[SXSW Interview] Javier Devitt and Alena Chinault for EYESTRING

[SXSW Interview] Javier Devitt and Alena Chinault for EYESTRING
In Javier Devitt’s short, EYESTRING, Veronica (Alena Chinault) has a mysterious string growing out of her eye and a cryptic message from a hotline service. As the string grows, strange signs related to the hotline message appear everywhere. Each clue she finds only further complicates the question. She must find a way to free herself.

For the world premiere of EYESTRING at SXSW 2023, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon McGrew spoke with director/writer Javier Devitt and writer/actor Alena Chinault. During their interview, they discussed everything from the inspiration for the story, the use of practical effects, and the catharsis that the short brought to both of them.

Thank you both so much for chatting with me today. To kick things off, what inspired the story for EYESTRING? 

Javier Devitt: There were multiple things, but one of them was we had just moved to LA at the time that we started writing [EYESTRING]. It was us incorporating how the city works and how the city feels. When we got that feeling that the city gives us and how we were feeling at the time, I’m saying feelings a lot [Laughs], we mixed it with other ideas that we were working on.

Alena Chinault: We were really inspired by the darkness that you don’t really expect to find in LA and just how lonely and isolating it can feel. We were trying to work that out for ourselves so in a way, it was kind of a catharsis for us trying to understand how do people find each other in this city. How do people relate to each other? I was living in New York for 13 years and you’re just bombarded by people and if you want interaction, you just step out your front door. And here was a completely different vibe and so we wanted to explore that. Then we had been workshopping some other ideas and just basically combined them all into one.

For you, Alena, how was it stepping into the role of Veronica? 

Alena Chinault: It was pretty cathartic. I was going through a lot of emotions that she was feeling myself. Obviously, there was no string growing out of my eye, thankfully [Laughs]. We weren’t shooting every day so there were some days when I had to put myself into that mood. It was an interesting exercise in working out our own feelings at the time.

Javier Devitt: Since we wrote it together, we worked on it so much in the writing process. When she has to act on it, she had so much background to use.

Alena Chinault: Thankfully, we were able to shoot somewhat chronologically so it really helped me with the final scene. We had been working on this for weeks and weeks and I had spent so much time thinking about what does it feel like to have this thing going on in your body that you don’t understand and it’s kind of making you panic and you don’t have anyone to turn to for advice. The people you do think should advise you are just sending you on a wild goose chase.

Getting to the string in question, was the majority of that practical effects?

Javier Devitt: It’s a combination. In a lot of shots, she has the string for real but it’s only taped on. Most of the string is real it’s just the part close to her eyes that is VFX. We tried to keep it simple in the complexity. We didn’t use any blood or anything that was too graphic because it’s already graphic [Laughs].

Alena Chinault: From a practical standpoint, it was an idea and image that we both really liked and we were both having a reaction to ourselves. Javier has all the visual effects skills and was like, I think I know how to do this, so that was crucial. We didn’t have any crew or anyone else. It was just the two of us. We had no one. Not even a sound person and certainly not a props person. It was a lot to manage sometimes.

For me, it felt like the string represented the experience that someone would feel when dealing with anxiety/depression. What does the string represent to both of you?

Javier Devitt: For me, it was always about pulling something out of you, in a way. I certainly had that feeling and it was an interesting way to express it. It’s like taking something out.

Alena Chinault: For me, it was like a manifestation of [Veronica’s] depression. It’s like leaking out of her in a way and everyone she looks to for help is just making it worse. And so, in the end, well, I don’t wanna spoil it [Laughs].

Is EYESTRING something that you would like to convert into a full-length feature film? 

Javier Devitt: Yeah. We have an outline of it. We are working on it, but definitely, since the beginning, I think the short has a lot of world around it. I think it’s not that hard to see it as a feature because it’s not only an extended version of it. It has a lot of questions that are not answered in the short. I think a feature will give space to develop all that and especially the world around it.

Alena Chinault: We’ve had a lot of fun even just outlining it so far, asking ourselves those questions because we’re not even sure sometimes what is going on here. Like, we created this little monster and we’re like oh, what is this? So, it’s been a lot of fun trying to decide like, why is this happening to her and what is this society all about and what’s the connection with the other woman? There’s a lot there to explore so, definitely, we would love to make a feature.

EYESTRING had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival. For more on the short film, check out our review. Make sure to catch up on our SXSW coverage here.

Shannon McGrew
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