Interview with the filmmakers of ‘The Chairman’ short film – Now Available Online

Hello readers, Ruth here! Welcome to another interview edition featuring two Minnesota filmmakers, Frank White (writer/director) and Jason P. Schumacher (producer).

For those of you loyal FC readers, you might be familiar with Jason’s name as we’ve featured him before when I interviewed him for his short film This Is Home, and he’s also the director of Hearts Want which I wrote and directed.

Corporate researchers go behind the back of their mysterious employer to test the telepathic abilities of a traumatized girl and her father.

The Chairman is a retro sci-fi/horror short about the intersection of business, media, and the supernatural, created by Minnesota filmmakers Frank White and Jason P. Schumacher, and featuring an original analog-synthesizer score by UK composer OGRE Sound. Frequently compared to the works of David Cronenberg and Paul Verhoeven, The Chairman is an attempt to dig below the surface of the late 20th Century retro aesthetics currently marbling popular culture, particularly when it comes to the horror genre. Instead of mere nostalgia for the analog era, the 20-minute short film seeks to explore how it underpins a mythology for our digital present.

The Chairman premiered at Cinepocalypse 2018, where it took home awards for best actor and actress. Other awards from its ongoing festival run include best editing and VFX from the 2018 Northern Frights Festival, and best horror short at Motor City Nightmares 2019.

The Chairman is now available on Amazon Prime!

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Interview with Frank White

Q: Where do you get the idea for this film that deals with a telepathic experimentation?

Frank: I’ve always been fascinated by ESP and the paranormal, in spite of being a skeptical person by nature. When Jason convinced me to make a short of my own, I combined that with a roughly sketched thriller I had been working on about a father being forced to watch horrible things happen to his family over CCTV. The evil corporation angle came from yet another unfinished story, so the core of the story is very much a family of orphaned stories. I don’t like to let an interesting idea go to waste.

Director Frank White (center) on set

Q: This is your first time directing. How’s that experience been for you? How has your background as a writer/editor assist you in directing?

Frank: Directing with a full crew is certainly intimidating at first, but we had a talented and enthusiastic bunch of people who made it a great first time experience for me. Plus we got extremely lucky with weather and locations, so I was able to focus on filmmaking rather than solving problems. Having edited narrative shorts before, I was familiar with most of the nuts and bolts of putting a scene together, and since we had a leisurely pre-production phase, I was able to do a great deal of planning for the shots I wanted, while also leaving some room for improvisation when circumstances demand it or a crew member comes up with a great new idea to try. The most helpful thing about being an editor is having some experience with struggling to put scenes together that didn’t get fully shot, and in the end I only gave myself one problematic scene as a director that I had to get creative with to put together properly as an editor.

Q: There’s a particularly intriguing scene in the film involving a bunch of extras in a lake. Would you tell me a bit about shooting that?

Frank: The big lake-ghost tableaux in the middle of The Chairman was a combination of careful planning and fortunate conditions. We had a series of ghost extras for other shots, which gave the make up artists time to get people ready one at a time, and since the ghosts don’t follow the usual laws of filmmaking continuity, we didn’t have to worry about keeping their positions constant between shots. It had been a wet, gloomy day for the shoot, which was ideal for our mood and lighting, and also had the bonus of keeping passersby away from the beach. I had a stockpile of towels and foil blankets on hand to keep people warm, but the water was surprisingly pleasant. (I spent a good portion of the day wading in it myself.)

Once we had all the extras ready, the weather decided to give us a perfect cloudy sky complete with shafts of light, and the camera crew hustled to get the jib ready just in time to get the shot. The hardest part of the shot ended up being keeping the kid ghosts focused, so it did take a couple takes to get everything right, but I couldn’t have asked for a better end result.

Q: There’s a vintage 80s feel to the film, even the grainy texture of the look. Is that deliberate and what’s the reasoning behind it?

Frank: The Chairman has a vague period feel of somewhere around 1990, which is mostly rooted in the movie’s analog media motif. There are a lot of CRT television screens and VHS equipment in the background, and the period look let us have a lot of fun with costumes and production design. ’80s aesthetics are always popular with millennials (and I have a soft spot for them), but we wanted to be a little subtler about it than most retro productions. So rather than loading the script up with references or going way over the top with period costuming, we tried to shoot it more like an ’80s movie, which meant things like using a lot less camera movement than we otherwise might; with the exceptions of one jib and two steadicam shots, everything is shot entirely on tripods. After that, we used color correction, artificial film grain, and an analog synthesizer score to enhance the retro feel.

Jeremy Frandrup and Jessie Scarborough Ghent in ‘The Chairman’

Q: You also wrote the script for this. Was there anything that you had to change for the film that would make it work better cinematically?

Frank: Since I wrote The Chairman from the ground up for myself to film, it was all ready to go from the shooting script. Some dialogue got axed while editing for pacing reasons, but otherwise it’s all on screen as intended. It was quite the journey from the first draft to that shooting script though. I initially wrote without any thought towards budgetary concerns, but fortunately a lot of the stuff that would have been wildly expensive to make (there was a biomechanical monster at one point) was cut out while streamlining and focusing the narrative.


Interview with Jason P. Schumacher

Q: I saw on IMDb this is your 11th short films you’ve produced? What is it about this project that set it apart from the other projects you’ve produced?

Jason: I’d say, the scale and ambition of it. We had to create our own evil corporation and the marketing for two of their products. It is also a period piece with period appropriate locations, costumes, and technology. I’ve done a few period pieces before, but not with this many characters and locations. The biggest difference from previous projects though, is that The Chairman has various supernatural elements that we had to use special effects and cinematic language through editing and camerawork to convey. We had to figure out how we wanted to portray ghosts and psychic energy in the world that that we were creating.

Bianet Diaz in ‘The Chairman’

Q: This film is a horror/sci-fi, are you a big fan of this genre? What’s your favorite sci-fi/horror films?

Jason: I love any good film that makes me feel like I’ve just had an experience. Frank really introduced me to a lot of horror films and directors in college when we were roommates. One of the first movies we probably watched together was John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), which is a masterpiece. It has incredible and disgusting practical effects but it also has equally compelling scenes of characters just being paranoid and suspicious of one another. I’m a huge fan of the Polish horror fairy-tale musical, The Lure (2015). It manages to be this completely weird fusion of things that still hits me on an emotional level. The Orphanage (2007) scares the heck out of me and also manages to be a soul crushing character study.

Frank and I both are excited about this new resurgence of arthouse horror that’s been happening; The Witch, Us, Hereditary, Susperia. We try to go see as many of those together in the theater as we can.

For Sci-Fi, I like a lot of the standards. Robocop, Arrival, Ex-Machina, and The Matrix all come to mind. I’m also a huge fan of the original Twilight Zone. Lately, I’ve been wanting to watch more animated Sci-Fi films because Paprika (2006) might be my actual favorite Sci-Fi film. Iron Giant, Ghost in the Shell, and A Scanner Darkly are also great.

Jessie Scarborough Ghent & James Detmar in ‘The Chairman’

Q: I know you have dealt with casting for most of the films you directed/produced. How’s the casting process go with this one as there’s quite a big ensemble?

Jason: Well, we held a big audition and saw a lot of people! I know a lot of actors in the Minnesota community but I actually didn’t know anyone that we cast before we met them for The Chairman. I’d met Tessa Meath (Samantha) briefly at another casting session and thought she had the most incredible speaking voice. I thought she’d be perfect for the part of Samantha, who’s needs to communicate a lot with few words. James Detmar (Vincent), I’d had seen in another audition where he was playing someone commanding and intimidating. His performance was so effective in that other audition that I was a little nervous reaching out to him, but he’s an incredibly kind and lovely person. All of our cold, cruel baddies in real life, are some of the nicest people around. There’s some very funny behind-the-scenes shots of them smiling and laughing in the abandoned office set, under the menacing lighting. I auditioned Jeremy Frandrup previously for This is Home and really liked him.

Q: You’ve collaborated with Frank quite a bit on short films. How much input do you have in this film in terms of the story?

Jason: Frank has been behind-the-scenes on pretty much all of my films and the other stuff we’ve created at GreyDuck. This was his time to jump in, direct, and lead a project of his own. I like to think my biggest input was just to keep asking him “When are we gonna make this thing?” But the story and script are entirely his creation. Earlier drafts of the script were longer and so we had discussions about what to cut. There was another supernatural experiment that survived many drafts of the script, but ultimately had to be cut because there wasn’t enough time to clarify what it was, without distracting from the main experiment that the story revolves around. Hopefully, in the future, we can expand the world of The Chairman and tell other stories involving Pantheon and their other products, either in a feature film or some kind of mini series.

Q: What kind of challenges did you encounter making this film and how did you overcome them?

Jason: The whole thing was filled with a lot of new challenges. But with how big and ambitious this film was, all the people involved, and all the moving parts, it was actually a joy to make. I thought the biggest challenge was going to be the lake scenes, but because we were so worried about them and planned so carefully, they actually weren’t that bad. The biggest challenge was probably the darn elevator towards the end of the film. There’s a moment where 2 characters exchange some dialogue while leaving the elevator and another character steps in and takes it to the top floor. The building that we used for the Pantheon headquarters was a highly secure building, so we needed someone on staff there to swipe their security badge for every single take. And, course, the elevator doors would shut automatically at just the wrong time. Everyone remained relatively patient and we got through it, but it all took far longer than anyone expected. Beyond fighting with an elevator, I just had to be really prepared and to help clearly communicate Frank’s ambitious vision to everyone involved, so that they knew what we were aiming for and could bring their own skill and artistry to it, to bring it all to life.


Check out The Chairman‘s teaser:


Thanks Frank & Jason for chatting with me!

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Short Film Spotlight: FORGET ME NOT + Q&A with director Nicholas Goulden & producer Angela Godfrey

As a film blogger, I’m so fortunate that I got to ‘meet’ filmmakers (whether virtually or in person) from all over the globe and help champion their work. I first learned about Forget Me Not in early 2017, right when I was I was in crazy pre-production mode working on my own short film Hearts Want. Thankfully I got in touch again with director Nicholas Goulden and producer Angela Godfrey earlier this year and got to see his wonderful, heartfelt short film set during the holiday season in London.

Alone and invisible to the world, a homeless man and the ghost of a little girl discover they are each other’s only hope of finding peace in time for Christmas.

The title of this film is most appropriate as it’s one of those films that will linger in your mind long after you watched it. It also has a very significant meaning given the story revolves around two people who are ‘forgotten’ by people, especially during the hustle bustle of Christmas at a busy London junction.

Renowned Scottish actor James Cosmo played the homeless man Benedict, with Ruby Royle as the little girl Isobel and John Heffernan as a working man who offers Benedict coffee daily. It takes a bit of time to figure out just who the little girl is and why she keeps approaching Benedict, and that’s the point. I feel like the deliberate measured pace is a contrast to the speed of how everything and everyone is moving every day, unaware of what’s happening around us as we’re so focused on ourselves.

There’s such a quiet grace in the way the story is told, with few words spoken. Yet it packs an emotional punch and the scene at the end got me all teared up. I’m not going to give anything away, as I hope one day the film would be available for public view.

The cinematography (by Chris Fergusson) and music (composed by Matthew Slater) is absolutely stunning and adds even more emotional resonance to the overall viewing experience. I adore the story that speaks about themes of hope and caring for those who are most in need around us. Kudos to filmmaker duo, director Nicholas Goulden & producer Angela Godfrey (both of them also wrote the screenplay) for creating such a beautiful film, both thematically and visually speaking.

Q. What’s your background in film? And what made you decide to make Forget Me Not a short film?

Nicholas – I started at the bottom, as a runner, and worked up. I came to the film industry in my mid-twenties with the intention of telling stories that interested me, but first of all I had to learn the craft – and stay alive! While directing, writing and producing independent material, I moved up through the AD department to 1st AD, primarily on films and commercials. This experience has given me a huge wealth of knowledge which I’m able to bring to my directing work.

Regarding making Forget Me Not a short film, I guess the simple answer is we planned it that way. The short film format was perfect for the story that we wanted to tell.

Q. Angela, you’ve been involved in huge studio productions costing hundreds of millions. What’s been the most gratifying thing for you in making something much smaller on a personal level for you?

Angela – I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been involved with lots of high budget film and tv productions and I still very much enjoy being a part of them, but as a Script Supervisor I tend to only be involved in a very small way. So for me, having the chance to build a story that is important to me personally and see it grow right from a tiny seed to where it is now has been incredible.

Q. Forget Me Not is such a beautiful, poignant story. What’s the inspiration for the story? Was there a personal connection for either one of you?

Nicholas – The inspiration really came from the desire to address themes that are not only important to both of us as people but also resonate with a contemporary audience. We all go through times when life is against us and we feel lost and alone – hopeless – so telling a story that addressed different facets of that felt very worthwhile.

Angela – In doing so, we wanted above all to make as well crafted and affecting film as we could that could strike a chord with everyone who watched it. It is also a very visual and sound heavy film with minimal dialogue which means it can be enjoyed by people around the world no matter their age or language.

Q. There’s a magical realism in the story, yet it still very much grounded in the day-to-day reality. Tell me how you balance out those elements in the film, esp. for Nicholas as a director.

Nicholas – Finding that balance was really important and something we worked a lot on. I looked at it very much from the point of view of a real world where magical things happen, rather than a magical world where real things happen, so the emphasis was on a naturalistic approach. It was conceived exactly as you’ve described – grounded in reality with a touch of magic.

A still of James Cosmo as Benedict

Q. Please tell us a bit about the casting for the project, particularly James Cosmo, who’s a pretty well-known character actor even here in the States. I’d also love to hear how John Heffernan come on board.

Angela – As relatively unknown filmmakers it’s very difficult to persuade an actor who is in high demand to come and work on a short film, in the freezing cold in the run up to Christmas, so we were very lucky to have a very talented Casting Director, Rachel Sheridan, on board, who knew both James and John would be perfect for the roles of Benedict and Jack. Having Rachel behind us, helped us approach James and Jack in a professional way so that we could be taken seriously.

Nicholas – For Isobel and Owen, we contacted agents all over the country, looking at hundreds of actors, dozens of submission tapes and ultimately auditioning about thirty actors. It was a long, time-consuming process but totally worth it, bringing us the fabulous Louis and, of course, Ruby.

Forget Me Not‘s John Heffernan gets his mic adjusted by Production Sound Mixer Malcolm Cromie before stepping onto set. Photo credit Daniel D. Moses (www.danielmoses.com)

Q. How many days did it take to shoot the film? Looks like there are mostly night shoots or was it in the wee hours of the morning?

Angela – We shot the film in 3 and a half days. We worked ‘split days’ which means our call time was later than a normal shooting day, allowing us a few hours of daylight at the start of each day and then the rest was shot after nightfall, and we’d wrap by 11pm. Having a child actor as a lead made life harder as we had very strict times that we had to adhere to, so everything was tightly scheduled.

Q. What’s your favorite part of the shoot? Conversely, any memorable on-set snafu you’d like to share?

Nicholas – My favourite part was shooting Benedict taking a bite of the cookie – his performance is delightful and still makes me chuckle. With so many emotion-laden scenes, the shoot was especially intense and that scene was always intended as a lovely moment of levity. James absolutely nailed it.

As for snafus, we had niggles but we were fortunate. Given the time restrictions everything went remarkably smoothly, which is a testament to the level of planning which went into it! But we had our moments – for example we had managed to hire the coffee cart but didn’t have transport to get it across London – the delivery costs would have blown a hole in the budget and we had no driver let alone usable van of our own. In the end, Jonathan, one of our floor runners who had come over by coach and ferry from Utrecht in Holland to be part of the shoot, cycled the thing across London through the freezing rain. It was titanic efforts like that which really held us together.

Q. The location in bustling Hammersmith is almost a character in itself. Tell us a bit about how you choose that location.

Nicholas – Angela and I were familiar with the location prior to the project. The architecture of the flyover has a brutalist beauty which really appealed to us. Also, there is a fascinating contradiction in the fact that it’s thronging with people and traffic practically 24-7 but only because people are trying to get from somewhere else to somewhere else. That makes it quite a lonely, isolating place, and the perfect mise-en-scene for our story.

Forget Me Not‘s DoP Chris Fergusson prepares with actor James Cosmo stand. Photo credit Tom Harberd.

Q. I LOVE the mood and tone of the film, brought to life by the gorgeous cinematography and score. Please tell me a bit about working with DP Chris Fergusson and composer Matthew Slater?

Nicholas – They were both fabulous to work with. We had a good run up as we waited for the right time of year, so we talked extensively with both Chris and Matthew about the mood and tone we wanted for the film to make sure we were on the same page.

Our budget didn’t allow us much shooting time given our ambitions, so with Chris we worked extensively to flesh out a tight shot list which would allow the vision to come to life despite the practical restrictions.

Angela – We spent lots of evenings inspecting the locations. Chris even made digital 3D mock-ups of the location so we could plot camera and actor positions and see what the shots would look like months in advance. This really helped when it came to the shoot because we didn’t have to waste any time on the basics, instead finessing already well thought out shots to tell the story in the most beautiful way possible.

Working with Composer Matthew Slater was incredible from start to finish. He really pushed the boundaries with the score capturing the emotion of the characters and the story perfectly. The recording took place at the infamous Studio One at Abbey Road Studios, conducted by Matthew and performed by the world renowned London Metropolitan Orchestra. We were extremely lucky to have this as it’s pretty much unheard of in the short film world and adds a whole new dimension to the finished film.

Forget Me Not Composer Matthew Slater Conducts the London Metropolitan Orchestra at Studio One Abbey Road. Photo credit Daniel D. Moses.

Both Matthew and Chris were an absolute dream to work with and both gave an incredible amount of time and expertise to the film. We hope Forget Me Not is the first of many!

Q. Lastly, what’s next for both of you? Any feature project that your prod company Keen City is working on?

Angela – We are currently developing a TV show called Lady of the Med which is about an ordinary expat mother, living on the coast of Spain who gets tied up with the local mafia and becomes a spy for the UK government, and a feature film called ‘Grace Escape’, a black comedy about an elderly grandma who wants to die her own way, so escapes her care home intending to jump off the cliff where her husband tragically died many years previous. Both very different to Forget Me Not, yet they deal with family relationships and will be very emotive and hopefully great watching!



Thank you so much Nicholas & Angela for the interview!

Indie Filmmaker Spotlight: Michael Driscoll – Q&A on his short films ‘Two Black Coffees’, ‘To The Boats’ & more

Hello everyone!

Welcome to a new edition of FlixChatter Interview! Typically I’d do a spotlight on a certain film, whether it’s shorts or features, but today we have something special in that I’m showcasing an indie filmmaker and talk about his experience as a filmmaker, as well as highlight some of the projects he’s working on.

I’m thrilled to have LA-Based, British filmmaker Michael Driscoll to kicks off FlixChatter’s Indie Filmmaker Spotlight.

I’m such a big fan of the historical drama show BORGIA (the one by Canal+ which you can watch on Netflix). Watch its international title sequence below that Michael himself shot (beware, it’s NSFW given the rather graphic and provocative nature of the show):

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This year, Michael was chosen to be a part of the BAFTA Los Angeles Newcomers Program 2018/2019, a four-year new talent initiative, recognizing and supporting international professionals and students who have recently moved to L.A. to further their development and career. He’s one of the 15 directors to be a part of this prestigious program. You can read more about it in Variety, as well as Deadline.

I had the privilege to have an extensive chat with Michael both via email as well as Skype last week. We had been planning to do the interview for months but due to his globe-trotting schedule and me working on a new short film, I’m glad we’re finally able to do it. It was already 11PM in London when we did the Skype, yet Michael was still excited to talk about his work [sign of a passionate filmmaker!] and we ended up chatting well over an hour.

Given the length of this interview, it’ll be broken up into multiple sections. We start with the conversation about his involvement with working as the 2nd Unit Director of the BORGIA series, created by Tom Fontana (St. Elsewhere, Homicide Life On the Street, Oz, etc.).

Q. Firstly, I’d like to commend you on your tremendous work in BORGIA. It’s one of my fave shows ever, it’s bold, brutal, beautiful, and indelible. How did you end up being involved on that show? 

I was lucky to work on BORGIA. I had a girlfriend who was hired on the show during preproduction of season 1, so every weekend over a long summer I flew from London to Prague to see her. Naturally, I met several producers from Canal+. Before long they got to know me, and at some point I’d heard they’d seen my Gil Scott Heron documentary that I shot at RSA Films, and were impressed with it. They asked me to shoot a similar thing of Tom Fontana as promo material for BORGIA.

Before I knew it, I was on a flight from Prague to New York, meeting Tom at his office. The next stop was Paris to meet Canal+ and Atlantique productions. It was a bit of a whirlwind at first, I had no idea if I’d got a job on the show. Just before the start of shooting, I got a call saying I‘d been hired; I had to fly back to Prague immediately and get myself on the set. A baptism of fire, so to speak. Excuse the pun…

To end up as 2nd Unit director, it was a variety of reasons. Firstly, I loved the scripts, and working on the show. I was already a massive fan of Tom’s work; I watched OZ as a teenager when it was broadcast on Channel 4 on Friday nights in the UK… I was very keen to be involved in BORGIA and I think he knew that. I mean, I think my constant enthusiasm on set on a daily basis must’ve been quite irritating!

Aside from that, I was familiar with the content. Being a Fine Art graduate, I’d studied the early Renaissance, and knew about the Borgia family, including the other great houses of Italy of that time. I was already quite well versed in the subject matter and I remember being interested to see where production would take it, how far they would push it and so forth. Also, coming from a background in the Art Department, seeing the production design evolve, kept me so much in the loop and close to production. I think people knew I cared a lot about the show and wanted to contribute more.

I also think that by directing ZDF’s commercial campaign first, before doing any 2nd unit, I showed I could collaborate with the cast and crew, and handle the full strains of the responsibilities. It was intense, we were mostly handling everything separately from the BORGIA production, having to deal with the necessities that ZDF needed, yet still working around the main unit schedule. This was all with my own crew, which in a way was a kind of second unit in itself… with the success of that campaign I had confidence to do more.

During season 1, I was asked to shoot a scene with Dearbhla Walsh, a director I really looked up to. She wanted me to capture certain elements and angles for a stunt, which turned out well. When season 2 came along, I had a chat with Tom, he wanted to utilize me on a separate unit for several scenes in Italy, and it just kicked on from there. He trusted to put me on a larger role, as did Dearbhla, and other directors like Christoph Schrewe. In a way I was kind of shadowing them on set in the first place, I had become accustomed to their shooting styles and their way of working, so it felt only natural to kick on and use their advice for my 2nd Unit work, which was for their episodes as well. I definitely had my own approach to what I wanted to shoot, but I was very lucky to have the backing of Tom and the other directors. We were all so close from working together for so long, the trust was already there. We were like a huge family, working on the most amazing production in the most incredible locations, all eating together in fantastic restaurants and traveling across Europe… We were definitely spoiled.

TWO BLACK COFFEES

A desperate woman has one moment of chance to escape her domineering husband, and into the arms of her secret lover.

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Q. So the cast of Two Black Coffees are all from that show. How did they get involved in this short?

TWO BLACK COFFEES was my first short film. I was inspired on many levels. I was living in Prague, an stunning city, working on BORGIA with so many brilliant actors, and a great crew, I just wanted to capture what it was like for us all to be living and working over there in such a timeless and unique location.

Having access to this cast was a real treat. It started at Art Malik’s apartment, which was in the old town of Prague; he encouraged me to start writing a script. So every weekend, after shooting BORGIA in crazy cold weather locations, I went over to his place and he inspired me to jot down some ideas. Thinking of what BORGIA cast could work for distinctive roles in the film was basically easy because we were all good friends on and off the set.

Marta Gastini

The cast were all supportive and enthusiastic about making this film. Marta Gastini was the lead, and the prime focus of the story; so without her on board I wouldn’t have done it. She was really happy to be involved, and her approach to the character was amazing. All the cast said yes immediately. Mark Ryder was probably the trickiest to convince to do the film, only because his shooting schedule on BORGIA at that time was intense, and he was worried about fully committing to this project. We ended up shooting around his availability, which added a day to our schedule. As soon as he stepped on board, he really hit his stride and made the role his own.

Working with the cast prior was a major plus for this film. Obviously, it was my first short; I had a clear visual idea and quite an ambiguous approach to each of the characters, so I relied on them to add elements themselves. At first I thought this’d be difficult, but it was the opposite – all the cast refined their roles and worked on spins for each character. I think they were also intrigued to see what I was cooking up for my first short. Marta in particular put in a lot of time and energy into the film, she was amazing. It was a physically demanding role for her; we definitely put her through her paces!

Art Malik

I was lucky that they were all keen. In fact, when word on the BORGIA set got around that we were making this short – several other actors suddenly asked me to write them parts! I actually had to turn down quite a few big-name BORGIA cast!
As soon as we got permission to use the cast by Tom Fontana and Michael Schwarz from the BORGIA production, it literally was all systems go.

How was your experience with Stanley Weber? He’s quite well known to US audiences from his work in Outlander 2. Did you have him in mind to play the bad guy because of his role as Juan Borgia on the show?

Yeah, Stanley was great, it was a no-brainer to ask him to do it. I‘d helped him shooting several of his auditions on tape when we were in Prague, so we already had fun working together. We had yet to shoot a scene together On BORGIA, at that particular stage, so it was more exciting for me to get to collaborate with him solely for TWO BLACK COFFEES.

He actually wanted to play the bad guy! He had his heart set on that role from day one, and we discussed how to refine the character with his stoic looks, malevolent actions, things like that. He had a very clear idea on his costume, which looked great in post when we had refined the grade to monochrome. He created a stylish character with real spite and dark intentions. It was great.

Stanley Weber

He was also a good laugh on set. We actually shot his bathroom scene first before anything else, which was at Barrandov Studios in Prague, directly after Stanley had shot a long day of shooting on BORGIA. I had to wait until he’d wrapped, then his makeup and hair was changed for us, and then we finally shot the scene.

On Stanley’s main shoot day in the cafe, he had a lot of fun with the role and enjoyed working with Marta. A lot of the shots in his scenes were precise and technical due to the nature of the noir feel of things. But it was great! He’s also super happy with the final film.

Q. The setting in Prague is absolutely stunning. Did you already have the script ready before you find the location or did the location drive the story?

It was all about the timing. I wanted to take advantage of the beauty of the city by shooting there. It was perfect for a film noir. All the pieces were just nicely in place for a nice short production like TWO BLACK COFFEES.

The location drove elements of the aesthetic: Prague has such a unique look and feel to it, a beautifully low-hanging light as well which highlights the architecture. It’s also really easy to film there. I found that a lot of the crew there are masters of their craft. Costumiers, lighting technicians, grips – they have a wonderful working ethic there.

Shooting across the city wasn’t a problem at all; we had no interruptions, no interference, even with the well-known actors like John Doman and Art Malik on the set. In terms of the story, yes, Prague has that moody copacetic feel to it, so we adapted the location to the script, which kept evolving right up to the shoot.

Q. What made you decide to set it in Black & White with no dialog?

I’m a huge fan of film noir and black and white movies. I don’t think there are enough these days! Perhaps there was a concern that contemporary black and white films wouldn’t get a decent box office, but there’s been a change in the trend recently. I watched the monochrome versions of Logan: Noir and Mad Max: Fury Road in ‘Black and Chrome’ and thought they were amazing. I had several influences for this film. The Third Man, elegantly shot, full of surprises, copacetic and enigmatic, has a lingering sense of dread. Coppola’s Tetro was another key reference, in terms of its slick style and deeply troubled characters. The disjointed narrative in Martha Marcy May Marlene had the audience constantly guessing. Memento was great in it’s nonlinear storytelling. The aim was to apply and combine these elements to a femme fatale story.

In terms of zero dialog – again, the aesthetic of the city helped, it made me think, well why don’t we go FULL noir and try and make it even more nostalgic?? It also gave me more control on the set – without sound department, I could just concentrate on getting the shot composition and working directly with the actors.

Q. Your short deals with a woman trying to escape her domineering husband and meeting her secret lover, but given that your film is silent. What’s the biggest challenges in storytelling sans dialog? 

There are definitely several challenges shooting without dialogue. It was a good lesson in performance direction – I was dealing with such high-level acting talent, my first short, I wanted to make it right, y’know? I wanted to make sure I could get the best performances and work on delivery without dialogue. The actors appreciated that and I think it was a good exercise for them.

Michael on set with Marta Gastini

When you shoot without dialogue, you really have to make sure the story is tight. Another important aspect was to heighten the characters reactions in certain scenes. They are literally telling the story with their actions, expressions and movements, we knew where to be expositional and where to be ambiguous with their movement. And I think they loved that. It was good exercise for them.

To make things even more confusing, this film has a nonlinear timeline. So I storyboarded everything, to make it all clear to the cast what was happening in each scene. They got it pretty much straight away.

Tell me a bit about the music used in this film, which is so perfect and adds so much to the atmosphere.

Music is extremely important, especially on a production where there’s no dialogue. I had a specific style in mind of what I wanted for the score. The fact that the film isn’t told in a linear way, made it important to highlight in the music. For this film, I was looking for something quite close to 1930’s or 40’s French jazz, but something a little colder and more hollow.

Something like Hermann’s themes in Taxi Driver. These elements needed to merge with darker synths and droning, pulsing beats.

Some references I had in mind were Elliot Goldenthal’s Alien 3 soundtrack, The New Division, who had some excellent atmospheric and almost dream-like tracks with wind chimes and harps. This kind of stuff with a Trent Reznor-feel was what I was after. Popul Vuh was also a major influence, and something our composer Nick Donnelly immediately used as a key reference.

The results are really cool. Nick had created a fantastic score, with so much atmosphere and depth. It was brilliant working with him, he was actually recommended to me by Scott William Winters, one of the actors in BORGIA. Nick and I have continued to work on two more shorts together. As for sound design, we worked with Ivan Oberholster, who did a phenomenal job in bringing everything together.

 

TO THE BOATS

Q: Can you tell me a bit more about the premise about a post-Brexit civil war film? What inspired you to write that story?

Obviously, with Brexit looming on the horizon, this is a story about a worst-case scenario. In this world, it’s dystopian, it’s bleak, it’s basically our nightmares come true. A civil war! What was important when we were developing the film was that we wanted to show how divided the country would still be, even years after Brexit itself. We have characters in this story, that even in war, are extremely divided, which of course is an allegory for the current state of affairs in the UK right now. Also in this story, which I think is pretty ironic, is that immigrants are the forces who choose to rise up and fight against the British government, in an effort to take Britain back into the EU.

So we have characters that are forced into a war that they may or may not have even wanted, literally stuck in an almost apocalyptic-style country. On top of that, we wanted to show high levels of desperation in each of these characters. Another thing that was interesting to me was, if you’re at war, and faced directly with your enemy on an even level, in an isolated setting, what would you do? Would you have empathy? Would you help? We definitely wanted to address that in this short story.

The other thing that was quite inspiring was the location itself. The producers had scouted Lewes, on the south coast of England, and found some otherworldly shooting locations, which were so awesome. At the time we had a really cold Spring season, which made all these places look quite eerie on camera, it was a perfect setting.

Tell me about the casting process for this one, particularly about the lead actress Coco König?

I’m really proud of the casting for this project. It’s a small cast but worked out nicely. I’d always wanted to work on something with Danny Szam, who I met on BORGIA when he played the role of Michelangelo. In this film the role of Ben needed anxiety, paranoia and aggression, which Danny could definitely play around with in his performance. A chunk of the story is told through Ben’s perspective, who’s forced to hide his past actions. Danny was brilliant at harnessing these multilayered emotions on camera.

I met James Robinson a few years ago through Danny, and always wanted to work with him. I thought he could bring a balance of power and sensitivity to the role of Jonny. James is a fantastic actor to collaborate with, he really pushed the role and offered a broad and interesting insight into one of these torn characters.

For this project we were working with Louise Collins, a casting director I’d worked with on THE PERFECT ORCHID in California. Louise set up a casting for the role of Sam, and we saw so many different actresses. A lot of the auditions were great, but Coco König definitely stood out – she offered a completely different approach to the role, and a range that I was really impressed with, immediately she was my first choice. The character was originally written as a tough girl, almost Lara Croft type, but Coco gave us a totally contrasting portrayal that worked perfectly: a character who seems naïve, trusting and a little vulnerable at first, and then switches into something else entirely. It was precisely what we were looking for. Her performance had realistic conviction; in the script her character negotiates with two random men, so she needed to have a mixture of iron will and nervousness – and she performed this superbly. We were very happy with her work.

Coco König in TO THE BOATS

An initial idea was to not introduce the two guys to Coco before the shoot, and not do a cast rehearsal, to create a degree of separation, to see if we could get any raw animosity or heighten the element of surprise with these characters on the shoot. Louise disagreed and suggested we do a rehearsal beforehand, which was a way better idea! The cast rehearsal perfected the timing of the scenes. These characters have a lot of layers to them, and have to express that, along with the exposition of the storyline, yet obviously trying to keep some things as ambiguous as we could. The timing proved crucial because on the actual shoot day, of course due to schedule constraints we had only a certain amount of time to do their scenes together.

Some casting choices obviously don’t work out as well as you might have planned, especially in short film productions with intense quick turnovers, but for this film I couldn’t have been happier. I definitely want to work with these guys again; they’re my good friends now.


Q. What are some of your films and filmmakers influences? How do you stay inspired and motivated as an indie filmmakers?

To be honest, I try not to do the same thing twice: ideally I want all of my films to be completely different to one another. Danny Boyle is a great example of this. His films are wildly different; he is able to jump into completely contrasting genres, which I think is amazing and inspiring.

My style is constantly evolving. I started off as a visual director and now I feel I can contribute more substance to storytelling. I wouldn’t put myself in a particular bracket of style, but then it’s hard for me to judge. Obviously I’m currently focusing on several genres; mystery, thriller, noir… I’ve been told by my DPs that I have quite a classic, 1970s style approach to my camera setups, which is definitely a compliment! Most of my projects are high-tempo, high-intensity dramas with characters stuck in a scenario that gets worse, over their heads, causing them to fall into desperate measures. Maybe that’s the best way to describe my style at the moment.

I stay motivated because this is what I love doing! I can’t imagine doing anything else. I grew up in this industry, my dad and my granddad both worked in the Art Department, so it’s all I’ve wanted to do. I keep up with current trends and I’m always on the lookout for a cool story to turn into a film.

Q. What’s next for you? Are you working on another short film or tv series?

In terms of stuff that’s finished – I have another short called BE RIGHT BACK, which is a dark comedy about a really bad dad.

I’m currently working on several other projects; some are due for release in 2018. POD DAMNED, a short rom-com about a couple trying to get it on listening to podcasts, BREAK IN BREAK OUT, an 80’s themed, short horror/thriller, about a house burglary gone horribly wrong, shot in Toronto, a film I’m looking forward to finishing. It has over 150 VFX shots and a noticeable John Carpenter style to it. These two are very close to completion.

Danny Szam in TO THE BOATS

Aside from TO THE BOATS, I have one other film that I’m working on; a western called THE PERFECT ORCHID. It’s set 10 years in the future and is about the opioid issue in America. It’s shot on super16mm film on location in Joshua Tree, and also has Mark Ryder and Diarmuid Noyes back from BORGIA and TWO BLACK COFFEES. This one is going to have a really unique look to it.

In addition, we’re also in development with several projects that I’m writing and directing. Hopefully you’ll see one in a festival soon!

If you could choose only ONE of your short films to be made into a feature with a budget up to $30mil, which one would you choose to do?

That’s a good question. I think the easiest to turn into a feature would probably be the horror film BREAK IN BREAK OUT, it’s a short story that can easily be expanded, and would definitely be a very tense, suspenseful horror / thriller, which would be really cool…. But, if I had a budget of $30 million (which would be amazing), I’d probably say the best one to turn into a feature would be THE PERFECT ORCHID. It’s a western detective story with so many varied elements and complex characters; the plot would be ideal for a feature. Coupled with the fact that the storyline is about the opioid problem in America, and its set in the future, there’s so much more that could be explored in that project. I think it could be well served to expand into a full-length film; it would be really cool to see. Plus, it’d be awesome to put on the cowboy boots and shoot a western again!

HUGE THANKS to Michael Driscoll for the insightful & fun interview!


Two Black Coffees screening at Twin Cities Film Fest!

Michael with FlixChatter team Nick and Ruth at TCFF

Thanks to FlixChatter’s Media Correspondent Nick Raja for the red carpet interview with Michael just before the film’s TCFF screening on Thursday, October 25.

There’s some issues to the red carpet video, but you can take a listen to the audio interview below:



Hope you enjoyed this Indie Filmmaker Spotlight series…
there’s more to come!

Short Film Spotlight: ‘Classic. Becky. Party’ + Q&A with writer/director John J. Kaiser

Just two days away until Twin Cities Film Fest’s MN Shorts Showcase event! Today we’ve got yet another Q&A with a talented MN filmmaker whose film Classic. Becky. Party will be screening on Wednesday night (more info below).

I met first met John at the TCFF Gala in September 2017, thanks to his creative partner Jay Ness (one of the excellent camera crews who worked on my short film Hearts Want). John and Jay are the owners of CutJaw Film Co., a Minnesota-based film production company that’s done a number of short films such as Curse of the Invisible Werewolf and Bobby’s Run Off.

Check out my Q&A on his female-led comedy drama starring Rachel Weber, Larissa Gritti, and Anna Stranz, filmed entirely in Minneapolis.

Becky has arranged every detail for what’s supposed to be the perfect party. The food, the ambiance, the decor is all set, all that’s missing are the guests.

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Q: What inspires you to write Classic Becky Party? The premise sounds quite personal. Was it?

Classic. Becky. Party. really came from an insecurity that a lot of people I think have which is what do you do when you throw a party and no one shows up. It has happened every time I’ve thrown any sort of party. Fortunately none of those have ever been as disastrous as Becky’s party. But it’s definitely a kind of funny kind of sad scenario that lots of people identify with. An empty party is a level of loneliness that audiences can really empathize with.

Becky is the kind of person that desperately wants everyone to think she has her shit together, so it was fun to see how much she could unravel and lower the facade she presents to those around her. Having her sisters arrive to witness her embarrassment just adds fuel to the fire.

Q: You’ve written quite a number of shorts and you often direct your own work. What’s the biggest challenge for you as a director to do that?

The biggest challenge to being both writer and director on a project is you have one less person to bounce ideas off of. Film is a collaborative medium so it’s good to have input from your cast and crew, experts in their field, so when you’re directing your own script it’s even more essential to listen to those collaborators. Of course it’s a two sided coin and there’s something incredibly liberating and fulfilling about taking an idea to the page and then taking that page to the screen.

Q: Who are some of your filmmaking influences? Specifically for dramas.

When tackling a drama I think it’s incredibly important to find moments of levity and catharsis for the audience, so any writer/director that can incorporate that balance into their work is someone that I gravitate towards.

A few filmmakers that come to mind are Billy Wilder, Mike Mills, the Coen Bros., and on the writer front definitely Greta Gerwig and Aaron Sorkin. I’m sure there are a million more, but those are the first that come to mind.

Q:Your film was set in a single location (an apt), what’s the challenges you faced in filming in one confined space like that? On the flip side, what are the main biggest strength?

The biggest challenge of a single location film is finding ways to keep the location feeling fresh. Luckily the loft we filmed in had a few distinct areas, such as the kitchen, the living room, and the dining room. This allowed us several options for us to block out the scenes in. It was also important to keep our characters moving around the space so that the audience doesn’t feel claustrophobic.

The biggest benefit of a single location though is saving on time and budget.  Once we “moved in” to the space we were able to stay put for the two days it took to film.  We didn’t have to worry about loading out and loading in to another location.  Using a single location also brings a theatrical quality to the film. It’s a script that could easily be adapted to the stage.

Anna & Larissa in between takes

Q: I love your three all-female cast. Would you tell us a bit about the casting process? Is it especially tricky since they’re playing sisters?

Top left: Rachel, Larissa & Anna on set | Top right: Filming the lead actress Rachel Weber

The casting process for this film was remarkably simple. I was familiar with the work of Rachel, Larissa, and Anna and knew instantly that they would work well as sisters. From our first pre-production meeting, it was obvious that the three of them shared a rare bond that was going to translate well to the screen. I was more interested in finding three performers that shared chemistry than three performers that looked like sisters. For me it was all about creating a believable relationship and rapport between these characters and Rachel, Larissa, and Anna were an essential part of that process.


This Is Home is screening on
Wednesday May 30th at 7:30 PM

Many filmmakers, cast and crew will be present representing their films and answering your questions.

6:30pm – Red Carpet Interviews and Photos
7:30pm – Screening
9:00pm – Q&A

Selected films include:

  • The Great White Storm – Directed by Jon Thomas
  • Deep Cover – Directed by Keith Langsdorf
  • Bite the Bullet – Directed by Ryan Huang
  • This is Home – Directed by Jason Schumacher
  • Classic.Becky.Party – Directed by John J. Kaiser
  • The Burial Plot – Directed by Chris Fletcher
  • Zomburbia – Directed by Nathan Wold
  • 2Bullets – Directed by Brandi Harkonen
$10 Earlybird*
$12 At the Door

*TCFF MEMBERS RECEIVE FREE ADMISSION!

Get your tickets! »


John is a Minneapolis, MN based screenwriter and film director and co-founder of CutJaw Film Co. His directorial debut, Bobby’s Run Off, premiered at the Twin Cities Film Festival in 2016 and has since screened in multiple film festivals and featured on filmshortage.com.

In 2017, John was awarded a Jerome Foundation Artist Grant in support of his first feature length film Only Dance Can Save Us. Slated to begin production in 2018, aiming for a 2019 release. CutJaw Film Co. is currently working on a sci-fi thriller feature film Dark Cloud, also scheduled to be released next year.


Thanks John for chatting with us!

Short Film Spotlight: ‘This Is Home’ + Q&A with writer/director Jason P. Schumacher

Going into its ninth year, Twin Cities Film Fest is launching a brand new initiative in its INSIDER SERIES program! As a first-time writer/producer who just made my first short film last year, I’m thrilled to see short filmmakers getting a platform to showcase their work. One of the eight outstanding short narrative films screening in TCFF’s first MN Shorts Showcase is a drama made by Jason P. Schumacher, whom many of you might know as the director behind Hearts Want.

Check out my Q&A with the MN-based filmmaker (who also directed the documentary Beyond the Thrill that’s screened at TCFF in 2016):

A coming-of age-story about a young boy realizing that his parents are alcoholics.

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Q: You’ve said that this is a personal film for you. Would you elaborate on that? Was it based on true events?

My co-writer, Jesse Frankson, and I have known each other since elementary school but never really realized we had similar experiences in our upbringing, when it came to our proximity to alcoholism. The film is a work of fiction, but it includes inspiration from things that happened to one or both of us, or things we’d heard from peers with similar experiences.

I’d also looked at the “Laundry List” created by the organization Adult Children of Alcoholics.  Those who grow up around alcoholics often share similar traits with one another; feelings of guilt and abandonment, an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, suppressing emotions, and also a tendency to also engage in addictive behaviors.  In “This is Home”, the young boy is in the early stages of developing and showing these traits, as he begins to realize more and more that his parents are alcoholics.

Q: The film had a child actor (who was about 10 at the time of shoot), who’s terrific in the role. What was the biggest challenge(s) working with a young talent?

Honestly, we didn’t really treat Will Hugo too differently from the adult actors. Working with any actor, it is all about building trust – letting them know that you trust them and earning their trust. The first day of filming was the scene in the river and successfully getting everyone through a logistically challenging and uncomfortable scene like can really be a bonding experiences for the whole cast and crew. The river was also two and half hours a way, so we got to talk on the way with Will and his mom and build rapport and get to know one another more. Will is very involved in various activities in his own life and has great supportive community around him (and siblings too), so we asked him to imagine how different his life might be if he didn’t have those things, which helped him imagine the feelings of the character more.

Jason with Will on set

We’d often talk him through what his character’s feelings are at each moment. He’s a sharp kid and we threw a lot at him. The rest of the cast was really great at working with him too. He was a little shy at first, but by the end he was cracking jokes with everybody, like, “Excuse me, excuse me – lead actor coming through!”

Q: Can you tell me a bit about casting? I recognize the taxi driver was the same actor who played the ringmaster in your other short, Sad Clown.

Even though Darrin Shaughnessy is incredible in Sad Clown, we still made him audition! He’s great at playing characters that seem a little surly but are still sympathetic. When his character enters the bar to pick up the drunks, his face is worth a thousand words. We’ve all been there. We did a pretty extensive casting actually. We had two days with long casting sessions and then a call-back. We knew the film would live or die by the casting.

We needed actors that played the actors as real people, without too many preconceived judgements. And also actors that we could believe were a family. With the wrong casting or performances it could play like a PSA or a melodrama and we didn’t want that. It was very a delicate.

Megan Kelly Hubbell, Sean Dooley (who played the parents) and Will really stood out as the right people to play the family in the film. They just connected with the material. Megan’s audition was one of the best I’ve ever seen for anything. We actually saw a lot of great local talent and instead of performing a monologue, we asked them to tell a story about drinking or being around drinking. We heard some pretty wild stories! The co-writer of the film also appears in the film as Dan, their annoying drinking buddy.

Q: There is an extensive river tubing scene which I’d imagine must’ve been pretty tough to shoot. Would you share about shooting that scene and the toughest part about that particular shoot?

We filmed at a river on a relative’s property that I go tubing on every summer. Tubing down the river each year always felt like one of the most cinematic things I could imagine and I’d never seen tubing down a river in a film before. It became this perfect metaphor in the center of the film, this family drifting somewhat aimlessly together.

On the day we filmed, it was cold! Maybe 62 degrees, so who knows what the temperature of the water was? And it occasionally drizzled ice cold rain on us. We did a lot of the filming from a canoe that we managed to secure the camera and the tripod in. Luckily we didn’t tip. The director of photography (Max Sjöberg), myself, and the boom operator were in the canoe, simultaneously trying to steer it and capture the scene. There were a couple times where a branch almost knocked the camera in the water. It also was a challenge to get our canoe and camera lined up with the actors as the river moved us around. It was the first day of filming, so I was worried the actors would stop talking to me after I stuck them in a cold river all day. But I think it was a good bonding experience for everybody. Despite being uncomfortable, it was a really fun day. It was also the lead actor’s first time tubing.

Q: Lastly, what would you like the audience to take away from your film?

The film isn’t a PSA.  I don’t want to spell out a message for anyone, but I will say that alcoholism and low income families are rarely show this way in cinema, yet this situation is so common.  A loving family where the disruption of alcohol chips away at them.  The film a vignette, a glimpse into the lives of others, but for many who’ve seen it, it is a reflection of something they are all too familiar with.

That’s a wrap!

Check out the filmmaking journey of This Is Home


Thanks Jason for chatting with me!

TCFF 2016 Short Film Reviews: ‘The Clubhouse’ + ‘Hookin’ Up’ + ‘The Mermaid Story’ + ‘Twinsburg’

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Can’t believe we only have two more days of TCFF! It’s been quite a whirlwind couple of weeks for me, and I’ve been running pretty much on adrenaline! It’s been so awesome meeting new people, from filmmakers, talents, producers, etc., it’s been so exhilarating and inspiring! I’ll be sure to include pictures in my closing night post!

Today we’ve got some reviews of short films that played during TCFF. I think it’s great there are plenty of short films being screened at the film fest, which feature innovative stories that talented filmmakers capture within a short amount of time. Thanks again Sarah for all your great reviews!

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Club House

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“The Clubhouse,” a seven minute short film directed by and co-written by Dan Delano, tackles one of the vexing issues of a boy’s youth – what to do when a girl moves into the neighborhood and wants to join your game of Dungeons and Dragons? “Girls don’t have any battle strategies,” one boy says dismissively.

I’m always impressed when filmmakers can present a fully fleshed out story in such a short amount of time and this effort is no exception. What ensues is a fantastical “Game of Thrones” inspired thriller that allows the warrior princess to prove her mettle. As many might remember from their youth, she receives acceptance in the most unassuming of ways – an invitation to get ice cream. How does this all come together in seven minutes? Take a “short” break and find out for yourself.

Hookin’ Up

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In “Hookin’ Up,” Jessica (Katie Cunningham) and Peter (Timmy L’Heureux) attempt to have a “perfectly normal Tinder date.” I’m not sure if either have any personal experience with the popular dating app but they do a fine job tackling the awkward conversation that follows. “Oh you like to travel? How orig…too bad your haircut isn’t allowed out of the country,” Katie muses.

“In my last relationship we bought a printer together and when we broke up it was just awkward,” says Peter. The nine minute short film directed by Michael Busch is an unassuming ode to the sometimes bizarre world of relationships…and Scattergories.

The Mermaid Story

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“The Mermaid Story,” the 14 minute short film from Director James Snapko, would have fit in well at the Twin Cities Film Fest in previous years as one of the educational subjects the festival has tackled is the issue of bullying. Although short, this movie’s narrative proves what can happen when people are pushed too far and constantly told that they are stupid or not good enough.

The story centers on two brothers, Curt (Max Giles) and Ace (Chase Hammond), who own a bar in Northern Minnesota. (As the movie was shot on location in Outing, some might recognize local landmarks.) When Curt comes in after a day on the lake and tells of seeing a mermaid in the water, his bar tale is met with skepticism. “What an idiot,” they say.

Giles does a good job of conveying the hurt and anger someone can feel when they are dismissed indifferently. When his brother says angrily, “Okay, show me your water whore” a day on the lake turns into something much more sinister. This film is a good reminder that words do matter.


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Twinsburg

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I grew up with fraternal twin brothers, so I’m immediately intrigued by the premise of identical twin brothers reunited for the largest twins gathering at Twinsburg Ohio. It’s a semi-autobiographical tale from director Joe Garrity, who stars in the film with his real-life twin Phil Garrity. They both have a certain deadpan delivery that’s really a hoot to watch.

Joe plays Jerry, who’s still sentimental about his twin identity and thus more excited about attending the festival than his reluctant brother Paul. It’s amusing to see them riding a tandem bike in their matching costume-y suits, and participate in multiple festival competitions from talent show, most-alike contest to singleton hunt in the woods.

Filmed at the 2014 Twins Days Festival, it’s a quirky, funny yet bittersweet tale of coming to terms with how their childhood tradition no longer fits their changing adult lives. There’s a hint of romance with fellow twins who seem more comfortable doing things apart. Joe Garrity is certainly a talented filmmaker with comic talents, I’m curious to see what else he’d come up with in the future. 

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What’s in store for closing day!

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews with Harold Mintz (of 1-800-Give-Us-Your-Kidney short), actor Dominic Rains (who’ll receive the TCFF North Star Award tomorrow night), and director Jon Weinberg (Funeral Day).

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Jon & Dominic in ‘Funeral Day’

FUNERAL DAY’s second screening:
Saturday, October 29 – 10:30am 

GetTicketsTCFF


TCFF 2015 Short Film Reviews Part II – ‘Love American Style’ & ‘Shoot to Kill’ Shorts Block

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More great things in small packages! Every year Twin Cities Film Fest screens a plethora of great short films, grouped together in a themed shorts block. Today, we have some of the film reviews from the Love American Style and Shoot to Kill shorts blocks.

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These are all part of the
Love American Style Block

The Caper
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I LOVE the idea of this short film about two women who bonded over dating fatigue and a love of film noir. This is the kind of short film that could’ve easily worked as a feature and I certainly wouldn’t mind spending time with these characters for an hour and a half. Right from the start I immediately like the two leads, Holly and Anna, played by Katie Willer and Larissa Gritti respectively. They met during dinner at a mutual friend’s house, and they found out they actually have something in common. Holly’s main complaint in her dating life is that men always see her as the ‘best friend’ type, whilst Anna wishes she could actually have platonic relationship with men as they often only see her in a romantic/sexual light.

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Matthew G. Anderson is the creator of the Theater People web series, which is a comedy web series about the world of independent theater and the people who live it. He has a passion for classic films and this film paid homage to the genre in a fun, witty way. I think fans of classic Hollywood will enjoy this immensely. The story is clever and genuinely funny. Willer and Gritti have an effortless chemistry, which brings the snarky script to life.

Moving On

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The idea of this movie is just brilliant! It opened with a guy named Ross (Mike Ivers), awakened in the morning by a knock in the door and found two movers hired by his girlfriend. Why dump a guy over text if you could guy a moving company to break up with him AND move him out of your home, right? So yeah, naturally that scenario makes for a hilarious and efficient short film. It’s 11-minutes long, including the scene playing during the end credits. Here’s another film I wouldn’t mind watching as a feature, but the beauty of short film is they don’t overstay your welcome (pardon the pun).

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The funniest bits are the way each mover handle the movee (is that even a word?). Nick (Robin Lord Taylor, aka Penguin in the Gotham series) lack the sensitivity in handling the delicate situation given it’s his first day on the job, constantly blurting out the most inappropriate things that comes to his mind. Meanwhile, his cousin and co-worker Mason (Ryan Farrell) is more of a follow-protocol kind of guy. 

The three ended up bonding over the course of one day as they pack up Ross’ stuff into the truck. All three actors are great and they seem like they had fun with the roles. The final scene is hilarious and there’s definitely enough material here for a comedic feature. Directed by Marcia Fields & Mike Spear, this is one of the most fun short films I’ve seen so far!

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In the Clouds (En las Nubes)

“If it’s in the park, make sure people don’t applaud like in the movies. How embarrassing!” “En Las Nubes,” (“In the Clouds”) the new movie by Argentinean Marcelo Mitnik, works as a short film because it challenges cultural assumptions about love and intimacy that everyone is already familiar with. Of course every woman wants her guy to plan an elaborate proposal, buy a ring and get down on one knee…don’t they?

This 20 minute treat that was named as Best Foreign Short Film at the Reno International Film Festival earlier this year stars Valeria Blanc as Mariela, an Argentinean illustrator, and Jeremy Glazer as Oliver, an American dog food executive living abroad (some might recognize Glazer from “Letters from Iwo Jima”).

InTheClouds

Having traveled abroad several times gave me perhaps more appreciation for this story – one of my pet peeves is Americans who travel abroad and expect everything to be like it is in the United States. Or expecting everything on one continent to be the same – as Oliver expresses in the opening scene when someone asks if a new creation is going to work. “Of course,” he assumes. “They did in Chile and Brazil so I don’t see why not here…”

In Argentina, it is explained, they don’t put a lot of stock in the engagement and proposal that we do in the United States. Mitnik has showed this film across the world and it would be interesting to learn what kind of reaction he has gotten. These cultural differences are what make traveling abroad so rewarding although I realize I have been fortunate to have these experiences. For now, I enjoyed this movie bringing a slice of it to Minnesota.

TCFF_reviewer_Sarah


The Incredible Life of Darrell
(part of Digital Firsts – Webisodes)

It takes talent to encapsulate topics like relationships, jobs and best friends into short web episodes. In “The Incredible Life of Darrell,” writer and actor Darrell Lake gives us awkward but amusing glimpses into his life. It is set in Wakooki, a fictional Arizona town, and features a cast of characters that anyone can relate to. At the Twin Cities Film Fest, audiences will be treated to “Date Night,” the first episode starring Darrell as the gap-toothed protagonist, Joy Regullano as Jenny, his pint sized, venom spewing friend in a sweater vest, and Tru Collins (Stacy) as the unstable object of his affection.

IncredibleLifeOfDarrell

The reason these episodes work is mainly because of Lake’s earnest delivery – the end of this short episode features him quizzically offering “I don’t think I understand women.” These shorts are not for children or the easily offended – there is plenty of cursing and inappropriate references which cannot be repeated here. Spoiler alert – if you can’t catch this episode at the Twin Cities Film Fest, you can watch this (and others) on his website. Perhaps next year the film fest can have an “Incredible Life of Darrell” marathon?

TCFF_reviewer_Sarah


These are all part of the part of the
Coming of Age block

Your Blind Spot

From movies like “The Godfather” to “Goodfellas” it seems like there is an endless fascination with the world of organized crime in this country. The new short film, “Your Blind Spot,” also provides an introduction to this world. Written by Frank Wheeler and directed by Paul von Stoetzel, it tells the story of Chad (M. Allen LaFleur), a newly released convict who can climb the mob ladder…of course, he just needs to kill to do it.

YourBlindSpot

LaFleur does an admirable job in the role of a fresh faced young guy in an anonymous small Midwestern town and his descent into the world of dark warehouses and “meetings.” Attendees may recognize a familiar face – in one scene, Twin Cities Film Fest marketing manager Bob Cummings tells LaFleur, “S*** just got real, kid.” At the end when he is out to dinner with his wife, he jumps when a door is opened. Welcome to the underworld.

Blame

How far would you go to protect a family member? “Blame,” a short film by Columbia College of Chicago MFA student Kellee Terrell, explores the choice a father faces when his wife discovers a cell phone video showing his only son (who was recently admitted to MIT) and other boys gang raping a girl who lived next door. The wife tries to safeguard his future (“We were only fifteen when we had him and we gave up everything…”) and rationalize (“He’s not like that…she was over here with four boys, who does that?”).

Blame

The father, played by Jerod Haynes, does a good job of portraying the emotions a father must go through in a situation like this. The title of the movie is interesting – would you blame yourself or feel like you had failed as a parent? In 15 minutes, Terrell challenges you to imagine what you would do in that situation. One underplayed part of the movie is the fact that it is revealed the cell phone video is the “only” evidence of this crime. And, yet, there were other boys there…

TCFF_reviewer_Sarah


These are all part of the
Shoot to Kill block

The Detectives of Noir Town

Like “The Muppets” and “Avenue Q,” some things are just funny when puppets are involved. “The Detectives of Noir Town” is a short film from Director Andrew Chambers that takes us into a seedy world where puppets and humans co-exist. The “star puppet,” if you will, is Detective John Cotton, simultaneously trying to solve a mystery and find out what happened to his last living relative.

DetectivesNoirTown

Although the story is easy to follow and provides a coherent beginning, middle and end in approximately seven minutes, it’s the use of puppets that are sure to make this show a crowd pleaser at the Twin Cities Film Fest. In one scene, there is a “bum” puppet, complete with a scraggly beard and winter hat with ear flaps. In another, stuffing flies when a puppet is shot.

The script is part “Naked Gun” (“Look out detective, you’re on the body”) and part “Columbo” (“Where was I? Oh…puppets…yeah…”) mixed with very lifelike puppets with Australian accents wearing trenchcoats and police uniforms. Shot in black and white with a distinct ode to some of the old American movies, the puppet work is professional and impressive. When you’re leaving the theatre, don’t look back…a puppet may be following you.

The Way

The description for this movie reads “An Irish hit man goes vigilante when he finds out his organization is trafficking more than drugs and weapons.” How we’re supposed to get this out of this five minute movie I’m still not sure. “The Way,” directed and co-written by Jake Woodbridge, focuses on two men in separate booths with their backs to each other in a Flameburger restaurant. (And that’s another thing – since when do mobsters hang out at Flameburger? Perhaps the filmmaker was trying to be ironic.)

TheWay

The short film is filled with bizarre exchanges between the two men like “You ever going to get yourself a winter jacket?” and “You ever going to shave off that piece of s*** on your lip?” I can only imagine the filmmaker has seen too many mobster movies or he was trying to craft a bizarre tribute to them. If there was nuance to be found in this I guess it was lost on me.

Mannish Boy

One of the challenges of short films is to encapsulate a story in just a few minutes. For me, “Mannish Boy,” the new 15 minute movie from Director Ryan Tonelli, falls short because it comes across as a cliché. Set in the 1970’s, it tells the story of Bobby Mayhill (Dalmar Abuzeid), who is struggling to find his way as his older brother Tommy (Kaleb Alexander) is released from a six year prison sentence. As Tommy is released, he frets about his younger brother following in his footsteps.

MannishBoy

As Tommy’s “friend,” Jason (Ayinde Blake) defends his interactions with Bobby, he explains his view on the world they live in – “Where we come from, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” Good to know these guys don’t have a chance. Much of the movie is set at night or in very dark settings, as if to highlight the choices these young men face.

One of the redeeming themes is the bond between brothers, which Alexander and Abuzeid play well. (In one scene on a basketball court, remembering that Bobby used to play, Tommy says with a rueful smile, “You nostalgic or something?”) There are a few good elements here but it seems like the characters and story deserve better.

TCFF_reviewer_Sarah


What do you think about these short films?