Interview with Filmmaker Jessica Champneys (STAR WARS: DRESCA)

STAR WARS: DRESCA was the winner of BEST PERFORMANCES at the September 2018 FAN FICTION Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Jessica Champneys: I love Star Wars! But also, the character of Dresca is one that I came up with when I was just 12 years old. Growing up and developing her story, she has became a big part of the Star Wars universe for me. The only difference between her and other Star Wars characters – like Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader – is that she only existed in my head, and I was the only one who knew about her. So having the chance to see her come to life on screen and being able to introduce her to the world is so exciting.

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

2 years.

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

Fan Film

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

This was my first narrative short. I had never done anything before near this scale and quality, and there were many elements of the production that were firsts for me (i.e. stunts, working with a DP, etc). As a result, I underestimated the amount of time certain things would take. For example, our two day interior shoot should have been a three day shoot, but I didn’t realize that until it was too late. In the end, we filmed for 36 hours within a 48 hour period. Luckily, we had an AMAZING, positive, and hard-working cast and crew that took it all in stride. But lack-of-sleep was definitely a problem. I don’t think I got more than 8 hours of sleep that entire week.

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

I’ll admit, as I clicked play, I was really nervous. Whether you’re a fan of Star Wars or not, you’ve probably heard of the chaotic state the Star Wars fanbase is in right now. Many fans are riled up against anything that has the title “Star Wars” on it, official or otherwise. This has made it challenging to differentiate between real, valuable criticisms and blind, toxic hatred. So it was a breath of fresh air to watch this audience’s reactions. You always hope that your audience “gets it” – that they’ll understand the messages you’re trying to convey through your work – and it was so nice to see that this audience did. The positive reviews were fun to hear, and the few criticisms given were very insightful.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

Like I mentioned earlier, I came up with the main character, Dresca, when I was 12 years old. Like any other kid who loves Star Wars, I played with toys and came up with my own adventures in that galaxy far far away. I asked myself who would I be and what would I be doing if I got to live in that universe. Darth Vader has always been my favorite character, so naturally I thought it would be cool to be his apprentice.

But as I thought more about what exactly being Vader’s apprentice would entail, I realized that I would never willingly be placed in that situation. I’ve been raised right. I know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. If I was suddenly sucked into the Star Wars universe, I would join the Rebellion, hands down. That’s just the kind of person I am.

But instead of saying “okay, my character will be a Rebel, then,” I instead asked myself how would I have had to be raised in order to get to that point of being so morally backwards? What would I have had to experience in life to truly believe that Darth Vader was a good guy doing the right thing? This question raised numerous other questions, and launched the creation of a massive story and an independent, three-dimensional character.

When I decided to create a Star Wars fan film, I realized I could take a small scene from that story and convert it into film. I wrote 6 different scripts, each one taking place at a different point in Dresca’s life story, to see what would work best as a short. I found that starting in the middle of her story – at the moment when she has lost everything and everyone she cares for – provided the greatest amount of dramatic tension and character development within a short period of time and worked well visually.

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

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

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

FilmFreeway is, I feel, a very intuitive platform – very easy to use. I’ve used other festival submission sites in the past, and FilmFreeway is definitely the best one I’ve used so far.

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

Way too many to list all of them here. 🙂 Obviously, I’ve listened to a lot of Star Wars music by John Williams. Other songs that I listened to frequently while writing this short were the soundtrack for the 2013 movie “Carrie” by Marco Beltrami, and “Control” by Halsey. These songs helped me to get inside Dresca’s head.

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

I’d love to try my hand at writing a feature length screenplay. There are few original concepts I’m developing now.

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Interview with Filmmaker Sean Wehrli (GLENDALE)

GLENDALE played to rave reviews at the August 2018 Experimental Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Sean Wehrli: I have a major passion for visual storytelling, with film and music videos at the top of that list. This project specifically came out of a major draw to the music and then a desire to feature our shared hometown of Detroit. We wanted to give a voice to the crime statistics of Detroit.

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

6 months. Very long, but since it was self-funded I took as long as I needed to get it right.

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

Detroit Passion

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

I’d say the most frustrating moment for me was after reviewing 1st cut of the video and seeing how much it sucked. Then trying to find a solution that kept people entertained for a full 6 minutes. The answer ended up involving me going back to Detroit and shooting insane amounts of B-Roll. Really featuring the location as a character is what brought it home.

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

Wow, thank you for doing this. Reconfirmed my suspicion that the power of my video is in the mood and that some of my story elements potentially went too far.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I started with Detroit. Then went to the fact that Detroit has ranked highest in murder for many many years. Then I made the link between crimes of passion and love.

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

I haven’t kept a tally, but Blade Runner? Or more likely one of the disney movies I watched on repeat as a kid: Toy Story or Aladdin?

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

I think it is superior to withoutabox (more user friendly), although still tons of garbage to wade through. You realize after that only about 10% of your submissions were worthwhile festivals. The reviews do help though.

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

In My Place by Coldplay?

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

I just turned my next music video to the label yesterday for the band Beta Radio.

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Interview with Filmmaker Zena AbdelBaky (ALL THAT REMAINS)

ALL THAT REMAINS was the winner of BEST FILM at the September 2018 Female Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Zena AbdelBaky: The goal of this film was for viewers to think about it after it ends. To be in a conversation and think about the truthful subtitles between all the words being exchanged. It was hard to not make this film, it felt like a pressing matter that needed to be exposed and experienced.

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

Less than a month.

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

Uncomfortably real.

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

Getting inexperienced actors, building enough chemistry for the audience to then feel the tension, awkwardness, and self-awareness they have around each other; and to try and get the audience invested in them in such a short amount of time. The biggest obstacle also happens to be the reason i loved making it.

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

First off, I’m so grateful that there’s a video to see how the audience reacted to my film, since I couldn’t be there, that was all I wanted to see. Just the fact that people took the time, watched the film, and shared their opinions about it in such an uplifting environment, it gave me goosebumps. I quickly paused the video and ran to get my father to watch it with me, my heart was beating pretty fast, not gonna lie.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I was inspired by daily conversations one has with everyone they choose to interact with. The truth is that some people are bad at hiding their initial intentions they try to sugarcoat or change in one way or another, and in this one example, I felt like I could see right through them, read their body language, and understand what is going on between the lines. And from that, I came up with the idea that the subtitles would be what is being said between the lines.

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

The films I love the most, I try not to watch them too often. There’s a magic to the scene construction and storytelling that takes one out of their reality. The more one watches a film, the easier it is for their brain to deconstruct it, in turn, taking away the magic. With that being said, the film I probably watched the most simply due to the fact that I got introduced to it at a young age and that it is a brilliant film, is ‘Catch Me If You Can’ by Mr. Steven Spielberg.

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

I think that it’s absolutely genius, it saves a lot of time and energy to submit to several festivals each having their own requirements, on FilmFreeway, it’s a click of a button. One also avoids being ripped off since the platform is trusted and credited. It also introduces filmmakers to festivals they didn’t know about, giving them larger opportunities to showcase and share their work.

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

According to my iTunes most played, it’s ‘The Only Ones Who Know’ by The Arctic Monkeys.

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

After the making of ‘All That Remains’ I wrote and directed another film called ‘The Fairest of Them All’ which i’m very proud of as well; and am in the process of writing a mini web series, which I’m very excited for.

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Interview with Filmmaker Audrey Arkins (AMERICAN BOY)

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Audrey Arkins: I had been filming juvenile offenders in Venice and Culver City as they moved in and out of the criminal justice system. Most of the kids said the same thing about how and when it all went wrong – usually in middle school when they joined a gang. Tragically and unrelated to the kids I was filming, a 12 year old boy was shot dead on the crosswalk outside his school in Santa Ana, a few blocks from where I was having coffee. Think of that. A 12 year old assassinated by a 14 year old from a rival gang on his way to school. Right in front of his younger brother. American Boy was an attempt to put a face to that in context for an audience. We see the statistics, hear the news reports, but generally I wonder if we’re all too distracted to feel and understand the tragedy of what’s going on before our eyes.

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

Am I finished? Three months from fund raiser to this edit.

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

Overly ambitious.

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

Me wearing too many hats. A first time director should just direct. I have a new respect for producers and what they go through.

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

Gob smacked. I thought I had failed. Wasn’t even able to look at the film for a few months I was so disappointed. We’re all our own worst critics I guess. Your audience got every aspect of our little film. That really helped me see the film in a better light.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

There’s a moment in some boys’ lives – between the age of 10 and 12 – when society, a friend, a teacher, a parent, a kinder/gentler member of law enforcement – could divert them away from ‘gang’ life. I wanted to capture that ‘missed’ moment for one kid. Help people see in context that these so-called ‘thugs’ are just children like any others, albeit severely traumatized for obvious reasons. There are clearcut solutions that a fair society ought to pursue. We don’t. Instead we incarcerate parents, trap families in poverty, force care givers to leave kids alone while they work multiple jobs because minimum wage couldn’t support a pet rabbit, let alone a family with children. It’s a vicious cycle perpetuated by the American political economy. Does anyone really think it’s a coincidence that black and brown communities are disenfranchised – fed into a criminal justice system – often for petty, unjust, racial profiling and entrapment. I saw it first hand with the kids I was filming in the other documentary – gang squad law enforcement following them everywhere, searching them every time I let them break for lunch. No one was searching me or my own kids who were helping out. Read Matt Taibbi’s ‘The Divide” if you want proof. We have a prison industrial complex that creates wealth from minority misery, sabotages generations who don’t fully fit the white bread all-American profile. These kids could grow up to be great. If we let them. Too many people and systems are profiting though. Or maybe the powers that be feel the rest of society can’t handle a leveled field of competition. This is just a ten minute short, but I wanted to do something that might trigger the conversation.

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

Apocalypse Now

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

FilmFreeway is helpful, streamlined. The LA Feedback festival was by far the best we attended though. They very kindly comped us 20 seats. The most we got elsewhere was two comps and if you’re bringing a lot of people that can get expensive. Our cast are very young kids. By separating out R-rated films after an intermission, this festival allowed the kids to finally see themselves on the big screen. The feedback from the audience was so affirming. People we didn’t know, talking intelligently about what we did. That was worth all the hassle.

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

Album more than song – OK Computer.

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

Up until now, I’ve made my living as a screenwriter and it’s still my dream job, but I am planning to direct another short soon to get more experience. My long term goal is to direct a feature about a Latina who terminates a pregnancy so she can go to college. She suffers a terrible public humiliation for that choice. Abortion is still taboo in film. I spent years on this script, trying to strike the right balance. It will need a brave sort of producer (if there are any reading this), but I think the landscape is shifting. If the industry is sincere about giving more women filmmakers access, they must realize we’ll show up focused on taboo issues too. Not that I’ve anything against romantic comedies, but women all over the world deserve to see their story told fairly for once. http://nastygirlfilms.com/features/

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Interview with Filmmaker Aaron Rudelson (NORMAN PINSKI COME HOME)

NORMAN PINSKI COME HOME played to rave reviews and was the winner of BEST PERFORMANCES at the August 2018 Comedy Festival in Toronto.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

A lot of things, but one of the most prominent things I’m interested in is human nature. As rational beings, we are not always guided by rational thought and sometimes, our behavior is motivated by instinct instead. There are two powerful human instincts at work in Norman Pinski Come Home that I find particularly interesting. One is our ability to repeat mistakes even as we try to avoid them. Sometimes, habitual behavior can escape the detection of the conscious mind. In this case, two parents who resolve to allow their son to determine his own character but find themselves unavoidably imposing their own expectations on him. The second instinct I’m referring to is that of motherhood. The deeply rooted instinct to nurture and to connect with one’s child (whether he looks like Frankenstein’s monster or not). There is a feature version of this story currently in development which explores these themes in more detail.

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

An eternity. I first started by writing a feature length version which we have partially cast and funded. I decided that condensing it into a short version would be a good way to pitch the feature version. So the concept has been around for a while, then I had to write the short version. Then I had to raise the money (which was done through crowd funding: an effort almost as challenging and time-consuming as actually making the movie); then a few months of pre-production, followed by three days of shooting and then eight months of post-production. Everything moves slowly when you’re relying on favors and discounts.

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

I don’t like characterizing my own work (that’s for an audience to do). But since you asked, I would hope the audience might find that the words, “funny” & “heartfelt” apply.

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

By far the biggest obstacle was raising the money. But that’s probably true of any large short film production (unless you’re already rich). But unique to the project was the task of finding a suburban house in New York City whose owners would allow us to completely take it over for three whole days and not charge us $10,000. Oh also, preferably one that was occupied by an elderly Jewish couple (so as to minimize the production design expenses). In the end, we would not have been able to make this film at all without the immense generosity of an old friend from college who happened to live in the Ditmas Park area of Brooklyn (not an elderly Jewish friend, so we did have to do some considerable art decorating: kudos to production designer Monica Mayorga).

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

It’s rare that you get this kind of opportunity for remote festivals that you can’t travel to. Ultimately, this is why we make films: to connect with other people. So this is a great feature that WILDsound provides to filmmakers. And fortunately, either WILDsound edited out all the negative comments or generally people seemed to enjoy the film. So that was rewarding.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I’ve always been a fan of Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks. Young Frankenstein was one of my favorite movies growing up. It just struck me one day that, in all the many manifestations of this story that exist, both comedic and dramatic, nobody has ever asked the question “who was that individual before he died, was exhumed and reanimated as Frankenstein’s monster?” Wouldn’t his mother recognize him walking around scaring the bejeezus out of people? I thought there was a lot of unexplored potential there which could fit any genre. I chose comedy because that’s just the way my brain works.

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

Well, that’s hard to answer. I mentioned Young Frankenstein already. That’s definitely high on the list. But now that I have kids, and they are Star Wars fanatics, the original trilogy may have taken the lead. But here are some other great ones: Brazil; After Hours; High Anxiety, any Marx Brothers movie; Saving Private Ryan; La Dolce Vita; The Sacrifice, to name a few.

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

Now that the digital upload servers screen better quality, submitting to film festivals is a cinch. No more packaging and shipping DVDs. And FilmFreeway’s user interface is excellent. I prefer it to Withoutabox. But with Withoutabox, you get the automatic IMDB listing.

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

Possibly Brimful of Asha by Cornershop. I like it because it’s got a really nice rhythm, the lyrics are weird and it has some obscure cultural references that a westerner would have to look up to understand.

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

Finish raising money for the feature version of Norman Pinski Come Home; write a B-horror script, shoot a couple more short films and finish writing my short story about an odd mail carrier. When I get the time.

Interview with Filmmaker Eugene Lehnert (THE OUTER BOROUGHS)

THE OUTER BOROUGHS played to rave reviews at the August 2018 COMEDY Film Festival in Toronto.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

I’ve been making the series as a low budget web-series. I wanted to make something bigger to show off the concept. I tried to make an episode about a creature that lived in the toxic waters of an EPA superfund site in Brooklyn but it was too expensive. So an episode about Witches was easier to make.

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

It’ probably took about a year.

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

Supernatural hijinks

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

Working around everyone’s schedules.

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

Terrified but then relieved and happy.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:


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

My friend pitched me a witches episode after I could not raise the money for the Creature from the Gowanus Canal episode.

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

Back to the Future

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

I like Film Freeway. I find it better to use than Without A Box.

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

A toss up between Weird Al’s “It’s Christmas at Ground Zero” and “Yoda”.

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

Remastering an old film for Amazon Prime called “Armageddon for Andy”. Then writing. I’m broke and paying off this thing so it’s tough to make anything.

Interview with Filmmaker Josiah Cuneo (IN THROUGH THE NIGHT)

IN THROUGH THE NIGHT played to rave reviews at the August 2018 Under 5 Minute Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Josiah Cuneo: I really wanted a chance to write and perform some music in a different way than I usually do. I made four short films, this being one of them, and I wrote and performed the music for them in a theater as live scores to the films. It really changed my approach to making music, and introduced me to film making.

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

I wrote the music, started rehearsing, hired a camera person, secured a location, set a date. Then the camera person took another job that day, the location cancelled, and I couldn’t reschedule because the performer’s visa’s were up, and they were set to get on a plane back to Sweden. It was a close call, but somehow I pulled everything together, and we found a way. One of the benefits of living in the city. Then I edited it, rewrote all the music, recorded it, mixed it…and then…a year later, I had a film.

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

Broken Daydream

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

One of the performers called me the day after the shoot to tell me she couldn’t find her earring. It was a family heirloom, so she was rightful anxious to get it back. I went back to the location the next day and looked everywhere. Eventually I found it. It has fallen down the drain of a 19th century sink. It took an entire day to get that sink apart, and be able to pull that earring out, but we did it. I learned a lot about plumbing that day.

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

It was really encouraging seeing someone give thoughtful insight to the film.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK of the Film:

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

I would say it was 90% music based.

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

Great question. The movie that I have made a conscious decision to watch the most times would probably be Ingmar Bergman’s Persona. When I first saw it I only saw the second part of it, so it didn’t really make sense, but it stuck with me, so I eventually went back to it. Now I find myself watching it everyone couple years because it really is a kind of perfect film, and in many ways has become the gold standard of what I hope to achieve in my own work.

On the other hand, the movie I have seen the most, regardless of wanting to or not, is Spike Lee’s Crooklyn. When I was a kid growing up my little sister has a VHS copy of it, and she would put it on at least five out of the seven days of the week. If I was ever in the living room, chances are it was on. It has such a good soundtrack and was made so well as a film, that you could watch it everyday without getting tired of it. I know that film incredibly well, but because I would always be watching it in bits and pieces, I couldn’t for the life of me tell you the plot.

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

It’s been a great experience. It’s both exciting to see how many people are holding film festivals, and a great thrill to be part of them.

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

It’s a two way tie. The Shirelles “Will You Still Love me Tomorrow” and The Crystals “Then He Kissed me”. Hands down the two greatest songs ever recorded.

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

Last year I wrote and directed my first play that was produced at Roulette Intermedium in Brooklyn. I am starting rehearsals next week for my second, The Screen Above, a play centered around my music and choreography. After that, I hope to start shooting my first feature film next year.

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