Interview with Filmmaker Jessica Champneys (STAR WARS: DRESCA)

STAR WARS: DRESCA was the winner of BEST PERFORMANCES at the September 2018 FAN FICTION Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Jessica Champneys: I love Star Wars! But also, the character of Dresca is one that I came up with when I was just 12 years old. Growing up and developing her story, she has became a big part of the Star Wars universe for me. The only difference between her and other Star Wars characters – like Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader – is that she only existed in my head, and I was the only one who knew about her. So having the chance to see her come to life on screen and being able to introduce her to the world is so exciting.

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

2 years.

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

Fan Film

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

This was my first narrative short. I had never done anything before near this scale and quality, and there were many elements of the production that were firsts for me (i.e. stunts, working with a DP, etc). As a result, I underestimated the amount of time certain things would take. For example, our two day interior shoot should have been a three day shoot, but I didn’t realize that until it was too late. In the end, we filmed for 36 hours within a 48 hour period. Luckily, we had an AMAZING, positive, and hard-working cast and crew that took it all in stride. But lack-of-sleep was definitely a problem. I don’t think I got more than 8 hours of sleep that entire week.

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

I’ll admit, as I clicked play, I was really nervous. Whether you’re a fan of Star Wars or not, you’ve probably heard of the chaotic state the Star Wars fanbase is in right now. Many fans are riled up against anything that has the title “Star Wars” on it, official or otherwise. This has made it challenging to differentiate between real, valuable criticisms and blind, toxic hatred. So it was a breath of fresh air to watch this audience’s reactions. You always hope that your audience “gets it” – that they’ll understand the messages you’re trying to convey through your work – and it was so nice to see that this audience did. The positive reviews were fun to hear, and the few criticisms given were very insightful.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

Like I mentioned earlier, I came up with the main character, Dresca, when I was 12 years old. Like any other kid who loves Star Wars, I played with toys and came up with my own adventures in that galaxy far far away. I asked myself who would I be and what would I be doing if I got to live in that universe. Darth Vader has always been my favorite character, so naturally I thought it would be cool to be his apprentice.

But as I thought more about what exactly being Vader’s apprentice would entail, I realized that I would never willingly be placed in that situation. I’ve been raised right. I know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. If I was suddenly sucked into the Star Wars universe, I would join the Rebellion, hands down. That’s just the kind of person I am.

But instead of saying “okay, my character will be a Rebel, then,” I instead asked myself how would I have had to be raised in order to get to that point of being so morally backwards? What would I have had to experience in life to truly believe that Darth Vader was a good guy doing the right thing? This question raised numerous other questions, and launched the creation of a massive story and an independent, three-dimensional character.

When I decided to create a Star Wars fan film, I realized I could take a small scene from that story and convert it into film. I wrote 6 different scripts, each one taking place at a different point in Dresca’s life story, to see what would work best as a short. I found that starting in the middle of her story – at the moment when she has lost everything and everyone she cares for – provided the greatest amount of dramatic tension and character development within a short period of time and worked well visually.

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

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

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

FilmFreeway is, I feel, a very intuitive platform – very easy to use. I’ve used other festival submission sites in the past, and FilmFreeway is definitely the best one I’ve used so far.

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

Way too many to list all of them here. 🙂 Obviously, I’ve listened to a lot of Star Wars music by John Williams. Other songs that I listened to frequently while writing this short were the soundtrack for the 2013 movie “Carrie” by Marco Beltrami, and “Control” by Halsey. These songs helped me to get inside Dresca’s head.

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

I’d love to try my hand at writing a feature length screenplay. There are few original concepts I’m developing now.

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Interview with Filmmaker Zena AbdelBaky (ALL THAT REMAINS)

ALL THAT REMAINS was the winner of BEST FILM at the September 2018 Female Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Zena AbdelBaky: The goal of this film was for viewers to think about it after it ends. To be in a conversation and think about the truthful subtitles between all the words being exchanged. It was hard to not make this film, it felt like a pressing matter that needed to be exposed and experienced.

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

Less than a month.

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

Uncomfortably real.

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

Getting inexperienced actors, building enough chemistry for the audience to then feel the tension, awkwardness, and self-awareness they have around each other; and to try and get the audience invested in them in such a short amount of time. The biggest obstacle also happens to be the reason i loved making it.

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

First off, I’m so grateful that there’s a video to see how the audience reacted to my film, since I couldn’t be there, that was all I wanted to see. Just the fact that people took the time, watched the film, and shared their opinions about it in such an uplifting environment, it gave me goosebumps. I quickly paused the video and ran to get my father to watch it with me, my heart was beating pretty fast, not gonna lie.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I was inspired by daily conversations one has with everyone they choose to interact with. The truth is that some people are bad at hiding their initial intentions they try to sugarcoat or change in one way or another, and in this one example, I felt like I could see right through them, read their body language, and understand what is going on between the lines. And from that, I came up with the idea that the subtitles would be what is being said between the lines.

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

The films I love the most, I try not to watch them too often. There’s a magic to the scene construction and storytelling that takes one out of their reality. The more one watches a film, the easier it is for their brain to deconstruct it, in turn, taking away the magic. With that being said, the film I probably watched the most simply due to the fact that I got introduced to it at a young age and that it is a brilliant film, is ‘Catch Me If You Can’ by Mr. Steven Spielberg.

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

I think that it’s absolutely genius, it saves a lot of time and energy to submit to several festivals each having their own requirements, on FilmFreeway, it’s a click of a button. One also avoids being ripped off since the platform is trusted and credited. It also introduces filmmakers to festivals they didn’t know about, giving them larger opportunities to showcase and share their work.

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

According to my iTunes most played, it’s ‘The Only Ones Who Know’ by The Arctic Monkeys.

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

After the making of ‘All That Remains’ I wrote and directed another film called ‘The Fairest of Them All’ which i’m very proud of as well; and am in the process of writing a mini web series, which I’m very excited for.

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Interview with Filmmaker Audrey Arkins (AMERICAN BOY)

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Audrey Arkins: I had been filming juvenile offenders in Venice and Culver City as they moved in and out of the criminal justice system. Most of the kids said the same thing about how and when it all went wrong – usually in middle school when they joined a gang. Tragically and unrelated to the kids I was filming, a 12 year old boy was shot dead on the crosswalk outside his school in Santa Ana, a few blocks from where I was having coffee. Think of that. A 12 year old assassinated by a 14 year old from a rival gang on his way to school. Right in front of his younger brother. American Boy was an attempt to put a face to that in context for an audience. We see the statistics, hear the news reports, but generally I wonder if we’re all too distracted to feel and understand the tragedy of what’s going on before our eyes.

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

Am I finished? Three months from fund raiser to this edit.

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

Overly ambitious.

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

Me wearing too many hats. A first time director should just direct. I have a new respect for producers and what they go through.

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

Gob smacked. I thought I had failed. Wasn’t even able to look at the film for a few months I was so disappointed. We’re all our own worst critics I guess. Your audience got every aspect of our little film. That really helped me see the film in a better light.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

There’s a moment in some boys’ lives – between the age of 10 and 12 – when society, a friend, a teacher, a parent, a kinder/gentler member of law enforcement – could divert them away from ‘gang’ life. I wanted to capture that ‘missed’ moment for one kid. Help people see in context that these so-called ‘thugs’ are just children like any others, albeit severely traumatized for obvious reasons. There are clearcut solutions that a fair society ought to pursue. We don’t. Instead we incarcerate parents, trap families in poverty, force care givers to leave kids alone while they work multiple jobs because minimum wage couldn’t support a pet rabbit, let alone a family with children. It’s a vicious cycle perpetuated by the American political economy. Does anyone really think it’s a coincidence that black and brown communities are disenfranchised – fed into a criminal justice system – often for petty, unjust, racial profiling and entrapment. I saw it first hand with the kids I was filming in the other documentary – gang squad law enforcement following them everywhere, searching them every time I let them break for lunch. No one was searching me or my own kids who were helping out. Read Matt Taibbi’s ‘The Divide” if you want proof. We have a prison industrial complex that creates wealth from minority misery, sabotages generations who don’t fully fit the white bread all-American profile. These kids could grow up to be great. If we let them. Too many people and systems are profiting though. Or maybe the powers that be feel the rest of society can’t handle a leveled field of competition. This is just a ten minute short, but I wanted to do something that might trigger the conversation.

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

Apocalypse Now

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

FilmFreeway is helpful, streamlined. The LA Feedback festival was by far the best we attended though. They very kindly comped us 20 seats. The most we got elsewhere was two comps and if you’re bringing a lot of people that can get expensive. Our cast are very young kids. By separating out R-rated films after an intermission, this festival allowed the kids to finally see themselves on the big screen. The feedback from the audience was so affirming. People we didn’t know, talking intelligently about what we did. That was worth all the hassle.

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

Album more than song – OK Computer.

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

Up until now, I’ve made my living as a screenwriter and it’s still my dream job, but I am planning to direct another short soon to get more experience. My long term goal is to direct a feature about a Latina who terminates a pregnancy so she can go to college. She suffers a terrible public humiliation for that choice. Abortion is still taboo in film. I spent years on this script, trying to strike the right balance. It will need a brave sort of producer (if there are any reading this), but I think the landscape is shifting. If the industry is sincere about giving more women filmmakers access, they must realize we’ll show up focused on taboo issues too. Not that I’ve anything against romantic comedies, but women all over the world deserve to see their story told fairly for once. http://nastygirlfilms.com/features/

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Interview with Filmmaker Eugene Lehnert (THE OUTER BOROUGHS)

THE OUTER BOROUGHS played to rave reviews at the August 2018 COMEDY Film Festival in Toronto.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

I’ve been making the series as a low budget web-series. I wanted to make something bigger to show off the concept. I tried to make an episode about a creature that lived in the toxic waters of an EPA superfund site in Brooklyn but it was too expensive. So an episode about Witches was easier to make.

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

It’ probably took about a year.

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

Supernatural hijinks

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

Working around everyone’s schedules.

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

Terrified but then relieved and happy.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:


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

My friend pitched me a witches episode after I could not raise the money for the Creature from the Gowanus Canal episode.

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

Back to the Future

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

I like Film Freeway. I find it better to use than Without A Box.

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

A toss up between Weird Al’s “It’s Christmas at Ground Zero” and “Yoda”.

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

Remastering an old film for Amazon Prime called “Armageddon for Andy”. Then writing. I’m broke and paying off this thing so it’s tough to make anything.

Interview with Filmmaker Josiah Cuneo (IN THROUGH THE NIGHT)

IN THROUGH THE NIGHT played to rave reviews at the August 2018 Under 5 Minute Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Josiah Cuneo: I really wanted a chance to write and perform some music in a different way than I usually do. I made four short films, this being one of them, and I wrote and performed the music for them in a theater as live scores to the films. It really changed my approach to making music, and introduced me to film making.

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

I wrote the music, started rehearsing, hired a camera person, secured a location, set a date. Then the camera person took another job that day, the location cancelled, and I couldn’t reschedule because the performer’s visa’s were up, and they were set to get on a plane back to Sweden. It was a close call, but somehow I pulled everything together, and we found a way. One of the benefits of living in the city. Then I edited it, rewrote all the music, recorded it, mixed it…and then…a year later, I had a film.

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

Broken Daydream

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

One of the performers called me the day after the shoot to tell me she couldn’t find her earring. It was a family heirloom, so she was rightful anxious to get it back. I went back to the location the next day and looked everywhere. Eventually I found it. It has fallen down the drain of a 19th century sink. It took an entire day to get that sink apart, and be able to pull that earring out, but we did it. I learned a lot about plumbing that day.

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

It was really encouraging seeing someone give thoughtful insight to the film.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK of the Film:

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

I would say it was 90% music based.

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

Great question. The movie that I have made a conscious decision to watch the most times would probably be Ingmar Bergman’s Persona. When I first saw it I only saw the second part of it, so it didn’t really make sense, but it stuck with me, so I eventually went back to it. Now I find myself watching it everyone couple years because it really is a kind of perfect film, and in many ways has become the gold standard of what I hope to achieve in my own work.

On the other hand, the movie I have seen the most, regardless of wanting to or not, is Spike Lee’s Crooklyn. When I was a kid growing up my little sister has a VHS copy of it, and she would put it on at least five out of the seven days of the week. If I was ever in the living room, chances are it was on. It has such a good soundtrack and was made so well as a film, that you could watch it everyday without getting tired of it. I know that film incredibly well, but because I would always be watching it in bits and pieces, I couldn’t for the life of me tell you the plot.

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

It’s been a great experience. It’s both exciting to see how many people are holding film festivals, and a great thrill to be part of them.

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

It’s a two way tie. The Shirelles “Will You Still Love me Tomorrow” and The Crystals “Then He Kissed me”. Hands down the two greatest songs ever recorded.

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

Last year I wrote and directed my first play that was produced at Roulette Intermedium in Brooklyn. I am starting rehearsals next week for my second, The Screen Above, a play centered around my music and choreography. After that, I hope to start shooting my first feature film next year.

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Interview with Writer/Actor Catherine Haun (MRS MURPHY’S CONFESSION)

MRS MURPHY’S CONFESSION was the winner of BEST MUSIC at the August 2018 Female Film Festival in Toronto.

http://www.mrsmurphysconfession.com
Facebook: @playfulshortfilm.com

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

I became obsessed. That’s the best way to describe it. Totally off the
rails. I just thought I would die if I didn’t make this film.

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

Two years.

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

Awkward Journey

OMG I just thought of something so inappropriate! Painful discharge
is what popped into my head. Never mind… go with awkward journey.

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

My own ignorance of how to make a film—in particular the technical
aspects. Post production was an especially challenging time. Once
the excitement of production is over it’s a job to keep the
momentum going. From the producing point of view the challenge is
to figure out what the story needs, and then figure out who can help
you get it. You can always spend more money, but figuring out if you
really NEED something is important in a low-budget context. And in
my case I had to beg people to work for free or reduce their rates
dramatically. It’s not that easy to talk people into working for free
when you have no track record. I had a friend, Rebekah Wiggins,
who produced with me and was instrumental in pulling in many
people.

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

Awkwardness. I saw their indecision, and uncertainty about what to
say. I know there was a time frame, but I wanted to sit in the silence
for a minute to see what they would come up with. It was
suspenseful.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I was taking a 6 week short-film screenwriting class with Ashley
Serrao. On the first night of the class I took home a spring-loaded
image. A spring-loaded image is meant to be something that
catapults a narrative. The one I took home was ‘vibrator in a church
pew.’ Then I had to figure out whose life would be changed by
finding a vibrator in a church pew…

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

Maybe this won’t surprise you, but I LOVE the movie version of
Doubt. I rarely see a film more than once because there are so many
I haven’t seen yet, but I love everything about that film. Story,
performances, directorial choices. I only have to think of Viola Davis
in that one scene and I’m a f…ing mess!

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

I like Film Freeway the best because it is easiest to use. I like the
way you can see your submissions on one page and keep track of
them.

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

I take ballet classes, and it would really have to be this one CD that
a lot of the teachers use. I don’t know the name of it, and it might
not be my favorite, but that’s definitely the music I have heard the
most. It’s what runs in my head when I’m trying to concentrate!

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

Yes. I have a first draft of a TV pilot that I wrote with my partner
Eleanor Smith, and there’s a feature-length film that I’m just starting
to work on. I would like to do a web series as well.

Interview with Filmmaker Michelle Brand (NOT THE SAME RIVER. NOT THE SAME MAN)

 NOT THE SAME RIVER. NOT THE SAME MAN was the winner of BEST MUSIC at the August 2018 Under 5 Minute Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Michelle Brand: I am fascinated for a while now with the relationship between time, change, and movement and how they connect and exist together. As humans, we believe commonly that time does exist, because we can see change taking place, so we understand time by spatialising it into stages. This idea can be expressed really well through animation, since it plays with the idea that only through a change happening on each frame, movement, and thus time, is created altogether. So to me, this film was an exploration and thought process of this whole philosophical debate on how time can be understood and perceived.

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

It was my graduation film at University, so roughly 6 months.

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

Time and movement!

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

Finding the right visuals. I had this huge idea that I wanted to explore, that it was in fact too big to put down in any pictures. I had to find the right vehicle to transport such an abstract idea, so I found the river metaphor of Heraclitus to frame it all together.

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

I was very nervous and excited of course. When you go to festivals, it is nice knowing that there is an audience watching your film, but in actual fact it is rare to hear direct feedback. So to hear that somewhere out there are people that enjoyed it and thought about it so much, is very touching.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

The main drive was that my head was filled about these thoughts about time and movement, and how philosophical concepts can relate to animation theory, which also was my dissertation theme at the time. So it was a combination about thinking about the philosophical concept behind it, exploring how it can be expressed in animation, and then finding the right metaphor to use.

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

I don’t tend to re-watch live-action films that much, so it might be animation shorts that I watch again and again for reference or see at festivals, I’m not too sure to be honest.

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

I think it’s good how easy and accessible the platform is, however that at the same time can be its disadvantage. As a filmmaker, you can fall into the hole of just submitting to everything that is out there, but a lot of those festivals don’t need to be checked up and approved. So there are a lot of festivals there, that you never hear from again and lack communication and connection with the filmmakers. It is difficult finding the right balance, I suppose…

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

Probably some song that is in my playlist of soundtrack music I listen to while working… Maybe ‘A Wild and Distant Shore’ by Michael Nyman!

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

Yes! I just finished a new film called ‘Synchronicity’ during my studies at the Royal College of Arts in London. Now I will be working on my next graduation film!

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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 http://www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.