Interview with Filmmaker Susanne Serres (ZAYA)

ZAYA was the winner of BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY at the November 2018 LGBT Feedback Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Susanne Serres: What motivates me to do this movie is my own experience as a queer black woman who has to do her coming out to her family.

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

Ssince the very beginning of the idea, it took me 1 year and a half. The shooting was made in three full days. The post prod in 2 months.

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

Love Wins.

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

The dance scenes were hard to pick because we had so many choices of good materials. It was hard to choose sometimes.

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

I was very moved by them. It was heartwarming to watch. I want to thank everyone who watch the short film and commented on it.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I wanted to combine contemporary dance and a coming out story because I felt the need to be represented into a movie and because I am a big fan of dancing even though I’m not a dancer mysel.

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

C.R.A.Z.Y. by Jean-Marc Vallée

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

It’s an amazing platform to showcase movies because it’s user friendly.

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

Cocorosie – Werewolf

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

I am currently in the process of submiting ZAYA the full length version of this movie.

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Interview with Film Creator Charles Baran (PELICAN)

PELICAN was the winner of BEST MUSIC at the November 2018 LGBT Feedback Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Charles Baran: When I first heard Bryce Kulak’s story song PELICAN – I knew right away that this song had to have a visual experience. The lyrics are just too wonderful and fantastic and seeing the images come to life was basically my motivation. The trick would be how to visually tell the story given the limitations of not using a real Pelican and a real Elephant.

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

We worked on the concept, pre-production, two days shoot, and post production for over a period of seven months.

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

Magical Journey

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

Having the animation feel like a natural part of the story and not something that comes out of the blue.

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

So delighted that they enjoyed the casting, our commitment to telling the story, the animation and the music! Seeing the smiling faces on the feedback video reaffirms my belief that whimsical entertainment can lighten our burdens a little.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I thought long and hard about how we were going to portray the “Pelican”. Once I had settled on the East Village of New York as a location, I then came up with the idea of having a Drag Queen carry a handbag with a fantastic Pelican appliqué on it and the appliqué would come to life and interact with the protagonist of the film, me.

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

John Water’s Female Trouble. I must have watched that film 100 times and know all the dialogue by heart. Divine was a real inspiration for me.

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

It think it’s great and easy to use. Plus I wouldn’t know how to contact these festivals otherwise.

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

Haha. That’s a good one. I listen to a lot of music so it’s always changing. If I had to pick one I’d say Phoebe Snow’s Poetry Man or Bette Midler’s version of Skylark. But I love new stuff too, like Cardi B, Brandi Carlile and Lana Del Rey.

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

Yes, I’m in a new Pilot called “Yes, Mistress” and I just played the Referee in the new series Godfather of Harlem. That was fun. It was a recreation of the legendary 1963 Cassius Clay and Doug Jones fight at Madison Square Garden. The series premieres in 2019 and stars Forest Whitaker and Chazz Palminteri.

Interview with Screenwriter Kate Whitehead (SKATE NIGHT)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Kate Whitehead: It is about an edgy, agoraphobic, nerd-girl who tries to make the transition from virtual to in-person dating while keeping her bodacious personality intact.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Comedy, Romance.

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

This is a script that was written to be fun and inexpensive to shoot. On a shoestring budget, the car scene could be adapted to bicycles or speed walking and the whole thing could probably be shot in two locations. There are no expensive props, costumes, or special effects.

It also gives a lot of leeway to the production team as every character can easily be played by any gender without having to change the script apart from pronouns.

It’s short, funny, and leaves the audience feeling good. It’s a small reprieve from an ever darkening world, as far as I’m concerned.

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

Nerd Love.

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

Napoleon Dynamite.

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

About a year (off and on).

7. How many stories have you written?

About 30.

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

I’d have to say Master of Puppets by Metallica. My friend is a DJ and spun at my birthday party. After the party was over he said, “ You know, that’s the first time I have ever played MOP all the way through. Usually I throw it on for maybe a minute for the rockers in the crowd, but tonight there were people on the dancefloor seriously head banging for 8 straight minutes. I was afraid to turn it off. Afraid for my life, really.”

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

I don’t usually write comedies. One time I got ‘romantic comedy’ in a themed writing competition and I almost barfed/dropped out. But I persevered and, although the story I wrote for that competition is not the inspiration for this screenplay, it did illustrate to me that there is a genre of comedy/romance that I can enjoy. Nerd Love.

My partner, who is plagued with worry about the creep-fests I usually produce, was ecstatic when I wrote Skate Night. “Now THAT’s a good story!” they said. I think they were relieved that there were moments of my life that were not spent with my toe dipped into a puddle of dark hell.

So I would have to say that my greatest challenge writing this screenplay was stopping myself from having any of the characters meet a sudden, unexpected demise. I managed to keep it light! Go me!


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

Apart from rocking on forever? Trying to live in a way that includes everyone, even the people I would like to tell to go stuff it. I am also passionate about nature and letting it be.

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

It’s a great tool for finding places to submit that you might otherwise never have known about. I found this festival by cruising the site (even though I actually live in Toronto and might have been expected to have already have discovered it). It saves a lot of headaches about multiple forms and downloads. In the end I think that I submit to more places because of the site.

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

I entered the festival because it was local (I am from Toronto) and inclusive. Things are changing but I feel like whenever you write something that features diversity in gender or sexuality, readers pigeon hole you as “being political” as opposed to focusing on the story. I felt that a lot of that could be skipped by having my script read by folks who wouldn’t spend the whole time wondering what the characters did in bed. I guess that’s a bad sign for a romantic comedy but, like I said, I am writing out of genre here. Also everything I write is sideways political so I should probably just accept that.

The feedback was great. The reader obviously took the time to read and understand my story. The commentary showed me that I needed another scene and so I wrote it and the screenplay got a lot better. The risk of writing alone in your room is that the characters are alive in your head but you don’t really know how much of them are alive on the page until a total stranger meets them and tells you all about it.

Watch the Winning Short Script:

Genre: Comedy

Agoraphobic skateboarder Cindy has a life that is rich in avatars but poor in human interaction. When she decides to make the leap to dating live people, everything turns out to be just as chaotic as she had feared.

CAST LIST:

DJ Strangelove: Neil Bennett
Genie: Kevin P. Gabel
Narrator: Charles Gordon
Jolene: Carina Cojeen
Cindy: Amber Copeland
Police Officer: Ryan Singh

Interview with Screenwriter Eddie Baca (LOOK INTO MY EYES)

 Matthew Toffolo: WHAT IS YOUR SCREENPLAY ABOUT?

Eddie Baca: IT’S BASICALLY A LOVE STORY ABOUT A CRIMEAN MUSLIM LIVING IN NYC WHO
MEETS UP WITH AN OLDER SOBER GAY MAN. AN INTENSE JOURNEY IN SELF
DISCOVERY.

2. WHAT GENRES DOES YOUR SCREENPLAY FALL UNDER?

ROMANTIC DRAMA AND COMEDY, LGBT, THRILLER, MYSTERY, SOCIAL.

3. WHY SHOULD THIS SCREENPLAY BE MADE INTO A MOVIE?

IT TRULY IS AN OUT OF THE BOX STORY. ONE NEVER SEEN OR HEARD BEFORE.

4. HOW WOULD DESCRIBE THIS SCRIPT IN TWO WORDS?

UNPREDICTABLE, PROVOCATIVE.

5. WHAT MOVIE HAVE YOU SEEN THE MOST IN YOUR LIFE?

VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. YOU ASKED.

6. HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING ON THIS SCREENPLAY?

5 YEARS.

7. HOW MANY STORIES HAVE YOU WRITTEN?

STORIES -5. SCRIPTS -1. SHORTS -1. PLAYS -1.

8. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SONG? (OR, WHAT SONG HAVE YOU LISTENED TO THE
MOST TIMES IN YOUR LIFE?)

FAVORITE – HOME BY DIANA ROSS
MOST LISTENED – HELP ME BY JONI MITCHELL

9. WHAT OBSTACLES DID YOU FACE TO FINISH THIS SCREENPLAY?

BECAUSE OF IT’S POLITICALLY SENSITIVE NATURE (A GAY ROMANCE WITH A
MUSLIM) THERE WERE SO MANY TIMES THAT I HESITATED PUTTING IT OUT
THERE. BUT I MET AND TALKED TO THE WRITER\PRODUCER OF MUNICH WHO
TOLD ME HE HAD THE SAME CONCERN WITH HIS STORY BUT WENT AHEAD
WITH IT. IT WAS EXTREMELY WELL RECEIVED. HE ADVISED ME TO DO THE
SAME AND LET THE CARDS FALL WHERE THEY LAY. I HAVE TO SAY THAT I AM
SO SURPRISED THAT IT HAS RECEIVED VARIOUS AWARDS FROM 5 FILM
FESTIVALS FROM AROUND THE WORLD.

10. APART FROM WRITING, WHAT ELSE ARE YOU PASSIONATE ABOUT?

STAYING SOBER AND HELPING OTHERS GET AND MAINTAIN THEIR SOBRIETY.

11. YOU ENTERED YOUR SCREENPLAY VIA FILM FREEWAY. WHAT HAS BEEN
YOUR EXPERIENCE WORKING WITH THE SUBMISSION PLATFORM SITE?

THEY’RE GREAT. THEY HAVE A COMPLETE LISTING OF LGBT FILM FESTIVALS.
ANYTIME I HAVE CONTACTED THEM FOR HELP THEY RESPONDED QUICKLY.

12. WHAT INFLUENCED YOU TO ENTER THE FESTIVAL? WHAT WERE YOUR
FEELINGS ON THE INITIAL FEEDBACK YOU RECEIVED?

I DIDN’T HAVE A PARTICULAR REASON OR OPINION WHEN I FIRST
APPROACHED YOUR FILM FESTIVAL. BUT WHAT I HAVE VALUED THE MOST IS
THE 3 INVALUABLE SCRIPT CRITIQUES THAT I RECEIVED FROM LGBTTFF. THE
CONTINUED RAPPORT AND ADVISE WITH MY SCRIPT HAS MADE IT WHAT IT IS
TODAY.

 

Watch the Winning Short Script Reading:

Genre: Drama

Gay sober military man meets Crimean Muslim taxi driver in NYC.

CAST LIST:

Karim: Twain Ward
Narrator: Elizabeth Rose Morriss
Eddie: Peter Nelson
Henry: John Leung

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Interview with Screenwriter M. V. Montgomery (PUNKER AND PROPHET)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

M. V. Montgomery: Two young women with different backgrounds and talents. Ginny is a gifted singer; Selah is a spiritual leader in-the-making. Both have struggles to overcome: Ginny is a victim of domestic abuse, Selah the victim of a public hate crime. Fortunately, both are there to support each other.

What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Drama, LGBTQ, musical, spiritual.

Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

It speaks directly to a generation just coming of age in Trump’s America, a protest generation that can directly connect to Ginny’s music and be inspired by Selah’s example.

How would you describe this script in two words?

Punker & Prophet. Peace & Resistance. In three words: Peace, Love, & Anarchy.

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

Citizen Kane.

How long have you been working on this screenplay?

About a year. It started off as two scripts, a feature and a short, which I eventually merged.

How many stories have you written?

About a dozen screenplays in the past three years.

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

The songs I was listening to while writing this screenplay included a lot of punk tunes, particularly Gits tunes like “Social Love I,” “Absinthe,” “Whirlwind,” “Bob (Cousin O),” “Second Skin,” and “Seaweed.” The voice I was hearing in my head for Ginny was a blend of Mia Zapata’s (of the Gits) and Amy Ray’s (of the Indigo Girls).

What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

I grow attached to my characters. So I suffered along with Ginny when she was suddenly homeless and on her own. And I knew that going into the final part of the screenplay, Selah was going to have to endure an attack by a white supremacist. That was the hardest scene to write.

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

I have been with the site from the beginning. Andrew and the staff have been very prompt in responding to my queries and suggestions for improving the platform.

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

I liked the idea of having my work read and produced. The initial feedback pointed out the need to introduce Selah’s character earlier in the script put me to work on some formatting issues.

Watch the Winning 1st Scene Screenplay: 

Genre: Drama

Two young LGBTQ women from very different backgrounds form a close bond and help to fight each other’s battles.

CAST LIST:

Heather: Julie C. Sheppard
Ginny: Pearl Ho
Narrator: Elizabeth Rose Morriss
Bill: Peter Nelson
Selah: Katelyn Vanier

Interview with Filmmaker Andrew Hawkins (MASQUERADE)

MASQUERADE was the winner of BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY at the August 2018 LGBT FEEDBACK Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Andrew Hawkins: I was inspired by the true story of the slave couple William and Ellen Craft who escaped in the same fashion. Ellen was light-skinned and posed as a sickly white male, while her husband posed as her slave servant. They miraculously made it to Boston and eventually had to flee to London while slave catchers came after them and threatened their safety in the North. So I wove their story in with a fictional story of a homosexual man living in a time when the word “homosexual” didn’t even exist. As a gay man from Virginia who struggled on a personal level to come out in the 2010s, I was fascinated with the history of gay people in early America. There are only a small handful of scholarly books on this topic, which paint a very bleak existence. I drew a parallel to these two stories to illustrate the intense high stakes of that time. Part of the title “A Story of the Old South” was drawn from the subtitle of Gone With The Wind to wave a flag and say “these stories were part of the Old South too!”

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

This short film originated as a ten minute play I wrote in college in 2006. I revisited the play and had the idea to adapt it into a short film in 2013. My friend, writer Mauricio Mena, helped me with that. In 2013 my team did an indiegogo campaign and then started pre-production in 2014. We shot the film over 4 days in January 2015 in Alexandria, VA. Post-production took about 2 years… I worked with two editors over two years as the vision kept shifting. We premiered the film at the DC Independent Film Festival in February 2017, which was very special since northern VA is my hometown, and the hometown to many involved in the film.

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

Short and surprising.

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

Making this film felt like a series of obstacles, one right after the other. I don’t know if I can pinpoint 1 major one. There were lots of big-little obstacles during production, like below freezing temperatures during the train station shoot. This was my first film, so I guess I could file all of my big obstacles under “first-timer’s learning curve.” It took a long time to prep, and even with all the prep, unexpected things happened on set with actors, set pieces, lighting. You can never prepare for everything. Never. Then in Post, it being my first time, it took several attempts at editing and scoring before I felt like we got it right. And that took quite a bit of time. Patience was key. I look back now and think, geeze it took 2 years for post?? Yep, it sure did. Wow!

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

My initial reaction was “whoa – look at all of those people!!!!” I had a big smile on my face. I was also impressed and touched at the moderator’s clear preparation and ardent support for the film.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I first learned about William and Ellen Craft while reading James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom in 11th grade history class. I highlighted and circled the paragraph ferociously! I was just absolutely floored that they pulled off an escape like this and I knew from that moment I had to make a film about them. The gay aspect of the story evolved as I evolved as a gay person. I drifted more and more into wanting to learn about gay life in these times and researching what Molly houses were, which were secret meeting places for gay men in 18th century England. It wasn’t too long before I drew a correlation between Sam and Ninny’s passing and George’s concealment of his sexuality (another sort of passing). Weaving these two stories together felt very exciting and relevant and urgent, so I went for it.

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

Probably the 1989 Batman or The Little Mermaid.

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

FilmFreeway was delightfully simple and user friendly. The filmmaking process itself is so arduous that it was honestly such a relief to have the application process be such a cinch!

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

Probably a Madonna song… maybe Like A Prayer or Vogue. Big Madonna fan over here.

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

I run a production company with my husband Jeff Marx and we’re currently building a new video project about phone addiction. I won’t say more but it’s totally different than Masquerade and it’s going to be a blast. As for another short film, yes, one day, hopefully soon. I have an idea that’s been cooking for a few months but it’s not ready to come out of the oven yet. I keep telling myself: Patience.

masquerade.jpg

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.

Interview with Filmmakers Nate Lavey, Stephen Vider (A PLACE IN THE CITY)

A PLACE IN THE CITY was the winner of BEST FILM at the July 2018 LGBT FEEDBACK Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

SV: The film was originally produced for an exhibition I curated at the Museum of the City of New York, “AIDS at Home: Art and Everyday Activism,” which looked at the ways activists and artists mobilized home and family in response to HIV/AIDS. From the start, it was important to me that the exhibition extended to the present, to show how HIV/AIDS continues to impact people today and how the themes of the exhibition (caretaking, housing, and family) continue to resonate. Each part of the film looks at one of those themes, through an individual artist/activist and their larger social world: Ted Kerr and What Would an HIV Doula Do?; Wanda Hernandez-Parks and VOCAL NY; and Kia LaBeija and the house ballroom scene.

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

It was about four months from proposal to color corrections.

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

SV: Holding space (a phrase I borrow from What Would an HIV Doula Do? collective member Tamara Oyala-Santiago)

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

Making sure our final cuts of the interviews did justice to activists and artists in the film, who shared so much of themselves and their work with us. And also, keeping Nate from getting run over when he was shooting the long Steadicam takes on the street.

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

I was very moved to hear how the film resonated for audiences outside of New York City, where the film is based and where it was first shown. I was especially grateful for the comments from people working in AIDS services that the film was “warm, welcoming, and energetic,” and that it represented the lives of people impacted by HIV/AIDS in all their complexity, since that was a major goal for us in making the film.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

In terms of form, one source of inspiration for me was Astra Taylor’s 2008 film Examined Life: I really admired how Taylor animated complex ideas simply by walking and talking with philosophers. At the same time, we wanted the film not just to represent individuals but also the larger worlds they traveled in, since community and family are such important parts of both art and activism. The film actually moves very quickly and frequently between interviews and community meetings, protests, and balls, to show how activists and artists move from ideas to action.

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

SV: I think that would have to be Back to the Future, which I watched endlessly as a child on VHS and many more times as an adult. Looking back, I think it may explain how I came to be interested in American history.

NL: Sans Soleil by Chris Marker

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

NL: I have mixed feelings about the platform: it is convenient, fairly straightforward, and—importantly—streamlined. Often administrative work in filmmaking means doing lots of slightly different variations on grants, proposals, pitches and FilmFreeway standardizes some of that for festivals. Unfortunately, it sometimes feels like you’re sending off an application into the unknown and it can be difficult to feel like you’re really making a connection with the folks on the other end.

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

SV: I’ll show my love for Canadian music and say a song that’s been permanently on my playlist for the last eight years: Owen Pallett’s “The Dream of Win and Regine.”

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

SV: I am finishing a book, Queer Belongings: Gender, Sexuality, and the American Home After World War II, for University of Chicago Press, looking at the politics of LGBT home life from 1945 to the present. The exhibition AIDS at Home was based on a chapter of the book looking at HIV/AIDS domestic activism in the 1980s and 90s. I am also a visiting assistant professor in history, museum studies, and gender and sexuality studies at Bryn Mawr College, which has been a wonderful place to keep thinking about public history, social activism, and the politics of everyday life.

NL: I still work for the Museum of the City of New York, but in my free time I’m working on a film project that connects the experiences of recent refugees in a small Quebec City to the experiences of an older group of refugees (Jews fleeing Nazi oppression) who were imprisoned in the same city in the 1940s.

 
a_place_in_the_city.jpg
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.