Interview with Filmmaker Kayden Phoenix (PENANCE)

PENANCE played to rave reviews at the January 2019 LGBT Feedback Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Kayden Phoenix: I grew up in a Catholic church, my mom even sang choir. I’m not religious but the church has always been a powerful influence People turn away from their relatives (even their kin sometimes) and friends because of sexual preference and they use the Bible as their reason. Religion has a huge hand in conversion therapy. I’m a believer in freedom of choice- so to see others being persecuted for being themselves is unconstitutional. I made Penance to turn the tables around on the persecutors and to bring awareness about the horrors of conversion therapy. It’s sadly and oddly still allowed in 35 states. You can legally physically and emotionally hurt another to “cure” them from your rigidity.

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

30 mins to write. 2 weeks prep. 1 day shoot.

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

Dark. Twisted.

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

Not letting the church I shot in know the storyline.

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

I was so happy. I listened to the audience during the film- the gasps and shrills were the best- it means they felt it. I loved the feedback- there was a great range of confused, loved, self-interpretation as to their experience with the church, etc.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

Conversion therapy has always gotten me mad, so it wasn’t hard to write the ironic justice side of it.

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

The Lion King

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

I love it. Simple and accessible.

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

Phantom of the Opera “Music of the Night”

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

I’m making a graphic novel, Jalisco, and writing a horror feature.

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Interview with Filmmaker Raghuvir Joshi (YAMAN)

YAMAN was the winner of BEST MUSIC at the Janaury 2019 LGBT Feedback Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Raghuvir Joshi: Yaman was a personal story to begin with. The struggle to separate from my soulmate after having discovered my sexuality was the most excruciating yet rewarding experience of my life . I wrote the film during this time – It was cathartic.

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

It took me about a month and a half to write it. After which I sent it to my producer, Tayyab Madni of Picture Works Australia, who came on board to produce the short. It took roughly 6 months to complete the film once the script was done.

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

Simple but complex.

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

The struggle to be objective to the script as it was immensely personal.

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

Nothing short of overwhelming! When I saw the audience echo and reiterate everything I envisioned and wanted to say through the film, It was the biggest reward 🙂

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

It was my personal journey that inspired the idea for this film.

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

Recently , I have seen ROMA – by Alfonso Cuaron a lot of times. Every frame is a story!

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

FilmFestival is a great platform for filmmakers. Easy to use and offers submissions to a large variety of International Film Festivals, which gave us the freedom to select the Festivals that suited our films theme.

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

I have listened to the Indian classical Raga – Yaman the most times in my life – the emotion that Raga generates is the emotional DNA of my short film.

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

I am in the process of writing the feature script based on my short film, Yaman .

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Interview with Filmmaker Aimiende Negbenebor Sela (UTOPIA)

UTOPIA was the winner of BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY at the January 2019 LGBT Feedback Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Aimiende Negbenebor Sela: I would say what motivated me to make Utopia was my own struggle with race, identity, and self-acceptance.

I am Nigerian (African American) and though I believe this is kind of a taboo subject, it does exist: the idea of the grass being greener on the other side.
Without diving deeply into a subject that cannot be discussed or analyzed in a short amount of time, there does exist that “thing” for a lack of a better word that makes one question, or wonder, if their lives would be better if they were the other…

I read an article a few years back about a civil rights march that several groups of Caucasians citizens were protesting. There was a photo accompanying this article, and in it was a woman holding up a sign that read” you wish you were white.” That’s a strong statement to make. It got me thinking hard about this: do we wish we were white and if we did, under what circumstances? And, it if was possible to be the other under the said circumstance, what would that be like, and so on and so forth. Those unanswerable questions lead to the short film Utopia and the feature-length screenplay that has since followed.

I really believe we all, everyone one of us live very similar lives. Really. We live the same lives, we are just colored differently. So, we should love ourselves and live our truths wholeheartedly. I think it’ll make it a tiny little bit easier to be tolerant when we can see ourselves in others, and love that same self in others because we love that same self in us. Hope that makes sense!

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

— From start to finish, Utopia took about two years to make.

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

— thought-provoking and hopeful.

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

— there were many obstacles that had to be overcome with making this film: from crewing up to getting through each shoot day, and finally completing post-production.

If I had to pick one item to highlight, I think it would be struggling to stay true, or at least as close as possible, to my vision for Utopia given the film’s budget and the fact that I was (still am) relatively new to the industry in Los Angeles. I hadn’t formed a base yet, which really limited my access to resources.

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

— I was in the audience during the screening, so I got to experience/hear the audience reaction first hand, and also via the feedback video, and my initial reaction was “ok.”

Not sure if that’s really a reaction or an acknowledgment…, but it was really good to hear from the people who got what the film was about, as well as from those that didn’t get it and those in the middle.

I really appreciated the gentleman who was touched by the mom reciting The Lord’s Prayer in one of the scenes in the hospital. I was touched by his sharing how that scene was personal for me.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

— I asked the question: under what circumstance can someone live a life like the other they admire, wish they were instead or just imagined was living a better life (however, true or false that belief may be) and I thought a coma! I studied a few coma cases and drew inspiration from them. But, that all came second. The first was two ideas: a black woman wishing she was white, and the fact that loving someone could still get you killed in certain parts of the world (including where I am from, Nigeria) in today’s day and age. Homosexuality is a punishable crime in Uganda.

The story of this beautiful woman, who was attacked for her sexual orientation, ending up in a coma and making herself someone else; someone who in her mind was free to be themselves, living in a part of the world where they could be true to themselves and then waking up and having to make a choice just came to life.

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

— oh, dear. I don’t know. How about I share four of my favorites (I have a ton): The Red Violin, Tsotsi, 12 Angry Men, Midnight in Paris

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 a good platform for filmmakers because you have a large array of film festivals to submit to, some you wouldn’t have known about otherwise, and you can submit projects easily. The downside is also that you have a large array of film festivals to submit to 🙂 Overall though, I am pleased with it.

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

— Everything by Sade.

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

— Yes, a new film called Hermit. It’s a short film about a man dealing with loss.

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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.

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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