Amusing a spectrum of people through comedy is a tough skill to become proficient in as each person possess a different sense of humor. However, Jared and Matthew have truly mastered this skillset with their amazing perspectives on a variety of otherwise ordinary topics. Most statements conjure a specific image or scenario; by stepping back and approaching these statements from another angle, comedic situations appears. A prime example of this is Jared and Matthew’s film The Fake.
The short comedy, The Fake, screened at our 2016 festival which featured a tight-fisted empty-nester who sets out to get himself a fake ID in order to snag the senior discount. When you think of fake IDs, the common image that comes to mind is of teenagers who are trying increase their age with fake IDs to buy alcohol and gain access to bars. The Fake turns this notion upside down but addressing the opposite end of the age spectrum; there is another market for fake IDs, rarely addressed, that is someone trying to increase their age to receive the senior discount. This change in perspective leads to a hilarious short film that is sure to leave a lasting impression.
Please join us in extending a warm welcome to our May Filmmaker’s of the Month, Jared Hillman and Matthew Helfgott!
Tell us your backstory. How and why did you get into filmmaking?
We grew up on opposite sides of the country, each inspired to pick up our families’ camcorders at a young age and tell stories. When it came time to choose a direction for college, we both decided to attend USC film school as undergrads, and that’s where we met almost immediately. In our junior year, students were required to partner up for intermediate projects, and the two of us agreed we’d make a good team. We had similar sensibilities: both of us liked lighter fare, movies that make you smile. And we’ve been collaborating ever since.
After film school, we began by writing together. At the same time, Matt pursued commercial directing and Jared shifted his focus to acting. Then, we regrouped to produce independent commercials for smaller brands, from concept through completion. Once we had success with that, we circled back to our first love: narrative films. At that point, we simply committed to making the thesis film we never got to make as students. And we were off and running.
What’s harder? Getting started or being able to keep going? And what drives you to continue making films?
Getting started is harder on a project by project basis. For each project, you need a strong script, and we are always analyzing and rethinking our stories before we move forward. We’ve seen too many films that feel like the same old thing, or that feel rushed into production without fully leavening in the oven. You then also need money, and in our experience that has meant committing our own personal funds. So, giving ourselves the green light is something we weigh heavily. However, once we decide and start producing, it’s a non-stop moving train, and we’re just trying to get everyone on it with all the right luggage. It’s hard not to keep going.
Career-wise, though, perhaps it’s the opposite. It’s harder to keep going. We’ve made short films and commercials, and we’ve written features. Taking the next steps to get to bigger projects— the next level, as they say — is a very daunting task. Getting people to see your films, or better still, help you make more films (by funding one, for example, or hiring us) are competitive challenges. It takes a lot of determination not to get discouraged. The feeling of having our films received by an audience, thus completing the artistic circuit, is more than enough to make it all worthwhile.
How do you know when your story’s finished, when to walk away?
On self-started projects like our short films, it’s very easy to continue editing forever. Our original edit feels done when the whole story is told A to Z, pretty simple. But then it’s a matter of cutting things out, setting the best pace we can, reworking the comic timing, questioning jokes we thought were hilarious while writing, etc. This is the part that can go on forever, especially when there’s no oversight from a studio… but it’s also the part that can really sculpt and polish up a film. One of the many benefits of film festivals is that their submission dates provide deadlines for us. We simply have to call it complete and send it off into the world, like sending a child off to college whether we’re ready or not. We feel like parents of three kids. That said, we made one film that currently runs about eight and a half minutes, but it played at its first half a dozen festivals (and won an award) when it clocked in at twelve minutes. We feel it is better now. I guess in the college analogy that’s like the kid going for a semester, and then coming back to live at home, maybe backpack through Europe a little, find herself, and then return to school. Yeah, that sounds about right.
How many films have you completed? What is your favorite project you have worked on and why?
Together we’ve made three narrative short films. Each has a very special meaning to us, with highlights (and traumas) associated with it. Our first film, Tandem, was an exercise in ambition. We found collaborators from the skydiving community who showed us into that world and helped us make the film happen logistically. This included Greg Gasson, a competitive skydiver-turned-aerial cinematographer with his own 35mm camera rig on his helmet. We frequently look at each other to this day and say about that film, “Can you believe we did that?!” Our next film was the total opposite, a quiet character study called The Listing Agent. One highlight we look back on was finding an office location donated to us by a complete stranger. Same thing happened on The Fake. They just supported our story and trusted us. To this day we’re not entirely sure why, but we’re so grateful they did.
Can you describe the business behind independent filmmaking and how you are trying to get your film seen? What are the hurdles you have had to overcome in order to recoup the costs of producing the film? (really a combo of 11 and 12. Maybe more 11… )
We went into making our narrative short films with no intention of earning our money back directly, let alone turning a profit. Our first film, Tandem, a self-financed buddy comedy set in the world of skydiving, was merely to be a stepping stone: part portfolio piece, part self-challenge. Could we actually make a real film? But, we’ll admit, we hoped it would also be the elusive calling card that most film school grads strive for, the kind that earns a standing ovation at Sundance and spurs Spielberg to request a sit-down that begins with, “So which of our films would you like to direct first?” It wasn’t. Not even close. But, along the festival trail, we were approached about possible distribution of the film. We didn’t know that option existed for shorts. It was intriguing, but the deal didn’t feel right. We were being asked to pay an upfront retainer fee for distribution services without any guarantee the film would go anywhere, and we didn’t know if that were industry standard or not. So, Matt did some research and found some experts who might offer advice. One such expert requested to see the film, and has now been our sales rep on all three films to date. Much to our pleasant surprise, our shorts have been licensed by outlets like Canal+ in France, AMC Networks in the US, and on international Virgin Atlantic flights. We never recouped our investment in Tandem directly, but we made some money towards our next film, and — as we’d hoped — the films comprise our growing portfolio, which is paying off in the long run.
What are the next project or projects you are beginning work on?
Having had great experiences making our short films, we are of course interested in embarking on a feature. We have a few projects in our pocket that might be it: a teen sports comedy, a feel-good family drama with adorable animals, and a historical satire set after the Industrial Revolution (in collaboration with the screenwriter of our BFF ’16 entry, The Fake). In the meantime, we’re always exploring what our next short film might be, as well. Additionally, Jared co-created and directs the AwesomenessTV series Teen Survival Guide, while Matt provides Silicon Valley with high-end brand films.