How To Win Local Film Festivals

Winning awards is nothing new to us. In 2015, we won a national award for the ‘DJ Douggpound & Sick Animation 15 Second Promo Contest’ with a slick, original, never before seen comedy advertisement to promote their album. We also had some of our original comedy content go viral with a Twitter share by Comedy Central which was followed up with retweets by several super important celebrities, radio personalities, and other elite, blue check verified people that matter more than regular people. Then, in 2016, we won the Audience Favorite Award at the Jacksonville Short Film Showcase by an apparent landslide (according to the event organizer) with our submission, Jessie Higgins & His Inner Demon. People actually claimed that we “vote stacked” by inviting our “friends” to vote, but the truth is, nobody involved with the film even attended the whole screening, so we couldn’t vote and also, we have no “friends.” After 3 years of mild success, it’s fair to say that we have the Tiger Blood running through our veins and we are totally humble about it.

After our win in 2016, we were informed that another local filmmaker was going to be organizing an all comedy film festival in 2017. Part of the rules included a production date limitation that disqualified Jessie Higgins & His Inner Demon from being entered, so we decided to move forward with creating our next short film. Around the time of finding out, we had just wrapped on The Goodnight Show with Robby Carson, our attempt at creating a talk show with a single camera inside an office space. Entering into the holidays, we were unsure of the future of Upside Down Creative Media and tooled around with the idea of creating a new ‘comedy brand’ to help separate us from our corporate sounding name. So many times over the last 4 years, we have tried getting involved in local events or having our films screened at comedy shows, just to get met with resistance because we appear to be a company. That’s when we developed Laugh Mountain Comedy and under that name, we have only produced one sketch to date.

The later part of 2016 and the first couple of months of 2017 were complete unproductive. We were both in transitions, starting new jobs, and dealing with our own personal problems. Producing came to a halt and aside from both applying to Above Average in hopes of landing a residency there, making infrequent updates to the website, and editing a few smaller videos, we weren’t really coming up with much material.

That was until one day in April where Rob and I sat in his apartment, talking back and forth as I wrote the script for what eventually became Real Reality: Life Inside The Discomfort Zone.

I remember that day so clearly because up to that point, I had doubt that we would be able to pull anything out of our ass to get into the festival before the deadline. We were in such a dead-spot creatively before this and then, all of a sudden, we were back. I remember laughing our asses off the whole day, just writing and hashing ideas back and forth.

Only two days after finalizing the script, before we had even cast the 4 supporting characters, we started shooting the main dialogue scenes that would eventually narrate the majority of the story. I grabbed my barely functioning, 6 year old Canon T3i/50mm F/1.4 lens, a loaned Canon Vixia camcorder, my rusty Ravelli tripod, my 8 year old MXL condenser mic/mic stand, my 5 year old Tascam portable audio recorder, and my script. My T3i is only functioning because I stuck a toothpick into the memory door sensor back in 2015 to keep it working. I used no 4k, no Sony A7s. no Black Magic, no RAW, no studio lighting, and no help on production. I shot what was to become Real Reality: Life Inside The Discomfort Zone with shoddy equipment.

First day of shooting. #realreality

A post shared by Marshall Malone (@themarshallmalone) on

Living the VR life. #realreality

A post shared by Marshall Malone (@themarshallmalone) on

I eventually found the guy I wanted to play the roommate. He wasn’t an actor, but he had expressed interest in trying it out, plus he had the perfect look and personality to play this character. Only a few days before we were scheduled to shoot, he canceled and I had to seek out another actor to fill this role. I had scheduled out the shoots each weekend before the submission to give us room to edit it without rushing and I didn’t want to cancel this shoot day. After searching around, I found Jaron Wallace and he stepped up to the plate to play the roommate.

The day of shooting, Rob called me and expressed that he wasn’t really in the mood to have people over, so I had to turn around and cancel on Jaron as I was on my way to the shoot location. Since it was an hour drive to the location and I was halfway there, I decided to stop by just to see what was going on. After hanging out a bit, Jeremy Smith showed up and we got to talking. Eventually, Rob changed his mind and the next thing you know, we were all shooting that scene. They both had not read the script, but somehow, we made it happen. Amidst all these changes, we successfully pulled off one of the hardest scenes to produce the entire time we worked on this.

A week later, we decided to get together to shoot the majority of the B-roll. I got to the shoot location a little bit early, so I waited in the car until the rest of the group showed up. Once they showed up, I got out of my car and shut the door, slowly realizing I had locked my keys in the car. All I remember was that one of the guys had AAA Roadside Assistance, but he was in too much of a hurry to get to his important meeting at Sonic (the fancy drive in restraunt), so I had to shell out $50 for Pop-A-Lock to come and tell me to stop eating so much salt and also let me back in my car.

That took a huge dent out of the day, so we only ended up devoting about 90 minutes to actual shoot time, due to losing daylight. In that 90 minutes, we got some extremely funny and unplanned scenes, like us coming across a broken kite and having Rob pretend to throw it up, as well as him falling into the dunes. The scenes were not really planned. We just improvised the entire 90 minutes.

Suspend your disbelief. #realreality 👀

A post shared by Marshall Malone (@themarshallmalone) on

At this point, we had all the confrontation scenes, a good majority of the B-roll, and the interview scenes filmed for Rob and the roommate, so all that was left were the small parts for the dating scene and the neighbor. Originally, when I wrote the script, these were supposed to have small roles, with very little speaking parts assigned to them at all. In fact, I had no speaking parts written for the neighbor scene, because the only thing I had on the storyboard was a small scene where Rob’s character and the neighbor have a scuffle.

I reached out to Jaron again, to see if he’d be interested in playing the role and he agreed to. He also brought on Pauleen Conde, who offered to step in to play the role of Hillary. This day of shooting was amazing and it reminded me of the times we had when we first started when all we had was an idea and a camera. All the scenes we shot with Jaron were literally on the spot. I had only envisioned a small struggle between them, but we all three collaborated to come up with some of the funniest scenes in the whole short film. Jaron improvised the line, “I pushed him!” All of the interviews with both Jaron and Pauleen were completely improvised. It was really the organic environment that I love to let happen when I’m directing. I truly believe you can create some of the funniest moments on film by just letting go of the actors a bit and not being too rigid. It’s a great thing and I don’t think this film would have been as good without that particular day.

We wrapped in June, with the exception of a pickup scene we shot late June after a suggestion that the ‘mean neighbor’ should have a payoff at the end and I spent the rest of the time editing it and performing ADR sessions where needed. I finished the edit before the deadline and got it to the show organizers. In July, Rob and I were asked to visit the Buzz TV studios to be interviewed. This is no surprise to us, because we have been interviewed by several local stations like MeeMee TV, never to see our interview ever. It was needless to say that we were ready for the bright lights of Buzz TV.

After all the press and attention, it was prime time for the actual event. August 6th finally rolled around and we couldn’t believe it. Rob couldn’t believe it so much that he forgot to purchase tickets to the event! I was under the weather and almost going to bail due to a major migraine. Still, we all managed to pile into the sold out event, find our seats and watch the night unfold.

From the start, I was surprised. In past local film festivals, it was a frequent trend for us to be the only comedy of the night. We had the impression that nobody in Jacksonville cared about comedy this much. But it was clear that Jacksonville came to play comedy hard ball. The whole night had me laughing. The event organizers put us in the end, so we had to sit through all the other submissions to see the crowd react to our film. The whole time leading up to our film kept filling my head with doubt. As I sat and watched our film that I had seen over a thousand times over during the editing phase, I wondered if the crowd would react how I intended them to.

As always, there was a mixed reaction. Some jokes fell flat and some got louder laughs than I had intended. The biggest surprise was the scene I stressed about for weeks: the roommate confrontation scene. I kept thinking to myself, “Nobody is going to get the joke because nobody remembers the show Undateable Live.” However, that joke got one of the biggest laughs of the night. The original intent was for people to scratch their head at disbelief that this character could care so much about a TV show, despite all the other bad stuff that happened in 2016 and it paid off. People got it!

Still, I wasn’t convinced. Not only was I intimidated by the amount of vocal support and applause some of the other films got, I also just envied a lot of the films of that night. I thought we might pull off a 3rd place victory at the most.

After the event, my head was killing me due to my pre-existing migraine, but I decided to walk over to Root Down where the after party and announcement was going to be made. Rob and his girlfriend decided to skip out to go eat down the street, thinking there was no way we would win. Soon after they left, the event organizers pulled the ballots and started making the announcements of the winners. We approached the stage and they started out with the third place winner. I thought that was our spot, so I sort of tuned out after that. The second place was called and it wasn’t us. I thought for sure that the first place spot would go to Cranberry & Lime, but as Jenn Weeks started calling it out, I looked at my girlfriend and said, “Holy shit. We won and I have no clue what I’m going to say.”

Rob is the face guy of our group. He’s the one comfortable in front of the camera. As much as I want people to enjoy the work we do, I equally hate being the center of attention. I reluctantly approached the stage, accepted the award, and just looked around like an idiot. Fortunately, Jaron was there to help out and relieve some of the pressure, because my knees were literally about to buckle underneath me. Remember that Tiger Blood I was talking about earlier? I was lying. I don’t really have Tiger Blood in my veins.

The real truth is: I’m not used to winning and the thought of being the center of attention for anything makes me sick to my stomach.

The entire time after hearing our film called out was a complete blur and I was stuck in my head saying, “I can’t believe we won.” To top it off, I couldn’t hear anyone and my migraine was getting the best of me. Still, I held a smile and tried my best to socialize.

We look thrilled to have just won a comedy film fest. #winning

A post shared by Marshall Malone (@themarshallmalone) on

You like us. You really like us! @loljaxfestival . . . . We won the inaugural LOL JAX Film Festival! We still can’t believe it!

A post shared by Upside Down Creative Media (@upsidedowncreativemedia) on

Once I got to my car, the migraine had progressed to the point of becoming ill. My girlfriend, proud of my win and totally turned on by manliness at this point, graciously rushed my winning ass home and I walked straight into the bathroom to vomit for about 10 minutes. Immediately after my final purge, I took this photograph.

My face immediately after vomiting.
This is the face of a winner.

So, take it from me Marshall Malone, an award winning, local film director. Winning is easy when you have Tiger Blood coursing through your veins.

2 Thoughts on “How We Won At The Inaugural LOL JAX Film Festival”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *