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

Qiyu Zhou Headshot

Interview with Screenwriter John McCarney (OPERATION BABYLIFT)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

John McCarney: About the heroic efforts of ordinary people, risking their lives to save discarded mix raced orphans in collapsing war torn Vietnam.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?


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

That we repeat history….To remember that the children that are at the center of debates we have today about immigration, are innocent victims of policies, like those before them, not well thought out resulting in potential horrible consequences for the children.

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


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


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

Two years

7. How many stories have you written?

One…so far.

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

Thunder Road- Bruce Springsteen.

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

Constantly learning the craft. Staying focused to the through line of the story-(it’s about the babies). Eliminating “my darlings” so the story became the one driving engine.

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

Staying in shape, music and enjoying the outdoors. My rewrite sessions usually includes all these combined, via long, fast walks, listening to music and jotting down notes as clarity comes to me as I walk.

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

Absolutely the best. The ability to upload new drafts, receiving notifications that are posted from festivals and being able to submit to any festival worldwide with the click of a button makes it the easiest to use by far.

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

The chance to hear actors read the word on the page is so helpful to refine dialogue. I also love feedback. So I read all the feedback and apply where I think it is appropriate.

Genre: Action, History

In an intertwining story based on true events, three very different men desperately save as many babies from war-torn Vietnam as they can.


Daly: Jolly Amoako
Narrator: Kat Smiley
Jenkins: Bryan Kling
Ambassador: Ted Powers


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 for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with director Jon Glassberg (FREEDOM OF THE WHEELS)

FREEDOM OF THE WHEELS was the winner of BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY at the January 2018 LA FEEDBACK Film Festival:

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Jon Glassberg: We wanted to make a film that made fun of the film festival style and the outdoor industry’s obsession with accomplishment. So, we put two guys on a scooter and made them take an adventure.

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

We shot this in January 2017 and had it finished by May 2017 for festival submission at Telluride Mountain Film.

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

outdoor mocumentary

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

timeline, budget, and schedule.

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

it’s funny and fun, lighthearted and silly.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

we have been aking films in the outdoor space for years and we wanted to do something funny that would poke fun at our community and also be rooted in accomplishment.

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

all of our films we watch to death, critiquing and micro tweaking.

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

It’s amazing and easy.

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

beat it, michael jackson

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

We are working on a few films that are still being tweaked. We will submit again!


Interview with Animator Matt Burniston (The Mega Plush – Winner Best Film January 2016 Film Festival)

The Mega Plush is a must watch animation action/thriller short film. It was the overwhelming winners of Best Film at the January 2016 WILDsound FEEDBACK Film Festival, an amazing achievement considering the quality of films that played at the festival.

Watch the Film Here:

I was fortunate enough to chat with Matt about his short award winning short film:

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Matt Burniston: Well, the initial idea for the characters was from my friend John Noe, who came to me around 6 or so years ago with some sketches of these teddy bears who instead of looking all cute, were carrying guns and looked battle damaged. When he told me his concept I instantly fell in love with the idea and jumped at the chance to make them in 3D with the end goal of making a short film.

Fast forward about 2 years and nothing much had happened on the project (other than making some 3d models of the characters), but then I decided to have a slight career change and instead of working full time, I would work from home as a freelancer, and in my down time between client work I could dedicate time to making short films for myself… Of course the first project would be Mega Plush. From there it has all kind of snowballed in to what you see today. I’ve managed to finish 2 shorts, and am now working on the third. But I still have to manage my time between clients – paying my rent, and doing what I love – The Mega Plush


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

Matt: Like i mentioned this first film had a lot of down time. From initial conception to final film it was probably around 4 years, but the main bulk of work being done over about 2 years, which again can be broken down to about 6 month full time work, intertwined between client projects.

There were two big challenges I faced while making that film, which were part of the reason it took so long. Firstly working on it for a few weeks then having to work on client work really disrupts the process. Every time I have to stop, go work on something else, then come back to working on the film, it would take me a few extra days to get back into the groove and up to full speed. Secondly I didn’t have any kind of script or plan, The project started out with me doing a run cycle for the bear. That soon progressed to him running down a  dark alley, then I introduced the sock monkey, it was only then that I started to build the story in my head. From there I built it piece by piece, and shot by shot I changing and refining the story as I went. No story boards, no script… Bad Idea.

So the process wasn’t so good for productivity… and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone… Looking back now I think it could have gone really badly, just feeling like a bunch of shots that don’t really build into a full story… but luckily it worked out ok and I ended up with a nice film that worked.


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

Matt: Can I have 3? if so? Toy Story meets Expendables… ok that 4 words! sorry.


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

Matt: Other than the two things I already mentioned (disruption of time, and no planning) the biggest obstacle was really working alone. This was probably the biggest project I had ever tried to accomplish myself, and while I had a pretty decent knowledge of the whole 3D process (modelling, rigging,lighting, animation, render etc) I wasn’t quite ready for all of the work that it entailed. Constantly making bad decisions and having to take 2 steps back to fix rigs and models while in the animation phase took a toll on my confidence. There many where moments when I thought I didn’t have the skills I needed to get it finished. Thankfully tough, I have a great network of creative people around me, and I would share progress shots with them, their enthusiasm of seeing it come together is what really pushed me though to finish the film.


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

Matt: I loved it. It was a totally new experience for me. I’ve obviously shown the film to a lot of friends and people I meet, and it is great to see their reaction as they watch the film. But having people who know about film talk about and comment on your work is something very different. The fact that the audience picked up on some of the small details about the characters & story line gives me a renewed devotion to finish up the series. 


Matthew: What is the future of The Mega Plush? You have a sequel, which we will also show at our festival later this year. How many parts are written? Have are you hoping to achieve with this pretty amazing film?

Matt: Wow, That would be great to have you play the second episode, I’d love to hear the feedback on that.

As for next steps, we have the third episode written, and I’m currently working on the animation phase of that. I’m hoping that is wrapped up sooner rather than later (hopefully in the next few months). Then we have a loose script for the 4th instalment, which needs a little work, but the general idea is there. But after that the world is our oyster, I’d love to make a comic book, maybe some video games, I basically have hundreds of ideas how I can expand the universe, but I just need time to do it all…

Outside of me just working on it there is also some kind of plan to try and make this a much bigger thing, selling it as a fully fledged TV series of film would be my absolute dream, I just need to get it to a place where we can start shopping it around.


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

Matt: Easy… Rocky III…. One of my all time favourite films, I remember watching it as a child maybe once a day at least. I love all of the rocky films, but Rocky III has always had a special place in my heart. It’s funny, in a cheesy kinda way, I think it has always helped me keep my feet on the ground, and to work as hard as I can to achieve what I want. I think a lot of films from that era (late 80’s early 90’s) especially Stallone & Schwarzenegger, have really influenced The Mega Plush story, having that exaggerated action movie style but with a plush spin is always how I imagined it.


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

Matt: Well, as long as people keep enjoying Mega Plush, I don’t think I can stop working on it. There is just so much to explore in that world that I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of working on it. As long as I can find a way to keep paying my bills I’ll always have time for these crazy little teddy bears.

One of the big goals I do have for the project though, is to grow a full team of people who want to work with me to get these films out quicker. Animators, writers, comic book artists, game developers, and any one else who can jump in and help I’d love to hear from, that way maybe we can push it to the next level a little quicker and give the whole world what they want… Which is MORE Mega Plush.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of THE MEGA PLUSH: