Interview with Filmmaker Raymond Montemayor (STAR WARS: THE TOYS AWAKEN)

STAR WARS: THE TOYS AWAKEN played to rave reviews at the August 2019 FAN FICTION Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Raymond Montemayor: My daughter, Maliya, inspired me to make Star Wars: The Toys Awaken. This is the third film in a series of fan films called Star Wars Toy Stories, the first of which I produced in 2015. After that first film, Star Wars: A Toy Story, Maliya, who was six at the time, said that she wanted to be in my next film. I had no plans to make another fan film, but after Maliya made her wishes known, I couldn’t pass up the chance to make a Star Wars fan film with her.

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

It took three years to complete this film from start to finish. I came up with the basic concept for the film right after I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening night, December 17th, 2015. I wrote the script over the course of a few months in early 2016 and began production on April 17th, 2016. I intended to complete production for the 2016 Star Wars Fan Film Awards, but for various personal and work related reasons, I halted production when I realized I wouldn’t make the submission deadline. I restarted production on November 25th, 2017 and submitted the five-minute version of this film for the Star Wars Fan Awards on September 18th, 2018. The seven-minute Director’s cut that was screened at the Fan Fiction Festival was completed in December 2018. So the final edit was completed almost exactly three years from the time I came up with the concept for the film. During the gap in production, I actually made a two-minute film with Maliya, The Rogue One: A Star Wars Toy Story, for Lucasfilm’s #GoRogue fan film contest towards the end of 2016 leading up to the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Although The Rogue One was completed two years before The Toys Awaken, The Rogue One takes place chronologically about ten months after The Toys Awaken.

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

Toys, Adventure

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

One might assume that the stop-motion animation and visual effects were the biggest challenges. Actually, because it was a three year production, the biggest obstacle was completing the performance of the seven-year-old protagonist, Riley. Maliya, who plays Riley, completed all of her shots in April of 2016 when she was seven years old. However, by the time I was ready to shoot Riley’s remaining shots in August of 2018, Maliya was nearly ten years old. It would have been jarring to cut together this film with shots of Maliya at both seven and almost ten years old. Luckily, my younger daughter Nora had just turned seven and was the right age to play Riley. She was happy to get involved and help me complete Riley’s shots. However, because Nora doesn’t look like Maliya, I had to film without showing her face directly to the camera. For a few shots where I needed to get facial performances, I shot extreme close-ups of Maliya’s eyes so we could see her reactions without being able to tell how much older she looks in those shots. So with some carefully planned shots and editing tricks, I was able to pull it off.

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

I was nervous to hear what people had to say, so I was relieved to hear all of the positive feedback. I’m glad that the audience members really got what I was going for in this film. I especially appreciated that they enjoyed the practical effects I used with the stop-motion animation as opposed to using CGI for the toys. That being said, I know I can improve on the story telling and cinematography. I hope to bring everything I’ve learned thus far to my next project and hopefully make an even better film.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

As with all of my Star Wars Toy Stories fan films, I wanted to make a unique Star Wars meets Toy Story tale about a Star Wars fan and his / her toys. For this film specifically, I wanted to frame the story around this historical event in Star Wars history, which was the launch of a new era in Star Wars cinema with The Force Awakens. The goal with these new Star Wars films from Disney is not only to appeal to the older lifelong fans, but also to introduce a new generation of kids to the magic of Star Wars. So I felt the right way to go would be to tell the story of a young Star Wars fan going to see a brand new Star Wars movie on the big screen for the first time on opening night. There are a lot of things that go along with that which I try to capture in the film, including collecting toys, watching the trailer, dressing up in Star Wars cosplay, and gathering with fellow fans to watch a new Star Wars movie. Of course, this is all background set up for the real story about a girl and her new toy who are both trying to discover who they are and where they fit in. For these characters, and for me personally, Star Wars is one of those special phenomena that can bring people together.

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

It has to be The Empire Strikes Back. If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m a Star Wars nut, and I consider The Empire Strikes Back to be a masterpiece. To me it’s simply the best Star Wars film, and just a brilliant film in general.

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

FilmFreeway is a fantastic platform. It has a clean interface for setting up projects, and it has a great search engine to help filmmakers find the right film festivals for their needs. I like that it keeps a history of all past projects, film festival submissions, and the status of each submission for all projects past and present.

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

That’s a tough question, but it’s probably “One” by U2 from their classic album Achtung Baby. That album came out right before I started college. I spent many a night doing homework listening to Achtung Baby, and “One” is my favorite song on that album. In my first career as an electrical engineer, I spent countless days and nights over the span of twelve years in front of a computer doing design work while listening to Achtung Baby, and that has continued in my second career as a freelance motion graphics designer and visual effects artist.

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

I’m currently working on my fourth film in the Star Wars Toy Stories series. It’s called Home Solo: A Star Wars Toy Story. Think Star Wars meets Toy Story meets Home Alone. Both of my daughters are in this film. Maliya is reprising the role of Riley. Nora is also in the film, but she has her own unique character this time. I’m extremely excited for this film because I was able to cast Jamie Costa as the voice of Han Solo. If you don’t know Jamie by name, you may know him from his viral tribute videos a few years back in which he does amazing impressions of Robin Williams. He also does an uncanny impression of Harrison Ford, which he used to great effect in his own Star Wars fan film Han Solo: A Smuggler’s Run. His voiceover work will certainly raise the quality of Home Solo to another level. I’m excited to work with Jamie and to complete this film hopefully in time for the next Star Wars Fan Awards.

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Interview with Filmmaker Nesli ERGÜN (KOYUN)

KOYUN played to rave reviews at the August 2019 Female Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Nesli ERGÜN: It seems a fair share of moral confusion is pervading the world today about women who wear the Islamic head scarf. This confusion is no accident. It’s easy to get away with oppressing women if the general public, and even women underneath the veil, can’t rally behind a unifying consensus that compulsory veiling is wrong. George Orwell said once that the prime responsibility lay in being able to tell people what they did not wish to hear.

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

About 4 months.

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

Critical, Unashamed

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

Whether or not to put my name on it.

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

I was deeply moved. I have never seen anyone (apart from my friends and family) react to my work before. I have not shown this film in Turkey. This film was not selected to be screened in the festivals where I thought it would be most relevant (the Islamic world). I honestly had no idea what people actually thought about what I made before watching the clip you sent. This exchange, what we are doing here in this moment, is maybe the most powerful engagement a filmmaker could ask for. A festival centered on the idea of giving and receiving feedback allows filmmakers to reflect in ways most standard interactions fall short from allowing. As a result, FEEDBACK Female Film Festival is the most valuable festival I have ever had the honor to be a part of.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I don’t know. I’m never good at remembering these things. The only thing I do remember is that I drew the thumbnail storyboard on my dining room table in about 15 minutes.

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

I don’t think I watch films over and over again so I think I’m going to skip this question 🙂

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

If an interaction like the one I’ve been talking about with you guys is possible, then I’ve got to love the platform that made it possible for me to meet you in the first place, right?

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

I sure did listen to Color Him Country by Linda Martell a whole lot.

Also Lhasa, Slowdive, Nina Simone – I mean there are so many to list.

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

I’m building a community center in Istanbul. I want to make a positive impact on the trajectory of the Turkish nation-state by injecting a spirit of hope and wonder in a traumatized, undervalued, economically depressed & culturally polarized population. By creating value in gatherings outside of religious, governmental & educational institutions, I want to enable a much needed critical look at our Turkish experience as community members. Filmmaking will very much be a part of this center. In other words, I’ve just begun.

Interview with Filmmaker Mark Garcia (THE ARTIST)

THE ARTIST played to rave reviews at the August 2019 Documentary Short Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Mark Garcia: I first met Mauro while running a camera on his first film he directed titled, The Recall. One day just Mauro and I went to grab some night shots and during the hour long drive to the location Mauro started telling me about his history as a concept artist and all the work he had created. I was SHOCKED to hear all the incredible works he had created for Major Motion Pictures and couldn’t believe one man had created all these pieces from his imagination. I knew from that conversation I wanted to interview him and create a piece to share with the world. It is the first time I was completely happy to be stuck in awful LA traffic so I could just listen to all the fascinating stories Mauro was sharing with me during the drive.

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

From shooting to final edit took about a month but it was over a year from the time he shared his stories with me to the short being produced.

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

Beautiful Mind

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

The biggest obstacle was making sure I created a piece that Mauro would be happy with. I wanted to make it ALL about Mauro and make sure the edit was organic with the content we shot. I wanted the audience to TRULY feel they were in the Mauro’s creative studio just as I was during the filming.

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

The audience feedback video was AWESOME! It was incredible to see people in a movie theatre in Toronto watching THE Artist. I saw smiles and people fully engaged in the piece. I heard a couple people refer to it as “beautiful” and that made me feel incredible because Mauro, his work and his creative genius is nothing short of beautiful. Thank you for screening the film and the awesome people of Toronto for viewing it. BTW Go Raptors!

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I just wanted to interview Mauro and see where it would take us.

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

That’s a tough but good question. Hmmm I would have to say Goonies, Inception, Gladiator, Sixteen Candles, Jaws, Rocky IV, Top Gun.

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

FilmFreeway is INCREDIBLE! It is actually a fun platform where you can easily pick the festivals and submit. Whoever created the platform is genius!

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

I am a big Eminem and Lil Wayne fan so the song, “No Love” is easily one of my favorites! It has been on repeat for YEARS! lol

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

I have a couple short docs in the making. Check back with me in about 2 months and I will let you know. ;). And again so much thanks and appreciation to you, The Documentary Short Film Festival, Toronto and the people of Toronto! I am truly honored and blessed! Thank YOU!

Interview with Filmmaker Manchhiring Tamang (A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A HIMALAYAN SHEPHERD)

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A HIMALAYAN SHEPHERD was the winner of BEST FILM at the August 2019 Documentary Short Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Manchhiring Tamang: My motivation to make this film roots from my familial and cultural ties to the village. I was born in the village and grew up surrounded by shepherd practices and as I grew older I saw the apparent changes to shepherding practices due to modernization. While I still resided in Nepal, I was very involved in the media and would conduct research and write articles on the indigenous peoples of Nepal. This further influenced my decision to make this film as I would like to share to the world a practice that may not be so popularized in media but is still captivating to learn about before the practice may potentially die out. I hoped my film would preserve a slowly vanishing profession.

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

I first conceived this idea after a worrisome conversation with my grandfather ten years back. He was telling me shepherding is slowly dying off as more and more people go abroad. Forward to 2018, I had settled in America and become somewhat financially stable in order to pursue my dream. With the support of employers and friends, I went to Nepal and completed the project within a month.

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

Culture preservation.

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

The biggest obstacle that I faced in completing this film was the weather conditions. The weather would constantly going from clear skies and sunny to cloudy and rain. This made it very hard for us to have an on-track shooting schedule since the weather could change on us anytime.

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

The audience feedback for my film made me feel very grateful. I am thankful that so many people enjoyed the film that I hoped would preserve my village’s dying custom. I am feeling very motivated by the feedback and for receiving ‘best film’. I hope to continue with filming and produce more films.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

Ten years ago, my then 98 year old grandfather and I had a conversation about the dying custom. Because I had ties with the media, in that moment I thought a great way to preserve this custom for future generations would be through a documentary. Ever since then I had always wanted to make a film on shepherding practices.

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

I watched a Nepali movie from 1991 called “Chino”. It was the movie of the year and I watched it six times.

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

I believe FilmFreeway is a golden platform. It allows small film makers to screen to an audience in order to get feedback. Just being able to screen my film to an audience is something I am very grateful for.

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

I must have listened to Nepali classical singer Narayan Gopal’s song “Kehi Mitho Batagara” the most times in my life. A true love song.

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

Next for me is another film on the story of a migrant from Nepal. I am creating this film to explore the American dream he and millions of others have.

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 Filmmaker Heather Harris (CRUSH)

CRUSH was the winner of BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY at the August 2019 LGBT Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Heather Harris: I am very fascinated by the human mind and psychological thrillers. In all of my films I usually have some aspect of mental health involved in the story, so I wanted to make a film about psychosis and someone struggling with suicidal thoughts, a struggle I know too well myself. I also identify with the LGBTQ community thus wanted to portray a queer relationship in some aspect in this film as well.

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

From idea to finish this film took about one and a half to two years to make.

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

mind fuck

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

Definitely the editing process, I think because we were rushed for time there was a lack of footage to choose from and my style wasn’t coming across at first. Our first editor, Rommel had to leave early and then I talked to a few editors who couldn’t really pull off the final product until I met with my final editor Jeremy. For a while I thought the film was a lost cause until I met Jeremy.

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

It was a little rough to watch for me personally as some people got it and a lot of others didn’t however I really appreciated the last man interviewed with the degree(s) in psychology as I feel like he got exactly what I was trying to convey and exactly what the message of the story was.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I watched a lot of films about doppelgängers.

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

I once saw Spring Breakers by Harmony Korine five times in theaters.

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

I love FilmFreeway it is so much easier than using other platforms in my experience.

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

Haha I don’t know really but I know I listened to “My Happy Ending” By Avril Lavigne non stop as an adolescent

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

I am currently working on two feature scripts and have a feature in development.

Interview with Filmmaker Frankie De Leonardis (FLOATING)

FLOATING was the winner of BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY at the August 2019 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Frankie De Leonardis: I’ve been dying to get into film making all my life. At some point a fellow filmmaker pointed out all my scrips and ideas were too wild, with too many resources. He said you should do a short film with just two characters and a single space. I took it literary.

Also I wanted to explain that life is unexpected, you never know what’s coming up next.

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

It took me ten months. two days to write a week and a half to correct a month and a half of pre-production (we had to build the space module), two days of shooting and the rest is post-production.

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

Life’s unexpected.

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

Filming with wires was a huge challenge, we couldn’t predict how slow each setup is. It made us leave behind ten shots (all the views from the other side). Also money, being self-founded we had to think everything so much so as to get the results we wanted with the money we had.

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

An absolute smile, I wanted to hug them. The film is a genre fluid film and I’m always worried people will be let down or disoriented by the constant mood changes of the film.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

That is a mystery. I started writing after reading Elon Musk sent a Tesla to space and I kind of thought what if the Tesla he sent crashes something on space. From there it was really fluid and it all came out in one seating. Then I went back to tune up dialogues and jokes.

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

Maybe Mary Poppins, but I am an addict I watch so many films hundreds of times. C.R.A.Z.Y. is one of them, also EVENT HORIZON, BIG FISH. I could make a list of thousands.

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

I love FilmFreeway, I actually hate when some festivals make me go to another site. They have such a great design, friendly UI, clean, and fast.

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

Peace Train by Cat Stevens
Colorblind by Counting Crows
Space Oddity by David Bowie

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

I have so many projects and so little money! Haha.\

1. “The Limit” A dark/comedy feature about a small unprotected village in Argentina (1978) that receives the news of war against Chile and goes bananas.

2. “Ash” A dark/dramatic comedy feature about a family’s decision to burn their late father against the extreme religious wishes of the Grandmother.

3. A comedy short about a supermarket employee living such a routinary life, she believes to be trapped in time.

4. A comedy/sci-fi short about a pizza delivery boy who gets to deliver a pizza to god.