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Best of Tacoma 2010 Readers' Poll: Best Local Filmmakers, Isaac Olsen and Rick Gratzer

The two young Tacoma filmmakers tied in votes

ISAAC OLSEN: He’ll have to step it up next year if he wants to break the tie with Rick Gratzer. Original photo courtesy of MySpace

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When I learned Rick Gratzer and Isaac Olsen had tied for Best Filmmaker in the Weekly Volcano 2010 Best of Tacoma Readers’ Poll, it made perfect sense to me. It couldn’t really have been anyone else.

Both young filmmakers (26 and 24, respectively), Gratzer and Olsen have consistently contributed standout films to the 72-Hour Film Festival. Beginning with Early Bird in the second year of the festival, Gratzer firmly established that he and his team of friends and actors have a knack for the silly and absurd. In the 72-Hour’s first year, Olsen set a standard with his inventive photography and a comedic noir style with Good Things in the Middle.

In the years since, both filmmakers have grown and started to perfect their craft, most recently resulting in each premiering their debut feature-length films.

When asked about the films that have influenced him, Gratzer’s picks are unpretentious and surprisingly revealing.

“I’m a huge fan of Little Giants and The Sandlot,” says Gratzer. “Another good one is The Monster Squad - It’s very much in league with stuff like The Goonies and Stand by Me, where it’s like a bunch of little kids but they’re cursing up a storm, and it’s really kind of bizarre. But that genre’s really appealing to me.

“(I like) Star Wars, Indiana Jones, that kind of thing. I would love to make movies like that, it’s just that they’re impossible,” Gratzer laughs.

Olsen’s films — although they’re a far cry from Star Wars, to be sure — make an admirable effort to be more visually inventive, while still working with a tiny budget. While both Olsen and Gratzer made short films when they were kids, Olsen’s original aspirations were slightly different.

“I started out wanting to be an animator, and very single-mindedly exploring that,” Olsen says. “I would buy mounds of paper and do that whole thing and even bought some celluloid — some big plastic frames — and I would ink those in, and even do some with an 8mm camera so I could really do it a frame at a time. Later on, I got into more ambitious filmmaking in general.”

Olsen’s early experience in the world of animation shows in all of his films, but especially Quiet Shoes, his recent feature film. When private dick Rick Savage pulls out a gun the size of a golden retriever from his breast pocket, one’s first thought is of Bugs Bunny.

“Sometimes I’ll use film as animation,” Olsen continues. “I’ll take frames and just play with those, and really just build it up out of tiny bits.”

What really makes Rick Gratzer and Isaac Olsen such interesting, exciting filmmakers (at least partially) is their love of movies. Just talking with them, I got several recommendations.

Gratzer wants me to see the original animated Transformers: The Movie from 1986, which features Orson Welles’ last role as Unicron — a planet that eats other planets.

Meanwhile, Olsen took advantage of the Grand Cinema’s one-week-only screening of Hausu, the batshit crazy Japanese movie from the ‘70s, which he says blew his mind, and has given him a new outlook on the possibilities of filmmaking.

I can’t wait to see what they do next.

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