Five Questions With... Narrative Short Filmmakers from THROUGH THE FIRE

NARRATIVE SHORTS: THROUGH THE FIRE screens Friday morning at 9 AM at Bennett Hall. We spoke with several filmmakers included in this program:

  • David Brundige, Writer/Director of LAURELS
  • Charlotte Barrett and Sean Fallon, Writers/Directors of THE PHANTOM MENACE
  • Chris Carfizzi and Hilary Mann, Co-Writers of THE FINGER
  • Aude Cuenod, Writer/Director and Benjamin Friedman, Producer of SCRAP DOLLS
  • Jeannie Donohoe, Writer/Director of GAME
  • Micah Perta, Director of DAYTIME NOON
  • Holly Voges, Writer/Director of FELL

And ok, there are technically seven questions here (one for each filmmaker!)...but who's counting? Read more below and join us on Friday!


NFF: The film pokes fun at the festival world. Have you had bad festival experiences to draw from, or is this all imagination? 

David: Artist egos are so fragile, and my characters, one a notable feature director and the other a newbie short film director, react quite differently to their film festival granting them a shared hotel room.I love going to film festivals because the audiences, filmmakers, and programmers are so great, but there's a side of festivals, especially from afar, that creates prestige which can overshadow the celebration. We artists sometimes get distracted by the validation that comes with selection and awards.


NFF: The location and production design is super specific to the story telling. Did you have to construct any of it, or was it pre-existing?

Charlotte and Sean: We shot the entire short at Frank & Sons Collectible Show, a twice weekly comic convention in the City of Industry, about 30 miles south of Los Angeles. Most conventions have a singular theme be it Star Wars, Star Trek, Comic Books, etc., but Frank & Sons is a wonderful hodgepodge of everything you could imagine collecting like Disney World Pins, 80s WWF action figures, and McDonalds happy meal toys. That diversity gave us the flexibility to stage scenes in thematically relevant settings. We added certain elements to scenes, like the American Flag at the end of the movie, but the only location we had to construct was the Celebrity Autograph Area.

However, being a low budget short meant we had to shoot on days Frank & Son was open. So every scene except for when Jim gets Robert Picardo’s autograph was shot on the live convention floor. It was completely chaotic and a lot of fun to shoot an emotional and personal story amid a working convention. All the background extras were just convention goers who had no idea they were going to be in a movie, but gave their permission by entering the building (we had signs posted!).


NFF: The Finger is in the "Through the Fire" group - without giving anything away, how do you think that theme relates to your film as a larger theme?

Chris and Hilary: Our guiding principle in writing was this: ‘You admire a character for trying more than for their successes’*. In The Finger, we took the most momentous night of Luke and Laura’s relationship so far and made it as difficult as we could imagine. The real love in The Finger is found when they try again and again to make it work despite the challenges.
* from Pixar’s Rules for Storytelling


NFF: How did the film come together? 

Benjamin: Aude brought her inspiration to Detroit to develop the narrative further. It’s there that we met and collaborated for the first time.

Aude: I was studying film at Wesleyan University when I met a 70-year-old artist who made art out of abandoned objects. I was fascinated with how he transformed objects that others had thrown away into beautiful sculptures. The artist told me he had once tried to help a young boy from a broken home by teaching him how to make art and I found the story of this intergenerational friendship and connection through art beautiful. I was drawn to Detroit mostly because of the amazing art I saw there during a scouting trip: specifically Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project and Olayami Dabls’ African Bead museum. Most of the cast/crew was Detroit based and it was my first time working with them.


NFF: Your lead performer is incredible - did she already know how to play basketball, or did you have to teach her? Did you look for an actor who knew the sport, or was that not as important as a good actor?

Jeannie: Nicole Williams was terrific to work with in every way -- she's an amazing person, actress, and of course, a great basketball player.  The character AJ Green is in high school, but Nicole actually already finished college, and she played basketball throughout (at Nevada).  The casting of her role in particular was a tall order.  It was a huge priority for me to find someone who could play basketball extremely well. I didn't want to cheat the shots or double the action with a stand-in player.  I also think the lived-in experience -- that Nicole has really played basketball at a high level for so long -- was essential on an emotional level within the production. I believe that lends an important authenticity to the role. In addition to assessing skill, I was looking for a compelling, interesting actor who could also pass as a boy and look high school age.  Nicole checked all the boxes and was instantly a great collaborator. This film was her acting debut, and I'm grateful to our casting directors Lisa Pantone and Gigi Berry for discovering her.


NFF: Shooting in a car is notoriously hard - can you talk a little about that challenge?

Micah: I come from the commercial world, so we shot on a process trailer, which is totally complicated, but also a much easier way to direct talent. Basically we had a caravan, starting with a cop car followed by a union flatbed truck with the car and camera operators mounted on top, followed by a car for hair and make up and art department.  Every time we cut we would pull over to the side of the road.  But I was able to watch the actors on a monitor and talk to the them through a walkie (and not have to be in the trunk).  It was fun, and worked great, but I will probably do something with less car next time around.


NFF: The film is deliberately ambiguous. Do you prefer storytelling that asks questions, rather than provides answers?

HOLLY: I prefer stories that are challenging. Projects that provoke the audience to ask questions related to the story and well as themselves are most interesting to me. I don’t think this necessarily means not giving answers, but leaving some room for interpretation means a more active audience, which I definitely prefer.