Interview with Filmmaker Melissa Lesh (PERSON OF THE FOREST)

PERSON OF THE FOREST was the winner of BEST FILM at the March 2019 Documentary Short Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Melissa Lesh: Leading up to Person of the Forest I had been directing short conservation/natural history films, so when I was approached by Tim Laman and Trevor Frost to edit and co-direct a film on orangutan culture I quickly took the opportunity. Knowing the critical state orangutans are in also motivated me to pour everything I could into this story.

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

It was about five months total, starting with discussions about the footage and the storyline in September, to our first festival deadline in February.

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

Orangutan culture

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

The biggest challenge was sitting down with terabytes of footage that had been collected by many people (scientists, field assistants, cinematographers) over ten years and working it into one cohesive narrative.

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

It was interesting to see how many people focused on the conservation message. I am glad the impression was strong when it came to the impacts of palm oil, which became a main point of discussion after the film.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I was approached by Tim Laman with the idea of making a film on orangutan culture, from there I conducted the interviews and constructed the story. My main goal was to make orangutans as relatable as possible, showing how similar we are, drawing parallels and ultimately why we should protect them.

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

That is hard to say. The first film I have a vivid memory of watching, and the one I believe that had the most impact on my life (at a young age) was Microcosmos.

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

I like it. It’s easy and straightforward. Definitely my favorite online submission platform.

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

Probably Fallin’ by Alicia Keys

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

I am currently working on a feature film in the Peruvian Amazon about wildlife reintroduction and mental illness. I am excited to share it when we finish production/post production hopefully by the end of 2020!

person_of_the_forest_movie_poster

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Interview with Filmmaker Joey Katches (SOCIAL)

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Joey Katches: It was my own conviction that I was spending too much time on my phone and neglecting the relationships of those around me. There’s this app on my phone called “screen time” which tracks the amount of time I spend on the internet and social media. It amazed me how many hours (Even days) I spent on social media in a week! God has blessed me with a wonderful family and I don’t want to neglect time with them being absorbed in my phone. Life is too short, and time is precious. My goal in making the film was never to say smart phones are bad, or social media is bad, but rather how we can be so absorbed in our social media that we neglect the face to face relationships around us.

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

Roughly 4 months

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

Screen Time

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

The day of filming I still had not landed on the ending to the film. Originally I had scripted that there would be a montage sequence at the end of the day showing the opposite of what would happen if the main actor had not been absorbed in his phone. But to me it didn’t feel punchy enough. So mid way through the shoot day the idea hit me that the main actor is confronted with the reality that what he posts on facebook (a happy family picture) is not reality. And in that moment it hits him that he’s neglecting the relationships that bring most fulfillment and happiness.

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

I loved hearing both the positive feedback and the criticism. I thought the audience was incredibly intelligent and helpful. I learned a lot from them and appreciated very much their insights! They will help me to become a better filmmaker. Also loved hearing how the message impacted others! That was my goal in making this film.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I heard a TED talk by Simon Sinek about the addiction of cell phone usage. This talk motivated me to make a short film addressing the issue.

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

It’s a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart

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

Very user friendly process!

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

True Grit soundtrack

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

Working on 2 short films and a documentary. But currently in the process of shooting a local commercial = )

social

Interview with Novelist Linda Palmer (SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your novel about?

Linda Palmer: A girl meets a guy who is way more than he appears to be.

2. What genres would you say this story is in?

YA fantasy/scifi

3. How would you describe this story in two words?

Alien invasion

4. What movie have you seen the most in your life?

Divergent

5. What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the
most times in your life?)

Perfect by Ed Sheeran

6. Do you have an all-time favorite novel?

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

7. What motivated you to write this story?

I thought it would be fun and different.

8. If you could have dinner with one person (dead or alive), who would
that be?

JK Rowling

9. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

Movies and books

10. What influenced you to enter your story to get performed?

I wanted to hear it out loud.

11. Any advice or tips you’d like to pass on to other writers?

Never give up

http://www.lindavpalmer.com

Watch the Novel Transcript Reading: 

Performed by Norma Dawn Dunphy

BUY on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Somewhere-Middle-Linda-Palmer/dp/1499121377

Interview with Screenwriter Julia Sauder (DR. NEVES)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Julia Sauder: It’s about what can happen when you mess with Mother Nature and try to play God. How it can devastate lives and leave a path of destruction in its wake.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

I imagined it as a horror, but there is a lot of science fiction.

3. Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

It would be a fun ride. I want to write movies that make people happy, so they can have a good time.

4. How would you describe this script in two words?

Monkey business.

5. What movie have you seen the most times in your life?

Aliens. I know it backwards and forwards. It taught me some valuable lessons about storytelling like timing and plot points. It’s just a great, entertaining movie, and I love to watch it.

6. How long have you been working on this screenplay?

I wrote the step outline in the fall of 2006 in Lake Como, Italy. The rough draft took me 11 days. After that, I worked on it off and on for 13 years.

7. How many stories have you written?

I have no idea. I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I think it would be cool to know an actual number, though.

8. What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the
most times in your life?)

“Freedom ’95” by George Michael. It’s my anthem, and I totally rock out to it. It really gets me going and gets me excited.

9. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

Making the reanimation believable. I wanted the power source to be realistic. It had to be strong enough to wake the dead. There’s a fine line between cheesy and clever.

10. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

Traveling. I love going to new places and absorbing cultures, seeing new things. Just put me on a plane and tell me where to later. Time stops as you connect to the world.

11. You entered your screenplay via FilmFreeway. What has been your
experiences working with the submission platform site?

It’s a very simple process. It’s very easy to apply to contests, to get information about festivals. I like how the dashboard where you can see where you’ve applied and what your status it.

12. What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings
on the initial feedback you received?

Definitely the free feedback was a large draw. I was very happy with the feedback. It was encouraging and constructive. Well done and professional. And I especially liked the grammar notes.

Watch the Screenplay Reading: 

After practicing first on a manufactured ape, an ambitious doctor creates life while losing control of his own.

CAST LIST:

Narrator: Shawn Devlin
Neves: Colin Sandquist
Woman: Melie B Rondeau

Interview Screenwriter George M. Johnson (THE WONDER)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

George M. Johnson: In The Wonder, an ambitious Edwardian journalist saves an uncannily precocious child from drowning in a pond. The boy, Victor, reads through the library of the local aristocrat and rejects the accumulated knowledge of mankind before trying to communicate his own theory of life. This theory threatens authorities, particularly the local Rector, but also drives the journalist to the brink of insanity. In the end he discovers the boy dead in the same pond and is distraught, but manages to restore his sanity by writing the child’s story so that others may share the wonder.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

I have adapted The Wonder from the early “scientific romance,” as speculative, science fiction stories were called, of the prolific writer J.D. Beresford’s 1911 novel The Hampdenshire Wonder. It has the caché of being the first “superman” story in English literature and probably the first story featuring what we now recognize as an autistic child. The Hampdenshire Wonder was praised by the likes of H.G. Wells, Graham Greene, and Alistair Cooke, among others.

3. Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

We are fascinated by exceptional people who don’t fit in, who are compelled to convey a message more advanced than our capacities can handle – just think about the popularity of films about exceptional children, as in The Room, Gifted, and A Brilliant Young Mind, and stories about genius, such as The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game.

The Wonder taps into our collective anxiety about the unknown, what it means to be human, and the possibility that we do not have all the answers about how the world works, despite our scientific advances and our obsession with information. For these reasons it is a compelling story for our time.

4. How would you describe this script in two words?

Threatening genius.

5. What movie have you seen the most times in your life?

Every so often I return to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a brilliant send-up of a legendary quest.

6. How long have you been working on this screenplay?

I’ve been at it on and off for several years.

7. How many stories have you written?

I’ve drawn on my expertise in early twentieth-century literature to write several award-winning period dramas, but I also love writing contemporary satirical pieces, such as Mockus, a play about a clown who provokes a desperate Mayor into trying playful approaches to his city’s social and environmental ills, including replacing corrupt traffic cops with mimes.
Some of my other work can be viewed on my website: georgemjohnson.com.

8. What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the most times in your life?)

Probably John Lennon’s Imagine because I believe in the transformative power of the imagination.

9. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

Beresford’s original novel, though a compelling read, is rather philosophical and is populated almost exclusively by male characters, so I had to imagine concrete scenes or set-pieces displaying Victor’s uncanny ability to predict seemingly random events as well as to develop a backstory for the unnamed narrator. I decided to weave in details from Beresford’s own life, such as his romance and marriage to his first wife Linda, an actress, in order to make the story more human and compelling.

I had written a biography of J.D. Beresford (Simon and Schuster, 1998) so knew Beresford’s descendants and they were happy to give me permission to pursue this project.

10. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

I am passionate about peace, social justice, and environmental issues and recently was awarded the Peace Medal from the Y.M.C.A. for my writing and activism on these issues for over 25 years.

11. You entered your screenplay via FilmFreeway. What have been your experiences working with the submission platform site?

This platform is seamless. I like the fact that I can keep track of my submissions in one place.

12. What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings on the initial feedback you received?

I received very discriminating and supportive feedback on my script Peace Pledge, which won a full Wildsound Table Read and so decided to submit The Wonder. The feedback was really helpful, and encouraged me to make revisions.

Watch the Screenplay Reading: 

A journalist finds himself fighting to protect a boy whose deformity might actually be a link to discovering the origin and true meaning of life.

CAST LIST:

Victor: Shawn Devlin
J.D.: Colin Sandquist
Narrator: Norma Dawn Dunphy
Ellen Mary: Melie B Rondeau
Man: : Neil Bennett

Interview with Screenwriter Montgomery Burt (THE GIRL ON THE SKYTRAIN)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Montgomery Burt: During an early morning trip on the commuter train, a good samaritan tries to help a naive young woman seemingly headed for trouble but she doesn’t want his help.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Drama.

3. Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

The interaction between the two main characters reflects what’s going on in life—young people not questioning what may be an “opportunity” they found on the internet.

4. How would you describe this script in two words?

Two perspectives.

5. What movie have you seen the most times in your life?

North by Northwest.

6. How long have you been working on this screenplay?

A few months. About five drafts.

7. How many stories have you written?

Many. I’ve been writing since I was fourteen.


8. What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the most times in your life?)

I have hundreds of CDs with thousands of songs but my favorite is Los Super Seven’s debut album.

https://www.allmusic.com/album/los-super-seven-mw0000040720

9. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

Having it workshopped at my screenwriters group, Upwords. It’s a true story so I tried to work within the confines of what actually happened and still make it dramatic and interesting. Three of my colleagues, when they were younger, got into creepy situations with photographers and they explained why they overlooked any danger for the prospect of fame.

10. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

Music, movies, travel, volunteering at our local animal shelter. I team up with directors to make shorts. Here is our most recent, a short comedy directed by Tabatha Golat called “The United Guys Network.”

https://www.storyhive.com/project/show/id/783?fbt=share

This is the proposal for our next project:

http://www.thefilmcollaborative.org/fiscalsponsorship/projects/dougiedog

11. You entered your screenplay via FilmFreeway. What has been your experiences working with the submission platform site?

Excellent. It’s easy use and quite dependable with notifications. Service is good, too. When I informed them of a possible scam festival, for example, they looked into the matter right away.

12. What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings on the initial feedback you received?

I wanted the challenge of writing a short script with few characters and limited locations.

The written feedback I received was excellent.

Watch the Screenplay Reading: 

During an early morning trip on the commuter train, a good samaritan tries to help a naive young woman seemingly headed for trouble but she doesn’t want his help.

CAST LIST:
Automated voice – 2 – OLIVIA BARRETT
NARRATION – JUSTIN DESOUZA
Sean – 24 – DANIEL JONES
Carly – 21 – CASSANDRA GUTHRIE

Interview with Screenwriter Andrew Fisk (GEEKS: A LOVE STORY)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Andrew Fisk: “Geeks” is a David versus Goliath story that takes place in the Silicon Valley. When a corporate buyout takes place, the employees of the company that was taken over are all laid off and their products are stolen.

A group of five laid-off employees band together to start their own company and create a fantastic virtual reality chamber. The president of the mega-corporation that nearly ruined their lives sees them as a threat and results to a number of underhanded, humiliating and illegal tactics to stop them.

Their ability to fight back and triumph over the larger corporation is the core of this story. The title is “Geeks: A Love Story” because the conflict brings people together to form relationships who might not have met without it. They succeed by teamwork, friendship and sacrifice.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Comedy, romantic comedy and even science fiction. The final battle between the five entrepreneurs and the mega-corporation takes place in a virtual reality environment similar to the battles in “The Matrix.” I see this story as a metaphor for corporate warfare and the survival of the individual.

3. Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

The characters are interesting and varied. The original five rebels against the mega-corporation include Shannon Blake, a punk rocker/programmer, and India Moonpeace, a counterculture/new age personality in her seventies. Todd Bergstrom, the inventor of the virtual reality chamber, is forced to come out of his emotional bubble and become a leader.

The CEO of the mega-corporation, Geoffrey Sterling, is a composite of the stereotypical narcissistic, scheming Silicon Valley executives.
The special effects possibilities for this movie are huge. The virtual reality chamber can create entire 3D worlds that people can journey into. Do you want to explore the Amazon jungle? No problem. Go surfing on hundred foot waves? Got you covered.

I think this movie offers a realistic view of corporate life as well. Despite the glossy overhyped picture that some large companies like to present, a lot of them really are horrible places to work. The five rebels are told again and again by their CEOs that everything about their company is wonderful. They walk in the next morning and find out they do not have jobs and the company is closing down. This has happened to me and I want to portray this experience on the big screen.

4. How would you describe this script in two words?

Wild fun.

5. What movie have you seen the most times in your life?

Probably Blade Runner (the original). Followed by Forrest Gump, Dr. Strangelove, Aliens and To Live and Die in L.A.

6. How long have you been working on this screenplay?

It only seems like forever. I wrote the first draft a few years ago. The version that exists today is very different from the original. The characters are the same but the way the story is presented has changed.

7. How many stories have you written?

I have written five feature length screenplays, a thirteen-episode science fiction limited series and nine short scripts ranging from five minutes to thirty minutes.

8. What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the most times in your life?)

“Rainy Night in Georgia” sung by Brook Benton, written by Tony Joe White.

9. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

Mainly, it was my fear of rewriting and rewriting until the story was just the way it should be. Someone said that art is never really finished…at some point it is abandoned. Even after a number of rewrites it just didn’t have the right vibe. I worried that it never would and at some point I would have to abandon it. But now I am completely happy with the latest version.

10. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

Being outdoors. Hiking, ocean kayaking, exploring new territory and college football.

11. You entered your screenplay via FilmFreeway. What has been your experiences working with the submission platform site?

I find that Film Freeway is complicated and exasperating to work with. Several times I have decided not to enter a screenplay contest because I know I will have to go through the Film Freeway maze again.

12. What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings on the initial feedback you received?

WILDsound did a reading of another feature length screenplay of mine, as well as some other creative works. So this was certainly an incentive. The feedback I received for “Geeks” was incredibly helpful. It let me see the screenplay in a way I had not seen before and got my brain moving in a new direction. I got rid of all the scenes that were slowing the story down and streamlined it. This screenplay is so much better now than it was a few months ago.

Watch the Screenplay Reading: 

CAST LIST:

SHANNON – 3 – ETHEL ABRAY
NARRATION – TED POWERS
TODD – 11 – DANIEL JONES
CD NARRATOR – 8 – OLIVIA BARRETT