Interview with Screenwriter Federico Casal (UNWELCOME)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

The story takes place in a post-civil war, near-future America. It’s about an ex-Navy Seal who gets caught trying to flee the country and then forced to take on a mission: retrieve a device from the ruins of a research facility that mysteriously exploded, located in a ghost town in the middle of the desert.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Mainly science fiction and action, but there are elements of thriller and satire throughout.

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

I like to believe it has a few interesting things to say about capitalism, consumerism and immigration, while offering the audience two hours of entertainment where the stakes progressively get higher as they get more insane. The film starts in familiar territory (highly trained soldier begrudgingly accepts a mission to free himself from the sins of his past) but then its genre-specific tropes and expectations are deconstructed as things begin to happen that had been gestating right under the characters’ feet. It taps directly into the collective feeling that the world is breaking apart at the seams because of things that haven’t been properly addressed.

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

Mayhem buildup.

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

Probably A Clockwork Orange.

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

I finished the first draft in March, 2017. It was actually based on a feature of the same name I’d written around 2010, when I was 19, which was heavily influenced by the videogame Half-Life. Feeling that I could accelerate the process of becoming a film director by writing screenplays that would hopefully get someone’s attention, I resumed writing features in English in 2016. I foolishly thought I’d save a lot of time by re-purposing, with everything I knew then, any of the scripts I had written in 2009-2010 and that I’d have something ready to send off to a competition in less than a month. I chose the then-Unwelcome but after a few days, as editing difficulties and vastly more interesting ideas arose, it became evident I had to start over. That was around December 2016. Two months layer, by February 2017, I had the beginning (heavily borrowed from the 2010 script) and the ending down. Two months later I had a completed draft which I went back to occasionally in these last two years, although in 2018 it began to gain recognition in different contests after many significant changes.

7. How many stories have you written?

Stories in general (prose and screenplays) it’s hard for me to give an estimate because I’ve writing since I was a teenager. As far as screenplays go, I’d say about 6 or 7 features and something like 20 shorts, although a few of those short screenplays were derived from short stories I’d written and vice-versa.

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

Uh, tough question. God Only Knows by the Beach Boys is a good candidate. The opening chorus of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion is a definite favorite, but not technically a song.

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

So many I should write a book about my experience with Unwelcome and how it was a sort of an advanced screenwriting school unto itself. I’ve written three other screenplays in a faster and more assured way since then thanks to everything I learned while solving the problems I encountered, from narrative challenges to errors of judgement and mistakes that originated during (the lack of) preparation. I’d say the biggest three challenges I had to face were:
1) Fine-tuning exposition and character development to the point that they became inseparable, not easy in a story which entails a protagonist who has to navigate very carefully a situation that is out of his control (when, where and how does he react to things and reveal more about himself in a context that doesn’t encourage it?).

2) In order to avoid getting stuck in the writing process, I rushed to finish the beginning and ending without planning in detail much of what was supposed to happen in the middle. Naturally, subsequent drafts were full of major changes that took a lot of time to implement due to their ripple effect within the story.

3) Letting go of some plot elements to reach a balance between world-building and narrative progression that felt organic. Unwelcome’s rewriting journey has been one of finding more convincing ways to say the same thing and simplifying, in accordance with the themes and general mood, the many intricacies of the world supporting the characters. If you check out some of the scripts behind the current top movies you’ll find very short scene descriptions. This sometimes goes against one’s inclinations to fill the page with plenty of information about the story’s universe, particularly in science fiction and fantasy (Craig Mazin and John August have addressed this problem in their podcast Scriptnotes many times, saying that whatever details you leave out will be decided on later by the art department). While there are many factors to consider when comparing the script of an emerging writer with the shooting draft of a produced movie, all writers struggle with the process of taking a script to the point where it flows with the ideal amount of detail while none of its uniqueness is sacrificed.

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

Film directing and music (piano, to be more precise, which I’ve been studying for more than ten years).

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

My experiences using FilmFreeway have been mostly great. I usually use Coverfly to submit to competitions because it’s purely designed for that purpose and you can see the different distinctions garnered by your projects, but I use FilmFreeway both for screenplays and films.

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

The main thing that attracted me to submit the screenplay to your contest was seeing part of it performed by actors. The feedback was very useful and constructive.

Watch the Screenplay Reading:

After a near-future civil war, a runaway ex-Navy Seal is sent to a ghost town to retrieve a special device from an underground research facility that mysteriously exploded.

CAST LIST:

Narration: Hannah Ehman
Andrew: Michael Ruhs
Punchline: Ron Boyd

Interview with Screenwriter Alexander Chernega (THE UNDERWATER STORY)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Alexander Chernega: The screenplay is about friendship, family and love.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

The genre is animation/action.

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

This is saga under the name of Underwater Story consisting of five feature scripts.

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

The Fifth Element

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

I have been working four months on this screenplay.

7. How many stories have you written?

I have 12 written stories and 10 completed screenplays.

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

The man who sold the world by Nirvana

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

My biggest concern was to save a quality of the script after translation it in to English. That was obstacle I have faced as did translation myself.

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

Travelling

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

The FilmFreeway is very convenient platform to work with (easy to navigate and understand it).

Watch the Screenplay Reading: 

The power of the stone of Bereon haunts the villains. To get it brothers Marten again have been turned into blue dolphins by the will of the father of beautiful daughters is the greedy merchant Dorey.

CAST LIST:

Ludwig: James Chapman
Narrator: Hugh Ritchie
Virgil: Russell Batcher
Joseph: Brandon Knox

Interview with Filmmaker Thomas F. O’Brien (PHOTOS IN THE RAIN)

PHOTOS IN THE RAIN was the winner of BEST MUSIC at the November 2019 Documentary Short Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Thomas F. O’Brien: I was compelled to share the photographs I found to the world, especially when it started to rain. I remember raindrops hitting me on the face as I quickly moved them down the street to my house. I knew they were special, and that when given the chance I would give them more honor than sitting in the rain.

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

The idea was borne in January 2013, the opportunity came about in October 2017, so 4 years and ten months from pillar to post per se. From the time my Directing class group heard my pitch to when we completed the edit was about three weeks.

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

Art love.

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

Getting the daughter to send pics of the photographer, James Belsanti, after I interviewed her…she was moved by seeing the display of her father’s work, and needed time to process it all. We only have the one pic of him, in the film, and what’s cool about that is he’s wearing a red jacket…Al Avis, Vice-President of the Chicago Area Camera Club says in a phone interview that James Belsanti said to, “get somebody in a red coat to stand in your photograph.”

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

I loved it! It was the best response I’ve heard. Hearing people who “get it” is a wonderful feeling to behold.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I feel like I didn’t come up with the idea, that it was something already thought of and I was just the vessel for it! When I read the syllabus for the Directing class and saw a documentary was an assignment I began putting it together.

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

It’s a tie between “Grand Canyon” (1991) and “Cast Away” (2000).

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

It’s a relief to be able to do something so effortlessly in the distribution/promotion process.

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

“Ventura Highway,” by America (my first 45 rpm, many moons ago).

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

Since then I have co-wrote/directed/acted in a feature that is now on Amazon (“Rainy Carolina” [2018]). I wrote two TV pilots, a sitcom episode, and am working on three screenplay projects. I plan to direct one of those on a small scale as a sizzle to get funding for the bigger scale.

A final word: My son and I went to the Grand Canyon last week. It was a wonderful father-son experience, and on the drive to Las Vegas to fly back home I discovered we had won “Best Music!” This was doubly exciting because my son had stopped playing music for the last few years to work as a carpenter, and his song was the end credits song in the project. I’m hoping it planted a seed in him to want to continue with his musical talent.

Interview with Filmmaker Travis Darkow (ELIZABETH)

ELIZABETH played to rave reviews at the September 2019 One Minute & Smartphone Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Travis Darkow: I have been writing, directing, and editing short films since the 7th grade, and had made one other no budget little short before this one. But one night I just really wanted to shoot a new little horror short, so I decided on found footage since it would be the easiest to accomplish with no money, and could be done quickly. I love something about every genre of horror, and it was my first found footage style movie so I was excited that I could create it almost entirely without leaving my house.

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

From writing the short, to filming and editing, it probably took about a week or a week and a half to complete.

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

Dark and Playful.

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

The biggest obstacle I faced was probably the bathroom/emergency exit door scenes, which I shot at my work, while I was on the clock. The other would be having to move my dog around between rooms in my house while I shot all the interiors so he was never seen.

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

I was pretty nervous when I first clicked on the video, but once one of the audience members said that three different parts of my film sent a shiver up his spine, I knew it was going to be alright. It was amazing hearing how receptive the audience was to my little horror film, and hearing what they liked about it, and that the little bits of humor were picked up on the way I intended them to be.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I initially came up with the amateur ghost hunter angle as a format that would fit the style I wanted to shoot perfectly, and then the whole backstory about Elizabeth Whitmore murdering her family just flowed pretty naturally from there.

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

As big of a horror fan as I am now, the films I have seen the most in my life would either have to be The Nightmare Before Christmas or The Sandlot. I watched them religiously when I was younger, and never just stopped.

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

I absolutely love FilmFreeway. It’s so user friendly and easy to navigate and work on, I don’t know where my filmmaking would be if I hadn’t found this platform.

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

It’s tough to say, but it would either have to be Mr. Chainsaw by Alkaline Trio, or anything by Angels and Airwaves.

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

Since I completed Elizabeth in 2017, I have written and directed 14 short films, 2 features, and 7 horror screenplays. My first feature is called Goodbye Tomorrow, and is a horror/sci-fi mindbender about a man who is being cloned and used to test mind control drugs by this shady group within the government that worships this interdimensional being that they call the Dissimulator. Yeah it’s a lot. The feature I just more recently finished is called Bunny Boy, and follows a mute as he wanders around his town that never fully recovered from a tornado, and some of the other odd residents that still call it home. It’s my fan film/love letter to a movie called Gummo that was written and directed by Harmony Korine in 1997.

Interview with Filmmaker Yangfang (Frances) Chen (NINA SAIZA)

NINA SAIZA played to rave reviews at the October 2019 Female FEEDBACK Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Yangfang (Frances) Chen: I remember how confused I was when I first encountered the dark side of the world after I became a teenager, so I always want to make a short film to illustrate my feelings of becoming “mature”. This short film is about innocence, violence, and perception. People are more complicated than they appear and they’re not good or bad. They’re just people.

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

It took about half month to make this short film.

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

Complicated
People.

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

The biggest obstacle I faced was filming the abuse scene. It was difficult because I have never actually seen someone abused, so I worked with all of my actors to build a mood and choreographed violence in order to build up the scene that made it into the final cut of the film.

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

My initial reaction was happy. I was glad that my 6-minute short film made my audience have such strong emotional reaction, and they all understood what I am trying to say in this story.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I always want to make a short film about teenagers’ confusion over the world. When I was a little kid, I did not undertand adults at all. The piano teacher in the story is responsible to teach the girl to play piano but ends up teaching her a life lesson about adulthood. I thought it would be interesting to use teacher/student dynamic to show the complexity of humans and the loss of innocence.

What film have you seen the most in your life?

I like drama movies. Dog Day Afternoon is the film I have seen the most in my life.

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

I really like FilmFreeway. I think it makes the submission process easier for filmmakers to submit their work to festivals.

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

Imagine Dragons’s Believer. I love Imagine Dragons.

What is next for you? A new film?

I am currently studying at a film school. I will be involved in short film productions possibly next year. This year, I want to mainly focus on my education.

nina_saiza_movie_poster

Interview with Filmmaker Francis Galluppi (HIGH DESERT HELL)

HIGH DESERT HELL was the winner of BEST PERFORMANCES at the October 2019 Horror FEEDBACK Film Festival in October.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Francis Galluppi: We actually had the location first. The house belongs to one of my best friends grandparents and I had been wanting to shoot there for a while. I always wanted to make something that looked like the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” so this was my opportunity to do so.

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

Probably a year from the time I started writing to the time I finished post production.

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

Desert Hell

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

The cars. They never worked. We were so behind schedule because we couldn’t get the cars to start 90% of the time.

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

I wish I could’ve been there to help answer some of the questions but it felt amazing to watch the audience put it together. Especially to hear people’s own interpretation of certain things.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I wrote a really short version of this story and when we went to scout the location and figure out all the blocking, there was this van parked outside of a restaurant we were eating at that said “The Apocalypse is coming. Repent or burn in hell”. That was pretty shocking and sort of inspired me to write something a little longer with more religious subtext.

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

I think I watched The Goonies everyday growing up. It was probably one of the 20 movies they had to rent for free at the library so I always would pick that one out.

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

It’s so simple. I love it.

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

Tony Sly “International You Day”. It was the song my wife and I picked for the first dance at our wedding.

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

I just finished post on another short filmed called “The Gemini Project”. That should be going through the film festival circuit next year. I’m working on a feature film now that is scheduled to shoot June 2020.

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