REPORTING FROM THE PHOENIX FILM FESTIVAL

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Reporting from The Phoenix Film Festival

Article by Justin T. Bowler

The Phoenix Film Festival is well on its way to becoming one of the more important film festivals in the world. Chris LaMont, Founder and President, and Jason Carney, Executive Director, along with their hardworking employees and countless volunteers, have created an excellent experience for filmmakers, festivalgoers, and the likes of The Movie Guys. Complimentary hotel rooms (for filmmakers), drinks, food, swag, mixers, and more screenings than you can shake a stick at, are just some of the perks. Not to mention, we were pretty well taken care of, too (specifically, for The Movie Guys, Executive Director Jason Carney and Film Presentation Coordinator Ray Shillaci were very hands on, and always made sure we had everything we needed (It was a top notch trip to be sure)).

The Movie GuysI know what your thinking… why were we there? Well, it just so happens that The Phoenix Film Festival brought The Movie Guys to Arizona to interview filmmakers, moderate Q&As, review films, and broadcast our show from their fantastic festival. The four most beloved Movie Guys were in attendance. While there are many Movie Guys (not all of them are men by the way), there are actually quite a few girls, if you didn’t know (just take a look at The Movie Guys’ picture for example, and you’ll notice, one of them is a woman) (I’m not kidding, she has all the woman parts (not that I’ve seen them, but her husband has assured me that she is all woman)). She is great! (not that he came right out and told me she was a woman, that would be weird (and it’s not like I asked “Hey, is your wife a woman?”, that would be even weirder)) (although, I’m not quite sure how it would come up in conversation either) (let’s just say, that I’ve met her and I’ve seen lots of pictures of her (not necessarily racy pictures that show off anything) and she looks like a female to me, with all the right parts in all the right places)) (but once again, to her husband, if he’s reading this, and I know he is, those pictures weren’t racy (although, just to cover my bases here, it’s perfectly OKAY if she’s not a woman underneath all the pink and the dainty and the fluffy and the pretty (there would be nothing wrong with that at all)) I’m just saying, that I assume she is a woman) (And now that I have successfully painted myself into a corner, I will drop that subject to continue on with the article, after all, I would like to keep my job, and to the point, THAT Movie Gal is the wife of THE OWNER OF THE MOVIE GUYS, Paul Preston). Anyway, as I was saying, I was very happy to be asked to join The Movie Guys in Phoenix (even if it was because the first, second, third, or fourth choices couldn’t go) So, like I said, the most beloved Movie Guys were in attendance (And with any luck, I will still be a Movie Guy after Paul reads/approves/allows this article).

Dee WallaceWith screenings from morning to night, all in attendance have plenty to see. While most films are in the festival competition, many others are selected solely for screening. Films include popular past festival winners to early screenings from major studios: “Locke”, “Dom Hemmingway”, “Disney’s The Pirate Fairy”, etc. There is programming for all ages, along with activities (for kids and adults), panels, and mixers with filmmakers. In addition, audiences/filmmakers get a Q&A after every screening of a film in competition (as a filmmaker and an audience member, I personally think this is an outstanding policy that more festivals should exhibit). Then of course, there are really fun screenings for all to attend like “Cujo” (yes, that “Cujo” (from 1983)). Furthermore, Dee Wallace, star of the film, was in attendance to answer questions, sign autographs and take pictures (she is truly a class act) (Check out The Movie Guys interview with her, HERE).

Paul OsborneIn addition to all of this, the festival is an exceptionally great place to network. Paul Osborne, filmmaker and former award-winner at the festival (check out our interview with him, HERE), met the partner for his current project at the Phoenix Film Festival last year. Plus, I had the pleasure of talking to directors, actors, producers, DPs, and art directors, all of whom did not have films that were screening or in competition this year, yet attended for various other reasons. For example, I spoke with Miguel Gonzalez, a young director in Arizona, who is well on his way to making it in Hollywood. Here’s what he had to say:

What was your primary reason for going to the festival? I attended the festival with plans to meet and network with other fellow filmmakers.

What do you think of the industry in Arizona? It’s growing in many ways. From the writing to the acting, Arizona is raising it’s expectations of what makes a good movie.

What are you currently working on? I’m launching a Kickstarter very soon for my 1950s short film project.

What films did you see at the fest? “Fading Gigolo”, “Dom Hemingway”, AZ Shorts Showcase.

What was your favorite? The AZ Shorts Showcase was my favorite. Not because the content was the best, but because I get to see what other Arizona filmmakers are putting together and compare size and quality of projects.

What did you accomplish at the fest? Sooo many connections. Met people that are all aspiring to do the same thing I am, make movies for a living. Nothing better than to be surrounded by motivated, passionate individuals.

Is there anything else you would like to add? From the tear­jerking flicks to the energetic and outgoing people, I enjoyed the festival again this year, and next year I will be taking the entire week off to fully enjoy the experience.

Amber Michelle DavisIn addition, I met actress Amber Michelle Davis, a California girl who now acts in Phoenix. She is a tall, talented, charming actress, making her living in the industry in Arizona. Here’s what she had to say…

First, how come you attended the festival this year? This year I came out to show some love to all of my fellow filmmakers. This community is like a family and I believe in supporting one another.

How did you get involved with the Phoenix Film Festival? My involvement with the Phoenix Film Festival began last year when I participated in a 48-Hour Film Challenge with the fellas over at Running Wild Films.

What are the names of the projects that you are currently working on? Aside from random commercials, shorts and extra work, I am currently filming two features. One is a drama titled “Shattered Glass”. It is about a woman who is struggling to figure out her purpose in life during and after a series of damaging relationships. The other is a horror/thriller called “Angel of Darkness: The Legend of Lilith”. I was fortunate enough to be cast as a lead in both films.

Fourth, I know you can probably play a bunch of different styles, but are you a primarily a comedic actress or a dramatic actress? I don’t choose work based on genre. I wouldn’t label myself as any ‘type’ of actor. Dramatic, comedic, etc…. I choose projects that inspire me, move me and/or challenge me.

Where can people find you online? My Facebook actor page is https://m.facebook.com/ambermichelle.actress or follow me on Twitter @TheAmberChelle

PareAnd of course, I also had the pleasure of speaking with filmmakers who had films in the competition. Bertrand Pare is the director of “Itsy Bitsy Spiders”, which was up for Best Horror Short (IT IS FANTASTIC BY THE WAY!!!)). “Itsy Bitsy Spiders” synopsis: Edwin has a dark obsession with drawing spiders. His mother does her best to curb his increasingly odd behavior, but unbeknownst to her, a terrifying mystery will soon be solved with the help of these sinister drawings.

What was the inspiration for the story? It’s very closely related to a Japanese folk tale called “The Boy Who Drew Cats”. It’s meant to move like an origin story, though. That’s always the best part of any superhero movie I think. We deliberately left the end slightly ambiguous. Did Edwin save the day, or did this uncover a new found, potentially evil power?

What filmmakers inspired the look of your film? It’s definitely a greatest hits of my favorite fantasy filmmakers. Obviously, Tim Burton is in there quite a bit. It’s hard to not do dark fantasy without quoting him. Also, we were watching Jeunet and Caro’s “City of Lost Children”, ‘Dark City” (Alex Proyas), and the Harry Potter films a lot while conceiving the look, definitely all filmmakers with a serious penchant for complex art direction and big scores. We also referenced graphic novels like Paul Pope’s “Batman Year 100″ for the color scheme. Most importantly, the story’s main influence is Steven Spielberg’s short lived 80s serial show, “Amazing Stories”. It was such a great collection fantasy short stories.

What is your background as a filmmaker? This was my first narrative film. I’ve done a few commercials and music videos, but I’m mostly a live video director. You know when you see the screens behind a band at a show? That’s me directing those cameras live and designing all those visuals. I’m basically a roadie, really. I spend most of the year on tour around the world. On a tour bus, there’s always plenty of time to daydream, which is where I came up with the idea for the film.

Where did you shoot it? Las Vegas, Nevada, of all places. To really get that comic book fantasy look, you really either have to go green screen or build a set. It’s meant to feel a little artificial and exist in a different world. Luckily, I was offered a free studio. It’s where bands and Cirque du Soleil have rehearsed in Las Vegas. We built everything from scratch over the span of about a week. Since it was a concert lighting company [space], we asked to borrow all kinds of show lighting to help cut our lighting rental cost considerably.

What camera did you shoot it on? The Sony F3. For many reasons:
1) If you record SLog it has tons of dynamic range to play with the color quite a bit in post.
2) It had a PL mount and we were really set on using Cooke Panchro lenses
3) It was free!

Where did you find your actors? Specifically, the kid and his mom. We looked in both L.A. and Las Vegas. The two leads ended up coming from L.A. Casting kids is hard. Mainly, I have no idea how to talk to them. Originally I was trying to cast for a 6­8-year old. That shows you how much I know. I found that most kids at that age have no idea why they’re even at an audition. We got mega lucky. By chance, the receptionist at the space we were using in L.A. read our script and said she had someone. She had just done casting on a movie called “Wiener Dog Nationals”. She had Julian Feder read on their set and I then met him in L.A. He was such a little adult. It was a sigh of relief. I felt super comfortable talking to him (interesting tidbit, the actor who plays the psychiatrist was actually Ronald McDonald throughout the 80s and 90s. He lives in Las Vegas now).

What do you hope to do with the short? What is the end goal? The goal is to hopefully get representation. I’m mostly interested in adapting books and graphic novels.

Did you see the horror short that won (“The Carriage or Dracula and My Mother”)? Your thoughts? I loved it. I thought it was a clever hybrid mix of documentary/drama/horror. Really well acted on top of that. Ben Gordon (the director) definitely has his own voice. I’m a fan. Our story is more in the vein of “dark fantasy”, and less “horror” per say. We were honored simply to be selected, being that we didn’t completely fit the format.

Check out more of our interview with Bertrand, HERE. Also, my review of his film “Itsy Bitsy Spiders” will be posted at TheMovieGuys.net soon.

Apart from the attendees, even the volunteers were fantastic. Jimmy Howard is a local film student, who helps out at the festival and was terrific (he was there for networking as well). During our main broadcast, he acted as our personal attendant and liaison to the festival. If we needed something, he made it happen. We could not have been happier with the choice the festival made in assigning us that night (thank you to Leigh Ann Dolan, the Event Director at the festival for assigning him to us. Additionally, a big thank you to Caitlyn Milkman (her real name, but not her real profession) for doing what she did (I don’t know specifically what she did, but she seemed to be everywhere and always looked REALLY busy) So, I want to thank her for helping us out a lot). Finally, and I really want to make a point of it, volunteers were everywhere to make sure festival-goers, as well as filmmakers, got to the right places on time. They worked long hours, were very knowledgeable, and remained patient, personable, and polite, despite the (what I can only imagine are) many repetitive questions. Specifically, over at the theaters, volunteer Francesca (I don’t know her last name), another local film student, was especially helpful. Not to mention, she was very supportive of the The Movie Guys!
Justin & Francesca

Your Indie Film Reviewer and your favorite Movie Guy,
Justin Bowler
@JustinTBowler

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