Interview with Phil Cheney (MINIATURE CHESS)

MINIATURE CHESS played to rave reviews at the June 2021 NEW YORK Feedback Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

This film was inspired by a lot of my fears for humanity. Not of humanity, but for humanity. That coupled with a moment of finding the chessboard we used in the film. I found it in a drawer and had no idea where I’d gotten it from which made ideas start to flow. I also really wanted to work with the talented Nimo Gandhi and Tami Swartz, whom I used in my last short film. With all those elements the film formed in my head completely solid.

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

We shot this film in a Brooklyn warehouse where I work over two days in February 2020. I remember very short and casual conversations about some new virus while we were shooting. Lockdown hit very soon after. During lockdown I was able to work remotely to finish the film and we had a final cut by July of 2020.

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

Broken Family

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

Our biggest obstacle was a time crunch while shooting due to our almost non-existent budget. This film was built completely on favors of wonderful friends and literally kissing shoes to borrow equipment. Having only a few thousand of pocket money to make it happen added stress but also I think every filmmaker wishes they had just one more day to shoot. That and the warehouse we shot in was freezing. I tried to go barefoot in solidarity with the actors but quickly gave up. They were provided space heaters and space blankets between takes so no need to talk to their union reps.

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

I loved watching the feedback. My greatest fear is of my films not being seen. Seems at that point they might as well not exist. A tree that falls in the woods for no one to hear. I was very impressed by the interpretations and the embracement of the surrogate family.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

I’ve loved movies from a young age but never thought I could make them until high school when I saw the making-of documentary Full Tilt Boogie and saw how the gears of a film set work. I still think back on the inspiration I felt from that doc when I work as a gaffer or grip to pay the bills.

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

It’s a tie between ‘An American Werewolf In London’ and Krzysztof Kieslowski’s ‘Three Colors: Blue’

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

I love that we are living in a time where there are accessible tools for so many voices to make their films and then also have so many venues to show them.

9. What is your favorite meal?

Potatoes. All kinds of potatoes prepared in all the ways. Strand me on an uninhabited island for life, just give me all the potatoes.

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

I’m currently close to finishing a new short with Daniele Sarti, the same cinematographer as Miniature Chess which is a comedy about cannibals. I also co-wrote and co-directed a short film with the very talented Kate Espada. She’s a great filmmaker and was indispensable when making Chess. It’s being edited this very moment…I hope. Lastly, shot a music video with my friend Marcus Odom on 16mm for Nimo Gandhi’s folk music. Hope to start editing that soon. Beyond that I’m writing shorts here and there; trying to decide which one to fall in love with and push for production.

By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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