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Entries in Filmmaking (108)

Friday
Jun082018

What Happened to Samuel? Media Day Puts Horror Films, GDPR and Ice Cream Habits in Focus

Guest Filmmaker Samantha Tan attends Media Day. Photo by Dan Barends.Kicking off a weeklong Anniversary celebration, I hosted a meetup in May with Philly media and guest filmmakers, to preview the 2018 Short Film Slam. Following a chat about the pros, cons and hiccups of blogging platforms including Blogger, Squarespace, WordPress and Ghost, attendees were treated to a mix of trailers and full length shorts from Rounds I through III.

While media makers enjoyed the unique perspectives showcased in all of the films, shorts leaning toward the horror genre sparked the most discussion. In the suspense thriller, Samuel’s Got a Sweet Tooth directed by Angel Rosa, a strict disciplinarian delivers a sinister tale of her son's late-night penchant for ice cream. Media Day attendees disagreed with the momma character's rigid house rules for little Samuel, with whom they collectively empathize while watching this film. "I don't think I've ever eaten ice cream BEFORE 7pm," says Sarah, a local marketing and entrepreneurship maven.

See 'Samuel's Got A Sweet Tooth' directed by Angel Rosa at the 2018 Short Film Slam, Presented by The Madlab Post.Jacob, a local University student, also jokingly suggested that product labels be placed on ice cream containers to warn Samuel of potential side effects such as "this product can cause upset stomach and death."

 The chills continued with My Bedroom, an experimental horror film directed by Temple University student Samantha Tan who was also in attendance during Media Day. An Official Selection of the 2018 Short Film Slam, presented by The Madlab Post, My Bedroom is about a young girl named Emily who wakes up in the middle of the night because of the noises in her bedroom.

Sound design became a central focus after the screening, as Tan discussed her love for playing with sounds; choosing to utilize her strengths in post-production after deciding to shoot the movie without showing the main characters' faces. Tan’s use of voiceovers, sound effects and strategically placed human figures were some of the characteristics I like most about her film because it took a different approach to the horror genre; there is no one identifiable villain, running around stabbing, slicing and dicing people up.

See 'My Bedroom,' an experimental horror film directed by Samantha Tan in the 2018 Short Film Slam, presented by The Madlab Post.A viewer also commended Tan's approach and pointed out how horror films containing a lot of gore lessen the scare factor; whereas My Bedroom resonates with that terrifying feeling toward the unknown.

In addition to being nominated for a WILD CARD Award, Tan's film later prompted a discussion about dreams as Media Day attendees shared their own experiences with the frightening feeling of not being able to escape or wake up from a nightmare.

Speaking of nightmares, our topic of the day turned to the EU’s anxiety-inducing General Data Protection Regulations (otherwise known as GDPR) and its enforcement that went into effect last month. GDPR has become a major headache for bloggers, e-commerce businesses and even filmmakers who are still figuring out how to adhere to its tedious, confusing and time-consuming compliance demands -- so as to prevent having to deal with hefty fines up to 4% of a company’s annual global revenue OR €20 million (whichever is higher).

Discussing films, GDPR, dreams and nightmares at Media Day hosted by The Madlab Post. Photo by Dan Barends.I even considered just blocking the European Union altogether from my mailing lists, blogs and related online activity where data collection and management is involved. That was until Sarah reminded me of my Switzerland ties. 

Olivier van der Hoeven and I need to have a talk because this relationship is not exactly working for me right now. Although the topic of GDPR was an unexpected turn of events, this part of the Media Day discussion was quite enlightening and productive as attendees learned about a lady who developed resources that can get people up to speed on becoming GDPR compliant.

As it turns out, blocking the European Union may seem like a viable solution in theory but not the best in practice. Especially since that’s where a lot of the best films in the world come from such as Short Film Slam Finalist Just Go!, which was a favorite among Media Day attendees including photographer Dan Barends. In this action film, directed by Pavel Gummenikov, a young man who lost both his legs in a childhood accident comes to the rescue of the girl he loves when she is victimized by villains.

Attendees also appreciated the video presentation given by writer-producer G. Robert Daily, who introduced his comedy film Caregiver Wanted. Made in California, Daily's film is about an elderly man who had a stroke and is looking for a caregiver, yet, verbally attacks the candidates he interviews for the job.

See Julien Jennequin's French horror film Le Grand Show (The Big Show) at the 2018 Short Film Slam, presented by The Madlab Post.French filmmaker Julien Jennequin's Le Grand Show (The Big Show), a fantasy horror film about a family's tug of war over their TV, took an unexpected turn for Media Day viewers including one who commented on how the film became really political.

Attendees also noted how much they liked the acting performances in Cindy’s Birthday Party, a horror film directed by August Aguilar. Made in Philadelphia, Cindy's Birthday Party is about a child named Jonas who is the first to arrive to a birthday party and begins to worry when he notices there are no other children, decorations, and the party is in the basement.

Beyond witnessing how audiences responded to the dozen films on view, highlights of the day were learning more about what went into making My Bedroom directed by Samantha Tan, meeting new people and providing local media makers with networking opportunities, and a good time.

A fireside chat about sound design and voice acting with 'My Bedroom' director Samantha Tan. Photo by Dan Barends.

There are many great short films that people near and far have been missing out on…until now.

Want to watch these (and more) award nominees during the Short Film Slam, presented by The Madlab Post? CLICK HERE to be notified when the next screening is playing near you!

 

What is one of the scariest dreams YOU’VE ever had?

What concerns do YOU have about GDPR and how it can affect YOUR blogging, filmmaking or business activities?

Friday
Sep292017

AMC Stubs, Four Women and Mosquitoes, oh my! The Films (and Folks) that Rocked Urbanworld 2017

'Mosquito: The Bite of Passage' starring Alisa Reyes, Eileen Galindo and Philip Anthony Traylor.2017 is a good year for short films, evident by the crowds that packed each shorts program screening at AMC Theater in Times Square during the Urbanworld Film Festival, which just wrapped up its 21st installment.

The year is also shaping up nicely for Shaz Bennett, whose directorial debut Alaska is a Drag received an Honorable Mention for Urbanworld’s “Best Narrative Feature (U.S. Cinema)” Award over the weekend. Still, I’ve found that learning about interesting details filmmakers in attendance share about their movies, as well as witnessing spontaneous audience responses at the screenings, are some of the biggest and most valuable takeaways in terms of overall experience.

I missed out on the Shorts Program 3 showing but later ran into Tesia J. Walker, director of the short film Search Party, about a mother who goes to great lengths to plan her son’s high school graduation party, only to have things fall apart when uninvited guests show up. Walker informed me that the screening was sold out. This appeared to be a recurring theme, as most seats were filled at other short film screenings I attended and Naiyah Scaife, the lead actress in Damon L. Smith’s short film Atone, also mentioned their Shorts Program 2 screening selling out as well.

Although the domestic shorts were what I most wanted to watch, taking a second look at films I initially passed over in the program guide was key to finding hidden treasures in storytelling at Urbanworld. Silence Radio wasn’t exactly on my must-see list, yet, ended up being one of the best short films I’ve seen this year. The movie contains minimal dialogue, emphasizing visual cues and sound design instead, to convey what’s happening in the story.

(l-r) Mahipal Singh and Shahana Goswami in "Silence Radio," a short film made in France.Directed by Kartik Singh, Silence Radio is a suspenseful film about a girl named Nayla who hosts a jazz radio program at her university. One day, a man asks to come on her show to talk politics. If she refuses him, there will be consequences.

I consider myself to be quite lucky to have caught this film because Shorts Program 4 was already underway by the time I made it to the screening, but the lineup was playing out of order from its original listing in the Urbanworld program guide. Otherwise, I would have missed Silence Radio. The theater, though crowded, was very quiet up until a certain point in this 15-minute film.

No one in the audience made a peep and all of a sudden, during a scene where Nayla comes to the radio station and sees a door creaking open, a child in the audience said “ohhhh noooo!” out loud and everyone else burst into laughter. I was surprised to find out children were in the audience, given the content in films such as Shalini Adnani’s dark comedy Something More Banal, about employees that find a dead co-worker hanging in their office, and the explicit language in Nelson George’s comedy Dayton Jones, about a former private investigator drawn back into the world he left behind when people from his past come back into his life.

Then I remembered Brian Vincent Rhodes’ animated short Mosquito: The Bite of Passage was also in the lineup; obviously children were present for this cute 7-minute film that is suitable for all ages. Mosquito: The Bite of Passage is about a mosquito on her first hunting trip with her mother. In the film, she desperately tries to confess that she doesn’t like blood. I liked how the animated characters were placed in a live-action environment, creating a nice hybrid effect that made Mosquito: The Bite of Passage appear more realistic and similar to that of a narrative film.

A woman sitting in a nearby seat soon asked me if The Tale of Four played yet. She arrived later than I did and that was the film she came to see. Since Shorts Program 4 was playing out of order, I didn’t know but she arrived just in time because Urbanworld staff saved that film for last. Based on cheers from the crowd, I sensed that a lot of people came out to see Gabourey Sidibe’s 24-minute directorial debut.

Inspired by Nina Simone’s “Four Women,” Sidibe’s The Tale of Four is a multi-layered story that spans one day in the lives of four different women connected by their quest for love, agency and redemption.

Although I did like The Tale of Four and understand why it is a highly anticipated short film, I find its recent winning of Urbanworld’s Audience Award for Best Short to be a bit misleading when compared to others films from this year’s lineup. Aside from good editing and standout performances by actresses such as Aisha Hinds, Phyllis Yvonne Stickney and Ledisi Young, there isn’t much I remember about this movie. In fact, there are only three stories that stuck with me after the screening and it took some time and effort to recall the fourth while writing this recap. That said, some of the stories in The Tale of Four could stand on their own and possibly even be developed into a feature length film.

I tip my hat to Sidibe for essentially making four films in one; that is no easy feat – especially in situations like the day when a man in the building where she was shooting her last scenes called the police on her film crew, claiming that 40 people are breaking into the building. During the post-screening Q&A session, learning about how she used that run-in with the cops during production as material for her movie was among the most interesting things that came from watching The Tale of Four; it helped me look at the film from a different perspective in terms of what it means to her wanting to honor Nina Simone’s legacy “the right way” and those who support it.

Actress/Director Victoria Mahoney at Urbanworld to support 'The Tale of Four,' a short film directed by Gabourey Sidibe.“Black women are seen and strong and we’re always being put upon. You're supposed to care for everyone else but yourself. You come last,” says Gabourey Sidibe while telling the audience that she wanted to show that hey….we're human too.

After working on this project as a director, Sidibe also says she now takes rejection less personally when she goes on auditions for an acting role.

I like the inspiration behind The Tale of Four and the valuable impact that making this project had on the way Sidibe approaches her acting career, more than I like the film.

Speaking of actresses who also direct their own films, Victoria Mahoney was in the audience, sporting fierce metallic nail polish as she pointed toward the front row of seats, shouting “GET THE KID! GET THE KID!” during the Q&A panel discussion. Mahoney directed the Urbanworld moderator’s attention to an adorable young boy named Amir Mausi whose hand was raised high to ask filmmaker Brian Vincent Rhodes “Did you research the behavior of mosquitoes?” followed by much applause from the audience.

Amir "THE KID!" Mausi and his mother attend the screening of 'Mosquito: The Bite of Passage' during the Urbanworld Film Festival at AMC Theater in Times Square.Rhodes, a USC grad who made Mosquito: The Bite of Passage as his thesis film, gladly spoke about the preparation that went into the storyline and character development stages. The director also credits his mother as being part of the inspiration behind Mosquito: The Bite of Passage, while being clear that he “wanted to make a movie where a woman's appeal to a man isn't her strength; in this movie, the women are the hunters.”

The 2 years that Rhodes spent making this film continues to pay off; he is currently developing a feature length version, at Twentieth Century Fox Animation. While waiting in line to see Alaska is a Drag, I met Derrick, an avid movie goer who has faithfully attended the Urbanworld Film Festival over the last several years. “Now I’m glad that it’s more worldwide; with films from China, Taiwan, and so on. Some you can’t even understand them but you understand the concept and I really like it,” he says. Derrick goes to the movies a few times per week and first learned about the festival during one of those trips to the AMC Theater on 34th Street. Since then, he has joined the festival’s mailing list and used to flip through the program guide upon arriving at the theater, to figure out what movie he’s going to see.

Derrick attends the screening for 'Alaska is a Drag' during the Urbanworld Film Festival at AMC Theater in Times Square.Now, Derrick is strategic about his Urbanworld experience, usually spending 2-3 days to decide on which screening to attend.

Knowing the festival takes place around the same time every year, he pulls up the online program a week before the event and then starts planning his visit.

By the time of our conversation, Derrick had already come by the theater to attend the screening for Atone in Shorts Program 2 and looked forward to seeing a few more films including The Jump Off, a short film about one gay man’s struggles to legitimize his DL relationship, and Behind the Curtain: Eclipsed, a documentary profiling the historic Broadway run of a play written, directed and performed by women of African descent. “I saw the play and I want to know how they put it together because it was a deep and really good, and I don’t like plays. I like musicals but I don’t like plays and this one kept me riveted the whole time,” he says.

As an AMC Stubs member, Derrick also explained to me how the rewards program works and showed me a $5 reward he received from accumulating points during his frequent trips to the movies. He wanted to see Marshall but it was sold out and when I told him Urbanworld added a second screening to this soon-to-be-released biopic chronicling one of Thurgood Marshall’s career-defining cases, he left as the Alaska is a Drag Q&A session wrapped up, to go grab a ticket.

Director Shaz Bennett and Actor Kevin Daniels at the screening for their film 'Alaska is a Drag' at Urbanworld.Kudos to Alaska is a Drag director Shaz Bennett for showing up to champion her film and discuss with the Urbanworld audience how she shot the movie for 15-17 days in a cute little Detroit town. Alaska is a Drag was such a fun movie to watch and contains such colorful characters – a boxing champion who also moonlights as a drag queen, c’mon! – that I’m glad Bennett persevered with her cast and crew to finish this film despite losing funding while they were shooting.

Even though Bennett could no longer pay people, she had a small team of dedicated men and women who stayed because they believed in the story. “It was like ‘look, we’re here, let’s just make the movie,’” says actor Kevin Daniels who plays the main character’s father. Half of the crew members were dressed in drag for the competition scene where Margaret Cho also performed as a drag king.

After I jokingly asked Bennett how many fish were killed during the making of Alaska is a Drag, she informed the audience that the man seen slicing the fish in the movie is actually the Mayor of that small Detroit town where they filmed. There was also a big fishing competition that took place in that town right before production began and the Mayor is “like this massive fisherman, so he just saved all of them; most of those were dead fish,” says Bennett.

'Selma' director Ava DuVernay is ecstatic to see the festival's Executive Producer, Gabrielle Glore on her way to the 'Queen Sugar' screening.By the end of the weekend, I attended screenings for one dozen short films and three feature films.

Many of these films including Emergency directed by Carey Williams and the Venezuelan kidnapping movie Child for Child directed by Juan Aveila, exceeded my expectations.

The Q&A panels and meeting filmmakers were what I enjoyed most.

While appearances by well-known figures such as Girls Trip actor Kofi Siriboe, Academy Award nominated director Ava DuVernay and Marshall star Kate Hudson were exciting to witness, audience engagement provided a chance to experience the kind of unpredictable activities and insightful discussions that make for an unforgettable night (and day) out at the movies.

 

 

What movie theater rewards programs do YOU participate in?

How well do YOU think Marshall will do at the box office?

What did YOU like most about this year's Urbanworld Film Festival?

Wednesday
Apr272016

Kesha’s Wishes You Knew about ‘Thor’ Director Kenneth Branagh’s Killer Scenery

Vinyl hijackers called the Popcorn Snobs are playing catch-up on their theme, ‘The Taking of April A-Z,’ as they run this blog for the next 16 (or so) days.

Hi everyone, it’s Kesha and I’m returning today to share what happens when you put yourself in the director’s chair of Kenneth Branagh. You first find out that you don’t have to be a comic book fan or even a superhero movie lover to appreciate how badass Asgard -- the home of the the Nordic Gods in his fantasy adventure flick Thor -- looks on screen. It is futuristic but also has a classic vibe to it, as if it’s been there for many, many years.

You also learn that this modern-meets-classical style look is what Branagh intended early on while he was pitching Marvel executives to get the job on this film; an opportunity for which he used photos of work by architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Santiago Calatrava, as visual references.

You begin to see how Asgard was influenced by a combination of ancient civilizations, geometric shapes and modern architecture, as is the Bifrost bridge. Scandinavian wall art and the Beijing Olympic Stadium were among the sources that Kenneth Branagh pulled inspiration from to design this fantasy world.

You also understand why the visual effects team worked on Thor for 15 months to create Asgardian buildings, dynamic camera angles and related parts of the film’s establishing shots, which were 3D matte paintings. 

Did YOU know Kenneth Branagh was the main reason that many of the actors who star in Thor, including Natalie Portman and Idris Elba, chose to be involved with this film?