October 7, 2015

SXSW Short Film Jury Prize Winner 'Pink Grapefruit' Premieres Online, Qualifies for Oscars

Pink Grapefruit by Michael Mohan Now Online
Earlier this year we highlighted Pink Grapefruit as part of our Sundance coverage, and its run continued by taking home the Jury Prize for best short at SXSW. After such an unexpectedly strong run with a short, what is the next step?

We talk to director Michael Mohan (Save the Date, One Too Many Mornings) about the power of creating something solely for yourself, engaging in a long festival run and how to qualify for the Oscars.

Watch the full film here (via The New Yorker):

[Disclaimer: NSFW]

Watch SXSW Jury Winner Pink Grapefruit on The New Yorker

The way we measure the success of our own relationships is by comparing them to those around us.

NFS: This film seems to be popping up everywhere! How has the run been, is it exhausting? Is it exciting to you still?

Michael: After playing Sundance we got a lot of invitations to screen places, then after SXSW that went up exponentially. I'm really glad that it's online now because you make something a year ago and you're still talking about it... But yeah, it's strange because we made it without any expectations.

NFS: What was on your mind while writing?

Michael: When I was getting married it was a super emotional ceremony. It wasn't religious, but we took it very seriously. After the wedding we found out that 3 of the couples that had come to the wedding had broken up on the way home. Another couple had pulled over the side of the road and he had proposed. Two other couples traced back the night they conceived their children to after our wedding. The way we measure the success of our own relationships is by comparing them to those around us. I've been trying to do several films about this. With Pink Grapefruit, I boiled it down to the simplest possible version of that. If there's a couple on the rocks, there's nothing more dangerous than to contrast that with a couple that's just starting.

NFS: You've worked in both long form and short form. What do you find attractive about short form over the long form?

Michael: The advantage of short film is no one can tell you not to make it. The two films I've had the most success with are my short films. The goal is to have a career. You can say, "I just want to tell stories," but it's also, "I want to make a living at this," and that's where the commercials come in.

Pink Grapefruit is not a horror movie but it's absolutely shot like one, and it makes the audience a little more active. Seeing it with a crowd, it's a lot more electric than if I had just shot it with standard handheld coverage.

NFS: It seems harder to make a short film in a lot of ways. Less time to explore an idea.

Michael: Nobody grows up watching short films -- we all grew up watching feature films. The benefits of a short film is you get to leave a ton of stuff out, and every little detail you put in the movie is magnified.

Wendy McColm in the Oscar Qualifying 'Pink Grapefruit'

If an audience doesn't laugh at a joke, it's not them — your joke isn't funny.

NFS: What was your biggest lesson on this film?

Michael: There's never a sense of urgency behind getting people to go see a grounded relationship in movies or drama. Looking at the marketplace, the only grounded dramas that have endured are the ones that have some genre elements injected into it. Pink Grapefruit is not a horror movie but it's absolutely shot like one, and it makes the audience a little more active. Seeing it with a crowd, it's a lot more electric than if I had just shot it with standard handheld coverage. That's what I'd like to evolve with my next project, really trying to play with the audience and track what the audience is thinking. Think about it like a suspense movie: what are the building blocks that I can play with that necessitates seeing it in a theater?

People need a reason to open their wallets. If there's 700,000 short films for free online, what is going to motivate them to pay for mine?

NFS: What role have film festivals played in your life and career?

Michael: More humans have seen my films at film festivals than anywhere else. For me it's valuable to see my work with audiences to know what works and what doesn't, because they're never wrong. If an audience doesn't laugh at a joke, it's not them — your joke isn't funny. Also, it's that community thing — yesterday when Pink Grapefruit was released I emailed a bunch of friends who I met at festivals and they promoted the film on their Twitter feeds and whatnot. We read each other's scripts. It's like film school -- it's beyond film school, we help each other creativity and practically.

NFS: Are you apprehensive about releasing a film online since you're used to the community based film festival?

Michael: The last time I had something out in the wild was Save The Date, and it was on VOD and in theaters. I'd rather have people to see it in theaters, but I don't want people to not see it, so it's very confusing on how to promote it. My very first feature we made for $23,000. It was black and white, and even though we premiered at Sundance we did our own self release plan, and ultimately I just don't think [it works].

People need a reason to open their wallets. If there's 700,000 short films for free online, what is going to motivate them to pay for mine? For Pink Grapefruit, I'm ready for it to be online and as many people to see it as possible. I hit the jackpot with Sundance and SXSW and to have a place like The New Yorker premiere it was just icing on the cake.

We didn't make it because we thought it would further our career; we just wanted to make something cool.

NFS: And you've submitted for the Oscars? How does that work?

Michael: The way the Oscars works is there's a certain number of festivals where if you win an award you become "accredited." And that means you can submit. There's another loophole method of applying where you pay Laemmle theaters to four wall it for a few days and then you get a certificate that you can bring to the academy. I think it's a very small pool, but there's probably still 100 films they have to narrow down to like 5, and that process is fairly mysterious.

Wendy McColm & Nathan Stewart-Jarrett in the Oscar Qualifying 'Pink Grapefruit'

NFS: Has your experience with Pink Grapefruit changed how you approach the next project?

Michael: We just made it for ourselves and it's really just a boost of confidence that people are responding to it so well, but all of that is secondary to process and growing, especially with a short you're paying for yourself. We didn't make it because we thought it would further our career; we just wanted to make something cool. It's just awesome that that is the thing that's furthering our career and now I just need to block out the voices that say I'm doing the wrong thing and just lean into that.

NFS: What's next for you?

Michael: After Sundance I started kicking around this pitch for a very ambitious and bold idea for what I'm hoping will be my next film. We lucked out and a few people wanted it and we ended up going with Big Beach. So literally this entire summer I've been indoors with my co-writer Chris Levitus just writing. Nothing else. Very little socializing. We literally turned in the script yesterday. I'm hoping we can go into production next year, but we'll see.

NFS: How do you know when a screenplay is finished?

Michael: It's never finished. In our case, we shared it with a handful of trusted friends who gave us encouraging feedback. All of the things that I wanted fixed have been fixed. That's when I know it's ready. Now we will learn if our intention is clear — that's really the important part.


Thanks, Michael!     

Your Comment

25 Comments

Someone call in an editor....and an acting coach...YIKES!

October 7, 2015 at 11:54AM, Edited October 7, 11:54AM

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Drew Staniland
Actor/Videographer/Writer/Director
205

Wow^ they should call you because obviously you know so much. The acting and editing were great. Perfect pacing and it accomplished exactly what the director wanted. I admire this short a lot. I guess I'm not the only one either, considering all of the attention it's been getting.

October 7, 2015 at 12:23PM

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October 7, 2015 at 5:09PM

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Steven Bailey
Writer/Director/Composer
1246

Well played, sir ! Well played !

October 9, 2015 at 10:06AM

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The acting was self-conscious(probably not the fault of the actors) and the the film totally needs to "trim the fat" and quite frankly, like several other commenters, I found it beautifully shot, but pretty boring. We're all entitled to our opinion. If you haven't already watched it, one of the best shorts out there is "The Six Dollar Fifty Man". Great story, great little actors, beautiful cinematography, "tight" and never boring. Something we should all aspire to: https://vimeo.com/groups/awardeo/videos/52652624

October 8, 2015 at 2:05PM, Edited October 8, 2:05PM

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Drew Staniland
Actor/Videographer/Writer/Director
205

I'm glad you linked to that film! I remember seeing it before and being very impressed (I just watched it again). That boy (unique look for sure!) and the girl really gave some nice understated performances. The directors did a great job working with them.

October 8, 2015 at 6:28PM

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You obviously know more, since you're positive. The movie was boring (sorry Michael) and the acting... amateurish. But that's just my negative opinion. I apologize for not liking... everything.

October 9, 2015 at 10:08AM, Edited October 9, 10:08AM

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A nice, inspiring film. It's all about storytelling; writing meets performance. This could've been shot with an iPhone and I'd still watch it and appreciate it.

October 7, 2015 at 3:18PM, Edited October 7, 3:18PM

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Sathya Vijayendran
Writer/Director/Editor
371

Ok I really don't mean to be a hater, and i'm not picking at anything specific... IE acting, lighting, etc.... AND I don't have any credientals such as winning a film festival .... BUT as a movie / film lover .....this was just plain boring... i had to force myself what watch all if it (Since i was going to comment) .... If this is the state of "winning" short films .. I can tell you why there are "700,00 for free online" .... just honest feedback and one mans opinion....

October 7, 2015 at 3:24PM

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Nooooooooo, dude what have you done?! You're not supposed to have a negative opinion!!!

I dug the cinematography, I wasn't enamored with the direction or the acting, though I really dug how charming the connection between the two leads formed. But yeah, I was kind of hoping for a stroke-of-genius, but I was left underwhelmed.

October 7, 2015 at 3:56PM

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E. David Nazario
Filmmaker
195

I appreciate your candor Michael. It's not a crime to not like something and for a specific reason. (Even if you're not a filmmaker.) I myself agree with your confusion as to why this won so many awards. I watched this twice and while I feel like the location was beautiful and pacing was good, I feel like the DP over used slow camera pushing in, the lack of any soundtrack made it feel dry and uncomfortable. Not to mention, for such a thin plot, there could have at least be some ending rather than leaving the viewer to contemplate the complete ambiguity of the final scene.

October 7, 2015 at 5:26PM

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phil kwarta
Video Editor
168

I really enjoyed the lack of music. Too many short films or indie features have template generic soundtracks.
I agree about the constant creeping zooms.

October 7, 2015 at 5:48PM

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Vincent Gortho
none
1093

I thought this was a great short. Good luck with the Oscar nom.

It's interesting to compare how uncomfortable new and old relationships can be. There is something to be said about how love can be painful when you just meet someone and later on when you become too familiar with them.

On a technical note, I would love to hear weather all the zooms were done digitally or in-camera.

October 7, 2015 at 5:29PM

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Drew Bachrach
Director
81

Thanks so much! All the zooms were done on a 25 - 250mm Angénieux Optimo.

October 7, 2015 at 9:48PM, Edited October 7, 9:48PM

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Michael Mohan
Director
8

Micheal, it was great. As someone who has been to a lot of shorts blocks, I can say it has really unique tone, which is rare to see in a short. Cinematography and casting was also superb. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

October 11, 2015 at 2:09PM, Edited October 11, 2:09PM

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Steve Yager
Filmmaker
276

Did anyone else find this film reminiscent of 'It Follows' (just without the horror or 80's synth score)?

I quite like this style of coverage and it's a refreshing change of pace to most modern and standard filmmaking techniques.

Overall, I found 'It Follows' was much more interesting because something was at stake, unlike in 'Pink Grapefruit'. But I think this film is a very provocative calling card for the director, and I can't wait to see more from them.

October 7, 2015 at 8:00PM

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Ben Howling
Writer / Director
650

Wow. What an incredibly well made short. I definitely got a 'Funny Games' vibe from it, which is a very interesting take on the 'relationship drama' genre. Bravo on the accolades thus far and best of luck to you with your Oscar submission.

October 8, 2015 at 7:37AM

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Thanks! If you like FUNNY GAMES as much as I do, you should check out STRANGER BY THE LAKE. It was a pretty big influence on us.

October 8, 2015 at 9:16AM

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Michael Mohan
Director
8

I liked the short overall but I couldn't understand the last line. "You're not very funny"?

October 8, 2015 at 7:48AM, Edited October 8, 7:48AM

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Really? Please give me back those 10 minutes of my life. Acting was sub par, writing was nothing of note, and concept just plain bland. I keep waiting for some kind of pay off. Cinematography was ok but nothing spectacular and there were some rough edits. Now with that said stills job well done if these are aspiring film makers good first try. But to say this could get an Oscar... Well the bar must not be that high.

October 8, 2015 at 4:55PM

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painful. especially the zooms.. or worse they were scale ins done in post to break up mostly flat coverage. try https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngY7iGbVI-A for a short worth your time...

October 15, 2015 at 9:30AM

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Steve Oakley
DP • Audio Mixer • Colorist • VFX Artist
476

Ooh, another relationship movie!

Okay, all snarkiness aside, I didn't find this all that interesting. There really wasn't anything there to break out of the relationship movie rut other than a few interesting shots. I'm not saying it's bad, it's just not very interesting. (And sure, maybe I wouldn't do any better, or even not as good.) Just an opinion.

(This may end up being a duplicate post. If so, sorry about that.)

October 8, 2015 at 6:08PM

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Is there anywhere other then "the new yorker" where i can watch it?

outside the U.S. it's not available apparently :(

October 11, 2015 at 12:49PM

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If you use Chrome, get Hola and you can set your browser to US.

October 12, 2015 at 8:11AM

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Jon Mills
Filmmaker
866

Great short! Loved the look and understated approach. It's great how, just like the "established" couple in the film, we're more interested in the new relationship, observing and feeling the excitement of it -- even when it seems they aren't going to hit it off. I particularly liked the scene where they first meet, where you do some quick cuts of the physical details they notice about each other. Great detail of the older couple facing away from each other in the same room (shot through the window), juxtaposed against the newer couple facing each other, each in separate bedrooms (also shot through the window). The question this film left me with was this: how does a couple stay happy together once the initial excitement wears off? Good job :)

October 12, 2015 at 7:23AM, Edited October 12, 7:23AM

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Jeff Payne
Writer/Director
391