Interview with Producer David E. M. Maire (THE HOBBYIST)

THE HOBBYIST was the winner of BEST PERFORMANCES at the November 2018 Thriller/Suspense Festival in Toronto.

  1. What motivated you to make this film?

This film was a requisite graduate thesis project for George Vatistas at the School of Visual Arts, which is quite a motivation in and of itself. This story was chosen because George’s previous short film had also been an adaption of a Fredric Brown story, and he wanted to continue working with that same source material. On my end, I found George’s passion infectious, and thought the piece had great story and aesthetic potential for the silver screen.

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

George would have started researching and writing the first drafts in the Fall of 2015. Through SVA, I was able to meet George and was brought on in December 2015. Pre-production lasted about three months, as we shot in March 2016, and completed post in the Fall of 2016. From there, it was sent off to festivals for consideration, and we started screening for audience’s world over in Winter of 2017. So about 1.5 years from concept to screening.

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

Timeless wisdom.

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

Hands down, the biggest obstacle was finding and locking an aesthetically and budgetarily appropriate location. This usurped the vast majority of our time during pre-production, and we visited dozens of tentative stores, shop fronts, basements, back rooms, but to no avail. In this time, I kept my grandparents informed of the project I was producing, and the location I was spending so much time hunting for. Slowly, I was able to get them accustomed to the idea that we may need to film in their basement. This concept was not greeted lightly at first, but after two months of reassurances, I was able to wear them down, and we got to shoot in their basement! This freed up enough funds to let us rent out a small herbalist’s boutique for an evening to double as our character’s apothecary.

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

First thing I did was share the URL with my parents hahaha It was thrilling to watch, and pinned a huge grin on my face. The audience was very kind, and I was quite happy they enjoyed the concept and positive message so much.

Watch Audience FEEDBACK Video: 

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

This is a question for Fredric Brown, as we adapted our short film from a 1961 short story of his by the same title!

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

Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games”, specifically his own Americanized remake, over 4 dozen times.

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

I appreciate the simplicity of the platform – it feels much more user friendly than WithoutABox ever did. Yet, I think there is a lot of room for improvement. The simplicity seems to allow these ‘fake’ festivals to emerge, which charge ridiculous submission fees without any proof that the projects will be considered, let alone screen to a real audience. With over 7000 festival listings, there is an argument that the filmmaker should do more research into the festival’s they’re spending their money on, but FilmFreeway is absolutely complicit in providing a platform that allows predatory behavior, especially if they do not have a system of checks and balances in place to catch swindlers and protect filmmakers (that being said, I’m not very familiar with the background checks FilmFreeway performs when new festivals are trying to sign up). Also, I think their search engine algorithms need an overhaul. With such an extensive festival library, one would also expect their search options to be well curated, but instead they are quite limited, to such as degree that I’m often unable to find results for even basic word matches. My last gripe with FilmFreeway is about peer review system, which I find more inhibitive than it is probably intended to be, and I don’t believe it should be used, let alone exist, as our business is one of art and subjectivity, rather than one in which a simple service is fulfilling a demand. This is definitely a subject I’m passionate about, and I could go on for pages, but will refrain myself. To close off this diatribe though, I must mention that WithoutABox leaving the market absolutely makes FilmFreeway the best submission tool at a filmmaker’s disposal, but there are plenty of other platforms to check out that offer competitive submission pricing, including but not limited to FestHome, ReelPort, and ClickForFestivals.

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

Impossible to make an educated guess, so instead I’ll say that the album I’ve listened to the most times in my life is probably Linkin Park’s “Hybrid Theory”.

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

Following “The Hobbyist”, I produced “Mariposas” for director Adrian Carey (who happened to have edited ‘The Hobbyist”) which shot in the Summer of 2016, and hit the festival circuit about a year later, where it is still making the rounds, having accumulating over 70 Official Selections so far, including from Dances With Films, Orlando Film Festival, and The Art of Brooklyn Film Festival. This 3minute super short film is also an adaptation, this time from Argentinean author Samanta Shweblin’s short story by the same title. The story lives in magic realism, following a boastful father who prattles on superficially about his daughter to another parent in the school pick up line, but is unable to perceive her when it matters most.

The most recent short film I’ve produced is ‘My Daughter Yoshiko‘, which follows a Japanese mother coming to terms with her daughter’s Autism diagnosis. This story is based on true events, and we successfully crowdfunded the majority of the budget. Writer + Director Brian Blum’s last film “Blood & Water” was BAFTA nominated, so we have high hopes for this short film on the festival circuit, and are actively waiting to hear back from top tier festivals as to where we will hold our World and International Premieres!


Interview with Filmmaker Gonzaga Manso (EDEN HOSTEL)

EDEN HOSTEL was the winner of BEST FILM at the January 2018 Comedy FEEDBACK Film Festival. 

Get to know the director of the film: 

  What motivated you to make this film?

I suppose it was loneliness . When I was 18 I wasn’t very sure about who I really was and often felt like I didn’t belong. In fact everything was OK, it was actually going better than what most teenagers could expect… and, nevertheless, I often felt lonely. Unconnected. Based on that feeling and on a conversation I had about the subject with my then-girlfriend, I wrote this short film.

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

It took us approximately one year. I spent the first three months writing on my own and developing the idea, then we spent about two months preproducing it, 4 days shooting it and about 7 months post-producing it. The postproduction took us way too long because we didn’t have a proper budget and we had to ask for many favors… it was not the best workflow ever.

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

I would do it badly. Just kidding, maybe: holy loneliness? I don’t know

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

Actually it was a financial obstacle: finding the way to produce it with very little money.

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

My initial reaction was to smile like a child. I enjoyed so much watching the different points of view about the short film and its characters. It was an amazing experience to see all those people talking and reflecting about our shortfilm. I loved it. Thank you so much. I always learn a lot about my own film when I talk to the audience.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

What film have you seen the most in your life?

Fight club

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

Actually, Ismael Martin and his team handle the distribution of our short film, so we didn’t get to do this ourselves.

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

No idea, I’m always switching between different genres.
I played on a rock band for 10 years, so probably one of our earliest songs… we were rehearsing them nonstop for years.

What is next for you? A new film?

I’m a photographer too, and right now we are developing a new series of photographies. We also have a second short-film, Fortune-teller, which I hope Ismael has submitted to your festival, or will do so when you open for submissions. We are also starting to write the script of a feature length film, that project really excites me.




Interview with 1st AD John McKeown (50/50, Albert Nobbs)

The role of an Assistant Director – 1st AD on a film includes tracking daily progress against the filming production schedule, arranging logistics, preparing daily call sheets, checking cast and crew, and maintaining order on the set. 

John McKeown has worked in the AD department, mainly as a 1st AD, on over 40+ productions in the last 20 years. He is a fountain of knowledge, which is evident when reading this interview.

jack_1stad.jpgInterview with John McKeown:

Matthew Toffolo: In your 20+ year career, do you have a favorite and/or memorable experience?

John McKeown: Those 20+ years went by in a flash!

I’ve seen a lot of sunrises and sunsets around the world and I have my job to thank for that.

Shooting in India was a truly memorable experience. It’s a place I hope to return to.

I’ve been lucky enough to work on action movies, dramas, comedies and most things in between.

Traveling to distant countries, seeing behind the scenes of cities, places and other peoples lives is a real privilege.

When I really think about it the thing that I value the most is the people I’ve worked with, both in front of and behind the camera. Most of my closest friends are people I have worked with. Spending your working life surrounded by people who are enthusiastic and talented is a real blessing and not to be taken for granted.

MT: In a typical Hollywood production, how many weeks before shooting does the 1st AD come aboard the film?

JMK: It varies. Depending on the project the AD can be in prep for many months or as little as 3 weeks.

I usually start a couple of weeks after the director and a week or two before the DP.


MT: When setting the schedule for the production, what is the fine line between what is most logical and cost saving to what schedule has the best chance to make the best film?

Knowing when you can economize on a given scene or shooting day in order to allocate more resources to another part of the script is what the schedule is all about.

Achieving that delicate balance is the skill of a good AD. Talking to the director about what is vital to their story telling process and what they are most passionate about is the starting point of prep for me.

Working closely with the director and producers to bridge the gap that sometimes exists is a big part of the AD’s job.

I want to go into day one of shooting with a schedule that the director, the producers and I agree gives us the best opportunity to enter post production feeling great about what we got during the shoot.

MT: What are the key qualities to being a great 1st AD?

JMK: You’d have to ask one!

I can tell you that the qualities I look for in a 2nd AD apply to the 1st AD as well.

– A calm unflappable personality under extreme pressure
– Real attention to detail
– The ability to plan ahead and think on your feet if the plan falls apart
– The grit to do a great job when they are sick / exhausted / just had their car stolen / got yelled at by someone above the line or any number of other things that would put a regular person off their game
– Sense of humor – essential!

MT: How does the 1st AD gain the respect of the crew on the first day to set the tone of the production?

JMK: I try to set the tone during prep and at the production meeting.

I treat everyone with respect and I expect them to do the same.

On the first day at the safety meeting I make it clear that we are a team, that everyone needs to play their part and that I am always available to any member of the crew who needs me.

I make the assumption that they are there to do the best job they can.

In the rare case that we hit a speed bump because someone either can’t or won’t deliver what is expected of them I try to resolve the situation in private away from the set.

MT: Is there is a key difference when you’re a 1st AD on productions of an action film in comparison to a drama?

JMK: In large action sequences it is much more about logistics, safety and planning with the stunt team and special FX crew.

Often the angles are story boarded and detailed shot lists are created and then scheduled.

Running the set is always about making sure that everyone knows what’s happening right now and then what is happening next up.

It’s never more essential than when shooting potentially dangerous action.

Drama is a different discipline. Creating the right environment on the set for the cast to work with the director is the top priority.

Dramatic scenes can seem simple – two people in a room? What could go wrong? A surprising amount!

I try to remove all of the distractions from the set so that the director can work with the cast and get the best performances.

A combination of intense drama and extreme stunts? That’s when it gets really interesting!

MT: If the day or entire schedule goes into overtime, does the 1st AD carry the most blame?

JMK: Only if he/she is the cause of the overtime!

There is a lot the AD can do to make sure that things run efficiently.

Proper planning in prep is essential (The 3 Ps!).

Having a plan B, C and on some days plan D is also something an experienced AD is used to.

All that being said there are some things that you can never predict. Weather can be forecast but change in a moment, a cast or crew member can have a bad day for any number of reasons, equipment can fail etc.

My personal rule is this.

If something happens (however unlikely it was to occur) that I could in any way have expected, predicted or prevented then I carry the blame. If there was no way to know ahead of time that disaster would strike then I accept the new deal and do everything I can to move past it and get us back on track – the expression “It’s not my fault but it is my problem” comes into play here. The trick is knowing the difference!

MT: What is a director mostly looking for in a 1st AD?

JMK: Very much depends on the director.

Some want a drill sergeant, some want a very low profile AD. Most want a combination of skills and experience that the AD can bring to the ever changing circumstances on a set.

I always talk to a director when we first meet and ask them how they like the set to run. In my experience a good AD is really a chameleon, drill sergeant, advisor, morale booster on the tough days. Most of all I think the AD is there to get whatever the director sees in their head onto the screen.

jack1stad3.jpgMT: What is a 1st AD mainly looking for in a director?

JMK: For me it’s collaboration.

The best experiences I have had are when the director the DP and the AD are all in sync and pulling for the same goal.

Sometimes the director and the DP are a creative team and see the AD and indeed “production” as a barrier to getting their vision made.

This is really unfortunate but it is understandable.

A director I love once told me that he came to work everyday with a “bucket of diamonds” that were his ideas for how to shoot that days work. He told me that at the end of the day if all his diamonds had been lost (killed by production in his view) and all he had left was the handle of the bucket he considered that a good day!

The best directors include all the key departments in the plan and the end result is always better. I think the secret to success is to hire smart motivated people in the key crew positions and then let them really do what they are best at.
As a director you have the final say as to whether an idea brought to you is in the movie but having a whole team of talented people offer up ideas is a gold mine of opportunities.

MT: Did you have a 1st AD mentor?

JMK: I was lucky enough to have two. Nael Abbas & Jon Older. Both top AD’s in the UK and the two people who put me on the right path at the start of my career.

Nael gave me my first break and got me into TV. I worked as a PA and then 2nd 2nd for both Nael & Jon.

I moved my way up to 2nd AD working for both of them on multiple projects. Jon Older gave me my very first job as a 1st AD. He was moving up to direct and asked me to run the set for him. I’m very grateful to them both.

MT: Besides the films you’ve worked on, what movie have you seen the most in your life?

JMK: Jaws. I pray they never remake it as it is the perfect film.

Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Tips to hiring the best crew members for your film


Job Hiring Your Production Crew – When hiring your CREW, first and foremost what you’re looking for is other leaders. People who will take their position and own it – make themselves the LEADER of that job. This is a collaborative medium. Everyone can pour themselves into the film, no matter which position they have, and just plain make the film better.

If everyone on your set works that much harder, and believes in the project with their inner soul, then you have the makings of a great film. In previous films I’ve learned what not when hiring a crew.

As the Producer and/or Director, you are the LEADER of the film. You have to make tough decisions. Hiring Your Crew is the first, and sometimes the toughest, decision you have to make.

I’ve learned two major hiring mistakes in the past:

1) DO NOT hire someone who thinks they are doing you a favor.

If you’re a first-time filmmaker or you are just beginning, you may tend to want to hire a DP, for example, with loads of experience. That is a smart decision, no question, but the danger is that they might think they are just helping you out by coming on board. What happens when they are not emotionally linked to the project? They are there to help out, not to become a part of the overall team.

If you hire someone with a great resume of prior experience, no matter if they are an actor, editor, sound designer, etc., make sure there is an equal partnership in your relationship, and that you are both working with each other because of this great project you have, and for no other reason.

Hiring someone who’s doing you a favor WILL ALWAYS end badly. Every relationship you start has to begin on equal footing.

Same goes for the other way around. DO NOT hire someone that YOU want to do a favor for. It sounds like a nice thing to do, hiring a family member, friend of the girlfriend, etc…BUT nine times out of
10 it never ends well. And these are the people you have a hard time firing, too.

2) DO NOT hire your friend because they are your friend

The film is the ego of the project. Everything must be done for the sake of making the best film possible. And that includes hire the best person for each job.

We all tend to want to hire people that make us the most comfortable, right away. The people we already know, and don’t have to go through the “getting to know you” stage of the relationship. But are they the best person for the job? Is there someone better you can find with the means you have?

This is your film. Your mission is to make the best film, and sometimes making the hard decisions about whom you bring on will give you the best film.

When HIRING YOUR CREW, they have to pass the TEST. A good measure is if they can answer these THREE QUESTIONS with a PERFECT SCORE:

1) Do they have INTEGRITY?

-Do they tell the truth, keep their word, take responsibility for past actions, admit mistakes, and fix them?
-You can rely on their reputation in the field and their reference checks (always ask for references, even for freebie films). Reference checks of course aren’t infallible. So ask yourself what YOUR INNER GUT says. When you’re shooting a film, you’re going to have to rely on your instincts a lot, so when hiring your crew you’ll get some good practice.
-Even if their resumes, reputation and reference checks are great, if your instinct feels something is off, then trust your instinct.


-They understand the practical means of their position, while also being creatively unique. And they understand how to be a leader, too, and bring other smart people to the project for you.

-Take a look at their reels and see if there’s something there that will make you KNOW that they can do your project.
-They understand that intelligence for their craft also means showing up on time, showing up prepared and ready for a long-but-insightful-and-meaningful day. And they treat everyone else on the crew with respect for their jobs, and offer kindness and support.

3) Are they MATURE?

-You can be mature or immature at any age.
-You can see that a person has grown up when they can withstand the heat, handle stress and setbacks, and enjoy success with humility. Bottom line: They respect the emotions of others.


Overall, to build an effective team, as a leader you know that, in order to meet and exceed your goals, you need help from the best. What I try to do is always hire people that are smarter than me.

And this is never about MONEY. Sometimes you have no money, sometimes you have some, sometimes you have a lot. Of course you can’t hire Tom Cruise to act in your film if you don’t have any money, but there is always someone out there, no matter what your budget is, who can do a great job.

The less money you have, the more you have to search, but there is always a great hire out there. NEVER SETTLE!!

Now that you’ve hired the best crew, it’s your job to lead them to victory.

* * * * *

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