Interview with Screenwriter Lee Lawson (DOG #9)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Lee Lawson: The story of Chuck is about overcoming adversity and the challenges that life throws at you. Chuck himself, has to overcome the fear and doubts brought on by his loss of his sense of smell, and learn that he has other skills and values to bring to the world, along with the skills of his friends.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Family animation / Comedy.

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

It has a strong message about acceptance of diversity and disability that children will respond to positively, a message that you are more than your weaknesses.

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

Heartfelt and funny.

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

Cars. But my son is 3-years-old and is as much a fan of Pixar as I am.

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

One year.

7. How many stories have you written?

I have completed several feature screenplays, two TV pilots and several short scripts.

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

I’m not sure I have a favorite song, as music is created all of the time and joins our world.

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

Ensuring that the story works as a means of transporting my emotional reaction to the themes to the audience. And making it funny.

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

My family. Filmmaking.

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

It’s great. Easy to use and tracks your submissions for you. Would be good if they had their own accumulated scoring system like Coverfly so you know how you stack up against other screenplays.

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

The draft entered into this festival was an early draft, maybe revision two or three. I needed to know if it was emotionally resonating with the readers, so entered it to see how it would do before I improved it in later drafts. The feedback I received was valuable to the continuing evolution of the story.

Watch the Screenplay Reading: 

Logline: A scent-blind search and rescue recruit puppy learns that his disability doesn’t define him when he must lead the effort to find survivors trapped under an avalanche.


Narrator: Val Cole
Jagger: Shawn Devlin
Chuck: Chris O’Bray

Interview with Filmmaker Juha Flilin (DIVINE CONSULTANTS – THE BEGINNING)

DIVINE CONSULTANTS – THE BEGINNING was the winner of BEST VISUAL DESIGN at the July 2019 Animation FEEDBACK Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Juha Flilin: I wanted to create meaningful and diverse content for the youth. Divine Consultants is not only an adventure with comedy elements, but a growth story in a corrupt and divided world. Our young hero, Joy, must defy her own moral insights to expose the mystery. She loses everything, but rises from the ashes and faces the wrath of the gods. We still bring a positive message: Joy can beat the corrupt system!

‘Divine Consultants – The Beginning’ is actually written as a Web Series. The format and style are not of a typical animated short film because I want to make sure the young audience will find it.

The main character, Joy, lives in a divided world. For some people, this world is utopia, the ideal society, and for others, dystopia, the perfect opposite of the ideal society. Joy belongs to a discriminated minority, rumored to spread a dangerous disease. She tries to merge into the mainstream.

The significance and analogy of Joy’s story can be sought in today’s world, where distorted power structures take the power from the individual and divide society into artificially opposing groups.

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

It has been a long process. I started writing the first DC themed short film back in 2012. Then it turned into a series script in 2015. In 2016 I produced and directed an animated short film called ‘Job Interview’ that was based on the same story world and main character. The short film did really well at film festivals around the globe and it helped me develop the next stages of the project. Even though we had success of ‘Job Interview’ I wanted to change the visual style from 3d to 2d. The production of the ‘Divine Consultants – The Beginning’ motion comic took 16 months, because we had to re-write and redesign quite a lot in between the process.

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

Motion comic.

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

First obstacle was funding it. I managed to get the Finnish National Broadcasters on board and resource some self financing towards the production costs. Once we got the funding together the next obstacle became the story. The first production draft was not engaging quickly enough and some concepts were not clear. However, we were in production and thought we must finalise the pilot to get first feedback, which helped us to evaluate the work done as well as assess the necessary improvements. Finally, we realised that we had to rewrite everything again and there was various re-writes in that process. The re-writes made us think bigger and open up the story world as well as the characters.

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

I was really excited to hear and see how well the audience picked up the underlying themes and meanings of the film with such confidence and understanding. Really impressive!

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

The idea was born from the need to explain the events and conditions before the main character Joy has to enter the corrupt afterlife (in the next series in development). Me and my writers had created a complex and rich afterlife where Joy struggles against some more and some less divine enemies. To tell about Joy’s background I needed to make a living world that is aligned with the afterlife.

It was clear that the world was going to be dystopian and corrupt. I wanted to avoid stereotypical dystopian views and therefore looked closer to the living life of my young adult children. Joy’s life needed to become mainstream or being casted out of a group seemed like a driving force – and her growth story became about understanding that these external things won’t help her family’s problems. In the end, Joy ends up at a point of no return – she can’t be what others want her to be, but she has to find her own identity.

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

Most likely it is ‘Being John Malkovich’ which I used to watch a lot back in the day.

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

FilmFreeway is my favourite platform without a doubt. I use other platforms too, but generally I would prefer to be able to submit all my film information in one place as it takes quite a bit of time.

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

This is a difficult one! I have always liked so many different artists and styles of music: Slayer’s ‘Angel of Death’ as teenager. Public Enemy’s ‘Fight the Power’ in my twenties. Sizzla’s ‘Rise to the Occasion’ in my thirties and now in my nowadays it’s probably 2pac feat Dr.Dre ‘California Love’ as it’s turned into our local BBQ anthem. However, to go to sleep my go has always been Erik Satie’s ‘After the Rain’.

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

I’m still producing and directing more episodes of the Divine Consultants motion comic web series until the end of the year. At the same time we are developing and financing a fully animated sequel for it, which will be in more a traditional TV Series format (13×11′). The TV-Series will twist the dystopian world to another level and our hero Joy will have to fight even bigger and more dangerous obstacles in a corrupt, privatised afterlife. The working title for the series is ‘JOY ETERNAL, a Divine Consultants story’.

Interview with Animation Filmmaker Ina Conradi (CHRYSALIS)

 CHRYSALIS was the winner of BEST ANIMATION at the December 2017 Animation FEEDBACK Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Ina Conradi: The idea for Chrysalis started in 2014. I have followed up the abstract and surreal structure of my earlier war film Elysian Fields (2013) and continued developing the story about life and death, around the theme of perseverance, metamorphosis and immorality. I wanted Chrysalis to install hope and to reflect on many topics such as life’s purpose and the human desire to explore the inner workings of the mind. However the idea of metaphysical quickly expanded to topics such as evil, dehumanisation, totalitarian governments, and environmental disasters. The quintessence legend of a butterfly summed up all of the ideas well.

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

Two years- which is inclusive of stereoscopic 3D version of the film. The funding for the project was awarded in late 2014. The research and story board was done in January/Feb of 2015. Animation production started in 2015 March in tight collaboration with co-director and animation veteran, Mark Chavez, founder of Giant Monster- the animation/game company, and with Joshua Tan founder of CRAVEFX -the best VFX studio in Singapore. The sound effects and music were done by IMBA Interactive, led by Jeremy Goh.

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

Surreal journey

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

The biggest obstacle was time and budget. We all work full time on other commitments and the project was put on hold few times. The budget was tight to cover entire original story board for the film.

The film had 11 chapters depicting the surreal journey of a monk. (Part 1 Conscious mind, Part 2 The Descend, Part 3 The Field, Part 4 Influencing the Field, Part 5 Chaos, Part 6 Dystopia, Part 7 Dehumanization, Part 8 Nefarious, Part 9 The Ascent, Part 10 Warriors and Survivors, Part 11 Integration)

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

It was absolutely rewarding to hear the feedback and reactions of the audiences. Movie creatives on Chrysalis really want to know if their film do “wow” the audience. It is so valuable to see that the Chrysalis does sustain and build audiences’ involvement.

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

I have been living in South East Asia in Singapore for the last 12 years. I am fascinated by diversity and unity of all the cultural traditions. There are hundreds of ethnic groups with their own distinct languages and culture. Many of religions are based on the idea that spiritual and supernatural powers constitute and heal the material universe. The original idea for the film was inspired by the monk that would undertake mystical journey to the worlds inhabited by spirits.. very often film has been mistakenly identified with Buddhism. Some Buddhism references in the film are just an umbrella for all of sorcerers, magicians, and priests. The film does not adhere to one or another religion. Rather to human desire to explore the spiritual.

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

I am big fan of Rydley Scott’s movies

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

FilmFreeway is fantastic platform for submitting the films and recording the acceptance rate. There are many useful tools within the platform on how to navigate through various film categories. FilmFreeway allows for filmmaker to work independently and to take the role of publicity team allowing for as much marketing and publicity mileage as possible.

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

I can be more specific about movie scores – Interstellar by Hans Zimmer

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

Currently I am collaborating with my partner Mark Chavez, who was also co-director/producer on Chrysalis for a recently installed large scale urban media platform in Singapore called Media Art Nexus (MAN). The 2m by 15 m long led wall is installed at the Nanyang Technological University Singapore in a very public setting and seen by thousands of passers-by daily. It features real time animated works and video art by local and international artists. In addition to premiering our works in Tokyo for SGIO Tokyo last august we will be organizing two major events – one with ArtScience Museum in Singapore and another with famous Elbphilharmonie Philharmonic Hall Hamburg Germany, featuring novel experimental animation done for MAN.




CHRYSALIS, 7min., Singapore, Animation 
Directed by Ina ConradiBased on an old legend about the butterfly’s struggles the film is the symbolic metaphor of rebirth after death and fascination with the human innate drive to survive.

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

Interview with Filmmaker Michelle Brand (A SMALL VOICE)

Michelle Brand’s short film A SMALL VOICE played to rave reviews at the August 2016 Under 5 minute FEEDBACK Film Festival. It was an honor chatting with her:

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Michelle Brand: The film ‘A Small Voice’ is based on a personal experience of the time when I taught children at school. I felt that many children weren’t acknowledged and respected by their parents or teachers as to who they truly were and the talents they may hide. Instead, they were only valued through achieved of grades and success. This inspired me to create a film about a very talented child whose talent is misused by his father, who merely uses him as a tool for his own reputation. Instead of focusing on the actual storyline and character of the father, I wished to convey the boy’s feelings of fear and loneliness and to create a world in which the audience can share in what he sees and feels.

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

MB: I would assume roughly 4 months. I was figuring out the idea for a few weeks and then had 3-4 months production time at university.

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

MB: ‘Scary’ and ‘Empathy’

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

MB: Probably the ending, which I must admit I still aren’t satisfied with. After the build up of the overwhelming, scary situation the boy was put in, I wanted to help him escape, wanted him to be free at the end. I found it really hard to find a way to express that.

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

MB: At the beginning, I was really nervous. But throughout hearing the audience talking about my film, I had to smile. It really moved me to hear people discuss the film, their thoughts and feelings, and it was very touching.

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

MB: The initial idea is a mixture between my experience of teaching at a school and knowing many people whose talents and skills aren’t acknowledged by their surrounding environment. It is as if you have so much to say, so much you want to do with your life, but nobody is ready to listen to you and rather asks for something else. This feeling was what sparked the idea of a boy who can sing, but doesn’t want to sing in front of all those people.

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

MB: I must admit, that a lot of (live-action) films I only see once in my life, but I usually only read books once as well. Animation films I can watch again and again, as on second or third view you may realise new details on how the film was produced and discover small new meanings. Being an aspiring animator, I guess that is what makes me want to re-watch something.

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

MB: Yes, of course!

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of the Short Film:

Interview with Filmmaker Chenxin Yang (SEA OF INK)

Chenxin Yang’s short film SEA OF INK was the winner of BEST FILM at the August 2016 ANIMATION FEEDBACK Film Festival. It’s a two-minute animation about an artist struggling with his creative block and his journey under the sea.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Chenxin Yang: This animation is more like a reflection of myself. The more I explore, the more deeply I can know about myself. Apparently, self-exploration is a universal topic. I believe that doing such an animation not only provides some clue to life’s questions, but hopefully also has an emotional connection to my viewers.

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

CY: I spent one and half years to write the story, design the character and finish the production of the animation.

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

CY: Struggle, Release

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

CY: One of the most difficult tasks for me was to make connections between the live-action and animation. I completed at least three versions of the opening title in different styles, but none of them matched my concept design. My thoughts were totally blocked at that time. Combining live-action footage and animation was not as easy as I expected because the footage was so naturalistic compared with the hand drawn style. With a sinking heart, I felt as if I were drowning in the cold deep sea, just like my character, and could not find a way out. Meanwhile, my actor began to scrawl on the paper until the pen ran out of ink. His action inspired me to continue the story. So in the final version of the opening title, the actor wrote the title on the paper. Discovering that there was no ink anymore, he lost his patience, swung his pen angrily, and finally gave up. Here I added one more shot of the actor shaking the pen, resulting in extra ink spewing out of the pen onto the paper. Then the character sank into the sea of ink.

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

CY: I am so glad to hear about these positive feed back from the audiences. They mentioned about “texture””ink brush style” which I spent so much time during the production to achieve the best visual results. And thanks to my music composer Colleen. She is my favorite experimental musician, I knew her work since four years ago. The idea of the gloomy dark ink was based on her album cover “Les Ondes Silencieuses”.

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

CY: The initial idea of the story comes from my own experience as an artist. When artists create artwork, psychological struggles and unconscious choices that are part of the artist become major influences on their work, how they look at the world and the aesthetics they create.

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

CY: All the animations from Pixars, LAIKA studio.

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

CY: I am working on a new animation short related with colorful designs, food and love. Hope to get released next year.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of the Short Film:

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:

WILDsound’s 25 Top Animation Movies of the millennium (2000 to present)

To watch Spirited Away feels like a special gift. It is a film of such startling imagination, originality, intelligence, and emotion that I feel inexplicable joy when the opening title card fades in.

Christopher Runyon, Movie Mezzanine

Animation movies are so much fun to watch as most of them attempt to tell a story that crosses generations. It’s the art of showing a kid and their parents the same film and each loving it for something different when the lights go up. Easier said than done.

In this era, animation films have gone to a whole new level. I’ve been fortunate enough to screen many animated short films at our WILDsound Festival through the years from many different countries and I’m amazed each time by the brilliance. Many of those filmmakers go on to work for major animation studios where there seems to be an ongoing assemble line of creative people working on any given film.

Here is the Top 25 Animation Movies from 2000s to present:

And the debate begins. We have Spirited Away (2001) as our top film. It’s actually one of the best movies of this era no matter what genre we’re talking about. The French film Les Triplettes de Bellville (2003) comes in a close second.

Have no fear as there are many mainstream films on the list including Frozen, Wall-E, Toy Story 3, and Ratatouille to name a few.


Matthew Toffolo