but never really succeeds. Despite staying true to the original parameters of Mr Viggs, Spoeth couldn’t help but come back to the mechanics of the character Virgoe had wanted to avoid. However, he found a way to work it into his new one-minute silent short, Mr Viggs is …The Automaton.
“I realized that audiences respond the most to that part of his character, so we found a way to justify it and make it part of the story,” he says, of the short film. “It’s also a tribute to the automaton theme we see in some of the early silent films; even Harry Houdini had a film called The Automaton, and it was a fascination for people in those days, sort of a robot-human hybrid, and so it was a bit of a tribute to that as well.”
Whether the adventures of Mr Viggs continue after this film remains to be seen—Spoeth will be judging audience reaction. But, if all goes well, he does have at least one more ready to go that he filmed in the same session as The Automaton, which was edited down from two or three minutes to the final 60-second cut.
“I think one of the things we love about Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin or Mr Bean are the fact that they never really win and that they have an innocence about them that we don’t see too much in comedians nowadays, so I tried to recapture some of that,” Spoeth explains. “Also considering the audience of people going into the LRT would range from toddlers to seniors, I wanted to have something for everybody to appreciate in it. The physical slapstick’s for the kids and a little bit of the charm and just the skill of the character’s movements will be for the older people to appreciate.”
Spoeth, whose film credits have ranged from production assistant on The Matrix during his film-school days in Australia, to second assistant director on Blackstone and second second assistant director on the upcoming film Cut Bank, has more in the works than just shorts, though. His next major project will be a docu-drama called Waiting for Waldemar. The story is based on his grandfather, who disappeared during the Second World War, allegedly becoming a Russian prisoner of war.
“It’s basically a story of how my mother, who was one-year-old at the time, spent her life hoping that he would show up one day, trying to find out what happened to him,” Spoeth explains, noting the film will go into production in August or September. “It will be a combination of interviews with those who knew him and also reenactments from a child’s perspective, where some details are missing—and I’ll show those details by information literally missing on the screen—as well as certain details being exaggerated, as children often see them.”
For more information on Eric Spoeth’s films, go to spoeth.com. Or, check out these two links:
Mr Viggs is … The Manikin
Mea Maxima Culpa