Next week at the Alamo Drafthouse Village, Austin Film Festival will present AFF’s Best of Fest (Shorts 2012) as part of our monthly Audience Award Series. This evening of award-winning shorts from last year’s festival includes two Oscar-nominated films and Animated, Documentary and Narrative shorts all together in one program. Bears Fonté, Director of Programming, sat down (or e-sat down actually) with a few of the filmmakers to discuss their films and their take on being a Shorts Filmmaker.
Bears, AFF: What do you consider a strong story?
Zach Endres, Writer/Director THE TELEPORTED MAN: “The strongest stories are those that make you look at life at a slightly different angle. They provide a unique perspective in a way that makes you feel something, whether it be joy or heartbreak or fury. The best stories lead you to empathize with a new point of view. They broaden your mind, either by allowing you to wear someone else’s shoes or revealing the truth that you’re not the only one wearing your particular shoes. With that knowledge you face your everyday life with a new tilt, hopefully in a positive direction.”
Jason Berger, Director GOOD KARMA $1: “A strong story to me is really just something that pulls an emotion or feeling out of me. A comedy can have a really strong story the way that a drama or epic period piece can. “
Bears, AFF: How long did the writing process take you and when (how) did you know that it was ready for production?
Christoph Kuschnig, Writer/Director HATCH: “It took about six months from the idea to the script that I actually shot. It’s never ready – even rewrites on the day of shooting a scene. There is a point in writing when you know, you’ve done everything possible to make it as strong as you can. Then it is time to bring in your collaborators to ascend it to the next level.”
Zach Endres: “Writing took place over a couple of months, but I would have loved more time. Being my undergraduate thesis film, this entire project had to be completed within one semester, including script revisions. So in all actuality, production just kind of happened whether the script was ready or not. But that pressure kept me vigilant. I wrote draft after draft, squeezing as many revisions into that time as possible. I tweaked the script throughout rehearsals and into production, and oddly enough even well into post-production. It’s impossible for a script to reach perfection, but that doesn’t mean you should settle. Actively critiquing your creation until the end is a way to ensure you’re creating the best product possible, albeit at the expense of your sanity.”
Bears, AFF: What was the biggest challenge making the film?
Chelsea Hernandez, Director SEE THE DIRT: “The biggest challenge in making the film was determine how to edit the story together. Erik and I did not have an idea of how the structure of the film would be and there was no event to really cover that would create a narrative arc. We knew we wanted to highlight Scott and allow the audience a peek into his life. So, it was hard to determine how to make a “day in the life” short documentary flow and keep one’s attention. Also, I filmed and edited the movie, it was hard to cut down the film. I was so attached to certain scenes because I was present at the shoot. It was heart wrenching to loose certain scenes, but in the end it worked much better.”
Christoph Kuschnig:“Shooting at an actual baby hatch. We asked for the three nights but only got one. We had to cram in 24 setups in less than 12 hours of shooting with an actual baby on set, heavy traffic outside the baby hatch – and still we were able to make it look quiet.”
Bears, AFF: Working within your budget, what type of compromises did you have to make along the way? Were there any that were particularly painful to you?
Chelsea Hernandez:“We started shooting “See the Dirt” in standard definition because (co-director) Erik and I both owned Panasonic DVX100s that we just couldn’t let go of yet. I wished we would have filmed it in high definition, but stepping back now, I’m glad we did shoot in SD. Since the movie is about Scott’s unique vintage hobby, it gives it a nostalgic, novelty look. And it leads the audience to focus more on Scott.”
Zach Endres: “Making a science fiction film on a shoestring budget is always a challenge. We had to make compromises with almost every aspect of the film. While these changes seemed painful at first, I’ve found that I make my most creative decisions when the greatest limitations are placed on me. Some of the moments in the film that I’m most happy with are not even close to how I imagined them in the writing process. I’m a firm believer that you must embrace limitations, because they often lead to a better movie if you know how to manipulate them to your benefit.”
Bears, AFF: What advice do you have for shorts filmmakers?
Zach Endres: “Keep it simple. A short doesn’t have to be a compressed feature film. The strongest shorts are often those that tell a story that fits their timeframe. It’s all about efficiency. Start late, leave early, reduce locations, combine characters, simplify simplify simplify. The clarity of brevity allows for even the smallest of stories to leave the biggest of footprints.”
Jason Berger: “Just have fun. If you’re not having fun, then don’t do it. And do it for yourself. I think you should submit (your film to film festivals) – you’ve just got to do it. I think it’s a good exercise in getting your film out there. And even if your film doesn’t get in, it’s a learning experience. If you want to be into making films, you can’t really be worried about whether people are going to like it or hate it. You want to get as many eyeballs on it as possible. The goal is to get people to see it.”
Bryan Buckley, Writer/Director ASAD: “There are tons of film festivals out there. Take the time to know the festivals you submit to. Look at their past winners. Look at how they screen. Make sure that they recognize the type of work you’ve created. Traveling 1400 miles to see your film screen in front of eight disinterested people is about as disheartening as watching Mitt Romney trying to explain his take on foreign policy.”
Bears, AFF: What have you learned or do you must appreciate, after working the festival circuit?
Jason Berger: “I really appreciated the audience laughing at the parts that we laughed at!”
Bryan Buckley: “If you look at Austin’s track record for picking films that are socially noteworthy, it’s pretty damn ridiculous. As a writer/director I also like that Austin is such a writer’s festival – I mean look at the award – it’s a typewriter! We couldn’t help but put Austin at the top of our festival submission list. Warhol said ‘in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.’ I wonder if it was his way of predicting the rise of the short.”
Zach Endres: “I’ve learned to not take rejection personally. In fact, rejection is just a challenge to do even better work the next time around. On top of that, I’ve learned that some people actually do want to see my films. Appreciation of that fact is key: focus on the positives, bear the negatives and use them as fodder to build upon your past work.”
AFF’s Best of Fest (Shorts 2012) plays Monday, March 4th at the Alamo Drafthouse Village at 7 pm. Films will include SEE THE DIRT (Doc Short Jury Award Winner), GOOD KARMA, $1 (Doc Short Audience Award Winner), ASAD (Oscar-nominated and Narrative Short Jury and Audience Award Winner), HATCH (Student Short Jury Award Winner), THE TELEPORTED MAN (Student Short Audience Award Winner), and HEAD OVER HEELS (Oscar-nominated and Animated Short Jury and Audience Award Winner). Filmmakers from SEE THE DIRT and THE TELEPORTED MAN will be in attendance. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.