Interview with Cinematographer Dan Stoloff (Suits, The Americans, Zoo)

Dan Stoloff is one of the top television cinematographers working today. He also DP’d the films TUMBLEWEEDS, MIRACLE and CROOKED ARROWS to name a few. It was an honor interviewing him. Check out his website and list of credits at: http://danstoloff.com/

Matthew Toffolo: Where were you born and raised? Was photography something you always wanted to do as your career?

Dan Stoloff: I was raised in Newton, Mass, just outside of boston. I knew from the time i was about 11 that I wanted to be a cinematographer. We had a Super 8 camera and I started making my own films. It was my favorite thing to do, and I decided if there was a way to make a living doing it, I would.

What has been your most proudest work of your career? Or, what has been your favorite project to date?

I would say the 2 final episodes of “The Americans”. I was so fortunate to become a part of The Americans in season 5. One of my favorite shows of all time, and to get the gig was like The Rolling Stones asking me to join the band!

You DP’d a ton of SUITS episodes. A show filmed in Toronto. How are the Toronto crews? Do you like the fast pace of shooting a series like this in comparison to feature film?

I did almost 50 episodes of suits. All shot in Toronto. Love the crews there. Very technically proficient and so polite! I love the pace of episodic TV. Everyday seems unmakeable at the outset and yet daily we rise to the challenge.

The most famous film you probably worked on was MIRACLE. How did you get involved in that project? What do you remember most about that shoot?

I had shot “Tumbleweeds” for director Gavin O’Conner and we had a wonderful collaboration. He fought hard to get the studio to agree to have me on board. I had never done a studio project before and they were justifiably cautious. After many meetings with many execs they finally agreed to give me a shot. What was most memorable about that shoot was the way the project itself mirrored the actual subject. All those kids were real hockey players. The celebration you see at the end of that film was real. The tears were real. The kids puking during drills was real.

Is there a type of film/TV show that you love to work on that you haven’t worked on yet?

I would like to do a period project before electricity existed.

What are you generally looking for in a director in order for you to do your job as best as possible?

I love a director who knows his (her) material. Knows the characters and creates an atmosphere that provides the freedom for discovery.

What do you think a producer/director is looking for when they bring on you to DP the film?

Those are 2 different questions. The answer is as different as the people themselves. All want the project executed efficiently and on schedule and budget. Some directors want visual suggestions, others not. All producers want you to make the day,

What is your passion in life besides photography and film?

I love to surf, hike, kayak, do yoga, mountain bike ride, play guitar

What movie have you watched the most times in your life (besides the ones you worked on)?

The Godfather. The Big Lebowski. The Godfather part 2

What advice do you have for young cinematographers who would eventually like to DP movies for a living one day?

Educate your mind and your body. Go to museums, read novels, see movies, and stay in shape. Often our job is as physical as it is mental. Always get to set early. Be nice to everyone.

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PHOTO from the TV Show “SUITS”
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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to http://www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Cinematographer Tristan Oliver (Isle of Dogs, ParaNorman, Fantastic Mr. Fox)

It was a true honor interviewing the extremely talented Director of Photographer Tristan Oliver. Every single film he’s worked on has turned out great. And there’s not many people you can say that statement about! If you don’t believe, simply go to his website and watch some of the short films he’s worked on and see his list of feature credits: https://www.tristanoliver.co.uk/

Matthew Toffolo: Where were you born and raised? Was cinematography something you always wanted to do as your career?

Tristan Oliver: I was born and raised in Gravesend in Kent. An unlovely and somewhat godforsaken town on the Thames estuary.

I knew nothing about films or photography as a child. My main passion was the theatre. I wanted to act (or be a doctor or something) My first real contact with the camera dept came when I was acting in a movie. It was something of a Damascene moment and I really threw myself into trying to get into that environment immediately afterwards. I didn’t even own a stills camera when that movie started!

What has been your most proudest work of your career? Or, what has been your favorite project to date?

In terms of feature films I would say ParaNorman. I had a fantastic time at Laika for two years and a very close, creative and rewarding relationship with the directors of that movie. I’m exceptionally proud of how it looks (even if no-one has seen it.)

Can you explain to us what an Animation Director of Photography does?

There is really no difference in being a DOP for stop frame or live action. The ultimate aim is to create something beautiful for the camera. To light and frame according to what you consider to be visually special. I wouldn’t want to make concessions to the medium of animation. That is by the by.

In practical terms, there are a few differences. We typically run a 50+ unit shooting environment which is an enormous amount of stuff to keep tabs on. That’s 50 sets, 50 cameras all running together. I need to ensure continuity and quality of look across that huge mess of stuff.

Other than that the main difference is working into the macro end of the lenses which can severely compromise the depth of field. We tend to work at very tight stops (16, 22) to compensate for this.

You just finished working on ISLE OF DOGS. Can you give us a sneak peak of what do expect?

Unique. Many of his tropes will be familiar to audiences. The flat lighting. The highly symmetrical framing. The art direction and propping. This particular movie is very busy and visually complicated. Compared with Fantastic Mr Fox for example it is really intense viewing. There’s an awful lot going on up there!

Is there a type of film/TV show that you love to work on that you haven’t worked on yet?

I’d love to get my teeth into some American TV drama. The quality of work coming out of the States is astonishing. There’s so much of it and it’s nearly all really good. Well written, well plotted and edited. Everything.

In terms of movies, more live action please. I need a rest from the puppets!

What are you generally looking for in a director in order for you to do your job as best as possible?

All directors are different and as such, what they require from the DOP varies. Wes wants me to exactly put up on the screen what he has in his head. It is totally his vision so my role is very much reactive. With some other directors there is more of a creative collaboration, the role is proactive if you will. Neither is necessarily better than the other as long as you trust the director to bring the movie in.

What do you think a producer/director is looking for when they bring on you to DP the film?

I’d like to think that I’m the best at what I do. I have a huge amount of experience. I’m very professional and I bring on the best, most user friendly crews but essentially what a director needs is someone they can trust.

What is your passion in life besides cinematography and film?

So many. My daughters, my partner, beautiful Swiss wristwatches, restoring my 17th century house, good food, good wine , good company.

What movie have you watched the most times in your life (besides the ones you worked on?

There are lots but probably Kind Hearts and Coronets, the first Matrix and Ferris Beuler’s Day Off. That’s just for fun. In terms of cinematography, I think Conrad Hall was a genius and I can watch Road To Perdition any day of the week.

What advice do you have for young cinematographers who would eventually like to DP movies for a living one day?

Keep learning. Watch movies, read about movies. Who do you like? Why? Think about how stuff has been made. Don’t rely on your innate talent but keep building your technical knowledge, the two together will be very useful to you. And never ever send out a CV for a camera trainee position with your name followed by the letters DOP. It goes in the bin.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to http://www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, All is Lost)

It was an honor for the extremely talented DP, Frank G. DeMarco, to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer a set of questions for this interview.

https://www.frankiedemarco.com

Matthew Toffolo: Where were you born and raised?

Frank G. DeMarco: I was born in Baltimore, Maryland. After studying abroad in Italy and Austria, I moved to New York City—it’s America’s European city.

Was CINEMATOGRAPHY something you always wanted to do as your career?

I was fascinated by still cameras and had a little Super 8 movie camera as a youth, but I never thought I could make a living with either, so I got a college BA in Modern Languages. I became aware of Cinematography while studying in Florence, Italy during college. When I graduated, I discovered that there were very few jobs for linguists other than working for the NSA. Luckily, I got a gig on a tv commercial and then my life went in the best possible direction—filmmaking!

What has been your the proudest work of your career? Or, what has been your favorite project to date?

Hedwig and the Angry Inch was a big break for me and I am very proud of the work we did on it. I got to work with a brilliant actor-writer-singer-director-punk named John Cameron Mitchell. There were many pressures on us to compromise and make a lesser film, but we held on to the director’s vision and made a wonderful cult film that endures even to this day. We’ve done four films together and each one is very special in its own unique way. However, almost all of the films I have shot are my favorites—I try not to do a project unless I love the script and the director. Beerfest is my favorite comedy, Margin Call is my favorite thriller. Rabbit Hole is my favorite drama. All is Lost is my favorite adventure film. Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey is my favorite documentary. In the TV/Streaming world, I’m proud to say the first 5 episodes of Amazon’s Sneaky Pete Season 2 is the best-looking TV show I’ve shot to date.

Tell us about your working on the first season of MAD MEN. How was the creative vibe on set? Did people know they were onto something and this was going to be a special show?

With MAD MEN, the actors gave everything, the crew was top-notch and the scripts were always good. I loved Dan Bishop’s production design and the costumes were spot-on. Everyone hoped the show would get renewed for a second season, but, on the early episodes I worked on, I don’t think anyone could foresee how ground-breaking and special Mad Men was going to become.

You DP’d the film ALL IS LOST, which is a film with only one actor: Robert Redford. What was that experience like? I’m sure you haven’t had another shoot quite like that one.

All is Lost is a silent film—but with sound. I’m a huge fan of the silent films of Buster Keaton, Fatty Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin and Harold LLoyd. Silent films are storytelling at its most basic level. I definitely used my study and knowledge of silent films to inform how I shot, lit and composed All is Lost. Working with an icon like Robert Redford was a highlight of my career. His Sundance Film Festival opened many doors for me and I got to thank him in person for that. Redford is an amazing “internal” actor—he doesn’t need words. He can convey what’s in his heart or on his mind with his face and eyes and body—he probably could have been a great silent film star, but then we would’ve been deprived of his wonderful voice!

What are you generally looking for in a director in order for you to do your job as best as possible?

It’s great to have a director that knows and likes my work! I look for directors that are collaborative and secure in their own abilities. The best directors I’ve worked with like to have ideas thrown at them. I’ve got many ideas and observations when I work on a film and it is a thrill and honor when the director incorporates some of my ideas into the film. I like a director who trusts me to light and compose the film according to the way we discussed in prep. I like a director who is willing to change everything if he sees a better way of doing a scene—and, even if it’s at the last minute and there’s no more time, I will do everything I can to facilitate that better idea. Most importantly, I like a director who is not only brilliant, but also kind and humble and generous and grateful. We’re all there to help him or her make the best film possible.

What do you think a producer/director is looking for when they bring on you to DP the film?

Producers usually want someone who is easy to get along with, won’t make waves, works fast and doesn’t cost too much to hire. Each director is so unique, but if they’ve hired me then they know they have a partner, a collaborator, a co-conspirator and friend that will help make the absolute best film possible.

What is your passion in life besides CINEMATOGRAPHY and film?

I love music: Debussy and jazz mostly. I bash away on a big 7 foot long Yamaha grand piano every day at home. When I travel I bring my sheet music and rent a digital piano for my hotel room. I enjoy cooking for people: when I filmed How to talk to Girls at Parties in England I hosted a Sunday roast for the director, producers, actors and friends every week. I still do it once in a while here in NYC. I love salt water and tides and am incredibly fortunate to have a little beach cottage on a barrier island off of Long Island, NY.

What movie have you watched the most times in your life (besides the ones you worked on)?

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve watched the following: Godfather 1, Fargo, Clockwork Orange, French Connection, The American Friend, Breathless, Goodfellas, The Third Man, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and Dirty Pretty Things. I live across the street from the Film Forum in NYC, so I’m in that theater at least once or twice a week in my spare time watching non-mainstream films, retrospectives (Bergman this month!) and unusual documentaries—I just saw “Andy Goldsworthy: Leaning Into The Wind”. It is transcendent!

What advice do you have for young cinematographers who would eventually like to DP movies for a living one day?

Early in your career don’t have a mortgage or kids. Have cheap rent and minimum expenses. That way you can take the job you want that will advance your career, instead of taking the job you need because you are in debt or have mouths to feed. Make friends of everyone you meet. Help others. Be positive and hopeful!

 
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PHOTO: Frankie on the set of “How To Talk To Girls At Parties” with director John Cameron Mitchell
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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to http://www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Composer Alexei Aigui (The Young Karl Marx, I am Not Your Negro)

Alexei Aigui.jpgIt was an honor chatting with the multi-talented musician and film composer Alexei Aigui and chat about his one and only passion in life: music!

Listen to his music on Soundcloud

Matthew Toffolo: Where were you born and raised? Was music something you always wanted to do as your career?

Alexei Aigui: I was born and raised in Moscow, as they say, in an artistic family. My father was a poet, and was representing the so-called unofficial art – meaning he was under control of the Soviet authorities, and his works couldn’t be published, so our life wasn’t exactly an easy ride. When I was six, mum took me to an ordinary music school near our place, to play violin. Learning to play the piano was more prestigious and cost about 15 times more, so we didn’t really have a choice in the matter. God bless, accordion didn’t cost less than violin. I don’t remember if I wanted to study music, I think I didn’t even ask myself that question – it just happened. So I studied there until I was about 15, not reflecting a lot on why I needed it. However, in my teenage years, I became a rock music fan – Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, then quite quickly became interested in more complicated stuff like King Crimson, Frank Zappa, etc. Maybe then, through rock music, I decided to become a musician, form my own band. Or maybe it was already late to think about doing something else, after all the years of exercise? Through avant-garde rock, having played in my first bands and already starting to study professionally at the conservatory, I became interested in academic avant-garde – [Anton] Webern, [Gyorgy] Ligeti, [Pierre] Boulez, [Karlheinz] Stockhausen, [Igor] Stravinsky, [Sergey] Prokofiev.

Afterwards, I took to improvisational music and minimalism. In 1994, I set up Ensemble 4’33’’ in Moscow, and we performed pieces by John Cage, Earle Brown, La Monte Young, and others in that spirit. Gradually, mainly due to the fact that there wasn’t enough sheet music available [in Russia], I started to compose music, and turned out one’s own pieces were nicer and easier to play than others’. That’s how I became a composer. The band has existed for 24 years, we play 30 concerts a year, have released a lot of CDs, the band is my foundation for film work, with either the entire band taking part in soundtrack recording, or some of the Ensemble 4’33’’ members.

What has been your most proudest work of your career?

I’m proud of many works, when it comes to non-film-related music – the cantata ‘Salut to Singing’ to my father’s poems, almost everything I do with Ensemble 4’33’’. Of course, cinema works: my very first OST, for ‘Country of the Deaf’ by Valery Todorovsky, and for ‘Wild Field’ by Mikhail Kalatozishvili, ‘The Horde’ by Andrey Proshkin. Of my latest collaborations outside of Russia — ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ and ‘The Young Karl Marx’ by Raoul Peck.

Tell us about your working relationship with director Raoul Peck on “The Young Karl Marx”?

The work took quite a long time, the film was in all stages of production for almost 10 years, with the shooting taking part in 2 or 3 countries. The company’s office was in France, editing took place in Belgium, and mix in Germany. Raoul wanted the music to be, on the one hand, relevant to the demands of period drama, orchestral and melodic, on the other hand, to feel ‘uncomfortable’ and edgy. The first draft of music was far from what you hear in the film, there were a lot of corrections. There were some temporary tracks in the first cut, the scene of police chasing Marx had a Haitian folk piece that, surprisingly enough, worked very well, it wasn’t easy for me to compose new music for that bit, in ‘Irish style’. Raoul, along with the film’s editor Frederique Broos, came to Moscow for the orchestra recording, and made a few corrections during the recording itself. Our following project, ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, was recorded without him, because Raoul was working on the final mix of ‘Marx’ in Germany. For ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, we recorded completely different music, with my band – we recorded a few semi-improvisational takes, and Raoul chose the most suitable.

What are you generally looking for in a director in terms of guidance and tone for your music?

When I was starting to work in Russian cinema, almost no one used references (temporary tracks), and you were, so to say, on your own. Director was only able to use words while describing what he wanted in terms of music, which isn’t always translatable from the director’s language to, well, human. These days the use of references is quasi-total. It makes the composer’s job easier and quicker, but also sets up some borders and limits the composer in his or her work. I’ve seen all sorts of director-composer relations – from close friendship to composing music without knowing the director, and I believe that there should certainly be personal contact, a sort of mutual tuning is supposed to happen. Often, the editor plays an important role, offering his or her opinion.

What do you think a producer/director is looking for when they bring on their composer to score the film?

Often, when I see the result (not in the films, on which I had the chance to work), it seems to me that producers and directors wanted to save money. Perhaps the perfect option is to find the music that would create a unique sound for the picture, the music that would add a dimension to the film, another layer, and wouldn’t just underscore the tension or hint that we should feel sad. Music can be omnipotent, it’s like an undercurrent, sometimes we don’t even realize that it exists side-by-side with the action and tells the story, accentuating some points and adding depth to the movie.

What is your passion in life besides music?

I’m completely handicapped in that respect – only interested in music. Well, maybe also alcohol. I can’t even normally rest or travel – every time I’m at a bar and I see a stage, I go, ‘Why haven’t I played here before?’ and ask the owner is it’s possible to perform at their place.

Anyway, I’m not purely a film composer, concerts take a lot of time, and if I don’t perform for a few weeks, I get a bit crazy. I also used to paint when I was young, but now don’t have time to devote to that.

What movie have you watched the most times in your life?

Usually, I don’t want to re-watch the films that made the biggest impact on me, I kind of want that first impression to stay as it was. So it’s most likely that the films I saw most times are those you come across while watching TV, and just don’t turn off. I can’t say I’m a cinemaholic, I’m not too eager to see everything people talk about, and I skip many films. And this huge pile of ‘to-watch’ movies is growing. Thanks to my 13-year-old son, I finally saw all the Star Wars movies (never watched those before, sorry to say) and the Harry Potter series. We watched all the films in strict order, spending about a week on each series.

What advice do you have for young musicians who would eventually like to compose movies for a living?

Forget about it. Okay, if we’re being serious (although ‘forget about it’ is also me being serious), it’s best if you’re primarily a musician, and then a businessman. However, I’ve always wanted to earn my living with music. A lot of people try to become film or TV composers, having failed at performing their music on stage. This phenomenon stems from how easily available the music-making programs are. Certainly, new talents can emerge, but these programs standardize musicians, unique and interesting sound in cinema has become a rare sight, irony intended. Everybody tries to copy copies, and you wonder where the search for something new is? Last but not least, entering the tricky and rocky path of a musician, be ready to die homeless and poor, how did the best of us composers.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to http://www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Filmmaker Gonzaga Manso (EDEN HOSTEL)

EDEN HOSTEL was the winner of BEST FILM at the January 2018 Comedy FEEDBACK Film Festival. 

Get to know the director of the film: 

  What motivated you to make this film?

I suppose it was loneliness . When I was 18 I wasn’t very sure about who I really was and often felt like I didn’t belong. In fact everything was OK, it was actually going better than what most teenagers could expect… and, nevertheless, I often felt lonely. Unconnected. Based on that feeling and on a conversation I had about the subject with my then-girlfriend, I wrote this short film.

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

It took us approximately one year. I spent the first three months writing on my own and developing the idea, then we spent about two months preproducing it, 4 days shooting it and about 7 months post-producing it. The postproduction took us way too long because we didn’t have a proper budget and we had to ask for many favors… it was not the best workflow ever.

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

I would do it badly. Just kidding, maybe: holy loneliness? I don’t know

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

Actually it was a financial obstacle: finding the way to produce it with very little money.

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

My initial reaction was to smile like a child. I enjoyed so much watching the different points of view about the short film and its characters. It was an amazing experience to see all those people talking and reflecting about our shortfilm. I loved it. Thank you so much. I always learn a lot about my own film when I talk to the audience.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

What film have you seen the most in your life?

Fight club

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

Actually, Ismael Martin and his team handle the distribution of our short film, so we didn’t get to do this ourselves.

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

No idea, I’m always switching between different genres.
I played on a rock band for 10 years, so probably one of our earliest songs… we were rehearsing them nonstop for years.

What is next for you? A new film?

I’m a photographer too, and right now we are developing a new series of photographies. We also have a second short-film, Fortune-teller, which I hope Ismael has submitted to your festival, or will do so when you open for submissions. We are also starting to write the script of a feature length film, that project really excites me.

 

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Interview with director CJ Colando (JAKE & JULIA)

JAKE & JULIA was the winner of BEST PERFORMANCES at the January 2018 Comedy FEEDBACK Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

CJ Colando: There was no motivation in the beginning; I wrote it quite passively as an exercise in short-form comedy, and thought that would be the end of it. Then I sent it around to industry friends, and enough of them suggested we make it. When it comes to the creative opinions of people more successful than me, I’m often a soft, easily-persuaded worm.

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

About a year. I sat on the script for about 6 months, and finally got enough kicks in the ass to make it, which took another 6 months.

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

Awkward fun.

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

From a content perspective, it was important that we crafted something fresh and funny out of this somewhat familiar premise. Throughout the whole process there was a constant collaborative effort to not make sure this thing didn’t come off like a second-rate, straight-to-DVD American Pie sequel.

Of course, funding was challenging too. Imagine asking people for their hard-earned money to make a film about a threesome. I’ve mastered every different way of saying ‘No, it’s not porn.”

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

It’s always a pleasant surprise when anyone says anything nice about your film. Any time there’s feedback involved in anything I do, I brace myself for the absolute worst case scenario, and it’s always a relief when that doesn’t happen. This was no exception, and I greatly appreciated the complimentary nature of our feedback.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I’ve been asked a lot if the sexual event in the film was inspired by a real experience, and I always disappoint when I admit it wasn’t. But for the sake of this question, let’s say it was. That really happened to me. Crazy sh*t, man.

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

“Jaws.” We’re in the triple digits by now. Nothing else comes close.

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

Love it. FilmFreeway not only makes submissions easy and intuitive, they do a great job at how they present the individual festival pages.

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

“Somebody’s Baby” by Jackson Browne gets a spin at least once a week for the past several years and it upsets a lot of people in my life. There’s a few Dave Matthews Band songs up there too, which I’m told is even more upsetting. I apologize.

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

Hopefully. The next one’s gotta be at least twice as good. So as soon as an idea hits me that’s good enough to stress me out for a giant chunk of a year, we’ll do it.
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Interview with Filmmaker Stephen Riscica (IT GETS BETTER?)

 IT GETS BETTER? was the winner of BEST PERFORMANCES at the December 2017 LGBT FEEDBACK Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Stephen Riscica: I started writing this film almost years ago after learning about Jamey Rodemeyer, a young gay teenager from Buffalo, NY who made an It Gets Better video only to commit suicide only a few short months after. I then started reading other stories about youth who have made these testimonials of hope but weren’t able to battle their own inner demons. It was the juxtaposition of these messages of hope from our youth on YouTube mixed with their tragic fate that inspired me to write this piece.

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

I started writing this six years ago– much of that time it was just sitting on my laptop. I went to a film festival in May of 2016 and was really inspired by what I saw there and decided it’s time to finally get this film made. I started an indiegogo campaign a month later. We had approximately two months of pre-production, two shooting days, and 3 months of post production.

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

Oh that’s a tough one…

I’ve always described my film as an examination in loneliness and a desperate plea to hang on… so maybe “Loneliness Examination” or maybe just “Got Wine?”

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

There was an actor attached initially who I cast because his life story and where he is now reflected what the character is going through in the film. A week before production I was “ghosted.” We held a casting session a few days before shooting and thankfully Gys DeVilliers came in and blew me away– he had me in tears during his audition. It was as if I was hearing my words for the very first time. I knew there was no way I could have gotten such a powerful and haunting performance from the previous actor attached.

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

I appreciated the honesty and candor of the audience. This is the first time I was able to hear what people thought about the film without being physically present. I think the film effects people in different ways, and everyone I’ve shown it to responds differently. I disagree, however, with the gentleman who said the film felt cliche’. I see what he’s saying about how it feels like a play, which most likely has to do with my theater background, but I think it is a film that stands out because of its uniqueness.

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

As I mentioned earlier, the story of Jamey Rodemeyer was the main catalyst in writing this piece. His story made me re-examine my own issues of loneliness and depression. I was also very much inspired by Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, a one act play in which an older man is listening to a audio tape of himself from years back reminiscing about his youth. Instead of a tape recorder we use a laptop and YouTube.

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

The one film that really changed my worldview as a young gay teenager was Pink Flamingos directed by John Waters. As someone who didn’t identify with straight culture or gay culture, this film was really a celebration of individuality for me and taught me that it’s okay not to fit into any sort of category. I would invite friends over to watch double features of Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble and I’d love to watch my friends squirm, but we’d also be laughing our asses off and quoting lines from the film. I also used to be obsessed with Elvira: Mistress of the Dark as a child and Gregg Araki’s The Doom Generation and Nowhere. Recent films I’ve been watching repeatedly lately: Ingmar Bergman’s Cries & Whispers, Jennie Livingston’s Paris is Burning, and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

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

I think it’s a great platform. I discovered a lot of festivals I never even knew existed. I like the up to date notifications of when a judging status has changed on your film.

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

Probably something by The Cure– maybe Pictures of You?

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

Still trying to figure that out! I recently helped out on the pilot episode of a new documentary series interviewing pioneering DJ’s and party promoters from the early days of gay nightlife. There is a short story written by a friend of mine I would love to adapt. I’m looking to collaborate with other LGBT screenwriters on future projects!

it_gets_better_5

IT GETS BETTER?, 11min., USA, LGBT/Experimental
Directed by Stephen RiscicaAn older gay man is inspired to record a testimonial after watching a bisexual teenager’s video, assuring him that ‘It Gets Better.’

CLICK HERE – and see full info and more pics of the film!