Filmmaker Spotlight

Filmmaker Spotlight: Scott Storm

 

Writer, Director, and Animator Scott Storm shares with us his natural path to storytelling and the inspiration behind his short The Apple Tree.

When did you begin filmmaking?

Like many children of the 70’s, Star Wars had a profound effect on me and I was obsessed with it.  I started making films at the age of 11, making a stop-motion clay animated film on a subject I know nothing about; world politics.  Several other animated efforts followed before I made the leap to live-action in 1982 with a surreal little film called Dreamer.

Where did you attend film school?

I am from New Scotland, New York, which is a small town just outside of Albany, the state capital.  I attended high school in Voorheesville, New York, where I made friends with people who would shape the course of my filmmaking life.  Yvonne Perry, an actress best known for As The World Turns, was my first thespian.  She starred in all my early works when I worked in the medium of Super-8 film.  I’m afraid that dates me.  I met my best friend, animator and NYU professor Dean Kalman Lennert at a film program in Buffalo, New York in the summer of 1982.  He and I share a great love of nature and animation and he has been my closest confidant and supporter for nearly 35 years. Also just before leaving high school, I met Joe Kraemer, who has also acted for me and scored every film I have ever made. He most recently hit the big time with the score for Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation, which is currently in theaters and the #1 movie in America.  Go Joe!

I attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City as a freshman. It was here that I met a young man named Bryan Singer.  I correctly predicted that out of any of the rest of us, he would hit the big time. He is the director of The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie, Superman Returns and many of the X-MEN films. It bears mentioning that he also tied for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 1993 with his first feature, Public Access.  He continues to be a good friend, fan and supporter to this day.

Who has been an inspiration to you?

Other than my dear friends, my parents were always my most loyal and fierce supporters. Mom chaperoned us when we ran about the woods shooting off guns filled with blanks and making sure we didn’t injure ourselves…and Dad selflessly bank rolled my output, always telling me to never give up doing what you love.  On the professional side, I’ve had great inspiration from directors Peter Weir and Terrence Malick, both of whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

When I was color timing my first feature film, Burn, at Deluxe Studios, merely by chance I noticed that the person that signed in before me was none other than Peter Weir, who was color timing The Truman Show in the theater next to us.  I saw him in the courtyard having a cigarette with his DP and my producer, Anthony Miller, told me that “If you don’t talk to him, you’ll regret it the rest of your life.”  I did so and found him to be the most charming and honest man I’d ever met.  When I told him how nervous I was…he said.  "It never changes.  Never take on any project that doesn’t scare the hell out of you.“

He followed up by saying "I’d love to see your film!”

I answered..(thinking he’d give me an address to send a screener)  "I’d love that!  How can I make that happen?“

His answer:  "Get a distributor.”

Burn sadly remains undistributed to this day.

 

Tell me about the short that brought you to HollyShorts:

The Apple Tree  is an idea I’ve carried around with me for the better part of 20 years.  Since coming to Hollywood, there have been many ups and downs. As we all know, it is extremely difficult to find financing for low budget independent films…or any film for that matter. After several stumbling blocks with larger projects, I told myself “I’d better sit down and work on this so I have something so show for however many years it will take.  So I did just that. I sat down at my computer in the winter of 2010 and just began working. I completed the film exactly five years later in 2015.  I have a deep love of nature and an extreme displeasure of people to disrespect it. The Apple Tree  is my statement about that.

What sparked you to begin telling the story of the boy in The Apple Tree?

I came upon the very scene depicted in the film on a walk in the woods many years ago. It made me angry and stayed with me a long time. At a point when getting projects off the ground was proving to challenging, I decided to sit down and start work on it in the winter of 2010. Having been a lifelong lover of nature and the forests of the northeast, in general, it seemed a very natural story for me to tell.  Hopefully, it was not too preachy.  It’s more a love letter to being young and mischievous and capturing a moment in time than anything else. I’m very proud of it.

You write, direct, produce and animate, which is your favorite role and why?

I only write occasionally, as it is a process I find daunting and stressful.  If I’m close enough to the material, I’ll write it.  More often than not, I leave that to someone more qualified.  Directing is my favorite aspect when working in live action because I love to collaborate and see what others can bring to the vision I have.  You have to be open to the fact that one or more of your team members may have an idea that’s even better than your own.  You’re all in service to the movie, so that’s an important part of that process.  I animate purely for my own artistic satisfaction and I work entirely alone.  Since I have no aspirations to work professionally as an animator, it is akin to writing a book.  You are solitary and you answer to no one.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

What are you working on next?

I have several projects going on at the same time.  You never know what’s going to hit next or gain momentum, so it’s always good to stay busy.  First, there is Custodian, another animated short with a medieval theme.  I used to play in the Society for Creative Anachronism and have always harbored a deep love of the middle ages.  My creative time and I have also been prepping a modern noir thriller called Straight Razor Jazz, screenplay by David Scott Hayand produced by Anthony Miller.  It is rather ambitious and may be further down the line for that reason.  I did create an animated sizzle reel for this project which is available to view on my website, www.scottstorm.net.

On a smaller scale, we are preparing OPPO, a political thriller set in Chicago, which was written by Glenn Jeffers.  Just last month I completed an outline for a survival thriller called Rim Of The World, which I will hopefully co-write with someone at some point.

What advice do you have to your fellow filmmakers?

Be tenacious.  Watch a lot of movies.  Listen to your peers (if you respect them) and learn from them.   Don’t believe everything everyone tells you in this business.  Most of it is well-meant bullshit.  And don’t let that discourage you.  Above all, keep dreaming…keep creating.  Never stop.

Writer and Director, Louis Mansfield, and Producer Chrissy McDermott team up with Illustrator, Mike Wohlberg and Animator, Jason Melcher, to tell the story of an old man reminiscing of a life he never had until he meets a French woman who helps him bring his dreams come true in their short: Wine, Women & Cognac. Today, they are working on turning their short into a feature Old Man In France and more with their production company FFR (Federal Film Reserve).

Old Man In France is a story of a grumpy old man at odds with his retirement home pretends to have been a gentleman of international success. When a beautiful French woman moves in, he finds a new opportunity for love, adventure, and companionship.

How did you two meet?

We met on a micro-budget feature film that Louis wrote and directed, Birth Of Separation. I was working as the camera assistant on the film. After the shoot had wrapped, a group of us from the production stayed close friends and continued to work on other projects together.

After the feature, Louis wanted to start directing short films while developing a second feature film with a larger budget, at which point he asked if I’d be interested in trying my hand at producing. I was very eager to get more involved with independent productions, particularly with pre-production and development, so I jumped at the opportunity. We’ve been working together as a producing/directing team ever since.

Tell me about yourselves:

Louis: I grew up bouncing around military bases and was involved in promoting and playing music in his early to mid-twenties. He decided to focus on film when he realized that he had the resources to make a feature film with a small budget like he had always wanted.

Chrissy: I began my career in filmmaking while at Temple University when I started working as an assistant camera on a variety of productions throughout the North East. After working on my first feature in 2009, I began producing short films working with Louis. At that point, I made the switch to producing and have loved the chaotic challenges of running a film production. Currently we’re developing two features, one live action film, Old Man In France, and one animated film, The Death Of The Boogeyman.

What made you want to get into animation?

Chrissy: Louis wrote a feature film script, Old Man in France, and we thought that since the beginning of a script should really pull the reader into the story, we would animate the first ten pages into a short film to communicate the wit and charm of Old Man in France. With the help of Jason Melcher’s animation and Mike Wohlberg’s illustration, we were able to bring the beginning of Old Man in France alive in our short film, Wine, Women, & Cognac. The short has been a great tool when presenting the film to potential financiers and production companies. We’ve received some really positive feedback about the style and the endearing nature of the story.

What was the short that brought you to HollyShorts?

Chrissy: We were first brought to HollyShorts with our short film, Whom God Helps, which is an unconventional supernatural/horror film with lots of practical make-up FX. The film screened in a cinematography block and was a great experience. The thing that really got us excited beyond the screenings, however, were the panel discussions. We literally were being informed of the ways digital distribution platforms would be changing the film industry several years before it happened. Thinking back, every panel we went to we were given valuable insight and advice. The one piece of information that stuck with us the most was that film financing is not an exact science and that we need to approach funding from several different avenues. This was one of the reasons we decided to make a short for feature film in the first place and it has been a key element of our film’s pitch package.

What made you want to tell the story of the old man?

Louis: I wrote Old Man in France in a time where a lot of things seemed uncertain. I didn’t know if I’d be able to make feature film with a respectable budget, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to live in another country, and I wasn’t sure if filmmaking didn’t work out that I’d live a happy life. There are clearly more serious issues to have but when you’re working years towards a goal that seems to become further and further away some introspection is almost mandatory.

I thought about all of those things quite a bit until one day I imagined an old man who regretted never accomplishing the things he had wanted to do. An old man who instead of pursuing at least some of the things later in life just bitterly shut himself off from the outside world and lived in a fantasy where he had traveled to far off lands living an overindulgent lifestyle. I’m fairly modest so that aspect was a fun embellishment. I also thought of the people that he would interact with many of them not liking him very much as he is quite grumpy. He would have only one friend who happened to be a young British man who worked at the retirement home and had traveled all over Europe.

After creating these ideas the only other thought was to turn this old man’s life upside down with a new resident in the retirement home who happened to be a lovely elderly French woman who lived the life the old man had always desired. After representing himself as a man of international success his two worlds of wonderful fantasy and disappointing reality collide.

The biggest and best thing Chrissy has ever done for me is encourage the writing of Old Man in France. I think she recognized that it was not only a project to work on together but was also a cathartic light at the end of a tunnel in an uncertain time. All in all, I think what made me want to tell a story about an old man is that I wanted to give myself hope that while I may not experience life in my ideal way that with love and friendship happiness isn’t very far away.

What is next for you two?

We’ve been developing the feature for about two and a half years now and are currently seeking funding and talent. About a year ago we partnered with a young, ambitious independent production company based in LA, Buffalo 8, whom we’ve been working with to package the film. Buffalo 8’s key role is to connect us with potential financiers, sales companies, and talent agents. Currently, we have Evan Jonigkeit (X-Men: Days of Futures Past) and George Newton (Paddington) attached and we’re speaking with a few sales and production companies.

We’re also in the early stage development for another feature, Death Of The Boogeyman, which is an animated children’s horror film comparable to ParaNorman and the children’s television series, Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends.

Death Of The Boogeyman is a story of an adventurous little boy, his naive big sister, and precarious best friend who are on the run from a ferocious boogeyman after an innocent prank goes horribly wrong.

Our production company, The FFR, also completed production on our most recent short film, a live action and animated comedy called The Proper Etiquette For Being Alone. For the film, we handcrafted eight large, wearable bobble heads during the three months of pre-production and shot the film over the course of four days. The bobble heads worn by actors and shot with only tracking markers on the faces which will have animated facial features added in post production. We started post in April and plan for another festival run for this short in 2016.

What is your advice on collaborating together?

When collaborating don’t forget to have fun and laugh together. Laugh as much as possible and I mean big loud laughs that would make people in a movie theater annoyed. Care and love what you’re doing and be the person the other can lean on in times of need. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that a lot and that’s when things can become stressful.

When working on any team, make your goal to be a utilitarian, invaluable team member. Not only will that help you get the best, most fulfilling experience from any collaboration or production but you’ll likely in turn have that support when you need it. While we believe having a protocol and a structured way of making movies together is essential, the biggest and best thing we can do for our fellow filmmakers is encourage them.

Any advice to your fellow filmmakers?

We’ve noticed that getting our assets together like budget, proposal, script, breakdown, schedule, etc. has definitely helped communicate our film in financial and creative ways. With all of our package materials well prepared, we were able to partner with a production company which has granted us access to resources me might not have had on our own. We’ve be fortunate to have worked with Buffalo 8 Productions and as a result, have had our film put in front of potential financiers, production and sales companies, and agents.

Making our short film, Wine, Women, & Cognac, as a visual representation of our feature film has enticed potential investors and gained a good amount of positive attention for our project as well. We haven’t found our perfect financing match yet, but it’s been great to receive positive feedback on our short and the business proposal. We’ve also learned the value of having video content to supplement our film package, specifically a short or trailer for feature. Wine, Women, & Cognac is a short that’s an adaption of the first ten pages of the feature script which was created by animating the storyboard illustrated panels.


It was a crash course in storytelling. There is the tenet of there are three times you make a film. When it’s written when it’s shot, and when it’s edited.’ Well, being responsible for all three of those things, it was a great relief to be able to think like an editor while being in the first two phases.

John Painz

http://bit.ly/JohnPainz

Filmmaker Spotlight: John Painz


HollyShorts Alumni John Painz, Owner of Words From Here production company, brings his personal experience with agoraphobia to the screen with his feature Stuck. Stuck dives into the debilitating anxieties and challenges that build John’s confinement for the past two years and how he surmounts to facing the outside world.

Synopsis: Stuck follows John, an agoraphobe who hasn’t left his apartment in two years. After his therapist quits on him, he is replaced by Dr. Claire Morning, who, with the help of some interesting therapy, challenges John to leave his apartment in 30 days.

Tell me a little about yourself:

I was born in Brooklyn, New York, and spent most of my younger years in Syosset, on Long Island. My dream, when I was a kid, was to become a comic book artist like Bill Sienkiewicz or Dave Mckean. My dad got me into comic book collecting and drawing became my favorite past time.

I loved movies. Loved, loved them (Schwarzenegger films in particular), but I watched them strictly for entertainment sake, and never sat down and dissected them in any real way. It wasn’t until I was in college that I started paying attention to the styles of different directors, especially David Lynch. His film Wild at Heart is my all time favorite film. That is not to be confused with what I think is the best film ever made.

After high school, I went to the School of Visual Arts and landed in the Illustration department. Fortunately or, unfortunately, once college was over I found myself doing graphic design for a paycheck. I couldn’t get any work in comics, so, that paycheck turned into a career. I was a graphic designer for fifteen years until I turned my sites to filmmaking.

What was the lure to your desire of filmmaking?

In 1999 or so I created Words From Here, which was a website that was born out of the first Project Greenlight. I felt at the time that the web needed a community-based site for screenwriters to get reviews and resources for their work. So, with a forum and a site and all that, a bunch of us got together and started reading each other’s work. I had contests once a year and gave out some donated prizes. A few of the winners got optioned, which was great. But after about five years I got burnt out because I wasn’t charging people. Just offering help and all that. So I shut the site down for about four or five years until late 2010 when I met my producing partner Julie Sisson. I re-configured the site and name as a production company. It was around that time that the bug to create something new was rearing its head. I re-tooled a feature called 8 for Vegas, about a pool team that traveled from New York to Las Vegas to try and win the grand prize of a national pool tournament. I was in a pool league when I first wrote the feature (it’s also how, years later, I would meet Julie, actually), and thought a sports comedy slash road trip film would be fun.

Ultimately, the lure of filmmaking was in my continued love of storytelling. Didn’t matter if it was while illustrating a comic, or writing a novel or a script. I love all of those formats. But, as the DSLR revolution was taking place, I had the opportunity to try my hand at something I’d wanted to do for a long time.

What experience have you had with agoraphobia?

I have been dealing with agoraphobia on and off for the past five years. There was a six month stretch in late 2009 where I couldn’t leave the house without having a crippling anxiety attack. It made for a very difficult time and was followed by some severe depression. I’ve been dealing with anxiety issues for the past 15 years or so, but after a long drought of unemployment, not leaving my apartment became a daily routine, and it evolved into a much larger issue.

After six months, I had no choice but to fight through it when I got a full-time job. It was a very stressful time, but the combination of anxiety, no money, and depression forced me to take a long look at how much energy I was giving over to these issues. A lot of what is talked about in the script is personal philosophy. I didn’t do any research for the therapeutic measures that take place. I started writing and worked my way through them with what I thought might help people who were suffering talk about issues that affected their lives.

I wanted to come up with some unique ways to not only keep the main character interesting, but also get the viewer out of the apartment. I felt that was one of the keys to the success of the script. So, I used the device of multiple characters talking into a video camera. While we stay in the main character’s house for a significant amount of the film, the additional characters not only helped the pace along, but solidified all of the potential difficulties people might have with this debilitating disorder.

If you had unlimited funds and resources how would that have changed your story if it would have?

In this hypothetical world, I would have shot a different script. In fact, I doubt Stuck would have ever been written, and that would have been a shame because I’m quite proud of it. If it had to be Stuck, I honestly wouldn’t have changed much for a first feature. Maybe an additional camera, some more lighting. I would have also liked to have paid my cast and crew more. They dedicated a lot of time to the project, and I couldn’t have done it without them.

Tell me about your process from page to screen?

In 2013, I had set a goal to shoot a feature the following year. I knew the scripts I had wouldn’t do, as they were big budget films. I had never written with budget in mind before, so I grabbed a piece of paper and I wrote ASSETS across the top. I made a list of everything I could get my hands on for free. First thing was my apartment. My cat. A hallway. Lobby. Central Park. An office… and so on and so forth.

As I looked at the list, story ideas began to emerge. After a while, I figured there was really only one reason a person wouldn’t leave their home, and I started forming a story about an agoraphobic character. The script came quite quickly in my head after that. I wrote the first draft in a week and sent it off to Julie and our co-producer Lynn Mancinelli. I got some great feedback from them both and started in on a second draft. Then a third.

Since you’ve directed, written, edited, and acted in your feature. Which role do you find the most rewarding?

The entire project was rewarding as a whole. This project couldn’t have been better for a first feature. 80% of the film takes place in one location. We had a minimal crew, and no more than three actors at a time (and only for one scene). We were able to take our time and not rush, so the film was not overwhelming for being the writer, director, editor and lead. I’m not sure I would ever do that again, especially with a more complicated script. Besides 5AM, I’d never really acted before. But, the character was essentially me, and I felt that I could balance all of the roles I was responsible for, and still have the essence of the character with me at all times.

But if I had to pick one, it would be as editor. It was a crash course in storytelling. There is the tenet of there are three times you make a film. When it’s written when it’s shot, and when it’s edited.’ Well, being responsible for all three of those things, it was a great relief to be able to think like an editor while being in the first two phases. I learned about pace, shaping performances, the art of compromising and simplifying, while writing and directing the film. Then, in the 5 months it took to edit Stuck, we removed an entire plot line and two scenes and were still able to get an 85-minute film out of an 82-page script. You see all of these pieces before editing and you know it will fit, and then you cut a part and see a streamlined story you didn’t think of before. You hear about it happening on big budget films, but until you experience it… it was really amazing.

How did you go about funding your feature? 

We started out our fundraising adventure for Stuck with an Indiegogo campaign. We had used them in the past for two seasons of our web series 8 for Vegas, and knew that we were going to shoot Stuck with whatever we raised. I had planned to finance some of the films, and asked friends, family, and the general public to help however they could. My cast and crew were very helpful in spreading the word. In the end, we had three people donate a significant amount of money, and all received Executive Producer credit.

What are you working on next? Possibly a comic book series?

I would love to work on a comic series, but my main focus is now movies. I have a fantastic script in the works that I can only describe as an urban nightmare. I was trying to figure out what our next film would be, and I harkened back to Woody Allen’s Manhattan, and Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, and how much the two films utilize New York City as a character. Having lived in the city practically my entire adult life, I started cultivating some wonderful locations that could be used and came up with some doozies. So, I shared the idea with my two producing partners Julie Sisson and Lynn Mancinelli, and we’re all very excited. We’re hoping to start shooting in September. The film is yet untitled.

What advice do you have for your fellow filmmakers?

Kubrick said, “Perhaps it sounds ridiculous, but the best thing that young filmmakers should do is to get hold of a camera and some film and make a movie of any kind at all.” So, ok, you don’t need film anymore. This is where Coppola comes in. “Suddenly one day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart…and make a beautiful film with her father’s little camera recorder, and for once this whole professionalism about movies will be destroyed forever and it will become an art form.” I think we’re now at the point in the last decade or so where this is a reasonably consistent reality.

When Julie Sisson and I worked on our web series, we received some money from a friend. He handed me the check and said, “Look, this project, it doesn’t matter if it sucks. You’re just starting out, and that’s ok. Just make sure you finish it. I’ve met too many people who’ve said they were going to do this and that and never did a thing, they just talked. Just make sure you finish it.”

A project doesn’t have to be great to have taught you a valuable lesson. We live in a great time for filmmakers. Don’t worry about the grand payday or the fame or any of that shit. Worry about finishing what you started. Get it out there, find out what you did wrong and how you could fix it, then try another project. You should look at each project as a stepping-stone and understand that each production is going to present its own challenges.

Being a director means you’re the captain of the ship, and as soon as you start in with the screaming, yelling, or the melodrama or what-have-you it affects every single person down the line. It’s one of the worst things you can do to change the mood of the entire production. It affects performances, levels of involvement, attitudes… everything. Figure out a way to get out of a bad situation without making it worse, and then sort your issues out on a one-on-one basis.

Filmmaker Spotlight: SAD MOTIVATOR

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By Chelsea Fung

@CineChel

We all have it, that devil on our shoulders, opposite of the moral angel, urging us to say and do, but just have a hard time acting on and vocalizing the dark matter that we resist, for some that dark matter is just a little darker or is possibly green. For Timothy Ryan Cole and Nathan Alan Bunker they personify just that with Mark, a green blob that is a mouthpiece for Kevin’s deepest, darkest most inner thoughts, that only the conduit can hear and see in the web series SAD MOTIVATOR.

In SAD MOTIVATOR the series follows Kevin, a newly single guy living in Los Angeles who enters the dating world with the help of his sidekick/navigator, Mark, a green blob that pushes the boundaries and forces Kevin into interesting, and sometimes, dangerous situations. We got to know the creator, writer, director and star of the web series presented by Funny or Die: SAD MOTIVATOR. Nathan and Timothy share with us how the flubber-like blob, Mark, voiced by Nathan, came to be from the mind of the main character, Kevin, played by Timothy and what is to come in Season 2.

Tell me a little about yourselves:

Timothy: I started acting in school plays when I was 9 and in 2001 I moved to New York to study acting at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. I moved to Los Angeles in 2007 and started working on a lot of commercials. Mostly known for the recent GEICO campaign “Happier Than..” where the two musicians Jimmy and Ronnie play guitar and mandolin on stage. I met Nathan through Andrea Rueda, the casting director for this project and many others. Nathan had an awesome, creepy, inappropriate dark comedy piece and invited me to join in on the fun - after reading the script, I knew I wanted to dive right in and start creating. He rocked the finished product and created something that people can’t seem to get enough of - I think a lot of film festivals and the audience sees this and just can’t turn away - no matter how awkward, creepy or inappropriate. Nathan does a great job of walking (and crossing) that thin line to keep everything interesting.

Nathan: I’m the writer/director of SAD MOTIVATOR, a 7 episode web series shown at HollyShorts. I am also the voice of Mark in the series. I grew up in Michigan and made my way out here when I was 20. Went to school for Film at Columbia College Hollywood and have been working in the industry in some capacity or another for the last 7 years. This is my first real project I’ve put out in the world and have been pretty happy with the reception so far, especially being able to say I showed it at HollyShorts.


How did you two meet?

Nathan: Tim and the producer/casting director Andrea Rueda have known each other for a couple years and we’ve seen each other here and there in different areas. We were able to kind of really get to know each other when we talked about the project. So you could say the project really brought us together.


Where did you get your start in the industry?  

Nathan: The very first industry job I got was as a camera assistant on a Power Rangers-type show called ’Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight’. It was fantastic. I was the 2nd AC and had no idea what I was doing, being only 3 months removed from college graduation, and the only reason I got the job was because I had just bought the camera they were going to shoot on. I didn’t know how to use it, but I owned it and that was good enough for them I guess. Met a lot of cool people I still keep in touch with today and it was a great learning experience.

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Tell me about your short that brought you to HollyShorts:

Nathan: The project that brought us to HollyShorts was a web series called SAD MOTIVATOR. It’s a creepy love story about a heartsick 20-something, played by Tim, who tries to navigate through life with the help of his best Mark, voiced by myself, who is an animated green blob. It’s pretty dark and we are trying to blur the lines of funny and disturbing but not going overboard. I think that’s the difficult part of making this project; trying to justify what crosses the line and what would be acceptable. Mark never swears in the series, which we thought was necessary to his character and would go overboard if he had. Meanwhile, Tim takes his penis out in a park and we all thought that was appropriate.


Did a particular person spark Mark into existence?  

Nathan: There wasn’t a particular person who brought this on, it was more his voice. I used to try to make my girlfriend laugh uncomfortably by walking around our apartment talking in Mark’s voice. The majority of it came from saying things creepy old men may say like ‘Give me some sugar’ or 'Come sit on my lap’ but in Mark’s voice. It made her laugh and pretty weirded out so we both agreed this should be a character.

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Where did the idea come from to animate your 'id’ and make a web series about it?  

Making Mark animated came about because we didn’t think a live person could pull off the comedy. If someone dressed up really funny and sat across from Kevin, saying the things Mark says, it just didn’t really feel right. Seemed a little too easy and didn’t impact the scene as much as we wanted. So we knew it would have to be something not of this world. We thought of a puppet, but that seemed a little too playful and would hinder what we could accomplish on set and in post. So animation was clearly the best option.


How did the female blob come about?

There was a big discussion on how we would end the first season. I knew I didn’t want to have Sasha be the typical girl in distress who was getting “caught up with the wrong guy but didn’t know it”. It was typical and we wanted to break from that. So, after beating around a couple ideas Andrea mentioned that Sasha should have a blob as well. Everything just kind of clicked from there and made sense. Giving Sasha a blob made her more mysterious and made her seem a little darker than what you may have expected. And it opened the world up for Season 2 where we can explore how a girl deals with her little blob.


How did you go about casting?

Casting went smoothly, mainly because we are friends with just about the entire cast. Andrea Rueda, casting director and producer, knew Tim from prior projects she cast him in and they became pretty solid friends. She thought he would be perfect and I agreed. Tim makes it easy to sell the weird horror/thriller aspect of the comedy. On set, he played it pretty calm, as if he was in a drama, but would tweak it slightly every now and again to show the humor. We were very much on the same page on-set and it worked out well. Ben Begley (Detective Grumble) and Renee Dorian (Mary/Connie) have been dear friends for years and were easy choices for their characters. The three of us have worked on each other’s projects for years and are comfortable with each other and know what each can bring to the table. So it was easy to trust them on set. The only casting came with Amanda Bauer (Sasha) and there wasn’t even auditions for it or anything. Andrea had auditioned Amanda in past projects and brought her to my attention. Amanda turned out great since she was able to show a lot of the innocence we were looking for in the role, but she has a little dark side everyone hasn’t seen yet. But you will in Season 2!

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Where is the series headed next? Does Mark have any boundaries? Are we going to be looking at a female narrative coming up?

We have a lot in store for the second season. Sasha and Connie’s relationship, as well as the relationship between Sasha and Kevin and Sasha and Detective Grumble will be the main focuses. The female narrative will be very potent this coming season and we’re pretty excited to explore Sasha’s darker side. Not to say Kevin and Mark are taking a back seat, but Sasha will be taking on a slightly different role than she did in the first season.


What other films, shorts or features, do you have in the works?

I’ve been working on a couple projects, mainly focusing on writing a comedy/thriller feature that will be done in the next month or so.


Will Mark morph into a more flubber-like aesthetic? How did you come up with the look of Mark?  

The idea of Mark was a result of whittling down what would be the funniest for Kevin to play off of. We went from an inanimate object all the way to an actual live person until we thought a fat little green blob would be best. We had the voice picked out first so the blob fit best in that category as well. As for now Mark will stay Mark, but I’m definitely open to see what this little blob can do. We showed off a little of his “magical skills” in the first season, most notably controlling Kevin’s hand to touch Sasha’s privates, but it’s going to be nice to see what this little blob is capable of.


Will you have more projects to feature on Funny or Die?  

As of right now SAD MOTIVATOR is the only project I am concentrating on for the web. SAD MOTIVATOR was a little unique for me projectwise. I tend to write features and shorts based more for cinema, but this project worked best as a web series. So I don’t know if there’s another project for the web coming up, but I’m definitely open to the idea.

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We got to know @BenAstonDir in our latest #FilmmakerSpotlight by @CineChel @skinshortfilm

Filmmaker Spotlight: Ben Aston

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By Chelsea Fung

@CineChel


London Film School student Ben Aston bares all with us about the making of ‘He Took His Skin Off For Me,’ a short about a relationship, answering the question: ‘What would you do for love?’

He Took His Skin Off For Me was harmoniously put together by a band of students along with guidance from SFX professionals, which took them to this year’s prestigious Sundance Film Festival. Aston tells us about the journey from page to crowdfunding to screen and how he went about making his short so bloody fantastic.

What drew you to tell the story of this couple?

When I first read Maria’s remarkable story I couldn’t believe it didn’t already exist as a film. The imagery and the language were at once haunting, dark, tragic and beautiful. It feels so familiar yet it’s totally unique. I just simply couldn’t stop thinking about it, I was dreaming about it. I could see it. The worst thing about ideas like that is that you have to make them to get them out of your head. I guess I was drawn to it because I didn’t want to keep having dreams about skinless people.

How did you go about adapting the story into a script? What changed from the original story?

There was a very long writing process, but it was almost entirely structural. The content itself sticks very closely to the story. I pretty much trusted in that special thing she had channeled and tapped into, it felt like a precious commodity and worth preserving. Anything new (like him returning to the closet or her testing her own skin) were embellishments that naturally came out when trying to retell the story to someone else.

Tonally it was all there from the start, paradoxically mundane and horrifying. Obviously SEEING a skinless dude is a very different experience from imagining it, so we had to compensate somewhat. Just like with the robbery in Dinner and a Movie it felt important that we make it the friendliest version of this story possible, lest it becomes unbearable. I was scared that the skinless man would just look silly when speaking. The decision to keep the voice-over was long discussed throughout the adaptation process. I felt that it was essential as a way of communicating the tone of the story and effectively deflating the horror that only showing the imagery would result in. I loved the wordplay present in Maria’s prose, but we had to be able to let this film exist on its own. We decided that the voice-over should fill the holes that the audiences can’t directly see and should, where possible, work against what we are seeing to create a dynamic that reveals more about the character. However, given that the plot of the film is very unusual, it was important that the voice-over also explain what was happening on screen without falling into the trap of simply describing it. The best way we thought we could achieve this was by losing all dialog entirely. We felt it would secure the voice-over and prevent it from feeling invasive. Finally it also helped avoid an inevitable production problem, I was scared that the skinless man would just look silly when speaking.


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Tell me about your process of bringing the story from page to screen:

We had to achieve a skinless man, but never really had any idea exactly how we were going to do it, we just sort-of knew we would. We were in the process of developing the screenplay adaptation and had taken a few meetings with both VFX and SFX houses across London but weren’t being quoted realistically achievable amounts. Turns out it’s super expensive to make something impossible.

It was by chance that I heard that Colin Arthur, who was the SFX supervisor for The Never Ending Story and countless other films, was holding a weekend workshop about prosthetics and practical effects. I attended the class and afterward had a long chat with Colin and his wife. After some pints and a few great war stories, they were in. His one condition being that we construct our team using people from the class. This was how I met the amazing Jen Cardno, who became our SFX supervisor. She had just dropped out of the Royal College of Art and was at the time a guardian at an abandoned old-folks home, which would become our ramshackle studio! Colin really wanted to give back and help. He was able to share his years of experience with our young and vibrant team of makeup artists and sculptors.

In the end, we had an FX crew of over 12 people constructing hundreds of individual muscle pieces in a wonderful abandoned west-London retirement home. It was amazing, especially considering that no one was paid anything more than the smallest possible amount (we could only Kickstart the basic costs of materials). It was a real passion project from all departments. This film is a testament to their incredible talent and dedication. What they were able to achieve is genuinely groundbreaking. It delights me to see their careers take off, off the back of this film. We never considered touching it up in the computer, they made something incredible, we only want to show it off. Everything on screen is practical.

Who was part of your writing team?

Maria Hummer, who wrote the original story, was my co-writer on the film. Or rather I was her co-writer… I was just in the room really. It’s her brain on screen; I just gave it a voice.

How did you go about assembling your crew?

Almost everyone was a friend. We’ve been making and working on shorts in London for the last 4 years, so our network was pretty large. Coming to the shoot was like a big reunion party. For those people, we didn’t know the greatest draw we had was the capital of the idea. Who wouldn’t want to work on a film like this?

Who else besides the VFX artists were students?

It was my graduation film from the London Film School. The vast majority of the crew, including myself, were students.

If you were to take your skin off for someone, who would it be?

Ha. Nobody, you really shouldn’t do it.

Who would you ask to bare it all and take their skin off? (physically or metaphorically)

This is a pretty hard question to answer. The film demands you make sense of it; in constructing an interpretation you necessarily draw on your own life experience and in a way, become a part of the story. It’s a fairy tale. And the wonderful thing about fairy tales is how they relate back to our real lives.

When people tell me what they think it means (ie. Is it about baring oneself?) they are often revealing part of themselves as well. The power of the allegory is how multifaceted it is. Every audience member has their own take; sympathies and meanings seem to go in almost all directions. For some, this is a story of nakedness, about the problems that arise from holding out when your partner has bared themselves for you. Others read it as a cautionary tale of trying to lie about your true sexual identity. Others see it as a parable on sacrifice, that a love that demands such one-way giving is fundamentally doomed. By this reading, the film urges us to see a toxic relationship for what it really is – horrifying. We, the audience, see this from the beginning, and the moment the narrator understands it for herself the story ends.

The one thing that’s pretty clear from Maria’s story is that it’s probably a really bad idea to take your skin off for anyone! Things just get messy.

How was your experience at Sundance?

Insane. So many wonderful people, too many really. The whole thing was a kaleidoscope. It was an honor to have our little film played against some truly amazing other shorts. Made far too many new friends.

Was it your first time attending?

Yeah, and I now really want to go back.



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What are you working on next?

Right now, we’re developing a wonderfully mad feature called JOHN MOVES IN, which I can’t say too much about, other than it’s wacky. Basically John and his fiancee Rachel move in together, and then the next day John moves in again and again. Think Being John Malkovich meets Project Mayhem. Maybe? It’s a weird one.

If you could imagine a life outside of being an independent filmmaker, what would you be doing and why?

I’m not quite sure why, but I always thought I’d be a good counselor, I’ve never been to therapy, but from what I understand about the process it seems like a fulfilling and giving thing to do with one’s life. Also a dinosaur, I’d really like to be a dinosaur.

I’m noticing a theme with your storytelling, couple dynamics, what is the inspiration behind that? anyone, in particular?

Goodness, I’m not really sure. I guess they are all about love in some way. And any character-lead story is going to be somewhat relational. Filmmaking is therapy, you get stuff out and only in looking back do you recognise something authorial. Feel I need to make a few more before being able to properly answer the question.

Who is on your team for your feature?

It’s loosely based on a short story by Maria Hummer (HTH SOFM) and is co-written by Russian Roulette screenwriter Oli Fenton. We’re getting the band back together basically!


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If you had the curse/ability to rewind as your characters do in your upcoming feature what would you do differently making your short or while attending film school?

Every film is always unfinished so I’d want to tweak a little bit of everyone. But the biggest thing I’d do differently is to have watched a lot more films, especially shorts, a lot earlier. I guess I was a little threatened or something, and in not exploring that as long as I did I perhaps postponed my development as an artist. It took going to film school to force me to expose myself to work outside my comfort zone, which was basically anything that didn’t have ninjas.

What advice do you have to student filmmakers?

Making things makes things happen. It’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of re-writing, editing, funding, festival submissions etc and essentially standing still as a filmmaker. It’s a kiss of death. Keep making stuff all the time, at all budget levels, in all mediums and genres, just to make them. Take 48 hour challenges if you need a kick-start. Make as much as possible as often as possible. It only makes you a better artist, expose you to new people and will unblock any stagnation that larger projects might create.

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Check out our latest #FilmmakerSpotlight with @justintagg @mousexfilm by @CineChel

Filmmaker Spotlight: Adriano Valentini

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By Chelsea Fung

Twitter: @CineChel

In our latest Filmmaker Spotlight we got to know Canadian born and raised filmmaker and writer Adriano Valentini who finds inspiration to his films from his family, friends and hilarious daily moments. Adriano’s style and humor has caught the eye of Project Greenlight, a competition Adriano almost didn’t enter, luckily he did and today his work has also grabbed the attention of NBC Playground.

Where did your hunger for filmmaking begin?

I’ve always been interested in writing and directing and anything that has to do with film and TV. I started making movies as a kid around my neighbourhood, and then continued in high school where I would make short comedic films featuring both teachers and students and then screen them at assemblies (I was the President of my school’s Student Council so I guess it was a bit of an abuse of power).  After high school, I studied business a bit in college, then transferred to NYU where I studied Film and Television.

Tell me about your short that brought you to HollyShorts

I submitted to HollyShorts back in 2011 CLUBSCENE: The Bartender and we won the Best Webisode, which was awesome. I had a lot of fun attending the festival and was impressed by the panels, screenings and the eagerness of everyone involved to really support young filmmakers. As soon as I had another film to submit The Age of Insecurity: A Clinical Romance, I did, and luckily we won the Best Webisode again!

Tell me about Beanie Bros your Greenlight Project:

Beanie Bros. is an episode of the web series I’ve been writing and directing called The Age of Insecurity.  It’s actually the third episode in the series.  When I first moved to Los Angeles, months went by and I wasn’t creating anything new.  My friends and I decided we should shoot something once a month no matter what.  I wrote and directed. My friends, who are actors, helped me produce.  The Age of Insecurity was born!  The idea Beanie Bros. came one night when we were all about to leave for a bar, we realized we were all wearing beanies and began to argue.  It’s as simple as that… I wrote it that night.

I almost didn’t submit to Project Greenlight. In order to submit you, you need a 3-minute movie and I didn’t have anything that short.  So I decided to edit Beanie Bros. down to 3 minutes and submitted that.  Luckily we got in!

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How do you go about casting your web series?

I’m lucky because I have a lot of funny and talented friends, and they have a lot of funny and talented friends, so I haven’t had to look far for amazing actors. That’s one of the great things about being in LA, you’re surrounded by young, hungry, amazing talent. So far I’ve yet to put out any casting calls.  We always hold auditions, but so far we’ve only brought in friends, friends of friends and people we’ve seen in stuff we love and want to work with.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I personally get inspired when I see people creating great content, or making hilarious comedy, or just doing what they love.  If I see someone that’s around my age doing those things, I’m like why the hell aren’t I doing that? And it kind of lights a fire under my ass.  That’s another great thing about being in Los Angeles - everyone around you is making things happen so it’s inspiring.  Story-wise, I get ideas from anywhere - little interactions, funny things that happen or pieces of dialogue that hear people or myself say that stick in my head.

Are you thinking about working on any features?

Yes, I have a couple features written.  One was a finalist in the Chris Columbus/Richard Vague Film Production Fund at NYU.  I just finished a draft of another one and will be setting up a table read with actors in the next month or so.  And I have a few that I’m currently working on with some writing partners as well!

What has it been like to take part in the Project Greenlight Competition?

The Top 10 finalists were each given a 3 page script written by the Farrelly Brothers.  Everyone was asked to make the same film. I was then interviewed by the Greenlight judges - including Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, the Farrelly Brothers, Len Amato - the President of HBO Films.  It was an amazing experience.

What films and fellow filmmakers “light a fire under your ass”?

I really like being in LA because everyone’s busy doing something - so anytime I see my friends, acquaintances or just about anyone who’s doing something great - it’s just an extra push to do the same.  

When did you decide to pursue film? What was the deciding factor in your life?

I’ve always been interested in working in some sort of the creative field. I was attracted to film because it gave me the ability to create a world, characters, relationships - and to watch people react -  laugh, cry, feel something, whatever - when they watch something I’ve made.  It’s about communicating ideas and hoping people see something new about you and themselves. I don’t think there was one deciding factor in my life.  My parents, family and friends were, and continue to be, extremely supportive and have always given me that push to pursue it as a career so in the end if I didn’t do it, I would only have myself to blame.  


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Photo by James Oligney

How did you go about submitting to it?

I think it was last June that NBC announced the Playground competition and asked people to submit pitches. So basically, we sent them some examples of our work and filmed ourselves pitching a brand new idea.

Who are you collaborating with?

For the NBC Playground, I pitched an idea with Aaron Colom, someone who I frequently collaborate with.  Aaron produces and acts in “The Age of Insecurity”.

What is in store for viewers?

I’m sorry, it’s top secret right now.  I’ll tell you soon.

This week we get to know Award-Winning Producer @stephanielaing and her directorial debut with 'Trouble and the Shadowy Deathblow'

Our #FilmmakerSpotlight is on @EdoardoPonti where he talks about how he adapted Human Voice and what is to come in 2015

This week we got to know @EdoardoPonti and how he made 'Human Voice' his own and starred his Mother Sophia Loren #HSFFAlum