Interview with Filmmaker Uliana Burykina (ILLUSION)

ILLUSION was the winner of BEST MUSIC & BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY at the January 2020 Drama Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Uliana Burykina: It was my third year studying in University, so as everybody I had to create a film for my final exams. That was the strongest motivation haha πŸ™‚ But after we started to transform the story into script all I was thinking about was how strongly I want to convey the main idea to young people – women and even men my age – who facing the problem of making choice what will they do: build the career or be a family-guy? In my opinion you always have to be honest to yourself no matter what others expect from you. If you want to make a family, so do it. If you want to be a professional – it’s ok. But don’t listen to anybody who tells you can’t get it both. Each is difficult, just remember what you really want and don’t lose yourself.

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

It took almost one year. We started in January 2018 and finished in September.

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

What a difficult question…”spellbinding” and “emotional”, I guess

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

The only serious obstacle was to finish all CG in time. We were out of time, out of hands… our producer and me went more and more crazy every day. So we finished everything just around in a week before the premiere.

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

It was very pleasant to hear people from other continent just talking about our film! And after β€” a bit hard to understand everything they say, but we did it finally πŸ™‚ It was a great experience, and we are proud we were awarded by such honest men and women.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I was inspired by Delpozo fashion short “Winter eclipse”, Andrew Thomas Huang’s “Interstice” and my own thoughts about human masks. In mystic ways they became a story about young woman who got lost in her personas – model and mother.

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

Ohhh… “High heels” and “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”, I think this two.

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

I like FilmFreeway platform. It was my first time I submitted a film so it’s cool that someone created such an easy and understandable way to do this.

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

Elvis Presley – Return to sender and Stevie Nicks – Rhiannon
I never can choose one, you know πŸ™‚

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

Yes, our crew is in the middle of creating a new short film. It’s going to be experimental, based on real stories and very provocative especially for our country.

Interview with Filmmaker Tony Saich (LATE)

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Well, each student in my class had to come up with a concept, which followed with the class voting on which idea would be the film that gets made. Once mine was voted for, I wrote the script. My main motivation was just to finally make a short film before I left college. This was the first script and film I ever made.

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

About a month.

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

First attempt.

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

Essentially the 6 classmates assigned to be involved with the film completely bailed and I was left to do all the prep, scheduling, production design, etc. I am not an organized person so having to handle pretty much every aspect of the film other than the script and directing was very anxiety-inducing and there were quite a few moments I did not think he film would even get shot.

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

Thankfully, my DP came through and did a phenomenal job. There is no way the film would have been a success or even been completed if it wasn’t for his help.
It was very exciting to see people had seen my film! As well as it being nice that the criticisms were nothing new to my own thoughts about the film since its completion. It is always a thrill to see my attempts at screen language successfully come across to an audience.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

My mother did an unnecessary amount of preparation for the unlikely scenario when I was a child so this fear of being abducted always stuck with me. I figured the simplicity of the location and amount of characters would be an attractive attribute to the class and of course the shock value was sure to help.

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

This is hard, probably Boyhood by Richard Linklater or Faces by John Cassavetes. Those are my favorites anyways. Although I did recently just see Uncut Gems in theaters four times!

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

This is all a new world to me, but my experience with the platform has been great thus far! It is very intuitive and easy to navigate and has led to my film getting played for quite a few audiences.

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

This is even harder than the film question. My guess would be West Savannah by Isaiah Rashad.

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

I had toyed around with some ideas for my next short. Once I finally committed to one, I soon realized it would not work as a short and I was too attached to the idea to abandon it. So, to my own delusion, I am going for a feature for my second project. Wish me luck, I will need it. The tagline will go something like this: An aspiring movie director attempts to make a film about a filmmaker making a film about himself making a film.

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 Hadley Hendon (BLESSING)

BLESSING was the winner of BEST FILM at the November 2019 Documentary Short Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Hadley Hendon: I found Al Nour through a program I went to Morocco with, Actuality Media. They do preliminary research into a few organizations and the filmmakers get to pick from there. I chose Al Nour because they focus on helping the lives of women, which I feel very connected to. Al Nour is also a community. All of these women make a product together, travel to and from work together, eat lunch together and generally support each other. Showcasing a strong community is important in the times we’re living in where everyday feels more and more like we’re focusing on the needs of the individual and forgetting we’re a part of a larger community.

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

It took us one month to get a solid rough cut which we screened in Morocco for the women of Al Nour, that cut ran about 12 min long. After we left Morocco my team and I continued to work on it, our DP and editor Erica Moon was able to cut it down to 6 min. From when we left to our final edit was two years later.

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

Inspiring women.

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

My biggest obstacle was working through the guilt I felt interviewing these women. I come from an extreme place of privilege. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, went to college in Chicago and on top of that I am an able bodied woman. I saw the pain in their eyes and heard it in their voices as I asked them tough questions, it doesn’t feel good to make someone to talk about their pain. I also felt like I was being exploitative, using these incredible stories for my own personal gain. It was a tough thing to face. I had moments where I thought, “I’m not cut out for this”. What I had to realize was talking through trauma and pain helps us release, helps us move on. I feel incredibly lucky that these women put their trust in me to tell their stories, to talk through the pain with me.

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

Honestly, I was shocked at how well received it was. I was expecting harsher critique. I had multiple people come up to me after the screening and tell me that Najat’s story inspired them. It made them feel something and they thanked me for sharing her story. That’s all I want as a filmmaker. All the discomfort I felt during the filmmaking process was worth it.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video

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

As previously stated, I didn’t actually find Al Nour or say to myself “I want to make a film about physically disabled women in Morocco.” In fact if you told me I’d ever make something like this, I would’ve called you crazy. What I will say though is my team and I did a first round of preliminary interviews with all the women of Al Nour, we really wanted to pinpoint a strong story and have that guide us through all the good work Al Nour does. Najat, even with her shy demeanor, really stuck out to us. You can feel this strong spirit inside her just bursting with life. From there we knew we wanted to follow her.

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

Embarrassingly, I’m pretty sure it’s the 2007 Diane Keaton, Mandy Moore work of art “Because I Said So”. But if you’re looking for a more cinematic answer I’ll tell you my favorite film is “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, flawless storytelling.

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

FilmFreeway is an incredible resource. Not only is it extremely easy to upload and submit but it’s also a fantastic research tool! Finding fests to attend, networking and submitting has never been easier.

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

Electric Light Orchestra – Telephone Line. I love the drama of it.

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

I’m currently working on producing/directing my first feature film. I also have a few feature length scripts I’m developing! All of these projects are scripted fiction but let me tell you, I am on the edge of my seat waiting for an incredible story to make my next documentary about.

Interview with Filmmaker Hayley Thom (Tony McClean Nepal Trust)

TONY MCCLEAN NEPAL TRUST was the winner of BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY at the October 2019 Female Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Hayley Thom: I was very excited to direct and shoot this film. It was Hannah McClean’s idea tell the story, the story of her brother Tony and the work he started in Nepal before he passed away. Hannah is also the Producer & talent in the film!

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

It was probably about 4-5months, including crafting the idea, travelling, filming and then coming home to edit the story together.

It was a small team, Hannah McClean and Leah Oram were the producers and I shot and edited it all together.

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

Real and hopeful.

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

Good question, it’s always a challenge to create a film in a country like Nepal – it’s hot, there’s the language barrier and you don’t have your usual comforts.

(I did manage to submerge my foot in human poo up to my calf, to the amusement of most of the village who were looking on!)

The logistics of trying to shoot a film in Nepal while finding talent when you’re there on the ground can always be a bit of a challenge. You have to build quick rapport, trust your instincts and keep your eyes open for opportunities.

Coming home at the end of the trip and having hours of footage to look through can also be full on. That initial selecting when you’re trying to work out how it will all come together. With doco style pieces you always have a plan before you go but never know exactly what you’ll be able to get.

We managed to capture everything we needed so we were happy with the outcome.

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

Hearing people over in LA talking about the film that we’re so close to, was really cool and bizarre actually! We appreciated the comments, it was awesome to be part of this festival.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

Hannah McClean came up with the idea to capture the story about the work her family are doing over in Nepal following the passing of her brother Tony 10years ago. Hannah and I also worked closely on the idea and the script in the field and throughout the edit.

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

Ooh I don’t know if I have an answer for this.. I am known for being obsessed with watching trailers though!

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

I loved it actually, I thought it was awesome! So easy to use.

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

I just arrived home last week from India. I was shooting a couple of new films over in New Delhi and Kurnool. One to raise money for a school/orphanage over there and another to do with tourism. I am now getting stuck into editing both of those together.

Interview with Filmmaker Sophie Black (SONGBIRD)

SONGBIRD was the winner of BEST MUSIC at the May 2019 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Sophie Black: Songbird’s writer, Tommy Draper, had the idea in the back of his mind for a while; then he heard Janet Devlin’s cover of The Cure’s ‘Friday I’m In Love’ on Spotify, and because Janet’s story (discovering her voice and her confidence through ‘The X Factor’) was so similar to the story Tommy wanted to tell, he started writing Songbird, and he built his script around her. We were very lucky that Janet agreed to take the lead role in the film!

Tommy told me about his idea for Songbird during a road trip (we were travelling back from a film festival in 2015). As a massive fantasy fan, I literally begged Tommy to give me and my film company, Triskelle Pictures Ltd., the rights to make the film. I think I wrote him a massive ‘pitch email’ as well! I think the story’s quite unique: it’s tonally similar to The Little Mermaid and other classic fairytales, but it’s set in the modern-day world of indie music, so that makes it really special.

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

After completing the first draft of the script in Autumn 2015, we were then shortlisted for Creative England’s iShorts scheme in January 2016. Although Songbird didn’t progress any further with that scheme, it gave us confidence in the fact that the project had legs – so we brought producer Laura C. Cann on board, and vowed to make the film in any way possible. We then had two very successful crowdfunding campaigns, and shot the film in August 2016. Songbird was in post-production for just over a year (partly because of the many incredible VFX shots we needed for the film), and was finally completed in November 2017, before we started submitting it to film festivals. So, between Autumn 2015 and now, it’s been a big commitment for all of us!

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

Voice discovery. I would say ‘magical journey’, but that might be too generic. Songbird is about finding your voice, in more ways than one, so ‘voice discovery’ it is!

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

Funnily enough, it was the weather! We had every type of weather thrown at us during the shoot, starting with scorching heat (a lot of the crew got sunburnt in the process!), and then ending with a torrential thunderstorm on the final day of filming. We were shooting the film’s ultimate battle scene at the time; it was Scene 17 in the script, and those two words strike fear into the crew’s hearts even now, because the weather was so severe that day.

We were filming in the woods, and it rained constantly between 6am and about 5pm: our set flooded, things threatened to blow away, the cast and their costumes kept getting soaked, and we feared for the camera kit. I actually had to cut the scene in half in order to get everyone off location quicker, but you can’t tell when you watch the film – annoyingly, the rain looks kind of beautiful in the final footage!

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

We’re always a bit nervous when people watch our films, because we never know how they are going to react. We always hope that they’ll like it. But my crew and I were really grateful for the kind of words of your audience, and we’re so glad that they enjoyed watching the film. Songbird’s music has been popular throughout its festival run (it won two awards before you kindly gave the film ‘Best Music’), so we were half expecting that your audience would enjoy that element of the film, but we were really touched by their comments about the film’s editing and its general aura as well.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

See question one.

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

My favourite films are actually the ones I watch the least. The ‘Lord of The Rings’ trilogy made me want to make films in the first place, but I’ve probably only watched each film twice – I like those films to stick in the back of my mind like fond memories, so that they never grow old in the face of modern technology. That way they can stay perfect forever.

There are a lot of indie films I’ve watched multiple times – films like ‘500 Days of Summer’, ‘Breakfast Club’, ‘Empire Records’ etc are always great for a bit of easy viewing. I also used to watch ‘American Beauty’ every time I directed a film, usually the day before the shoot, to inspire me – and I watch ‘Stealing Beauty’ every summer, so that I can daydream about the Italian weather (it’s currently raining here in England, even though it’s June!)

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

I think it’s great. The layout is very user-friendly, and it’s great to have everything available to you in one place. The built-in press-kit function is also really useful; you know your film is going to be presented well to festivals, from the get-go. I’ve used other platforms in the past, but I can’t really fault Film Freeway (apart from the fact that there’s a few lower-quality festivals on there, but you get that everywhere).

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

It depends on my mood and what I’m doing at the time. I listen to music every day, and every time I hear a new song that I love, it gets played on repeat until I know it thoroughly. I’ve just done that with Hayley Heyndrickx’s ‘Untitled God Song’ and Lucy Rose’s ‘Nebraska’, if you need two examples.

Music is incredibly important to me, particularly when I’m in pre-production on a new short film. Tommy Draper and I create a playlist on Spotify or YouTube for every new film we’re writing, and that helps to set the tone and pace for our screenplays. It’s also very informative to try and imagine what kind of music each character would listen to. I then send that music to my actors, very shortly after I cast them, so that they can get in the same headspace.

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

My team and I are in pre-production on two new films right now: a ‘Poison Ivy’ / Batman fan film (because she was a childhood hero of mine), and ‘Lepidopterist’, which is a gentle sci-fi film about a female scientist who smuggles a specimen out of a lab. We’re also in development on a fantasy thriller called ‘The Barn’ (working title), about a young man who abandons his ex-girlfriend when he discovers she is pregnant with his child; he then becomes trapped inside a magical building, which forces him to physically face his fears, with a new threat hidden behind every door. The Barn is one of our biggest projects to date, and it’s one which we’re really excited to get started on – we’re just in need of some extra investment before we can make it happen. You can find out more about all of these projects on the Triskelle Pictures website.

songbird

Interview with Filmmaker Marat Narimanov (BIG BOOOM)

BIG BOOOM played to rave reviews at the June 2019 LA Feedback Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Marat Narimanov: It’s the desire to witness the great events that happened billions years ago and that are still happening right now.

To be able see all those processes in a short period of time and from the distant point of a cool-headed viewer, that’s pretty much unemotional, just witnessing and stating the facts.

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

I’d say pretty long. The idea first came to me about 5 or 8 years before I started to make this film.

I finished all the animation within a year, then I had to wait for about 2 years for the sound design and the music to be accomplished.

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

Fast and nice. Because I wanted to make my film short, fast (in terms of real time to the cinematic time ratio) and nice.

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

Working with the other people on a 0-budget basis is really time-consuming. You should be ready to wait literally for years for some things to get finally done.

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

It was very interesting. Some ideas were fresh. I’ve already had a lot of feedback before from different people, but here the audience had some fresh ideas. It’s very interesting.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

It was after I got equainted with the old Hindu doctrine about the creation of our universe, I noticed it was pretty much like the Big Bang theory. And the Hindu concept is even much more advanced that the now-days scientific one, because it tells that the existence and non-existence (dissolve) phases of universe follow each other infinite number of times. The universe is born from the seed and returns to that seed after the cycle is finished. The grand cycles are called the Brahma’s breath. So, my journey into the world of this animation film started with that ancient Vedic theory and with the word “Breath”. Then I thought it would be nice to combine both theories – ancient and modern in one film.

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

It’s probably Wong Kar Wai’s In the mood for love. It’s still a mystery for me HOW to make a film like that. I can watch it a hundred of times and never get bored.

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

It’s the best platform ever.

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

Probably, it’s Caravan played by Fanfare Ciocarlia. I’m always happy to hear it and occasionally dance while listeting to this song.

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

Yes, it’s alreay done, just have to wait for the sound design and music to get finished πŸ˜‰

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