by Steve Dollar | February 16, 2024

Behind the Scenes With Florida Filmmaker Raymond Knudsen

The Florida State University grad and Filipino-American director reflects on his award-winning short film, “Prep” and how his own experiences in bodybuilding inspired his work.

Florida State University grad Raymond Knudsen won the Flamingo Award for best Florida Filmmaker at last fall’s Tallahassee Film Festival for his 14-minute film “Prep.” Photography courtesy of Raymond Knudsen.

In the surreal 14-minute film “Prep,” an abundantly muscled bodybuilder becomes lost in “fever dream fueled by childhood trauma, food porn and acid techno music” as he pursues competition glory and struggles with its aftermath. The visually stylish project won West Palm Beach writer-director Raymond Knudsen the annual Flamingo award for best Florida filmmaker at last fall’s Tallahassee Film Festival, a $1,000 cash prize co-sponsored by Flamingo magazine.

Knudsen, a New Jersey native who was raised in Florida, is a 2019 graduate of the College of Motion Picture Arts at Florida State University. He is now based in New York, where he’s working on several new projects. He recently discussed those with Flamingo, along with the influences and ideas that shape his work. “Prep” is a Vimeo Short Film of the Week.

A still from Knudsen’s short film, “Prep,” starring actor Chibueze Anyasor. Photography courtesy of Vimeo.
How did you get involved in film?

Raymond Knudsen: As early as I can remember, I was very enamored by movies and shows. I used to collect the entertainment section at the back of the newspaper every Friday. I used to make my own movie posters. It wasn’t until I got into middle school that I started editing–not my own movies, but my own fan trailers. I’d download trailers and make my own trailers for those movies or montages of all the movies that came out that year. I found out about a high school called G-Star School of the Arts in Palm Springs, and that’s when I started learning about making movies. I started collaborating with other classmates. My senior year I was blessed with a scholarship from Burt Reynolds. Even though he passed away, they still give out a scholarship in his name at the Palm Beach International Film Festival student showcase of films. That money allowed me to go to Florida State for film school. While I was in film school, I picked up bodybuilding as a hobby from watching various fitness influencers and competitive bodybuilders. Through that personal experience, I made my thesis film, called “Stage Ready,” with the same bodybuilder (Chibueze Anyasor from “Prep”). It was very slice-of-life, about this bodybuilder trying to connect with his dad.

Very few people have made movies about bodybuilding, those who have … haven’t done it themselves. I wanted to be honest and show everything that I felt was present in this experience.

–Ray Knudsen

After college, you moved to New York. What were your next steps?

RK: But then a couple of months later, it was March 2020 and I had to move back to Florida because New York was the epicenter (of the pandemic). I picked up bodybuilding again. This movie is very different. It’s the same actor, but very loud and in your face. It’s a reflection of the experience. I just saw all the layers and how complex the sport is. Very few people have made movies about bodybuilding, those who have … haven’t done it themselves. I wanted to be honest and show everything that I felt was present in this experience.

“Prep” feels like a radical departure from the typical sports film. What led you there?

RK: I worked with an eating psychologist to kind of repair my relationship with food because after my (bodybuilding) shows, that was the biggest thing. I didn’t have a normal relationship with food. I’m withholding myself from eating all this food for a period of time. And then after the shows, the floodgates open. This is a very common part of the experience. I wanted to get back into writing. I had all these crazy ideas in my head and she challenged me to write one crappy page a day without judging myself. I started showing the script to my friends from college and they were all very into it. My best shot of pulling this type of performance off was working with Chibueze again. He not only had the acting ability, but also he had the look.

“Prep” highlights the complexities of bodybuilding, drawing from Knudsen’s own experiences of the sport. Photography courtesy of Raymond Knudsen.

Bodybuilding, from what I learned, is just so psychological. And I just really wanted to dive into these visuals that are very surreal. A lot of it just felt, at least for me, like once you get to a certain level of leanness and you’re thinking about certain foods you want to eat, but those are foods you can’t have, your mind and starts to play games with you.  That’s why we shot things in black voids and white voids. I wanted to leave some things up to interpretation.

What were your influences?

RK: My big influence for “Prep” was this European film filmmaker named Gaspar Noé. Specifically, “Climax” (2018) was a huge influence. I was very enamored by what he did. I’ve always wanted to work with dancers. The energy and movement made sense with this piece. Lars von Trier, Darren Aronofsky, a lot of darker filmmakers that tend to take risks. Some of their movies don’t speak to other people and some do. I admired the boldness in them taking chances.

What’s ahead?

RK: I do a lot of work as a producer trying to get my first feature off the ground. It’s a dark comedy about college football fandom called “The Big Game.” My friend from Florida State is directing it, Stephen Musumeci. We’re working with this filmmaker named Jim Cummings (“Thunder Road”). I’m [also] starting this online interview series called “Bodybuilders Anonymous.” I was very inspired by this YouTube channel called “Soft White Underbelly.”

Mark Laita, the host of “Soft White Underbelly,” the photographer who hangs out on skid row?

Yeah. He (Mark Laita) interviews people from all walks of life. I’m doing the same thing with people who have been in and around the world of bodybuilding. Just one-shots, black and white. I’m behind the camera asking simple questions. There are so many moving stories within that sport. I feel like it would be a resource to that community.