Interview with Filmmaker Petrina Gheorghiu (JUST SMILE, YOU’RE FINE)

JUST SMILE, YOU’RE FINE was the winner of BEST SHORT FORM SHORT FILM at the July 2022 FEMALE Feedback Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

The creation of the short film was prompted by my 11th grade IB film course as an end-of-year project. This class allowed me to explore various film genres and movements within my filmmaking. We individually made Amelie recreations, film noirs, over-tonal montages, etc. Despite the array of films I’ve made, the project I felt most proud of was a 2-minute film titled “Photo Album.” Built on the framework of portraying the psychoanalytic theory, the film follows a young girl who experiences the departure of a parent, a recurring story in my own personal life. That was the first time I truly utilized an emotional and serious subject matter and I just knew I had to do that again, especially for my final project which would be entered into my school’s film festival. Whereas “Photo Album” was specific to my life story, I wanted this film to be more relatable to my greater audience, which was my peers. The idea was born during a very hectic and stressful time for me, much of the inspiration being reflective of my own struggles in dealing with stress and pressure. It was midnight before the film proposal was due, I had 5 ideas that I didn’t like, and was running on very little hope that anything other than mediocre would come of this project. Out of my own desperation, I conceptualized a film about being overwhelmed and feeling the need to mask it. To which I added the twist of the happiness pills and the 3 emotional planes (underwater, desert, and lightroom). From that point on, the idea just flowed naturally and that very night I wrote a thousand-word proposal.

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

I’d say around 5-6 weeks total. I wasn’t constantly occupied with this project during that time, considering I had 7 other classes requiring work. It didn’t take long to create the shot list and storyboard. However, there was also the factor of creating props, since the ‘Just Smile Tabs’ were personalized for this project and I had 40-or-so sample bottles. Production took a while, but I was lucky to have had spring break during which I filmed most scenes. And finally, it took me around a week to finalize the editing.

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

Struggle and acceptance.

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

The general obstacle was that I wasn’t able to fully control the cinematography. Since I couldn’t find anyone reliable to play the protagonist, I had to step up and simultaneously give directions while being the main actor on screen. The still shots I was able to set up myself, but the dynamic ones had to be filmed by others (and sometimes no amount of detailed explanation can generate the visuals you imagined). If I were to recreate this project, I definitely would want to be in full control of the camera. A more specific obstacle was the classroom scene where all the students were taking the ‘Just Smile Tabs.’ It was difficult enough that the film was shot during the pandemic, however, this scene just drained me. My film class is made up of 8 students, therefore it would have been too small to represent the stereotypical classroom. My initial intention was to film the scene during lunchtime, as we were placed in classrooms during breaks to limit contact. I asked everyone if they were comfortable with filming a quick scene, and all students were fine with it. I got the equipment ready and instructed my friends on how to film the scene, but when it came time to film it, people were just not cooperating. Understandably, it was their break time, however, I expected my classmates to be more supportive. I ended up asking my English teacher if he could spare some class time to allow me to film this scene, and luckily he was happy to help.

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

It was very surreal to know that people halfway around the globe, people with substantially more experience than myself, have watched one of my films and have positive comments on it. It was very gratifying to know that they appreciated the subject and how it was presented. Likewise, I enjoyed how they mentioned the details, like the color grading, editing techniques, or cinematography, since those tools were purposely included to add more substance or symbolism to the story. Considering how many judges spoke and how thoughtful their analyses were, I was overjoyed with the video. I am extremely grateful for every single message.

Watch the Audience Feedback Video:

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

As a kid, I was very much glued to the TV, so I had always enjoyed the consumption of film as a storytelling platform. However my creative journey I think started during the summer before 3rd grade. When I went to visit my grandma’s, that house had this old computer with a 2006 version of Microsoft Powerpoint, and I thought it was the best thing ever. There was this feature where you could add cliparts that were included in the program, and some of those elements were GIFs (which obviously blew my 8-year-old mind). Using slide transitions and animating the images to move across the screen, I made so-called films, with Powerpoint as my prestigious video editing software. That’s until I discovered iMovie templates on the iPad and the rest is history.

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

While this probably isn’t the film I’ve watched the most times but it’s the most recent. I’ve viewed Tsotsi (2005) a couple of times since I wrote an analysis on it.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

I’m not really sure yet, I’ve only recently begun the process of submitting films to festivals. I really like the way the FEEDBACK Female Film Festival was structured, and how you get the chance to hear people talk about your film. The emails and instructions were very straightforward and the process is smooth to follow. My only comment is that I would have liked to hear some more constructive criticism and how I could improve my film.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

I really like the platform. I think that the website itself is very easy to navigate and I appreciate the balance of showcasing both film festivals as well as individual film project pages that have the IMDb vibe. I also like that they have the laurel-creating feature, I feel like that is really helpful.

10. What is your favorite meal?

Pizza.

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

While the past year, I haven’t had as many opportunities to make films, I recently completed a project titled Forever which I’m quite proud of. Like Just Smile, You’re Fine, it’s a blend of reality and the intricacies of one’s mind, and I’d venture to say it’s more emotional and it definitely tackles a more serious topic.

By matthewtoffolo

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

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