Interview with Filmmaker Thomas F. O’Brien (PHOTOS IN THE RAIN)

PHOTOS IN THE RAIN was the winner of BEST MUSIC at the November 2019 Documentary Short Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Thomas F. O’Brien: I was compelled to share the photographs I found to the world, especially when it started to rain. I remember raindrops hitting me on the face as I quickly moved them down the street to my house. I knew they were special, and that when given the chance I would give them more honor than sitting in the rain.

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

The idea was borne in January 2013, the opportunity came about in October 2017, so 4 years and ten months from pillar to post per se. From the time my Directing class group heard my pitch to when we completed the edit was about three weeks.

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

Art love.

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

Getting the daughter to send pics of the photographer, James Belsanti, after I interviewed her…she was moved by seeing the display of her father’s work, and needed time to process it all. We only have the one pic of him, in the film, and what’s cool about that is he’s wearing a red jacket…Al Avis, Vice-President of the Chicago Area Camera Club says in a phone interview that James Belsanti said to, “get somebody in a red coat to stand in your photograph.”

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

I loved it! It was the best response I’ve heard. Hearing people who “get it” is a wonderful feeling to behold.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I feel like I didn’t come up with the idea, that it was something already thought of and I was just the vessel for it! When I read the syllabus for the Directing class and saw a documentary was an assignment I began putting it together.

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

It’s a tie between “Grand Canyon” (1991) and “Cast Away” (2000).

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

It’s a relief to be able to do something so effortlessly in the distribution/promotion process.

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

“Ventura Highway,” by America (my first 45 rpm, many moons ago).

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

Since then I have co-wrote/directed/acted in a feature that is now on Amazon (“Rainy Carolina” [2018]). I wrote two TV pilots, a sitcom episode, and am working on three screenplay projects. I plan to direct one of those on a small scale as a sizzle to get funding for the bigger scale.

A final word: My son and I went to the Grand Canyon last week. It was a wonderful father-son experience, and on the drive to Las Vegas to fly back home I discovered we had won “Best Music!” This was doubly exciting because my son had stopped playing music for the last few years to work as a carpenter, and his song was the end credits song in the project. I’m hoping it planted a seed in him to want to continue with his musical talent.

Interview with Filmmaker Juan José Patón (S)

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Juan José Patón: My motivation was my team. I was looking forward to making a horror project that had touches of the best horror movies from the 80s and fortunately I had a team that wanted the same. Verónica Cervilla had a striking screenplay, Rocio Garcia-Pérez has a beautiful and sensational cinematography, Alberto Martínez is a master of FX, and our amazing cast was exactly what we needed.

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

It took us about a year.

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

Intense and diabolic.

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

As in any other independent production, I think the main obstacles were our budget and the time we had to carry out the project.

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

It was pure happiness. After all, the audience is the target of our creations.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

The idea originally came from a short tale by our screenwriter Verónica Cervilla. She showed it to me and I saw the huge potential it had to become a short film or even a feature in the future.

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

I don’t think I have a clear answer for this question. The films I like the most are Predator or The Thing (among many other) and I may have seen them a thousand times.

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

I think that FilmFreeway is the best and most efficient platform that I’ve ever used to send my works.

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

Probably it’s some theme from a John Carpenter film.

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

My team and I are working in a very interesting project related to Edgar Allan Poe’s tales. Also we’re attempting to turn S into a feature film.

Interview with Filmmaker Hadley Hendon (BLESSING)

BLESSING was the winner of BEST FILM at the November 2019 Documentary Short Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Hadley Hendon: I found Al Nour through a program I went to Morocco with, Actuality Media. They do preliminary research into a few organizations and the filmmakers get to pick from there. I chose Al Nour because they focus on helping the lives of women, which I feel very connected to. Al Nour is also a community. All of these women make a product together, travel to and from work together, eat lunch together and generally support each other. Showcasing a strong community is important in the times we’re living in where everyday feels more and more like we’re focusing on the needs of the individual and forgetting we’re a part of a larger community.

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

It took us one month to get a solid rough cut which we screened in Morocco for the women of Al Nour, that cut ran about 12 min long. After we left Morocco my team and I continued to work on it, our DP and editor Erica Moon was able to cut it down to 6 min. From when we left to our final edit was two years later.

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

Inspiring women.

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

My biggest obstacle was working through the guilt I felt interviewing these women. I come from an extreme place of privilege. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, went to college in Chicago and on top of that I am an able bodied woman. I saw the pain in their eyes and heard it in their voices as I asked them tough questions, it doesn’t feel good to make someone to talk about their pain. I also felt like I was being exploitative, using these incredible stories for my own personal gain. It was a tough thing to face. I had moments where I thought, “I’m not cut out for this”. What I had to realize was talking through trauma and pain helps us release, helps us move on. I feel incredibly lucky that these women put their trust in me to tell their stories, to talk through the pain with me.

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

Honestly, I was shocked at how well received it was. I was expecting harsher critique. I had multiple people come up to me after the screening and tell me that Najat’s story inspired them. It made them feel something and they thanked me for sharing her story. That’s all I want as a filmmaker. All the discomfort I felt during the filmmaking process was worth it.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video

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

As previously stated, I didn’t actually find Al Nour or say to myself “I want to make a film about physically disabled women in Morocco.” In fact if you told me I’d ever make something like this, I would’ve called you crazy. What I will say though is my team and I did a first round of preliminary interviews with all the women of Al Nour, we really wanted to pinpoint a strong story and have that guide us through all the good work Al Nour does. Najat, even with her shy demeanor, really stuck out to us. You can feel this strong spirit inside her just bursting with life. From there we knew we wanted to follow her.

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

Embarrassingly, I’m pretty sure it’s the 2007 Diane Keaton, Mandy Moore work of art “Because I Said So”. But if you’re looking for a more cinematic answer I’ll tell you my favorite film is “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, flawless storytelling.

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

FilmFreeway is an incredible resource. Not only is it extremely easy to upload and submit but it’s also a fantastic research tool! Finding fests to attend, networking and submitting has never been easier.

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

Electric Light Orchestra – Telephone Line. I love the drama of it.

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

I’m currently working on producing/directing my first feature film. I also have a few feature length scripts I’m developing! All of these projects are scripted fiction but let me tell you, I am on the edge of my seat waiting for an incredible story to make my next documentary about.

Interview with Filmmaker Luai Akl (EPIPHANY)

EPIPHANY played to rave reviews at the November 2019 Under 5 Minute Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Luai Akl: I always wanted to talk about drug addicts and the childhood, So i decided to talk about both and how everything is connected somehow

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

30-35 Days

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

Let’s say “Organized chaos”!

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

I’d say the actors, because they’re my friends not actors and that was the 1st time they stand in front of a camera.

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

Amazing to be honest, such a beautiful feeling that your film is screening in a different continent and you are listening to the audience’s feedback.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

As i said before, it was something that i wanted to talk about from a long time a go, and i had the chance.

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

Not a specific one, i am open to any kind of art and with any good story.

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

I think it was a good experience, much more easier.

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

I think Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd

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

Yep, i am writing a new one these days.

Interview with Filmmaker Kiana Kalantar-Hormozi (LOUD and PROUD)

LOUD and PROUD played to rave reviews at the September 2019 One Minute Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Kiana Kalantar-Hormozi: I read some news online about the CEO of Doritos saying the company was planning to make crisps for women – specifically crisps that didn’t “crunch” because apparently women didn’t like making that crunch sound in public. There was a lot of backlash on this from women on social media – I also thought it was ridiculous to make gendered crisps. I’m personally not a fan of unnecessary gendered products and it got me thinking about the crazy stereotypes and standards women [and men] are sometimes forced to live with in modern day society.

There’s obviously way more serious issues like sexual violence and the glass ceiling and all that, but sometimes the small details can be just as annoying – every single cog in the patriarchy machine keeps in turning, no matter how small.

I wanted to make a film commenting on that specific Doritos comment, to ignore the patriarchal judgemental gaze and to celebrate women being LOUD and PROUD.

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

Well, in all honesty, this film came into my head all of a sudden, like the images played out in my head. I spent maybe one day in prep overall, one day shooting, and a few days in the edit. It was all dispersed and took a few months because the whole team was doing this in addition to their day jobs. Nobody got paid to make this.

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

Krunchy and free.

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

To be honest – funding. I had an amazing team and the idea was solid. Ideally I would have spent a tiny bit more time making sure the political concept of the film was clearer without explanation. But really dollar bills. I paid for all the costs myself.

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

Initially nervous, until I heard people liked it! I’m happy one audience member felt guilt free about crunching crisps after watching the film!

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

I didn’t….it came to me, no effort needed.

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

Hmmmm…that’s a hard one. Probably classic Disney films or Harry Potter. Beyond the popular titles, I really like the Count of Monte Cristo, which is random, but I’ve watched that quite a few times.

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

Really great platforms, certainly more accessible that other options.

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

Erm, I’ve listened to a lot of Mariah Carey. Also Dessa, my favourite rapper. And currently Jorja Smith.

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

I’m working on a lot!

Film-wise my documentary, Kiana: Stargazing and Spinraza is ongoing. Currently it’s not funded and I’m reluctant to partner with bigger organisations and platforms if they want to dilute the film – my life is extreme and it’d be dishonest to censor it.

I’m working on a new short film Across From The Dance Floor – waiting to hear back on funding for that! – it’s about Keira, a young passionate, bright woman who watches from across the dance floor, as another woman dance with the man she likes, because she’s stuck in her wheelchair and not able to descend the stairs in her way.

Music-wise, I’m working on my hip-hop EP! And getting a voicereel together as a singer. I’m re-entering the music arena after many years!

Interview with Filmmaker Travis Darkow (ELIZABETH)

ELIZABETH played to rave reviews at the September 2019 One Minute & Smartphone Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Travis Darkow: I have been writing, directing, and editing short films since the 7th grade, and had made one other no budget little short before this one. But one night I just really wanted to shoot a new little horror short, so I decided on found footage since it would be the easiest to accomplish with no money, and could be done quickly. I love something about every genre of horror, and it was my first found footage style movie so I was excited that I could create it almost entirely without leaving my house.

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

From writing the short, to filming and editing, it probably took about a week or a week and a half to complete.

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

Dark and Playful.

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

The biggest obstacle I faced was probably the bathroom/emergency exit door scenes, which I shot at my work, while I was on the clock. The other would be having to move my dog around between rooms in my house while I shot all the interiors so he was never seen.

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

I was pretty nervous when I first clicked on the video, but once one of the audience members said that three different parts of my film sent a shiver up his spine, I knew it was going to be alright. It was amazing hearing how receptive the audience was to my little horror film, and hearing what they liked about it, and that the little bits of humor were picked up on the way I intended them to be.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I initially came up with the amateur ghost hunter angle as a format that would fit the style I wanted to shoot perfectly, and then the whole backstory about Elizabeth Whitmore murdering her family just flowed pretty naturally from there.

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

As big of a horror fan as I am now, the films I have seen the most in my life would either have to be The Nightmare Before Christmas or The Sandlot. I watched them religiously when I was younger, and never just stopped.

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

I absolutely love FilmFreeway. It’s so user friendly and easy to navigate and work on, I don’t know where my filmmaking would be if I hadn’t found this platform.

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

It’s tough to say, but it would either have to be Mr. Chainsaw by Alkaline Trio, or anything by Angels and Airwaves.

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

Since I completed Elizabeth in 2017, I have written and directed 14 short films, 2 features, and 7 horror screenplays. My first feature is called Goodbye Tomorrow, and is a horror/sci-fi mindbender about a man who is being cloned and used to test mind control drugs by this shady group within the government that worships this interdimensional being that they call the Dissimulator. Yeah it’s a lot. The feature I just more recently finished is called Bunny Boy, and follows a mute as he wanders around his town that never fully recovered from a tornado, and some of the other odd residents that still call it home. It’s my fan film/love letter to a movie called Gummo that was written and directed by Harmony Korine in 1997.

Interview with Filmmaker Yangfang (Frances) Chen (NINA SAIZA)

NINA SAIZA played to rave reviews at the October 2019 Female FEEDBACK Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Yangfang (Frances) Chen: I remember how confused I was when I first encountered the dark side of the world after I became a teenager, so I always want to make a short film to illustrate my feelings of becoming “mature”. This short film is about innocence, violence, and perception. People are more complicated than they appear and they’re not good or bad. They’re just people.

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

It took about half month to make this short film.

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

Complicated
People.

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

The biggest obstacle I faced was filming the abuse scene. It was difficult because I have never actually seen someone abused, so I worked with all of my actors to build a mood and choreographed violence in order to build up the scene that made it into the final cut of the film.

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

My initial reaction was happy. I was glad that my 6-minute short film made my audience have such strong emotional reaction, and they all understood what I am trying to say in this story.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I always want to make a short film about teenagers’ confusion over the world. When I was a little kid, I did not undertand adults at all. The piano teacher in the story is responsible to teach the girl to play piano but ends up teaching her a life lesson about adulthood. I thought it would be interesting to use teacher/student dynamic to show the complexity of humans and the loss of innocence.

What film have you seen the most in your life?

I like drama movies. Dog Day Afternoon is the film I have seen the most in my life.

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

I really like FilmFreeway. I think it makes the submission process easier for filmmakers to submit their work to festivals.

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

Imagine Dragons’s Believer. I love Imagine Dragons.

What is next for you? A new film?

I am currently studying at a film school. I will be involved in short film productions possibly next year. This year, I want to mainly focus on my education.

nina_saiza_movie_poster