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.

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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 😉

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Interview with Filmmaker Josh Jackson (A ROOMBA’S TALE)

A ROOMBA’S TALE played to rave reviews at the June 2019 LA FEEDBACK Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Josh Jackson: Honestly, I hadn’t made a film in a year or so, and wanted to MAKE SOME MOVIES DUDEY!!! You ever get that itch? Like it’s pretty damn fun. Artistically fulfilling, all that jazz. So yeah, that’s pretty much why I made it.

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

I had the stupid idea for a Roomba film like……a while ago. I think we shot it in December 2017 and finished it in like……..July 2018? I don’t even know, man. There was a long pause in post-production because I was lazy and working a full time job. Gotta survive before you thrive, my mother always said. Just kidding, she never said that.

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

Dumb idea.

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

My biggest obstacle was probably just getting over myself and making something. You know how, as artists, we can be so precocious about our work and, “oh my, it must be PURRR-fect!” Especially if you haven’t made anything in a while, you feel like your ART represents YOU and your value as a person. It doesn’t. I had to block those annoying voices of self-doubt and focused on having fun.

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

They were all pretty spot on. It was really insightful! The girl who said she didn’t laugh once…man, I gotta work on that. One guy talked for a while about how it could be seen as making light of domestic abuse. I don’t even know how to respond to that.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I wish I had a good answer for this. The honest truth is that I saw my roomba and thought, “what if it were alive?” The end.

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

Gee…maybe Frozen? I freaking love Frozen.

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

FilmFreeway is great because it caused WithoutABox to get its act together. Like seriously, it was so cumbersome to submit a film through that platform. FilmFreeway comes along and is like the cool new kid in your school.

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

Probably worship music. I love Hillsong, Bethel, etc. It calms me down when I’m anxious.

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

I run a webcomic that has almost 100k followers on Instagram called @tubbynugget. We just sold 300 plush toys through a small business that my girlfriend (Jenine Pastores) and I set up. She was also the producer and co-writer on Roomba. So yeah, I’m probably out of the film biz for now. It isn’t very profitable for a guy like mewho makes little indie short films. But webcomics….man, it’s fun. You get to tell stories (which is the reason I fell in love with filmmaking to begin with) but on a smaller, faster scale. When I get back to filmmaking, it’ll probably be a Tubby Nugget movie. So stay tuned. Enough about me though. How are you doing? Are you doing okay? You can message me on Instagram at @joshuadrewthis if you ever just like, I don’t know, wanna talk about life or something. Did I mention I’m really bad at interviews?

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Interview with Filmmaker Colin Gerrard (ELI)

ELI was the winner of BEST FILM at the June LA Feedback Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Colin Gerrard: I believe it has a timeless appeal coming from the moment we all make a decision regarding our own motives, without thinking of the consequences for others.

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

10 months

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

Survival & Equality

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

Having the right cast.

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

Wonderful. Feedback from people who have just seen your work, whether it be constructive or critical, is always helpful in my eyes. Especially when its immediately after they have just viewed the film…then its real and from the heart.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

A friend of mine brought up the original story to my attention. After getting the rights to film it, we went about updating the story to a point we felt that it was more in keeping with current attitudes in society today…although in retrospect, not much ever changes as human beings have the worst track record when it comes to learning from history.

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

Cinema Paradiso

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

Great. They have streamlined the process to a point that its just the click of a button, after the initial setup of your film on their site.

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

10cc’s ‘I’m Not In Love’

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

I have 2 new shorts in the works as well as working on a new script for a series.

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Interview with Filmmaker Myriam Kamel (MY BROTHER)

MY BROTHER played to rave reviews at the April 2019 Los Angeles FEEDBACK Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Myriam Kamel: I definitely wanted to show diversity on the screen. Montreal is such a cultural city, and as beautiful as it is it also comes with its issues. I wanted to portray it on the screen.

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

I thought about this film for about 3 years before writing the first version. Then from writing to the first screening it took about 8 months.

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

Cultural film

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

Casting was the biggest challenge throughout this film. There are not a lot of arabic actors in Montreal and the few I met didn’t correspond much to the characters. Casting was a very long process and I was very lucky to find Hamza and Fayçal.

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

At first I was very very VERY nervous, but after I was relieved. It’s amazing to get that kind of feedback from strangers. I loved that people who had trouble relating to the story or who didn’t understand certain things had the guts to speak out and say it. Too often it feels like people are too scared to say what they think for fear of hurting your feelings, but I know that my work is not perfect and I had an idea of what didn’t come out right with this film. This feedback helped me confirm it and think of what I could have done differently. It was very constructive and I’m very grateful for it.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I knew I wanted to make a film about culture differences. Growing up in Montreal I’ve always felt like I had to behave a certain way inside the house and another when I was out. My beliefs were often challenged and my parents didn’t always understand how it changed me. After discussing it with other people I realized that I wasn’t the only one going through this sort of dilemna where I felt I had to chose between my family and what I wanted, and so I wanted to write about it.

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

In my whole life it would be La Haine by Mathieu Kassovitz, but recently I’ve just watched Divines by Uda Benyamina and I’m in love with it. It’s a sad film, but it’s beautiful, very well-made. I love french cinema.

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

I like that there is such a platform, it definitely eases the submission process and it’s great to have access to so many festivals in one place, but sometimes it does feel like your film is only one in a million. It’s also hard to figure out which festivals are active on FilmFreeway.

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

Like Ships in the Night – Mat Kearney

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

Working on my next short 🙂

Interview with Filmmaker Andre Sitolini (THE COOK AND THE CHEF)

THE COOK AND THE CHEF played to rave reviews at the March 2019 Comedy & Drama Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Andre Sitolini : I wanted to make something very stylistic. I wanted clouds grounded to the horizon and the sky to never be blue.

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

About 5 months of intensive work. The intro alone was a month of work.

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

Sizzling Hot!

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

Having to decide which scenes to cut and which scenes to keep in.

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

Overjoyed! I’m glad everyone liked it!

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

I actually wanted to tell a different message. It was going to be about having more than just passion to be good at something.

Originally the Cook was suppose to lose and learn about not judging the Chef for his apathetic appearance.

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

It’s rare that I’ll watch a film more than once but anything incredibly stylistic and colorful is always something I keep coming back to.

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

It was really great having to make only one portfolio and submitting to multiple festivals. I’m not really the producer type so it help me get into more festivals then I would have bothered.

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

Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha is my favorite album of all time, but for the entire production of my film I limited myself to only listen to songs with an accordion in it.

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

I became an animator to create an animated series about Superheroes, but now I want to adopt it into a comic format!

Interview with Filmmaker Filippo Michele Guarna (MISTER EGG)

MISTER EGG was the winner of BEST FILM at the March 2019 Comedy & Drama Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Filippo Michele Guarna: It was a period of intense philosophical ‘restlessness’ for me; self-inquisition, confusion and doubt – the kind of thoughts that start bugging you when you’re approaching your twenties, I guess. Such a ride can be heavy, so I decided to take it the light way, underlining through comedy the absurdity of existence. Humor really is a superpower, it can change one’s perspective in fascinating ways and peculiarly gifts human life with hale dignity.

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

It took about ten days: I had to deliver a short film to film school, and I was running out of time.

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

This sounds like looking for a title: ‘philosophical egg’.

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

Editing the face of Akuzike Mauluka (Mister Egg) onto the egg forced my to push the boundaries of my basic VFX skills a little further. But the hardest part was probably acknowledging the value of my work while it was coming to life in the final phase of editing; I am very critical of my works, especially when I just finished them. I seem to notice more their weaknesses than their strengths, and with ‘Mister Egg’ that was the case: only various precious external points of view helped me shedding a light on its virtues too. A process which furtherly unfolded through watching the audience feedback video.

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

Some kind of alienation, it seemed surreal to me that they were talking, from a theatre on the other side of the world, about my film on a talking egg. It was an enlightening experience somehow, it was the first time I heard about Mister Egg from someone I don’t personally know. My interior voice reacted something like this: ‘Who are you, ladies and gents? What do you want from me? Why are you saying nice things about my short film I made in my kitchen a couple of misty winters ago? Well, thank you kind strangers!’. I also had a laugh when Paolo Valenti (Paul) was compared to Jon Snow – this often happens with him.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

As I previously mentioned, I had to submit a short film to film school. I was lacking an idea which would satisfy me, and time was running short. I was standing in the kitchen, around midnight, scratching my beardless chin in pursuit of inspiration. Then I looked at the frying pan, love-heartedly thinking about how I ate an egg everyday for breakfast, and not-so-love-heartedly realising how this would have raised my cholesterol levels very quickly. Cholesterol apart, I imagined a philosophical conversation between an ordinary guy and his breakfast’s egg, and was fascinated by such egg’s hypothetical perspective. An interaction which offered me new dialogic ‘toys’ to play with.

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

Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

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

I can’t compare it to past tools of submission, since this was my first experience with festivals. However, I don’t think it can get simpler than that, and this is positive. Upload your work, look for festivals, send it through: it goes straight to the point.

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

Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd.

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

Lately I’ve been writing quite a few short scripts. To be honest, quite a lot short scripts. Too many of them, indeed. By focusing on one of them, in the next months I will dedicate myself to making it come to life. Unfortunately, I lost the habit of eating eggs for breakfast. My cholesterol levels are OK, but I’ll have to seek inspiration elsewhere!