Friday, June 29, 2012

Future Filmmaker Friday: "The Strong One" - CMF Best Picture & Best Director Winner

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Campus MovieFest red carpet gala on the Universal lot.  CMF is a wonderful program that goes to college campuses throughout the year and provides students with Apple laptops and Panasonic HD cameras to make short film within one week.  Each school then has their own finale to select the best of the best, which then move on to the Grand Finale in Hollywood.

That's right - one week to make a film that can be no more than five minutes.  Back when I was taking film classes, there are students who would spend an entire semester making a five minute film on 16mm.  I would have killed for the opportunity that CMF offers.  Even better is that CMF goes to many campuses that don't have film programs.  I saw a couple of shorts from those schools and if I may speak frankly, some of them were better than many projects I've seen come out of film school festivals.

I was so impressed with the talent I saw there that I've decided to start a new feature on the blog: Future Filmmaker Friday.  Over the next few weeks, I'm going to showcase several of the best CMF shorts on my blog.  This is where I plead with each of you to take five minutes out of your Friday and give some attention to the work of some promising young filmmakers.  If you like the work, leave comments here or on their YouTube page.  Filmmakers thrive on feedback and I know it would mean a lot for the filmmakers I feature if you lent some support.

Even though I featured this next film on my blog a while back, I can't possibly overlook a short that walked away with the Best Picture and Best Director awards last week.  From North Carolina State University, this is THE STRONG ONE, directed by Nicholas Sailer.  Scroll down for an interview with him.

So tell us a little about yourself. How did you get interested in film?

I've always had a passion for stories and storytelling, and that was probably due to my parents reading novels, short stories, and good literature to me all throughout my childhood. I wrote and directed my first short film when I was 16. I have made at least one film every year since then, and it has been fun to watch the quality slowly improve. I don't think I would show you the first film that I made- maybe it will be an easter egg on a dvd of mine in the future- Who knows?

Where are you in your school career? 

I am currently a senior at the College of Design at NC State University. There are lots of people that are surprised to find that I'm not in a film program or at a film school. I chose design as my course of study because I see it as the easiest way to study creativity. The craft of filmmaking is something that I am living and learning outside of my academics. I never want my creativity to be constricted to one medium, but I will always be making films.

How did THE STRONG ONE come together? 

THE STRONG ONE came together in a really unique way. Josh Bielick (the cinematographer of THE STRONG ONE) and I both entered films into CMF the previous year- I won Best Picture and he won Best Drama. At the time, I saw his work and reacted in a competitive way- I recognized that his work was very good and that his film was very well done.

Several months later, last fall, we met randomly at an entrepreneur event- We exchanged business cards, and because the team that I worked with previously had all graduated, I made the effort to start talking about a collaboration. At the same time, Josh had been talking with Tim Reavis (Writer of the poem "Jurassic Parking Lot", on which THE STRONG ONE is based). Tim was actually a mutual friend of mine, and I had heard some of his poems, but never thought to adapt one into film. I sent Josh a script that I wrote, and Josh sort of indicated that he really wanted to use some of Tim's poems as source material. He sent me a text that said "I know a guy that writes damn good poetry" and from then on we decided on adapting one of Tim's poems. Josh and I met up and looked over 5 of Tim's poems. We settled on "Jurassic Parking Lot", and slowly things began to come together. During shooting we titled the film, "THE STRONG ONE".

How did the limitations of one-week to shoot and edit it play into how you developed your idea?

Shooting THE STRONG ONE in a week was not extremely difficult- There were late nights and early mornings, for sure, but the latest we stayed up was around 4 am during editing. We had to pay special attention to scheduling some of our shoots due to the sunrise shots, and ended up seeing the sunrise 3 days in a row.

What - in your opinion - makes for a good short film?

There are so many different rules and principles that I try and bring into a good story and film, these are just a few of them. I think the same things that make a good feature film apply, just in a smaller context:

1) The audience must have a reason to like or relate to the main character. So many people have come up to me and said that they went through something like the story that THE STRONG ONE depicts, and because of that, it hits home for them.

2) There should always be a journey of change or transition that the audience goes through- In the case of THE STRONG ONE, the child begins the story dependent on the dinosaur, and in the end, we sort of understand that the child has gone through this journey and is now independent, but revisits the dinosaur to remember how he got to where he is now.

3) Not all films have this, but one thing that puts a film at another level is a reversal of expectation: A good end to a story should be unexpected, but inevitable. In other words, like a good joke: You don't expect the ending, but when you look back and think about it, there is no other way that it could have ended better. THE STRONG ONE does this at the end when it's established that the dinosaur is 'The Strong One', and in the final scene, the dinosaur reveals to the child that the child himself is 'The Strong One'.

Was there anything you wanted to do, but couldn't, due to time restrictions?

I can't think of anything in particular that we tried to do that we couldn't because of time restrictions. There were a couple of shots that we had initially envisioned differently, but we ended up getting shots that were similar or maybe even better in some respects.

What have you taken from the CMF experience? What were your impressions of CMFHollywood?

The CMF experience has been a great networking tool, as well as an amazing platform for screening and sharing work publicly. CMF Hollywood was an exciting way of meeting so many different student filmmakers, and I hope to see some collaboration through that.

If you are interested, you can view more of my work at my websites, below: 

AND my blog at 

Congrats again Nicholas!  And we'll be featuring another CMF film next week.

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