Shortly after establishing The Punk Floyd Company, co-founders Jean Gabriel Kauss and Stella Velon scripted and shot “The Critic” as their inaugural production. See what inspired the idea for this 2020 Webby Nominee for Best Individual Performance.
As the inaugural production made by The Punk Floyd Company, The Critic depicts an artist struggling with her worst critic, and underlying imposter syndrome. Written by and starring Punk Floyd co-founder Stella Velon, it draws viewers in with its intimate portrayal of a woman enduring very pointed critique under the scrutinizing eye of a journalist. Velon’s raw portrayal of the character landed the project a Webby nomination for Best Individual Performance in the Video category.
We spoke with Jean Gabriel Kauss and Stella Velon about the project, the message they wanted to convey, and more.
Still of Stella Velon in “The Critic”
Where did the inspiration for “The Critic” come from, and what did your team want to communicate with this subject?
Jean Gabriel Kauss: The inspiration for “The Critic” came from Stella’s desire to tell this particular story. She and I have been working on a bigger project, her dramedy series that takes place in the fashion world, which was my world for over 20 years as an agent. One day she came to me with the first draft of the script for a short film that she had written titled “The Critic”, that had nothing to do with her show. I found the concept very interesting, and because we had just founded The Punk Floyd Company, we decided to shoot it right away, making it our inaugural production.
Stella Velon: What I wanted to communicate with this particular piece is, at its core, the artist’s struggle with their own worst critic: the person in the mirror. Hence the repeated use of mirrors in the film. In broader terms, the concept applies to anyone dealing with imposter syndrome. I also wanted this to be something that makes people think and question everything. Fire up their imagination.
At the same time, it all had to be very grounded in reality, so I incorporated real themes and issues from what has been happening in the industry and its psychological impact on the people working in it, and the fragility of the human mind, especially that of performers. There are many layers to this film, and I wanted the audience to take away whatever they see in it, depending on how they perceive the world around them. There is no right or wrong way to interpret it.
Still of Stella Velon in “The Critic
The centerpiece of this film is the main character’s emotional journey, performed by Stella Velon. What was the process of capturing this performance like? Were there any challenges you overcame?
Jean Gabriel Kauss: For those who may not know, in addition to writing and starring in the film, Stella Velon directed “The Critic” as well. The main challenge for her was having to wear many hats at once, being a first-time director, on top of everything else. Of course, she had her crew and me, but she had to carry the film in almost every sense of the word. It was an epic shoot—despite the intimate setting—and quite a feat, especially considering the circumstances and the tight schedule. I encouraged her to direct the short, actually, because I saw the precision with which she had envisioned the story playing out. After considering some other options, I thought that no one else could do it better than her. She took the challenge and handled it exceptionally well, beyond anyone’s expectations. The film had incredible success in the festival circuit, winning many awards and was also lauded by film critics.
The process of capturing Stella’s performance, aside from outlining a very detailed shot list that she and her DP had meticulously prepared to illustrate the psychological and emotional journey of her character, consisted of her working with her acting coach before the shoot and also having him on set during production. We were shooting with very few breaks in between, so she had to remain very focused all the time, and 90% of the footage was usable, which gave us a lot of options to choose from in post-production, which is a dream for any filmmaker. Even our editor, Ivan Adrijanic, was surprised and by the amount of footage we had shot in two days.
Ivan Adrijanic (Editor of “The Critic”): Based on the script, I was initially concerned about how we would hold people’s attention with one very long scene, which is the interview, without cutting away to something else. But once we watched the dailies and I started editing it, it became apparent, that it won’t be a problem at all. On the contrary, the scene ended up keeping people on the edge of their seats.
Stella Velon and Jean Gabriel Kauss presenting “The Critic” at the Ahrya Fine Arts in Beverly Hills, CA. Photo: Eddie Ruvalcaba
The main character’s “critic” is depicted as a male journalist. Why was it integral to the story that the critic takes this specific form?
Stella Velon: Multiple reasons motivated that choice. A male voice is more imposing than a female voice, and the vocal presence of this character is crucial to this film. It was very important to have a really good actor too, and Alan Smyth did a fantastic job! The other reasons stem from the fact that, on the one hand, I wanted the audience to wonder and keep trying to guess the relationship between these two characters and, on the other, to illustrate the fragility of women in the business, among other things. The dynamic between two women vs. between a man and a woman is inevitably very different. It wouldn’t have served the story or the film’s message to have a female character play the reporter.
The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted the film industry. Despite these changes, what new possibilities or ideas make you optimistic about the future of the industry?
Jean Gabriel Kauss: The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the whole world gravely. These are uncertain times for so many people, and with the social unrest that is currently taking place (and rightly so!), in many ways, this is a watershed moment that, hopefully, will have a lasting positive impact. Hardship can shift perspectives and people’s values, and I hope that the industry will become a more inclusive and nurturing place for everyone.
As far, as the projects that The Punk Floyd Company is currently developing, such as expanding “The Critic” into a full-length feature (upon popular demand), and also the girl-powered series inspired by Stella’s experiences as a fashion model in NYC, what makes me optimistic is that there will be an increased demand for content that entertains, yes, but also elevates our spirits and consciousness and connects us to our humanity. And this is exactly the kind of stuff we love to work on.