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Joe Penna on ‘Arctic’: ‘You Can Say So Much Without Dialogue’

More than 11 years ago, Joe Penna chose his “MysteryGuitarMan” YouTube username at 3:45 a.m. all because he wanted to post a video of himself playing guitar. Now in 2018, his “Guitar Impossible” video has over 16 million views, he’s directed a music video for Avicii, and the world premiere of his new film “Arctic” is freezing over the Croisette.

You’re originally from Brazil. You live in L.A. now. Did you miss the warm weather while you were shooting up in the Arctic

Absolutely. “Arctic” was originally set on Mars, but then we heard about “The Martian.” Shooting in Iceland was good for the film, but not for me as a Brazilian man.

Your leading man, Mads Mikkelsen, told Variety last year it was the most difficult shoot he’s ever done. Why do you think that is?

He’s in every frame of the film and understood the character so well. There’s even a shot where he’s a mile away from camera. He’s 35 pixels tall. I counted.

Mads is a famous James Bond villain. Would you ever want to direct a Bond movie? 

This was a low-budget indie. Mads called it “rock and roll filmmaking.” I’d love to do a mid-tier film. My “Arctic” writing partner and I have a script that’s a spiritual sequel.

How so?

It’s a lifeboat scenario but on a spaceship headed to Mars. Those constraints of being in a spaceship and the weight don’t allow for many characters like in “Arctic.”

So you do get to go to Mars after all.

My partner and I initially wrote a trilogy — one about the last people on Earth, and the other about a spaceship heading to Mars. The third one was on Mars.

As “Arctic” is a survivalist tale, what are the best survivalist movies that you’ve seen? What other films inspired you? 

“All Is Lost.” “The Red Turtle.” “Wall-E” proved to me you can say so much without dialogue, yet always know what he’s feeling. I knew immediately Mads could achieve that.

What was the most challenging thing for you about moving into features, as you’ve done YouTube, commercials, shorts, a TV series and music videos?

It was a continuation of what I had been doing, but the 19-day shoot was taxing. The most difficult part was pacing myself to make sure I’d come out alive.

What was it like for you to direct Avicii’s “You Make Me” music video in 2014, considering his recent passing?

That was the biggest thing I’d done at the time. It’s really sad that he’s passed away. He’s kind of the reason why I was able to do “Arctic” eventually.

Your “MysteryGuitarMan” YouTube channel has been up for over 11 years now. What made you want to post videos on the platform?

It’s like I have a public record of my film career, of my film school, really. YouTube is amazing because there’s instant feedback. It’s kept me on my toes.

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