For Film Production student Jesse Lupini, the next little while is going to be, well, crazy. Jesse, along with some VFS alumni, will soon embark on an eight-day shoot for his original short Iteration 1. It’s all part of the Crazy8s Film Society framework – a get down and dirty approach.
This year, Jesse’s pitch was selected from nearly 180 video submissions. From there, the competition was whittled down to forty, then twelve, and, lastly, to six finalists. Armed with $1,000 and a production package, Jesse and his mighty team are bringing to life a science fiction short that is heavy on effects and short on time. But that’s what this thing is all about, and Jesse is taking full advantage of the experience. Besides, he has Vancouver Film School’s fast-paced learning style as a guiding principle, one he credits for his ease under pressure.
We sat down with Jesse to discuss everything Crazy8s and VFS. Take a look!
You were selected as a finalist in the Crazy8s Festival – congratulations! As one of six directors picked from a pool of 180 video pitches, how does it feel?
Jesse: Thanks! To be honest, it feels pretty incredible. I’d love to be all cavalier about the whole thing, but, really, it’s beyond exciting. There were so many amazing pitches in that pool — a lot of my very talented friends pitched great ideas, too. It’s a shame they can’t all be made. I’m a young writer and director, just getting started in my career, so having the opportunity to make something unique that will actually be seen by people is an honour and huge opportunity for my team and me. As an indie filmmaker, you tend to make a lot of short films to cut your teeth, but those rarely see the light of day. The general public just doesn’t watch a lot of shorts. Crazy8s is the exception, so the prospect of a few thousand people seeing something I’ve had a hand in making is daunting and exhilarating.
Can you take us through the selection process for the Crazy 8s Festival? How did you prepare? What were the requirements?
Jesse: The selection process was pretty involved. Lucas Kavanagh, my co-writer, and I started fleshing out the idea in September. We’d go for long walks all over Vancouver, for hours and hours, just discussing the story, characters, and world of Iteration 1.
In October, we sat down and recorded a video pitch. It had to be under five minutes, and we did probably 5 takes, then finally managed to get the whole thing short enough — 4:57 to be exact. I was a few days away from directing another short film at the time, so I was pretty exhausted and delirious, but I guess we sounded passionate enough and had a unique idea. We were both pretty stoked to find out we’d made it to the next round.
After video pitches came the live pitches. Our project, and 39 others, had to pitch to a panel of judges — the first time we had to actually explain this idea to real people. The panel included some people who I really respect, and to complicate matters even more, Lucas had just left on a two-month trip on a scientific boat expedition to try and drill a hole through the crust of the earth. We Skyped him in from Mauritius, and still managed to pitch together. All the judges were friendly and smiled, so we came out of that pitch feeling pretty good.
It was still a surprise to make it into the top 12, and that’s when the real work started. We wrote the script, started putting the team together, and really fleshed out the idea. I attended the Whistler Film Festival, saw some great films, and we worked with a story editor to help bring the script to a shoot-ready draft. At the beginning of January, we submitted our baby and waited for the verdict. I was speechless when the Crazy8s team called me to say we’d won. Actually though, they asked me if I was okay because I wasn’t saying anything.
As a finalist, what do you receive?
Jesse: We’ve received A LOT. The Crazy8s team is amazing. They’ve been an absolute wealth of support and resources all along the way. In addition to perks like an industry pass to WIFF, the workshops, and story edit sessions, they’ve been instrumental in helping us put together the team and get us in touch with industry professionals who’ve brought their many years of experience to the table to help us make this film.
Iteration 1 is a really ambitious project for Crazy8s. It’s a high-concept science fiction short that requires a set build and visual effects. Those are challenging things for indie filmmakers with any timeframe, but when you have only 8 days for the whole process, it’s even more intense. The actual cash budget we have to work with is $1000 — basically nothing in the world of film — but in reality we’re working with orders of magnitude more than that. I don’t know how much the monetary value of everything we’re getting is, but it feels like we’re working with one hundred times that amount. With insurance, camera gear, lighting, locations, casting agents, colour, sound and post facilities, and a multitude more, the calibre of people and gear is incredible, and usually unaffordable for those of us without big budgets.
What is your short film, Iteration 1, about? What was the inspiration behind it?
Jesse: Iteration 1 is a sci-fi adventure about a man named Anthony who wakes up in a bizarre facility and must solve a series of puzzles in order to escape. The wrench in the gears is that every sixty seconds his progress is reset, and he has to learn to work with his literal past lives in order to make it through the challenges of each room.
Science fiction is my passion and favourite genre to work in. I grew up watching Star Trek every Saturday morning, and I’ve been fascinated ever since with ways to shed light on the problems we have today by telling stories about far-away worlds and ideas. While Iteration 1 is definitely a fun sci-fi puzzle film, I see it as a metaphor for our daily lives — how we often feel like we’re repeating ourselves, and the ways we strive to break free from the cycles we find ourselves in.
On a bit more of a literal sense, the central mechanic of the film — the idea of having these ‘iterations’ that spawn every sixty seconds — was actually inspired by an old Japanese flash game I played as a kid on school computers instead of doing my homework. The concept of having to work with a literal manifestation of your past mistakes is powerful to me. We all live in the shadows of the choices we’ve made — for better or worse.
How did your time at VFS prepare you for the intense Crazy8s filming schedule?
Jesse: Well, ask anyone who’s been to VFS and they’ll tell you it’s a whirlwind — especially the Film Production program. The biggest lesson that we’re never explicitly taught in class is about Triage: learning how to prioritize and where your energy will be the most effective. In film, you never have enough time or money, so this kind of thinking on your feet is essential.
I’ve spent my last year at VFS constantly biting off more than I thought I could chew, and balancing many projects at once. The Film Production program really does feel like a four-year program crammed into one year, so the Crazy8s schedule, while certainly daunting, is pretty familiar.
What will be your biggest challenge? What are you most looking forward to?
Jesse: If I had to choose, I’d say our biggest challenge will be pulling off convincing visual effects in the three-day timeframe we’ll have between picture lock and delivery. We’re bringing some amazing people on board in that area, but I don’t think anyone’s under the illusion that they'll be getting any sleep on those nights.
Without a doubt, I’m most looking forward to actually getting on set. The moment Kyler says, "We’re on the clock!” I’ll be in go-mode, running off pure adrenaline and creative energy. Being on set is an exhilarating experience — one I haven’t seen replicated in any other line of work. After we wrap, the next thing to look forward to is the big Gala on February 27 when the team can sit back, have a drink (or two), and be extremely proud of what we’ve achieved.
What do you hope will come from participating and creating within this festival format?
Jesse: Some paid work? *wink wink, nudge nudge* Seriously though, I know that the whole team will learn a ton by working on this project. These kinds of time and financial constraints just help you become a better filmmaker, and that much more prepared for whatever you take on next. Crazy8s is something really special. There aren’t a lot of events like this in the world, so being able to participate in it is already an honour. And, frankly, I’m just excited to show off what we will have made and meet more people in this industry.
What’s next for you?
Writing and directing are my passions, so after we wrap and ring in our achievements at the gala, I’ll just keep on doing what I love. I have a lot of ideas for new shorts, features and series. Lucas and I have been working on the universe Iteration 1 takes place in, and we’d love to turn it into a feature film if we can get the funding. I have a not-so-secret obsession with the long-form storytelling opportunities that TV series provide, so I’ll also be working on my ideas for high-concept sci-fi shows in the vein of Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek.
I’m sure I’ll be working with many of the people I’m getting to know through Crazy8s in the future as we build our careers and make cool stuff. The generosity and support people have shown has already blown me away. To me, there’s only one way to the top: we all lift each other up.
Congratulations and good luck, Jesse!
Iteration 1 premieres at the Centre for Performing Arts on February 27. For more information, click HERE.