A few years ago, filmmakers Jess Jacklin and Charles Beale felt like the film festival circuit wasn’t working for them, so they thought about what their perfect festival would look like — and then started it. Their festival, StudioFest, has already released one award-winning film, and has several other projects in the works.
In the latest MovieMaker podcast, they talk with us about all they’ve learned while creating their own festival and films — and why they’ve decided to make a major pivot in their approach. You can listen above, or on Apple or Spotify.
“As filmmakers we were attending other festivals – Jess and I are both writers and directors — and we weren’t quite getting what we felt we needed out of them,” Beale explains on the podcast. “You’d go to a screening, maybe the screening’s not totally full. Or it’s full of people who are making other movies. But a lot of people are looking for that opportunity to jump into the features game. And unless you’re at one of the tier-one festivals, it can be really difficult to find financing. And so we felt there should be a streamlined path to making your own feature.”
The idea of StudioFest was that one winning writer and one winning director would be paired together to make a film with a budget of $50,000. The first StudioFest was held in 2018 in Phoenicia, 120 miles outside of New York City. The second was in 2019 in Ojai, 80 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
“We really wanted to find a setting that felt like a retreat, where it felt like you were close to a major filmmaking hub but you got a moment to just go and hang out with cool people and talk about stories and talk about films and talk about writing,” says Jacklin.
The idea, she says, was that “even if you weren’t the winner, it still felt like you really got something from being around people and feeling inspired for a couple days.”
The first year of the festival yielded the film Souvenirs, from winning director Anna Mikami and winning writer Matthew Sorvillo, about a murderabilia shop clerk owner who discovers her own family’s dark history. Lead actor Isabella Pisacane (Daredevil, The Comey Rule) won best actor in a feature at the SoHo International Film Festival, and Souvenirs is available on Amazon, Apple and other VOD platforms.
The second feature, from the Ojai edition of StudioFest, had some complications. The festival places a premium on transparency — and that includes releasing a video series, Demystified, in which Jacklin, Beale and editor/narrator Jake Bowen pull back the curtain on the process of making and selling their films. As the latest episode of Demystified revealed, the winners of 2019’s StudioFest, writer Lowam Eyasu and director Ryan Oksenberg, weren’t seeing eye-to-eye on their project. They’re both extremely talented, but also had strong opinions, and they didn’t gel. You can watch here:
On the podcast, Jess and Charles talk about how the experience of pairing strangers together to work on a film changed their perspective on how to approach StudioFest — in a way that may create more opportunities for more moviemakers.
They also talk about how they adapted plans for a third StudioFest – which was to have been set in Austin — in response to COVID-19. It’s one of the most imaginative ideas we’ve heard for a virtual festival.
Submissions for StudioFest are now open, and you can apply here.