How to Turn a Short into a SXSW Feature: Kris Avedisian's 'Donald Cried'
Donald is the hometown friend you left behind — for good reason.
Developed from a short film of the same name, Donald Cried just had its World Premiere at SXSW. It's an example of a film made on a modest budget, using the most valuable resource we all (arguably) have access to: time. It takes time to develop a character; in this case, it was a four-year journey for writer/director/actor Kris Avedisian and his co-creators Jesse Wakeman and Kyle Espeleta.
No Film School sat down with Avedisian and Wakeman to chat about developing character, designing a realistic project, and getting the filmmaking snowball in motion.
NFS: What did you do to create the sense of history between these characters?
Avedisian: People responded to the short, so it felt justified to explore more with these guys. We just worked on the script for so long and came up with details, backstories. The process to get there was just working out possible ideas.
Wakeman: We just talked a lot. Talked about high school, talked about these friends. It's both very structured and loose.
NFS: How did you create that sense of history for your day players — the real estate agent character, for example?
Avedisian: I'd like to think it was just good casting. Louisa Krause [who played Kristin] was supposed to be the same age, but we liked her and changed the character to be younger to cast her. She was only there for two days.
Wakeman: She fit into our rhythm that we developed.
"The design of the whole movie was built around the idea that we didn't have money."
NFS: How does the scale you're working at tie into the kind of stories that you want to tell?
Wakeman: We built something specifically to be manageable so we could make something good. We love movies, we want to make our Star Wars — well, that's kind of hard. So, what can we do that will allow us to do the things that we love? We made shorts, we tried genre stuff and I think we found this as something we could do, something shoot-able.
Avedisian: The design of the whole movie was built around the idea that we didn't have money. The 24-hour time period [helped a lot]. I like working like this, but it's hard because you're still trying to make sure you're satisfying an audience. I feel like the stakes are a little bit higher when you're just trying to grow your career. You have a little less room to experiment. We were constantly conscious of how mundane it should be, how real-world or how much like a movie world.
NFS: Just sitting with you, I can tell you're not Donald. How did you transform into this role?
Avedisian: I would sit and do different voices in my car. Leave voicemails for these guys, do monologues and just [got feedback]. I was afraid coming from the short film — would I be able to recreate it or not? But there was something about the character that was super easy to connect with.
"Setting realistic expectations of what you can accomplish is important — being really honest with yourself."
NFS: What was your biggest obstacle in making this film?
Wakeman: Finding a producer and getting the train in motion. Kyle Martin was amazing; meeting him helped ignite everything. Then we were able to start getting people involved, getting financing, etc.
Avedisian: From the short to the feature it was 3 years because we were writing. Which was great, because, personally, I'd love to take 2 years between each movie to write. I just think it kept getting better.
NFS: Any advice for other filmmakers trying to start that snowball?
Avedisian: I think setting really realistic expectations of what you can accomplish is important — being really honest with yourself. I knew I wanted to shoot consecutively — we're beyond the point of shooting on the weekends and stuff, so once you start doing that you need a producer and someone with experience who understands how to make it happen.
Wakeman: Keep grinding. We met 15 years ago and since then we've been making stuff and have just continued to do it. I think finally finding that thing we really believed in was huge. Find a producer — there's a lot of people who will keep talking about it and it doesn't happen. If we were gonna do it, we had to do it right.
No Film School's coverage of the 2016 SXSW Film Festival is sponsored by SongFreedom.