With the festival in our rear view, here are some essential tips you can learn from its films and their filmmakers.
For filmmakers, film festivals are often thought of solely in terms of being a place to submit a film and hope to be accepted to screen at. Yes, we’d all like to be screening at Sundance, SXSW or Cannes, but sometimes it can actually be just as valuable to attend festivals for the sheer enjoyment of it.
Plus, if you’re serious about your craft, it can also be a great way to learn not just about filmmaking (through panel discussions and screening Q&As), but also about what types of films are being accepted and how they resonate with audiences.
One of the best film festivals out there, Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, is a great example of a festival built for the rabid consumption of film, for both film fans and filmmakers. Big studio-level features and DIY, labor-of-love indies make their debuts at Fantastic Fest, allowing audiences to take a deep dive into the current state of various genres, and how filmmakers are truly making some creative and inspirational films.
Here are ten films and ten filmmaking takeaways from the 2019 festival.
1. Jojo Rabbit and Combining Comedy and Tragedy
For anyone who’s seen any of the other non-Marvel films made by Taika Waititi, the writer/director/actor is really a master in finding those sweet and sentimental spots where audiences can both laugh and cry.
Speaking after the much-praised screening of Jojo Rabbit, Waititi really hit home on just how much work goes into trying to find that perfect balance. Too much of one can dilute the power of the other, and if you’re going to put yourself out there (as Waititi does by portraying a fantasy version of Hitler), you better make sure the message is going to come across with the right blend.
You can read more about Waititi’s tips for pulling off a WWII love story with a funny Hitler here.
2. The Insane Passion Behind Memory: The Origins of Alien
An in-depth documentary about the writing, production design and direction of one of the most famous genre films ever is going to be chock full of insights into the filmmaking process.
What’s more interesting, however, is just how personal and fanatical the filmmakers of Alien truly were in creating what would become a timeless classic. Read more NFS articles on the filmmaking lessons of Alien here.
3. Deerskin and The Power of Tone and Voice
The idea of making a horror film, about an aspiring filmmaker who is making a horror film, seems like a well-covered and predictable one. Yet, in French DJ / filmmaker Quentin Dupieux’s Deerskin (Le Daim), the meta plot takes a back seat to absurd comedy that makes the filmmaker slasher plot feel fresh and different.
A lot of a film’s success comes from its tone. If your filmmaking voice is strong enough, the plot or conventions really don’t matter as much as you’d expect.
4. Blood Machines and the Sheer Scale of Digital Production
Digital artist Seth Ickerman proves that he knows how to turn a labor of love into a work of art.
Blood Machines is a symbolic sequel to a music video created by Ickerman and crew for synthwave artist Carpenter Brut. It took over six months to shoot and render and all that hard work payed off in the form of over 7 million views -- making Blood Machines a viral hit.
The 50-minute Blood Machines narrative feature has taken nearly three years to make and it is still not complete. With over 500 shots that heavily feature VFX, the production has been a painstaking process that features hundreds upon hundreds of contributors. Here’s a cool behind-the-scenes featurette on the original music video.
5. The DIY Simplicity of Night Drive
A nice surprise this year at Fantastic Fest, Night Drive is the new feature film from directing duo Brad Baruh and Meghan Leon. While not yet household names, Brauh and Leon have a considerable list of films under their belt for which they have made EPK, behind-the-scenes documentaries. Highlights include several Marvel films and every one of Jon Favreau's movies since Iron Man 2.
Night Drive centers on its two lead characters having one hell of a ride-share experience all in one night. The movie gives off solid Collateral vibes and is further proof that hard work and grounded narratives can help aspiring filmmakers transition from day-job to a career in movies.
6. Fractured and The Importance of Genre
Based on the response from its Fantastic Fest world premiere, the thriller Fractured might not get the best reviews going forward, but it doesn’t really matter because it’s already been picked up by Netflix and will give psycho-thriller fans pretty much exactly what they want.
7. First Love
Fans of filmmaker Takashi Miike know his narratives are often fraught with disturbing and ultra-violent imagery and characters. Think Ichi the Killer and the underrated modern classic 13 Assassins. With his latest effort, First Love, the director flexes his considerable muscle set by adding a resonate and compelling love story to his unique mix of action and violence.
8. The Vast of the Night Is All About Casting and Execution
It’s hard to say what was more impressive about Slamdance standout The Vast of the Night; the calm and collected direction of director Andrew Patterson, or the absolutely killer performances by the young cast featuring Jake Horowitz and Sierra McCormick.
The '50s-set sci-fi thriller plays out like a series of interconnected vignettes -- often unfolding in long, continuous takes -- that showcase a mastery of tension and acting as fear goes viral in a small town after some truly X-Files-level phenomenon infects it. Vast of Night proves thatmaking a quality movie is more about creating unique characters who can captivate over any overwrought plot points or flashy effects.
From its Slamdance premiere, here's our NFS interview with director Andrew Patterson on putting style over social media.
9. VFW Is Your Next Horror Obsession
An action horror film, much in the vein of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (and much of his entire filmography), VFW is tailor-made for both hardcore genre fans and for baby-boomer dads channel surfing at night ultimately settling on something gritty-looking featuring a bygone cast of Stephen Lang, William Sadler, Fred Williamson and more.
10. The Death of Dick Long
Perhaps my favorite film from Fantastic Fest, Daniel Scheinert (half of directing duo DANIELS) and The Death of Dick Long brings his signature directing style -- along with his steadfast commitment to a single joke -- to execute one of the most memorable indie film experiences of the year.
Thematically more similar to DANIELS’ short film “Interesting Ball” than Swiss Army Man, Dick Long creates a seemingly effortless narrative built around one underlying joke and a fearless, competent execution of it.