With one somber PBS documentary and a second project about “negative addictions” under his belt, William D. Caballero wanted to lighten the mood for his next film. That’s when he started giving a close listen to the rambling phone messages left by his Puerto Rican grandfather. “I’d laugh and play them for my friends,” Caballero recalls. “I realized I should do something with the voice mails because I felt like my grandpa’s messages had a universal quality that anybody could identify with.”
But instead of crafting a conventional documentary portrait of the colorful old man,Caballero twisted technologies to his own filmmaking ends and made the hilariously charming How You Doin’ Boy.
Featuring an emotive cast of 3-D printed “Grandpa” figurines voiced by voice mail audio, the four-minute short screens at San Francisco’s Disposable Film Festival. Running April 9 through 12, the festival celebrates movies made with non-professional gear and cheap technologies. Standout entries this year include Signal Strength, which uses Skype to coordinate an “orchestra” of musicians performing in subway stations throughout New York City; and Mayokaro, a visual effects showcase animating classic album covers as singing heads.
Caballero is no stranger to tiny heroes. He populated 2012 short Seed Story with figures normally used by model railroad hobbyists. But for How You Doin’ Boy, he needed customized Grandpa doppelgangers. Through the online film production directory mandy.com, Caballero recruited South Korean digital artist Chang Kim. “I emailed Chang some photos and he sent me back 3-D images that looked like my grandpa but also exaggerated his height and his stocky frame,” Caballero says. “They were perfect.”
After modeling a variety of poses and facial expressions to serve as inspiration for Chang’s renderings, Caballero forwarded the resulting digital files to Brooklyn-based Seth Burney, who 3-D printed two dozen versions of Grandpa. Cabellero says, “Most of the Grandpas came out of the 3-D printer as creamy beige-colored polymer resin, so my wife and I got acrylic paints at the art store and painted all the different Grandpas at the kitchen table.”
With his inch-tall protagonist primed for action, Caballero drove from his New Jersey home to North Carolina and shot the short film’s co-star: a 20th-century rotary dial telephone, in his grandfather’s house. As a final touch, Caballero used Flash software to transform his grandfather’s handwriting samples into a custom font that spells out voice messages on screen.
Encouraged by the warm response to How You Doin’ Boy, Caballero has now created an interactive spin-off in which the 86-year-old patriarch answers questions submitted by visitors to the Gran’pa Knows Best website. Borrowing a page from Sh#t My Dad Says, which migrated from Twitter feed to CBS sitcom, Caballero says he and co-executive producer Elaine Del Valle are finalizing a deal with a major network to present Gran’pa Knows Best as a TV series.
Caballero, a Gates Millennium Scholar who attended Pratt Institute and New York University, hastens to make one thing clear. Even though How You Doin’ Boy presents one unanswered call after another, Caballero insists he’s not as neglectful as one might think. “I sound like the worst grandson that ever existed but that’s just through the magic of editing,” he laughs. “I can assure you, I call my grandpa back quite often.”