Todd Berger is an experienced writer/director who has been making films since he was a teenager. He received a degree from The University of Texas at Austin where he wrote and directed the nationally syndicated television show The Campus Loop. He recently wrote and directed “Don’t Eat The Baby: Adventures at post-Katrina Mardi Gras”, chosen as the closing night film of the 2007 New Orleans Film Festival. He works as a screenwriter and actor in Los Angeles, with scripts in development at DreamWorks Animation, Jim Henson Productions, Fox Searchlight, Nickelodian Movies, John Woo’s Lion Rock Productions, and a project at Endgame Entertainment for director John Landis. He also wrote and directed the award-winning shorts Holidays with Heather, Occam’s Razor, and Truffles for Mrs. Lovejoy as well as the web series The Vacationeers.
AFF recently caught up with Todd, a seasoned AFF veteran. Check out what the former Austinite is up to now.
1. Tell me about your films that screened at the festival.
Occam’s Razor: The Great Dialogues of Mindy (2001) – A short about a teen pop superstar who also happens to be a brilliant philosopher.
Holidays With Heather (2006) – A comedy short that tells the story of a couple only on holidays – and out of order.
Don’t Eat The Baby (2007) – A featue-length documentary about the first Mardi Gras after Hurricane Katrina and the flood.
The Forecast (2008) – A short I made with my comedy group The Vacationeers. It’s sort of a 1970’s horror spoof about the weather.
2. Describe your first experience with the Austin Film Festival.
I was still in college at UT, and my friend suggested that I submit my undergrad thesis film to AFF. We were accepted, and the movie played in Dobie at a sold-out shorts program. It was awesome seeing one of MY films in Dobie after having spent so many nights there watching French art movies and midnight screenings of Army of Darkness.
3. Do you regularly attend the Austin Film Festival?
Oh yeah – I used to go all the time when I lived in Austin, and have made it a point to get back as often as possible.
4. Is there a particular event from the festival that you enjoy the most?
I always enjoy the BBQ. It used to be at the Governor’s Mansion, and then lately at the French Legation Museuem. It’s fun to just sit down with delicious brisket and strike up a conversation with someone and then find out that they’re a writer on Dexter or D.B Sweeney.
5. In addition to making your own films, you also work as a screenwriter. What have you worked on?
I wrote a TV movie for ABC Family called “Chasing Christmas”, an animated project for Dreamworks Animation called “Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Furious Five”, and have many many more scripts in development at various studios.
6. How do you handle creative blocks – both when writing and making films?
I usually like to go for a walk and tell myself I can’t go back home until I’ve figured it out. I just pray that it’s not cold outside.
7. In production, you often work with close friends. In fact, your fiancé is often your DP. Do you find that easier or more difficult when working on a film?
Well it’s easier in some ways and more difficult in others. You already have a sense of how people work and have a shorthand for communicating – in addition, friends will go above and beyond in working long hours for little or no money merely because they believe in you. On the downside, you can’t just fire them at any given moment – which is the perk of being the director. Plus, if you’re on a good set then you end up becoming friends with everyone anyway. As for working with my fiancé as DP, we see working on films together as a good trial run for starting a family, because some people on movie sets tend to act like small children.
8. What have you been working on since your last feature, “Don’t Eat the Baby” in 2007?
I’ve been working long and hard on my first feature-length narrative called “The Scenesters”. It’s a dark comedy/film noir about crime scene videographers in Los Angeles. We just finished editing.
9. Is there a particular movie that inspired you at a young age?
The film that had the most influence on me – and still one of my favorites – is CLUE. I was six when it came out, and I remember seeing it in the theater (with ending version C) and realizing for the first time that murder could be incredibly funny. It sparked an interest in me in dark comedy that just grows stronger with time.
10. Was there a particular person in your life that had a large influence on your decision to be a filmmaker?
My father had always owned a home video camera since I could remember, going back to the old-school ones where the camera was attached to a separate VCR that you had to wear over your shoulder.
When I was young he would always have my brother and sister and I act in little skits and movies for fun. Eventually (around age 9) I branched out and started directing my own side projects. I had such a blast doing it, I figured I should find a way to do it forever.
For more on Todd, visit www.todd-berger.com.
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