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How To Make the Jump from a Short to a Sundance Film Festival Feature

How To Make the Jump from a Short to a Sundance Film Festival Feature

We’re a team composed of three writer-directors and we’ve been lucky enough to have our first feature film, “Turbo Kid” have its world premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. We’ve been writing and directing short films together for over 10 years. In that time, we’ve made over 20 shorts which were shown in festivals across the world. To put it simply, when most of our friends saved up to go on vacation, we took vacations from our regular jobs to make our films.

Since the very beginning, we’ve been pushing our limits on each new project, improving our style and technique each time. Starting from guerrilla style shoots, we moved on to bigger scale productions with professional actors and crew. We believe that starting with short films is a good way to prepare yourself for shooting a feature. It’s better to make your mistakes (and learn from them) on smaller-scale projects. And trust us, you can never be too prepared!

Among our short films, the first one that got an audience to follow our work is “Le Bagman” (2004). Our main goal was to show the film in our hometown in Montreal and hope that people would be blown away. It grabbed everyone’s attention and ended up playing at festivals around the world.

“Total Fury” (2007) was a big step-up in terms of artistic direction and technique (there really were none with “Le Bagman”) and it won many awards in festivals as far as Sweden and Germany. Again, we had no idea it would go that far. We feel that our “world” jelled together and we came into our own craft with “Demonitron (2010), especially in terms of J-P Bernier’s DP work and his music, being half of “Le Matos” (which has been producing our soundtracks since “Ninja Eliminator 1”). We made “T is for Turbo” (2011) for “The ABC’s of Death” short film contest and it compiled the highest number of votes from the audience. It didn’t make its way into the anthology, but one of “The ABC’s” producers, Ant Timpson, liked what we did and offered to help us develop the idea into a feature. Here’s what we learned through the process:

READ MORE: Questions to Ask Before Making a Short Film

Entering an unknown territory

Making a feature film is obviously very different from making a short starting with the script. The very first thing we focused on while writing “Turbo Kid” was that we needed to develop a storyline and characters that would engage an audience throughout a feature. We needed to find the heart of the story, which was the most important element to us. We know how to do gore, but we wanted to develop a good story and characters we cared about. We had to work with a different structure, rhythm and pacing than what we were used to on our shorts.

When making a short film, there are no deadlines and it’s possible to self-finance. Our biggest budget for a short was $4,000 for “T is or Turbo,” which came from our pockets, favors from our friends and sponsors. Going into a feature film required a real budget. The financing process was naturally a longer one and it required preparation. You have to be ready to present your vision and pitch it to investors, distributors, sales agents and producer’s reps.

Entering a known territory

Basically, preparing, shooting and doing the post on a feature is the equivalent of a big, epic short film. You feel like you’re going to war! So you need to be pumped and to get your team pumped as well.

Since two of us had a background in traditional animation, we’ve been storyboarding our short films since the very first. It allows us to get on the same page about details early-on in the process and helps the crew with lists, breakdowns and details. So that part of the process was the same, though much longer. Luckily, we had the help of a a comic book artist to storyboard the entire movie within our timeframe. It’s an important part of making a short and a major one when making a feature.

Overcoming the obstacles

The main difficulties came with the relatively small budget both during production and post-production, and with the weather since we were filming during the harshest spring in years in Montreal.

We quickly realized that many things were not going to go as planned on set. The best way to find solutions on the spot is to have everything planned-out in advance. We cannot stress this enough. Because we know our project so well, we were able to make changes to the script and the storyboard on the fly. Also, our experience with low budget short films forced us to become creative and resourceful which helped big-time. Turning a problem around to make your day on set relies heavily on preparation and creativity. Then you have to believe in yourself and be confident in your decisions.

Keeping the spirit

It’s important for us to have the mindset where you believe that you’re making the best movie of all time. It’s also very important that the mood on set is positive, that the spirit of the team is always up, that everyone has a good time and feels that their work is appreciated. We’ve always worked like this on our short films, the cast and crew need to care for the project, be happy to come to set every day and give their best, knowing we’re one big family.

Never give up

It took us ten years of making short films before we got to do our first feature. But looking back, it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long, because we were doing what we wanted to do. So if you’re a short filmmaker and have the ultimate goal of getting your feature done, you just have to work hard and never give up. Be prepared, be creative, be confident and HAVE FUN!

The RKSS, short for Road Kill Super Stars, is a collective of three filmmakers: Anouk Whissell, François Simard and Yoann-Karl Whissell. They co-write and co-direct all their films – over 20 shorts in the last ten years, many winning awards at various international festivals. The RKSS wrote and directed the short film “T is for Turbo.” Inspired by the characters of the short film, “Turbo Kid” is their first feature film. It had its world premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival earlier this week.

READ MORE: 10 Tips on Turning Your Short Into a Feature

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