Interview with Filmmaker Andrew Borene (EL VIAJE)

EL VIAJE played to rave reviews at the Student Action/Crime/Thriller Festival in May 2020.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Andrew Borene: A few years back, my mother was coming out of a Starbucks when she was almost struck by a couple of neo-Nazis driving a pickup truck. As they drove off, they shouted racial insults at her and laughed. Even though it was in public during the day time, no one offered to help her or ask if she was okay. I wanted to make a film that stands up for other people that have faced racism or prejudice based on their ethnicity.

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

Even though it’s categorized as a short, there was nothing short about the process (pre, principle, reshoots, post) of making the film. It took a year and a half; and even then, I’m still currently working on a director’s cut since there’s a lot of good stuff that got cut out.

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

Thought-provoking (is that technically one word though, because of the hyphen?)

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

The sneaking suspicion of self-doubt that no matter what you do, it’s never good enough. And once you’ve finished the film, you could have always done better.

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

I cried. I’ve been doing this for ten years. I’ve been laughed at, ignored and told to give up on my dream; but I’m still here. To know that someone out there cares about what I had to say, and took the time to express that, meant the world to me and made all the sacrifices worth it.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

Sometimes it’s important for an artist to give a voice to people that don’t have one. The subject of immigration is a complicated one, but I took offense to how some media outlets depicted immigrants as all criminals coming here to steal our jobs. I just felt there was an opportunity to examine the subject matter of immigration, and what it means to be an American citizen, in an interesting, non-didactic, way.

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

Drive, Sicario and It Follows.

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

I’m glad that there is a consolidated and streamlined way of submitting content across the board. The main thing, as a filmmaker, that gives me anxiety is if said content gets viewed. Given the sheer volume of films being submitted, it’s almost impossible for the judges to watch all the films in length. So it’s always scary to think your film wasn’t viewed, or viewed in its entirety, to be properly judged.

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

The songs I hate have stayed constant, but the ones I love have always changed. Like films, I’m constantly looking for new music to listen to when I write. I’m definitely a left-handed, right brained person.

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

Currently I’m excited to be doing prep work on my first feature film. It’s a psychological film about a film crew making a psychological film. Being a pessimist and my own worst critic, rarely have I liked something I’ve written this much, so I look forward to sharing it with the world.

Interview with Filmmaker Patrick Stagg (THE BIG PICTURE)

THE BIG PICTURE played to rave reviews at the May 2020 Comedy Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Patrick Stagg: We wanted to make something funny that was short and to the point while trying to convey something I’m sure a lot of filmmakers can relate to.

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

Surprisingly this is just the opening scene of a much longer film we made that unfortunately never got finished. But a year later we decided to release the contained clip on its own.

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

Relatable schlock.

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

The heat definitely. Gets pretty hot during Wisconsin summers.

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

It was somewhat surreal. Like “wow somebody actually watched our stuff?”

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

The actor portraying the kid walking was obviously untrained and would take direction really oddly while trying to “act natural.” So we made fun of him for it until the idea popped into my head one day to shoot it.

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

Probably M. Night Shama-lama-ding-dong’s 2002 movie Signs. Great film.

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

I think it makes it really easy for up and coming filmmakers to get the layout of how festivals work. It’s just awesome.


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

Hmm. I think maybe Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin.

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

Yes. We are currently in production for our new film PROBED. It is a sci-if romantic comedy that should release later this year! You’ll be able to find it at Waterhousefilms on YouTube.

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Interview with Filmmaker Jonathan Levy (UNLEASHED)

UNLEASHED played to rave reviews at the WILDsound Comedy Festival in May 2020.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Jonathan Levy: This was my first, so part of it was just wanting to make a film. I’m surrounded by great actors many of whom are also friends and wanted to make something with them.

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

It took 9 months.

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

dog man

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

Believing I could actually get a crew and production in order in New York City, where everything is complicated!

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

I actually found it really uplifting and strangely encouraging, and incredibly diverse. Everyone highlighted different moments, but there were also so agreed upon favorite parts which is actually really helpful for my future work and things to keep leaning into.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I was hanging out at Nick(the actor who plays Nate) and he had to leave me and some friends at his apartment while he went on a wild tour of NYC for a night of dog sitting, feeding and walking and I thought it would make for a fun story.

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

Raising Arizona

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

Very easy to use and I would imagine saves days if not weeks of my life in a more manual method or on a less organized site. A little expensive, but otherwise I like it.

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

“Burned” by Buffalo Springfield

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

Yes, I’m working on a weed horror film.

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Interview with Filmmaker Kurtulus Ozgen (8 POEMS OF EMIGRATION)

8 POEMS OF EMIGRATION played to rave reviews at the May 2020 Documentary Short Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Kurtulus Ozgen: Both my grandparent’s families were refugees. They were forced to migrate from Crete Island (Greece) and Kardzhali (Bulgaria) to Anatolia during Balkan Wars (1912-13). As a descendant of such heritage I was bound up with refugee crisis for a long time. I strongly believe that immigration crisis and the troubles of immigrants-refugees evolves to be the one of the deepest ethico-political issues that humanity faces.

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

It wasn’t an idea at first. It had been a feeling and an intuition mingling in me for some time. Around February 2019 (once again) from the news we all witnessed the poignant tragedy of children, women and men who drowned in Aegean Sea, just hoping for a (better) life. I wasn’t able to endure this cruel fact any more. With a weeping heart I felt the urge to create a kind of “requiem” for all the refugees of the world. So I started to work. John Berger (as an intellectual and an artist) has a strong influence on me and my perception of art. During my research I came across his book (which I had read some time ago) And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos (1984). In the book I rediscovered this poem titled “8 Poems of Emigration”. I had found the voice of the film. The affect I was seeking for… In May 2019 when I finished, I realized the film leaned towards to be a “poetic statement” rather than being a “requiem”.

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

poetic (statement) counter-attack


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

After my decision for making an essay film formed of found footage (and sound) my greatest challenge was finding the right video footage that would do just to the film and just for the film. I had to debate with each video footage over and over again. My visual narrative was structured as an “assemblage” rather than editing. Each plan and the whole film had to be limpid yet affective, be in harmony yet form a counter-image, be honest and (somehow) reflect my political view.

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

I was honored and overwhelmed by the comments of the audience. The audience’s acumen, perception and knowledge was very impressive. I announced the influence of John Berger on me and on the film at the “artist’s statement” (summary of the film), after watching audience feedback, I felt to need to create a “memoriam” for John Berger at the end of the film. I will do in a short period of time.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

Also for the last decade Turkey has been accepting immense amount of refugees from Syria because of the civil war. My observations, encounters with refugees and being acquainted with some of them (especially two siblings I had met during my time in AegeanDocs Film Festival 2015 at Mytilene Island) and the unsettling feeling constantly growing in me brought up this film.

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

Many… Sans Soleil (1983) by Chris Marker, Memories of Istanbul (1989) by Hasan Ozgen, Pina (2011) Wim Wenders comes to my mind at first glance. Thanks to Ersan Ocak, I ‘ve been watching Harun Farocki’s films a lot lately.

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

I am very fond of FilmFreeway, it is my only online festival platform.

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

Again Many… A Turkish folk song named Deniz Üstü Köpürür (Foams Above Sea) by various performers, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood by Nina Simone, Dance Me to the End of Love (live version) by Leonard Cohen, Temptation by Tom Waits just came to my mind right now.

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

I’m working on an essay film that I call Habitus of Self. This time I mine all my audio-visual material from youtube.com (which I regard as a digital habitus). The film inquires the influence of habitus (family, society, country, system) to the self. The question I am kind of investigating is “is there a choice?”

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Interview with Filmmaker Qiyu Mary Zhou (THE KOI)

THE KOI played to rave reviews at the Action/Crime/Thriller Festival in May 2020.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film? How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

Qiyu Mary Zhou: “The Koi” is a romantic crime drama that is about a juvenile delinquent who falls deeply into a tabooed unrequited love with her teacher who happens to be an ex-gang member. I always wanted to tell a coming-of-age story that sheds blood in a school hallway. Growing up on cult films made by Japanese director, TAKASHI MIIKI, truly helps me with my creative choices.

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

It took less than a year. The biggest portion of the time was spent on writing the script and revising it. The physical prep-production, like casting and location scouting, started two months before filming. The story is always the key and the heart of a film to me. I wanted to give myself space, to be honest with myself in the writing. It required a lot of courage and honesty.

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

Sweet and bloody. The movie is an exercise of my obsession with exploring controversial content in a harmonious way. Even the use of color in the film, like one audience mentioned in the feedback, the pink, and the blue stands for a contradictory world between the gangster and the teenage girl. I’m very pleased that the audience heard the voice I wanted to convey.

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

Our biggest difficulty was casting our male Asian lead. The age of consent has been a universal concernment, a high school teacher-student relationships are considered taboo by most social standards. Some of the actors we liked shied away from Micheal’s role (Played by Allen Rowe).

In the early stage of the script development, there was a kissing scene between the pair. Back in Asia, there’s a sense of voyeuristic pleasure rooted in the film appreciating culture. But here in the States, the audience would frown on a student-teacher romance, even if we all know it’s staged. Our production eventually decided to cut out the kiss.

The societal exception of Asian American males being a model minority on screen has made the casting process even harder, we were extremely blessed to have found Allen in the end.

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

It was absolutely nerve-racking before reading the feedback. Our audience enjoyed it, especially the action part of the film. I was happy to have brought happiness to my audience, and I felt more connected with the world when I heard the comments voiced out, I feel like some people would know, as a storyteller we are never lonely. .

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

One of my friends back in China gave me a great tip on film watching. “First, start with the dead ones, then go to the ones that are still alive.” I watched the Criterion Collection a lot. When talking about the films that shaped me into the type of storyteller I am today, I can’t mention all the amazing Japanese cult films I was obsessed with in high school.

7. What is next for you?

I am currently producing a feature film called “Baby Don’t Cry”. We shot it in Seattle last winter. It’s in post-production now and will be completed around the end of 2020. I am also working on my next feature film as a writer, and director. A physiological thriller, which will also happen in a snowy place. You can find more information about me and my work at http://www.qiyuzhoufilm.com.

Qiyu Zhou Headshot

Interview with Filmmaker Marnie Baxter & Nicola Stuart-Hill (BAD MOTHER)

BAD MOTHER played to rave reviews at the May 2020 Female Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Nicola: Well Marnie told me a story of a woman she met on a beach a few years a back. This film is based on that true story. which we then dramatised. In the real life story nothing actually happened, but we were both drawn to the psychological thinking that Marnie was left feeling when she did actually leave her kids on the beach with a stranger. That drove us on this journey.
Marnie: I had this experience that was niggling away at me and, as Nicky said, it felt like it would be really interesting to explore. We both loved the process of working out why the story was so chilling, so memorable. Finding the nuances that made it believable and worth watching, and creepy.

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

Nicola: To be honest my memory is terrible, so over to Marnie, but just looked back at my first rough notes on BM and its says Feb 2017. So two years from idea to locked off picture?

Marnie: Ha ha! I think it was longer – more like 3 years from concept to final picture. But until we had the finance in place, we were working around our schedules – grabbing evenings here and there and e mailing each other drafts.

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

Nicola: Judgement. Friendship.

Marnie: This gives us the chance to have 4 words! So – Trust, Motherhood.

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

Nicola: Filming with kids due to their maximum legal hours on set/ Public walking into shot as open beach with lots of doggie walkers.

Marnie: Agreed – that was tricky. But to be honest for me the biggest challenge was probably getting the script right, and getting the finance in place.

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

Nicola: Chuffed. As all the detail we worked hard on, had the right range of effects on the audience.

Marnie: Seeing that people really understood all the nuances of what we’d tried to create was actually quite moving! So encouraging – especially at this time when creating work is even more challenging than ever.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

Nicola: As mentioned, Marnie had the idea based on a real life experince she had of leaving her kids with a stranger on the beach.

Marnie: As above.

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

Nicola: Several – The Color Purple. Empire of the Sun. Schindler’s List. The Piano. Bridesmaids.

Marnie: The Philadelphia Story.

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

Nicola: Great, very organised. Easy to use.

Marnie: I second that – it’s a great resource.

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

Nicola: Hard to answer, as life has gone on. Bob Marleys one love.

Marnie: Oooh. Good choice Nicky.. I think I’d have to go for Stevie Wonder’s Misstra Know-it-All.

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

Nicola: A claustrophobic drama /thriller feature length idea i’m currently writing and TV series idea.

Marnie: I’m working on my second short film, which has been written for me by Matthew Hurt, called ‘Hello, Muscles’. It is a female empowerment piece, challenging the bias we hold in society towards girls and women, and exploring what it means to be strong, especially when you have to care for someone you love. It’s beautifully written, with a really encouraging message, reminding us never to underestimate the strength of girls. Watch this space..!

Interview with Filmmaker Nora Jaenicke (PROOF)

PROOF played to rave reviews at the May 2020 Female Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Nora Jaenicke: The film is, in part, biographical. In order to receive my American Green Card I had to go through a series of very intrusive interviews. Because there were some bureaucratical issues with the processing of my papers, I wasn’t allowed back home for over three years, which was very disorienting. Not being able to be there when my grandfather passed away, being forced to choose between the US and Europe, when really, I felt at home in both continents, was a nerve wracking experience. Of course, what I have been through is not comparable to what other immigrants are going through, but I still felt the need to tell a story about immigration and about how harsh these interviews at the border can be. Given the time period that we live in today, the theme remains relevant, and I felt that the script would make for a film that resonates with a lot of people. I lived in New York City for a long time. Many of my friends there had to go through similar issues in order to receive their visas or greencards. Many of them also call more than one country their “Home” and they fell in love in a city which is accepting of people from all over the world – A big melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities. When I started pitching my short film idea to these friends, many started to pour their hearts out, sharing their own experiences. I started to think about all the hearts that get crushed at the border on a daily basis and I realized how relevant this film could be.

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

I normally carry an idea around for a while before I start writing the screenplay. Proof is not an exception. I would say that it took me about a year to finally write the script, mostly because I was busy working and making another short before that. Once I finished the script, I sent it to my Producers Richard Stein and Darren Cole, and they loved the idea and said that they were on board in getting the short made. It didn’t take us long to find the perfect cast. Preeti Gupta did a fantastic job playing Iman, Jacopo Rampini was the perfect fit for the part of Evan, and I would work with him on each and every one of my films. He is a great actor! Robert L.Wilson flew to New York City all the way from Los Angeles to play the Border Officer and his performance is one that the audience always praises, after seeing the short. In no time, we gathered a wonderful team. Last but not least, I wanted to thank my Director of Photography Jakob Cretuzburg with whom I work on almost every film I make. His talent took the story to a whole new level, and the look of the film is definitely one of its most distinguishing qualities (I think.) At the end we were extremely lucky to have found our Main Executive Producer Sonny Chatrath to support our short film. Thanks to him we were able to pay for Post Production and ship the short to festivals.

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

Love and Borders

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

The obstacle is almost always financial, when it comes to my projects. It’s hard to find funding for a short film, especially when the monetary return is not guaranteed.

When it comes to Proof, we had no idea that it would end up costing so much money. There were unexpected costs, which caused the budget to sky rocket, which is why we couldn’t start with post production right away. It takes a lot of patience to get an indie film off the ground, but eventually you get the knack of it and you can’t not do it. Once a shoot is over, you are there thinking of a new story… craving to be back on set. It’s like being a kid and wanting to play in the sandbox. Really, it’s about dreaming and making those dreams a reality. It’s a fascinating process. The moment that a script becomes an actual film and your words are spoken by the actors… there is nothing like it.

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

I was reminded of why I tell stories. To touch people’s hearts. To reach someone on a deep level and leave an impact.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I always wanted to tell this story by showing the protagonist (Iman) being interviewed, as we see glimpses from her past in the shape of flashbacks. These glimpses are supposed to show us the kind of relationship she had with Evan. How he proposed to her, how they met etc… First this was the very simple core of the idea which provided the basic structure for the story. Later on, I decided to heighten the stakes of the story by creating more conflict between the cultures that Evan and Iman belong to. In the new version of the screenplay the conflict wasn’t just personal/political and the goal of the young couple wasn’t just to convince the Border Officer that they were, in fact, marrying “for love.” The story became more layered and the ending more unexpected. Now there was a big cultural conflict that this young couple had to face. I always pictured them entering their marriage naively and unaware of the consequences of their actions. By juxtaposing the poetic flashbacks to the stark atmosphere in the interrogation room, I wanted to transport the audience into this conflict. Iman and Evan’s natural and spontaneous feelings for one another which had sparked their love to begin with, and then the complications of the green card process and the big difference between their native cultures which ends up being a “border” that’s just as difficult to surpass as the interview with the officer.

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

Lolita by Adrian Lyne is my favorite film. That one and Volver by Almodovar and Rainman… And Thelma and Louise. Oh wait, you said one 🙂

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

I enjoy it! It’s easy to navigate and makes finding the right festival easy. For Proof we eventually found a Distributor though… They are called Aug Ohr Medien and they are based out of Berlin.

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

mmm… Right now I like Nigerian Music a lot.

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

Yes! I can’t wait to make my first feature film. I have two in “the pipeline” right now. The feature version of a short I made a long time ago which deals with family secrets and childhood trauma and another one which is along the lines of a psychological thriller about an older woman in her 70s falling in love with a much younger woman.

It received great reviews at the Slamdance Screenplay competition and we have a fantastic actress (whose name I can’t reveal yet) who might be interested in playing the lead. I am excited and I am staying positive about the future!