Zoe Eisenberg [Interview]


Aloha Folks, and Happy Friday to you all. Today we have a wonderful interview that we sort of teased to you all during our Sunday Matinee this week, and one that you are absolutely going to love! It’s Zoe Eisenberg! Zoe is a writer, director, and producer of the incredible indie film we previously gushed over entitled Stoke. And in between the time of our coverage of the film and this interview, the film is now available! It is seriously one of the best films of the year, and an absolute must see.

And after checking out this lovely film, I simply had to reach out to the folks involved with the making of this genius piece of art, and Zoe was kind enough to take some time out of her busy life on the big island to answer a few questions. We discuss Stoke in detail, the film community of Hawaii, and what made her want to join the world of filmmaking, which we are so damn delighted that she did, as she is a rare gem in a sea of mediocrity and has been creating some of the best work in recent years.

So Folks, please enjoy some wonderful words from an incredibly talented individual, the great Zoe Eisenberg!




What inspired you to get into the world of film? Was it an early aspiration you can always remember having? Or did you just happen to find yourself in this world one day?

I’ve always been interested in storytelling, and my formal education is in creative writing, so I entered filmmaking from the screenwriting side. My best friend from high school, Phillips Payson, is a filmmaker, and in 2013 he asked me to write a screenplay for him. I did, and then I ended up producing that film as well, because we needed a producer and I’ve always had a knack for project management. During that process I found out I love producing (and Phillips, it turned out, plot twist, we just got married). That first film we did is called Throuple, a weird dark comedy also set on Hawaii island, where we live. Since Throuple, we’ve done three more films together– a short, a documentary called Aloha From Lavaland, and Stoke, our fourth film but our second narrative feature.

What was your very first paid gig in the world of film production? And where there any sort of lessons learned from this experience that you still use in your work today?

My trajectory in film production has been pretty scrappy – most of the film production work I’ve had I hired myself for. I didn’t take the traditional route of becoming a PA and working my way up, I fell into filmmaking and have since worn so many hats. I’ve been a PA, AD, props, costuming, wardrobe, makeup, I’ve wrangled extras, I’ve done a lot, because in the kind of micro-budget filmmaking I do, you don’t often have a budget to bring on someone else, so you figure out how to do a lot yourself. My sets are not the kind of sets where someone says, as not my job. That said, I’ve always had a team of people to help me, and I couldn’t have done it without them–but typically I’ve been working with a team of 10 to 20 instead of 100 or more, like on larger films.

I recently had the pleasure of checking out one of your latest films, Stoke, which was absolutely amazing. So what made you want to tell this story? 

Thank you! Stoke is about an entitled, grieving tourist who hires two wannabe tour guides to take her to Kilauea volcano. It was actually inspired by the film before it, a documentary called Aloha From Lavaland, that followed my town of Pahoas reaction to a lava flow in 2014 that threatened to cut off our only major access road, which would essentially isolate the town from the rest of the island, and the world. While working on that documentary I was interviewing dozens of people about their relationship with the lava. Our town is located right next to Kilauea volcano, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. We interviewed both people born and raised here, and people like me, transplants who knowingly, sometimes purposefully, moved into an active rift zone. As we were interviewing, we kept hearing the same thing over and over from the transplants: they came here for healing. For whatever reason, again and again this came up. They found the island’s volcanic energy healing. This made me want to tell a story about someone called to visit Hawaii island to heal, and why they feel the volcano–which destroys as it creates, simultaneously–can help them. This is the perspective I wrote our tourist character Jane from. And for our Hawaiian characters, their perspectives on lava tourism were also gleaned from the interviews we did with those born and raised here. How do they feel about so many people coming to see their volcano, and the industry that surrounds that tourism. Puna, where I live, has no hotels, so lava tourism is our only kind of tourism.Â

We also spent a long time casting our Hawaiian characters. In more mainstream cinematic history, Hawaiians have been white washed from their own stories, and we wanted to make sure the actors playing our Hawaiian characters identified with Hawaiian heritage. Even in my own previous work, in Throuple, there wasn’t a single Hawaiian character. I was new to the island and so I imported our entire cast and crew, and I’ve always regretted that, so we spent a long time trying to get that right with Stoke. Most of our cast and crew are from Hawaii, except for Jane, who we wanted to be a genuine outsider. And most of our music is also Hawaii-based. Our soundtrack has some well known artists like Willie K, Keali’i Reichel and Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu. Honestly I was very nervous asking to license their work for the film because I knew how important it was to have an authentic sound — and I couldn’t believe they said yes!



And how was your experience working on such a unique project?

We really had to go with the flow in order to safely shoot with an active volcano, and I couldn’t miss the irony about having to build our shoot around the volcano while telling a story about, among many things, reverence to nature and the contrasting human urge to try and control everything around us. There were things about the shoot I just couldn’t control.

Stoke, much like yourself, is based in Hawaii. In fact, the land is a pretty large character in itself I would say. So with that, I am curious to know what the film community in your area is like? I would guess that alot of films get made there, but what is the local scene like?

Most of our local film scene is over on Oahu, where they shoot some of the larger television shows like Hawaii, 5.0 and Magnum PI. The film scene on Big Island is much smaller, as we have limited infrastructure and only one film studio, three hours from me in Kona. That said, there is a tight knit film community across all of the islands. There has to be, because we are so isolated.

If you were given the opportunity to write and directed the biopic of any legendary figure in world history, who would it be? 

Oh wow. Great question. I would love to produce a biopic about Kahumanu, an extremely powerful figure in Hawaiian history and a women’s rights activist, but I would want to pull on a female Hawaiian director to spearhead it.Â

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

I’m currently working on a feature set in Hilo Hawaii that I plan to direct myself. I co-directed Stoke along with Phillips, so this would be my solo directorial debut. I am also the Executive Director of the Made in Hawaii Film Festival, and that keeps me pretty busy.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

My husband, probably. He cracks me up all the time. He works hard at it, too, I think. I like to give credit where credit is due.


About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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