Interview with director Frank Aron Gårdsø (O)

Frank Aron Gårdsø’s short film O was the winner of BEST FILM at the October 2016 Horror/Thriller Film Festival.

It was a pleasure to interview him about his film and what’s next:

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Frank Aron Gårdsø: I wanted to see if I was capable of making a scary film in broad daylight that did not have any monster, killer, villain or beast to scare you.

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

FAG: I would say that the process moved rather fast. I think we were talking about it in the middle of summer, and we were out filming by the beginning of autumn of the same year. So from when we started to think about making the movie until we had a finish product it took us half a year or so.

MT: How would you describe your short film in two words!?

FAG: Oh, only two Words… ? What can I say…. Mysterious and Ominous

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

FAG: There were a few obstacles along the way for sure. First of all I learnt that making a non budget movie is very expensive. There are always things that are needed that one did not think about. And then we had the weather. Since the whole film is shot outside, we had big challenges with the elements. One day it was perfect sun. And perfect sun is what I wanted for the movie, cause I wanted to make a scary movie in broad daylight. The next day it was foggy like crazy and then came the rain. At the end it was starting to snow..To top that up, we had to reshoot most of the film due to a lead character shaved off his hair. We had to replace him and find another actor to play his part and start all over. So enough obstacles for sure.

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

FAG: I am very happy to hear and see that there are audiences that actually like and enjoy something you make.

To see people talk about it after watching it, well thats just fantastic.

Interesting to see how the audience was trying to figure out why they end up in the hole. What the hole is? Why they get drawn to it?

It was interesting to hear that some saw the comedic elements of the story and the different references to other movies.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK of the Short Film:

MT: How did you come up with the idea for this short film? 

FAG: It was more of a talk with another friend of mine who also works in the film industry. We just wanted to make something so we chatted over the phone for a while and it suddenly popped out of my head. Why don’t we make a film about some friends who find a black hole in the ground in the forrest. So we went from there.

MT: What film have you seen the most in your life?

FAG: I think I have to say it’s not only one. After giving it a little bit of thought I end up with 3 movies. And it’s kinda funny cause one of them is totally different from the other two. The first one is The Exorcist. I remember watching this for the first time sitting on my mother’s lap. Intense childhood for sure. Growing up watching exorcism on tv. Loved it. Second one is A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. I am laughing just thinking about it. Freddy is fantastic in that one. Talking about it now make me want to see it again. The last one is Grease. It has this amazing good vibe. Great music and great cast which is fantastic to watch.

MT: What is next for you? A new film?

FAG: I am currently working for Fremantle Media on a new groundbreaking TV gameshow as a game developer.

But I am also in the middle of the editing my new short film. This time it’s not in the horror genre. It’s more of a drama with some dark comedic elements. Hopefully I will have it finished by the end of this year.



Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.


Interview with Story Artist Chris Paluszek (Robot Chicken, The LEGO Movies)

the_lego_movie.jpgWhat fun it was to sit down with the extraordinarily talented artist Chris Paluszek. In many ways his career is just getting started as he’ll be helping create all of the upcoming LEGO Movies in the next few years.


Matthew Toffolo: What job has been your most valuable experience so far?

Chris Paluszek: I think the first film I ever worked on, “The LEGO Movie.” The crew was relatively small and I had a lot of opportunity to work with really smart, talented people who were very patient and answered a lot of questions I had about storyboarding, storytelling, and the film industry.

MT: How is the LEGO MOVIE experience? It seems to be a franchise in the making and you’re on board for the creative experience.

CP: The first LEGO film was a bit of an outlier. The franchise hadn’t been established, so there weren’t many boundaries on what we could or couldn’t do. So, we had a ton of fun trying lots of crazy ideas that you just don’t usually have the freedom to try on other films. Definitely a highlight of my career.

MT: Is there a type of film that you haven’t worked on yet that you would love to work on?

CP: I would love to work on a short film, like the Pixar shorts that precede an animated feature. Small, self-contained narratives like that are great opportunities for artists to push themselves and experiment.

MT: What is the typical job storyboarding animation movies?

CP: It can depend, but usually there’s a working script that is constantly evolving in conversations between the writer and the director, and a story artist “boards out” a scene from the latest draft. The story artist draws whatever the scene calls for, whether it’s a high speed car chase, or two characters talking in a coffee shop. Whatever case, it’s up to the storyboard artist to depict the action and decide on what shot language best tells the story.

MT: What’s the general working relationship and process between a storyboard artist and the director?

CP: The director has a vision for their movie, and as a story artist you’re there to support that vision. When you’re given an assignment you meet with the director, who lays out how they imagine the scene. You ask lots of questions and at the end of the meeting you should hopefully have a clear idea of what the director wants to see. Within that framework, you can bring some of yourself into the scene, whether it’s acting choices, or maybe a really cool composition that frames the action, or even a small comedic beat (if it suits the tone of the scene).

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve working on, have you watched the most times in your life?

CP: I’m always awed by Hayao Miyazaki’s “Kiki’s Delivery Service.” It’s fantastical, yet down to earth. It’s lighthearted and also deeply emotional. Everytime I watch it I see something new.

MT: Do you have a storyboard mentor?

CP: My first story position was an internship on a TV show, and the Story Lead for that crew really helped me out. He was patient and helped me with the basics, like maintaining shot continuity as you “cut” (draw a new shot) around the action.

MT: Where do you see the future of storyboards in the motion pictures?

CP: Most story jobs are within a tight crew of artists that work intimately with the director, so they can nimbly address major story changes in time for deadlines. However, some studios have made whole films by sending work out to freelancers, working from home. While I can’t say I love my commute, working alongside incredible talent has been the chief way I’ve improved as an artist and storyteller.

MT: Where did you grow up? How did you get into working in the film industry?

CP: I grew up in Virginia, and always loved art as a way of telling stories. I went to school for animation, and moved out to Los Angeles thinking I could be an animator. Unfortunately my animation skills weren’t very good! But I was lucky to bump into someone at the right time, who took a chance and offered me a production internship at a small TV animation studio. While there I crossed paths with the Storyboard department, who were looking for extra help. I was able to become a full-time Story intern, which eventually led to an official job as a Story Artist! It was a strange path, threaded with a lot of luck and kindness.


Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to

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Interview with Supervising Sound Editor Wylie Stateman (The Hateful Eight, Home Alone, JFK)

wylie_stateman.jpgWylie Statement is a gem. It’s a simple as that. This is truly one of my favorite interviews. In my subjective opinion, it’s a must read for anyone working in the industry today, and for those attempting to get into the industry. His answers were entertaining, educational, and there is a theme that ties it all together. See if you can figure it out. Hope you enjoy.

See Wylie’s full list of credits – 7 Oscar nominations for Sound Editing: (Born on the 4th of July (1989), Cliffhanger (1993), Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), Wanted (2008), Inglourious Basterds (2009), Django Unchained (2012), Lone Survivor (2013).

Matthew Toffolo: How would you describe what a Supervising Sound Editor does in one sentence?

Wylie Stateman: A supervising sound editor serves the director, editor and production as the project’s audio architect; providing creative oversight over planning, sound design, sound editorial, and delivery of the finished sound track.

MT: How is the Quentin Tarantino experience? (The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds, Grindhouse, Kill Bill)?

WS: Quentin Tarantino is truly a force of cinematic nature. Quentin sees film the way a philosopher sees life: it’s fundamentally interesting; it’s personal; it has intervals of both width and depth; and, of course, at key moments in time, it all ties together. For sure in QT’s case, it all ties to a unique writing and cinematic sense and style. Quentin celebrates character intensity.

Driven by his sensibilities in using musical score along with songs and overlapping sound design, Quentin knows how to harness key sonic moments and make them serve his characters and his story. Working along side of Quentin is inspirational. He challenges you to look for ideas in service to your (and his) intentions; in service to creative ways to tell story; and in collaboration with big picture ideas.

Quentin also taught me the value in studying historical film references. He often provided specific examples of films that he felt advanced filmmaking or some aspect of sound specifically. For “Kill Bill”, we reviewed Quentin’s fascination with early Hong Kong films. On “Grindhouse”, he once referenced a trailer that he had seen some thirty years prior as having left a lasting impression on him (sound-wise). Sure enough, the next day a small roll of 35mm film arrived and we had the chance to review an original William Friedkin “Exorcist” trailer, circa 1973. It served as an informative reference for the movement of sound through the surround speaker field.

Every Quentin film has an origin story that is personal to his life long pursuit of cinema. Quentin personally hand picks his filmmaking family on every project. His producers and department heads are always part of his most trusted assets. The production team and, after production, the cutting room is always populated with smart, devoted, traditional, and not-so-traditional, highly talented people. Quentin is the driving force out in front of the team, thoroughly inspiring everyone.

PHOTO: Ennio Morricone & Quentin Tarantino finish the score for THE HATEFUL EIGHT:


MT: You’ve also worked on more than a few Oliver Stone films? What is this experience like? How is it different than working on other studio films?

WS: Oliver Stone’s body of work is at the heart and soul of my resume. I met Oliver at the right time during his second filmmaking endeavor, “Salvador”. I began serving as his sound designer and supervising sound editor immediately after the first “Wall Street”. I’ve worked with Oliver consistently for over three decades and on more than twenty of his original creative projects.

Oliver asks great questions, sets a high bar intellectually, and makes films with complex layered story lines. With Oliver, we blazed new rules in terms of layered story and layered dialogue; we are always attempting to weave story exposition into what feels like dramatic action. I recommend that you take a look and listen to Oliver’s film “Any Given Sunday”. In one scene Al Pacino and Jamie Foxx are seated having a lunchtime conversation. The dialogue unfolds with intensity and the drama builds to a climax with visually intercut scenes with the chariot race from the original “Ben Hur”. Oliver’s films are propelled through experimental ideas and a damn-the-torpedoes cutting style. Oliver loves to construct stories with an unfolding of ideas through visuals, abstract sonic elements, real life events, and words. With great courage, Oliver created a style of filmmaking that has influenced every generation that has followed.

It has been one of my life’s great professional pleasures to have helped him shape his truly recognizable voice. Oliver writes, produces and directs his projects. I have learned to trust Oliver, and am grateful, Oliver has trusted in me.

PHOTO: Wylie on “The Hateful Eight” set:


MT: Were there some films you worked on that you thought would not do well financially and were big hits? Or, films you assumed were going to be a big success, but ended up not doing well?

WS: My mentor, the very accomplished editor, Paul Hirsch, described it well enough: “There are only three potential outcomes for film: good box office/good reviews, good box office/bad reviews, bad box office/bad reviews; the first two considered acceptable in most cases”.

Making a movie requires an ability (hell, necessity), to go all in; to totally love the thing; to commit yourself completely to it; and to demonstrate an unwavering devotion to the filmmaking cause. Success, surprise or not, does always feel like a wave of great euphoria. Yet, on the other hand, it is a soul-sucking, often personal feeling of failure or even defeat, when you swing with all your heart and miss.

I have learned that the success of a film is highly dependent on the ever changing cultural mood of the day. In the throes of constructing a film, it is hard to have any objectivity around box office potential. A film’s sound track is merely a piece of that puzzle and my part is to press my creative team to develop and deliver the most interesting, informative sound possible. That is my goal on every project.

After all is said, felt and done, great successes have many fathers; failures in Hollywood are often treated as orphans.

MT: Every year I watch the “Home Alone” films. Are you surprised that both films still stand the test of time and perhaps my kid’s kids will be watching the film each year? How was this working experience? There is such a great musical score/sound design that sets that film’s tone and feel in the beginning. It gets me every single time.

WS: It is a great film. Directed by Chris Columbus with music composed by John William, the first “Home Alone” film was such a wonderful surprise. Chris Columbus and Raja Gosnell, the film’s editors, nailed the piece. From start to finish, it promises, delivers, and above all, entertains.

I’m glad that it has a place in the hearts of future generations. I think that “Home Alone” possessed the right mix of relatable family circumstance; an unstoppable boy as your relatable young hero; timeless pratfall comedy; great bad guy casting; and fun-to-visualize story lines. All of these pulled tightly together with emotional thematic music. Like lightning in a bottle, the “Home Alone” film franchise was written and produced by John Hughes, a man I adored. I learned comedy sound design with John’s unrelenting support. He understood middle American life and used that understanding to create coming-of-age comedies that tickled insecurities, made people laugh and even, on occasion, enjoy an unexpected good cry.

John once described his desired place in the industry as the ‘Woody Allen for all those peoples west of New Jersey’. I loved that about John. He was an important story originator, filmmaker, director, and writer of meaningful contemporary comedy. He was a true gem.

MT: You’ve been nominated for an Oscar 7 times but have always come home empty. What is that experience like? Is it just an honor to be nominated, or do you really want that statue?

WS: It is always a thrill and an honor to be nominated. Each project is such a different journey and you never really know how these things will turn out. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science is a great institution that was created to seek, showcase and celebrate excellence. The Oscars are seen by some in the press as a path to creative or professional immortality (one for the obituaries) and so, to be nominated, well, that might be likened to being a runner-up to, or at the least very close to immortality.

Going to the Oscar show and not winning a statue is a uniquely Hollywood roller coaster ride: five people with their hearts in their hands, all on camera, where four will feel crestfallen while one is anointed. My mentor, friend and Oscar winner for the original “Star Wars”, Paul Hirsch, once referred the experience as something akin to an old fashioned bull fight: “seems fun for everybody, but the bull”.

Thinking as an artist and filmmaker, it a tremendous accomplishment just to be invited to join the Academy and to be a member in good standing of such a prestigious organization. It’s easy to get lost in the award season noise, but I still truly find it inspiring at the end of each year to sit down, watch (and hear) the great works that my industry peers have created. Being singled out as one of the five artists of merit in that year’s field of artists is each time, nothing short of mind-blowing.

MT: How has sound design changed from a technology and creative point of view from the year you started to today?

WS: My career as a sound designer now spans four decades. Working first with analogue technology was literally hands-on; you actually touched the film stock. There were tools based around the Moviola, mechanical synchronizers, and tape splicers. It was the golden audio age where iconic analogue films such as “Star Wars” and “Apocalypse Now” were made. I was a sound designer on the original film ”Tron”, the bio-pic musical “Coal Miners Daughter”, and “The Long Riders”. As an example of where we came from, “The Long Riders” was mixed and finished in a MONO track format because, at that time, Warner Brothers (the pioneers of cinema sound in 1927) was still not yet entirely committed to releasing films in STEREO for theatrical distribution.

Things began to change quickly late in the 1980’s, when the industry began departing from analogue film tape-based sound and turning towards digital data and reliable multichannel theatrical playback systems. New digital field recorders changed the ways in which we could capture and archive our sound design elements. Computer-based sound libraries and advancements in editing workstations changed how we cut, layered, and mixed. Eventually, all things downloadable would come along and change the tools again. The market for talent and the possibilities offered to and from the sound design community opened; creative innovations again flowed to meet the challenges offered as a result of digital media.

Sound design, as a creative art form, continues to be technically-driven. It is considered by many still to be on the verge of yet another new technical revolution; likely, the immersive frontier. Finally, films someday might sonically bark as efficiently as they might visually bite.

MT: Where do you see the future of Sound Designing in film?

WS: Stories will be told in ways filmmakers of the past could never have facilitated. Thanks to the ‘internet of everything’ and by that I mean downloadable niche content, Augmented Reality (AR), and Virtual Reality (VR); the potential contribution that future sound designers can make has only just begun. Packets of sound (or ‘sound objects’) are the new building blocks of innovative sound design. Ultra high fidelity “samples” that are utilized in digital playback instruments available literally at the artists’ fingertips, all serve the future where experimentation becomes faster and further unhinged from technical limitations. Today and forever forward, immersive playback systems with greater sonic powers, and even greater numbers of sound placement options, will convincingly deliver “surround” sound anywhere or everywhere in any venue.

Sound design is an unlimited experimental art form because it is unique in the fact that it’s invisible; can’t be held; can’t be stopped. When you stop sound or “pause it”, it goes away.

MT: You’ve been working in the industry for 35+ years on over 100+ productions. Is there is a film or two that you’re most proud of?

WS: Working on your first film is surely a thrill.

Establishing long term credibility as a sound designer usually requires broadening one’s knowledge of music, film, and art in various other forms. I have found that each project served as a building block towards a wide catalog of filmmaking lessons. Fiction, non-fiction, comedy, musical, thriller, horror, action, adventure, romance – all have their challenges and all feed into a lifetime of content creation in its various genre forms.

Knocking filmmaker expectations out of the park or maybe just advancing sound design as an appreciable art form, be it on a single project or an entire genre of filmmaking – this is what makes me proud as a sound designer.

MT: Is there a type of film that you haven’t worked on yet that you would love to work on?

WS: Filmmakers are often comfortable with the voice that they have come to know. There are a few filmmakers with whom I would love to someday have an opportunity to work: Chris Nolan, Wes Anderson, Jeff Nichols, Spike Jones, and Denis Villeneuve come to mind. It would be a great honor and challenge to walk in stride with them, building on their previous sonic footprints. Whatever the film, there is an opportunity to help exercise, in a meaningful way, the filmmaker’s voice – be it clarifying it, extending it, or even creating something entirely off the scripted page. Helping to find, interpret and explore sound in its various forms on any given project is what excites me most.

MT: What makes a great sound designer? What skills does he/she need?

WS: A successful sound designer mines the gap between hearing and listening. It might seem a bit esoteric to visual thinkers, but there is a difference between listening and hearing. People who listen absorb and process the sound coming at them, while people who hear know the sound artistically they want to hear. When you are mixing sounds, it is even more important to be able to hear. Good sound designers exercise their ability to hear and then, only after that, focus on those bits worth listening to.

Having technology on your side is helpful. Partnering with diverse and interesting talent is essential to growth, as a designer, team member and/or team leader. Success comes by resolving difficult filmmaking challenges and by putting first client needs and their artistic desires.

To be a great sound designer, what’s also really helpful (and necessary!) is compelling content on which to practice. Practice expands hearing as well as refines one’s ability to listen.

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve working on, have you watched the most times in your life?

WS: Repeat audience viewing is the ultimate form of flattery for filmmakers. There are film advancements that beg the question: how do they do that? In every genre, there are examples of these black swans; outliers that beg to be seen again and again. Seeing for the first time “Alien” or “Across the Universe”, as well as “Avatar” or “Gravity” in 3D, these and others reinforce why, as filmmakers, we need to watch, listen to, and support one another; support our colleagues.

Not for nothing, it feels unimportant to play favorites because films are “time of life” dependent. I would have to admit though, seeing certain films over and over can be comforting, even joyful.

MT: Where did you grow up? How did you get into working in the film industry?

WS: Sound has been my life-long passion. I have been making and archiving recordings since I was five. I began my career as a sound editor and, in 1982, joined Lon Bender in founding Soundelux. Soundelux, The Hollywood Edge, Modern Music and the many offshoots became some of the most prolific independent sound companies ever to grace post production in Hollywood.

I spent my early years of life in NY on Long Island in a small working class community on the edge of Levittown. I lived amongst friends till the day after high school graduation when I left by bus for an adventure in California. The bus service was called the Grey Rabbit. It left from Greenwich Village, stopping in the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco and finishing up at the Greyhound station in L.A. at Hollywood Blvd. and Vine Street. The bus was a 1940s scorpion trail highway cruiser with the words “Church of World Community Consensus” painted on its side. That was the how, in how I came to Hollywood. The why took many more years to discover.

As luck would have it, my lifelong friends Steve and Evan Green moved to Beverly Hills with their father Barry Green a year earlier. Barry was extraordinarily generous and took me in. He was manufacturing the Guillotine Tape Splicer and Moviola editing products. I was given a chance to work in the rental department of J&R Film Company. We rented the last generation of film editing equipment, most of which had not been seriously upgraded technically for more than fifty years. This was my entry and my coup. I was introduced to filmmaking, filmmakers, the major studios and traditional post production work on a broad scale across “Hollywood”.

Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Actor/Screenwriter Jovanna Burke (THE TRAP)

Jovanna Burke’s THE TRAP played to rave reviews at the October 2016 ACTION/CRIME Short Film Festival. It was the winner of “Best Overall Performances” at the festival.

It was a pleasure sitting down and chatting with her about the film and what’s next for the very talented actor turned writer turned upcoming director!

 Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Jovanna Burke: Adam (director of the film) and I wanted to collaborate on a project together. Adam wanted to make a cool neo-noir but needed an idea. I said I could come up with something cool, so I wrote the story. He wrote the screenplay. I played the actress. He directed. It was a great collaboration.

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

JB: It took us about a year, when all was said and done.

MT: How would you describe your short film in two words!?

JB: Noir thriller.

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

JB: To be honest, it was the final colour correction. The colour of the film was a really important element in giving it that true NEO-NOIR style. We unfortunately, had to scrap the entire first go, which set our timeline back by a lot. But once we found the right people to do it, it was smooth sailing!

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

JB: We were all so happy and proud! It was so awesome to hear everyone’s reactions and to see that the twists really affected everyone like we wanted them to. Our team (our fabulous producers: Lawra Robertson, Phillip Nee Nee and Andrew Burke… and of course Adam and I) spent a lot of time really carving out all the moments and working with the script to make sure everything would work. We poked holes in every single scenario to make sure it was bullet proof. It is truly superb to see the reactions after putting the puzzle pieces together.

MT: How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

JB: I’ve always loved the film noir movement. I had an obsession with the genre and have seen most of the films and broken them down, studied them and I even hosted an evening of “Noir” where I wrote monologues and other actors performed scenes from famous films. So when Adam said neo-noir…all my creative juices just started flowing. I wrote the story in a few days, it essentially wrote itself with all the info I had stored in my brain from my noir obsession.

MT: What film have you seen the most in your life?

JB: Oh gosh…I have kids so likely a whole lot of Disney these days. Lol. But the ones that are always on repeat are my classic favorites: Double Indemnity, Amelie, The Princess Bride, The Royal Tenenbaums, North by Northwest, Dirty Dancing and Charade.

MT: What is next for you? A new film?

JB: Yes, I am just in re-writes on a new film, one that I plan on directing this time. (I’m excited and terrified all at once) So hopefully when it gets made, I will be able to screen it for you and the audiences in Toronto again!!

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of THE TRAP:

Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Sound Mixer Tony Dawe (Return of the Jedi, Alice in Wonderland, Troy)

tony_daweTony Dawe has definitely witnessed a lot of things on set working sound, working on over 120 productions in the last 40 years. It was an honor to interview him after the craft of sound mixing on set and preparing the post-production sound department.

Matthew Toffolo: How would you describe what a sound mixer does in one sentence?

Tony Dawe: I don’t think you can describe it in one sentence, as the job encompasses so many different variables. To get the best sound really starts with reading the script, and then going on the recces to look at all potential problems on set, background noises, can we do anything about it, where the sparks want to put their generators, are we under a flight path etc. Talk to the director to see if they have any special things they want done with the sound. Go and see the costume department and find out if there are any potential problems with the artists costumes, as every artist now has to wear a radio mic on films and TV. Inspect the sets when they are built, and with all the props in, to look for squeaky floors and other minefields. Liase with the DOP, to see what he is trying to achieve, and how we can work with him on set without interfering with his lighting. There are many other things I could mention!

OK, in one sentence: Get the best possible sound under any circumstances that will enable the audience to follow the plot without saying “What did he say?”

MT: Is there a difference in your job description when you work on a drama like “The Hours (2002)” in comparison to working on a genre action like “Indiana Jones” or “Alice in wonderland”?

TD: If you mean, do I work in exactly the same way on both types of production, the answer is yes. Weirdly though in TV, my job credit is Sound Recordist, and in Feature films it is Production Sound Mixer; however its still the same job. Do I feel there is more kudos working on a large film rather than a TV film just because of the job description, no I don’t.

MT: You’ve worked on many Tim Burton productions. How is your working experience with him. How is he different than other directors?

TD: I have worked with Tim since “Batman” in 1987. I love working with him as there is always a great creative atmosphere on set, and I have learned more about film making from him than any other director just by watching my monitor. For instance, watching how a shot develops through several takes until the timing and the acting and everything else comes together in that magic moment, and then the reaction from Tim when he knows that is the best take. Incidentally, with all the directors I have worked with, Tim is the one I talk to the least. I just don’t like to interrupt his creative processes by talking about trivial sound matters. We both trust each other completely job wise.

MT: You’ve been nominated for an Oscar in the “Best Sound” category 4 times. How has the Oscar experience been like? Were you surprised that you didn’t win?

TD: I was delighted to be nominated each time and someone has to win, but that doesn’t make the others into losers. Every year there a lot of amazing sound tracks that never even get mentioned in dispatches. Validation comes from within, and having honesty about your own work. You have to ask yourself if you did do a good job; the best you could in fact, if so, there is the validation.

MT: You were nominated for “Return of the Jedi”. What was that working experience like? How involved was George Lucas?

TD: George Lucas was very involved in the making of “Revenge of the Jedi”, and spent a lot of time on the sets. I got on very well with George, and we had many discussions about the use of computers in film making and where that was going to go. Looking back, of course he was absolutely right. He is a most incredible person and visionary and I really loved working with him.

However, working on “Revenge of the Jedi” (which was its original title), was very intense and not one of my favourite experiences.

MT: You’ve been working in the industry for 50 years on over 100+ productions. Is there a film or two that you’re most proud of?

TD: I’ve been a sound engineer for 58 years, starting at Abbey Road (before the Beatles!), and ABC television (405 line B&W!) before I even got to work in film in 1967 at Shepperton Studios sound department, so there are a lot of projects to think about.

There are two productions that I’m most proud about, the first is “The Sweeney” TV series in the seventies, where all of us on the crew were pioneers in using small lightweight 16mm cameras and the Nagra tape recorders for the first time in drama’s and making it work. The rule was, there would be no ADR, so the sound had to be usable all the time. I did not use any radio mics on that show, but I always had the final word on what we could do or not do as the sound department. That concentrated a few people’s minds on the set! I learned so much from that experience over the 53 episodes.

The second project was very similar, and was series 4-7 of “Inspector Morse” in the 1980’s. Again, although the company would budget for small amounts of ADR, it was expected that all sound would be usable, so I was very proud when they did use it all, and the sound received an award from Bafta.

I’m not overly proud of any of my feature film work, as all of the budgets included a large amount for ADR, (the money for which always has to be used), and most of the time they would prefer to ADR something instead of spending time doing another take. This does not apply to the wonderful Directors who fully understand the role of sound in film, and will always go again when asked by the sound department. As the blending of my recordings and other peoples is usually very good, who knows then what has been recorded by whom?

By the way, one of my most favourite films to work on was “Dean Spanley” (As a movie it is an underrated masterpiece, well worth finding the DVD and watching it).

MT: Is there a type of film you haven’t worked on yet that you would love to work on?

TD: Yes, I’ve never worked on a cowboy film (and never likely to in the UK!). Also I’ve only worked on one film that had war scenes in it, and I would like to do another one sometime.

MT: How has sound mixing changed from a technology and creative point of view from the year you started to today?

TD: It has changed absolutely, but mostly in the last 20 years. When I started in 1967, we were still using 35mm full coat magnetic film to record on at Shepperton studios. They did not even have a Nagra recorder to do sound effects on, only very large Leevers-Rich reel to reel recorders which were not portable. When I recorded my first film in 1969 as a sound mixer I used a Nagra 4 with a small Nagra mixer, and that worked well. Microphones were all Sennheiser 805’s, with no radio mics. This type of equipment continued well into the 1990’s, except I had added radio mics (to be used mostly for wide shots!) Then came DAT, and the early machines which were not reliable, and ran very hot (and I didn’t adopt until later). Eventually the DAT machines became as portable as the Nagra’s, and they worked very well, except on cold mornings when the rotating heads stuck to the tape and had to be warmed up with a hair dryer.

In the last 12 years or so, we have had hard drive recorders, which again improved immensely very quickly. I started with an 8 track recorder which proved to be rather quirky and difficult to use, and for 7 years I had a Deva 16 as my main recorder, which was very good, but I now have a Fusion10, and Fusion 12 which have no moving parts, except the mixing knobs on the front and work wonderfully well. I hope to acquire a Deva 24 in the future. Just think of that, 24 tracks in a machine not much bigger than a Nagra!

I adore digital recording immensely as it is so flexible and totally transparent. On my sound trolley I still have a wonderful Coopersound analog mixer at the front end which makes it sound a bit like a Nagra.

Editing sound with Pro Tools is a dream, and I wish it been around when I was editing sound at ABC TV in the sixties.

Some of the magic from the early days has gone however, such as being able to do impossible mixes with only one or two channels. Today we just record everything in the hope that there is enough there to satisfy the sound editor. I still use open boom mics for most things, with the radio mics there as a backup. Basically what I am saying is that there is now very little creativity left in my job. What I used to produce as a finished track that would find its way into a film or TV drama rarely happens any more, as the tracks are dismembered and remade in post production. I have been asked quite a few times how I mixed a particular editors track on a feature film, so that post could undo it and re-assemble the track. What is the point in that? Because what I do is so instinctive, that I can’t usually tell them.

As for the profusion of radio mics on set, don’t even get me started on that one. Most other people on the set think that it solves all the problems with sound that can arise, but in practice it gives many more problems than it solves, and sometimes it involves fiddling about with the actors and costumes, which they hate, and so do I. Unfortunately we are not in control any more as we are beholden to other departments.

MT: What makes a great sound mixer? What skills does he/she need?

TD: Firstly I think that you need a great deal of patience, no arrogance, or the “look at me” concept that some mixers have. Know your place in the hierarchy, be very confident with your own ability, and sometimes exceed the boundaries to see if you can do it, and own up if you can’t!

Never argue with a Director, but reasonably discuss possible ways of getting round a sound problem with them. Always be as pleasant as possible, as it gets you much further than aggression.

Oh… and it helps if you know what you are listening for!


Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Stunt Performer Lisa Dempsey (Titanic, Sully, Minority Report)

lisadempsey_1.jpgWhat an honor to chat with one of the most regarded stunt performers in the industry today. Lisa Dempsey has worked on over 100 productions in the last 25+ years. Her answers are a wealth of knowledge for film fans and people interested in working in the Film & TV industry.

Matthew Toffolo: What job has been your most valuable experience so far? 

Great question. I had to think about this one for a bit. I’ve been at this now since 1989. I think my most valuable experiences have been from the people I have worked with and the advice they have given me. A few jobs come to mind that have had a huge impact. Every job with my mentor Rocky Capella is valuable to me.

I worked on a movie in San Francisco called Jade in 1995. William Friedkin (The French Connection!) was directing. I was still living in San Francisco and was a local hire. On that show, I got great career advice from some real Hollywood legends. Buddy Joe Hooker was the stunt coordinator and he brought 25 stunt people up from Los Angeles to work. I got to be a part of some pretty awesome car chases and vehicle stunts over the course of a several months. I never would have had the opportunity to meet so many of Hollywood’s heavy hitters in one setting if it had not been for that job. The people I met on that job were very instrumental in my career at that time. Veteran stuntman Tommy Huff told me I should move to Los Angeles because “that’s where the action is.”

Most recently I had the job of a lifetime doubling Kathy Bates as “The Butcher” on American Horror Story Season 6: Roanok. I doubled for her once before on Mike and Molly when she was a guest star. We had to leg wrestle with Melissa McCarthy and that was hilarious. Kathy is a class act. She is warm and funny and so appreciative. She has a great laugh. I can’t say enough good things about her.

Photo: Lisa turns into a Zombie:lisa_before_and_after.jpgMT: You said that life has been very exciting for you these days. Anything you like to share? 

I’ve been engulfed in flames, chased, stabbed, and beaten up lately. I like it when I’m bruised and busy. I just booked a job for December 6th to double Kathy again on her new TV comedy series Disjointed. I did a little stunt acting as a “mutant monster” on a new Hulu show called Freakish. I had a great job a few weeks ago on a new series called Chance. Due to a non-disclosure agreement, I can’t tell you what the stunt was but there was a lot of blood! I did some driving on a regional Prius commercial and I just got a call from Rocky to be a in a prison scene next month on a feature film called Don’t Shoot, I’m the Guitar Man. My daughter has two auditions this week and I’m having a good hair day. Life is good!

MT: You worked as a stunt performer on TITANIC. What type of stunts did you do on that film? Did you ever imagine when you were working on the film that it would turn out to be one of the most successful movies of all-time? 

It’s always a phenomenal thrill to work with great people. Working on Titanic was exciting at the time. Same thing was true on Sully working with Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks. You never really know how the movie will turn out in the box office; you’re just happy and grateful for the job. So, the answer would be no, I had no idea at the time. Now I look back and think, “WOW, how lucky was I to be a part of that!?!” I love period pieces. I was one of the first-class passengers on the Titanic. When the ship was sinking and we were scrambling to safety, we had to fall from the top deck down to the bottom deck, and then run back up to the top. (Over and over and over again. Jim Cameron did A LOT of rehearsals.) All the exterior shots were filmed at night, so working nights in Mexico with half of the stunt community plus a ton of European stunt people was definitely something to remember!

MT: You’ve worked on a lot of TV series. How is this on-set experience different than when you work on your typical studio feature film? 

TV shows go at a much faster pace. The stunt coordinators who are running multiple TV shows might be working on an eight-day episode, but they are always prepping for the next one while shooting the current one. Constantly prepping and shooting at the same time feels more demanding. Feature films might have 100 shooting days plus a second unit, so the budgets are bigger, the crew is bigger and things just seem to take longer.

MT: Is there a type of stunt that you haven’t performed yet that you would love to work on?

Well, I just crossed one off my bucket list this year with a full body burn! In all my years, I’ve never done a ratchet, and I‘d like to do that someday. I would also love the opportunity to double Julia Louis Dreyfus (Veep) and Marcia Gay Harden (Code Black) in case anyone in production is reading this right now. And any job with Will Farrell would be fun.

Lisa is on FIRE performing a stunt: 


MT: What makes a great stunt performer? What skills does he/she need?

Oh boy, another great question. For starters, athleticism, professionalism, tenacity, longevity and common sense. You have to have a “safety first” mind-set at all times. I think you need to be camera savvy these days too. It’s good to learn how to communicate with the camera man so your scenes go efficiently. You have to be prepared. Show up with the right gear. Show up on time, always. Pride yourself on being prompt. You also have to be a team player with a good moral compass and work ethic. You have to be disciplined. You have to train diligently and know your strengths and weaknesses. Never be afraid to speak up if you feel something is unsafe. I turned down a motorcycle job because I’m simply not qualified or comfortable with that. I knew SO many other talented stunt women who were better- suited and was happy to refer them. I just said “I’m not your girl” and then suggested about four experts my size who could do the job. Stunt coordinators expect and appreciate your honesty. Your reputation is everything. The last thing you want to do is take a job you can’t do and end up 1) hurt 2) embarrassing yourself, your boss, your boss’s boss (producer, director, etc.) and 3) end up wasting the production’s time and money!

Speaking of money, you also have to figure out how to budget without a steady income since stunt jobs are unpredictable. Stunt people have to have the skills necessary to manage their careers and all aspects of their marketing/networking efforts. Most important, this industry is all about collaboration. Every department plays a key role in production, the more you can do to understand what other people do and how it relates to the overall big picture can only help you. Watch and learn from the riggers. Be a good overall stunt person and not one who just specializes in one thing; be multi-talented with a mix of versatility, innovation, bravery and focus. Be able to take a punch and throw a punch and hit the ground. Have precise timing. Be “old-school” and help move pads. Be handy to have around. You have to be resourceful. You have to have excellent interpersonal skills to be able to easily relate to everyone on the set. Be punctual, show up early. If you want to transition to become a stunt coordinator or second unit director, set some short-term and long-term goals. Learn how to break down a script. Surround yourself with people you admire.

Everyone needs a mentor. As I get older, I feel it’s important to be a mentor to the new generation, and I hope they can learn from my experiences. Be willing to give advice if it’s asked for. You have to be able to take constructive criticism for any kind of professional growth. Stuntman Jon Epstein once told me “You’re gonna screw up at some point. How you handle it and what you learn from it is what is important.” My colleague Tom Ficke once asked me what I would have done differently when a stunt when awry. I had to really think and replay the entire day and take responsibility for my own safety. Keep a positive attitude when things are slow. Read trade journals. Do your homework. Learn radio etiquette. Know your craft; practice your craft. Be grateful and don’t ever complain. Be a good, kind person. Be reliable. Be dependable. Be safe.

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you watched the most times in your life?

I loved A League of their Own and True Romance. When I met Suzanne Rampe and Joni Avery, stuntwomen in those movies respectively, I was in awe. Reservoir Dogs, Scarface, La Femme Nikita, My Cousin Vinny, A Fish Called Wanda, Rudy and old Buster Keaton films like The Great Train Robbery and The General are some of my other favorites. My daughter and I are big Will Farrell fans, so we’ve watched Talladega Nights, Dodge Ball, Step Brothers, Old School, and silly stuff like a million times. Shake and Bake, baby.

MT: Do you remember your first job? What stunt did you perform? Did you imagine that you’d still be working stunts 25+ years later? 

I was a stunt student protester in a movie called Strawberry Road in May of 1990. It was a big fight. I love a good riot/choreographed screen brawl. It was a 1960’s period piece and so fun to fight with the stunt cops. In November of 1990, I was Taft Hartley’d on an NBC Movie of the Week called Long Road Home with Mark Harmon. Stunt coordinator Rocky Capella sent me to wardrobe. I was so green, I didn’t know what was happening. I was given a long dress to try on and when it zipped it right up, Rocky said “Congratulations, the job is yours.” I was the “Rodeo Queen” the next day. I was in the rumble seat of a 1930 Model A Coupe in a parade scene, wearing a crown and a smile. I had prop flowers and waved at the crowd of extras when the riot breaks out. My driver slams on the brakes and I take a header out of the car. Fun! The producer didn’t want that scene in the movie but the director insisted because it was something he experienced and witnessed as a kid. In the end, the producer won and the whole scene got cut. I learned a big lesson: don’t tell everyone in your family to watch, just in case you end up on the editing room floor! Did I imagine at that time that I would be still be doing stunts now? Not at that time. It wasn’t until a few years later when I learned that it was a business. I got my SAG card in December 1990 and I thank my mom who paid for my dues as a Christmas present. I hope to never retire. I want to be the “Go-to-Grandma” like Sandy Gimple who is still rockin’ it in her 70’s!

MT: What’s the biggest high risk stunt you’ve performed to date?

I did a stunt that required me to cartwheel off a balcony and land feet first into boxes – I ended up in the ER with a broken tibia, fibula and ankle. I had three surgeries and that derailed my career for a while. I rehabbed like a pro athlete and feel bionic now. I am reinforced, realigned and will live with my titanium tibial rod forever. That was nine years ago, today. October 7.

MT: Where do you see the future of green-screen stunt performing in the motion pictures?

It’s inevitable. I like green screen. I hope stunt people will never be replaced by CGI, but it does serve a purpose to enhance things and make the audience believe. I did a stunt in Jurassic World where I fell down while being chased by a flying dinosaur. Of course, there was no dinosaur; they added it in later. On Sully, the scenes in New York were filmed on the Hudson, the real deal. But in L.A., the plane was on water in the back lot of Universal Studios with a huge blue screen. Visual effects did an amazing job matching the background and making it look like a cold January day in NY when it was really an 80-degree day in L.A. The editors are amazing people too and are brilliant at movie magic. The technology is incredible.

MT: Is the film industry still a boys club?

Things have gotten consistently better since I broke into the business. I have worked with some very talented female directors lately and have had the privilege to have worked with three female stunt coordinators in a row this year! I like hanging out with the boys; I’m just used to it. I never really thought about it much until you asked.

MT: Where did you grow up? How did you get into working in the film industry?

Every stunt person has a different story on how they got started. I love that. You could poll 100 stunt people and never get the same answer. I was born and raised in Campbell, California, about an hour south of San Francisco. I was a typical outdoorsy kid playing softball, climbing trees and beating up my little sister. I loved swimming. In the early 80s, I saw a behind-the-scenes story on TV about the movie Superman III. I remember the actress being interviewed and in the background there was another woman dressed in the same clothes getting ready to do a stunt. I think it was stuntwoman Wendy Leech. She went down a waterfall and then she got new dry clothes and got to do it again! I thought, “That’s what I want to do, I could do that!” I wasn’t interested in acting or dialogue; I wanted the action. I felt a calling. But when you don’t grow up in Hollywood, you don’t know that it’s a business.

So a little background: my dad was the athletic director and football coach at my high school. I owe all my athletic ability to him. I played softball and soccer and was on the gymnastics and swim teams. I was a cheerleader. I was the smallest one on the squad which meant I got to back-flip dismount off the top of the pyramid. I went to California State University, Chico and graduated with a BA in instructional technology/information and communication studies with a minor in management. I worked at the intramural sports department as a lifeguard and aerobics instructor and I supervised the weight room. I was hired to teach aerobics to the men’s varsity basketball team for pre-season conditioning in the fall and the rugby team in the spring. I’ve always been around a bunch of guys. I’m used to the testosterone. I took a “Bio-flight” trampoline class and realized I liked flipping and flying and was comfortable being upside down. I learned body control. I liked having a job that required me to be and stay in shape. All of this was helping me into a stunt career but I didn’t know it at the time. Looking back these were all steps in a ladder.

One day I was hit by a car on my way to school. I was on my bike and saw it coming. The driver didn’t see me. I had a second to react, so I pushed off my pedals, ditched my bike, jumped and rolled off the hood of his car and onto the ground. My bike got ran over and was totaled, but surprisingly I was OK and made it to class. I knew then I had pretty good instincts and thought to myself, “I should get paid for this!”

Prior to graduation I did a summer internship at Arthur Andersen & Co in Illinois (at the time it was one of the ‘Big Eight’ accounting firms.) I worked in the tax department writing instructional manuals for their Center for Professional Education. That summer I got on the company’s softball team and ran on the track team and made a bunch of friends. I was offered a full-time position in the accounting and audit division after graduation and started right away since the softball season was about to begin and I was their starting pitcher. I was also brainwashed by my parents to get a “real job.” I lasted two years in Chicago. It was freezing. I was a California girl and getting restless with the corporate life. One day I read in the Chicago Tribune about a Mid-west stunt school. I cut out the newspaper article and started a file. Someday, I thought. I didn’t have time to pursue it with my 8-5 job, but it was always in the back of my mind.

So I put the cart before the horse, quit my job and left my steady income and moved back to San Francisco without having another job lined up. As I was soul searching and trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, “professional stuntwoman” was on the list. I researched the Screen Actors Guild and called the Film Commission office. A friend of a friend of a friend knew somebody so I called her. I spoke with stunt woman Diane Peterson who told me to call Rocky Capella. Everyone I spoke with kept pointing me in the direction of Rocky and the Bay Area Stunt Association. So I called him. I told him I was an athlete, that I didn’t have any experience with weapons or acting, but wanted to explore this idea. We talked for 45 minutes. I immediately liked him. He invited me to train with him and other members from the Bay Area stunt group. I am forever grateful to Rocky, Mike, Kevin, Johnny, Tim, Robin, Paul and Dan for decades of friendship. We’ve all grown up together. They are my stunt family. On a side note, I have a special shout out to my favorite Uncle Bill who supported my decision to pursue a new career and promised not to tell my mom. I kept this career move a secret for a while because I was giving up a decent salary at a worldwide accounting firm to try something completely new and totally different!

Meanwhile, I had to eat and support myself so I worked as an independent contractor for Chevron USA in their corporate health and fitness department. I was still doing instructional design and training, but this time I enjoyed the health and fitness subject matter better than tax and accounting. After that, I got a job as a program director at the American Heart Association, then was promoted to be the associate director of cardiovascular education and community programs, all the while training three days a week, practicing my fights, falls and vehicle work with the stunt guys. I’ve worked with a wide range of people from various cultures, ages and personalities my whole life. I think that helps with any job.

The day came when Rocky called and asked if I was available. I said, “For what?” and he replied, “For work.” Duh. And so it began. I worked a day of background stunts on Strawberry Road and got paid! Then with a job on Long Road Home, it just kept getting better and better and more exciting. I doubled two actresses on the soap opera Santa Barbara and joined AFTRA in 1991.

I worked when the phone rang (or beeper went off back then) when shows came to town and I kept my day job. I negotiated time off and took my vacation days when I got a call to work on a movie. I was just lucky to be at the right place at the right time. In 1992 I met David, Annie and Papa Ellis, RA Rondell and more fabulous stunt people from LA on Made in America. While chatting with this nice man at craft service, I mentioned my weekend plans of a sprint triathlon and he replied, “You swim?” I told him I grew up a competitive swimmer and I was a lifeguard in college and recently was Scuba certified etc, etc. not knowing this nice man was Greg Barnett and he ran a little show called Baywatch!

So, as fate would have it, I got laid off from my day job at the American Heart Association. The entire program department was let go. It was a sign! Most people were devastated but I knew it was an opportunity to make a move. So I did. I packed up and moved to L.A. in May of 1995 with my resume. By this time I had almost six years of experience and felt ready. I called every person who said, “Be sure to call” and it worked. I was at Joni’s stunt service one day joining when Joel Kramer phoned in. I asked if I could say hello and re-introduced myself since it had been years since we worked together on The Rock in SF. He asked for my social security number (which I thought was very odd) and if I was available to work on a movie he was doing called Heat. I will never forget May 15, 1995 in downtown LA seeing Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro and Val Kilmer! On that job, I met two amazing stunt women who I call friends, Jeanne Epper and Eliza Coleman. My decision to move had never been more validated.

Another great stunt coordinator, Jeff Dashnaw, whom I also met on Jade told me to “hustle” Greg Barnett, that nice guy I met on Made in America back in 1992! I could not believe that I was supposed to show up unannounced, without an appointment, to visit someone at work, but quickly learned that was the hustling was the norm when you are just starting out (but after 9/11, it was much harder to sashay on to the set, especially at the studios). Greg remembered me and had me I double a guest star on his show. I had to run, trip and fall off the dock and into the water. I had to play unconscious while he rescued me. So fun! It was one take and I was done by 8 a.m.! Then Greg called me back to double a series regular, Yasmine Bleeth! I really didn’t get it till much later that the show was so popular. I worked a few seasons doubling Yasmine, and then again on a movie of the week called The Lake as her stunt double/evil twin and then on another series Nash Bridges, in my home-town of San Francisco. I was able to buy my first house in Santa Monica and realized L.A. would be my home.

So it kind of snowballed. Training with Rocky in the Bay Area, meeting amazing people in the L.A. stunt community, being at the right place at the right time – it’s all landed me here today. I’ve had the same commercial agent since 1998. I like to act if there’s some comedy or action involved. I can deliver a few lines when needed. Today I’m a busy mom with my SAG eligible daughter who enjoys acting and thinks I’m cool (sometimes). Things have evolved. I’m not doubling teens anymore and have moved on to the Baby Boomers and I love it! It was a great day when I could check the “over 40” box at auditions. My agent commended me for my attitude and said I had just eliminated half of the competition. I am no longer a size 2, been there, done that! For awhile I thought if I went up a size or two it would be considered a felony, but I’ve embraced it at my age and at this stage. I am healthy and happy, especially when the phone rings.


In conclusion, I am most grateful to everyone who has helped me along the way!

Thank you for the opportunity to share this, it’s been fun!

Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Filmmaker Chenxin Yang (SEA OF INK)

Chenxin Yang’s short film SEA OF INK was the winner of BEST FILM at the August 2016 ANIMATION FEEDBACK Film Festival. It’s a two-minute animation about an artist struggling with his creative block and his journey under the sea.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Chenxin Yang: This animation is more like a reflection of myself. The more I explore, the more deeply I can know about myself. Apparently, self-exploration is a universal topic. I believe that doing such an animation not only provides some clue to life’s questions, but hopefully also has an emotional connection to my viewers.

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

CY: I spent one and half years to write the story, design the character and finish the production of the animation.

MT: How would you describe your short film in two words!?

CY: Struggle, Release

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

CY: One of the most difficult tasks for me was to make connections between the live-action and animation. I completed at least three versions of the opening title in different styles, but none of them matched my concept design. My thoughts were totally blocked at that time. Combining live-action footage and animation was not as easy as I expected because the footage was so naturalistic compared with the hand drawn style. With a sinking heart, I felt as if I were drowning in the cold deep sea, just like my character, and could not find a way out. Meanwhile, my actor began to scrawl on the paper until the pen ran out of ink. His action inspired me to continue the story. So in the final version of the opening title, the actor wrote the title on the paper. Discovering that there was no ink anymore, he lost his patience, swung his pen angrily, and finally gave up. Here I added one more shot of the actor shaking the pen, resulting in extra ink spewing out of the pen onto the paper. Then the character sank into the sea of ink.

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

CY: I am so glad to hear about these positive feed back from the audiences. They mentioned about “texture””ink brush style” which I spent so much time during the production to achieve the best visual results. And thanks to my music composer Colleen. She is my favorite experimental musician, I knew her work since four years ago. The idea of the gloomy dark ink was based on her album cover “Les Ondes Silencieuses”.

MT: How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

CY: The initial idea of the story comes from my own experience as an artist. When artists create artwork, psychological struggles and unconscious choices that are part of the artist become major influences on their work, how they look at the world and the aesthetics they create.

MT: What film have you seen the most in your life?

CY: All the animations from Pixars, LAIKA studio.

MT: What is next for you? A new film?

CY: I am working on a new animation short related with colorful designs, food and love. Hope to get released next year.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of the Short Film: