Questions For. . . Flashover Co-director Sean O’Connor
While big-budget Hollywood flicks may get all the headlines in the gossip pages, local filmmakers are also thriving in our movie-friendly city. Only a couple of months after local boys Eric Poydar and Brett Portanova showed their first film at the Independent Film Festival Boston, a group of young moviemakers will debut their faux-documentary Flashover at the Boston International Film Festival.
We talked to Flashover co-director Sean O’Connor about viral marketing, the difficulties of the genre, and why it’s terrifying to collaborate with someone you met on Craigslist.
BD: Congratulations on getting Flashover into the Boston International Film Festival. How hard was it to get in there?
Sean O’Connor: It was pretty stressful. We submitted to about five other festivals, and we had some pretty high hopes—Sundance, TriBeca—then we kind of realized that to show at those massive film festivals you need a lot of insider connections, so we tried Boston. It was a long patient waiting period, and it was great to get into a festival that is established and has some recognition.
BD: Did you have any connections here that helped you get into Boston?
SO: We’ve been working in film all around Boston and a lot of independent filmmakers know a lot of other independent filmmakers so the director may have heard of our film when it was being made. [BIFF Founder/Director] Patrick Jerome has made about 62 films around the Boston area. While I don’t know him on a personal level, we pointed out that the film was made in Boston, a lot of the actors are local, it was actually shot around the festival office, so that kind of gave us some pull.
BD: Can you give us a quick rundown of the plot?
SO: A girl named April Deacon has a father who was wrongfully committed of arson. He’s been in jail for two years, but the case has just been overturned because new science as to how arsons start came out and it frees her dad. She decides to put an ad on craigslist to find filmmakers who can document his return home and his readjustment to society. When the filmmakers interview her father, we start to get a little suspicious and catch him in a lie, so we start filming ourselves as we decide whether he’s guilty or not.
BD: Why choose to set the film in Massachusetts?
SO: We’re all from Massachusetts. I was raised in Plainville, my co-director [Paul Medico] was raised in South Boston, and the producer [Amanda McGrady] goes to Emerson. It was pretty much the three of us who made this thing for the first couple months. We all kind of found each other on craigslist.
BD: Like in the movie?
SO: Exactly. That was inspired by how we met each other. I put an ad on craigslist with the aspiration of writing a short film in November of 2006. And I met the co-director on there and we just emailed back and forth for months, building on the concept of this movie, and in 2007 it started to materialize.
BD: Was it scary to bandy ideas around with somebody you met online?
SO: Yeah, it was completely scary. When the story was gaining some substance, a couple of days would go by and I wouldn’t hear back and I’d think ‘OK, that’s it. He took the concept and ran with it.’ So, yeah, there was a huge trust factor.
BD: Was it hard for you to act and direct at the same time?
SO: Yeah, it was very hard. I thought I could naturally get in there and act, but it was certainly a challenge because you don’t realize how hard it is to act until you get into it. But it was helpful having a co-director too. We could delegate different activities to each other.
BD: Your co-director says that a mockumentary is one of the hardest genres in filmmaking. Was that your experience too?
SO: I agree with that, absolutely.
BD: To me, it seems like any other script. How is it different?
SO: When you do a fictional film, the number one priority is to make it believable and to make the audience want to take that ride with you. When you make a mockumentary, that escalates because you need to make people ask ‘wait a minute, is this real, or is this fiction?’
If it’s done poorly, people will think it’s a joke. It’s hard playing with the line and reality. And mockumentary acting is, for the most part, very improvised, so that’s always a challenge. You do a lot of takes, then when you get into the editing booth and you have beautiful takes and the dialogue doesn’t line up. You can’t just splice and use different shots for the same scene.
SO: There have been some people, especially after we launched a viral campaign on YouTube. Our YouTube response has been great, so it’s been viable for some people for sure.
BD: Do you think those people will be mad when they realize it’s a film, or will they roll with it?
SO: Well, they could be upset, but I think that they might say ‘Wow, that’s a really cool concept’ and they might be entertained. Like what happened with the Blair Witch Project. A lot of people thought it was real, but when the cats came out of the bag, they enjoyed it for the concept.
BD: What are you hoping happens with the film at the festival?
SO: I’m just hoping people enjoy it and want to see it again. Or at least they are entertained for half an hour. You know when people walk out of the theater and say ‘Oh, that movie sucked’ or ‘Oh, that movie was great’? I hope there’s more positive comments than negative comments.
BD: Will you be standing by the doors to take a tally?
SO: Not at all. I don’t want to hear it. If there are negative comments, it’ll just let me know I have to try harder on the next one.
Flashover premieres as part of the Boston International Film Festival at the AMC Boston Common on June 13 at 6 p.m.