Short of the Week

SXSW Filmmakers Q&A

News / March 11, 2011

As the SXSW Film Festival gears up this weekend, regular SOTW contributor, Jason B Kohl, sat down with two filmmakers from UCLA’s MFA Directing Program en route to Austin. Their shorts couldn’t be more different from each other in every aspect from production through post, but the two had many common insights to share.

JASON: Why don’t we start with the two of you introducing yourselves.

LUCAS: I’m Lucas Mireles and my film is Love Analysis, I’ll just do the tagline and it’s “Give me one good reason to date your sister,” and it’s about a man, trying to convince another man to date his sister, and the lengths he will go to do so.

ERIC: My name’s Eric Martin, my film is called Fran’s Daughter, and it’s about a woman who learns she may have been switched at birth.

JASON: You are both at UCLA film school in your third year. Talk a little about the production of the films and one problem or one thing on set remember.

Love Analysis by Lucas Mireles

LUCAS: This film was a post production pathways class. Post pathways is a class where we shoot a bunch of different formats, this year it was the canon 7D, the Red MX and then 35mm. What we do is we essentially shoot the same film three times and in three different formats, then we do a full DI (digital intermediate) with the help of Technicolor, then they’re all put out to 35 and we look at them on the big screen. It’s a way to say “this is what you can afford and this is what it’s going to look like.”

ERIC: It’s like an elaborate test shoot.

LUCAS: This year our teacher said we should do a story. Here are the parameters: it can only be two pages long, and it has to have an exterior day and an exterior night and an interior day and an interior night. So I sent a script off to our TA. I remember writing “sorry about this” in the email, but then they voted on a bunch of scripts and mine got voted in. We shot it in one day. We had to shoot each take, then switch out the format. We had 6 DPs (directors of photography) and they would swap out the formats. I was talking to the teacher after the shoot and he said “it looks like you might have a tight little piece there,” and I said “maybe I’ll send it to SXSW,” and he said “maybe it’ll get in.”

JASON: Which format did you end up going with?

LUCAS: This was mainly the RED. I did a cut for performance and most of that ended up being the RED. The greatest part is in the credits there are like 50 people. When south by called they said “did you really shoot this on 35?”

ERIC: Because the movie’s only 48 seconds long.

LUCAS: It was also hard working with so many different people; we had three different editors and assistant editors and it was hell trying to keep up with people who got caught up with classes and other things. And everybody kept telling us “just forget about it, it’s an exercise,” but I was like “**** it, I’m shooting 35,” so I sent it out on the last day.

Fran's Daughter by Eric F Martin

ERIC: We really couldn’t be more opposite. My production was really straightforward and really simple.  The whole movie takes place in one house, in just three rooms. It was a three day shoot in a house in the Silver Lake in Los Angeles. The hard part  of the movie was the writing, which took me a really long time. I was trying to come up with an idea for my second year film, and I talked to one of my friends from undergrad, who I used to make films with and what we used to do was based on Lars von Trier’s “The Five Obstructions” and we would give each other obstructions: some kind of hurdle or technical challenge or theme to approach, and then the other person would have to make a movie that addressed that. I was desperate for an idea and I asked him for something, and he sent me a little message that said “make a movie about someone who discovers that something that they hold to be true about their identity turns out not to be true and he also sent me a link to a This American Life episode about a woman who was switched at birth. There were literally hundreds of drafts of this film. There were whole other movies that were generated out of this germ and then completely dismissed.

LUCAS: I’m glad it wasn’t in a diner though.

ERIC: Oh god  at one point it was just the two women in a diner having a conversation. One had discovered this thing and confronted the other about it and it was just the two women in the diner for six pages and then they left.

LUCAS: The best part was the switching of the eggs.

ERIC: Yeah it was the worst metaphor in the world, somebody ordered scrambled eggs and somebody ordered hard boiled and they got them wrong. So eventually I dug into the idea of switched at birth being the central conceit of the film. And then it took me really long to come to the version that the film was shot in. There were scenes in the diner, there were others where one of the women’s brothers was involved, and one where the women were 15 instead of in their thirties. It was a really difficult process. At some point in January of last year I landed on the concept of an older woman with Alzheimer’s who brings out this news to her daughter.

LUCAS: I remember the first time I saw it I said “send it to Sundance!”

JASON: Tell us about post.

LUCAS: We saw a bunch of different versions of the film. So each team (35mm, RED, 7D) had a cut of the film that they cut to the best of their abilities and then the class voted on which cut looked good and I was like “this is terrible.” There were all sorts of endings to this film.

ERIC: Filmmaking by democracy.

LUCAS: And I was like “this is bad,” and we went back to the footage with the editor and found an ending we liked and the professor let me use it. That was one of the hurdles with the whole film.

JASON: How long did it take you to finish?

LUCAS: We shot it at the end of October and it was done at the beginning of December. It was a really fast turnaround, three weeks for the initial cut, and all the rest was DI (digital intermediate), color process, film out and all that.

JASON: That’s great. Eric how was post for you?

ERIC: Well I shot in March, I was basically picture locked in May, and then the movie was finished in August. It was very short actually as far as student films go. I submitted to festivals and it’s such a long time before anything happens with that.

JASON: What was your festival strategy?

ERIC: I started with Sundance and Clermont Ferrand, got turned down by both of those. In October I applied to SXSW, Tribeca, San Francisco, Dallas and Aspen Shortsfest.. I haven’t heard back from any of them at this point. Before I heard from SXSW I applied to Sydney, Karlovy Vary, Chicago, Montreal, Palm Springs and Cannes Cinefondation. Basically SXSW was my cutoff. If I got rejected from them, I would have started applying to smaller, more regional festivals. I knew I really liked the movie, and I really wanted people to see it, and I didn’t really care where people saw it. It’s so much of a crapshoot, no matter how good your film is. Any organization that whittles down from 4,000 is a crapshoot.

JASON: The last thing I wanted to talk about was marketing.

ERIC: I started to build a website but lost steam when I got rejected from Sundance and Clermont. So two weeks ago I wake up and my computer won’t turn on and my phone’s ringing, and I ignore it and it’s 512 area code, so I googled it and saw it was Austin, so that’s how I found out. They told me I they were publicly announcing in two days, and that I had to have all my stuff ready. So I built a website because I knew that this would be one of my only opportunities where people were going to seek out my film so I have a website with a trailer, synopsis, with contact and links to all the cast and crew, and also a way to collect email addresses. I already had a facebook page and I have a link to everyone on my personal website (producer, DP, casting director). Because I heard that SXSW was such a social media intense festival I got a twitter account for the film and for myself. I had an old man phonecall where I called a friend and asked him how to use twitter. I’m still finalizing the press kit so that anyone can download it. I also made sure that south by had everything they asked for. It took me way longer than I thought it would, and it’s actually been all I’ve done for the last 14 days.

LUCAS: We have to think about “What have I seen that’s great about marketing?” So you try to think of creative ways, I’m going to make t-shirts and plaster the town with posters. In the end I hope people see it and meet me and want to work with me in the end. It ends up taking 95% of your time. This is the part where you really learn how to market your film to people or producers you want to work with, because those are the people I’m truly interested in is finding people to work with.

ERIC: Postcards are super expensive, so I’m going to try to make hospital bracelets with the name of the film and the contact info, to find something that sticks out a little bit.

JASON: What advice do you have? I’ve heard two big things: Don’t give up on a film, and don’t give up on festivals.

LUCAS: There was a filmmaker named Abe Sylvia who sold a feature at Toronto last year who came to speak. He ended up getting a manager from a small piece he did for a class. So you just never know. Whenever you’re given an opportunity, if it’s 10 seconds or 30 minutes take advantage of it. Never give up on any little thing that you’re doing, because you never know who’s going to like it.

ERIC: If you’re going to make a longer process make sure it’s something you’re gonna want to spend time with later, because it’s going to take a long time. I still really love my movie, and I think that’s because I spent a lot of time making sure it was something I really wanted to make.

JASON: What’s next for you?

ERIC: I’m going to be set to co-direct a feature film in Los Angeles. And we’re hoping to make a nice low budget film in LA.

LUCAS: I have a short film which is a love story on a gun range called Range Junkies. I was also a co-director on a feature film in Germany. It’s called people on Sunday 2010, which is based on a feature film by Billy Wilder that was done in 1929. I’m also writing a lot of feature films.

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Jason B. Kohl is an Austrian/American filmmaker from Lansing, Michigan. His short films have played SXSW, Los Angeles, Locarno and been finalists for the Student Academy Awards. His first nonfiction book, a practical guide to film school, will be published by the Focal Press in 2015. jasonbkohl.com