Challenges are plentiful when making a short film, says A.M. Lukas, whose short “One Cambodian Family Please for My Pleasure” was selected as a finalist at TheWrap’s 2019 ShortList Film Festival. What matters is how you handle those challenges — a lesson she learned first-hand.
“I had $80,000 and then I lost it; I had Emily Mortimer, and I was about to get on the plane to Fargo, and then we lost Emily; and then we got Emily back. So it was just completely insane every step of the way,” Lukas said in a panel with other ShortList filmmakers Thursday night at the W Hotel Hollywood. You can watch a video clip above of the conversation moderated by TheWrap’s awards editor Steve Pond.
“It’s letting it all happen and then solving each problem,” Lukas said, sharing wise advice from “The Graduate” director Mike Nichols. “You can never know what the film is actually gonna be. You can plan, plan, plan, but it’s listening to them and then reacting accordingly. And that’s what’s so exciting about what we do, I think.”
Moriah Hall — producer of Student Prize-winning short documentary “No Sanctuary,” about the 2015 church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina — says the biggest challenge she faced while making the film was convincing the families of victims to “open old wounds that they very much did not want to have to go through again.”
She and the film’s director, Nathan Knox, succeeded by “letting them know we are not trying to exploit you, we just want to give you a platform.”
Suzanne Andrews Correa, director of “Green,” said her film about two undocumented Turkish brothers almost didn’t get made because of casting challenges.
“It was really essential to me that these two brothers share a common language, and living in New York, you would think that would be easy, but it really wasn’t at all,” she said. “Then we found Erol [Afsin] and Aziz [Capkurt], and they made the movie.”
But before all that, the filmmakers agree that a spark of inspiration is needed to create the story itself.
“Sister,” a film by Siqi Song about an only child who makes up an imaginary sibling, is very personal for the director, who was the second child born to her family in 1989, while China’s One Child Policy was still in effect.
“My parents, they tried really hard to give birth to me when my mom was pregnant with me. I was illegal for a while until they found a way to get a birth certificate for me,” Song said. “My friends, they are always the only child in their family. So whenever they find out that I have a big brother, they always ask me, what does it feel like to grow up with a sibling?”
Diaries from her own childhood gave Amber Sealey the idea for her short film about girlhood sexuality, “How Does It Star.”
“There are a lot of films out there that have 10-, 11-, 12-year-old boys who are masturbating or spying on girls or interested in sex, and it’s all seen as totally normal or even funny,” Sealey said. “And when we have the same age girls being interested in sex or being sexualized, they’re being molested or it’s something bad.”
The biggest hurdle she faced was finding actual 12-year-old actresses who were not only “emotionally open” to the subject matter, but whose parents who were “on board with this mission statement.”
“Departing Gesture” co-director Brian Bolster said his Audience Award-winning film about a funeral director in Jackson, Mississippi, who gives “a dignified burial” to men who’ve died of HIV/AIDS and abandoned by their families, resurfaces memories of his childhood when AIDS first came out in the early 1980s.
“We didn’t even have a name for it,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in this idea of regret. A lot of people back then, mostly gay men, were rejected by their families, and I always wondered if those families that rejected their child look back and regret that.”
“Cat Days” is a Japanese-language animated short about a little boy who is told by a doctor that he is, in fact, a cat. Filmmaker Jon Frickey said the idea came to him during a conversation he had with his girlfriend, who thought she was coming down with something while staying in Kyoto, Japan.
“I said, ‘Well it may be cat flu, but that would mean that you’re a cat.’ And that was that,” he said with a laugh.
Paloma Martinez’s short documentary, “Enforcement Hours,” about a hotline that provides legal help during ICE raids, won the night’s top Industry Prize. She said she grew up in a “mixed-status” community, which meant not everyone in the community was a documented citizen.
“My parents were undocumented for a very long time. I always wanted to make something about absurd fear and the undocumented community,” she said. “When I was living in the Bay area, I read about this hotline of volunteers that was out to help people who maybe were raided by ICE or feared ICE raids. And they were so gracious and open and incredibly and it all kind of went from there.”
The idea behind husband and wife directing team Amy Hill and Chris Riess’ “Hula Girl,” the true story of how the hula hoop came to America from Australia, came about thanks to a little eavesdropping.
“My nosy mother overheard a conversation at a restaurant with my father in San Diego,” Hill said. Her mom heard the daughter of “Hula Star” Joan Anderson “talking to her friends about how no one was ever going to know her mother’s story.”
Hill’s mother stood up in the restaurant and said, “I know somebody,” Hill recalled — and the rest is history.