shrtfilm.com interviews Jessica Rose & David Lester

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Today we share with you part 16 in the ‘shrtfilm.com interviews’ series. Constant Hoogenbosch interviews Jessica Rose & David Lester.

What is it that appeals to you about the short film?
We think short film is the perfect opportunity for new filmmakers to hone their skills, find their voice, and try out some more experimental ideas. It gives you total freedom to tell your story your way. It also allows more seasoned filmmakers to experiment more without the financial or studio pressure of making a feature. It also allows you to tell very particular stories that might not otherwise get told; ones that might not have the scope of a feature but are still powerful and worthy of being seen. It’s a perfect form for highlighting a significant moment in one’s life, rather than a whole event.


If you are a filmmaker and want to participate in an interview for shrtfilm.com also, please contact info@shrtfilm.com. We like to hear from you!


What qualities do you believe make a good short film?
With narrative shorts, you have only a few seconds to get your audience engaged. A good short is compelling within the first few moments and then leaves you wanting more. Pacing and good editing is crucial, but more than anything your script has to be strong, original, and, well, short (i.e. keep it tight). And good sound! And great actors! People will (mostly) be forgiving of poor lighting or production value if the acting, editing, and script are powerfully executed. It’s very difficult, and we still struggle with it, but you have to be willing to kill your babies and get extremely succinct with the story you’re telling. It might be soul-crushing, but your audience won’t know what’s on the cutting room floor and you’ll have a stronger film.

To what extent is making short films a stepping stone to making feature films?
It usually is an important step in that it allows filmmakers to practice their skills, build working relationships, find their creative voice, and make all their mistakes before they step into feature territory. It’s also an excellent calling card. If the right people see it, it can lead to all kinds of opportunities. A well directed, confident short will show that you have a solid eye, are capable of getting great performances from your actors, and have a deep understanding of story. Those are all the same qualities that are looked for in feature film directors.

What is the most challenging aspect of making short films?: 
There are many things!
The biggest one for us is probably the same challenge as making features. Money money money! Finding and raising money to make all the projects you want to make is extremely challenging, especially in the indie world – and especially in Canada (where we live). That is probably the number one thing that stops us from doing what we want to do all the time. That being said, equipment has become more and more accessible, and there are rental houses that support short films by donating gear, and it’s certainly possible to shoot something of quality with much less cash than it used to be. There are workarounds for sure, but the more ambitious you want to become as filmmaker the more this particular issue can be a roadblock.Also, getting the work out there. The landscape is becoming increasingly saturated and competitive, and getting into a top festival is almost like winning the lottery. Finding an audience for a short is very tough and takes a great deal of strategy.

Do you have a preference to a certain genre?
We love comedies, dark comedy, and drama. We particularly love to make quirky character-driven slice-of-life films.

What do you like most when making a short film – writing the script – directing – camera?
Directing! Being on set is always the most fun and exciting for us.

Do you work with a script – where do you get the inspiration from? 
Yes, so far we haven’t gone to shoot anything without a script. Inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere. David carries a small little notebook around to jot down any ideas that come to him. For Jessica, often images or scenes come to her in the middle of the night when she’s half-asleep. Usually it’s from personal experiences or things we observe around us, but sometimes we just find an idea amusing and run with it. Our next short is about something that really happened to a family member of ours.

Do you leave room for improvisation?
We do, yes. We love seeing what actors feel inclined to do on the day. But we work with very strong actors, and the improvisation tends to happen spontaneously and naturally because they live so deeply within the story. We would almost rather call it “discovery” rather than improvisation, because it tends to be small, spontaneous things that naturally occur within the performance that deepen the scene or take it to a level we didn’t first think of. For example (small spoiler alert!) in our film ALISON, in the very last scene Kristopher Turner added the “thank you” at the very end. It wasn’t in the script, but it just happened organically — and it ended up in the film because it was extremely truthful. We don’t allow improvisation that goes off the rails and takes the scene or film in the wrong direction.

Did you receive funding for your project?:
We didn’t have funding with Alison. In the past we had crowdsourced, but we feel like that is only something you can do once or twice. We were frustrated that we weren’t able to get funding for various other things we wanted to make, so we actually made Alison as a bit of an experiment to see what we could pull off with nothing. We pooled our own resources together, borrowed a lot of equipment, and are fortunate to have very generous, skilled film community in Toronto who really helped us out. Ironically, this film has had the most success of all our projects so far. It was an experiment that paid off!

How did you go about assembling a film crew and actors?
Jessica wrote the film but is an actress first, so we knew she would be playing Alison. A friend of ours read the script and spontaneously forwarded it to Kristopher Turner, thinking he would be great for the role. He was right.
David is a 3rd Assistant Director around Toronto so he works with professional crew members all the time. Everyone helps each other out on their own indie projects in their spare time, so we were very lucky. There were a few positions that were harder to fill (sound guys are in demand!), but if you ask around, someone is always willing to give a recommendation.

What did you use to edit the film?: 
We used Adobe Premiere.

What camera did you shoot on? 
We shot on the Red Dragon with Cooke S4 prime lenses. The body of the Dragon was perfect for the tiny spaces we filmed in. It also allowed our DP, Robert James Brunton, to squeeze right into the set and be very close with the cast.

Could you name one or two filmmakers that you consider great influences?
For David, it’s PT Anderson and Stanley Kubrick for their rich characters and stunning direction. For Jessica, Sarah Polley and Charlie Kaufman are big inspirations to her writing.

What are you working on next? Do you already have a new project in mind?
Yes, we have a few things on the go. We have another short film script we are trying to secure funding for. David is working on his next music video, and Jessica is in the middle of writing her first feature.

What advice would you give to other short filmmakers?
The thing we’re always told by other directors is to just keep making films. Do it! Don’t judge yourself or your film before you bring it to life. Figure out why your story is important to tell and be very sure it is suited for the short form. Prep prep and prep. Make sure you develop a good rapport with your DP and discuss the story in depth beforehand; it will dictate your creative decisions on the day. Rehearse. Cast strong actors. And we encourage you to share early edits with lots of people you trust to get brutally honest feedback.
Oh yeah, and take at least one moment while filming to step back and acknowledge that you’re actually doing it 🙂
Thank you Jessica & David!


If you are a filmmaker and want to participate in an interview for shrtfilm.com also, please contact info@shrtfilm.com. We like to hear from you!


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