Long read about a short film
PART 7 — The Big Screen
APRIL 20TH, 2016 — POST 107
The story so far…
Having reached 100 posts, I’m going to try something different for my daily pieces. Instead of one idea per day, I’m going to spend a week diving into a single idea. This week will look at the short film I made in 2014 that saw a limited festival run in North America in the latter half of 2015. This isn’t a story about sweeping success, nor one of crushing failure. It is a story merely about something that happened. My intention is to write the story I wish I could have read before embarking on the process.
When Corner And The Cutman was accepted into HollyShorts Film Festival in LA, a lot of things had to happen very quickly. The organisation of flights and accomodation, as well as the generation of collateral content from press kits to trailers meant that other projects, specifically a short I was gearing up to shoot, had to be put on hold. Above all, it was exciting. If you recall back to Part 2, when I was trying to get cast attached, I had mentioned to Tristan that the film would get played internationally, at the time with nothing more than the hubris of a gut feeling to go on. With a single email, my word was able to be kept. And when two weeks later I received another email of acceptance, this time from Montreal World Film Festival, this gut feeling was fully vindicated.
One of the more practically challenging things about the long wait for a ‘yes’ is trying to keep interest and momentum (however humble) with the film. People knew, and mostly those around all who worked on the film, that something had been made, but because festivals generally demand some level of exclusivity, I wasn’t able to make the film public. Instead, ancillary pieces of content were dripped out across various social channels. The BTS stills and video that was shot as part of our agreement with our gear hire company were indispensible for sharing in a tweet here or a Facebook post there. With the first ‘yes’, I instantly knew the distance to the film’s premiere and could flick the switch to ramp up dissemination of collateral from a trailer, poster, and original artwork. Once as much of it was out as I’d like, it was time to jump on a plane.
I arrived a day before the festival started, and after registering and getting my pass spent most of the day walking around West Hollywood. Coming from Sydney and never having been to the U.S. before, I was struck by the flatness of the city, the endlessness of the straight streets, and the quality of the Mexican food. Putting on a suit the following evening for the festival’s opening night, I was definitely starting to feel small. Walking up to Mann’s Chinese and then into the launch party, I did have reason to. There were a tonne of films here, most of which weren’t paid for solely out of the pocket of the director. A lot of the people at the festival were U.S. filmmakers and most films had a lot more in the way of representation and support than a single person. A group of guys from New Orleans had roadtripped out to LA to bring their film to the festival. There were films being peddled with budgets for printing their promotional postcards that would have dwarfed the budget on Corner And The Cutman. There was a very real sense in which me and my film were there to make up the numbers for the largest short film festival in Los Angeles.
There were 5 two-hour screening blocks every day for just over a week. Very quickly, I became overwhelmed with trying to see everything. Two hours worth of shorts is so much more demanding than a two-hour film and I found attending a block-per-day to be all I could handle. I instead made efforts to attend the festival-run panels — hosted by filmmakers, financiers, and generally anyone around the industry — that both provided insight and an opportunity to network. However, what I found myself doing the most was writing. In Sydney, I’m used to being the guy in the corner of a cafe with a laptop whom the waitstaff either embrace like some feature of the landscape or hound to spend more money and justify the extended occupation of a table. But in LA, especially in the cafes were I went, this is an expectation. To enter a cafe and see a bunch of laptops out, their users back to the wall and fingers on keys, has a way of saying “if you’re not going to work, these people surely will”. Whether in groups discussing story structure or solo doing a script evaluation for The Blacklist, it was obvious these were screenwriters. So I got to writing.
One block there was no chance I would miss was the one containing my own film. Out of coincidence, a close friend of mine and his girlfriend were in LA and able to come along, and a girl I knew from uni who was starting out as an actress over there brought her friends along. But when the first seconds of sound started, a bit that is tattooed onto my brain, I forgot all about them. The biggest screen I had watched it on was 48” (my own TV) and now it was stretched huge. To see and hear the scale of the film, something which Alex and I were mindful to craft but were running purely on hypotheses, was astounding. Myself and the other filmmakers present took to stage for a brief Q&A, but after that and a meal at a Mexican restaurant, I was mostly back to writing.
My writing continued in Montreal at a festival whose focus was very much on features. I quickly made a note of those which I wanted to see in the program, but mostly spent my time between a cafe near my AirBnB and the nightly drinks at the Hyatt, the hub of the festival. I fell in with two Australians, a writer/director and editor, who were there with the director’s debut and this opened up a few new connections. More than anything though, my mind was consumed by a new feature idea, the screenplay for which I would finish in New York after only nine days.
Despite my film scheduled to screen twice, my travel plans only allowed me to attend once. The crowd’s reaction in a more intimate theatre was fascinating to hear, a chorus of whipsers erupting after it finished from the mouths of the dedicated amateur sleuths in the audience. Stepping up for the requisite Q&A with the only other director for the session, the chronology and the “what the fuck actually happened though?” were obvious questions the audience wanted answering.
But those answers never were in the movie, really. They’re asymptotically approached before the chronology is disrupted and a typical audience is thrown out. Seeing it twice now on big screens with audiences was enough to affirm my suspicions. As I’ve had in the paragraph at the head of each one of these parts, this isn’t a story about sweeping success or of crushing failure. The movie was good enough to attract just enough attention to get me overseas and allow me to keep my promise to Tristan. But it wasn’t good enough for much else than that. And whilst by no means sitting at the bottom of either festival’s selection, it was out-muscled by bigger, more expensive, and frankly better movies. This fact coupled with a potential sale of the film from HollyShorts that eventually has fallen through has been the cause of pause in sharing it publically. But there’s a sense that if I don’t get it out there it will forever remain just a file on my computer.
But that, I think, will be for tomorrow.