Today on CSReview we are talking to four filmmakers, participants of the Collaboration Filmmakers Challenge in Hollywood, CA, Film Actress and Director Bethany Orr, Film Director Skye Von, Actor and Filmmaker Xavier Sagel, and Writer/Director Ed Zareh.
CS: Welcome to CSReview, Bethany, Skye, Xavier and Ed! Glad to see y’all, can’t wait to hear your stories! So, what can you tell me about the project and what inspired it?
Bethany: The theme was actually a P.J. O’Rourke quote: “There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.” Rules and festival theme were doled out to all participating filmmakers during an orientation evening in Hollywood at the end of May.
CS: That is an intriguing motto. You mentioned rules. How complicated are they?
Bethany: Not so complicated, but a little confusing! The idea is that over the course of two weeks, each participating filmmaker would: a) make their own original movie with the help of another and b) work as a “collaborator” in helping another get his/her film made. Kind of bizarrely great because even though we were technically competing against each other, every time we helped someone we got “collaboration points” that could result in a cash prize, so it truly was in our best interest to be as helpful as possible. To begin with we were each asked to submit five different pitches for a short film piece that fit the theme, then they actually made the picks for us, we didn’t get to choose. Ultimately, each filmmaker was given one full week to complete their film from start to finish.
Xavier: And everyone was CRAZY eager to collaborate. It didn’t seem like people were just doing it for the points. People were genuinely interested in the other filmmaker’s projects and willing to do anything at any time of day. It was astounding. The orientation was interesting. When I first arrived I was like, “These are the filmmakers?” It looked like a pretty eclectic group and they were not what I would have thought a group of filmmakers would look like. But that was just one of the surprises in store for me in that two weeks. They were an amazing group. Everyone so nice and knowledgeable.
CS: Seems like a very tight schedule too. Did any of you feel the pressure and worry for the quality of the film given the time restrictions?
Xavier: At first I wasn’t worried. I had a full day set aside for shooting EVERYTHING. And then the day of the shoot came. An hour went by. Then two. Then THREE. And I had only completed one scene. That’s when panic starts to set in and you think immediately, “What can I get away with cutting and what can stay?” Because it was obvious to me that I was going to HAVE to cut some stuff. And then you think, “Will it suffer?” Luckily I had most of it. We had to schedule an additional night shoot two days after. And no one complained. It was a miracle. But yeah… I was scared there for a minute. I thought I was gonna end up with a pile of crap. Ha!
Skye: For myself the small amount of time we would have to write, produce and get the film in the can clearly reflected in my choice of the possible stories for my movie. All my 5 pitched were movies that I knew I could complete in the short amount of time. The film that the jury ended up picking was in relation to the other ones in regards to location and shoot time the easiest to achieve, since it only involved one location and one shoot day.
CS: I suppose modern equipment makes things easier and the work more productive, quicker…
Ed: (enthusiastically) I’m used to writing and shooting quickly for the Second City New Media, so I viewed the time constraint as an advantage. It’s the difference between new media and film. The film people have the advantage in technical execution, but new media people are faster and more nimble. We work quickly, get things out in volume, and are more likely to write for trends.
CS: Interesting, Ed. Creating a new generation of media, being part of history… that’s plain awesome! I am curious… who of you can tell me how selections were made?
Ed: Having someone else choose which film you’d work on was a little tricky. I’d been knocking around several ideas that I thought would fit the theme, but they ended up picking the one I liked the least, the one that was the least developed. Luckily, one of the perks of the CFC was a script consult with Nichol Simmons, formerly of AFI. That was a huge help.
Bethany: The festival organizers reviewed the pitches and selected ONE of the five for each filmmaker. They announced to us our pitch choice on Tuesday at midnight, and then we were OFF TO THE RACES! We had a total of 7 days to produce our film, including writing the script, development, casting, pre-production, production, editing, and scoring.
CS: So, all together how many filmmakers participated?
Bethany: There were 42 filmmakers total but several dropped out so I’m not sure what the count was at the end. The completed films will be playing in a 60-90 minute program on June 22 at a well-known location in Hollywood – Harmony Gold Theatre – and the judging panel is pretty impressive! Someone will win $5K, and there are two other $1500 prize categories as well. It’s exciting, and in a way everybody wins because we each have created a completely original short film that didn’t exist before– even though not all of them will be shown that night.
CS: Do you think an eventual disappointment for some might somehow reflect negatively on the whole idea of collaboration and creative work?
Skye: No not all. This has been an incredibly rewarding experience. We all already won just by partaking in the challenge. The amount of professional connections and experiences we have made during the two weeks is a prize within itself. Also, I myself walk away from this experience with 4 other stories for short films, which I want to develop in the future that I did not have before the challenge.
Ed: I hope not. There’s a lot you can learn from other people– even if it’s what not to do. Film and video production is such a collaborative medium to begin with, you often have to work with people you don’t know or may not like. It’s important to be flexible and adapt to personalities or situations beyond your control. I thought the CFC was a good exercise in that.
Xavier: I don’t see how anyone can be disappointed with the collaboration aspect. It did nothing but help me. Unless your collaborator was just completely worthless, which I hadn’t heard any stories about, then you could only gain from that aspect. And even if your collaborator WAS worthless then it would be no different then some experiences I’ve had with filmmaking in the past. Ha. Filmmaking is a collaborative process. There’s always someone who’s gonna flake out on you. But for every flake there’s a rock.
Bethany: Absolutely not. It’s a provocative way to encourage independent filmmaking, but to be provocative they had to be willing to be controversial. They were strict with the deadline and I actually came very close to being disqualified for a last minute technical issue. Thank God we solved the problem, but even when it looked like we might not make it, I had to be grateful for what the experience has given me: invaluable new relationships. Particularly with Skye, who was the cinematographer on my piece, Xavier, who played one of the key roles plus provided production assistance, and Ed, who employed me as an actor on his project.
CS: That is an awesome positive position to take. And I am glad Bethany pulled it off in the last minute and stayed in the race! Can’t wait to hear what the judges will decide… Now, let’s talk about pitches. What was your film idea? Why do you think you got picked? Bethany, you go first.
Bethany: This is the pitch of mine they chose: A lonely child’s entertainer is called to a party on an isolated compound that unbeknownst to her is holding children captive… and they’re looking for a forever clown. I’m assuming they picked it because it sounded like a film they wanted to see!
Ed: My original pitch was about a guy meeting an old acquaintance of his ex-girlfriend’s, and setting the record straight. But through the script consult, it evolved into a “boy meets girl” story with the guy getting tongue tied. So even thought I started out with a dramatic scene, and ended up doing a screwball comedy, there were enough similarities left to make it interesting.
CS: Xavier, what can you share about your film project?
Xavier: The pitch that got selected for me was as follows: a man is getting ready for a date. He brushes his teeth, combs his hair, picks out clothes. But before making each of these seemingly innocuous CHOICES we fast forward to his actual date and see the outcome of them if he HADN’T made the choice (i.e. not brushing his teeth results in her moving away from the goodnight kiss, wearing jeans instead of slacks getting him denied entry to their restaurant, etc.)…. all bad. Finally we get to the real date and everything goes SWIMMINGLY until he makes one FINAL choice at the end of the date and we see her grimace. We end on that image of her. Mine seems to be one of the few COMEDIC shorts I’m aware of. Albeit kind of a black comedy. Maybe that comic relief will be welcomed in the competition.
CS: I think it’s an interesting subject, Xavier. A little bit of romance, a little bit of comedy indeed, maybe a little bit of irony too. Sounds like a great combination, I am sure it will be noticed. Ok, Skye… please tell us your story!
Skye: The subject of my film deals with the choice and responsibility we have to carve out a better life for ourselves and our family, and with the consequences of this choice. In my film an Egyptian mother grieves and reminisces on the final days leading up to her son’s death during a violent demonstration against Mubarak’s government.
CS: Quite a choice of a subject there, Skye, I am sure it will challenge people’s outlook and provoke deep thinking. Did you have concerns that the shortness and speed of the assignment would result in the lack of depth in your film?
Skye: The short amount of time given to me for completing the film was not a concern that the film would be shallow. It was the 5 min film length restriction which was more taunting. It meant that the script had to extremely precise and not one word or action could be futile or empty. Working with the dialogue in my script felt like I was sifting for gold. I had to sift the dialogue until only the precious nuggets were left behind.
CS: As a writer I can also absolutely relate to that, Skye, making dialogues as sharp as they can be, as effective as possible. I think satisfaction is the ultimate emotion to get out of this work. You may never know for sure what impact your film will have on your recipient, but if you are happy with your product, you know you did your best and delivered a quality product, then you sleep well at night. Am I right?
Skye: Yes, you are absolutely right. I feel extremely happy with the script and the film I created. However, it was not just me who created this film. The real success of the film was the amazing team and the actors that I had the honor to work with. Shari Vasseghi and Tamer Aziz, the amazing cast, Bethany Orr who co-produced with myself, Emily Schoener, our casting director who brought the amazing talent to the project, Joe Obering, our super talented Director of Photography, Lance Casey, our incredible editor… but that is just to name a few. It was all of them who made it possible for us to complete the movie in such a short time and not lose any quality or substance.
Xavier: I believe the short that I did for the Collaboration Filmmakers Challenge is the best film I’ve ever created. Needless to say the final product took some strange twists and transformations, but I love the finished product. I’m crazy excited about the screening and I’m highly confident that our film will receive excellent reviews.
CS: I am learning a lot of new things today here. This has been a most enlightening conversation. What are your plans after the festival?
Skye: Currently I am in pre-production on a feature dance film with the choreographer Roger Fojas and the composer Chris Komashko, for which I have written the script and will be directing. Furthermore, I am putting finishing touches on another feature length script, and am currently in Europe where I am doing some research for another script. In between all of that I hope to find time to bring one of the other stories, which I pitched to the Collaboration Filmmakers Challenge, to the big screen.
Ed: I’m working on comedy shorts for The Second City Network, as well as developing a comedy web series independently. I’m an environmentalist, so I’m creating green educational content for kids and launching a water conservation campaign aimed at a major amusement park this fall.
Xavier: Well, I moved here from Tulsa last September and I did that because I MAINLY want to ACT. So I will try and get some more gigs. I’ve been cast in a web series called Project Hollywood and that starts filming in 2 weeks. Crazy excited about that. Check it out on Facebook. Plus my show Craft Wars, hosted by Tori Spelling, premiers on TLC June 26th. I’m not in the first episode but I’m in the next nine. That should be fun to watch. I’m pretty new to this, so I’d like to get an agent and go on more auditions. It seems like every project I get involved with I meet more and more amazing people.
Bethany: My baby sister is getting married in Colorado next month. That kind of takes the cake for me.
CS: Very exciting, and really great to hear that you all are moving forward professionaly and having fun in between screenwriting and filming. I wish y’all a great time in LA at the festival tomorrow, no matter what the outcome will be.
Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.