Smoke pans across the screen as the main character, the only character, flickers into focus in the short film, above,"AWAY."
"This is the only way I know how to tell my story," he says.
From then on, a captivating tale unfolds, taking viewers from the city to the wilderness, beneath forests to tops of mountains, soaring through the most incredible landscape sans distractions.
It's hard to believe the director and producer, Zach Zombek, worked on next-to-no budget, traveling over 10,000 miles, funded entirely out of his own pocket, with a team small enough to count on one hand.
But he did.
"The film is basically a parallel to my own heart over the past five or six years... And the end of the the film exists as a point of ultimate discovery and revelation," Zombek tells A+ in an email.
Zombek says the process of creating "AWAY" was unorthodox. After conceiving the idea from a single image in his head, Zombek took three years to film, edit, score and create his work.
Through this process, Zombek explains his visions for the film moved away from their initial motivations into a much "deeper, much more meaningful, and much more important" project.
To limit expenses, Zombek slept in his car, traveling alongside friend Anthony Gomez, who also holds the film's lead acting and co-producing roles.
The film took Zombek to Yosemite, Sequoia National Park, Sonoma Coast, Big Bear, Palomar Mountain, Pisgah Crater and Arizona.
Being in these vast and insanely beautiful locations was incredible humbling and has transformed both of us [Zombek and Gomez] into such explorers and adventure seekers. It's interesting to see how nature is so unique and inconsistent; it was always a completely new experience each time we returned to the same place.
Zombek tells A+ his faith is a major source of inspiration. Paralleling important parts of his own life, he aimed to present them in a way that allows people to draw their own conclusions about their own lives.
"That's why I like films so much, because I can go and see someone's vision and be affected by that vision... Films just make me think."
Zombek tells A+ he hasn't necessarily always wanted to be a filmmaker, but he knew he wanted to do something creative. He dabbled in being a Lego master builder, an architect, a web designer and then, finally, a filmmaker.
Most of what he knows about the craft came from experimenting and practicing his techniques. "What's interesting too, is that I have learned probably 90% of everything I know about cinematography, visual effects and film scoring while creating 'AWAY,'" Zombek says.
Zombek reminds other filmmakers that "we're always going to be a student. Always learning. Failing on some projects, succeeding on others. But still taking away something on each project."
With this sort of mindset, he says, filmmakers will be more open to experimenting with their craft and adjusting to new forms of technology.
"There's always something to learn on each project, and in every walk of life."
"The human connection we all share isn't based upon something we can comprehend or understand, but we need it," Zombek narrates in the film.
To quote the film on human connection, transcendence, nature, life, and faith (or whatever else you may take away on your own): "This end is just the beginning."
Currently, Zombek is a film student at Cal State University of Long Beach. Later, he hopes to run his own collaborative production company Convolv, using "video medium for more than just monetary profit, but to tell the stories that need to be told."
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