We had the good fortune of connecting with Evan Koehne and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Evan, we’d love to start by asking you about lessons learned. Is there a lesson you can share with us?
When I was young, I wanted to be everything – a writer, a director, an artist, a musician, an animator. But the most important lesson I’ve learned from my career as an Art Director is that focusing yourself in one area is actually the quickest way to expand your creative possibilities. I started working in the world of Stop Motion Animation, and immediately found myself drawn to the art department. I wasn’t the best builder or fabricator, but I was a hard worker, and I displayed a knack for learning the craft. But something was wrong – I didn’t feel like it was my “calling.” So I started taking jobs outside art department, trying my hand as an animator, a rigger, a storyboard artist, a production coordinator. Every time I thought I was getting to the job that would kick-start my burgeoning film career, but none of them took off the way I expected. I believe creative people are naturally curious and open-minded. We want to EXPAND, to take on new challenges and constantly reinvent ourselves. But this leaves us open to being unfocused and distracted, leaving one pursuit before we’ve mastered it. It was like this for me. I derailed myself from the work I was naturally drawn to, trying my hand at other pursuits which I thought would get me closer to my ultimate goal(s). I’m glad I took the long, winding path – it taught me a lot, and I’ve learned valuable skills I can apply to jobs in the future. But It wasn’t until I returned to work in the art department that I was able to truly put my skills to use. Focusing on one area where you display a knack or talent is far more useful than banging your head against a wall, trying to force an idea of yourself into reality. Making the effort to focus on one discipline for a time helps build your confidence. It builds skills you can take pride in. Most importantly, it prepares you to accept responsibility – responsibility for your work, for your work ethic, and for your crew. And my journey is far from over. Now I’m in a position to utilize my reputation as an Art Director to continue furthering my original goals of writing, directing, and drawing. I’m currently writing and illustrating a sci-fi/fantasy YA novel, and this year, I’ll be writing, producing and directing my own short films again. Having run a team of artists, I have the confidence to run a film crew as a Director. I can leverage my reputation as a competent Art Director to prove to myself and others that I have what it takes to direct my own films. I know, it’s ironic – I still want it all. But my career has taught me the importance of focusing my energy in one particular direction at a time. How you do one thing is how you do everything. So take the time to learn to do one thing really well. It will teach you how to do everything else well too.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Ever since I was seven years old, I wanted to be a filmmaker. I devoured movies and learned about them constantly, dissecting and analyzing all the details about story, cinematography, and editing. From fourth grade into college, I was always drawing, filming and editing short films. I knew I wanted to write and direct movies. At 25, I came out to Los Angeles to pursue that dream. But I realized pretty quickly that my bachelor’s degree in Film & Media Studies didn’t mean I knew the first thing about really making movies. As an introverted kid from Northern California, coming into close contact with the fast-paced world of movie production was overwhelming to me. I struggled for a long time to find where I fit in. I was lucky enough to discover the world of Stop Motion Animation, where I found the perfect mix of film aficionados and artistic weirdos. I fell in with the art department, where my knack for designing and building sets was fostered, and I worked my way up to becoming an Art Director. I’m proud of the career I’ve built in Stop Motion Animation. But the biggest challenge for me was always building up the courage to say something meaningful in my own work, to express something true and honest. I’ve struggled a lot to develop my confidence and find my voice. So this year, I’m taking on the challenge of telling my own stories. I’m currently working on “Beat City,” a graphic novel that’s been kicking around in my head for a long time. An action adventure tale set in a futuristic city, the tale revolves around a young girl named Elsie who discovers a magical substance called The Goo. She must learn its secrets before the evil corporation Boggle uses it to destroy the entire city. It’s going to be a really exciting adventure tale, inspired by the movies, comic books and books from my childhood. You can check it out “Beat City” on Instagram at @beatcityart) I’m also developing short films with plans to direct later this year, stories which will utilize the skills and knowledge I’ve learned during my time in Stop Motion. I want to make films with the same practical effects as movies from my youth. I believe movies need to have a more tactile feel, and I aim to bring that back. You can get links to my short films on Instagram at @evankoehne. As artists, filmmakers and story-tellers, I believe it’s not just our right to express ourselves – it’s our duty. When we take on the responsibility of expressing ourselves, we play an important role in shaping humanity, and we give others like us the courage to find their own voices as well. What I want young story-tellers to know, or any creative people struggling to find their voice, is that everyone deserves to have their story told – and even the quiet ones deserve to be heard.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I love my Eastside hot spots – It’s unfortunate that I haven’t been going to them regularly ever since COVID hit. But assuming a world sans social distancing will return, here’s a tour of the best places Eastside LA has to offer: • Breakfast at House of Pies, a local Los Feliz staple. Get anything on the menu, it’s all going to be incredible. • For dinner and a hangout with the buds, we’d go to Crawford’s for a $3 Budweiser in a chilled stein, and an order of Fried Chicken that’s just to die for. This hole-in-the-wall is one of the best bars in LA, but if it’s too crowded, you can always visit it’s satellite operation in Burbank, Crawford’s Pass. • For a night on the town, we’d have to head to Clifton’s Republic. It’s a building full of LA history, with a cafeteria that’s been around since the 1930’s, taxidermied animals lining the walls, and a giant tree built into the center of the three-story bar. The dance floor is hopping, with both club tunes on the main floor and swing dancing on certain nights of the week. And don’t forget the hidden tiki bar… no, I’m not telling you where it is. You’ll just have to find it for yourself. • To catch a showcase of the local music talent, The Bootleg Theatre is a must-see. Local acts make this venue a place to go to see the latest and greatest the LA music scene has to offer. • If you’re feeling old school, you can’t beat Funky Sole Night at The Echo. Funk and soul tunes always make for a night of rambunctious, groovy dancing. • Tiki-Ti may be the world’s smallest Tiki Bar, but it’s also one of the most special. • Back before Covid, Secret Movie Club was putting on Midnight Movie screenings at the Vista Theater, but since the shut down of most movie theaters in LA, they’ve begun doing drive-in movies in various locations… which, if you ask me, makes it even better. The curators put together incredible double features, and always present the movie with fun facts before the screening. A must-attend for movie nerds.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are too many people that have helped me on my strange and eclectic journey as a creative professional, but there are three I’d like to shout out. Screen Novelties is without a doubt one of the best stop motion animation studios in Los Angeles. They helped me break in to the business, giving me a job when I knew absolutely nothing. Ancient Order of the Wooden Skull deserves props as well – they’re another independent animation studio that produces eclectic, incredible work, and they gave me my first job as an Art Director. Finally, I have to thank Jeff White, a fellow Art Director with an incredible wealth of knowledge. He took me under his wing, trusted my capabilities when I wasn’t sure of them myself, and gave me the confidence to pursue my more daring career goals.
Other: Beat City, a graphic novel: @beatcityart Evan Koehne’s Film Portfolio: @evankoehne
Tommi Arneson Nick Gonzales