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LatinoBuzz: The Anatomy of a Dope Short Film

by Juan Caceres
April 4, 2014 8:30 AM
1 Comment
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Milk and Honey’ dir. by Daniel Pfeffer

Let’s face facts, the days of the short film being your calling card are pretty much gone (along with the bank account you pillaged). The digital revolution did democratize filmmaking and it meant any Tom, Dick and Harry could pick up a camera and shoot a film. And they did, saturating the festival circuit and bringing about countless of needless short festivals in every neighborhood (this being especially true in NYC). In curating thousands of short films over the years, I’ve lost years of my life to the art. So, you can imagine the joy one gets when you come across those “bangers”. A film that never leaves you. Some of my dearest friends are people whose film I happened upon. There’s a support system that exists between people getting their short films out there. Maybe it’s the nerves. But there’s no competition to sell your film like with feature films. They just want their film to be seen and to share these small precious stories because they know they have about 10 minutes to leave a lasting impression. LatinoBuzz caught up with filmmakers whose short films are starting to make noise on the festival circuit and you will be pleasantly surprised at the disparity in their stories. Here’s to meeting these filmmakers with their features.

‘You’re Dead To Me’ dir. by Wu Tsang

You're Dead to Me dir. by Wu Tsang (USA)

LatinoBuzz : Where did the idea come from to do a short film?

Wu: Initially I approached Adelina Anthony about co-writing a script about
 a “trans” character who is dealing with the death of a parent. It turned out that Adelina was already working on a beautiful script with a related theme and that ended up being the film we made! I really love
 this story, because it enabled me to play with elements of the supernatural
 to explore a very human story: dealing with irreconcilable feelings of losing someone, when you had already broken off the relationship before
 they died. Adelina's title "You're Dead to Me" refers to that experience,
 which can be especially painful when it comes to disowning a family member,
 because it is another thing entirely to process their physical passing.

LatinoBuzz: What do you want your short film to do for you?

Wu: I hope that this film can convey emotional truth about relationships between parents and transgender children, which can unfortunately sometimes 
be difficult. As a transgender filmmaker I have a personal stake in telling this story. On the other hand, I like that this film also plays with transgender identity to work within a ghost story genre convention. The 
ambiguity of who the missing child is (are they are boy or girl?) helps maintain the suspense. I studied some films closely, especially The Sixth
 Sense and The Others, as examples of when ghost characters can be 
ambiguous until the end of the story.

LatinoBuzz: What was the writing, funding and shooting process?

Wu: This project was developed through Film Independent's Project: Involve Fellowship, so there was a competitive process for us to team up and get our script green-lit. But once we did, we were able to work quickly with 
support from FIND and the PBS National Minority Consortium. We had to work
some strict guidelines, but I always believe that rules provide a structure 
to be creative with (and against) the boundaries.

LatinoBuzz: Name one "Hustle"/"Guerrilla" moment where you did what you had to do to 
get the shot/scene?

Wu: Thanks to our stellar producer Melissa Haizlip, and the brilliance of our cinematographer Michelle Lawler, I don't recall having to cut any corners; we were able to get all the shots we needed. But we did have a few 
challenges with the location; at the last minute, we realized we didn't have a really crucial 'door buzzer' - and we ended up taping a chocolate bar to the wall - a little trick of lighting and sound effects, and voila!


Milk and Honey  dir. by Daniel Pfeffer (USA)

LatinoBuzz: Where did the idea come from to do a short film?

Daniel: ‘Milk and Honey’ stems from a feature film script titled: Mama Left Me in the 607. I have been writing various drafts of the feature film script for years. At one point, while juggling freelance locations work on major motion pictures, I decided to take the bull by the horns and make a short film inspired by the feature. They are very different films but I thought it was important to make a short representation of what could be a much bigger picture. It was important for me to be able to showcase out of film school, such a personal story, and let an audience see the unique world of my main character, Maya. I loosely based Maya on a girl I fell in love with growing up in Ithaca, New York. Milk and Honey is my first short film produced independently out of film school. I was eager to direct again and keep honing in on my craft. I wanted to make a short without any strings attached.

Latinobuzz: What do you want your short film to do for you?

‘Milk and Honey’ dir. by Daniel Pfeffer

Daniel: The short film genre has become beyond competitive, so it's hard to tell what opportunities can develop from making a short film. A part of me just feels honored and lucky as hell to be able to make a short outside of film school. It has been a blessing to get a team together and work towards one vision. On the other hand, I felt I had to make a short film to gain credibility and be able to market myself as a writer, producer, director. I wanted to keep expanding my network and create a new portfolio piece to compliment my feature film about an orphaned Puerto Rican girl, Maya, and how she copes with her problems in an abusive foster home.

Maya's story is based on a personal story, so I know the feature script might not sit well with producers and investors without a truly solid vision in place. I am marketing this film with attention to its unique setting, upstate New York. I would love to have my lead actors, Yainis Ynoa and Joshua Rivera come back for the feature, they are amazing to work with, incredibly talented, and have a special chemistry on screen. If I can use this short film to showcase my talent as a director/screenwriter to potential investors for a feature, then the short has been a success in my eyes.

LatinoBuzz: What was the writing, funding and shooting process?

Daniel: The short script writing process went through many stages. Because it was based off a longer screenplay, my first short draft had too many characters. It was overwhelming for a short film. My co-producer immediately advised me to cut characters for the sake of a better film. At first I craved to keep all the characters because the story and them were loosely based off my childhood. However, as I wrote the second draft I saw how much I could further develop my protagonist Maya, by eliminating the excess characters. It became clear this couldn't be a story about my youth, but had to be Maya's story and focus on her struggles and strength.

Funding the film was a battle because I didn't have any savings to back up my short. It's hard enough just to make rent in NYC, much less have savings for a short film. Instead I turned to Kickstarter and made a pledge video with my two lead actors, Yainis Ynoa and Joshua Rivera. We shot it the same week both of them had premiered their feature film Babygirl at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival. It was a blessing having them on board, I couldn't have raised the funds without them. They provided a spirit and legitimacy that drew a lot of support and in turn a successful fundraising campaign. We didn't ask for too much money, but that was because Kickstarter doesn't grant you the funds if you don't make your goal! After working on major film productions for some pretty important producers in the metro area, I learned each departments' role on a set, and how truly important they were. I always tried to cut too many corners in film school, but this time I made sure I had the right players involved to be able to liberate myself as a director.

Making a short film on six thousand dollars is no easy feat, and we shot about five pages a day, which in hindsight, I do not recommend. On this production, I cut off some of the fat my other shorts suffered from. This time I was able to focus more on performances and storytelling, which I think should always be the ultimate goal! In the end, making a film is a team effort, so the struggle is always getting people involved that really want to bring your vision to life. There are always rifts, but the trick is to contain them, so the show can keep going. We filmed on all kinds of formats, RedCam, handicam, 8mm, Canon 7d and T2i - which later became a post production nightmare, but worth the sleepless nights to create a unique picture.

LatinoBuzz: Name one “Hustle”/”Guerrilla” moment where you did what you had to do to get the shot/scene?

Daniel: A memorable moment was getting the only "dolly" shot in the film. I wanted to backtrack on Yainis as she storms out of her house and charges down the middle of the street. Since most of the film was handheld, we couldn't get the movement right even after trying the backtrack on foot with various lenses. So we took a volvo station wagon and opened the back hatch, placed our cinematographer in the hatch and rolled the car on neutral without the engine running. The shot came out beautifully and ended up in the final cut of the short!


‘Solecito’ dir. by Oscar Ruiz Navia

Solecito dir. by Oscar Ruiz Navia (Colombia)

LatinoBuzz: Where did the idea come from to do a short film?

Oscar: I was doing casting in different schools and institutions for another feature film project (Los Hongos, currently in post production) and I met the 2 teenagers of the film who told me the story of their loving breaking up. I realized that they both didn’t have any communication and I decided to propose them to make a fiction film about how they could meet again.

LatinoBuzz: What do you want your short film to do for you?

Oscar: I wanted to explore the representation of reality with non-professional actors playing themselves. This is something I´ve been always interested in.

LatinoBuzz: What was the writing, funding and shooting process?

Oscar: I did the film with a very low budget. I got a small grant and support from Danish artist Olafour Eliasson and the support of Tine Fisher form CPH:DOX. Then after I got some support for 2 companies in Colombia, besides my own, Contravia Films. These 2 companies were Burning Blue and Post Bros. I also got support from my habitual French co-producer Arizona Productions. The film was a miracle, it was made with 3 people on the set with our script and with a very small camera. It was selected in Director´s Fortnight at Cannes Film Festival 2013.


Tinto dir. by Felix Solis (Chile/USA)

LatinoBuzz: Where did the idea come from to do a short film?

‘Tinto’ dir. by Felix Solis

Felix: My co-writer Liza Fernandez who also plays Anita in the short was invited to visit her mother who owns vineyard land in Isla de Maipo, Chile. It had been quite some time since she had been there. I was drawn to the idea of what happens to us when we return to a place we have not been to in a long time. Also, having been born and raised in the concrete jungles of NYC, I was also inspired by the location. Lush rolling hills, farm land, cattle and vegetation soils. And the idea of placing a city urbanite in the unfamiliar landscape of countryside.

LatinoBuzz: What do you want your short film to do for you?

Felix: My initial drive to make a short was to follow the natural progression I was going through as an actor of film and television. You spend long enough hours on a set, and if you are even remotely aware of your surroundings and the inner workings of film and tv, you see what needs to happen, you have make your own film. Now that the process is somewhat complete for me, I am finding myself wanting to share my story in the hopes of becoming a part of a generation of NYC based filmmakers that will leave behind a library of cinematic stories. Whether financing comes from within or from afar. The story will always be grounded in my company's (Subway token films) identity "everydayers, derailments, and street level miracles".

LatinoBuzz: What was the writing, funding and shooting process?

Felix: Well, the writing was relatively simple once we nailed the story we wanted to tell. There were specific variables that we knew were going to be unavoidable so that helped plot points. For example we were going to be on a vineyard. We were going to be in a foreign country. We were not going to have many locations. And we we're going to be doing most, if not all the work ourselves. These things helped narrow a script down to its basic core. Less is more.

As far as funding goes, there's the old adage "if you want something done right, do it yourself" I funded the entire project out of pocket. I used money I had saved from my years of working as an actor. One of the perks of living well below my means. The shooting process was as exciting an endeavor as anything I have ever had the pleasure of doing. I was blessed enough to put together a bare bones team that took very little time to trust me and feel connected to me in a way that allowed for all the things I didn't know, all the answers I didn't have, all my ignorance, to become learning moments and creative "explosions" if you will, that kept us from imploding. I also reminded myself of my theatre background, where it's all about the story and not one Individual aspect. We worked as a team top to bottom, don't get me wrong, there storms and catastrophes but we weathered them as a unit. This was my shooting process.

LatinoBuzz: Name one “Hustle”/”Guerrilla” moment where you did what you had to do to get the shot/scene?

Felix: This is a great question! On the property in Isla de Maipo, Chile there is a mega tall free standing water tank tower, and when I saw it, I knew I wanted a shot from atop it. I hoped to maybe get a sunset or a sunrise. It just felt right to have it. I didn't know where in the short I would use it but I knew I wanted it. I asked my Director of Photography, Miguel Alvarez, about it, and I seem to recall him saying, "who's going up there, you or me?" I said to him "Well, as a director I should be willing to do first, anything that I would asks my actors or crew to do for me" and we left it at that. One day I was prepping inside the mainstay house and was told Miguel was climbing the water tank tower, when I went out, he was half way up and I could do nothing but watch as he scaled to the top and began shooting the sunset. Our production designer, Nazanin Shirazi, sat worried for her DP. I was worried too, but have to admit, I did wonder what the footage would look like. We also did lots of driving with the camera pointing out of the window, throughout the surrounding areas, which always garners some nasty stares for the locals.

One final thing, I must confess, I never got the chance to climb to the top of the water tank tower. I owe him one. -

Alta Exposición dir. by Cecilia Robles (USA)

‘Alta Exposicion’ dir. by Cecilia Robles

LatinoBuzz: Where did the idea come from to do a short film?

Cecilia: Well, I studied filmmaking in Mexico, then France, then here in the USA. But this particular short is a stepping-stone between the novel and the feature film that is screaming to be produced. It turns out that in my younger years I was a daring and venturesome flight-attendant who happened to participate in, let's say peculiar activities. Since I could not tell anyone about my questionable adventures, I started compiling them on a diary. That diary became an erotic novel, ‘Bienvenidos a Bordo’ (Welcome on board) and then I adapted the best chapters into a full length screenplay (ALTA EXPOSICiÓN. I know what you’re thinking…. And you know what? In my case it would have been true (wink-wink) The short allows me to introduce three of my favorite characters ;)

LatinoBuzz: What do you want your short film to do for you?

Cecilia: Well, as I said, I would love to raise interest in the short to find funds for the long. The long is too expensive for me to produce alone. Also, I'd love to direct the long, so I needed to showcase what I was able to do as a director. The motto of this project is to encourage people to act towards the realization of their dreams; to remind them that no one should live in autopilot, which is basically what I did to produce it.

LatinoBuzz: What was the writing, funding and shooting process?

Cecilia: As I said, I wrote a book, a screenplay and a wait for it...Also a TV series! Yes! It could be a franchise: BIENVENIDOS A BORDO - the novel, ALTA EXPOSICIÓN - the film, and TE LA VOLASTE - the TV series. I would say the three are based on the semi-autobiographical intimate and artistic exploits of a young airline stewardess who takes a turbulent journey into the depths of self-discovery. So, long story SHORT: it comes from my novel ;). The funding: financed it myself, but I consider the crew my co-producers for the very low rates they gave me. It was really, really extra low budget. Everything was shot Guerilla Style, I had no insurance (Thank God no one got hurt). There were 9 speaking roles and we used their clothes and I hand made the flight-attendant uniforms... We needed 7 locations, a theater, an apartment, a hotel room, a trapeze school, a bar, an art gallery, and most importantly: an airplane mockup!!!

We shot everything "a escondiditas", stole the shots everywhere except for the airplane cabin, which btw, I could have never afford it, alas I can't tell you how I got it, because I made a pact. :)

As for post, I did the editing. For the music, I hit the lottery with this amazing composer that was worth every single last penny of my miserable budget. As for the animated logo, I ended up becoming a friend of the animator because he really delivered for a ridiculous amount of $. The crew was minimal and everybody was very cooperative! Without my precious crew, my line producer and all the people that I convinced through exacerbated enthusiasm, I would have never been able to make it for that kind of money.

LatinoBuzz: Name one “Hustle”/”Guerrilla” moment where you did what you had to do to get the shot/scene?

Cecilia: All of them. It was such an intense and fast learning experience for me, that I created 12 vlogs and uploaded them on my blog. Basically I give quick tips about all that I learned on each step of the way. I just sat in front of my MAC shared some guerrilla-nugget-experiences throwing in some footage, pictures and advices for when wearing several hats at once. You can watch them here:

Written by Juan Caceres . LatinoBuzz is a weekly feature on SydneysBuzz that highlights Latino indie talent and upcoming trends in Latino film with the specific objective of presenting a broad range of Latino voices. Follow [AT]LatinoBuzz on Twitter and Facebook .

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1 Comment

  • Alex Medina | May 20, 2014 10:34 AMReply

    i like this article very much.
    Sydney, this is the only way i found to reach you, we met in rolando´s house in Havan.
    If you can write to my e-mail

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