Interview with Cinematographer Julio Macat (Home Alone, Wedding Crashers, The Boss)

What an honor it was to sit down with Director of Photography Julio Macat. Julio has DP’d most of the top comedy films in the last 25+ years. His list of credits include: Home Alone 1, 2 & 3, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,  The Nutty Professor, The Wedding Planner, Wedding Crashers, Winnie the Pooh, Pitch Perfect, and the upcoming comedy The Boss, starring Melissa McCarthy.

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Matthew Toffolo: You have worked in the Hollywood Film Industry scene for the last 36 years. What has been the biggest change in the filmmaking process from 1980 to present?

Julio Macat: The biggest change in our industry has been the choice of material that studios and most independent financing companies green light, as what films are made. It used to be that a film like ORDINARY PEOPLE would have no problem going forward, especially with a good director attached. Now, great films like that rarely get made anymore. I miss that.

MT: Of all the productions you’ve worked on, what film are you most proud of?

JM: Without hesitation it’s HOME ALONE, it was a rare combination of all the elements of film making coming together harmoniously with a result better than expected.

PHOTO: Cinematography in the film Home Alone:

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MT: Home Alone is one of the most successful films in movie history, and it’s a film that really stands the test of time. During filming, did you ever imagine that this film would be as iconic as it was?

JM: No I didn’t. My hope was that it would be liked as much as I liked A CHRISTMAS STORY and that kids could relate to and be empowered by it. But It’s unusual to sense that you are doing something that special because you are in a vacuum, trying to do the best you can in your department (the visuals) and just hope that everyone else had their act together as well…Fortunately our young director Chris Columbus, had a great vision of what “it could be” and he guided us all in a great direction. The film was that unique circumstance where every layer that was added made the film even better…and John Williams’ score was truly icing on the cake.

MT: You’ve definitely been a part of some of the most successful films in the last 25 years (Home Alone, Wedding Crashers, Pitch Perfect to name a few). Is there a film that you worked on that didn’t do well at the box office that you consider a terrific film that people should see?

JM: Yes In comedy, I loved MY FELLOW AMERICANS which came out at an odd time and no one saw and the drama CRAZY IN ALABAMA which was a bit too long and did not connect with American audiences.

PHOTO: Crazy in Alabama. Starring Melanie Griffith:

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MT: You just wrapped “The Boss” starring Melissa McCarthy, Peter Dinklage, and Kristen Bell. Can you give us a sneak peak as to what to expect?

JM: I have not been this excited about a comedy coming out since I photographed WEDDING CRASHERS!

JM: THE BOSS is the perfect vehicle to show Melissa McCarthy’s incredible talent. I think she is the present day Lucille Ball, someone who can and will do ANYTHING for a laugh and unlike other comedians, it’s ALWAYS really funny. She has the uncanny ability to step outside herself and correct situations to make them hilarious without being self conscious! There is a scene in which she puts on a teeth whitener to have Kristen Bell clean her teeth and holds a conversation while they are being cleaned. I assure you that this will have the people in theatres roaring with laughter! We had to start the scene again repeatedly, because the other actors and the crew could not stop laughing during the takes.

PHOTO: Melissa McCarthy in THE BOSS: 

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MT: Some of the comedies you work on the director demands the actors stick to the script, whereas other films, like Wedding Crashers, there is a lot of improvising occuring. Do you have a preference when shooting? How does the scene lighting setup change when you know the actors are going to go off script?

JM: It’s been my experience that comedy is an imperfect and individual science. The best results come when you leave an opening for great accidents to happen. So I try to not lock in actors with blocking that is too precise, and for example, if the scene develops into being filmed in an area that we had not anticipated, well, that then turns into a fun challenge!. Hopefully this adds to the piece. Ben Falcone and Melissa were eager to want overlaps in dialogue and action in some of our scenes, to be a part of the looseness of the jokes, so they asked that I cover these scenes with three angles simultaneously. It was challenging photographically, but the results were worth the effort and we got many “improvised “ moments with the proper intercut coverage.

MT: Since you started in the camera department, do you prefer operating the camera yourself? Or does this all depend on what type of film (budget/Union guidelines) you’re working on?

JM: I love operating the camera myself, and on some productions I prefer it.

But since I’ve now done 17 films with first time directors, lately, I find that all can go faster when I spend more time by the director’s side and away from the camera. I do love stunts, however, and I love operating on the tough shot …so that we get it in one.

MT: What’s the main thing you look for from your main crew members? Gaffer, Key Grip, Camera Operators etc…

JM: My most important criteria in choosing crew is PERSONALITY. After this many years in the film industry, I found that many people are qualified for the job description, not as many have the agreeable, kind and respectful personality that I require to be in my crew.

I like to be the example of being respectful to actors, directors, producers and other crew members. I expect my crew to do the same.

It’s amazing how much you can achieve with a hand picked crew that has a positive attitude and general kindness toward each other, I am always amazed at this, especially when we work under such tough circumstances that we often encounter. With this approach, when the pressure mounts with things like weather challenges, not enough time, locations changing, etc. etc. which by the way, are actually the daily obstacles of filming, one can rely on the crew to process it, deal with it professionally and find a solution with kindness achieving much better results.

MT: What do you look for in your working relationship with your director?

JM: A collaboration, Hopefully I look for this person to be someone who will do their homework, roll their sleeves up along with me and work as hard as I do.

I look for the director to be considerate of my craft and the elements I may need in order to help them realize their vision for the film And finally, maybe most importantly, a sense of humor.

MT: What movie, besides the ones you worked on, have you seen the most in your
life?

JM: It’s a three way tie: In this order though…

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE
LOST IN AMERICA
JERRY MAGUIRE

Cheers
JULIO MACAT, ASC

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

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Interview with Cinematographer Jeff Cutter (10 Cloverfield Lane)

Chatting with Jeff Cutter about Cinematography and his career could have lasted all day. I generally like to limit the questions to about 10-15 when I do these film interviews because these are very busy people and generally less is more. With Jeff, I literally could have asked him 100s of questions as we were just scratching the surface. This is one of my favorite interviews to date. A must read for anyone working or wanting to work in the industry.

Jeff’s cinematography credits include “Gridiron Gang”, “Catch .44”, “Yellow”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, “Playing It Cool”, and “10 Cloverfield Lane”

Matthew Toffolo: “10 Cloverfield Lane” is set to hit the theatres this week. Can you give us a sneak peak as to what to expect? How was your experience working on the film?

Jeff Cutter: Expect a taut, tense psychological thriller with 1 or 2 big surprises. I had a great time working on the film as we had a wonderful director in Dan Trachtenberg and an extremely supportive production company in Bad Robot. It was a relatively small budget, and had challenges as a result, but since it is mostly a very contained script we could maximize the resources we had.

Matthew: Do you have a favorite experience in your work as a Director of Photography? What film are you most proud of?

Jeff: I am most proud of my latest film, 10 Cloverfield Lane, because the photography is very close to what I had hoped we could achieve, and in some scenes, better than I hoped. My favorite experience was receiving an email from JJ Abrams about 2 weeks into principal photography, telling me how great he thought everything looked.

PHOTO: Still Shot from 10 Cloverfield Lane.  Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.. Director: Dan Trachtenberg

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Matthew: You have DP’d many music videos. Is this something that you’ll continue to do? Do music videos give you a lot more creative freedom to explore being it’s generally an experimental type of story being told?

Jeff: I haven’t shot a music video for almost 10 years now, which makes me feel very old! Budgets have shrunk dramatically from the heyday of music videos when I started. Back in the late 90’s and early 00’s, music videos gave you so much freedom to explore, but also the funds with which to do it. So almost any crazy idea a director came up with, you could go and do. Traditional narrative tools, like lighting continuity, or realistic lighting sources, get thrown out the window. But creative freedom doesn’t always lead to good work.

Experimenting will inevitably also lead to some very bad work as well!

Matthew: What is the key difference when working on a horror film (Orphan, Nightmare/Elm Street) in comparison to doing a straight up drama (Yellow)?

Jeff: When working on a horror film, it needs to be, first and foremost, scary. So much of the camera work and lighting is dedicated to creating/enhancing the suspense and scares. When filming a drama, you use the camera and lighting to support the narrative story.

Matthew: “Orphan” is an amazingly photographed film. It really sets the mood, tone, and themes of this film and is truly a masterful job from a cinematic level. It executes and then heightens the story to a new level. How was your collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra?

Jeff: Jaume was an extremely well planned and thoughtful director. For him, setting the overall mood was the number one priority of the camera and lighting. We watched many classic thriller and horror films, as well as less conventional ones, and discussed the feeling that Jaume was looking for in the movie. Then we mapped out the shots and techniques that would help create this feeling.

PHOTO: Still Shot from Orphan. Starring: Isabelle Fuhrman. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

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Matthew: What type of film would you love to work on that you haven’t worked on yet? Is there a shot/set-up that you’ve thought of already that you love to do in a film if it fits the story?

Jeff: I am prepping a comedy right now, and it’s my first one. It’s not that I necessarily love comedies or was dying to shoot one, but I do like the challenge of trying a new genre. If you don’t constantly challenge yourself, I believe your creative juices will stop flowing and you become complacent, and no good work comes from complacency. Whenever I shoot a film, regardless of genre, my goal is to create a film that looks different from what people expect it to. I’m not looking to do the typical, predictable thing. Of course, sometimes this results in failure, but nothing great comes from playing it safe.

Matthew: What does a DP look for in its director?

Jeff: I first and foremost look to the director for a vision of the film. When I first read a script, certain broad ideas come into my head, and then when you meet with the director, you hope those basic premises line up with what the director had in mind. Then a good director will guide you into the more specific direction he wants the film to go in terms of lighting, mood and camera work. A good director will challenge you to not settle for less than great work. A good director will pull you back when you’ve gone too far and push you when you’re being too safe. A good director will also listen to you when you know you are absolutely right and they’ve gotten something wrong! These are all the things I look for in a director.

Matthew: Do you have a Director of Photography mentor?

Jeff: I don’t have a DP mentor as such, but I do have many cinematographers who’s work I admire and reference, and whom I hope someday to be half as good as if I am lucky. Working greats like Roger Deakins, Emanuel Lubezki and Bob Richardson along with geniuses no longer with us like Conrad Hall, Jordan Croneweth and Harris Savides.

Matthew: What do you look for when hiring your main team? Gaffer. Key Grip. Camera Operator. Etc…

Jeff: I look for guys who are confident in their abilities, unfazed by last minute changes and complications, willing to contribute ideas but not be upset when they are shot down, and last but not least, pleasant to be around. When you spend 6 and 7 days a week with someone for three or four months it’s much easier when you like them!

Matthew: Where do you see the future of camera/lighting technology in film?

Jeff: In the future cameras will continue to get smaller while packing an even larger punch. And LEDs are the future for lighting. Eventually everything will be based around LEDs as they are fully dimmable, there is access to the entire color spectrum, they are light weight, can be customized into any configuration you want, and are extremely energy efficient.

Matthew: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?

Jeff: There are a handful of films that I have watched multiple times because the film making is of the highest order, and they are for me examples of perfect photography. These include “Apocolypse Now”, “Angel Heart”, “Jacob’s Ladder”, “Blade Runner” and “Seven” to name a few.

Matthew: What suggestions would you have for people in high school and university who would like to get into the industry as an editor?

Jeff: My suggestions to students interested in getting into cinematography: Watch and re-watch as many great-looking movies as you can, and any movies by the great cinematographers. Find what you like, then go out and shoot as much as you can as often as you can, and start experimenting. Make friends with as many people as you can and start building a reel.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Storyboard Artist Stephen Forrest-Smith (Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Dark Knight)

A storyboard artist, or story artist, creates storyboards for film productions.

I had a blast sitting down with the very talented storyboard artist Stephen Forrest-Smith. Stephen has worked on some of the most popular films in the last 15 years, including “The Dark Knight,” the last three “Harry Potter” films, and last year’s “Star Wars” film.

His candor in the following interview is educational and very entertaining. Enjoy:

Matthew Toffolo: When coming aboard a project on a Hollywood film, how does the process generally work? Do you start with a preliminary chat with the director about themes etc..? How early do you arrive before production? When do you generally exit the job?

Stephen Forrest-Smith: There really is no normal to my job anymore. Every project seems to be different now and asks for a different approach. A film project could call on a storyboard artist at any stage from pre-pre production, ( when the film is trying to get funding) right the way through to post production for VFX, (after principal photography has been completed). The bulk of my work tends to be early in the pre-production taking the first pass at sequences to get the ball rolling on them. Usually I’d start with a chat with a Director, though it could be VFX supervisor or production designer and then work on from there. I used to expect to finish when filming starts but now I might stay almost to the end of shooting then be called back for reshoots and post production.

Matthew: How was your recent experience working on the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast with director Bill Condon?

Stephen: Beauty and the Beast is shaping up to be a really beautiful and wonderful production of the fairytale. I didn’t work directly with Bill Condon but instead was briefed by Tobias A. Schliessler, the director of photography. This doesn’t happen very often but I like working with the DOP as I get to see more of the technical side to the filmmaking process. The film also has many amazing musical routines that were carefully choreographed which needed storyboards added to them. This was fun as I never work on a musical before. I think this is my favourite part of the job – getting to work with and learn from such a variety of very talented people across all the departments.

Matthew: World War Z is such a visual film. How many boards did you do for that film?

Stephen: World War Z was a very troubled production, which stumbled to the finish somehow! I think that film chewed up 5 storyboard artists over its run. I had two spells on that job. The first spell I worked on the escape from Malta sequence. I returned to work with the second unit director the battle for Moscow part which was cut from the movie.

Matthew: When you watch the final product, like Star Wars for examples, and you see your visual designs on screen in live-action, how does that feel? It must be a goose-bump experience.

Stephen: It’s always a strange feeling watching the films that I’ve worked on. Its quite a long time between finishing on them and seeing them in the cinema. I might have worked on two or three films in-between seeing the finished movie. This means I tend to sit there trying to remember what i drew for which part of the movie and if anything made it! Sometimes a sequence will run out just as it was storyboarded then you get a feeling of “deja vu”. Other times its nice to sit back and watch the response of the audience to see if a moment works or not.

Matthew: You’ve been credited as being a “Conceptual Artist” in films like Speilberg’s War Horse. What does that job detail?

Stephen: Conceptual Artist is a cover all title for film illustrators / 3d artists / designers who are involved in the initial visualising of the designs of the film. It can also include producing images on the sets as they are being designed to communicate them to the director and producer.

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Matthew: What’s your ideal working experience with a director?

Stephen: For me the most satisfying part of the job is seeing the boards being used on set and being shot from. Making movies rapidly becomes an insanely complicated endeavor and a good set of storyboards is the best way of communicating to all the crew what they are all trying to achieve. A director who’s invested in the boards and wants them to be used, and sent out to the crew is my ideal.

Matthew: You also worked on The Dark Knight, which ended up being an iconic film. Did you expect it to be so popular? What part of the film did you do boards for?

Stephen: I was very excited to work on The Dark Knight, Chris Nolan was my favourite director at the time. It was clear from reading the script that he had a great take on the Joker that Heath Ledger went onto realise. My friend Jim Cornish got me the job. Jim was booked to go onto Harry Potter and the Half blood Prince so he recommended me to come and finish off for him. He had done the bulk of the work when I started so I had amendments to make on his sequences. I then drew the Jokers attack on Bruce Wayne’s apartment and Batman and Two Face’s stand off at the end of the film. Yes I did expect it to be popular as Batman Begins and had been a big hit already.

Matthew: When is does the “I’m now allowed to talk about it” statue of limitations with Star Wars end? When are you allowed to talk about your experiences working on the film and put the storyboards that you worked on for the film in your portfolio?

Stephen: I think this is the most onerous part of the job now. We have to sign NDA’s for every project and they last forever. So I shouldn’t talk to you at all!

Matthew: Do you have a storyboard mentor?

Stephen: The person who not only gave me my break but was the best mentor ever was Stephen Sommers of “The Mummy” fame – His best advice was ‘ don’t give me hundreds of angles but show how few shots I need to shoot the sequence”. I’ve kept that as my philosophy since and i love the rigour of working in this way.

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

Stephen: The Directors I return to again and again are Alfred Hitchcock, Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone. So probably “North by Northwest”, “Seven Samurai” and “Fistfull of Dollars”. Not a moment is wasted in their movies – they are true cinema for me.

Matthew: Do you worked on over 30 productions in the last 17 years. Do you have a favorite working experience?

Stephen: I’m sure I’ve worked on more than that!!! My jobs can vary from a days world to years so I’ve done a lot now. “The Mummy” is still by far my favourite ever film experience as every moment was exciting and new. I’d also taken a big gamble changing my career from architecture to film and the Mummy was my first chance to make the gamble work out. I started with a two week trial then worked on for 9 months storyboarding the whole film on my own. I got to travel to Marakesh and the red sahara. Got to swim in a swimming pool with Kate Winslet and rode on camels in the Sahara. Not bad for a first job.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

The SHOTS are all you have. Film Directing SHOTS

FILM SHOTS
FILMMAKING NOTES

Interview with Oscar Nominated Production Designer Michael Corenblith

FILM DIRECTING SHOTS – One of the most over used cliches in film is “The Shots are all you have.” The following are what you need to think about practically so you can think creatively and device the best shot list and camera shots you possibly can:

QUESTIONS TO ASK?
-What is the best viewpoint for filming this position of the event?
-How much area should be included in this shot?

SCENE – Defines the place or setting where the action is laid
SHOT – Defines a continuous view filmed by one camera without interuption
SEQUENCE – A series of scenes or shot complete in itself

TYPES OF CAMERA ANGLES
OBJECTIVE – The audience point of view
SUBJECTIVE – The camera acts as the viewers eyes-movement
POINT OF VIEW – What the character is seeing

SIX BASIC SHOTS

1) Extreme Long ShotTaken at a great distance. Almost always an exterior shot and shows much of the locale. Used a lot in Establishing shots

2) Long Shot

The distance between the audience and the stage in the live theatre

3) Full Shot

Barely including the whole body

4) Medium Shot

Knees to waste up. Useful for exposition scenes, carrying movement and for dialogue

5) Close Up

Concentrates on a relatively small object. HUMAN FACE

6) Extreme Close-Up

Might just show eyes or mouth

CAMERA ANGLES

Are the most important factor in producing illusion of scenic depth.

Which angle the object is photographed.

FIVE BASIC ANGLES

EYE LEVEL SHOTS- Provide frames of reference. Audience sees the event as if the scene happening right in front of them. Most scenes in movies are photographed from eye level. 5 to 6 feet off the ground. Capturing the clearest view of an object
-Used to treat your characters as equals. Discourages viewers at judging them. Permits audience to make up their own mind.

BIRDS EYE VIEW- Photographing a scene from DIRECTLY OVERHEAD. Hovers from ABOVE like all powerful gods. IDEA OF FATE
HIGH ANGLED SHOTS- Camera is tilted downward. Besides the obvious power shot, movement is slowed down during fast moving action. Ground is in the background. A person seems harmless and insignificant is photographed from above.
-The higher the angle, the more it tends to imply fatality

LOW ANGLES SHOTS- Camera it titled upwards. Use to inspire awe or excitement. Motion in speeded up. Environment is usually minimized. Sky or ceiling is background.
-Heightens the importance of a subject. Scenes depicting heroism

OBLIQUE ANGLE- Lateral tilt of the camera. As though the object is about to fall to one side. Point of view shots. Suggests tension, transitions, impending movement
-Image that slants to the right – Acting Forceful
-Image that slants to the left – Weak, Static

ASK YOURSELF
-How much should be included in this shot?
-Where should the camera be positioned to view this particular part of the action?

A SHOT SHOULD BE HELD NO LONGER THAN REQUIRED TO MAKE ITS POINT

Approach each sequence with a fresh attitude and strive to treat the action in an individual matter.

A definite change in camera angles will assure a smother flow of images

TAKE A LOOK AT: Film Director Quotes from some of the most famous directors of our time.

CLOSE-UPS
-Among the most powerful storytelling devices available to the filmmaker
-Allows removal of tedious or repetitious action
-Can be used to provide a time laspe
-Brings that dramatic punch

FRAMES-Area near the top of the frame can suggest ideas dealing with power, authority and apiration
-Left and right edges of the frame can suggest insignificance
-Dominant Contrast – Area the immediately attracts our attention because of a conspicuous and compelling contrast
-Subsidiary Contrast – Structured image so that specific images are followed in sequence

Make sure to check out WILDsound’s Film Festival where you can submit your film and get it watched my industry people, plus hear firsthand to what people think of your film.

THE HUMAN EYE SCANS PICTURES FROM LEFT TO RIGHT

HORIZONTAL LINES – MOVE FROM LEFT TO RIGHT
VERTICAL LINES – MOVE FROM TOP TO BOTTOM

DIAGONAL OR OBLIQUE LINES tend to sweep upward

TERRITORIAL SPACE – Movie images must tell a story in time, a story that involves human beings and their problems

THREE VISUAL PLACES
-Midground
-Foreground
-Background

CRUCIAL DECISION – How much detail should be included within the frame?

HOW CLOSE SHOULD WE GET TO THE SUBJECT?
-How much space is just right for the shot?
-What’s too much or too little

AN ACTOR CAN BE PHOTOGRAPHED IN FIVE BASIC POSITION

1) Full Front – Facing the camera
-Most intimate, vulnerabilities exposed
-Audience agrees to become his chosen confidante

2) Quarter Turn
-Involves a high degree of intimacy but with less emotional involvement

3) PROFILE – Looking off frame, left to right
-Character lost in their own thoughts

4) Three Quarter Turn
-More anonymous. Rejecting audiences

5) Back to Camera-Characters alienation from the world. Sense of concealment, mystery

Tightly framed shots – CONFINED

Loosely framed shots – FREEDOM

USING SPACE IN FOUR WAYS

1)INTIMATE
Eighteen inches away. Distance of LOVE, COMFORT, TENDERNESS between individuals

2)PERSONAL
-Eighteen inches to about four feet away. Reserved for friends and acquaintances

3)SOCIAL
-Four feet to about twelve feet away. Business and casual social gatherings

4)PUBLIC
-Twelve to about twenty feet away

      * * * * *

 

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.