By Elizabeth Gracen:
As a filmmaker who has participated in the film festival circuit over the years, it was refreshing to see two of my friends and collaborators launch a newly conceived festival that features short films, a medium I hold dear. The Picture's Up! Film Festival, produced and created by filmmakers Griffin and Alyssa Devine, gives filmmakers from all over the world the opportunity to see their hard work projected on the big screen, provides a series of panels and lectures from Hollywood professionals, and offers a chance to meet a community of fellow filmmakers and as well as professionals in person to talk about the business of making films.
Like most endeavors launched in 2020, the festival was postponed due to COVID, but I recently got the chance to attend the reboot launch in July 2021 at the historical Marilyn Monroe theatre in Hollywood. Griffin and Alyssa hosted a stellar event with many filmmakers in attendance. I recently reached out to Griffin and Alyssa to talk about the Picture's Up! Film Festival's upcoming season and the opening of submissions for this excellent film festival.
Meet Griffin and Alyssa Devine!
EG: Griffin and Alyssa, it was terrific to see you both in person at the Picture’s Up! Film Festival in Hollywood. Not only was it exciting to actually attend a public event, it was great to see all the hard work you two have done to bring the festival to life in such a classy, organized, effective way. Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself and why you started the PUFF?
G: Absolutely, and thanks for coming! The simplest answer for why we started PUFF was that we are filmmakers ourselves, and we wanted to create the festival that we’d always wanted to go to. We played the festival circuit for many years, and while some festivals are amazing, many left us with kind of a bitter taste in our mouths. We were creating shorts because we wanted to advance in our careers, but the festivals weren’t actually helping in any tangible way. So we asked ourselves what we would have really wanted from a festival that we were a part of and the answer was exposure to people that mattered, a fun screening environment, networking opportunities, and useful prizes. So that was the blueprint for what we set out to make. And whenever we’ve found ourselves at a crossroads, we’ve just asked ourselves what the filmmakers in us would want and tried not to deviate from that path.
A: Thank you! I'm glad it felt classy considering at times it felt like we were running a one-man show! I think the reason we wanted to start up a festival of our own was really pretty simple. We got our start in shorts and have a huge affinity for them, and beyond that we recognize the love, care, and money that goes into them. They are a big part of getting your feet under you as a filmmaker and finding your voice. And we felt like at the point we're at in our careers now, we feel confident in helping to develop new voices and have the resources of a network of professionals that would be interested in helping out as well. So it was really about bringing all of our resources together to see who can help who. Even the theater we hold the festival at—the Marilyn Monroe Theatre at the Lee Strasberg Institute—is a longtime friend of ours, so it was a no-brainer to hold the festival there.
EG: Aside from getting the opportunity to get a movie screened for all the world to see, one of the most valuable aspects of PUFF is the access that you give filmmakers to industry professionals. Only one of the festivals that my short films screened at over the years offered that type of service. It is so important to understand how that side of the business operates. Please tell our readers a bit about what PUFF offers and why?
G: Exactly right. I love short films as a medium. Love making them, love watching them, but there isn’t a viable market to make money off of them right now. So, if you’re going to put in the time, effort, and money to make one, the goal is obviously to have it lead to a paying gig of some sort. We’ve been working in LA for 10 years, so we have a large network of producers, reps, executives, and creatives that we knew would be willing not just to share their time by watching these films but would also be willing to try to help out a filmmaker whose work they liked.
A: Understanding the business side of things is so crucial if you want to turn filmmaking into a viable career. That's a big part of PUFF and why we encourage all of our judges to attend at least one screening and afterparty. It's important to build a network, and we want to give our filmmakers an opportunity to do that by exposing them to people who can help them. It's also why we offer Panels during our festival, where our judges appear in person for a discussion on a range of topics. This year, we had a panel about Getting Representation, Indie Movie Making, and a panel on how COVID has affected the entertainment industry and its lasting changes. That, funnily enough, had to be postponed due to COVID!!!!!
EG: I was aware that COVID had impacted your plans more than once in the launch of the festival. How have you managed to navigate the complexities of our “new normal” in a world where in-person events are complicated to organize?
G: That’s been the toughest aspect so far, unfortunately. We launched the festival in 2019 with festival dates for April 2020. Obviously, we were unable to throw the event on those dates. We had the option to either push the event or do a virtual event. So we went to our filmmakers and asked, "What do you guys want?" The response was overwhelming. They wanted an in-person event, so we pushed a year and used that time in between to add more great judges and build out our calendar of events to add panels.
As the Delta variant has spiked again, we find ourselves looking at our 2021 lineup, which is set to screen October 22 –24th, and trying to figure out the best way to deliver the festival we promised to our filmmakers while keeping safety as a top priority. So as of now, we’re planning to have all of our parties and networking events outdoors. Just trying to roll with the punches until this nightmare ends.
A: Our very first festival was supposed to be held the first weekend of April 2020. It's really wild to think back to around March of that year when we were going full-steam ahead to prep the festival and then the first Quarantine shut everything down. We weren't sure if it was going to be a couple weeks, a couple months, . . . I don't think anyone expected it to be this long. Also around that time, COVID was so new we weren't sure if it was even necessary to shut down our event but erred on the side of caution, which was thankfully the right choice. We just told our filmmakers to kind of hold for now and we would get back to them when things got clearer. At a certain point we thought about doing the festival in July 2020, thinking things might be back to normal by then, but that date came and went, and I think at that point we knew this was a much bigger deal than anything we've ever experienced in our lifetimes. A lot of festivals switched to virtual, but again, having been to plenty of festivals before, it's really about community. I can't imagine having your film premiere on what is essentially YouTube or something similar and not getting the experience of watching your film with a crowd or meeting the other filmmakers. So we immediately ruled that out. Also, it was our first year, and we wanted to set the tone with this festival and just couldn't see that happening virtually.
Our eventual response was to open submissions for 2021 and throw a mega festival in July 2021, which we eventually did get the chance to do, although we did have to postpone screening the 2021 films until October of this year because of the Delta variant. The biggest thing with any live event is just staying flexible and taking problems as they come but also not avoiding problems and trying to force things through when they aren't working. When the Delta variant hit, for example, we didn't want to have to postpone that second weekend of screenings, but we do want to make sure our filmmakers can have a completely safe, carefree experience with us and that everyone feels comfortable socializing.
EG: With the ever-changing entertainment business environment, do you think the film festival circuit will continue to be the primary avenue for indie filmmakers to get their work screened and recognized? The rise of online festivals over the years seems to be ever-growing—even before COVID hit—but the experience of sitting in a theatre to screen a film is unique and so satisfying; there’s nothing quite like it. Do you foresee a future where an alternative model will present itself?
G: I think film festivals are going to be even more important going forward. With the rise of streaming, that might be the ONLY place filmmakers get to see their films in a theater with a live audience. I don’t begrudge any festival that decides to go virtual; being on the business side of it, I can certainly understand why you’d make that decision. But for us, our mandate is to prioritize the filmmaker experience and we don’t see any way in which a virtual festival is better for the filmmakers.
That being said, I do think we’ll try to incorporate some aspects of virtual festivals going forward. Whether that’s streaming the film blocks after they’ve premiered or utilizing Zoom so we can bring in panelists from all over the world, we’re open to anything that enhances the experience. But nothing beats being in the theater.
A: There's nothing like seeing a movie on the big screen, and there's nothing more exciting than when you've spent weeks, months, or years creating that movie.
Online festivals are definitely out there, and I'm not saying they aren't helpful, but they can't replace the sense of community you get at a live, in-person festival. We've met so many great friends and future collaborators from our experiences at festivals. The only thing I might say is something like TikTok—super, super short films going viral on there—which we have seen mainly with comedians getting their start that way; I could see someone figuring out how to harness that to publicize their shorts more easily, breaking them up into pieces or something.
EG: As creatives, you have both been involved in many sides of film production. Is there any advice you can give to burgeoning filmmakers? Where should they start? What should they anticipate that they might not have thought of before they take the leap into film production?
G: The best advice I can give is just make stuff. Write something, figure out how much money you can realistically spend to make it, and figure out a way to make it for that much money. It’s impossible to make a great film on your own; build out your community and find people you like to work with. There’s so many filmmakers just like yourself, and the more we support each other, the better we all get. Also, two quick things I wish I’d learned sooner: learn to take notes—doesn’t mean you have to address all of them, but a filmmaker who gets defensive about notes stops getting honest feedback. Also, learn to cut (either from your script or from your film). I don’t think I’ve seen any short over 20 minutes that couldn’t be at least 5 minutes shorter.
A: They should start by watching films. Figuring out what films they like and why they like them to get a good sense of what's important to them and the films they want to create. It's a good way to hone your voice. A lot of people say just pick up your iPhone and start shooting, which I think is easier said than done, because filmmaking is such a collaborative art. It is truly necessary to have a team you trust behind you. If you look at any great director (Scorsese, Tarantino), you'll see a thruline there. They have found teams they trust and kept them around. For a younger filmmaker, even on a short, that's so important. I would say don't try to do everything yourself. You'll get burnt out, and you never know who might have a great idea you haven't considered that will totally make the film come together. And I'd probably tell them to do twice as much prep as they think necessary.
EG: What have you learned from creating PUFF? What have the films and filmmakers who have been selected for the festival taught you about yourself and the art of filmmaking?
G: I’ve learned that there are so many amazing voices out there. We’ve received hundreds and hundreds of truly unique and interesting films. I really want to try and elevate those voices, because I know first hand how hard it is to break into this industry.
I’ve also learned how far technology has come since I left film school. Everything’s getting smaller and cheaper. The only limits are your creativity, and if our submissions are any indication, this generation of filmmakers is certainly not lacking in that department!
A: I've learned there's a lot more technical work that goes into it than you think! When you start realizing that you're going to have to take a bunch of different aspect ratio screeners, put them together in a film block, and have them run smoothly during the screening, it's daunting! Thankfully, Griffin's editing experience taught him all about that stuff, so I mostly got to stay out of it, but I am endlessly grateful to him for that. After the festival, I found myself newly inspired. The atmosphere and the excitement that all of these filmmakers, most of them younger, had for their films and the industry in general was so energizing and reminded me of why I got into this business in the first place. Also, it just taught me a lot about short films. For the first year, we watched every single submission that came in, so I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on what makes a "good" short now. It's under 10 minutes, it has a clear point of view and a contained story. I'm not so into "proof of concept" shorts that feature a random scene from a feature, but those are usually visually amazing, and we do accept them. I always love seeing what students do because I find them to be the bravest storytellers, not beaten down by the industry yet and willing to take big risks, which is something I wish we saw more of on screen.
PUFF’s 2021 Lineup screens at The Marilyn Monroe Theatre in West Hollywood
October 22, 23, and 24th
Submissions for the 2022 Lineup are open now.