Director Andrew Mitrak (left) films a wedding scene in Sylvan Grove for an upcoming short film currently titled “The Man Who Loved Bigfoot.”
Director Andrew Mitrak (left) films a wedding scene in Sylvan Grove for an upcoming short film currently titled “The Man Who Loved Bigfoot.”Photo by Joshua Bessex
The scene: Sylvan Grove on a rainy Sunday morning. A short man in a button-down stands with Bigfoot under a romantic archway of leaves, as the priest says a few words. Petals fall from the sky, and they passionately embrace.
This is a scene from Andrew Mitrak’s latest short film. In an industry that is always on the move, Mitrak is always creating. Though his film “One Way Single” recently won a place at the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY), he’s ready to release “The Man Who Loved Bigfoot” this week on YouTube.
“I love writing, I love storytelling, I love that whole process of making stuff,” Mitrak said.
That was what led him to make “One Way Single” after he experienced a month of writer’s block. Mitrak graduated the UW in 2011 with an English degree.
NFFTY was founded in 2007 when Jesse Harris and his friends Jocelyn R.C. and Kyle Seago realized there weren’t many resources for young filmmakers. It’s a chance for aspiring artists to showcase their work and maybe get discovered. Anyone younger than 22-years old can submit their film. During the selection process, films are watched by volunteers all over the world, who narrow down the pool so that NFFTY employees in Seattle can screen them and choose the final entries.
Though the festival has always taken place in Seattle, the majority of entries are from other parts of the United States and around the world. This year, there’s one other entry from the UW, freshman Alexis Lee’s “The Face of Facebook,” which will be screened on Friday evening during the segment “Happy Hour Shorts.”
Though they are both young filmmakers, Mitrak and Lee came to NFFTY on very different paths. Mitrak, who was featured in the festival last year with “Four Students,” found inspiration while experiencing terrible writer’s block.
“I just kind of hated everything I was writing,” he said.
He decided he wanted to make a short film. He discovered the screenplay for “One Way Single” while browsing one of his favorite blogs “Two Pages a Week,” written by Robert J. Lee, who posts his two-page screen plays so people will make them into short films. When Mitrak read “One Way Single,” there was an instant connection.
“I just loved it,” he said. “It’s about a man who approaches a woman on a train, and he kind of hits on her, but she rejects him by describing what it would be like if the train derailed and crashed.”
He started planning how he would film it.
“I’ll just grab a couple friends, shoot on the Light Rail … Do it in a couple takes, we’ll be done, in and out, we’re out of there,” he described.
But then he found out it would cost several thousand dollars to film on the Light Rail, and the environment would be unpredictable. He ditched his original idea, and instead it turned into an elaborate project with a set that was built and demolished (“Spoiler alert, it blows up!”) in the same weekend, with several months of pre-production taking place in advance.
“People asked me, ‘How did you get permission to shoot on that train?’” he said. “That was all practical effects, all camera.”
Lee’s experience was vastly different. She had some knowledge of film under her belt from personal projects and a class at Anacortes High School that she took for several years. It was through this class that she found NFFTY: Every year the students attended the festival as a field trip.
Armed with this experience, she created her film during the Guerilla Film Project, a 65-hour competition. They didn’t really sleep, Lee said. Each group was told there were certain elements they had to include (an hourglass, for example), and then they were set loose to make their film within the allotted 65 hours. The film was made in a frenzy.
“All of our previous actors we cast for [the character of] Facebook fell through,” she said.
So, a member of their five-person competition group had to fill in. They borrowed the office of a friend’s mom, and rustled up the actors they needed.
It was not official at the time, but Lee was later named director of the film. She says it’s because she took control of their five-person group. And what does it take to be a director?
“You have to be really good at bossing people around, but not making them mad,” she said.
“The Face of Facebook” won first place at the Guerilla Film Project, and was then chosen for NFFTY.
Jesse Harris said the festival came out of his own experience as a young filmmaker. He had been creating films all his life, but at 17 he directed a feature film that was picked up for distribution. Even with that boost, he says there was an obvious dearth of resources for people his age.
“I realized there was really no support for kind of that next generation of filmmaker[s],” he said. “It was really hard to get my film seen by anyone. There wasn’t a festival really for youth filmmakers.”
NFFTY has grown enormously since its first year. In 2007 it was a one-night event. In 2012 there were 222 films screened during the four day event and 10,000 attendees. It’s now the most well-known youth film festival in the world. Unlike most other festivals, NFFTY is not focused on competition, though awards are given out at the end of the weekend, based on audience votes. Instead, it’s seen more as an opportunity for the filmmakers to get their voices out into the industry.
Perhaps the leap in interest — this year it had more than 700 submissions — can be explained by growing accessibility. Lee said she sees the simplicity that technology has brought to the craft.
“It’s so easy now, I think, to just get a flip camera and make a movie,” she said. “People are getting better and better at things, I feel like, at younger and younger ages, so it’s kind of competitive in that sense.”
That’s one aspect of the festival that Mitrak loved.
“[We’re all] really curious how everybody shot their own movies, regardless of whether they’re 13-years-old or 22-years-old,” he said.
For Harris, the festival is an opportunity to encourage young filmmakers, and the chance for audience members to witness the early years of up-and-comers in the industry.
“These are the future big directors, we should be supporting them now,” Harris said. “Plus from an audience standpoint, like what if you could have seen, you know, Martin Scorsese’s first film when he was in college. That’s the kind of opportunity you’re having. Because these directors now already are going on and doing big things.”
That kind of faith might seem extreme, but you only have to attend one screening to understand where Harris is coming from. From coming-of-age films to musicals, there is a huge variety of talent among the filmmakers at NFFTY. The youngest-ever filmmaker at NFFTY was 7 years old, and this year there is a 9-year-old.
What’s most important for the attendees though, is finding fellow filmmakers.
“That’s what it’s really all about, is making connections and finding people to collaborate with so we can all help each other,” Mitrak said. “We’re not competitors, we’re co-workers, we’re co-collaborators.”
Reach reporter Indigo Trigg-Hauger at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @uwindigo
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