Tristan Pope has been using new technology to create art for years. Back in 2004, he was one of the pioneers of machinima. When he saw an opportunity to create a digital set from inside the internet multiplayer role-playing game, World of Warcraft (WoW), he began work on a series of WoW films. Then, he uploaded them to websites like FilePlanet. Tristan’s machinima films were downloaded over a million times in a pre-YouTube world. It was a big deal.
Soon after Tristan graduated college, the makers of WoW at Blizzard Entertainment called him and offered him a job directing films for the game. They gave him 24 hours to accept the offer.
“A story is a story whether you shoot in 4k or 1080p.”
The problem was, Tristan wasn’t sure that he wanted to direct. He had dreamt of being an actor since he was young. In fact, when Tristan started college at City College of New York, he declared a major in acting his freshman year – even though the school advised first-year students to wait before declaring. “I’ve spoken to a lot of actors,” Tristan said, “and it turns out to be exactly the same thing. We all wanna declare acting right away. Acting is such a crazy thing to pursue, there’s nothing that can really talk you out of it.”
Tristan was sure he wanted to act. So sure, that when a director at NYU approached him and asked him to transfer after he’d spent a few years at CCNY, Tristan said no. NYU’s acting program didn’t allow students to actually get on stage until they’d been in the program for a few years, and Tristan didn’t want to wait.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of actors, and it turns out to be exactly the same thing. We all wanna declare acting right away…There’s nothing that can really talk you out of it.”
So he stayed enrolled at CCNY, and he acted. He enjoyed acting so much that he dreaded taking a directing 101 course that was required for the completion of his degree. “I put up a fight. I told my teacher, ‘what do I need this crap for?’ Eventually I was like, fine. But I’m gonna complain about it,” he said jokingly.
Tristan was surprised when he liked the class. Soon, he started to recognize “all of the little tricks” directors used on him to get results.
After Tristan worked on The Fantastics for CCNY, he realized he could direct. For Tristan, finding unique ways for actors to convey meaning and better understand the perspectives of their characters was one of his most important roles as a director. “I basically wanted to be a therapist, but I didn’t wanna go to med school,” he said. “You’re taking on everything that they [actors] have in their day. You’re trying to get them to be a character that they are not ready for.”
Tristan was divided. He’d spent his college career preparing to become an actor, but he’d developed an even greater passion for directing. It came down the pivotal 24-hour period – Blizzard Entertainment had offered him a job, but Tristan had received another call that same day – from an old director who offered him an opportunity to act. Tristan talked to his current director before he made his decision. “He said, ‘what are you enjoying right now?’ And I said, ‘directing,’ so I went to California and started my new job.”
His first project with Blizzard Entertainment was a South Park episode called, “Make Love Not Warcraft.” “We won an Emmy for that,” he said, nonchalantly. “We went down to South Park studios. I would sit down with Matt Stone and Trey Parker and we would talk about the show – what made sense in the game, what didn’t.”
Tristan spent four and a half years at Blizzard before technology started catching up with him. Eventually, the team at Blizzard found ways to automate the films he was making, which removed the interpersonal interaction that Tristan loved. Faced with another big decision, Tristan decided to leave the company. “I was going to pick up, and I was gonna start a business,” he said. “So I moved to New York.”
It was hard to start a photography business in New York. “You can make a plan, but at the end of the day you don’t really know where you’re gonna land,” Tristan said. He didn’t like jumping through hoops to photograph New York agency models. “A young girl right off the boat holding onto the arm of a 60-year-old man in some shifty nightclub, was called ‘networking,’” he said. The environment associated with photography in New York made Tristan dislike his own craft, and he wanted to make a change. “When you have a plan and that plan is not going accordingly, it’s hard to change gears quickly,” he said.
The answer, he discovered, was working with dancers. He would go to ballets and shows to meet potential clients, and finally networking became something he enjoyed.
Tristan has mastered several different roles – though ironically, several have been off the stage. Though his career is in flux, he excels at everything he’s done. After founding Tristan Pope Photography, he would go on to stretch the boundaries of modern storytelling by creating the first short films shot on an iPhone 6. Tristan pays attention to what’s fulfilling him at the moment. “I was once told that if you can’t wake up and think you are doing what you love, it’s not the job for you,” he said. “Every day that thing, for me, might be different.”
“I would sit down with Matt Stone and Trey Parker and we would talk about the show – what made sense in the game, what didn’t.”
When he filmed Dancers of NYC, he recognized that the iPhone 6 had a slow motion setting. This made footage more interesting, he explained. “Instead of capturing that perfect jump, frozen in time – to be able to show lead up and exit with that move…It was a new way of interacting.” Tristan got the iPhone 6 the day it came out, filmed 15-17 dancers for 3 days, and edited the footage on the 4th day. Since then, the film has won several awards, including the 2014-2015 Nikon Photo Contest. Following the film’s success, Tristan has since followed up with Dancers of Zurich.
“I was once told that if you can’t wake up and think you are doing what you love, it’s not the job for you. Every day that thing, for me, might be different.”
He said he never felt limited by the iPhone. “The image quality was extremely acceptable,” he said. “At times, I think it’s better than my Canon – minus the depth of field and what you would get with the $3,000 lens – but that [Dancers of NYC], inspired me to start the Kickstarter for Romance in NYC.”
Romance in NYC has been deemed “the first short film on an iPhone 6,” and it’s won an impressive amount of awards. It won at the 2015 New Media Film Festival in LA, the 2015 iPhone Film Festival, the 2015 International Movie Trailer Festival. It was also part of the official selection at the Madrid International Film Festival, the New Filmmakers of New York, and the International Mobil Film Festival.
“I was going to pick up, and I was gonna start a business. So I moved to New York.”
Tristan filmed the entire thing with an iPhone from the first person point of view. He worked with an indie-budget to produce the film, but said that he didn’t run into too many issues. Although, when filming the film’s restaurant scene, a lot of grain was introduced into the footage. “I was like, this is going to look terrible,” he said. It turned out the the footage ended up looking like film grain, and Tristan said he was taken aback by the quality.
“With any piece like this where you talk about mobile filmmaking, there’s gonna be a backlash. It’s like an argument of a foreign car vs an American, or Apple vs Android, or Mac and PC,” Tristan said. But what’s important, he stressed, is the story. “I believe it’s [the iPhone] is the best medium for telling people the stories that I want to tell. There’s this quote going around, that apparently I said but didn’t realize – ‘a story is a story whether you shoot in 4k or 1080p.’”
Tristan plans to use whatever technology he can get his hands on to communicate meaning to his audience, and he says he’ll continue to battle against conventionality, drabness, repetition, and rules.
Connect with Tristan at www.tristanpope.com
Or on Instagram: tristanpope