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Redstone Film Fest Roundtable

Four finalists talk about weird filmmaking and James Cameron


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Watch clips from the 2010 Redstone Festival films: All Day Yeah,Shoebox Redhead, Picnicking Through Purgatory (and other things to do at night), exhibit A, Death Whish, Leftovers, Modern Alchemy.

The Redstone Film Festival has been postponed until February 26, 2010, due to inclement weather.

A handful of Boston University students get star treatment this week. The Redstone Film Festival, BU’s equivalent of the Oscars, showcases the most promising films by aspiring young filmmakers from the College of Communication filmmaking and screenwriting programs.

This year’s festival features films ranging from documentary and horror to comedy and traditional narrative. Sponsored by Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone (Hon.’94), the festival is on Wednesday, February 10, at 7 p.m., at the Tsai Performance Center and is free and open to the public. Festival winners are chosen by a panel of prominent film industry professionals; cash prizes go to the first, second, and third place finishers.

Four festival finalists, last year’s second place Redstone winner and COM lecturer Charlie Anderson (COM’10), director of All Day Yeah, Atanas Bakalov (COM’11), director of Death Whish, Tessa Olson (COM’10), screenwriter of Leftovers, and Eric Scanlon (COM’09), director of exhibit A, gathered for an informal discussion that ranged from abusing actors to whether James Cameron is a sellout.

BU Today: James Cameron. Love him or hate him?
Scanlon: Pffft.

Anderson: He tells a good story. I’ll give him that.

Olson: And he gets the job done. He’s hired by producers to make money, and he does.

Bakalov: I admire him for his technical savvy.

Anderson: I remember seeing Aliens as a kid, and it was awesome. And Terminator and Terminator 2 were good.

Scanlon: Yeah, pre-Titanic, I was totally on board with James Cameron.

What’s up with the Academy bumping best picture entries from 5 to 10?
Scanlon: They’re hoping for better ratings.

Anderson: Yeah, that’s what it’s about.

Olson: I think they’re hoping that broadening the category will give lesser-known films a chance to be nominated — you know, films that aren’t the critics’ favorites.

Anderson: The films I like are never nominated.

Do you have any Oscar predictions?
Olson: They typically follow the Golden Globes. Sad but true.

Anderson: If Lord of the Rings is any indication, Avatar will sweep.

Olson: I’m holding out for The Hurt Locker to win best picture or best director. I was positive the Academy would snub it. It’s tough for women in Hollywood.

Anderson: Kathryn Bigelow is a great director.

Bakalov: I tend to prefer foreign films over Hollywood pictures. I think there’s more experimentation and artistry.

Anderson: I agree. Hollywood movies are very formulaic, driven by money.

Do you hope to change that?
Anderson: If you get into the studio system, I guarantee you’ll end up making formulaic spectacle pieces.

Bakalov: But Hollywood isn’t the only option. Given the advances in technology, filmmaking is being democratized.

Anderson: True. These days anyone can make a movie, but it’s not easy to make a good movie. The number of people who can make a movie has increased, but the number of people who can make good movies hasn’t.

How come so many bad movies get made?
Olson: Because there are 20-year-old guys who love explosions and 15-year-old girls who love romances that star Cameron Diaz.

Anderson: Take horror movies. They’re easy to write because everyone dies, and they’re cheap to make — you could film one in your basement, for God’s sake. And Hollywood knows 14-year-olds will always come to see them.

Atanas, you made a horror film. How does Death Whish differ from the typical Hollywood formula?
Bakalov: To be honest, I don’t watch horror films.

Anderson: Your film is creepy, as in hair-raising creepy.

What makes it so creepy?
Bakalov: It’s about a psychotic woman who’s suicidal, and goes on these trips in her imagination.

Anderson: It’s very moody.

Bakalov: Thanks. I filmed it in my basement, actually.

Anderson: There you go.

Charlie, your Werewolf Trouble placed second in last year’s Redstone Festival. How does that film differ from All Day Yeah?
Anderson: Werewolf Trouble was my attempt to make a Hollywood-type comedy, because I want people to know that I can make films like that. All Day Yeah is the type of film I want to make.

What’s it about?
Anderson: Let’s just say that it’s a day in the life of a lost boy, and he has a difficult decision to make.

Tessa, what was the inspiration for Leftovers?
Olson: My family rents a house every Thanksgiving, and we all go. Then inevitably we get on each another’s nerves. So I took that idea and exaggerated it.

Anderson: Did you hire actors or use friends?

Olson: We had some actors, but mostly friends. You?

Anderson: I don’t generally work with actors; I find it’s better if I know the people. In All Day Yeah, I worked with a friend who’s like a kid brother to me. I don’t think I could have treated actors the way I treated him.

How did you treat him?
Anderson: Well, to break his character, I sort of had to break him. I’d schedule our shoots for five in the morning, and I’d get increasingly sour as the takes went on and act like I was angry. When he had tears in his eyes, I knew we had our scene.

Does anyone else abuse actors?
Bakalov: I felt like I did. One time, we shot for 22 hours straight. We wrapped the actress in plastic, threw her around a lot. But she was very dedicated and never once complained.

Atanas, why is “wish” misspelled in Death Whish?
Bakalov: It’s a double entendre. It represents the word wish, as in wishing for death, and whish, as in the whish of wind.

Eric, you described exhibit A as a mockumentary. Was it inspired by The Office?
Scanlon: God, no. I hesitate to even call it a mockumentary.

Anderson: I wouldn’t call it that.

Scanlon: What would you call it?

Anderson: Twisted, dark. You succeeded in setting a mood that’s consistent and eerie, and it works really well. You wonder if it’s okay to laugh.

Scanlon: It’s okay to laugh a little bit. The main character is thinking of committing suicide, and me — well, the fake me — wants to make a documentary about it.

So you are the filmmaker and are playing the filmmaker?
Scanlon: Yeah, it’s sort of meta. The main character ends up admitting he’s having second thoughts about killing himself, and I’m like, “No, you have to go through with it, man. I’m making my movie.”

Olson: How did you come up with this idea?

Scanlon: I didn’t have any ideas for class, and it was getting down to the wire. So one night it came to me, and I wrote it in about an hour. I just took my feelings about life and sort of parodied them and put them into this character.

Where do you all hope to be in 15 years?
Anderson: I’m teaching classes right now, which is what I want to do along with filmmaking. The hope is that I’ll be making films full-time, but I do enjoy teaching.

Bakalov: I’m not the type of person who makes big plans. I try to stay in the present.

Scanlon: I’m still trying to figure out where I’ll be in a year, so 15 is hard to contemplate.

Olson: Lately I’ve been focusing more on cinematography than directing and writing, but I honestly have no idea.

Does anyone want to be the next James Cameron?
Anderson: I wouldn’t mind having $600 million to do whatever I want.

Scanlon: I could be the cliché Hollywood guy. I’d make my movies as corny as possible. Bring it on.

The Redstone Film Festival begins at 7 p.m. on Friday, February 26, at the Tsai Performance Center, 685 Commonwealth Ave., and is free and open to the public. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and admission is first-come, first-served. Other finalists are Joshua Brown (COM’09), director of Leftovers; Patrick Johnson (COM’10), director of Modern Alchemy, a short documentary featuring steam boiler artists David Dowling, Dennis Svoronos, and Brady Scott; Matthew Lawrence (COM’08), director of Shoebox Redhead, a Jersey Shore tale about a magical Polaroid camera, a clown, and a gypsy; and Ryan Moloney (COM’09), director of Picnicking Through Purgatory (and other things to do at night), a dark comedy about emergency medical technicians.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu or follow her on Twitter at@vickywaltz.

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