A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending one of my favorite yearly events, Campus MovieFest.
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.
I was so taken with the quality of the films shown there that I spotlit a number of them in a segment I called Future Filmmaker Friday.
Longtime readers of the site have seen me talk about CMF a number of
times before and I always enjoy attending their on-site workshops during the several-day event known as CMF Hollywood. This year, their guest speakers included director Jake Kasdan ("Sextape"), director Tom Shaydac ("I Am," "Bruce Almighty," "Liar Liar,") screenwriter Richard Wenk ("The Equalizer,"), screenwriter Robert Ben Garant ("Night at the Museum," "Reno 911"), manager-producer Richard Arlook, and Black List founder Franklin Leonard. I attended many of these panels and enjoyed mingling with the visiting college students and chatting them up about their work. It's impossible to be around a group like that and not feed off their enthusiasm.
With another year gone by, a number of films from this year's CMF Hollywood have ended up on my radar, so I wanted to restore that weekly feature throughout the summer and it wasn't hard to figure out which film should kick it off.
While at the CMF Hollywood Awards Gala, I had the pleasure of meeting director Connor Williams, his lead actress Caity Parker and the rest of his team from Bridgewater State University. Connor and Caity walked away with top honors in their nominated categories, Best Director and Best Actress for their film Stetson Street.
As each filmmaker is limited to only five minutes for their projects, it's really hard to do drama and have it resonate with the audience. Comedy presents its own challenges, but in general, I think it's easier to try to be funny than to be serious. There were actually a lot of serious films in the screened selections this year and I was impressed how a number of them would have been compelling even if one wasn't taking into account the fact they were completely made in a week.
I reached out to Stetson Street's director, Connor Williams, to find out a little more about his film and his CMF experience in general.
So tell us a little about yourself. How did you get interested in film? Where are you in your school career?
All my life I have been good at making people laugh. The feeling you get when somebody forgets all their troubles and just laughs is like no other. I had made a few skits in high school with a friend and hosted a few events, but by the time I got to college I had to turn this into a career so of course I chose communications. I made my first real film entitled “four score and seven years ago” when we screened it in front of 60 people and all of them were in tears laughing I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I spent the next four years mastering my craft taking classes and working on countless projects. I have just graduated and do part time work for a studio in Boston called Generation Cinemastories.
Had you participated in Campus MovieFest before?
All four years I have always been screened at my school, but I never won. It was a great learning experience being told that I suck year after year and only made me a stronger filmmaker.
How did you develop the idea for STETSON STREET? How did the limitations of one-week to shoot and edit it play into how you developed your idea?
I have always wanted to do something domestic disturbance related because of how dramatic it is. My actor Mark Cividino is very explosive and I wrote the script around his acting style. My directing style comes from experience and film taste but mainly from a short I did called FRED which takes advantage of those static compositions. The flashback technique is nothing new to film making and neither is changing time order. I have always had trouble fitting my films into 5 minutes and these two techniques really helped me condense my story down. My goal was to make an intense “trailer of a travesty” leaving the audience wanting more. I am also a purist and don’t really go in for fancy effects and camera tricks. I like clean story-telling and let the content of the film itself do all the talking.
How much time did you spend shooting the film?
The camera came a day late and I thought I was going to murder somebody, I thought everything was going to be horrible. We had two 12 hour days Saturday and Sunday and then a non stop three day edit. We shot the argument, birthing and grocery store scene one day and everything else the other day.
I think a big help to me winning Best Director and the film being so successful was we filmed the rehearsals. I would get Mark and Caity to scream at each other and then I would show them what they looked like and adjust the script accordingly we did this 3 times and I cannot explain to you how much this helped. It was the writing process.
Was there anything you wanted to do, but couldn't, due to time restrictions?
Honestly, I wanted to get the opening shots at a train station and that’s about it. I can’t complain one bit about anything other than lack of editing time. We actually didn’t end up using a lot of footage and the part where mark is throwing the clothes into the bag is entirely improve. I was just lucky enough that the audio was recording.
What - in your opinion - makes for a good short film?
Emotion, emotion, emotion. In short films it is impossible to develop characters, blow peoples minds with huge over arching plots and all the other dynamic qualities of features. For shorts you want people to get sucked in and feel an emotion for five minutes an emotion that will help them escape reality for 5 minutes. You can have a build up, you can have a little bit of a story, but in the end the audience needs to feel emotions. Also, a good score is vital, this film was nothing without music.
What have you taken from the CMF experience? What were your impressions of CMFHollywood?
I am proud to say that my university, along with Ed Cabellon, flew my crew and I out to Hollywood for free and put us up in the Sheraton plus paid for our CMF badges. SO, I had no expectations at all though knew I wanted to meet some people.
Honestly, it was the best time of my life so far. I met so many awesome people and got to here good advice from amazing people. The best work shop was “Life After CMF Hollywood”. So much free food and booze was overwhelming and really brought everyone together at the mixers and Jillian's. Obviously winning was the highlight of my week and the WD hard drive they gave us will truly help me get my production company up and running. My university is SO proud of me and so are my bosses at work. They both want to hire me full time now and it feels good to be wanted.
I just need to say this film would not be possible without Henry Carrasco, Jason Kimball, Billy Loftus, Mark Cividino, Caity Parker and everyone at Readville Productions.
Henry is one of the most talented audio engineers I have ever worked with and a main focus of this project was to get great audio and mix it in post and he did just that.
Jason Kimball scored the film and was Johnny on the spot with anything through production gaffing, editing, set design equipment, griping he even shot a few shots.
Caity, Mark and Billy were phenomenal actors to work with and are no doubt going to make it in this industry.
Readville Productions is a budding organization focused on comedic skits. We have a sizeable YouTube following and are always looking for more!
When I met Connor, he struck me as a good guy and I can tell I wasn't wrong because not only did he make sure in this interview to single out each team member's contributions individually, but in our email communication, he asked me twice to make sure I didn't leave out the shout-out to his team.
You can find the Readville Productions website here. I wish these guys all the best.
Congrats to the entire team! I'll be showcasing some more of my favorite CMF films from this year throughout the summer.