Behind The Scenes of Hex Cougar’s Short Film: Interviews on “Under the Light of a Dying Moon”

Hex Cougar recently released the short film  “Under the Light of a Dying Moon, a storytelling masterpiece that is immersive and pairs perfectly with the EP. This project represents a pivotal moment in Hex Cougar’s journey as an artist. Luckily, with the help of his tight-knit and experienced team, “Under the Light of a Dying Moon” came to life. I virtually sat down with Hex Cougar, co-director Cody Burkhardt, and leading actress Sumi Oshima to learn more about the process behind the making of the short film “Under the Light of a Dying Moon”

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When listening to your EP, it’s not just a grouping of random singles—there is a cohesiveness behind the entire project, and this short film is part of the overall narrative. How did the concept of “Under the Light of a Dying Moon” come about? 

The idea behind the EP was always to create something that was greater than the sum of its parts, an entire experience that’s meant to be heard together. It’s something I’d never done before as an artist, releasing only singles in my career up until this point, and I wanted to challenge myself to create something bigger and better than ever. The theme behind the EP is very much about finding my path and sound as an artist, and it’s inspired by my own journey as Hex Cougar. The “dying moon” is symbolically a waning/crescent moon, and I wanted this EP to represent the idea of falling entirely under my own brand and style (since my logo is a crescent moon). It’s very much about creating a universe that my music and project both live in.

An artist will use visuals, music videos, and film to convey a message or story behind their work and who they are. How does this film complement your EP and overall vision for your work and your identity as an artist?

Falling in line with the themes behind the EP, I wanted this project to be more than just a simple picture of my sound—I wanted it to be a full encapsulation of who Hex Cougar is and what the project is all about. I felt that the only way to expand the scope of that representation was to create a visual accompaniment that not only fits into the themes of the EP, but takes it in new directions. It helps cement the world I’m trying to create, and brings my fans into it. The process of translating my music into a visual story was very similar to actually putting the EP itself together, to be honest. Coming up with the themes behind it, figuring out how each aspect fits into the greater picture, and making sure that it all aligns together was super challenging but also really fun to work through. Definitely one of the tougher things I’ve had to do.

What are some of the things you loved the most about this project, and what are you most excited for viewers to see?

My favorite part about this project was getting to work with some of my closest friends and family to create something incredibly unique and special to me—there’s no feeling like that. In terms of what I’m most excited for viewers to see [is] the incredible acting and VFX work that got poured into this. It took almost two months to finish putting this thing together with all the bells and whistles. I’m so proud of it and I hope viewers can explore it and discover new details every time they watch it.

Follow Hex Cougar on Twitter and Instagram.

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Throughout this film, you take the lead as our protagonist as we follow you through a challenging and haunting journey. Can you tell us more about the character you play and how you interpret her through your acting and dancing?

In the beginning, my character had a lot of fear but was weak; she wanted to be independent, but she was afraid to face everything around her. She slowly became more independent and let go of her fear. When I was in her character—instead of becoming stronger—it was more like she found her strength and regained power that she had forgotten.

As the star of the film and an esteemed dancer, your choreography takes the viewer deeper into the mysterious world depicted in the film. What was the choreography process like, and how did you interpret the story through your dance?

I never actually choreographed anything for this film, I only did freestyle. But I listened to Hex Cougar’s music and did imagination training to make sure that my movements matched his music, and I never felt that his music was hard to perform to. It wasn’t just about my movements, but also facial expression. [I focused on] how I looked: sad, angry, confused, surprised, and mysterious without forcing the expression too much. I wanted to make sure that everything I did  looked natural for the whole film and I never struggled to connect my movements and expressions to the feelings of his music in this whole film process.

There’s a fighting scene that takes place in this film, which was coordinated by Tim Neff. What was it like working with him on this scene? How did you as the main character and dancer make sure the fighting scene complimented your dancing throughout the film?

I think the fight scene was my most favorite part in the film, I always wanted to learn fighting. The crazy part was that before production on this film started, I was imagining myself as a superhero who lives in nature and has crazy powers. So when Cody told me about the story, I was like wow! My dream came true so quickly! The only thing was that I’ve never acted before or learned fighting choreography. So to learn fight choreography  from Tim was my biggest memory to me in this film. He taught me a lot of different forms of fighting and gave me a lot of his knowledge within our two days of rehearsal. For my acting, I tried to be natural as best I can. I am in character, but I am Sumi. I was trying to combine and show what Sumi can do if she is in this character. The most challenging part was even though I may have clean form, I had to make sure my facial expressions and fighting matched. We made sure that everything combined made the film look amazing, and I’m really happy with how my fighting scene with Tim came out.

Follow Sumi Oshima on Instagram.

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What is the story behind “Under the Light of a Dying Moon” that you’re aiming to tell with this full length film? 

In my head, there are a lot of stories that could be interpreted from the film. In the most literal sense, it’s the journey of a hero to overcome the shadows within and complete the ritual of the dying moon. Tarun [Raj, co-director] and I decided to create a mini-hero’s journey starring one central character. In my head, only one person could possibly do everything that we had planned while leading the entire film, and that was Sumi Oshima. As a dancer, she has an innate understanding of rhythm and performance that was pivotal for this piece in particular. Her skills translated nicely to some of the more in-sync performances we had in mind, and she was clearly a talented dancer in her own right. In the end, she was perfect, and truly led the film in a way that no one else could have.

What was the creative process and collaboration with Tarun and the team like in conveying a cohesive storyline throughout the film that aligned with the story of the EP?

The EP itself is varied yet cohesive, and we wanted the story to convey that as well. It was crucial during the writing process to make sure that each song had its own unique look and feel. To do this, Tarun and I assigned each of the first five songs one of the five elements, and looked to both that element and the song to guide the style within the scene.

Once we picked our elements, we asked ourselves “How does this element look, move, and feel?” Not surprisingly, the style changes quite a bit through the film. For example, Tarun and I knew the matching element for “Drowning in My Dreams” was going to be water. Things like smooth camera movements, slow motion, and oversaturated cool colors were going to work really well. With an abrasive song like “Hourglass,” the element we went with was earth. Frenetic hand held camera movements, quick cuts, and a barren warm palette fit nicely there. 

After picking our elements, I created the shot list and worked through it with the cinematographer, Matthew Halla. This is where we really nailed the progression of the shots through the song. We took our floaty ideas of dream shots and created a plan that could work on set.

Prop choice was crucial as well. Our production designer Phillip Fraser is really into esoteric symbolism, and had this awesome kit of carved rose quartz platonic solids. He explained to us that each solid is a direct representation of one of the five elements, a perfect objective correlative for the elements in our story. These solids ended up being integral to our story, serving as a symbol of completion through each of Sumi’s elemental trials.

What are some of the things you loved the most about this project, and what are you most excited for viewers to see?

I love collaborating with Hex Cougar, and am so grateful to have such a talented artist and friend trusting in our vision. This was my first time on set with Tarun and his production company FWD FUTURE, and I loved working with all of them to bring this crazy idea of ours to life. Sumi and Tim were amazing as well—100% troopers that never once complained about anything we were throwing at them. They’re true performers that not only accomplished, but excelled at bringing their characters to life.

I’m most excited to hear the overall interpretation of the piece as a whole, and see what the fans think we’re trying to say. The story is much more symbolic than literal, leaving a lot of room to muse and wonder about the elemental’s journey “Under the Light of a Dying Moon”.

Follow Cody Burkhardt on Instagram.

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There’s something to be said about having the opportunity to collaborate artistically with friends and family. Sometimes we can be hesitant to work with those we love, in fear of failing them or their vision. But I argue the most successful people always had a team behind them, and when it’s a family/friend affair, it becomes very personable for others. It could be said that Hex Cougar’s partnership with supportive friends and family is what helped the short film turn out so well. This is a team that understands Hex Cougar’s vision and music on a more personal and meaningful level than others, and therefore they were able to create a final product that truly reflected it. The release of “Under the Light of a Dying Moon” is a continuation of Hex Cougar’s exciting creative journey, and I look forward to seeing his next project.

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