Friday, August 10, 2012

Future Filmmaker Friday: Man Crush - CMF Best Comedy and Best Actor Winner

As you know, a while back I attended CMF Hollywood, the finale for Campus MovieFest.  During the closing Gala, an interesting dilemma presented itself to me - I didn't know anyone who wasn't working behind the scenes or presenting that night.  This meant that I had to find someone to sit with at one of the large tables.  (Think of it like the Golden Globes-type seating.)

While virtually everyone else there was dress in cocktail dresses, suits, ties, or at least nice shirts, I came upon a table with four guys dressed rather... casually for the event.  It was a bit of a Casual Friday kind of night for these filmmakers.  But they looked like nice guys, so I took a vacant seat and introduced myself to the incredibly friendly team of Cloud 9 Collaborations from Indiana University.

They proudly told me that their film was actually a finalist in several categories that evening and as the evening went on, they took home two awards.  Landon Scott won for Best Actor and later the whole team won for Best Comedy.  I'm not sure what thrilled them more - being named the Best Comedy in an international contest, or the fact that it was SNL's Horatio Sanz who presented them with their Golden Tripod.

Excitedly, the guys returned to the table after their second win, proclaiming me their "good luck charm."  I told them they didn't know the half of it, as I had featured "The Strong One" on my blog earlier that year and THAT film walked away with two awards of its own that evening, including Best Picture.

These fine young filmmakers were kind enough to welcome me into their fold during the rest of the evening, and enjoying the Gala and the afterparty with them was the highlight of my CMF experience.  That's why it's a special thrill to present my personal favorite film of the festival: Man Crush.

Below you'll find an interview with Charlie Myers, who co-wrote, shot and edited the film.  Charlie Mattingly was the other writer. Johnny Hourmozdi and Ben Linder did the music, and their cast was
Landon Scott, Bill Kenny, Kat Lyons, and Natalie Hamer.


So tell us a little about yourself.   How did you get interested in film? Where are you in your school career?

My name is Charlie Myers, I'm 23 and a recent graduate of Indiana University (with a degree in Film and Media Studies), and I've always loved telling stories.  Video has always been my chosen method of doing so because of the editing stage.  There's a chance to perfect  your story before anybody ever sees it.  Some people prefer stage theater because the story unfolds live; I prefer film and video because the final cut lasts forever.

As far as I can remember I've always secretly wanted to make movies.  I was just too afraid to admit it until a couple years ago.  At this point I've kind of gotten fixated on the idea.  As a kid watching movies with my family I was fascinated by the kind of immediate and lasting effect they had on my siblings and parents.  I always wanted to try to create that effect myself.

This was your team's third year participating in CMF and your team's third year as a campus finalist.  Can you chart a measurable improvement from your first year to the present?  Feel free to tell us a little about your other entries.

This is our third year of success but actually our fourth overall.  I addressed this during both our acceptance of Best Picture at IU and our acceptance of Best Comedy at the IGF.  (Someone online called me a douchebag for talking about this so allow me to clarify my speech, which was meant to be inspiring, not douchey.)

The first year CMF came to IU, our comedy wasn't even shown (it was called Books on DVD, you can find it online).  It was terrible. My writing/directing partner Charlie Mattingly and I went back to his house and sat in the dark passing back and forth a bottle of tequila for a couple hours, drowning in our disappointment and failure.  Somewhere within that time came the drive to come back the next year and win at IU.

The next year we did just that having made An Alphabetical Dictionary Conversation with Chet Toddsworth, a short that involved 21 actors over three days, under our new production name Cloud 9 Collaborations.  That short made it to the IGF, but unfortunately received no other recognition.

However, seeing the other shorts that won that year we were again inspired (Bloodsuckers was my favorite, definitely watch that one if you haven't seen it.  Definitely proved to us we had a lot of room to improve).  We saw how high the bar had been set past Indiana.  Determined to make something that could make it further than our last two years, we made Clean Streets our third year.  While we made it the furthest yet as a finalist at the IGF, we again saw how high the bar had been set, and were determined to come back for our last year and finally win. The moment we came up with the premise of Man Crush, I believed we would do just that.  So going from terrible and not even shown to winning an international title definitely felt like an improvement.

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

Short films are tough.  I often find that problems arise when filmmakers try to meet a time requirement.  If it's five minutes, they fill five minutes.  If it's ten, they make it ten.  What this leads to is stories that ought to be two minutes long are stretched, and therefore lose their appeal.  Suddenly they feel hours long.  I may sound like a hypocrite because all of our shorts have been five minutes to the frame.

However, people have told us they love our shorts because they feel two minutes long while actually being five.  We have achieved this because each year we tend to bite off more than we can chew.  Each script has been about fifteen pages (which in normal scriptwriting practice would equate to fifteen minutes of screen time).  By compressing a fifteen minute story into five, we create a more dense and attractive story and never lose our audience.  And that's important for a short, because you cannot lose your audience for a second as each is valuable.

Man Crush deals with a straight guy who becomes concerned that he might have a crush on his best friend.  Where did the idea come from?

The idea for Man Crush comes from simple observation of males.  Somehow, while many men are terrified to be perceived as gay, they are allowed to slap each others asses and brush it off as being "bros." What happens when those behaviors are misread?  What if someone were to perceive those typical "bro" practices as something more?

Originally Landon and Bill were supposed to engage in a lot more of these "broin out turned gay" activities but there wasn't enough time.  The reason we had them wake up together at the beginning was so that the audience would conclude immediately that this must be a gay couple, so when it is revealed soon after that they are just friends, suddenly the story gets interesting.

That being said, we wanted to be absolutely clear right off the bat that this was in no way mocking or putting down homosexuality (much like the classic Seinfeld line, "Not that there's anything wrong with that!").  Instead we focused on making it about a guy who has these strange, misplaced feelings that he cannot explain, and that happen to be for another male.  It turned into the classic "I can't tell my best friend that I love her because that will ruin our wonderful friendship" story, except with two dudes (something I like in itself because I'd never seen it before.)

But again, we immediately inform the audience (by way of the phone scene where Landon tells the radio woman his predicament) that this is not a story about a guy struggling with homosexuality in a society that may not accept him, but instead about misplaced, ineffable feelings for a best friend that happens to be male.  Apparently it worked though because so far every gay person I know to have seen it has said they love it, so I'm proud of that.

How sure were you guys that you hit the right tone?  Was it a case where you didn't really relax until you saw an audience react to it, or were you pretty confidant once you shot it?

I was confident when I had finished shooting it that it would be a great comedy, in the sense that I knew I personally would love it (which is important, as I'm one who believes that you have to make yourself laugh first and foremost).  But there's an amazing double standard that exists in our society, where it's considered attractive for two women to makeout (and they're only experimenting), but when two guys kiss, even briefly, they are immediately labeled as homosexuals forever.  Again, there's nothing inherently wrong with that, but it leads to many males being terrified of being perceived as gay.

I knew we had hit the right tone when people, male and female, were cheering on the kiss between Bill and Landon at the end.  After that kiss ends Landon's confusion, nobody labels that character as gay anymore.  However, at our Q&A as well as just walking around, the number one question Landon received was, "Are you gay in real life?"  So maybe we got people to question their sense of social norms, maybe not, but at least they enjoyed the story and had a good laugh (hopefully).

What's the collaborative process like between you and your teammates?

We operate under the name Cloud 9 COLLABORATIONS because we firmly believe in the collaborative effort.  One of the main reasons we never have credits (the first one being that they are a waste of time) is because credits imply that one person had one job.  When we make shorts, everybody has input.  Therefore, we feel as though we all made it, so we operate under one name, and that's all the credit anyone needs.  Having a solid script is a good start, but the real story and comedy comes from the scene and the characters, so keeping your ear to the ground and allowing the story to change and transform in front of you on the fly is just as important.  Improvisation is a great example, and we love working with actors who have that important skill.  Everything is fluid until that final export, and the credit goes to everyone involved.

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

Years past we only had three days to make our shorts, as we didn't own our own equipment.  This year I finally had my own camera so I actually got a decent amount of sleep.  I shot it in two days, which allowed an incredible amount of editing time, which was wonderful.  Sometimes the deadline brings about the best changes, but having an abundance of time this time around allowed me to watch the short hundreds of times, something very important to make it the best it can be.

Was there anything you wanted to do, but couldn't, due to time restrictions?
Originally, Bill and Landon were supposed to have a more developed relationship, but there just wasn't enough time.  It was more important to focus on Landon's predicament and let the audience fill in the rest.  As I said previously, I wanted to put them in a series of "bro" scenarios, and indicate that Landon saw them as something more (ex: they play basketball and maybe Bill plays Defense a little close, etc.).  In the end though I was just happy to hit five minutes.

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

CMF has always been my favorite time of year.  It's the only time I feel I can truly take a week off of school and not care at all while also having an incredible time exercising creativity.  It's also generally the most stressful time, but it's the best kind of stress there is.  I was a fifth-year student this past year, so all of my old teammates had already graduated and moved away.  With them gone, my level of production dropped significantly.

Participating in CMF suddenly made me feel like I was living again (sounds lame I know, but it's true).  CMF Hollywood is always a good time, even if we were the only guys to show up not properly dressed for the occasion (oops).  Couldn't have had a better time at the IGF Awards Show.  Watching Landon Scott win International Best Actor (yes, for playing Landon, I wanted them to go by their real names) was like watching my child being born.  I'm just glad we won on our final go so I can lay the CMF years to rest happily.

What are your plans post-college?

I'll be moving to LA within a few days.  We'll see what the city has in store for me.

Finally, do you have any other short films on the web, or any personal website you'd like to plug?

I don't really have anything else to plug, except for my youtube channel ( which has a load of random stuff (shorts, movie mashups, video remixes, stupid stuff of my friends and whatnot).  Sometimes I do little editing jobs when I think of something funny or fun to edit.  One in particular is called 300 Tourettes Guys, which is worth checking out if you need an immature laugh or two.  Or Good Wall-E Hunting, that's another of my favs.  Other than that maybe someday I'll make a professional website, probably a good idea.

So there you have it.  I really think that Charlie and his collaborators are going to be going places in a few years.  So if any of you out there have any leads for Charlie as he arrives in L.A. and tries to break in, please feel free to contact me and I'll put you in touch with him.

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