Interview – Michael J. Saul Talks ‘The Daydreamer’s Notebook’
Michael J. Saul is a 61-year-old filmmaker from Columbus, Ohio. He moved to San Francisco in the early 1980’s. There, he met electronic composer Steven M. Miller. Saul moved to Los Angeles in the 90’s but continued to collaborate with Miller on film and video projects. Saul mainly makes short films, which he collects in bundles of four to seven and releases at once. His latest bundle is called The Daydreamer’s Notebook, which features works that go all the way back to 1980, as well as works from just a year ago.
There are seven short films total here. The seventh is his 1980 film called “The Cipher and the Boar.” It’s a black-and-white horror. It was shot on 16 mm but lost over time. The version here was recovered from a VHS copy, supplied by one of the actors in it. Saul filmed it in the fall and winter of 1980 to 1981 in his home state of Ohio. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining had been released in the previous summer and Saul had been highly influenced, particularly by Kubrick’s soundtrack. Saul didn’t want to make a slasher though or have any kind of gore. His film is about two young boys, one teenage and the other prepubescent, and Saul was more interested in the reactions on their faces to the disturbing situation in which he sets them rather than the situation itself.
His sixth film is “Subterranea” and doesn’t feature any actors at all. It’s not horror. It’s not even a narrative. It’s more of a nature film, set to the music of Miller who recently passed away. This short is in fact dedicated to Saul’s late friend who died of ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Miller’s wife donated the music to Saul who filmed landscapes in Armstrong Redwoods just north of San Francisco and Vasquez Rocks just north of Los Angeles where Saul says is famous for the numerous productions of Star Trek that have also filmed there. Some of the landscapes are video recreations of some of Saul’s paintings. Most are Saul trying to capture the lushness of the forest with the barren sediments, and show the magic and spirituality of them.
His fifth film is “Boat 14,” a film he shot in 1983 using some of the same ac tors from “The Cipher and the Boar.” It’s actually the remnants of a film Saul was making that retold incidents with his first boyfriend. It’s meant to be simply nostalgia of a moment in time, a slim slice of life.
His fourth film is “Idol,” which is basically outtakes from “The Cipher and the Boar.” Saul found the footage in a box and discovered significance when he slowed it down. He added sounds to emphasize certain emotions and the naturalistic setting.
His third film is “Cons,” which is a home movie that Saul shot of his boyfriend during a trip, possibly to Armstrong Redwoods, about thirty years ago when Saul was in his 30’s. He again slowed down the footage and colorized it, adding sounds to emphasize emotions. He said the title refers to not only the Converse shoes worn by his boyfriend, which can be seen in the film but also his feeling after the relationship is over.
His second film is “Euphoria,” which Saul shot five years ago in Will Rogers State Historic Park. The specific location is Murphy Ranch, the now infamous site of two Nazi sympathizers. The buildings where Saul filmed were burned out and abandoned, as well as covered in graffiti. The buildings were demolished last year, but Saul was able to shoot there prior. He crafts what is essentially a music video. Another composer-friend suggested the piece, which is meant to symbolize an orgasmic feeling, that of love and passion but also feelings of regret, disrespect and jealousy, as we see the relationship of a threesome unfold and literally fly away.
His first film is “Nightcrawler,” a more direct, autobiographical story. It will have viewers convinced that Saul tortured a young boy, but the reality is he achieved a special effect that looks absolutely real. It isn’t supposed to stand out as the visual effects in “Subterranea.”
The Daydreamer’s Notebook is Saul’s third bundle of short films. Aside from the lack of narrative, a key difference between this and Saul’s previous two bundles is the lack of dialogue in every single short. He’s done shorts with no dialogue before, but it’s really pronounced here. Saul said it’s because he’s more interested with what people do more than what they say. In other words, actions speak louder than words.
In between the short films, Saul narrates brief interludes. In one early interlude, Saul reveals his less than stellar report-card. In my interview, Saul explains he had a learning disability, a form of dyslexia. It wasn’t until high school that teachers helped him by steering him into an art program. He wasn’t a bad student. It just was obvious that he was destined to become an artist, and this series of short films probably best exemplifies that artist’s spirit in almost its pure and raw form.