Mitchel Viernes is a filmmaker from Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. After receiving his first video camera as a birthday gift when he was 10, he followed his passion for visual storytelling while attending Moanalua High School, and eventually went on to receive his Bachelor of Media and Creative Technology at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. Mitchel has since produced several short films and become heavily involved in the local filmmaking scene. In 2017, he received the ‘Ohina Greenlight Award for his Hawaiʻi Science Fiction short Kālewa under the mentorship of Black Panther co-writer Joe Robert Cole. Kālewa went on to premiere at festivals around the country and internationally.
Q & A
If the world you created in your film became a reality, is that a world you would want to live in? Is there a Sci-Fi world you’d buy a one-way ticket to?
I definitely think that if the world Kālewa takes place in became a reality, I’d want to live there. Hawai’i is and always will be home to me, and in the vision of the future where Kālewa takes place, though there are advancements in technology the heart and values that make Hawai’i such a special place remain the same. If there’s one place I’d want to buy a one-way ticket to, it would probably be Pandora from “Avatar” but ONLY under the condition that I would exist as one of the Na’avi, not a human.
Name a Sci-Fi character you relate to on a spiritual level? Who is your Sci-Fi spirit animal/spirit alien?
I feel like I relate to Ellie from “Contact” on a very deep level. I would say I share the same level of passion for what I love to do and can be idealistic to a fault.
Friend or Foe: humanoid robots with advanced artificial intelligence? What if robots start making their own Sci-Fi films? Will you support them in their endeavors?
While I always enjoy the entertainment value that comes from robots with A.I. becoming malevolent, I get a very wholesome feeling from them being kind characters. Andrew from “Bicentennial Man” is a favorite movie android of mine, and I’d certainly support him if he wanted to make his own sci-fi film.
In 1996, Bugs Bunny recruited Michael Jordan and Bill Murray to form the greatest basketball squad of all-time, the Tune Squad; you’re Bugs, who’s on your Sci-Fi Tune Squad?
I know for sure I would want Marvin the Martian on my team, he’s always been my favorite Looney Tune character.
You’ve gotta go through some bad ideas to get to the good ones. Tell us one of your bad ideas. How do you get past the bad ones to find your spark?
Since high school I’ve always had this really lame idea of a story around a flying car race that had the big World Grand Prix take place on a course around the Hawaiian islands that was insanely cheesy and ripped off every existing car-race movie cliche in existence (although a guilty side of me still wants to do it for fun). I think getting past the bad ideas isn’t always necessarily the perspective to have, but rather continuing to troubleshoot what works and what doesn’t through trial and error to get to the golden ideas. I think the “bad” ideas are vital in the process to find that “spark”.
Do you consider yourself part of a sci-fi community? Or when your brain is in the future and your body’s in the present, is that isolating?
I don’t think I would label it as a “sci-fi” community, but the film community in Hawai’i is so special and thriving and whenever I have a sci-fi idea colleagues are always willing to listen. I definitely think there’s room to have much more Hawai’i centered science fiction stories.
Do you consider yourself more of an analog or digital person? What kind of balance do strike between the two? Is there a disconnect between the technology you make films about and the technology that you make films with?
I definitely consider myself more of an analog person, although I absolutely love the idea of analog film and stand by making sure it stays alive. I haven’t actually had the opportunity to work with actual film yet, but it’s something I know I would love the chance to do someday.
When you’re creating the props and sets that make a new world, where do you look for inspiration? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
The whole creative process behind making props and costumes that fill a world you’ve created is one of the most fun aspects of science fiction to me. There’s so much range when it comes to the kind of style you want to go with, but I personally love a more grounded, grungy approach to making props that value practicality over design. I feel when you approach a design from prioritizing how a prop would practically work in your world over a fancy design, there’s a realism to it that makes it feel familiar and grounded.
Lightning round: Star Wars or Star Trek? Philip K. Dick or William S. Burroughs? Practical or CGI? Dystopia or Utopia? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
Star Wars all day every day. I’m unfortunately not familiar with William S. Burroughs at all, so I’ll have to say Philip. Always a blend of practical and CGI. Dystopia. Post Apocalypse.