Interview with Filmmaker Sandy Parker (ALIENATED)

ALIENATED played to rave reviews at the April 2020 Female Feedback Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Sandy Parker: I was getting the feeling that some festivals mainly wanted stories about young people getting molested. A moderator at a pitch session I attended said, “These are the stories that need to be told,” and I thought to myself, “Oh no, not again.” I know there’s a lot of evil in the world, and it needs to be called out. But frankly, I also think you can have a very compelling story without someone having to get molested, and in a way, I feel like there’s an element of rubber-necking involved in using that kind of shock value, and that it’s almost a cheap shot. In fact, I think the real challenge would be to write a truly riveting story involving a couple of elderly shut-ins. But anyway, I was feeling annoyed, so I thought to myself, if you guys want a molestation, I’ll give you a molestation: Alien Molestation! That was my original title! I sat down and wrote the first version of the script in about an hour just to get it out of my system. So basically, I wrote this script out of frustration.

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

After I wrote the script, I set it aside. And two week after I wrote it, Trump was elected, and I thought, oh no, I can’t do anything with this script because it will look like a political commentary on fascism. A year later, I was invited to enter a short script contest, and I figured enough time had gone by since the election that I could enter this script and it wouldn’t appear to have such a strong political overtone. At the end of January 2018, I learned that my script had won the contest, and the prize was having my film produced! I was given a $5,000 budget, and was able to raise another $2,000 through word of mouth. Casting was held in mid-April, costume fittings and rehearsals were in the first week of June, and we filmed for two days, on June 8th and 9th. Editing began about a week after that, and we brought our sound designer into the process in mid-July. Around that time, we also began working on our poster, music, end credits, and our title card, which was pulled from the poster. Our goal was to finish in time to enter the New Orleans Film Festival, which ended up being our premiere screening.

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

Twilight Zone-esque

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

Our biggest challenge was the alien masks! We knew we would need to augment whatever masks we got with special effects makeup, and we
already had a very talented special effects makeup artist on our team. We were originally looking at an $800 prosthetic mask. My producer told me we could only afford to buy one of them, which would mean having to rewrite the script so that we never saw more than one alien in any given shot. I decided to check out the offerings at an online costume shop, and saw rubber masks that had the kind of alien face I’d been envisioning, and they were only $38 each. I ordered three of them, and when they arrived, I couldn’t believe I ever considered the $800 ones! But then I put one on and was immediately so hot and uncomfortable in my air-conditioned living room, I was just about ready to slit my wrists. I’m glad I had that experience, because it made me aware of what I was asking of my alien actors. On the day of the shoot, we were able to keep them in an air conditioned building right up until the moment we were ready to film them. The poor guys had to wear their masks for several hours straight, and they could barely breath or see. They were real troopers!

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

I was amazed. I didn’t expect feedback from so many people, and I didn’t expect it to be presented as a video. Honestly, it made me feel like a rock star! I hadn’t expected to get such positive feedback!

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

There was this movie, The UFO Incident, starring James Earl Jones, that aired on TV when I was a kid. I was just kind of hanging out in the same room while my mom was watching it, and I got sucked into watching it, too. It was actually pretty frightening, at least for a child. It told the story of Barney and Betty Hill, a couple who claimed, in the sixties, that they had been abducted by aliens while driving on a highway at night. They had no memory of it, but they knew there was a period of several hours that they couldn’t account for. Betty was having strange dreams, so they went to a psychiatrist, who recorded his interviews with them while they were under hypnosis. I was scared on road trips for years after that. Anytime we were driving home at night from visiting grandma, I was sitting in the back seat, looking up at the stars, and hoping to God the aliens weren’t going to come get us.

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

I think maybe Silence of the Lambs – but mostly the second half! This isn’t something I plan. Now and then I’ll discover that it’s on TV, or once I even walked by a public outdoor screening. I always come along when it’s right in the middle, and I just cannot tear myself away. The way the story plays out and wraps up, with our heroine really gathering her courage and defeating the bad guy, is just so delicious.

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

Honestly, the whole submission process can be so tedious, I rarely enter any festival that doesn’t use FilmFreeway. I love having everything set up on my profile so that all I have to do is make my selection and click “submit.” Even then, there are the tasks of sending in the files if my film gets in, and making an announcement on social media, and occasionally sending an email to cast and crew with all the latest news. I don’t have a PR person, so I have to be a self-starter and do it all myself. I appreciate anything that makes the process a little easier.

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

What an interesting question! I don’t think anyone has ever asked me this. I’m sure there are several that are way up there, and if you think about it, the songs I know from childhood have had more time to be repeated over the course of my lifetime, right? But I’m gonna say it’s the song Frank Sinatra by the band Cake. I used to play it over and over on a cassette tape in my car, back in the nineties. There’s something fascinating and beautiful in the lyrics.

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

I’m writing a feature-length script, or actually several, but this one is a coming of age story set in 1950’s New Orleans about a 13-year-old Italian-American boy named Dué. Dué hangs out every day after school at a camp that he and his friends built in the swamp. Dué is trying to find a priest outside his parish to whom he can anonymously confess his crush on a nun, which he knows is a pretty big sin, but when he discovers the body of his own murdered priest, his granddad has to protect him from the killer, who has now gone after Dué. It’s actually an adaptation of a novel written by a local New Orleans author, and it’s a really sweet story with a lot of humor. I’m hoping to direct it myself, once it’s safe to work on a movie set again.

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Interview with Filmmaker Sergey Vlasov (SOBA-CHAN’S MORNING)

SOBA-CHAN’S MORNING played to rave reviews at the April 2020 LGBT Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Sergey Vlasov: The motivation for the film was the old script I had and finally decided to make. There was a festival in Japan that I wanted to participate in, so I chose this script as it was sharp and simple.

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

From the moment my friends told about the festival and I decided to make the short to take part in the festival, to the completion of the film it took three weeks.

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

That’s a hard one…
Routine uncertainty…may be…

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

The production went so smoothly. I cannot believe I could make a film in 3 weeks. My previous films took me 6-12 months. So no obstacles whatsoever for this one. )))

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

It was soooooo heart-warming. People understand it, people enjoy it and people will remember it. I have to say this is the best reward.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I just head this idea of the triangle, and I thought what would happen if I change the lover for a girl (in original script it was a man). I did it and I liked the new vibes of the film.

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

Eeeemmm… It might sound strange but it is Robocop (1987) I saw it more than 300 times.

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

Filmfreeway is the best platform. The design, the interface… It’s just out of a competition.

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

Emmm… probably Who wants to live forever by Queen.

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

I have already filmed another 5 minutes short and now writing my first feature.

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Interview with Filmmaker Johann Vorster (CAPITAINE)

CAPITAINE was the winner of BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY at the April 2020 Documentary Short Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Johann Vorster: My love for the outdoors and fly fishing. There are not many pristine places like in the film left I the in the world. Film also serves as awareness I the hopes to protect through eco tourism.

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

All in all about a year. That part of Cameroon is really hard to get to. Travelling there took almost 5 days. We explored the river and its surrounds whist filming just over 2 weeks. The editing you do in between paying jobs, not the best as you lose some momentum in the process.

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

Water Elephant

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

Charging camera and computer equipment deep in the bush is difficult.

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

It was great to hear that non fishy fans enjoyed a fishy film.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

Collaborating with like minded friends, like African Waters, who’s main objective is to use sustainable sport fishing to create long-term meaningful and positive changes to the people, fauna and flora in here remote areas.

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

Wayne’s World

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

It’s simple and works great.

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

Anything from Pantera.

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

I am finishing up on a Cheetah conservation based film. It still needs a name.

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Interview with Filmmaker Sunny Wai Yan Chan (GODSPEED)

GODSPEED played to rave reviews at the April 2020 Under 5 Minute Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Sunny Wai Yan Chan: Godspeed is a thesis film for my master’s degree program. I wanted to grasp this opportunity to make something personal to me. Eventually, I decided to dig deeper in the relationship with my family. We care about each other, but it is usually less direct and less obvious. I thought it would be interesting to describe such bonding in a visual way.

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

I started pitching the idea in October 2018. Production started officially in January 2019 and the finished product was released in May. That is a little bit more than half a year.

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

Family love

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

Rendering. There are a lot of close-ups in the film which required a lot of rendering time. Some shots took about 110 minutes to render one single frame. We did a lot of tests at the school’s render farm to get the highest quality possible under its limitation of maximum 120 minutes per frame. Huge thanks to Brian, Yuna and Aster for helping me out with the rendering.

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

I was happy that my film resonated with people all over the world. Watching and listening to them talking about it makes me even happier. To me, this is the best reward I could ever achieve.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

The film is about family and is heavily inspired by my childhood experiences. I was born and raised in a traditional Hong Kong family. Lucky enough, there were no disastrous events or moments of life and death. Just like every other kid, I lived a mundane life with ups and downs that revolved around school exams, family quarrels and summer holidays. These aspects of life may sound trivial to most people, but they were extremely important to me as a kid. When I was in elementary school, there was this robot toy that I wanted so badly but it was a bit expensive. I kept asking my mom for the toy but she never agreed to buy it. I felt as if this is end of the world. Looking back at this incident now, this is something I could only experience as a kid. I re-visited my other childhood memories and I learned things that do not matter much to adults actually matter a lot to kids. This is what I wanted to achieve in this project – a simple story that is emotionally amplified through the eyes of the child protagonist because saying goodbye to his mother matters to him a lot.

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

Toy Story. I had a VHS tape of this film when I was in elementary school and I re-watched it countless times. Coco is the film that I watched the most in theaters. I watched it 4 times – 2 times with original voiceover and 2 times with Cantonese voiceover.

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

It is very convenient and I like it. I was worried about searching for festivals at their official websites from Google but FilmFreeway totally solved this concern. It is also great that I only needed to create the profile of the film once for submission to all festivals.

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

“I Believe I Can Fly” performed by Yolanda Adams, David Foster and the Soul Children of Chicago during the Concert for World Children’s Day in 2002.

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

Definitely a new film. This time I wanted to do it slowly. I am learning a lot as a junior animator right now in an amazing studio. Eventually, I want to incorporate the knowledge and skill I acquired into my next animation project, hopefully again with my team.

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Interview with Filmmaker Hailey Abernathy (FLOOD)

FLOOD was the winner of BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY at the April 2020 LGBT Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Hailey Abernathy: This film was motivated by personal experience…not necessarily with my family but just something I generally witnessed living in southeastern United States. I felt that other people needed to see what this type of behavior does to a person and possibly even sympathize (empathize?) with an LGBTQ+ character.

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

It took me a while to get the idea to paper, but once I did, it only took a few weeks to complete the script. Raghav, the DP, Sun, 1st AD, and I only had about a month left of living together once the script was finished, as we were currently all living and working together at the time. Our (semi) final day of shooting was actually our final full day of living in Boston together before we all went back home.

Filming took two weekends but the toughest part was editing, since we were no longer together. We also had to reshoot the outdoor baptism scene because our first attempt was a complete failure. All in all it took about a year to finish.

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

personal, powerful

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

Our biggest obstacle was definitely filming the outdoor baptism scene. Raghav, Caroline, the lead actress, and I drove to Virginia from Boston to shoot this scene around this time of year and tried to shoot it in the Atlantic Ocean…yeah that didn’t work out. So eventually the scene had to be shot in a lake in Georgia in August but I wasn’t even there for it! Caroline and Raghav happened to both be there along with some other trusted filmmakers, and they were able to get it done. Side note, I trust Raghav with my life so this wasn’t a problem for me.

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

I was nervous to hear what they had to say but the more I watched it, the more confident I felt. I really enjoyed getting the feedback.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

The idea really came from experiences I saw around me. I wanted people to be able to feel for a character that maybe they wouldn’t traditionally feel for. And I didn’t want to tell the age old story of coming out, parents don’t support but child eventually finds happiness because that’s not always the way life works and I wanted people to know this. I want others to understand that a family’s disapproval can destroy someone’s life inside and out.

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

Star Wars Episode IV…if we’re being honest.

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

I like FilmFreeway for the most part because it saves me the trouble of going through website after website after website. However, it can be overwhelming and sometimes hard to find the best festival for each unique project.

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

Wow, I am going to probably be cliche here because I just really don’t have an answer to that one 😦 Raghav and Sun would DEFINITELY have great answers to this question.

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

I wrote another LGBT short and was supposed to shoot it on March 28 and 29 but sadly, that was not possible due to coronavirus. We still have our actors lined up and most of our locations, but we have no idea when we will be able to get back to normal (just like everyone else). I am very confident in the script (WAY more confident than I felt about Flood) so I am excited to see where it goes.
Raghav just wrapped shooting on a short called “Impersonal” which I think will be phenomenal. He was DP for that film, as well.

Raghav and Sun are both such incredible, creative people and I know whatever is next for them will be beyond amazing. I’m hoping we all get out of this mess soon so I can see them SHINE.

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Interview with Filmmaker Ethan Munoz (GENTLY INTO THE DARK)

GENTLY INTO THE DARK played to rave reviews at the April 2020 LGBT Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Ethan Munoz: My main motivation for making Gently Into the Dark was to show a different side of the LGBT community. I wanted to make something that delved into fears and terrors of a worst nightmare come to life. To me, I wanted to push the limits of what an LGBT film could be. Making new and different art forms is exciting and thrilling to me.

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

The whole project took about 7 months to make. The concept was about a month to develop. Filming the project was over the span of several weekends. Editing, Coloring, Sound Design, and Special Effects took about four months.

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

Horrific. Tense.

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

The biggest obstacle was the pressures of peers reviewing the film. This was my thesis film and it had to be reviewed and reedited based on notes it got during several classes. The pressures of making a film that an entire class liked with different opinions was definitely the biggest obstacle. You can’t always make everyone happy and it’s near impossible to.

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

I was beyond happy. To see this much praise on something you work on for months is beyond overwhelming. Especially since the film has been through so many edits. I love the final product of the film and to see that people not only like it but love it, is beyond words.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I have a lot of fears as being a gay man. Even though I live in a city where I know I’m safe I still have the fear of not knowing how people will react in other places of the world. I grew up in a small town and I’ve seen the awkward and uncomfortable situations of gay people growing up. But that’s not even the worst of it depending on what country you grow up in. This was the starting point of the idea that became Gently Into the Dark. What if people don’t approve and try to change me? If they can’t, what will they do? AM I safe? I wanted to portray society trying to fix what they didn’t accept. But the perseverance and love of the two men, no matter what, will end up together. Even if they have to live in this dark world, they will have to fight it together.

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

I usually watch action films, thrillers, and sci-fi. My favorite film is Inception, which I’ve seen over forty times. I like to watch those kinds of films that have incredible visuals and tell a unique story.

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

The platform is incredible. It makes finding festivals easy without having to search out websites individually. Everything is on one site and has a great filter to narrow what the best festivals are for your needs.

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

The song I’ve listened to the most is Counting Stars by OneRepublic. It’s my favorite song of all time.

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

I’m working on writing and directing another short film for this year. Possibly two. But beyond that I’m writing and developing three feature films. These are projects I’ve been developing for a while and am super excited that they are coming together. Two of them are thriller/horror and one of them is thriller/crime. I am working with a couple different writers for each and plan to have them written by the end of the year. I love filmmaking and am always looking forward to my next thing.

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Interview with Filmmaker Parker Alexander Meyers (AND-1139)

AND-1139 played to rave reviews at the April 2020 LGBT Feedback Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Parker Alexander Meyers: I really wanted to tell an emotional story that would show a different side of technology. We always see the negative sides of what could be, but I wanted to ask the audience the question of “is this a good alternative for someone who isn’t able to connect with other people in the future?” I also really wanted to present a male character in a emotionally vulnerable place, because I feel like that is something we don’t get to see a lot in movies, so I wanted people to see the vulnerability of men, in a realistic way.

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

From original script all the way to finished, the film took about 1 year and a half to make.

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

Subtle, Romantic

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

Getting the script where I wanted it to be, I didn’t sleep for 3 weeks because I was up all-night doing rewrites (I work full-time outside of college, which I attend full-time as well). It became a joke with my teachers and classmates, how before my teachers could look at the draft I had sent them, a new one would appear. With less than 2 months to make the movie and switching genres all together, while also working on other films and going to my job, it was a challenge to make sure that the script was where I wanted it to be with enough time to spend going over it with the actors.

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

I kept waiting to hear a negative review or a critique on the film, but kept hearing such wonderful things. It really made me feel good and warmed my heart that so many people really loved the film.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I was in my sophomore screenwriting class at Ringling College of Art and Design and I was trying to think of story ideas to create as my Junior film project, and I happened to stumble upon George Lucas’ thesis short film, THX 1138, which had me inspired to create something sci-fi. So, I started thinking of how I could do a sci-fi film, without the ability to have super futuristic production design. I had originally written the script as a thriller, in the style of a Black Mirror episode, but after some feedback from my teachers about two months before production was to begin, I decided to switch to a quieter romantic drama. I knew that I wanted something that would be emotional and would tell the story through Lucca’s eyes, because I had the image of Black from Moonlight in my head, and how he said no much with his eyes, and that was something I really wanted to try and implement into this film.

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

This is a tough question because there’s quite a few movies I have watched countless times in my life, so I’ll list the few that are most likely the answer: Spider-Man 2 (2004), Titanic (1998), The Phantom of the Opera (2004), The Mummy Returns (2001), and the Star Wars Saga (originals and prequels). As a kid I would pick one of these movies and watch them over and over again, and I still watch them pretty regularly.

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

So far, I have enjoyed using FilmFreeway, there’s no other services currently reaching as many festivals, and I had joined WithoutABox right before they closed, so I never really used their platform. I find FilmFreeway easy to navigate and use, it’s what I would recommend to any filmmaker that is looking for a submission service.

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

This is a lot harder than the movie answer, but if I had to guess which song I’ve listened to most in my life, I would say it is “Your Guardian Angel” by Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. I used to play it on repeat every single night for probably a few months, it was my favorite song for a really long time. It could also be something from The Phantom of the Opera, since I both listened to the music (both Broadway and film) and watched the film from the day I was born (for the Broadway version, I saw the film in theaters when it came out).

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

I’m graduating college with my BFA in Film on May 9th, 2020, and I’ll be sending out my next film to festivals, as long as there are festivals to be had in our current climate. This next film of mine is called Red Light and is about a high-end escort that is conflicted about telling her favorite client that she’s leaving the business. As of right now, April 26, 2020, we are really close to being finished with post-production on the project, so hopefully we’ll be hitting the festival circuit soon! I want to begin writing the feature version of AND-1139, because it’s a story I really want to revisit and develop further as I feel there is so much to explore within that world.

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Interview with Filmmaker Christina Hibner (UNIFIED THEORY)

UNIFIED THEORY was awarded BEST SOUND & MUSIC at the April 2020 Animation Feedback Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Christina Hibner: This was a student thesis film I created as a final project for graduate school at SVA. I feel there are not enough scientific cartoons that explain how the world works in a fun and engaging way. I wanted to build that bridge for people.

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

A little over a year.

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

Transcendental trip

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

This was my first short film after learning what after effects was only a year prior. Getting up to the speed of my vision for this film was a real challenge.

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

Wowie! They are talking about my film!? It made my heart glow with pride.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I come from a scientific background. I got my BA in physics in 2017 so I have always really been inspired by science. I would sit in class and try to understand how the world works. In my first month of art classes, I noticed the way my professor was talking reminded me of my science classes in that he was showing us how the world inside the animation program works except this time, I had the power to control every element. This made me feel like a god in training where I was the one creating the reality inside the animation program. This got me thinking about being a creator and how even the greatest ones have to start learning from somewhere. Making mistakes are an important part of learning.

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

I don’t watch a ton of movies, I am more of a TV person. that being said, I have seen the South Park Movie many times over.

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

It’s a convenient place to apply to a variety of festivals and get information on them as well as pay all in one place.

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

According to my Spotify, that would be Woodstock by Jon Bellion although recently I have had Beetlejuice the Musical on loop.


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

For now I am working at a medical supplies company as a photographer/ video graphics person but I do plan on creating more shorts in my free time.

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Interview with Filmmaker Kevin Barwick (SERPENDIPITY)

SERPENDIPITY was awarded BEST CHARACTERS at the April 2020 ANIMATION Feedback Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Kevin Barwick: I was motivated by the fresh take on the well known character of Medusa. With this film it was exciting to explore the boundaries between grounded and fantasy storytelling.

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

This Animated short took 2 years from idea to finished product.

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

Whimsically inviting

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

As we developed the film, our team was still learning the fundamental techniques of the industry. Our biggest obstacle came in the big risks where we didn’t know if a task would turn out successful, due to our limited technical vocabulary. It’s scary to feel under qualified but I think these risks are essential for growth.


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

I’m honored every time someone is able to ingest out film. The experience is surreal.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

The idea is an amalgamation of 16 gifted artists coming together to tell a story.

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

The most viewed film in my life would be The Lion King.

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

It’s relieving having an accessible platform, such as filmfreeway, that unifies the breadth of festivals and film makers allover the globe.

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

I’m an avid music enthusiast, so one song wouldn’t reflect myself. I’m a fan of the intricacy of jazz, the power behind rock, and the catch of pop.

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

A new film is definitely in the works. This one will be a longer process and a smaller team but I’ll always be creating art for all to enjoy.

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Interview with Filmmaker Léwuga Benson (TIME TO LEAVE)

TIME TO LEAVE played to rave reviews at the April 2020 NEW YORK FEEDBACK Film Festival. The film was awarded BEST SOUND & MUSIC.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

I was motivated by my own personal experiences of being black in a country that is hostile, suspicious, and judgemental of me because of my skin color. I was also motivated by the many interactions that I have had with law enforcement; the way they tended to, first, harass me or jump to conclusions without bothering to asking questions or get to know my side of the story. Growing up I was never a bad kid. I went to school, did as I was told, and for the most part, stayed out of trouble. My Dad being a former police officer also had a lot to do with me being a good kid and staying out of trouble. However, and whenever I would interact with law enforcement, it was always apparent, through their body language, their tone of voice, etc, that I was different from the other kids. That I wasn’t entitled to the same rights and privileges as my white friends. This all solidified quite vividly when, one day, still just 16-years-old, I decided to go to the bank in my suburban neighborhood and inquire about opening a bank account for the first time. Although I was a teenager and was clearly not a threat to anyone; I was still treated as if I was one by the bank staff. When I was eventually escorted out of the bank for asking ‘too many questions’ the message was not only that I didn’t belong in their place of business but that, as a person of color, any other establishment was also off-limits. It is precisely these traumatizing experiences, these feelings of difference, and of being Other that inspired the creation of this film. The intention was to create a film that, in its personal and historical testimony, unpacked the complexities of place, acceptance, and identity.

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

It took me some time to work on/finish this film. Once I had the idea for the film (i.e., a personal documentary essay film about race, place, and identity, etc) and a rough-cut, I ran it through some trusting people, like my close friends, family, and professors (University at Buffalo). Upon their insight and constructive feedback, I went back and made adjustments to the film. For example, I added a voiceover, got rid of the text, and focused instead on having stronger visuals. This back-and-forth of me receiving feedback and then making more adjustments to the film continued for quite some time, approximately 4 months. Rather than the typical process of pre-production, production, and post-production, I would jump from one part of the process to the next until it all just became difficult to tell which stage in the process I was in anymore. One of my professors eventually joked that I would keep making changes until the film looked nothing like what I originally had in mind. I agreed. Eventually, I held a closed-screening of the film as a way to finalize what I had been working on for the past 5 months. But guess what happened? After getting more feedback I went back again and made more adjustments. Looking back, it’s actually super hilarious. But during the process and the early stages of the film it was a bit stressful because the film just kept changing and evolving. However, I’m grateful for all the feedback because it pushed me to make a stronger film that, in my opinion, is more accurate, expansive and powerful than any other film I’ve ever made.

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

Contemplative and necessary.

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

The biggest obstacle I faced when making this film was deciding if the film should have a narrative or strictly be experimental. I struggled over the two because, as a writer and an avid reader, I love stories and allegories; but as an experimental filmmaker, I also love abstract and Avant-garde like films. Eventually, I decided the film needed both. And agreed, however, that both the narrative and the experimental aspect of the film needed to balance – not compete – with each other.

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

It felt like I had butterflies in my stomach. I was overwhelmed with glee and happiness that they were assessing and thinking critically about my film. I felt humbled by their analysis and appreciation of the work I had made. I was also struck by how spot on their assumptions about the film was. They demonstrated a level of filmic sophistication that was not only impressive but fun to watch.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I came up with the film by watching a ton of videos online of black people being escorted out of a place of business. Some of the videos I watched were ones from the past, like during the 1960s, at the height of the civil rights movement. Other videos were more contemporary: like one such, and now famous, video of two black men being escorted out of Starbucks back in 2018. These videos reminded me of my own experiences; encounters with law enforcement; and the way, in general, an employee would follow and question me whenever I frequented their place of business. In preparation of the film, I remember thinking that I needed to create something that not only illuminated that sense of alienation that I and so many others like me had felt their entire life but also questioned, destabilized, and, hopefully, reconfigured our perception of blackness.

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

“The Pursuit of Happyness” starring Will Smith and his then 8-year old son, Jaden Smith. I absolutely love this film, and have seen it at least 30 times! What gets me all the time is the superb acting by Will Smith and the intimate, powerful, and heartfelt relationship between him and his son. Their chemistry was so amazing. The one scene where Will Smith and his son Jaden are in an empty subway and Jaden, having been beaten down by his family’s circumstance: i.e., his mom left them for New York City, his Dad wasn’t selling his machine, bone density scanners, etc., refuses to play make-belief; to believe that they were surrounded by actual dinosaurs and that the floor was molten lava, always bring tears to my eyes. It’s just so sad that circumstance and poverty can do that to a child: rob him or her of their imagination.

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

From a filmmaker’s perspective, I think Filmfreeway is a helpful and supportive platform for both filmmakers and festival administrators.

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

“Hunger” by Florence + The Machine

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