Interview with Filmmaker Steve Buckwalter (OMA & OPA)

OMA & OPA was the winner of BEST DOC CHARACTERS at the February 2020 DOCUMENTARY Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Steve Buckwalter: Oma and Opa are the grandparents of one of my coworkers, and we had used their house as a location for a different film that we had made the previous Christmas. The first time that I met them, Oma gave me a gigantic hug and a sloppy kiss on my cheek. Then I walked over to Opa, with one hand in my pocket as I often do, and extended my hand to shake his, and he said, “Don’t you know it’s rude to have your hand in your pocket when you greet someone?” He wasn’t joking! Anyway, it was a memorable experience, and they both made an impression. Then, a few months later, we were making a decision about purchasing a new camera, and I prefer to always test cameras on something real, but not critical, so I asked my coworker, Lisbet Beiler, if we could interview them and just get their story recorded, because from the bits and pieces I had heard, it was very interesting. So, after talking it over with them, and sort of over their objections, we went over and sat with them and recorded the interview. Opa was very confused by why on earth anyone would be interested in his story, and Oma said that she wouldn’t be able to think of anything to say, and then proceeded to talk for several hours.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

I think, roughly about six months. We shot for one day in the winter, and I spent several months adjusting the edit, and decided that it was too Opa heavy, so we went back in the spring a filmed for an afternoon with Oma.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Funny and Cute.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

The two biggest obstacles were probably initially getting them to agree to it, although Lisbet did most of the convincing, and then trying to work out the rhythm of the story. There was a lot of their story that I left on the cutting room floor, in a lot of ways because I didn’t have the material to show along with it, but I spent a long time massaging the beats that I had, and made a big cut very close to the end, that after agonizing over it for a long time, now I can’t remember what it was about.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

I was heartened to hear that people really fell in love with them, that was what I most wanted to do, was for people to feel the same way about Oma and Opa as I do. Secondly, it was great hearing some critical feedback that was constructive.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

I’ve been doing these kinds of profiles of people for different clients for almost my entire career, so I’m very familiar with the rhythms and beats of how they work. I’ve done most of them as a shooter and editor, so I don’t have a ton of experience conducting interviews, but I’ve been around lots of good people who have, so I wasn’t terribly nervous about that. This was definitely more biographical most of the ones I had done before, and my big concern was to not do something that just started at the beginning and went to the end. I wanted to link all of these different stories in an unusual and more interesting way. I also wanted to do some things differently stylistically, both with the interview setup, and then also with the editing. I knew it wasn’t going to be in everyone’s taste to do the jump cutting in the interviews, but I wanted to just push beyond what I would normally do in an edit.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

I don’t know that I will ever be able to catch up to the number of times I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo when I was in my early 20’s.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

It’s been great, very easy to use, and very easy to spend a lot of money on :/

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Probably Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20, partly because I really enjoy it, and partly because I have often used it to put me to sleep.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

I made two films in the same year, and shot and edited several others for other people, but since the fall have had a little trouble getting another one off the ground. I had one short come close, but we bailed on our shooting dates after being unable to cast it the way we hoped to. Then we were just starting pre-pro on a short feature when the coronavirus shutdown hit, and I’m not sure that our funding will survive the moment. However the company I work for, MAKE Films, is committed to transitioning to more original content and less client work, and we have one documentary series (that I shot) almost completed, and several more that we are working on getting funded. And we also have several narrative scripts that we are developing as well. So there’s a lot going on, some of it is near term, and some of it is more of a long term play, so we’ll see what happens!

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