Two filmmakers explain how making in Hollywood depends on your drive to keep making things.
It's no secret that making a short film can help launch your career, but what if it takes more than one? I recently met and talked with two filmmakers who are not discouraged by negative reviews or setbacks. I found them to be refreshing and exciting. Two people who had an aesthetic, a sense of humor, and understood that the only way to break into Hollywood is to keep knocking on the door with new material.
So today we're going to talk about making a short film on a budget, the festival circuit, and how you can get inspired by their story to just take a risk and make something.
Worst case, make something else!
Let's jump in.
Who are Alex and Trevor?
Trevor Rothman is a director and producer from Denver, Colorado who works in television and film production in Los Angeles. Trevor is the co-founder of Lucid Rhino, a production company specializing in creating a wide variety of high-quality video content. Trevor currently resides in West Los Angeles 3 blocks away from Alex. Alex Kugelman is a screenwriter and director from Syosset, New York. He studied creative writing at the University of Colorado and graduated in 2015.
Alex and Trevor met at The University of Colorado at Boulder in 2011 and have been collaborating ever since. They've worked on shorts, sketches, treatments, and pilots together. In 2014 they produced a sizzle for a mockumentary called 'Treez' that eventually got pitched to Comedy Central. In 2018 they wrote a pilot together called 'Five Star Pete' which placed in the honorable mentions category of The Tracking Board's Launchpad competition. Five Star Pete was eventually optioned and shopped around to several major networks, but didn't get traction. So they keep making things. Because that's the only way to break in.
Today we're going to talk to Trevor and Alex about their short film, The Last Ripe Hass, and the work that went into creating this short, why they made it, and how they're using it to launch their careers.
NFS: Where did the idea come from?
Alex Kugelman: I originally wrote this as a sketch a few years ago, I thought the idea of a "produce lord" or some kind of fruit dealer was really funny and had a lot of potential. I came back to this concept last summer when I realized I wanted to make a short and not a sketch and the story evolved from there. And then we started to flush it out even more and develop this world and story and really create a beginning a middle and an end.
NFS: How did you get your budget?
Trevor Rothman: I've worked in production for years, so I'm no stranger to building a budget from scratch. Once we locked the script, then it was just a matter of going line by line, using a program called Movie Magic, to see what it would cost, at the bare minimum, to get this made. And then from there was the question of "okay our budget is $x how do we secure those funds?" And for us, the best answer was crowdsourcing combined with contributing our savings. It was obvious to us that no one was going to come to us with a blank check and ask us to make this movie, especially in the specific way we wanted to tell the story.
NFS: What did you write on / shoot on? / Edit on? (Give us all the specs!)
AK: I've always used Final Draft for anything I'm writing. This is not a sponsored post but I would gladly take money from them.
TR: We shot with (2) RED-Epic W Helium 8k's with our incredible cinematographer Kevyn Delgado. We edited with the lovely people at Geiger Post in Hollywood who work on Avid software, and also we're very grateful for all the help from Sound Design Corporation, also located in Hollywood.
NFS: What was your distribution plan?
AK: We figured the best way to get this film out there and to be seen would be to enter it into as many festivals as possible. And then once this year's circuit ended, we would release the film online to get as many people to see it as possible.
NFS: How has the festival circuit treated you?
AK: The festival circuit was like a marriage. It started out fun and exciting and ended with us broke and drunk in a 1-bed hotel room at the Marriot in Tuscon, a special thank you to Film Fest Tuscon, the best (and only) film festival we attended. On a serious note the festival circuit is incredibly competitive, subjective and political (not that were bitter in any way). But just from a numbers standpoint, there are over 10,000 short film submissions for Sundance and they choose around 70.
NFS: How will making a short help advance your career?
AK: This short was an incredible crash course in the realities of film making. To make the thing you want to make, there are a million things that need to go right and everything is working against you, which is an apt metaphor for my life. I view this short as a calling card really. The reality is that people much rather watch something you made than read something you wrote, so it's a great way to show people my sensibilities I think.
TR: With each project you do you hone your craft more and more. The Last Ripe Hass prepared me for the next film I did, The Elderly Man, and gave me the tools I needed to become a sharper filmmaker. Ultimately, I just want to continue to make films, grow and learn from each project to become a better director and producer, and if Paramount asks me to direct Tom Cruise in the Vanilla Sky reboot then great.
NFS: What's your ultimate goal in Hollywood?
AK: I'm a writer first and foremost and my ultimate goal is to be writing big studio movies, that's always been the goal, I've been writing features since I was 17 and I'm in the process of writing one right now. Down the line, I would love to direct and produce but currently, I'm most focused on my writing.
TR: The ultimate goal is and always has been to be a working, successful, producer and director, there is literally nothing else I want to do. I think it's the ultimate form of storytelling and movies have been a way for me to escape the realities of life and I just want to return that favor to audiences around the world.
NFS: What do you plan on doing next?
TR: I just finished post on my last movie The Elderly Man and am looking forward to repeating the lovely process of submitting to dozens of film festivals. I'm also doing commercial work for my production company Lucid Rhino and gearing up for my next film which I'm in the process of developing.
AK: Right now I'm writing a feature which will be done this July, and from there I probably will write and direct another short.
NFS: What's the most important lesson you learned making the film?
AK: Pick your battles, making a film is a very contentious process where compromise is inevitable. Know the things that your film absolutely needs to have and then learn to let other things go.
TR: Not everyone (specifically Sundance) is gonna love your film but go with your gut and stay true to the story you originally set out to tell. It's a long process but if you stay true to the story you will be happy with the work you put in.
NFS: What's advice you'd give No Film School readers about making a short film?
AK: Take the writing as serious as you take preproduction and production. You hear a lot of young people say "Let's just go shoot something" and the reality is that if you want to make something good you need to write something good. Writing something good takes time, you need to get notes and go through multiple drafts and although it's not as fun and as sexy as shooting a car crash, it's an incredibly essential part of the process. It's easy to get lost in the aesthetics, in the thinking of "oh this shot would be cool" but it's only a cool shot if it services the story in some way.
TR: Don't be afraid to fail. It's not gonna be Citizen Kane right out of the gate. Don't let the fear of failure stop you from trying. It's better to make a bad film than to make no film at all, take The Last Ripe Hass for example.
What's next? Start your career by making your own short film!
Chances are you’re reading No Film School because you’re not only obsessed with Hollywood, but you want to be a part of it. But breaking in is never easy. That’s why I think writing short films and even making them yourself, has become a viable option for breaking into the business.
Of course, writing a short film is no simple task, but today I’ll take you through a few great strategies to get your short film ideas on the page, and then hopefully on the screen.
Click the link to learn more!