Ron Suppa Interview

June 29, 2011 at 8:47 am

Interview with Screenwriter, Author & Teacher Ron Suppa | Real Screenwriting: Strategies and Stories from the Trenches

AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH RON SUPPA
AUTHOR, SCREENWRITER AND TEACHER

Ron Suppa is a producer and a screenwriter.  He also teaches screenwriting at UCLA and is the author of one of my favorite books:

Real Screenwriting: Strategies and Stories from the Trenches.
Click here to read my full review.

What I loved about the book was that it went far beyond writing a screenplay.  It’s about the life a screenwriter leads and features tons of insight and personal stories from someone experienced with a lot of great advice to share.  With Real Screenwriting you get countless lessons from someone who has taught thousands of writers around the world as a teacher and author.  It’s a fantastic read.

“My classes strive to master the “rules” only so that we may creatively break them.”
Ron Suppa

Screenwriting Book Review | Real Screenwriting: Strategies and Stories from the trenches by Ron Suppa

I recently had the opportunity to interview the author about screenwriting, his experience writing the book and how he began teaching aspiring writers.  Here is a look behind the scenes of what inspired Real Screenwriting, what inspires him as well as some helpful advice for those looking to live the screenwriters life themselves. (Myself included)

When did you first become interested in screenwriting and film?

As a young entertainment lawyer for a large law firm the drafting of writer’s contracts was my first introduction to screenwriters and the film business.  After I made the career move to the other side of the desk as an independent film producer, reading countless scripts in search of the few pearls that I could carry to financiers and talent became the most critical and enjoyable part of my job.  Somewhere deep inside I knew that I always wanted to be a writer, and I had published short stories and poetry since college, but screenwriting never really entered my mind until a studio development executive waived a paycheck in front of me.  I believe he thought hiring me for a project that he was committed to develop but which I’m fairly certain he had some deep reservations about was the cheapest way to go.  I embraced the opportunity, learned that I really could do it, and saw my first draft screenplay go into production three years later.

What inspired you to begin teaching aspiring screenwriters?

I was having a lunch meeting with a director at a local deli and we were talking about a particular screenplay and how I hoped to develop it as a producer and the woman across the aisle from us happened to work at UCLA Extension and she leaned over and suggested that her screenwriting students could learn a lot eavesdropping on our conversation. She wanted to know if I would be interested, as a way of giving back to the industry, in developing a course on writing for independent production.  I was flattered and also excited about the possibility of working with new writers, fresh ideas and new voices, so I wrote a lesson plan, submitted it, and was in the classroom teaching it, and loving the teaching of it, within a few months.

What led to the creation of Real Screenwriting?  What challenges did you encounter when writing the book?

I had found in teaching screenwriting that there wasn’t enough time in the course to satisfactorily explore both the writing and the marketing of scripts, which I regarded as equally important.  So I wrote a book on This Business of Screenwriting to cover what to do after the screenplay was written and had it published.  Later another publisher approached me to expand the book into the full screenwriting course.  Of course this meant that all my best material could no longer be used in class since it was now in a book, but that only helped me bring new films and new writing and selling techniques to my courses at UCLA and other venues where I was fortunate enough to teach.

I loved the ‘stories from the trenches’.  Was it always the plan to include them?  How did that idea come about?

I had written a regular column on screenwriting for Creative Screenwriting magazine since its inception.  It was a very personal column from my unedited point of view and that sort of forced me to mine all my experiences as a writer, producer and director and even as an entertainment lawyer, in order to come up with material for nearly 15 years of columns.  I had maintained the copyright on all my work and so I was able to transfer and expand upon a lot of those experiences, wherever relevant, to Real Screenwriting.

Did you feel any pressure when writing something meant to instruct and inspire writers around the world?

In any creative endeavor there is always the responsibility to try and get it right, in this case to convey both the process and the experience of writing for film and television.  To do that, I met with other writers and producers, read the other books existent on the subject and then basically tossed it all out in order to write something from my perspective that was fresh, credible and useable by writers both new and advanced.

Was there a defining moment when you realized how much your book has helped writers?  A moment that inspired you?

There is no greater reward for a writer than to be read.  When someone tells you, in person or in an email or a note that your work has somehow enriched their life, that’s the icing on the cake. That’s also why I teach. My students’ progress mirrors my own and the satisfaction I receive from seeing that progress and seeing the joy and fulfillment that writing and the creative world can bring to someone’s life is priceless.

In your experience, what is the single greatest challenge a new screenwriter must face?

The blank page.

What is the most common mistake new screenwriter’s make?

Not granting themselves the freedom to fail.  There are too many half-baked, half-finished scripts lying in desk drawers all over town because the writers hit a wall and couldn’t get over it.  True writers don’t quit.

If you could give ONLY one piece of advice to an aspiring screenwriter what would it be and why?

“If the desire to write is not followed by actual writing, then the desire is not to write.”  That’s quoting myself from my book.  Writers write.  Stop the excuses; write every day for the rest of your life.  Or don’t.  The world needs more readers than it does writers anyway.

Are there any new books on the way? Screenplays? What’s next for you?

I’m actually writing novels and short stories as a way of re-energizing and reinventing myself for this new Hollywood tent-pole, pre-sold, pre-marketed environment we now face as screenwriters.  But there’s always a spec screenplay in some stage of development sitting in that far corner by the window, seeking the light.

Special thanks to Mr. Suppa for the interview.

Pick up his book Real Screenwriting: Strategies and Stories from the Trenches here.

For more interviews featuring screenwriters and filmmakers click here.

Damn Your Eyes: Making The Most Of Your Budget

April 28, 2011 at 11:27 am

Short Film Damn Your Eyes: Making The Most Of Your Budget | Directed by David Guglielmo | Independent Film Blog

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH
DIRECTOR DAVID GUGLIELMO

One lesson director David Guglielmo learned while creating the short film Damn Your Eyes?

“Take risks.”

Every film budget presents different challenges.  Each story is different and each production is unique.  The story of how Damn Your Eyes came to be is a tale of creativity, dedication and making the most of the money you have.  As always, every movie must first begin with inspiration and a story you believe in.

Short Film Damn Your Eyes: Making The Most Of Your Budget | Directed by David Guglielmo | Independent Film Blog

“I was inspired by many things. Spaghetti Westerns, Traditional Westerns, Greek Tragedies etc… It also has many elements that are personal to me but they’re disguised. People think because a movie is fantastic, it can’t be personal. That’s not the case. I wouldn’t be able to work on this movie for six years if I didn’t put myself in it. I first thought of the idea for “Damn Your Eyes”  when I was a freshman at film school. I wrote a few scenes, but I felt I needed more experience to really pull it off. So I put it on the back-burner and made smaller shorts for practice. In my senior year I decided “Damn Your Eyes” would be perfect for my thesis.”

With a story in place and the passion needed to make it a reality, David set out to complete the script and get his project off the ground.

“When I finally sat down senior year and wrote up the script you see now, I knew I didn’t have much of a budget. That’s why there is only one shootout. I knew I could only afford one big scene like that, and I put it in the beginning because I heard that when judges and critics watch short films, they turn it off after the first couple minutes if they don’t like it. I wanted to start with a bang.”

It’s clear when you see the film that David genuinely loves Westerns.  That’s what I find fascinating about Damn Your Eyes.  Creating a film within a genre you love with a minimal budget requires tough decisions and a lot of creativity.  With so many influences and elements you would want to include, how do you create a film that incorporates everything you want without escalating the budget?

“When I was nine years old my mom let  me watch Pulp Fiction and I went to school the next day telling everyone about it. I skipped school to see Kill Bill. There was no way I would be able to sit in math class while that was playing in the theater.  At the time I was watching  Spaghetti Westerns, like the films of Sergio Corbucci (Django, The Great Silence). The Good The Bad and The Ugly is the ultimate Spaghetti Western, and I think Sergio Leone is a genius but I couldn’t take much from him in this case because I just didn’t have the means to go extreme like he did. If you notice, I shot almost everything in close-up. That’s because I’m shooting in NYC and New Jersey! I couldn’t have those scenic wides. I was very limited in that way but it made me more creative.”

Short Film Damn Your Eyes: Making The Most Of Your Budget | Directed by David Guglielmo | Independent Film Blog

“The film was made for $5k. I shot it for 4k and left a thousand for post-production costs. I got a couple of scholarships based on my GPA, and used my own savings as well. (So stay in school kids.)”

MAKE EVERY PENNY COUNT

High Production Values…  Low Budget.  How did David and his team pull it off?

“I think people go over budget when they don’t put enough time into pre-production and book-keeping. I have to give props to my producer Jennifer Joelle Kachler for keeping a mean book.  When it comes down to it, you have to ask: What do we really need, and how can I stretch a buck without compromising the quality and credibility of the film? The costume designer AJ Locascio and I went to thrift shops, bought handfuls of two-dollar items. He ripped them up, stitched them back together, threw dirt on them. We improvised.  What Sam wears in the movie is all made from scratch. The whole outfit was probably $40.”

“For the locations I had to think the same way. Louisa’s cabin is a gutted out bathroom on the side of a highway. The scene with the horse is a horseback-riding place for kids. When I first saw it my initial response was that there’s no way. I was about to turn around and go home but then I took a minute, sat down and recomposed my shots. I realized it could work. It’s all basic Roger Corman 101.  I needed to make a studio space look like an old saloon, so I went to antique shops and asked if I could rent their furniture because it would be impossible for me to buy it. It wasn’t their policy. I just figured it can’t hurt to ask. I didn’t have enough money for them to put a hold on my card, so I really had to get them to trust me. Thankfully nothing broke. I didn’t tell them it was an action scene we were shooting…”

Short Film Damn Your Eyes: Making The Most Of Your Budget

Another challenging element of producing a short film like Damn Your Eyes is scheduling.  Each day you shoot costs money and you have to be careful to make the most of the days you have.

“Scheduling was very difficult because I had to accommodate all the cast/crew, who were either going to school or had jobs.  I often had to split up the days and take whatever I could get. In the end it was 12 days total. It spanned from December to April, editing along the way.”

Beyond scheduling you also have to worry about elements that you cannot predict like weather.  These are challenges that truly test how prepared you are.

“One of the most important parts of directing is keeping morale high. You really have to act like everything is running smoothly even when it’s not. If people get the sense that you don’t have things under control, it’s over. I can’t stress enough the importance of a good A.D. Shout out: Giovanni Alberti.”

POST PRODUCTION

“I work closely with my editors. I like to be there during the edit. I think it’s such an exciting time. You really get to think, be meticulous, and watch the film come together. I also consider it another stage of the writing. Sound design is key. As well as sound recording. In post, I work with a guy named David Leaver and I really look forward to that part of the process. It’s very creative and fun. It’s like the icing on the cake. As for music, my process is always different. Sometimes I know during the writing, sometimes I have no clue until I’m editing. But I never edit to it. I tweak the cuts sometimes to fit the song, but I always prefer editing first then dropping in the music.”

DAMN YOUR EYES

Creating a short film with a low budget is a lot of work.  You have to find ways to make your vision a reality.  Damn Your Eyes is a fantastic story with extremely high production values.  The trick is simple: If you have 5 thousand dollars, do your absolute best to make it look like 20 thousand.

Click play below and enjoy DAMN YOUR EYES.

WHAT’S NEXT?

David is currently developing a feature length version of Damn Your Eyes.

“The story was always bigger than a short, which is why I titled it “Part I”. I was originally going to serialize it- making it a modern take on the serial Westerns of old, but now I decided it needs to be a feature. I wrote the script, and now my producer Jennifer and I are getting things ready on the business end.  The story has really evolved, and if you like this your going to love the feature.”

“Besides the feature, I have another short that I’m just starting to send out to festivals called THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY. It’s a dark comedy, very different from DAMN YOUR EYES. I did that one for only $2k. I’m also writing a lot. I have a feature script for a live-action children’s movie. It’s untitled at the moment. I really want to make that one day and have it say “From the director of DAMN YOUR EYES”. Producers might fight me on that one though.”

Special thanks to David Guglielmo for the interview.

Check out the film’s page on VIMEO here.

Click here to see an exclusive animation not seen anywhere else!

Short Film Damn Your Eyes: Making The Most Of Your Budget | Directed by David Guglielmo | Independent Film Blog

Junko’s Shamisen: From Vision To Reality

April 14, 2011 at 10:41 am

Junko's Shamisen: From Vision To Reality | Award Winning Short Film Junko's Shamisen by Sol Friedman

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH
DIRECTOR SOL FRIEDMAN

“I never thought I could be a filmmaker so I was trying to sneak through the backdoor when I started teaching myself animation.”

The short film Junko’s Shamisen is a pretty fantastic and visually impressive blend of live action and animated elements from director Sol Friedman.  (I envy everyone who can draw and animate by the way.)

I really can’t describe it better than the film’s website.

Blending the aesthetic traditions of Japanese Kabuki, contemporary Manga illustration and the use of cell, stop motion and computer animation; Writer, director and animator Sol Friedman brings you this stylized and haunting tale of vengeance.

Junko's Shamisen: From Vision To Reality | Award Winning Short Film Junko's Shamisen by Sol Friedman

“The film has, to date, screened at over fifty international film festivals spanning a pretty huge range of genres from drama, to experimental, to horror and most recently to children’s programming. The film has picked up a few awards along the way, but most exciting of all has been the audience reception. Although the reception has overall been extremely positive, people don’t really know what to compare the film against, so it’s always kind of interesting to hear.”

The film itself is beautifully designed and looks fantastic.  Combining so many art styles is an extremely challenging task to take on and I was eager to learn what inspired Sol to create the film.

“After high school I studied Zen Shiatsu in Toronto and I’ve traveled to Japan several times, so I’ve been fascinated by Japanese art and culture for many years now. For a long time I had been hoping to find a project that I could use to really get into some of the more specific nuances of Japanese art. I was in Tokyo in 2008 showing work at Takashi Murakami’s Geisai Museum art exhibition, and on one of my days off I went to see a Kabuki performance. The pacing, costumes, set decoration, and everything else about the performance really blew me away, but the hook that sold me on Kabuki as the direction was the way that the stagehands would run through and modify the scenery. You could see them running, but in their dark clothing they would float by and fade into the background like ghosts. It was pretty exciting for me.”

Knowing the style you’re attempting to achieve is only half the battle if you aren’t willing to put in the work to create something new.  Sol spent nearly 8 months working tirelessly to visualize the film.  An accomplished artist, the director credits several different influences that contributed to his design process.

“I’m not particularly well-versed in Manga/anime culture but I did look to a bunch of famous books and films. Some obvious connections for me were Lone Wolf and Cub, Lady Snowblood, Zatoichi. But I’m also a huge fan of Michel Gondry so I thought about some of his more experimental work when developing the stage treatments. I wanted  to really push the blurred edge between the computer generated and the handcrafted elements. I referenced many comic books when I was putting together the style frames, but also looked a lot to Kabuki to fill in some of the blanks in terms of the tonal treatment. But with most of what I do, the process generally resolves itself by just getting into it, and seeing what works and what doesn’t.”

Junko's Shamisen: From Vision To Reality | Award Winning Short Film Junko's Shamisen by Sol Friedman

Getting an ambitious project like Junko’s Shamisen off the ground is extremely challenging but Sol’s dedication prevailed by truly being able to communicate what he wanted to achieve and what the film could be.

“In Canada we are very fortunate to have a supportive arts community. I was able to secure financing at a federal and provincial level as well as from a private broadcaster. Which is really amazing. This obviously meant a good deal of time spent on the administrative side, but it allowed me to hire a top-notch crew, and ultimately to develop some familiarity with the pitching process.”

So armed with his passion for Japanese culture and a keen interest in various filmmaking techniques, Sol set out to realize his vision of Junko’s Shamisen.  A vision he would have to execute while taking on the challenging roles of writer, director and animator.

“Each presented its own challenges. I am a self-taught animator, so working with actors is quite a bit different. I like to keep massaging elements until the final print, but on set you have a limited amount of time, and there’s a lot less wiggle room so being economical is hugely important . This was also my first time working with a proper producer and crew, so with regards to writing and directing, I had to step outside my shell to communicate to the team about what was in my head. Again, working on my own, in the dark, for weeks on end, those concerns aren’t as persistent. As far as animation went on this project, there were several styles mixed together so as you can imagine, there were various challenges along the way mainly in terms of keeping the aesthetic coherent but eclectic at the same time.”

Junko's Shamisen: From Vision To Reality | Award Winning Short Film Junko's Shamisen by Sol Friedman

Once on set, the director relied heavily on his artistic background to communicate what he wanted to his crew.

“I definitely think being an artist was an asset. It certainly helped in communicating and executing my idea, but perhaps more importantly, it informed a flexibility in my approach. I am not terribly stubborn in the real world, and even less so in art. So I try to keep doors open wherever possible.  Ironically, I had the least on set experience out of anyone, including the eleven year old lead, but since it was an all greenscreen soundstage, and I knew what I needed in order to composite my shots, it felt like the field was somewhat leveled. All things considered it went very smoothly.”

Once the shooting was complete Sol had a whole new set of hurdles to clear in post production.  The daunting task of creating all the animated elements now presented him with challenges he was excited to take on and overcome.

“A typical day during the VFX on this project would have been about 18 hours of me sitting in front of the computer drinking coffee, clicking buttons, and mostly just waiting for things to render then tweak . We shot on Red and for the final composites, used 16-bit TIFF sequences so the files were really heavy-and by the end pretty belligerent.  The editing was done in Final Cut Pro and I worked completely in Adobe After Effects for all compositing, animation and hand drawn elements.  I pushed the software (After Effects) as far as I could with some shots composed of over 1200 layers. The Fox was animated by Pete Levin in LA (who just directed a foo fighter’s video). He sent me files that I played with using a mixture of AE and FCP as necessary.”

Next up for Junko’s Shamisen?

“The film has far exceeded my expectations. I thought we’d play it in a few local film festivals, but our premiere was at Slamdance in Park City (running parallel to Sundance), and from there it has gone on to screen at over fifty festivals worldwide. I recently released the film to the public online and am hoping to build some word of mouth and get the film into the hands of somebody who can help turn this into a killer feature version.”

WATCH THE ENTIRE FILM BELOW

As for Sol Friedman, the director has already begun work on his next project.

“I am in pre-production right now on a robot love story which I am pretty excited about. Hopefully in the fall we’ll have something to show.”

Special thanks to Sol Friedman for the interview.

If you would like to see you film featured on The Athletic Nerd, email me the details at jason@17west.ca.

No Short Cuts: An Editor’s Tale

March 31, 2011 at 11:29 am

INTERVIEW: An Editing Tale | Editing Blog | Becoming A Professional Editor

AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH
EDITOR ANDY PETERSON

“I was attracted to post production because it scared me”

Andy Peterson is a professional editor who has worked on feature length documentaries, live productions and television shows like Survivorman.  His journey to become a professional editor is a story of passion and the dedication needed to realize your dreams.

Every passion begins with a spark.  In Andy’s case, it was a tour of CBC.

“I was in highschool and we did a tour of the CBC news studio in Windsor, near my home town. I was bored out of my mind, so I strayed from the tour. Walking down a hallway I passed a dimly lit room with a bunch of TV screens and a guy tapping away on a computer.  The thing that caught my attention oddly enough was his color-coded keyboard.  It was an editor frantically working on a news story for the 6 o’clock news. I remember thinking the whole thing was fascinating, and wanting my own color-coded keyboard.”

That spark fueled his established interest in film and television and led him to study the industry in college.

“I was always able to compose a decent shot with a camera, I understood the technical aspects of a studio production but when it came to post- I didn’t know how to put two shots together.  My first year of school we didn’t touch a computer, everything was tape to tape. Nowadays I can cut a scene 5 different ways in 10 minutes and decide on the strongest cut… When you are editing to tape, (or film) each edit has to be deliberate and intentional- or you end up spending all night in the suite fixing cuts. It’s a fantastic way to learn what shots will work and what won’t.  It quickly became an addiction and I decided to make it a career.”

I think there is something calming about knowing instinctively what you want to do with your life. In Andy’s case, he knew early on that he wanted to become an editor and avoided the stress that can sometimes weigh heavily on the mind of a high school graduate.

However, knowing what you want to do doesn’t mean anything if you aren’t willing to devote yourself to that goal.  Andy seized every opportunity he could.

“To graduate, we needed to complete a 100 hour unpaid internship. Most people ended up in Toronto at big studios, or in their hometown Rogers Cable stations.  I was presented with a once in a lifetime opportunity to work and shadow Les Stroud, host of Discovery Channel’s ground breaking, genre-creating show ‘Survivorman’. It just so happened Les was expanding his company, and was looking to take on two student placements.  I jumped at the chance to work with him.  I worked away in an abandoned hotel room in Huntsville Ontario for two years side by side with Les.

My entry into the industry was unconventional but I wouldn’t trade it for anything  I worked my butt off and Les kept re-signing me. Smaller projects at first, then a feature doc, and I eventually ended up as an editor on seasons 2 and 3 of Survivorman.”

Proof that anything is possible if you put in the time and effort.

“My first big project was the documentary ‘Off The Grid with Les Stroud’, a 90 minute feature about sustainable and environmentally friendly living. I started out by logging and capturing over 120 hours of footage. This was also my first real gig as a cameraman.  I remember Les pulled my co-worker Max and myself into his office one day and said ‘Alright boys, I didn’t bring you here to just log tapes- start cutting.’  That was it.”

As his knowledge and skills increased, Andy found himself gaining more and more responsibilities and once again, he took on every challenge.

“During seasons 2 and 3 of Survivorman I was fortunate enough to go on location with Les and act as a second unit cameraman. I’d shoot the setup of the show, and then film beauty shots, sunrises and sunsets, and interviews while Les was off surviving for 7 days.  I remember I flew back from the South Pacific shoot on a sunday night with a Pelican case full of about 80 tapes. I had contracted Dengue fever on the shoot and was pretty violently ill. We had 11 days to capture, cut and finish an entire episode… we usually get 6 weeks.

The decision was made to post the show in Toronto- out of our element, using Avid machines (we were all Final Cut Pro guys at the time). We lived, ate, slept and cut in that post house until the job was done- teaching ourselves Avid on the fly. Our senior editor did not flinch and his confidence lead us to deliver the show on time. Whenever I see that show on air I always smile. It’s probably my favourite episode.”

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to watch a documentary Andy directed and edited called Rubber Side Down.  It was a phenomenal story.

“Two of my good friends decided to bike across Canada: Victoria to St. John’s. My friend Greg Mailloux was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of 15 and had always dreamed of doing it. Once he felt well enough, he decided to take on the feat as a fundraiser and donate money to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada. I set the guys up with a couple HD camcorders and they filmed about 130 hours of footage from coast to coast. We turned it into a feature length doc and were able to raise about 100k for the foundation.”

It’s inspiring to think that a chance encounter with an editor at CBC years ago led to a career that would help raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a good cause.  You never know where you will end up unless you go for it.

Currently, Andy is working on a pilot called ‘Road of Wonders’.  You can check out the trailer at www.roadofwonders.com

To make a donation to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada and find out more about Rubber Side Down visit www.rubbersidedownmovie.com.

Special thanks to Andy Peterson.  Follow him on twitter @andyDpeterson

No Short Cuts: An Editor's Tale | Editing Blog | Becoming A Professional Editor

Finding Your Voice: An Indie Filmmaker Profile

March 11, 2011 at 11:30 am

FILMMAKER PROFILE: Producing Your Own Short Films | Independent Film Blog

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH FILMMAKER
ALFREDO SALVATORE ARCILESI

Every aspiring filmmaker has a story.  Each artist is inspired in different ways and I’ve always found it fascinating to learn about other independent filmmakers and what makes them so passionate about movies.

Alfredo Salvatore Arcilesi has produced several short films over the last few years and is currently producing his first feature film.

His interest in film began at an early age as he devoured his Grandfather’s extensive Beta/VHS collection.  With so many movies at your disposal, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the inspiring world of movies.

“As a child, I’d religiously watch Hook, Terminator 2 and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  I just love visiting different worlds, real or fantasy, though I tend to lean towards the real world which is interesting and inspiring enough.  It’s about where you were and who you were with when watching and making a film, the story behind the story, the experience, the trivia that only those who lived it can tell.”

The director’s short films have been accepted into many festivals over the years including his first short Game of Life.  A drama about fraternal twins who must decide who will live in an overpopulated world.

“My first ever festival acceptance was Toronto’s very own WILDsound Feedback Film Festival.  It was there that William Marshall, the co-founder of the Toronto International Film Festival and the event’s moderator, gave a few sentences of recognition: “You’re at your creative peak.”  I still smile when I think about that statement as it was only my first film.  Was I destined to fall from the “peak” that was Game of Life?”

Alfredo avoided ‘the plummet’ by continually producing new and unique short films.  It was definitely interesting to learn more about what inspired each of his films.

Roadside Florist

“A story about Graham Wool, a elderly man who dedicated the last twenty years of his life commemorating the victims of drunk driving with a single flower upon the accident site.  It struck me that I had never actually witnessed anybody leave a flower, wreath, or any other commemoration.  Not only that, but were these condolences left by relatives, friends, or perhaps strangers, or even the culprit?”

His next film created controversy due to the subject matter he wanted to explore.

Scent of Rosemary

“I remember watching a newscast in which a recently released pedophile told the press that he would surely commit the same child atrocities again.  Less than a day later, he was arrested for molestation.”

The film was met with a less than favorable critical reception but Alfredo was open about what the film taught him.

“The film never saw a festival thanks to its controversial subject matter, direct approach, and raw portrayal.  It was my first taste of finding out what people were really made of and who they really are.   Myself as well.”

Dealing with such a serious subject can be extremely difficult but taking risks and going where others won’t can sometimes lead to exciting results.  Alfredo took full advantage of these lessons and applied them to his next project.

Reverie Three

A film dealing with the whirlwind downfall of a foster child who exacts swift and calculating revenge on his surrogate family.

“It was with “Reverie Three” that I achieved my first Best Drama award and praise from audiences and critics alike.  This was the beginning of a new thought process for me; I wanted to think outside of the box that was outside of the other box.”

The 24 Hour Film Race & God’s Acre

Alfredo kept the momentum going by entering a local 24 hour film race.  He produced God’s Acre, a film he describes as a ‘parable of revenge and redemption’.  God’s Acre is a perfect example of doing the best with what you have.  In order to adapt and create in this fast paced setting you have to be able to think quickly while still creating something worthwhile.

It’s a challenge the director was thrilled to take on.

“The 24 Hour Film Race was a fantastic experience.  From the get-go I knew that, no matter what theme and prop element/action that the competition threw my way, I was going to do an interrogation-style film.  As it turned out, the interrogation became an interview which became a confession.  Friend, editor and camera operator Robert Toshoff agreed to have the film shot against a black cloth in his condo’s conference room.  This made things possible and gave a distinct look to the film.  I needed a story that was compelling enough to outdo the visual limitations.”

The film deals with religious themes and again the director again faced unique challenges from audiences.

“Because of the film’s religious undertones, many felt that I was some sort of spiritual advocate.  I realized why storytellers are sometimes careful with what stories they choose to tell.  My aim has never been to offend anyone; taking offense to something is and always will be a personal choice; however, I will never stop telling the stories I tell in the way that I tell them.”

The film went on to collect 5 of the top awards and screened at 8 festivals in the U.S and Canada.

His latest short film, Lavender Fields is in post production and the director hopes to complete it soon.  Looking back, Alfredo reflected on his filmmaking journey thus far.

“I’ve learned a lot about people; those I’ve made films with, those I’ve been inspired by, and, especially, myself.  I’ve learned to distrust people, to connect with people, to become angry, to smile, and, most importantly, to identify myself.  Thinking outside the box and creating something pure is a very lonely thing simply because very, very few do it.  I’ve developed such a thick skin that there is very little that a person can say that would penetrate my established mindset.  That’s the benefit of finding your voice.”

Finding Your Voice: An Indie Filmmaker Profile | Alfredo Salvatore Arcilesi Interview | Independent Film Blog

The Filmmaking Process

Every single filmmaker faces different challenges on every single film they produce.  Whether it’s budget concerns, locations, technical problems and more, there are always hurdles to leap on your way to completing a film project.

“Budget it always a problem, one that can be easily solved if you have the means, or a rich uncle, or, even better, a scriptwriting mindset where you can be realistic with what locations, talent, gear, and other essentials, that you can acquire. For instance, with “Lavender Fields” I knew that the film would employ sign language.  I don’t know sign language or anybody who did, but I knew that had to hire somebody; that’s a cost.  For gear, you always want your film to look its best, but at what expense?”

There are countless decisions that go into producing a short film.  Can you find a balance between story elements and the best available equipment?  Does one out weigh the other?  The idea is to do your absolute best with what you have.  This can lead to creative revelations and sometimes, a lack of a budget can force you to think outside the box.

“It’s only now, after all these years, that I’ve been able to afford an even better arsenal of gear than what I’m accustomed to.  I had to wait to become my own “rich” uncle.”

One way to keep your costs down is to forge productive relationships with others who aspire to work in the film industry.

Actors and crew, relationships and friendships.

Above all else, if you have a story to tell, do whatever it takes to bring it to life.

“In the end, a film could take hours to prepare (“God’s Acre”), days (“Game of Life”), weeks (“Reverie Three”), or months (“Roadside Florist,” “Scent of Rosemary,” “Lavender Fields”).  It’s really up to you, who you end up working with, and how you go about your production.”

Producing Your First Feature Film

Alfredo recently embarked on the biggest challenge he’s faced in his young career.  A feature film.

“Snow Angel will mark my feature film debut.  I’m very excited, yet very conscientious of the chasms to avoid.  This time around, there is money involved; not a whole lot, but just enough to get it done and done right!  That being said, the film is truly unique in style and shooting technique.  Due to the unorthodox nature of the film/story, the shooting schedule consists of only two principal photography dates.  Why?  Well, you’ll just have to wait until you see the film.”

“I’ve done a lot of planning for quite some time and it will be interesting to see it all come to life.  I absolutely love writing and, essentially, living with a character in my mind and on paper, and then, quite literally, rubbing shoulders with him and/or her on set.”

Alfredo is a perfect example of knowing what you want to do and going for it.  Each of his films have evolved his skill set as he continues to work towards his ambitious goals.

“You have to be true to yourself”

Snow Angel is currently in production.

Special thanks to Alfredo for the interview.

Check out his website here for more on the filmmaker and his production company Arcilesi Films.

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