This is my fourth year at San Diego Comic-Con, but not once have I ever stepped foot in the Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival – until today. It’s nearly impossible not to become totally preoccupied with all the major movies and TV shows flooding Ballroom 20 and Hall H, but in the Marriott Marquis adjacent to the convention center, there’s a full fledged film festival underway.
Admittedly, I only gave it a go because one of my short films screened in the event’s action/adventure program this morning, but for anyone interested in a crash course in short filmmaking, the Comic-Con Film Festival really does have some solid resources that are well worth checking out. Hit the jump for more.
I graduated form Columbia University’s film MFA program back in May 2013 and apparently the CCIIFF programmers dug my thesis film, The Professor, because it just screened in Hall 2 of the San Diego Marriott Marquis and Marina earlier today. It stars Breaking Bad‘s Betsy Brandt as The Professor. She’s an ex-media studies professor who’s totally fed up with corporate media, so opts to take matters into her own hands by kidnapping a famous news anchor (Rick Peters) and forcing him to read “the real” news live on her website.
We shot the thing back in the summer of 2012, so it’s been a while since I’ve thought about the production process, but I arrived early enough to catch about half of the preceding panel, a session of Comic-Con Film School 101 focusing on pre-production. That one featured Valerie Perez (producer/star of the Paula Peril series), Jack Conway (producer of Machinima ETC), Vera Vanguard (producer of The Building of Good and Evil), Nick Murphy (writer/director of Pizza and Bullets), Josh Perilo (writer of Wedlock), and Sean Rourke (writer of Ballistica), all of whom had some serious experience making films, and specifically films on ultra low budgets, with borrowed gear and crew working free of charge.
The Professor certainly wasn’t a $200 to $400 film, but that is what it grew from. Prior to jumping into a full-blown thesis film, CU has its students make a series of exercises. They stress the importance of using those opportunities to learn and make mistakes, but that still doesn’t stop students from churning out solid three to 12-minute films that go on to have lengthy festival runs. Sure, some people spend more, but many do keep it within a couple hundred dollars, which primarily goes towards transportation, food and maybe a piece of equipment or two that you can’t find in the school equipment room.
Hearing the panel talk about that type of filmmaking process made it easy to tap back into the film school days. There was no fluff or glorified filmmaker talk. They focused on some of the most important lessons you can learn, but oddly enough, rarely ever hear about – seemingly basic things like feeding people tasty food and the importance of finding the best sound person possible and, a personal favorite tip they offered up, being willing to let your film go rather than force people who are working for free through something that’s just not working out.
The further you progress in the CU program, the more extensive the productions get. At the start, my exercises did fit this model, but eventually I stopped holding the camera and directing myself and brought on a cinematographer, I slowly beefed up my lighting packages and added VFX shots until, ultimately, I hit The Professor, my largest production while in the program. We had a company of roughly 35 people, had loads of digital components, had to hire caterers and built a number of extensive sets. It wasn’t easy, but we pulled it off, came out of it with something that we’re proud of and this morning, had the pleasure of sharing it with the crowd at Comic-Con.
But I’m not going to lie; the room was far from full and when the time came to hop up on stage and field some questions, I was a little nervous there’d be none, I’d leave and go back to work in Ballroom 20. However, that most certainly was not the case. In fact, we actually used up all the time. There were loads of questions covering the inception of the idea, the production process, what it’s like working within a film school program and more. It hit a point when it wasn’t really even a formal Q&A anymore, but rather a casual conversation. You’ll wait on line in Ballroom 20 or Hall H to ask a single question and then be done with it, but here, we got to cover an extensive amount of the short filmmaking process, including some particular questions focusing on very specific details certain audience members wanted to know about.
I know you probably want to go catch Marvel, Warner Bros., Game of Thrones, Walking Dead and all the big stuff, but if you’d like a break from the bigger crowds, take a 10 minute walk over to Hall 2 at the Marriott. There’s AC, room to breathe, nice bathrooms and if you’ve got any interest in making movies of your own, there’s loads of opportunities to check out budding filmmakers’ work and hear about what it takes to pull it all off. Click here to check out what’s left on the CCIIFF schedule and click here for more on The Professor.