Interview with Filmmaker Gretl Claggett (STORMCHASER)

 STORMCHASER swept the awards at the February 2020 FEMALE Feedback Film Festival in Toronto. Winner of BEST FILM. BEST PERFORMANCES. BEST CINEMATROGRAPHY

 Matthew Toffolo: How did you come up with the idea for this short film? And… What motivated you to make the film?

“He’s a door-to-door ‘door’ salesman,” my friend said.

“A what…?” I thought I’d misheard what her new boyfriend did for a living.

“He lost his job. Now, he sells storm doors, door-to-door.

Our exchange conjured black-and-white images from the Maysles’ documentary, Salesman, about door-to-door bible peddlers in the ‘60s. Surely, this daily grind was a thing of the past. But as I did some digging, I discovered it still exists; and that many contractors targeting weather-torn areas this way are called “storm chasers” — instead of “ambulance chasers” — because of their predatory practices.

This triggered a deep compulsion in me to express my own sardonic commentary on what I’d experienced growing up in small-town Tornado Alley, plus selling incentives as the lone woman in an old-boys’ club: America’s culture of greed, its celebration of bad behavior, and the rise of “disaster capitalism” which preys upon the most vulnerable suffering from man-made and natural catastrophes.

All that eventually gave birth to Bonnie Blue, a down-on-her-luck storm chaser turned naive, door-to-door huckster of roofing, siding and storm doors.

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

The idea for STORMCHASER first started as a poem.

One night, while on a scholarship at Squaw Valley Writer’s Conference — where one must produce a poem a day — I wrote “Storm Secrets,” a lyrical narrative featuring a down-on-his luck salesman, Don Stuckey. I remember laughing and gasping as the poem gushed onto the page, taking me by surprise — a blend of my experiences in sales plus fantasy, as well as sardonic social commentary. I thought I’d said my piece. But even after “Storm Secrets” appeared in my poetry collection, MONSOON SOLO: Voices Once Submerged (WordTech Editions, 2012), something about Don and the storyline kept nagging me.

After finishing my first short film, Happy Hour — also based on one of my poems, narrated by Julianne Moore — which explores the memories and complexities of child sexual abuse, frequently and mistakenly deemed a woman’s issue, I wanted to delve into something completely different. Don was still there, knocking on my door. So, I started the screenplay in 2014, while juggling multiple creative projects and working full-time as a Senior Creative Director.

The first drafts focused on Don Stuckey as the unlucky salesman with a latent passion for storm chasing. Bonnie Blue — now the film’s anti-heroine — played a supporting role as Don’s love interest and the secretary of their tyrannical boss, Flip Smyth. The script placed as a finalist and won honorable mentions in several screenwriting contests but called out for something more. Always open to improving projects, when a friend suggested a major rewrite — turn the chaser into a door-to-door ‘door’ saleswoman — I took the challenge.

To start, I simply switched Don and Bonnie’s names, then re-read the script with fresh eyes to see what I could leave the same and what had to change. This made me acutely aware of my own biases about gender roles in the bedroom and boardroom — spurring me to make more conscious, authentic and quirky choices throughout the significant revision process. Ultimately, this intense script-work reaped a unique, complex female protagonist, plus two memorable male leads — with developed arcs — in a taut, timely short screenplay that aims to pack the punch of a feature.

After working on the screenplay on-and-off for about 4 years, I felt the story was strong enough to head into production. That said, even on location while filming and in post-production, I was still doing some rewrites…

How would you describe your short film in two words?

That’s tough. Not sure I can do it in just two words. Hm, maybe… “Metaphoric Storms” or “Disaster Capitalism” or even “Kali Rising.”

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

Financing the film. This is usually the biggest obstacles for indie filmmakers — made even tougher if producing a short-form project that generally won’t reap any returns on investment.

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

It was informative, inspiring and humbling to hear comments and feelings about the film from a totally objective audience. I was thrilled that both women and men enjoyed the tone and humor of the film, expressing specific personal connections to various characters, while also acknowledging the larger socio-political commentary that’s intentionally embedded in the story. This kind of feedback is invaluable.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

What film have you seen the most in your life?

When I was growing up, my father collected 16mm films which he projected onto a large folding screen in a makeshift “theater” in our house — first, in our living room, then later, upstairs in a spare room, where he built a small projection booth and installed a row of old theater seats from a cinema that was torn down in our town. Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator is a film I’ve seen countless times — it was one of my father’s favorite films and is among my favorites.

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

I think FilmFreeway is a great platform. But it’s tricky sometimes knowing which festivals — beyond the major ones — are truly worth submitting to because the costs add up quickly, and things aren’t always what they seem to be. As an indie creator/filmmaker, it’s important to do research and be smart about developing a festival strategy. More and more, I go with my gut, and really feel into the energy and intention of any given festival. I was impressed by the mission behind the Toronto FEEDBACK Film Festival, and that’s why I submitted.

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

Hm, not sure about that. It’s probably a classic Prince song, but not sure which one!

What is next for you? A new film?

This January, I directed 3 episodes of Chronicles of a BLEEP Year Old Woman, a comedic indie digital series; we’re currently in post-production on that project. I’m also delving back into writing a memoir project, plus developing a feature-length and a long-form narrative project.

stormchaser_movie_poster

 

 

 

Interview with Screenwriter Phillip Hollins (BLACKBALLED)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Phillip Hollins: ‘Blackballed,’ centers on an awkward relationship between a black FBI agent and the newly elected white supremacist leader whose daughter, by some twist of fate, gets a heart transplant from the FBI agent’s son, causing them to flee together from hate group leaders who wish them harm.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Psychological thriller/drama

3. Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

“Blackballed” tackles social issues in an entertaining way, yet is far from anything on TV today. You can say, made in the mold of “Breaking Bad” & “No Country for Old Men” but on steroids.

4. How would you describe this script in two words?

Intense and Explosive

5. What movie have you seen the most times in your life?

Untouchables, Hacksaw Ridge & Mad Max: Fury Road

6. How long have you been working on this screenplay?

Always a work in progress.

7. How many stories have you written?

Over a dozen.

8. What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the most times in your life?)

N/A. Way too many to name.

9. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

Blackballed involves a sensitive subject that’s fast and in your face. Yet was important not to over tell this story. When you finish reading the script, the one word I hope you’ll say is “Wow”.

10. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

Spending time with family and pets, making pizza, thinking of new ideas.

11. You entered your screenplay via FilmFreeway. What has been your experiences working with the submission platform site?

Filmfreeway allows us enter a variety of contests with hopes of competing at a larger scale.

12. What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings on the initial feedback you received?

All screenwriters want to know how their work stacks up among their peers. It’s important to gain traction. WILDSound has a reputation of being a solid contest. The feedback was great. It mirrored similar comments from other competitions.

Screenplay Reading: 

CAST LIST:

Bucky: Scott Hilton
Nicole: Nadine Charleson
Narration: Esther Tribault
Travis: Pierre Simpson
Dr. Pendergrass: Ron Boyce

Interview with Screenwriter Whitney Stewart (STEAL THE LIGHT)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Whitney Stewart: My screenplay, Steal the Light, is about the resilience of humans through war and disaster, and about family bonds that endure. The story takes place in post-Katrina New Orleans and in World War Two era Europe. A young journalist loses her home and career after Hurricane Katrina, then abandons everything to fulfill her German grandmother’s dying wish to find her brother who went missing on the Russian Front of WWII. The search tests the journalist’s courage and tenacity, but she survives to bring truth home.

Steal the Light was inspired by my own experiences of helicopter-evacuating after Hurricane Katrina, and later discovering a box of war letters that prompted me to search for my husband’s German uncle who went missing on the Russian Front of World War Two.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Drama, historical.

3. Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

Steal the Light will speak to families who have been affected by war or natural disasters, or to anyone who has lost a family member. In this time when people are searching for family history, and hoping to understand themselves by understanding their heritage, this film story will inspire audiences. The protagonist is a strong female who despite experiencing disaster learns to trust herself and unravel a poignant mystery that crosses time. She will leave audiences moved.

4. How would you describe this script in two words?

Enduring truth

5. What movie have you seen the most times in your life?

Inglourious Basterds

6. How long have you been working on this screenplay?

I worked on the screenplay, on and off, for two years, but before that I spent five years going back and forth to Germany and Poland to track down my husband’s missing uncle who inspired a published book and this film script.

7. How many stories have you written?

I have published more than 25 books and have an archive of at least another dozen book or film stories.

8. What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the most times in your life?)

“We Belong Together” by Rickie Lee Jones or “A Walk Across the Rooftops” by The Blue Nile

9. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

Writing a script based on my own story was challenging because I didn’t want to stick to the facts. Instead I wanted those facts to inspire a more interesting protagonist who faces more difficult conflicts than I faced. I also had to return to Europe three times to research WWII history as it happened in Germany and in rural Poland. I needed to hire a translator and a WWII expert to guide me on my work. I didn’t just sit down and write a historical drama; I actually dug for shrapnel and bones in former WWII battlefields.

10. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

Children, I love being around them. I also teach mindfulness and meditation to kids. I love to travel, study foreign languages, and visit museums. Of course I see more films than I can count every year. And I love to be outdoors and to exercise. I’m a big hiker, but I live in New Orleans where the land is flat. So, I travel to the mountains whenever I get the chance.

11. You entered your screenplay via FilmFreeway. What has been your experiences working with the submission platform site?

Browsing festivals and submitting my script was very easy on FilmFreeway. I plan to submit again.

12. What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings on the initial feedback you received?

I am interested in seeing more films by female writers and directors, and I like to see strong female leads. That’s why I submitted to the FEEDBACK Female Film Festival. I also wanted to watch/hear a table read, to help me in my writing. Of course, I hear my script in my head, but hearing other dialog interpretations is invaluable. After watching/hearing the read of my first scene, I’d love to see/hear more scenes read aloud.

Screenplay Reading: 

After Hurricane Katrina destroys her home and career, a young journalist abandons everything to fulfill her German grandmother’s dying wish — to discover the fate of her brother who disappeared on the Russian Front of World War Two.

CAST LIST:

Narrator: Sean Ballantyne
Charlotte: Hannah Ehman
Anna: Nkasi Ogbonnah

Interview with Screenwriter Jeremy Kruse (MASTER OF NONE)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Jeremy Kruse: My script, Master of None – Social Media, is about social media and how it can be toxic.

2. How does this script fit into the context of the MASTER OF NONE TV
show?

The script further explores Dev’s experience with racism.

3. How would you describe this script in two words?

Quit Sharing!

4. What movie have you seen the most times in your life?

And Now For Something Completely Different – Monty Python

5. How long have you been working on this screenplay?

At least one day.

6. How many stories have you written?

Dozens and dozens.

7. What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the
most times in your life?)

Mr. Tambourine Man – Bob Dylan

8. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

The biggest obstacle was figuring out how Dev would deal with the situation.

9. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

Reading, spending time with my family and hygiene.


10. You entered your screenplay via FilmFreeway. What has been your
experiences working with the submission platform site?

Film Freeway is user friendly and reliable.

11. What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings
on the initial feedback you received?

I submitted my script to WILDsound FEEDBACK Film and Screenplay Festival because it is a respectable festival. My feedback was sound.

Screenplay Reading: 

When Dev receives abuse after an old insensitive comment he made on Facebook reemerges, he is forced to reevaluate his relationship with social media.

CAST LIST:

Nisha : Nadine Charleson
Benjamin: Pierre Simpson
Denise: Elizabeth Erhart
Shannon: Tiffany Davison
Narration: Esther Tribault
Dev: Atesh
Arnold: Sean Ballantyne
Ramesh/Malcolm: Ron Boyce
Todd: Scott Hilton

Interview with Screenwriter Ma Troggian (FOREIGN)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Ma Troggian: Foreign is a story about love, loss and immigration in a politically polarized America.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Drama, Romantic Drama.

3. Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

The script is timely. Foreign sheds light upon the importance of immigrants in America, while spontaneously telling an LGBTQ love story.

4. How would you describe this script in two words?

Sincere and political.


5. What movie have you seen the most times in your life?

Moulin Rouge…

6. How long have you been working on this screenplay?

Four years.

7. How many stories have you written?

Two plays, one pilot, one short film and one feature film.

8. What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the most times in your life?)

That’s hard. I listen to A LOT of music. Lately, Prière Païenne by Celine Dion.

9. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

Many. I was born and raised in Brazil. It took me a lot of work to research vocabulary and to feel confident writing in English. On top of that, I didn’t go to school for writing. I’m learning as I go. It took me many, many versions and a lot of honest feedback to get to this version.

10. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

Music, acting and politics. I’m a queer latina woman. I love to dress up and dance. Right now, I am about to release the fourth single of my career, followed by its music video. (You can check my music at http://www.matroggian.com, under music.)

11. You entered your screenplay via FilmFreeway. What has been your experiences working with the submission platform site?

Really great!

12. What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings on the initial feedback you received?

I was researching platforms that cherish LGBTQ work. I had a great experience with the festival in general and I loved the reading.

Watch the Screenplay Reading: 

Foreign is a romantic drama following the journey of Julia, an undocumented immigrant from Brazil, trying to survive in Brooklyn. Julia’s dreams of being a singer are far left behind, and she now searches the city for a safe place to work as a server. After being assaulted by Davis, a business man who takes advantage of her status, Julia ends up hired under the table by Barbara, a successful restaurant owner. Julia and Barbara fall in love and impact each other’s realities. They live a profound love story, eventually threatened by Davis.

CAST LIST:

Various: Patrice Henry
Davis: Allan Brunet
Narrator: Kat Smiley
Barbara: Esther Thibault
Julia: Amiee Poulin
Ian: Gabriel Davenport

Interview with Filmmaker Kieron O’Sullivan (Consequences of Living a Lie)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Kieron O’Sullivan: The Consequences of Living a Lie is about a young man who can’t accept that he’s gay, so he’s a lived a constant lie and after the death of his girlfriend, he finally starts to face the consequences of all the lies he’s told. This is journey where Jack finally accepts who he is after being haunted by the ghost of his heartbroken girlfriend, and he finally finds happiness with his true love, Ellis.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

This screenplay is a Coming of Age story that falls into the Drama/Dark Comedy genre.

3. Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

I believe this screenplay should be made into a movie because I haven’t seen this kind of coming out story before. This screenplay represents a different side to the LGBT community that shows the consequences of lying to yourself and the people around you, and how painful it can be for a man to come out as gay when he’s shrouded by the guilt of being in love with a man within a straight society. On top of that, this screenplay shows the perspective of girlfriend who’s been lied to by her secretly gay boyfriend, and how it darkens the view of her seemingly perfect life as she tries to pass onto the afterlife.

4. How would you describe this script in two words?

Unique and Honest.

5. What movie have you seen the most times in your life?

If we’re including my childhood, it would be a tie between The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast (the original animations of course). But we’re simply talking adulthood, it would probably be Christopher Nolan’s Inception – I love how complex the narrative is and I’m still dying to know what the ending means!

6. How long have you been working on this screenplay?

From coming up with the idea to actually executing the screenplay, it took me 3 months to finish the current draft of the screenplay.


7. How many stories have you written?

I currently work in the Story Team of one of the biggest Soap Opera’s in England, and we broadcast 322 episodes a year, so I’ve written hundreds of stories for that. In terms of my own work, I’ve written 4 screenplays so far with another in progress.

8. What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the most times in your life?)

Probably Jolene by Dolly Parton.

9. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

One of the biggest obstacles I faced in finishing this screenplay was trying to fit in writing time around my job. The story came to me quite quickly but it took a lot of perseverance to sit down and write after work and on my free weekends.


10. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

Apart from writing, I’m passionate about spending time with my husband and my family. I love watching films and binge watching TV series but I’ve recently started to learn pole dancing – it began as a joke with my boss but I quickly fell in love with it and haven’t looked back since – and it’s nice being one of the only men in the class.

11. You entered your screenplay via FilmFreeway. What has been your experiences working with the submission platform site?

My experience has been extremely positive it was easy to use and easy to keep track of my progress.

12. What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings on the initial feedback you received?

I wanted to enter this festival because I believed my screenplay would be in safe hands within an LGBT competition – it’s nice to know that my screenplay was read by people who really care about LGBT stories. The feedback I received was incredibly helpful, encouraging and it inspired some great ideas to help improve my screenplay.

Watch the Screenplay Reading: 

This is a story about one’s boys journey out of the closest, and the consequences of the lies he’s to everyone in his life, especially his girlfriend.

CAST LIST:

Narrator: Val Cole
Jack: Biden Hall
Daisy: Aliya Hamid