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Eight days to make a short film puts the crazy in Crazy8s

The 2019 Crazy8s short film festival received over 200 submissions from filmmakers before six finalists were handed $1000 and given eight days to make their movie.

DANA GEE Updated: February 18, 2019 | Vancouver Sun

Crazy8s Gala Screening

When: Feb. 23, 7 p.m.

Where: The Centre, 777 Homer St.

Tickets and info: $35, 

Two decades ago members of the Director’s Guild of Canada’s B.C. office decided to hold a short film contest.

Twenty years later, the 2019 Crazy8s short film festival received over 200 submissions from filmmakers hoping to be one of the six finalists handed $1000 and given eight days to make a short film. These films are then spotlighted in the annual Crazy 8s Gala Screening.

“I’m enjoying the 20th anniversary. I’m amazed by the 20th anniversary,” said Andrew Williamson, a producer and director who was one of the founders of Crazy8s.

“This year will be extra special.”

Crazy8s was inspired partly by a Seattle festival called On the Fly, but when it came time to do a Vancouver edition one major factor had to be changed from the Seattle model.

“On the Fly gave filmmakers six days to do their films, but it (the film industry) was booming here and we couldn’t do that,” said Williamson, referring to the filmmakers’ ability to find crew to help out with a short film.

That first year three films were made for Crazy8s. In its two decades of existence a total of 109 films have been completed.

“I think that the legacy (of the festival) is the number of films that have been made, and the careers that have advanced because people actually got the chance to do it, because … in this industry so many people spend time trying but are not always successful.

“So this was a vehicle to say ‘yes, you have an idea now go and shoot it,’ ” said Williamson, who has had a very successful career in TV and film and is currently running Cedar Island Films.

“Something that was really important to us, and what the team has kept up, is that it is all about the pitch,” said Williamson, who produced the festival for the first eight years.

“We were trying to do away with the bureaucracy and the endless paper applications that were so familiar to Canadian filmmakers and make it more industry relevant, which was you go into the room to a team of people who can give you a green light. You’ve pitched them the best version of your story, and if it’s good enough they will say ‘yes, let’s do it.’ ”

Pitches to the jury and Crazy8s staff are usually two to three minutes in length. Questions follow, and according to Erin Mussolum, executive director and head of programming for Crazy8s, filmmakers are in and out in about 10 minutes.

“Don’t get distracted by the details, and the pressure. Focus on the creative,” advises Williamson about how to make the most out of that limited pitch time.

Mussolum has been in the film/TV industry for 20 years, and has done her fair share of pitching, so in her new role with Crazy8s she was happy to see how others were stepping up to bat and taking a swing.

“Everybody comes in with their different way of communicating their idea to a room full of strangers. It’s kind of a trip,” said Mussolum.

“You can get a sense of what the story is about, the structure, all of that in a written pitch but when you see people come in with nervous excitement and they professionally pitch, you really get a sense of the passion behind the story. That is really evident right away,” said Mussolum.

“I do get those first day of school nerves for them all.”

Mussolum explains that the pitch should contain one or two sentences that deliver the idea of the story. Then  she likes to hear about stories that have come from a personal place; stories that the filmmaker is invested in emotionally; and stories that they really feel the need to share.

“Those personal stories, I feel, always seem to resonate a little bit stronger than, let’s say, a good idea,” said Mussolum.

Filmmaker and one of the six 2019 finalists Heather Perluzzo definitely ticked that personal story box with her short film Hatch.

Starring well-known Vancouver talent Sara Canning (A Series of Unfortunate Events) and Gabrielle Rose (Maudie, The Man in the High Castle), Hatch is a story about coping. In it a woman suffers a miscarriage. Soon after she finds an alien egg buried in her back yard and decides to keep the growing life form.

Perluzzo, who went through a miscarriage a couple of years ago, says the film is a traumatic story that comes with some humour.

“Heather did a fantastic pitch,” said Mussolum.

“I think it pulled at all of our heartstrings because she has a very, personal real story for what motivated her to write the film. What I love about her is her amazing ability to take a tragedy and morph it into a sci-fi fantasy that still grabs you emotionally,” she said.

“Sometimes sci-fi is a little hard to connect with the heart, but she is able to do this with her script — and her pitch really showed that.”

Heading into the actual filmmaking Perluzzo, who will be working with a puppet, was confident she was ready for the challenge.

“I’m really excited, because I have been dreaming of making this for so long,” said Perluzzo, a Montreal native who is a teaching assistant at the Vancouver Film School.

At the time of this interview, Perluzzo said she had about 30 crew members — mostly friends and friends of friends — signed on to make her movie.

Anyone who has made a short film knows that less runtime doesn’t mean less work. You still have to do all the regular movie things but in a shorter period of time with a much smaller budget. So, in the short film world, crews and casts are often populated by friends and even family.

“So many people rally behind you to get this thing done,” said Lee Shorten, whose film Parabola is one of this year’s Crazy8s finalists.

“You call in so many favours. They are there because they like the material, or they like you. Hopefully both. You have to honour that.”

Normally in front of the camera (Man in the High Castle, Van Helsing and Arrow), Shorten is the director, writer and producer on Parabola.

He says his film is set to flip the script a bit on some old cinematic standbys and stereotypes, things that he feels helped him during the pitch process.

“We were pitching a strong female lead. We were pitching an Asian-centric story, and then we were pitching a kind of subversion of both those things,” said Shorten.

“So to be saying this is more like a Walter White style female lead with this older broken Asian man I think that was an interesting hook for people.”

For Mussolum, Shorten’s pitch worked because she felt she had entered a different world yet a universal one.

“It is one of those distinct stories that doesn’t matter what culture it is in. It is a storyline that is accessible by all cultures,” she said. “The characters and the simplicity, I think, will really resonate well. It’s in the subtleties where this film will sing.”

The film stars Mayumi Yoshida (The Good Doctor and The Man in the High Castle) and Hiro Kanagawa (Altered Carbon and The Man in the High Castle), and is shot in and around Vancouver’s Chinatown.

“When I first moved here (five years ago from Australia) I went to see Crazy 8s and my mind was kind of blown by the level of talent,” said Shorten.

“I thought maybe, one day in the distant future, I will get to be a part of that. To actually realize that was pretty crazy.”

Joining Shorten and Perluzzo’s films at this year’s Crazy8s are:

Ada, written and directed by Steve Kammerer, is about Lord Byron’s daughter Ada Lovelace, a brilliant mathematician who scrambles and gambles to raise money to fulfil her life’s dream of creating the world’s first computer.

• In Idols Never Die, a beloved K-Pop star suddenly dies and his death propels four crazed fans to fulfil his last wish. Director Jerome Yoo co-wrote the film with Andrea Bang, one of the stars of the hit TV show Kim’s Convenience.

The Mirror, from director Nessa Aref, tells the story of a teen girl and her friends who find themselves in an abandoned house with a spooky and strange spinning mirror.

• Michael P. Vidler’s Unkept is a film about a turban-wearing boy who makes a big decision in order to fit in with his baseball team.

“The indie film vibe is alive and well in Vancouver,” said Mussolum. “People just want to get down and dirty and make film.”


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