AlumniStories: Greg Borman

Award-winning filmmaker asks, “What’s your susceptibility?”
Abbey Goers | May 14, 2019

UW-Stout alumni Greg Borman likes to draw. A lot. In high school, he liked reading graphic novels and designing his own characters. So, it made sense for him to attend UW-Stout’s School of Art & Design’s Comics and Sequential Art program.

When Borman found it difficult to keep up with the workload, Professor Kevin Pontuti suggested a new path. So, Borman enrolled in Pontuti’s Digital Cinema class.

“I took a chance on it and ended up falling in love with filmmaking,” Borman said. “I loved the freedom of going out with a DSLR and making films. It was a lot of fun.”

Greg Borman presenting his award at the LA Underground Film Forum.
Borman with his award at the LA Underground Film Forum. / Ursula Husted

Inspirations in Filmmaking

Borman switched his major to Entertainment Design with a concentration in Digital Cinema. Under Professor Pontuti’s inspirational influence, Borman’s creativity flourished. He had found someone with shared interests in the types of movies he liked to watch and create. Dr. Ursula Husted also served as a mentor for Borman, encouraging him to create his best work.

But when Borman started his senior show project in Fall 2017, he wasn’t satisfied with his work. After weeks of planning a film, he had lost interest in it. Sitting in his armchair at 1 a.m., he realized he was staring into his phone.

Inspired by his own behaviors, Borman focused on self-destructive obsessions for his new film. Returning to his talent for designing characters, he developed 25 people with different obsessions.

In his Transmedia Studio, Borman studied the work of experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage. He learned there are many other ways that narrative to make films and tell stories visually. Borman decided to tell his characters’ stories through their actions and through sound.

Borman narrowed down his cast to four. And in the end, it was a balance of three who spoke the most to him: Makeup Abuser, Phone Addict and Nail Biter.

Through these three characters, Borman’s experimental film “Susceptible” was born. The film explores the interior struggles of obsession and anxiety. It follows its characters who are horrifyingly consumed by their own obsessions.

“The film digs deep into our emotions and pulls at something dark within us,” Borman said.

 

Greg Borman speaking at the LA Underground Film Forum
Borman speaking at the LA Underground Film Forum. / Ursula Husted

A Dark Film Shines in the Spotlight

Borman entered “Susceptible” in the 2018 Deep Cut Film Festival in Kitchener, Ontario and in the 2018 LA Underground Film Forum. He found the festivals on Filmfreeway, a website for submitting to festivals all over the world.

“The most important thing when submitting your film is to find the festivals that it will fit into,” explained Borman. “Both of these festivals seemed to have weird tastes, so I submitted because I thought “Susceptible” would fit right in.”

At Deep Cut Film Festival, “Susceptible” was featured in the horror block of films: “The KW Creep Show.” Borman wasn’t surprised his film was categorized this way.

“It’s hard to watch in a kind of gross-you-out sort of way, which a lot of horror does,” Borman said. “But it also digs deep into our psyche and forces us to watch what could essentially be ourselves spiraling out of control.”

“Susceptible” was awarded the Deep Cut Audio Award for the film’s sound design. Recorded with no external audio, “Susceptible” was shot silently. Borman foleyed all the sounds with his friend and fellow filmmaker, James Wells.

The feedback Borman received called his film a visual creep-fest. Its soundtrack leaves an impression long after the film ends. The audio for each character is so distinct, the sounds seem to take on characters of their own.

“It starts off rather tame, but by the end of the film we hear all the sounds together and it’s overwhelming,” Borman said. “I think that is what really sticks with people after the film.”

“I won’t give away all our secrets, but the nail-picking and biting sounds we recorded are real,” Borman said. “The makeup smearing is some tuna pasta salad I found in the back of the fridge.”

(Gross. And very creative.)

 

Frances Martin and Caroline Van Vliet on the set of "Susceptible."
Frances Martin and Caroline Van Vliet on the set of "Susceptible." / Greg Borman

At LA Underground, “Susceptible” won Best Underground Short and Audience Choice awards. At both film fests, Borman’s favorite part of the screenings was hearing the audiences squirm when they heard the fingernails.

“It left an impression on those who saw it at the LA Underground,” Borman said. “Maybe it won Audience Choice because the audience couldn’t get those fingernails out of their heads.”

Aside from Nail Biter’s audio, the visuals for the character are horrifyingly realistic. Frances Martin, also a Stout student, was the makeup artist for Nail Biter, played by Caroline Van Vliet.

“While we were filming, Frances was outside with Caroline working on the bloody fingernail makeup,” recalled Borman. “When they came in and showed me, I was disgusted. It looked so real! It was perfect.”

 

Still of the character Makeup Abuser from Greg Borman's short film "Susceptible."
Still of the character Makeup Abuser from "Susceptible." / Greg Borman

“Susceptible”

We meet each character as they are lying down. They are vulnerable and alone.

Our first character, Makeup Abuser, sits up in bed and puts on her glasses. After she showers, she looks at herself in a foggy mirror. Her vision of herself is distorted and cloudy.

She covers her facial blemishes, starting with small dabs. She moves on to coating her entire face with thick layers of cover-up. She furiously streaks on red lipstick. Her scenes are accompanied by sounds of blotting, smearing, and painting.

 

Still of the character Phone Addict from Greg Borman's short film "Susceptible."
Still of the character Phone Addict from "Susceptible." / Greg Borman

Our second character, Phone Addict, is asleep in bed. His phone rests with him, dominating the foreground. The screen is static.

When he wakes, he stares blindly at the screen, scrolling and scrolling. All we hear is static. Nothingness. There is nothing on the screen. Is there nothing in his mind?

Our third character, Nail Biter, is lying prone on a purple sofa. She is dressed in a dark blue suit. Her hands are prominent on the screen, resting vertically across her horizontal body. Their light color contrasted against dark clothing and furniture.

Throughout her scenes, she is aware of her obsession with picking and biting her nails. But her hands seem to have a mind of their own. And we can hear each pick, bite, and tear.

Each character’s obsession morphs into the realm of horror.

Makeup Abuser enters a darkened club. Strobe lights flash. She is pale with striking red lips. Almost zombie-esque in her appearance and aimless movements. She makes out with a stranger, leaving her lipstick stained on his lips like blood.

 

Still of the character Nail Biter from Greg Borman's short film "Susceptible."
Still of the character Nail Biter from "Susceptible." / Greg Borman

Nail Biter’s attitude shifts from indifference to disgust to dread as she watches her fingers transform, raw and bloody.

There is a cosmetic connection made between the female characters. With the scene switching from Nail Biter’s red fingers at her teeth to Makeup Abuser’s red lips. A closeup of their mouths foretells of their all-consuming obsessions.

Phone Addict continues to stare blindly at the screen. Black ooze seeps from the screen, runs down his hands, into his eyes, nose, and mouth. His jaw moves and he seems to swallow the ooze. He is consumed by his obsession as he consumes nothingness.

Upcoming Projects and Final Thoughts

Borman graduated in December 2017. He currently works at Eagan Television in Eagan, MN as a videographer and editor. His upcoming personal projects include directing “PIGS.” The short film is by Jackson Groskreutz, who played Phone Addict in “Susceptible.”

Borman believes he hasn’t done his job as a filmmaker if “Susceptible” doesn’t leave a lasting impression on his viewers. He hopes his unconventional film is the kind people want to talk about after watching it.

To his fellow filmmakers and creatives, especially students, Borman advises them to create what speaks to you.

“Not everyone will like it, not everyone has to like it, but hopefully they can appreciate it,” Borman said. “And attend film festivals!”

Borman was flattered many of his friends were able to attend LA Underground. His is thankful to Kevin, Lexi, Gus, Sabrina, Jack, and Josh for being there. He was surprised and thrilled about his three awards from two film festivals.

“I just wanted people to see my film,” Borman said. “It definitely gave me a confidence boost as a filmmaker!”

Watch “Susceptible” on Borman’s home page.


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