A Vain and Solipsistic World: An Interview With Filmmaker Sebastian Sommer On His Latest Film "Family Tree"

Sebastian Sommer is an independent filmmaker born and raised in New York City. At the crisp age of 18, Sebastian premiered his experimental short film 'Mama Said Sardine Baby' at the TriBeCa film festival, jump starting his film career. Currently 22 years old, Sebastian has made waves with numerous short films, working with such notable female talent as Hari Nef, India Menuez, Alexandra Marzella, Jennifer Prediger, Carlen Altman, and Kitty (Pryde) to name a few. Graduating from NYU with a degree in film, Sebastian shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. His most recent short film 'Family Tree' drew comparisons to Andy Warhol and his warped view of celebrity culture. Not only a filmmaker, Sebastian was also the assistant editor to 'Yosemite' starring James Franco and had a small role in 'Applesauce' directed by Onur Tukel. Sebastian met with fellow filmmaker Todd Rohal (Uncle Kent 2) to discuss his latest film 'Family Tree' exclusively for Autre magazine. 

Todd Rohal: What was the spark that led to making your latest short film 'Family Tree'?

Sebastian Sommer: I was really interested in making a film about a group of girls who go to extreme lengths to be immortalized in a celebrity culture. I'm fascinated by the idea of fame and why people care so much if they are famous or not. I also saw this as an opportunity to work with some of my favorite young female talent in New York City. India Menuez and Alexandra Marzella in particular are incredible actresses and it was an honor to work with them. 

TR: Who were you thinking of when you were making this film? What audience was in your head? What do they look like?

SS: I wanted to make a short film that didn't appeal to my generation but to younger generations. I want people to look back on 'Family Tree' years from now to see what these actresses and performers were up to in this particular time in their lives. I feel like it's important for the younger people to like you if you want any sort of longevity in your career as an artist. 

TR: I don't know how fictional 'Family Tree' is. Are these people all friends in real life? Do they all dress like this on a daily basis?

SS: The actresses are friends/friendly in real life, which made shooting the film a lot more comfortable and fun. The film blurs the lines between fiction and reality, the events that take place in the film are certainly fictional but they are cloaked in moments of truth and documentary. The original script of the film was much different and way darker and I feel like the final product is way different. The film gained a new life in the editing process. 

TR: What do your parents say when you show them your movies?

SS: My parents are scared of my films, to be honest. They are kind of religious, conservative and old school. Which is a bit surprising because they live in Manhattan. But they completely respect the fact that I know what I am doing and they are very supportive of my career. They don't have any grasp on the art or film world and they know that even though I confuse and shock them constantly, that they can't tell me what to do in this regard. Because I know better.

"I am very bored with the way cinema is going and I want to be the person who changes everyones perceptions of what a movie can be."

TR: What drives you as a filmmaker?

SS: I want to make films that make people view life differently, whether that makes them angry or confused about what they are seeing. I am very bored with the way cinema is going and I want to be the person who changes everyones perceptions of what a movie can be. Growing up in New York City has a definite effect on who you are.

TR: Can you talk about your decision to have people leave comments on your online films? Do you have any favorites?

SS: I made a short film a while ago called 'Ego Death' and it was an experimental meditation on the deep web starring meme rapper Kitty Pryde. I got a lot of hilarious comments from that film, a lot of haters and people acting confused by how weird and bizarre it is. Someone once told me that they liked my films because they were genuinely weird, not trying to be weird. I feel like thats a good way of explaining things.

TR: What is next for you?

SS: I would like to become mainstream and sell out and direct a sequel to a Hollywood franchise film. I also want to marry Kendall Jenner...but that's unrelated.

You can watch more of Sebastian Sommer's films by visiting his Tumblr profile. Text and interview by filmmaker Todd Rohal exclusively for Autre magazine. Photographs by Lula Hyers