Guest: Harrison Atkins - "Chocolate Hearts Give Me Vanilla Farts" / by Samuel B. Prime

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Editor's Note: Harrison Atkins is a filmmaker whose style and voice are instantly recognizable. His stories and characters are odd, eccentric, and from a place of deep, colorful imagination. Most of all, there is an undeniable warmth to his films - embedded in sublime weirdness, a beating heart. His film CHOCOLATE HEART, available to stream for free on LA Ciné Salon, premiered at SXSW 2014. He is presently at work on his debut feature film, LACE CRATER, produced by Joe Swanberg (NIGHTS AND WEEKENDS) and financed by Forager Films.

- Samuel B. Prime, Founder

I’m thankful to Sam for letting me write a little something about CHOCOLATE HEART. I’ve been so nervous lately, now that the movie is online and seeing a wider audience, that people might misinterpret what I was trying to make. An opportunity to get this off my chest is a blessing and I’m so relieved to set the record straight.

First of all, it’s important that you know that this film was a total accident, and I 100% apologize for it. The title was originally supposed to be “CHOCOLATE HEARTH.” There was a typo on the title page of the script and a bunch of 'em accidentally got printed out. To add insult to injury, we (also accidentally) ended up shooting that version of the movie. It was a huge mistake and I’m really embarrassed by it.  We just weren’t thinking...

Both of the cats in the film were played by real cats, and conceptually that was extremely important to me. Getting to know Fancy and Hector was one of the most emotionally intense experiences of my life because it forced me to understand a trauma that was completely alien to me. Also, I'm allergic. Fancy’s drug problem is and has been the elephant in the room ever since the shoot — yes, Fancy knew that she had a problem. Yes, she did meow at me, I've never denied that. What happened with Fancy is going to echo in my mind for the rest of my life.  I don’t think I’ll ever stop asking myself whether I pushed her too hard, not hard enough, or whether I gave her too few or too many kisses. Hector, on the other hand, was a sweet boy and I loved working with him.

The crew tried to kill me during the shoot, and I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly forgive them. The production was a test of endurance (we shot for fifteen weeks in one room), and I think all of us went a little loopy. There are lots of funny stories. For example, when we were filming the bathroom scene, the director of photography Gideon de Villiers lured me under a table by dangling a seashell on a stick, beat me unconscious with a macro lens, took my clothes, and then walked around pretending to be me for 150 hours. He even went to my birthday party and none of my friends knew it wasn’t me and went to a water park with my mom and even she couldn't tell the difference (plus, they both said it was their favorite day ever).  By this point we were running pretty behind schedule so we had to cut about 95% of the script.  It was all a big, crazy ride & I’ll never forget it.

All in all, CHOCOLATE HEART was a complete misunderstanding.  Most of the time, I just try not to think about it. But there’s one thing you should know. The film is a direct record of events that transpired in real time over the course of about seven minutes in a single take without any cuts or special effects.  At least that's what I’ve heard. I haven't seen it.  My friend saw it, he told me about it.  I don’t watch the movies after I direct them.

- Harrison Atkins (www.harrisonatkins.com)