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TFT filmmakers around the globe

Exclusive interview with TFT students on their success at film festivals

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Posted on September 23rd in Announcement

TFT students have been submitting their films to festivals around the world for as long as the School has existed, always with amazing success. From UCLA’s own Festival of New Creative Work, student filmmakers and their best work have been traveling to Texas, for Austin’s South By Southwest (SXSW), and to the Colorado Rockies, home of the Telluride Film Festival. Even a venue a little closer to home, such as the Palm Springs International Film Festival can seem exotic when you’re there for the first time as a participant — a filmmaker among your peers.

This year, we were thrilled to interview three talented TFT filmmakers who have enjoyed success at many prestigious festivals.

Richard Parkin is a Los Angeles based filmmaker and writer currently completing an M.F.A in Production/Directing at TFT. His recently completed short film “Contra El Mar” screened at this year's prestigious UCLA Director's Spotlight where it received student-voted awards for Best Direction and Best Screenplay. The film went on to a World Premiere screening at the 2011 Palm Springs International ShortFest, Film Market and continues to tour the film fest circuit. Shot on location in the coastal towns of Baja Mexico, “Contra El Mar (Against the Sea)” is a portrait of a young marriage struggling to find common ground amid hardship and uncertainty.

Eric F. Martin was born in the small northern California town of Chico, and grew up in the even smaller town of Auburn. Presently he is at TFT's Graduate Production/Directing program. His latest short film, “Fran's Daughter,” premiered at the 2011 SXSW film festival in the narrative shorts competition, and has since played the Dallas International Film Festival and the Palm Springs International ShortFest, among others. "Fran’s Daughter" is a story about a woman who learns she may have been switched at birth.

Julio Ramos is a filmmaker originating from Peru currently in the M.F.A. Production/Directing program at TFT. His short film, “Una Carrerita, Doctor (A Doctor’s Job)” screened at UCLA’s Director’s Spotlight and has since gone on to play at over 40 different film festivals nationally and internationally including Telluride and Palm Springs Film Festival. Shot on location in Peru, “Una Carrerita, Doctor” is about a doctor who has to drive a taxi cab in order to make ends meet. In his cab, he becomes involved in a crime that tests his pride and work ethics.

Read the TFT exclusive interview below!

Q: What was your film festival strategy?

Eric: For me, I wanted to sort of have a bigger premiere and then go to mid-sized festivals after, which seemed to work out. But Juio, you were different, you seemed to sort of shotgun it from the beginning, right? In terms of numbers in festivals, Julio’s played a lot more than mine.

Julio: I didn’t really have a strategy, I basically rushed to make the big festivals deadlines, as well as the Oscar qualifiers. And that’s it, you know, what ever deadline was approaching, I submitted it to. To me, what was important was just getting the film out there, and hope to get people to see it.

Richard: I kind of followed Julio, the apply anywhere strategy. It’s important to have a good premiere but also not the most important thing in the world. I tried to get as many public screenings in as many festivals as I could. You have to think about investing in the long term. But it can be very emotionally draining.

Q: How many festivals did you apply to?

Richard: I submitted to around 30 or more. Palm Springs was the first festival I applied to and I got in. I had sent them a work in progress cut, so I was very fortunate to be accepted.

Julio: It’s hard to say because I submitted both of my films [at the same time] and my count was about 100 festivals between the two of those, in the US and international. For this particular film, I think somewhere between 60 or 70.

Eric: I started off with just a few festivals, I started in August. I submitted to just big festivals like Sundance and Clermont-Ferrand. And then as deadlines approached, I started submitting to more. So at first I submitted to only about a dozen and then I got into South By [SXSW] and festivals started asking me to send it to them. I was also able to write to festivals and ask for waivers because the film had screened at South By. In the end it was probably 60 or 50 festivals, but most of those were after the premiere in March.

Q: Why do you think your film got picked?

Julio: Honestly, I wonder that myself. First of all, I feel very lucky and grateful for it, because I see a lot of great work that could be easily selected for these festival but for some reason they just stay on the bookshelves. If anything, we had a solid story from the beginning. There were no changes in post-production in terms of story, it was very concrete, and somehow that paid off.

Eric: I feel the same way, I don’t really have an understanding of why it got in, I feel very grateful about it. I’m always pleasantly surprised when I’ve gone to lots of film festivals and watched other shorts and there’s some absolutely amazing films. And then my little movie I made at school is there with them. I feel cool about it, but at the same time it’s like a surreal experience. I spent months writing that script, making sure the story was nailed down before I even shot it. I wanted a deep understanding of all the elements before I went into production. So that is one thing that maybe shows in the film.

Richard: I think the film alternates between being an intimate depiction of marriage while also presenting a specific social issue. The struggles of divers in South America is not widely known. It’s both familiar and unique at the same time. I think Festivals seek out films that have a global consciousness and this film plays into that. It’s a film that can play across a wide range of audiences.

Q: What was the audience reaction?

Richard: I think it was really good at Spotlight [UCLA Festival of New Creative Work – Director’s Spotlight]. I had a lot of people come up to me and say that it really touched them which is always good to hear. I think it also got good reception at Palm Springs. My film was the only student film in that program and it played really well amongst the high budget short films.

Eric: People seemed to like it. They asked a lot of questions about the narrative, because there were some open elements to the story. They really wanted those resolved, questions about how the story had ended, which I thought was a good thing because they were interested enough to ask.

Julio: It was great. We are used to the UCLA screenings, the UCLA feedback, but I think our movies get more of a real reaction once we get it out of the school. I was very pleased to see that people actually reacted well. It was being watched by a true audience and not exclusively by film students or filmmakers, and to see them react to key moments in the movie tells me that we must have done something right!

Q: What did you do in terms of marketing?

Eric: I felt like what everyone had were postcards or posters, but no one really notices them because they’re everywhere. My film is about a woman who may have been switched at birth, so I made little hospital ID wristbands and gave those out to people. But it was hard because I couldn’t put them up some place, I had to hand them out. But every time I had a conversation with someone, I would hand out one or two and I would see people wearing them around. It was a way to start conversation, and it was memorable.

Richard: We created a website and Facebook page. I think the Facebook page has been just as useful and maybe even more so. It’s so important to have a web presence, it’s been very useful. I’m glad it’s out there it lets people know that I’m serious about the film.

Julio: During pre-production, we created a website and a Facebook page, not thinking so much for festivals but thinking more in terms of getting things for free for our film. We created a website saying“this is a UCLA film coming to Peru,” we used the UCLA logo a lot. We got friends and family involved, it helped a lot in terms of getting the film done for very cheap. We were able to get a National hospital to sponsor us and we also got to shoot in crazy places all over Lima for free. Then our website and our Facebook page developed into the festival promoter.

Eric: SXSW has three elements to the festival, there’s the music festival, the film festival and also the interactive festival. They’re really big on interactive media, so I created a website, Facebook page and Twitter for the festival. I tried to make it simple and straightforward. Most people look at it on their phones and all they want to know is where it shows and watch the trailer.

Q: What’s Next?

Richard: Currently, I’m prepping for my upcoming thesis. I’m trying to secure an option for one of my favorite short stories and hoping to make that into my thesis.

Eric: I just wrapped production on my thesis which I directed with a classmate. We did a feature. We’re editing which will take a couple of months, and then submit to festivals. It’s called “Acting Like Adults,” there’s a website for it now which is something I learned from Julio! We started a blog in pre-production which features our trials and tribulations.

Julio: I’ve been developing a feature script for the past year, from which I took an excerpt and adapted it into a short film and shot it as my thesis film over the summer. I’m hoping to create a buzz with it as the story is quite controversial. It’s a political thriller based on the corrupted government in the 90’s in Peru. For the short we were able to attach big local names and I hope that help us to get the feature done.

Q: What advice would you give to students trying to get their film into festivals?

Eric: Make more movies. Every time you make a movie, you learn something. Eventually someone will like it and it will go somewhere. It’s impossible to predict what people will like, you have to make something that you’re interested in. It’s all about a process of continuation.

Julio: I would say you always have to make the film that you want to make. I can see that film festivals are always looking for unique work. Stay away from all the rules that people suggest in order to get your short film into festivals. I learned by attending a few of them that all of these rules could easily go out the window. You need to have a story that is compelling and characters that emotionally take you somewhere, that’s the first thing that they are looking for. I’ve seen films that are 30 minutes long that play at Sundance or Telluride.

Eric: Yeah, if you get people to grab onto the emotions of it. If they fall in love with it, they’ll find a place to program it.

Richard: I think it is important to be mindful of running times. A great thing about seeing these films in festivals is watching such precise storytelling done in small time frame. It’s as inspiring as watching features. Also, make sure to invest in the long run of the film. Don’t let the first notifications discourage you. The next whole year will be about promoting your film and getting it out there.