Friday, March 30, 2012

What I DIY #2: Q+A with John Polson, Founder of Tropfest, the World's Largest Short Film Festival

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You may already know that I have a soft spot in my heart for homemade videos of nearly any kind, the only exceptions being ones shot in night vision starring Kim Kardashian.  I've written about darling wedding save-the-date movies, a marriage proposal video starring stop motion Legos, our first annual family Christmas video and even my hobby of making home videos on my iphone on the way to work

One DIY project I've never tackled is making a short film, but if ever there were a time to act on any deep-seeded filmmaking daydreams, it's now - Tropfest, the world's largest short film festival, is coming to New York Thursday, June 21st through Saturday, June 23rd, 2012.  Tropfest, founded 20 years ago by John Polson, has grown from its home in a small cafe (the Tropicana) in Sydney to an international festival held in Australia, Abu Dhabi, New York, Vegas, New Zealand, with future festivals in the works for Paris, Malaysia, South East Asia and China.  In other words, Tropfest gets around.

With an ambassador list that includes Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman & Geoffrey Rush, Tropfest draws passionate support from industry heavyweights who value the festival's commitment to providing emerging artists and filmmakers with an international platform for their work. 

Feeling intimidated?  Don't.  Tropfest is intended as much for the amateur as it is for the seasoned filmmaker.  Just take a peek at some of the featured past submissions, and you'll quickly discover that creativity, passion and initiative carry just as much weight as technical prowess or editing skills.  I highly recommend you read Rob Carlton's recent Q&A about his Tropfest film Carmichael & Shane, which you can watch on the Tropfest YouTube Channel.  He made his award-winning short for exactly $24. 

Our second installment in our new "What I DIY" series features Tropfest Founder John Polson.  I've asked him a few questions about his life, his likes and how he turned a small screening for his own short film 20 years ago into the world's largest short film festival. 

John Polson + Family
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Q: Where did the idea for Tropfest come from?
A: In short (if you'll excuse the pun), I made a short film in my mid-20s that was mostly set at the cafe I hung out at in Sydney. When it came time to screen the film, I decided to screen it at the cafe - and to my surprise around 200 people showed up. So I stood on a chair at the end of the night and announced there would be a short film festival. The cafe was called the Tropicana so I called the festival Tropfest.

Q: What was your first "big break" with Tropfest?
A: I guess you could say the first big break was about 3 years in, when I applied to the local city council to grant permission for me to close the road the cafe was on, and they said 'yes'. That year 7,000 people showed up, which was huge for us then.

Q: How was this year's signature object (which must appear in some form in each submitted film, the bagel, selected?
A: It's usually chosen pretty informally by me and my team. We end up having a lunch somewhere and, after a glass of wine, the topic of next year's TSI (Tropfest Signature Item) comes up and and we start throwing ideas around. Sometimes we get suggestions emailed to us as well, which go into the mix. Bagel was chosen for Tropfest NY because of the iconic nature of it and it's connection to New York. We wanted to find something that sent a clear message to filmmakers here: Tropfest may have started elsewhere but Tropfest New York is about you.

Q: When you were 16, what did you imagine your job would be when you "grew up"?
A: I wanted to be either a car mechanic or a saxophone player. Random I know.

Q: What are some of the other jobs you've had?
A: I've worked as a waiter, car mechanic, panel beater, store shelf packer, actor, musician, grape picker, farmer, busker, gas pumper, hardware clerk, insurance salesman, and many more.

Q: What dish do you make when friends come over?
A: I have this great pizza stone that I love to pull out when friends are over. A friend of mine suggested I get one, and I haven't stopped using it!

Q: What's your drink of choice?
A: I love a good Pinot Grigio.

Q: If there was a short film about your life, what would the title be?
A: "The Great Escape"

Tropfest recently posted this quote from James Cameron on their Facebook page  - "Pick up a camera. Shoot something. No matter how small, no matter how cheesy, no matter whether your friends and your sister star in it. Put your name on it as director. Now you're a director. Everything after that you're just negotiating your budget and your fee."- James Cameron

Submissions will be accepted April 10th through May 10th.  Learn more here.   If you take the plunge, let me know - we may just do a follow-up feature on our readers who submit films to this year's Tropfest.  Plus, then I'll know to look out for your submission should it be included at the screening in Bryant Park.  If you make the cut, I'll cheer so loudly for your film that my husband will pretend not to know who I am.  Beware - pregnant cartwheels and jazz hands may be involved.

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