Six years ago, writer, director, and editor Mike Fink, 26, and his filmmaker friends from East Tennessee, took to YouTube to create their own space amongst other content creators. They created their channel, Video Bakery, to fulfill their creative desire to make movies. As with many startup YouTube channels, creatives want to build up their subscriber base, and potentially turn creating content for their channel into their career. Despite the team’s abilities to produce and publish two videos weekly, Fink found himself both unsatisfied and unchallenged as a filmmaker.
“At one point I got frustrated and I said ‘views and subscribers are no longer as important to me as feeling good about my work’.”
“It’s always a battle with YouTube and really with any kind of web entertainment, between constant content and high quality content. Constant content is nice, because you can see those views climb, but myself as a creator I look at that and I can’t help but be dissatisfied because I see that I should have put more time into something, or that a particular video would have been better had I planned it out a little bit more, spent more time in post production. And you just get rushed, and that’s that feeling that you have when making constant stuff, especially with such a small team. So at one point I got frustrated and I said views and subscribers are no longer as important to me as feeling good about my work.”
To notify his dedicated and “super awesome fans” about his new mission, he posted a video entitled ‘Video Bakery is Evolving,’ in which he talks openly and honestly about his frustrations surrounding his YouTube channel and his goals moving forward with his filmmaking. Mike admits, “A lot of the frustration from Spring Wolf was that I hadn’t made anything that was well put together, at least in my opinion. I wanted to tell something that was short, solid, and good, and told a big story.”
Fink made it the team’s mission to strive for high quality work. He encouraged the group to bring the absolute best of themselves, extend beyond their comfort zone, and to take the time to strategically craft future projects. In Video Bakery’s new era, viewers would witness content of great quality; with this platform evolution the team’s first short film, Spring Wolf was born.
This was the first film Mike directed that involved a range of mixed media forms: he combined animation, stop motion, and live action to create what he refers to as “a massive concentrated effort.” Mike and his team approached their new project with intense planning, “We went at it very formulaically, we had a plan, we executed that plan, it took forever. And it was an incredibly daunting process.” Spending five months on this project from pre-production to post-production, editing took the most out of him. Taking on the large responsibility of bringing the dynamic mixed media film to life by doing all of the editing and VFX, Mike says that the post process nearly drove him crazy.
“You just have to keep pushing through that towards the finished project.”
“All that rotoscoping all those effects we had to do in post-production…you look at your work at the end of the day after you’ve been working for ten hours nonstop and you see that you’ve only done a couple of seconds out of a 14 minute movie. And it was really disheartening, but you just have to keep pushing through that towards the finished project. Whether it worked or not, I wanted to make sure that it was done, the way that I wanted it done. At the end of the day, you can either be happy with your work or unhappy with your work, and taking your time is the only way to make sure that you are happy.”
As the premiere film that would be a representation of this dedication to higher quality work, Mike wanted to convey a sincere and light hearted story with “a cartoonish level of suspension of disbelief.” Spring Wolf was his creation of that other world. Mike wanted to tell a common story of a troubled man having difficulty with work and life, while also incorporating nature. “I knew that there was no way we could, do a completely live action 24 frames per second film about a guy in a wolf mask and get people to take it seriously. So the animation was added in [and stop motion] to kind of give it that suspension of disbelief, where people could buy into something that was so unreal.”
Intrigued by the heartwarming and relatable effect that cartoons can have on audiences when done correctly, Mike strove to incorporate depth into his story. “I see these cartoons and whenever they have really real themes, they just hit a little heavier because you don’t expect them to go there.” Cartoon Network’s animated series ‘Adventure Time’ was his primary inspiration for Spring Wolf’s concise and relatable story. “Adventure Time taught me that it’s more important to allow people to love the story and love the characters, than it is to convince people.” The beautiful artistic style for his film came fromWho Framed Roger Rabbit and Radiohead’s music video There, There.
“Inspiration doesn’t come out of nowhere; people put too much burden on themselves trying to be 100 percent entirely creative when that’s impossible. Influence is very important. Inspiration is very important.”
Mike finds the most important aspect of his craft to be, being able to deliver a conceptualized idea:
“I think that most important aspect of filmmaking and what I always strive to improve at is simply getting what you were going for in the first place, achieving the mood that you set out to get. That’s the most fundamental and basic aspect of filmmaking that can always improve. You can always do better, it can always be done better… get what you went out for. If you want to make something sad, the ability to make it sad, or the ability to be able to make [your film] funny is so incredibly important.”
Although achieving the vision that one sets out to make sounds fundamental and simple enough, it’s not always doable. Achieving his vision for Spring Wolf proved to be his biggest challenge. To envelop us into Wolf’s world, Mike needed a shallow depth of field, which would give the film a miniature look. Pulling this off, while bringing together many different forms of media was “so incredibly difficult”, he admits.
This film was made for under a thousand dollars which was spread out over the course of the 5-month period. Playing to his strengths and his weaknesses, Mike wanted to make something that was intentionally small budget but had a “charm factor” to it. “We wanted people to know that we didn’t have much of a budget, we wanted that to be fun. We wanted that to be entertaining and to actually add to the experience as opposed to making it look cheap.” When he and his team faced financial obstacles, they took a step back and made the lack of budget work in the film’s favor. He references the movie Jaws and how the opening scene that was initially planned didn’t work out because of technical difficulties and budget restraints, so Director Steven Spielberg found a better alternative, “It was scarier that way,” Fink says.
With the craftsmanship displayed in this film, one might wonder what it is like working with Mike Fink. A “massive concentrated effort” like Spring Wolf is only as achievable because of its team. Mike has a genuine value for his team and strives to create a collaborative environment.
“I try to be relaxed on set and I try to give everybody their own space to do their own thing. As tempting as it is to micromanage, I know that I work with talented people who I know are going to bring something new to the set. I think that when you work with really talented people who’ve proved themselves, you’ve got to give them some room to have their own improvements, to bring their own vision to it, and that’s when I think that things get good.”
From the intricate stop motion, engaging performances, and beautiful score, Mike describes the film as being phenomenal because how his team brought all of these elements together. Proceeding with partnership was key in making this film and with Video Bakery’s ability to maintain their new objective, “You can work as hard as you can, you can put your all into it, but more often than not, the chances you’re given, the opportunities you’re given-they’re solely dependent on the people around you,” Mike says. “It’s a hard thing to continue after college, but if you’re surrounded by people who encourage you…and want the best for you then that just makes it doable, that makes it worthwhile.”
Bonus: Click to watch Behind the Scenes of Spring Wolf.
Written By: Julian Hollinger