Filmmakers Eric Silvera and Sean Kenealy co-wrote, co-directed and co-starred in "The World's First Two-Person Action Movie" IN ACTION. The feature had its East Coast Premiere at the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival's 2020 Digital Edition, taking home the coveted Audience Choice award. The film's successful festival run led to a distribution deal with Gravitas Ventures.
AoBFF's own Jake King had some questions for Eric and Sean on the devotion to take this unique film from concept through production, how they built their audience, advice for filmmakers, and much more.
IN ACTION has a very interesting production journey. We’re still impressed by how you made it. Can you tell the story?
In early 2014, Sean and I sat in a pizza joint near Union Square brainstorming ideas for our next project. Sean pitched: “I want to make a feature-length action movie with two people sitting in chairs talking to each other for $5,000.” I said, “I don’t know what that means.”
“We can use fast-paced dialogue, and descriptions of what’s happening, and quick cutting to make it feel like it’s action packed, even though it’s just us sitting in chairs. We’ll call it How To Write and Star in Your Own Action Movie.”
I was intrigued. Then Sean added, “We have no Hollywood connections, and any other script we write is just going to sit in the slush pile. You do stand-up so you can perform, I act, we both write, and you studied film in college. Let’s make something that can’t be ignored.”
Later, I walked through the East Village and kept picturing a car chase with two people sitting in chairs. If the camera was constantly moving, roving around the chairs, and there was quick cutting, strong sound design, and we took the scene seriously, maybe it could feeeeeeeel like a car chase. I was in.
We made a list of action tropes we’d embrace: a mismatched heroic duo, core eccentric villains with generic henchman, one-liners, and over-the-top violence. But what about the story? We agreed it was best to develop a storyline for an actual movie and ignore the two-person premise during this process. The plot: Two idiots writing an action screenplay get flagged by the government based on the content of their emailed plot ideas, and uncover a giant conspiracy.
We wrote for several months, and, once satisfied with a draft performed live readings in my apartment to understand what did and didn’t work. We also hoped to entice potential producers we invited during these sessions, but no producer fully committed...
We then decided to film a reading of the script as a prototype to prove the idea played. Over a single day, and using two camera operators and a sound person, we shot the original premise: An Action Movie With Two People Sitting In Chairs In One Room.
Sean edited the prototype. Turns out, it didn’t fully work…but there were a few scenes where the idea truly coalesced. Sean cut a short trailer from those moments and we used that trailer to get our producer, Alex Nordenson, on board. While he hadn’t produced movies, he was a producer at an ad agency and understood the intricacies of production, shoots, and the creative process. Alex was instrumental in getting the film made, the consigliere throughout production process.
The prototype taught us that for the Two-Person Action Movie premise to work, it had to evolve into something more cinematic. Two actors, in limited locations, on a tiny budget was still the goal. However, we revised the script to show more, tell less, and pinpointed sections that could use mixed media (animation, hand-drawings, etc.) to enhance action sequences. The revised draft, evolved concept, and prototype trailer were enough to excite some core crew members to join the production.
We raised funding via Kickstarter waaayyyy back in Summer 2015 and shot the film on weekends, between the summers of 2016 and 2017 (we had to break for a long period because my second child was born and then my wife had a nearly fatal case of sinusitis). We used two locations for the shoots.
Acts 1 and 3 were shot in the small office of my day job. My VP of Sales and CEO allowed us to shoot on the weekends for free, “as long as everything was back to normal by Monday A.M.” This saved so much money, and we converted the office into a wedding reception, a bar, a hotel room, a supermarket, living rooms, a “highway car chase”. Plus, it had bathrooms, a kitchen, offices, and a conference room, all location types needed for the script. For Act 2, Sean found a 750-square foot photo studio in Long Island City, Queens off Craig’s List. It was cheap, grungy, and could be transformed into the various settings of the Underground Lair where our characters are held hostage.
Our D.P., Mateo Marquez, did an awesome job figuring out how to shoot and light the scenes within these tight parameters so that each setting felt different, even if we were just redressing the location.
During post-production, our editor, Billy Nawrocki, became a core member of the team, eventually also taking on the role of post-production coordinator. We gave him the note, “Imagine if My Dinner Andre was edited like a Michael Bay film” and he ran with it. His work is a major reason the concept of this film was pulled off; Billy’s editing has been singled out in reviews and won/was nominated for Best Editing at several festivals.
All in, the film was a six year journey from idea to post-production, made patiently on the side while Sean and I worked full-time, non-entertainment industry careers, raised families, and had a couple nervous breakdowns.
In addition to playing the leads, you both co-wrote and co-directed the film. What was that experience like, and do you have any advice for directors working together?
Sean and I have a great partnership and we really lean on each other’s strengths. As writers, we’ve developed a good system of how to approach a project. Generally, over a series of conversations (and then random texts with ideas) we develop the overall story and map out the major beats/themes/plot points. Then, Sean writes first. He has an incredible ability to turn out pages quite quickly and that gets things moving. I have an incredible ability to overthink and analyze so if we waited for me to start a script, we’d still be staring at a blank screen. Once Sean sends me the pages, I begin to edit and also build upon ideas that are in the story. Then I send Sean the revisions and he starts to revise and build. It comes back to me and the process continues. By the time we get to the end of an Act, it’s like multiple drafts have been written, and the screenplay has become a mind-meld between both of our ideas/visions.
As directors, we both work really hard to listen to each other and be respectful of the other’s opinions, even when we totally disagree. My wife watched us have an “argument” on set one day and couldn’t believe how calmly we sorted it out. She’s remarked that we’re like a very well-functioning married couple, and if marriages approached an argument this way, there’d never be divorce. Hahaha.
Our advice for other directors working together:
There are many fun and interesting scenes in IN ACTION. Were there any particular influences in regards to films or filmmakers?
We were influenced (and stole) from a lot of different kind of movies. From an action movie standpoint, we really pulled from the tropes of the 80s/90s heyday - flicks like Commando, Predator, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon 1 & 2, The Rock, etc. to both develop the plot and lovingly poke fun at.
However, this is a movie that’s basically two people talking to each other the whole time, so we also referenced My Dinner With Andre, Creep, and a lot of Richard Linklater’s work (Tape, the Before Series, Slacker) - films that are dialogue-heavy with limited casts. Then we edited these talky scenes like it was a Michael Bay movie, hahaha.
There were truly a lot of disparate influences that we used for specific scenes: a single-take POV fight was inspired by the Ordinary World scene in Layer Cake, while scenes that take place in a therapist’s office were inspired by the interstitials of couples chatting in When Harry Met Sally.
Recently, we’ve started telling people that In Action kind of a mix of John McTiernan meets Richard Linklater meets What The Hell Happened To Me-era Adam Sandler/early-Kevin Smith with a dash of the ZAZ comedies.
The film won Audience Choice for our 10th Anniversary edition in 2020. Did you have a plan in place to involve your networks to watch and vote?
Definitely. We started with our core team and brainstormed different communities we could reach out to. Friends and family were the obvious ones, but we also contacted coworkers, creative circles, and basically anyone we could think of!
We also tried to be purposeful with how we timed all of our outreach. Sending an email or posting on social media every day with the same details will get boring fast. So we spaced it out and included new info with each post/email, such as reviews or write ups from smaller blogs and newspapers.
We encouraged our communities/crew to share details on the movie as well. The In Action team only knows so many people, so we really leaned on our friends and family to spread info on our behalf, which was a BIG help.
And with all of our outreach, we made sure to include specifics on the Audience Choice Award and how to vote!
How early in the filmmaking process did you start to cultivate fans? Any advice for other filmmakers on how to create audience interest?
Honestly, we didn’t really start to cultivate fans until Art of Brooklyn. Up until that festival, no one outside of our team (or other festivals we applied to) had access to watch our movie. AoBFF was the first time we could encourage everyone we know to watch - especially with the festival being online.
That said, people definitely knew our movie existed, but a lot of folks didn’t know what stage we were at. AoBFF solidified we were a “real” movie to a lot of our community, and it helped us start to make a fanbase. As for advice, I’d say just keep people posted on what you’re doing with your movie - from pre-production to finished product.
Sharing clips, pictures, news, or anything else relevant keeps your movie on people’s mind. They might not be able actually watch your movie yet, but when it DOES become available it’ll be good for them to already know a bit of your backstory.
IN ACTION recently scored distribution with Gravitas Ventures — an amazing achievement! Can you tell us how that came about?
Eric and I didn’t have a huge film community when we started In Action. We definitely didn’t know any agents or have any leads with distribution companies. So playing at festivals is what helped get us attention.
Right after Art of BK, a producers rep reached out to us offering to help find us distribution. This was a very windy 6 month journey filled with rejection, dozens upon dozens of phone calls, redesigning our poster (then redesigning it again…), but it was the beginning of us landing a deal with Gravitas.
What advice do you have for filmmakers in regard to submitting to festivals, as well as promoting your film?
Treat the festival submission process like you’re applying to college. So build a list of your reaches, your “This feels like I have a good shot and would be happy there” and your safety schools.
The key to doing this: understanding the genre your film fits into (if it’s easily definable). Then researching festivals that focus on that genre first and if they’ve accepted films in the past similar to yours. If so, what other festivals did those films show at? Then you can begin to build a list of festivals that probably make the most sense and expand outwards/broader from there.
We used FilmFreeway often to get a sense of other filmmakers’ experiences, the history of the festival, their requirements, etc. There are so many festivals to choose from, but FilmFreeway is a good way to sort through them.
Entry-fees add up quickly so have a good sense of your festival application budget and if it’s limited be discerning. But at the same time, take a few chances - AoBFF was a reach for our no-budget, weird concept-of-a-film, but we were accepted and it opened the path to eventual distribution.
Promoting — emails, social media, texting your friends, whatever platform or research you need to do to get the word out, do it. Be nice to friends and family now because they’ll come through for you and help too years later when your film is released.
Once your film finds distribution and will be released, consider hiring an (affordable) publicist who can help seed your movie across different media sources that you’ll have no access to on your own. A filmmaker friend thought PR was useless until it helped their small, indie debut receive a review from The New Yorker, which led to a Hollywood gig.
2020 was our first-ever Digital Edition. It was a very different experience but we were thrilled with the results. What was it like having your festival run during lockdown?
This was our first festival run. Eric and I were able to go to one in-person festival (which happened the week before the world shut down in March 2020), and the rest were online.
Of course, it would have been amazing to meet more people in person (and to see our movie on the big screen as opposed TVs/laptops!), but festivals like AoBFF did an incredible job of keeping the energy exciting and hosting networking events while being fully online.
Being online also pushed us to share our movie with EVERYONE we know. Sure, it would have been amazing to show in Brooklyn, but if we had, then we wouldn’t have reached out to so many people out of state to watch. Online festivals definitely gave us a bigger audience, and in the long run I think it made us focus more on marketing and building a fanbase.
Do you have any future projects in development that audiences can look forward to?
We’re currently talking to producers about our next horror-comedy feature called Reject. It takes place in the festival world (not too outside the box of AoBFF…). Hopefully we can share more soon!
The Art of Brooklyn Film Festival Names Award-Winning Filmmaker Christie Conochalla 2021 Guest Festival Director
After an international search, the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival has named award winning filmmaker Christie Conochalla as Guest Festival Director for their 11th year.
Art of Brooklyn Executive Director Joseph Shahadi said, "I met with filmmakers and programmers from all over America—and the world— this year. There were several great candidates but in the end it was clear that Christie was the perfect choice for 2021. I can’t wait to see her vision for this season unfold."
Christie is a writer/director/producer in Los Angeles with a passion for creating complex stories about queer women for a mainstream audience. She is an AoBFF alum, with two shorts in the 2020 edition, "August in the City," which she directed and "House of La Reine" which she produced. Her body of work showcases her love for telling widely relatable stories about lesbian characters.
Best known for the multi-award winning " August in the City" and the lesbian rom-com "Once Upon a Zipper," Christie's first feature "Forever Not Maybe" recently earned her Best Director at the North Hollywood Cinefest Film Festival, and has been rated the most-watched film on the LesFlicks streaming platform . Her most recent short "Marry Christmas," also available on LesFlicks, was released on Christmas Day 2020.
Christie's screenplay for her magical realism dramatic feature "Finding Yesterday" placed in competitions including the Black List Writer's Residency, Script Pipeline, and the Golden Script Competition. She also works as an entertainment professional in the television and live event industry and is heavily involved with the Alliance of Women Directors organization.
Of her role curating the films of the 2021 AoBFF, Christie said,
"Having spent almost a decade with various projects in festivals all over the world, it is such a special opportunity to be on this side of the process and entrusted to work with the Art of Brooklyn for the programming of their 2021 festival. Thank you for your trust in me. Ok, enough about me, time to talk about the filmmakers! Let's do this."
The Art of Brooklyn Film festival's mission is to bring the borough's vibrant independent film scene into conversation with their peers around the world. Since 2016, AoBFF has invited a different Guest Festival Director each season, to keep its programming vision fresh and diverse. Past Directors include León Mexico/ Brooklyn-based film programmer Alan Mclane Alejos and award-winning filmmakers Eric Trenkamp, Victoria Negri, Dave Chan and Sean Mannion.
Submissions for the 2021 AoBFF, including films and series in all genres and a screenplay competition, are open on Film Freeway until May 2.
Every year the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival invites a new Guest Festival Director to curate the films for our upcoming season. For 2021, we're excited to be casting our net wide. If you would like to be considered, read the full post below and answer these 3 questions:
Please email us your cover letter, CV, and any relevant links. Use the subject "2021 Guest Festival Director"
The Art of Brooklyn is an award-winning international film festival that brings Brooklyn's vibrant, diverse independent film and media makers together with their peers around the world. Founded by working artists in 2011, ten+ festival premieres have gotten theatrical distribution to date — and one became an HBO series. AoBFF has been awarded One of the Top Seven US Film Festivals (2014), Brooklyn Creative Group of the Year (2016), and One of the Five Notable American Film Festivals Worth Traveling For (2020). Acclaimed for being only festival in the world to produce screenings in neighborhoods across Brooklyn, including those underserved by art and cultural organizations, AoBFF pivoted during the pandemic by producing one of the most successful digital festival editions of 2020, earning a mention in Film Festival Today.
Every season AoBFF invites a different film professional to serve as Guest Festival Director for our upcoming season.
AoBFF invites a new person to direct the festival every season to prevent any single point of view from dominating our curation. This is one way AoBFF builds equity and inclusion into our organizational structure.
Since 2016, the Guest Festival Director has been drawn from Brooklyn independent filmmaking community. Past Festival Directors include award-winning filmmakers, screenwriters and programmers Eric Trenkamp, Victoria Negri, Dave Chan, Sean Mannion and Alan McLane Alejos. For the 2021 season the call is opened up internationally.
Our 2021 Guest Festival Director will curate the films remotely from anywhere in the world and work closely with festival staff via regular video calls during pre-production and production. For 2021 we are planning a hybrid event, with live screenings in Brooklyn (depending on pandemic conditions) and live streamed screenings and real time filmmaker talkbacks and panels using a secure digital festival platform with integrated video conferencing software. This technology allows the Guest Festival Director to play an active role with filmmakers and audiences during the festival.
What do I have to commit to?
You'll watch all the films submitted to us for our 2021 season and decide which will become official selections. You'll meet regularly with AoBFF staff pre-festival. You'll make a first draft of a schedule, deciding what screens with what, and when. And during the festival you'll facilitate filmmaker talkbacks and audience Q&As. This is a purely creative opportunity by design, so you wouldn't be responsible for any administrative tasks. We work with you on all of these areas.
Will I have any help?
Of course. Our diverse Selection Committee watches every film and provides you with their notes and recommendations, but the final decisions are yours. Our Program Manager will keep you on track with calendar benchmarks so you don't fall behind and you'll meet regularly with our Executive Director, who'll help you design the schedule when the time comes. But you would be directly responsible for the curatorial vision of the 2021 AoBFF.
Do I have to have curatorial experience?
Not necessarily. We've had very successful Guest Festival Directors who'd never curated before, and none had been responsible for an entire festival. This is designed to offer a creative opportunity to the broadest possible group of potential curators.
Will I get paid?
The 2021 Guest Festival Director will receive a nominal stipend, but this is NOT a salaried staff position. If you are seeking a salaried staff position at a film festival this is not a good fit.
And just like that, 12 days of screenings, workshops, panel talks and international live stream filmmaker talkbacks is in the history books. To say that producing this 10th anniversary edition of AoBFF was a challenge would be a world-class understatement. But thanks to YOU, our wonderful filmmakers and enthusiastic audiences, we put on a world-class festival, digital or otherwise.
Please join us in celebrating our all of our 2020 selections, our award winners, and everyone everywhere who creates independent art, no matter what their challenges may be. Art matters and is always essential.
Directed by Emily C. Chang
Cinematography by Alejandro Wilkins
PUSH THE POINT
Directed by Bryan Lawrence Burton
Sound by Bryan Burton & Robert Gongora
Directed by Bob Celli
Edited by Cecilia Potenza Jimenez
Izzie Steele and Jefferson White in THE MOUSE AND THE LION
Directed by Lain Kienzle
Outstanding Performance in a Narrative Short:
Daniela Mastropietro in AUGUST IN THE CITY
Directed by Christie Conochalla
Outstanding Performance in a Narrative Feature:
Aunjanue Ellis in THE SUBJECT
Directed by Lanie Zipoy
Directed by Paul Charisse
The Dark Side Award for Outstanding horror/thriller/Noir/ Sci Fi:
THE RED MARSH
Directed by Drake Woodall
The Vanguard Award for Outstanding Experimental Film:
STAR-SPANGLED BRIGHTON BEACH
Directed by Lynn Bianchi
MY NEW PANTS
Directed by Gerard Zarra
Directed by Bob Giraldi
Outstanding Short Documentary:
Directed by Caroline Macfarlane
Outstanding Feature Documentary:
BORN JUST NOW
Directed by Robert Adanto
Written by John Martins III
Directed by Michael Irish
Audience Choice Award:
Directed by Sean Kenealy and Eric Silvera
Outstanding Director of a Narrative Short:
Amit Shamir for RED
Outstanding Director of a Narrative Feature:
Lanie Zipoy for THE SUBJECT
Outstanding Narrative Short:
Directed by Maryll Botula
Outstanding Narrative Feature:
Directed by Lanie Zipoy
Legendary actor and indie film icon Annabella Sciorra (Truth Be Told, Sopranos, Jungle Fever) is set to present at the Award Ceremony celebrating the filmmakers and screenwriters of the 2020 Art of Brooklyn Film Festival on Friday, June 12 at 9:30PM.
A long-time AoBFF supporter and member of the Judging panel, Sciorra said, “I love what the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival is doing. Their mission to focus on Brooklyn films and filmmakers speaks to me because I was born and raised here and it influenced who I am as an artist.”
Sciorra has been a booster for AoBFF since co-founder Anthony DeVito connected with her years ago on social media. “I was tweeting via our festival account and I saw we had a new follower — Annabella Sciorra. Since we were a very new festival at the time I was really surprised. I followed her right back, and we ended up chatting. Annabella truly loves Brooklyn arts and culture, plus we found out we both grew up in Brooklyn’s Bergen Beach, so it was meant to be!”
Annabella has been a part of AoBFF ever since, acting as a festival judge, attending launch parties, and headlining a panel discussion on acting in indie film alongside actors Nico Tortorella and Craig “MuMs” Grant. 2020 will be the first time she will be part of the festival’s awards ceremony, presenting prizes virtually via Zoom.
AoBFF 2020 marks the festival’s first-ever Digital Edition, a creative response to the global pandemic that made live theatrical screenings impossible. “It’s our 10th anniversary and we'd planned live screenings and events in multiple venues across Brooklyn,” said Executive Director Joseph Shahadi. AoBFF produces screenings for thousands of people, so the prospect of scaling down was not appealing. But cancelling or postponing wasn’t ever an option, says Shahadi. “We are mission-driven to bring the best of Brooklyn’s independent film scene into conversation with their peers around the world and missing an entire season would be disastrous for our community.” Choosing instead to rise to the challenge, the AoBFF team set about rebuilding the 2020 festival from scratch, employing a brand new virtual festival platform to showcase films securely and livestream interactive filmmaker talkbacks and workshops with industry experts.
Anthony DeVito said, “After the hard work of the past few months it’s very gratifying to see how happy both filmmakers and audiences are that we produced a full festival this year instead of cancelling or scaling down. Having Annabella join us to honor our filmmakers makes it even more special.”
Experimental Films of the 2020 AoBFF:
FILM AS ART - BLOCK 'A'
Uncle Griot/ In This Life/ 77(8) Birthdays, Killing Floor/ Two/ Unborn Rivers of Sky/ Stan/ Shivering Wall
Screening and Livestream Filmmaker Talkback
Saturday, June 6 - 6PM
INFO & TICKETS
FILM AS ART - BLOCK 'B'
The Split/ Digits of Pi/ Half Light/ Temporary Solution for the Permanent Problems #1/ Star-Spangled Brighton Beach/ The Crash! Or, a Patch of Gravity/ Kopacabana
Screening and Livestream Filmmaker Talkback
Monday, June 8 - 7PM
INFO & TICKETS
The 10th Annual Art of Brooklyn Film Fest (June 1-12 2020) is using the new Eventive Virtual Festival platform to convert their annual live event to a robust, interactive Digital Edition to audiences around the world in real time — with a full schedule of screenings, livestreamed filmmaker talkbacks and webinar panel talks and career-building workshops.
NEW YORK - May 27, 2020 — The Art of Brooklyn Film Festival team had already worked for six months to produce their 2020 fest when Coronavirus first threatened. "It's our 10th anniversary and we'd planned live screenings and events in multiple venues across Brooklyn. By February it became clear that those plans would have to change, although we couldn't have known how much," said Executive Director Joseph Shahadi. AoBFF produces screenings and events in neighborhoods across Brooklyn, including those underserved by arts and culture, for thousands of people, so the prospect of scaling down was not appealing.
And cancelling or postponing wasn't ever an option, says Shahadi. "We are mission-driven to bring the best of Brooklyn's independent film scene into conversation with their peers around the world and missing an entire season would be disastrous for our community." The AoBFF team knew they had to find a creative way to salvage their 10th anniversary season. Enter Iddo Patt.
AoBFF began working with Patt's company Eventive to create an interactive film guide and manage ticket sales in 2018. "I had the opportunity to collaborate with Iddo as he programed the tech we used for our film guide and ticketing platform, and we ended up with the best versions of both. So when he approached us with his new Virtual Film Festival platform we were confident we could customize it to our specifications," said co-founder and Director of Communications Anthony DeVito.
Eventive's Virtual Festival allows for ticketed on-demand and live streaming on its own site and compatible streaming TV apps with studio-grade DRM protection for films. "We did not want to do a placeholder event and just put a bunch of films up on a YouTube or Vimeo channel and call it a day. When we connected with Iddo and realized that we could translate a lot of what makes our live event special into a digital format using his Virtual Festival platform, it was very exciting," said Shahadi.
The challenges of producing an international film festival under these conditions were numerous. This season's Festival Director Alan McLane Alejos, who splits his time between Brooklyn and Leon, Mexico, was at home in the latter when the lockdown began. So Alejos curated the entire festival long distance and met with the rest of the team via video conferencing. "It was a blessing in disguise," said DeVito, "the success of our collaboration with Alan over video conference convinced us we could keep the interactive elements of our festival that filmmakers and audiences love — our lively post-screening talkbacks, panels and roundtables — in this new format." Using Eventive's cutting-edge technology Art of Brooklyn will bring a robust, interactive Digital Edition to audiences around the world in real time. "We are leaning into this challenge," Shahadi said, "instead of going dark in 2020 AoBFF is going to be bigger in size and scope than ever before."
The 2020 Art of Brooklyn Film Festival runs from June 1-12. It features over 70 films from all over the word, including the best of Brooklyn's indies. AoBFF opens with the world premiere of THE SUBJECT, a topical drama starring Jason Biggs (American Pie, Orange is the New Black, Outmatched).
Interactive Film Guide and Schedule HERE.