Behind the scenes: Meet the creators of Exes, the 2nd place Entertainment Project student film winner
In October, we announced the AT&T Entertainment Project, an open competition seeking imaginative, undiscovered short films from aspiring professional and student filmmakers. Filmmakers vied for a share of $43,000 in prizes, meetings with AT&T Entertainment executives, and their film to air on the AUDIENCE Network on DIRECTV. Meet Aden Wexberg, Writer and Director of Exes, who won $3,000 for coming in second place in the student category.
Exes, is a slice-of-relationship film that portrays how old wounds and hidden feeling holdup the production of a clickbait online relationship video. Wexberg wanted his characters to have real, specific histories and futures that exist outside the confines of the short drama and what we see is just a sliver of their lives unfolding.
“These things get millions of views for the same reason that we’re collectively drawn to shows like Jerry Springer or The Real World: we want to see “real” people’s raw emotions,” said Wexberg. “I felt like I had to tell a story about that inclination, and how it has evolved for the Internet.”
We caught up with Wexberg to learn more about his process, his influencers, and what video technologies he thinks will shape the future of the film industry.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your team and how you worked together to create your entry:
I wrote and directed this film as my undergraduate thesis project at the University of Texas at Austin. My principal collaborators – DP Nickolas Grisham and Producer Paige Smith – were enrolled in the thesis class with me. The rest of our crew was comprised of UT students pursuing careers in their respective departments, all volunteering their time and energy. The cast is made up of professional actors from the Austin scene.
Aden Wexberg, Writer/Director, Los Angeles, CA
Paige Smith, Producer, Austin, TX
Nickolas Grisham, Director of Photography (DP), Austin, TX
Matt Stryker, Assistant Director (AD), Austin, TX
Della Price, Production Designer, Austin, TX
Daniel Abramson, Editor, Austin, TX
Ross Mayfield, Production Sound Mixer, Austin, TX
Sarah Parrish, Sound Designer, Austin, TX
Rain Collectors, Soundtrack, Austin, TX
Q: What do you find most interesting about making short films?
A: I love working with actors on set. That’s my favorite thing to do. It’s interesting for me because that’s the time when you get to focus primarily on gathering the emotional beats that will need to work together to tell a cohesive, compelling story.
Q: What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
A: This shoot went unusually smoothly. I didn’t need a single pick-up shot for the final cut. The biggest challenge came when we lost a half-day of footage due to a data issue. Luckily, we were still in production when that happened, and our AD, Matt Stryker, was able to arrange our final day on set to accommodate the necessary reshoots. We pulled it off, within the normal 12-hour timeframe.
Q: Is this the first time you’ve entered your work in a contest?
A: Nope. It’s the first time I might make it to the medal stand, though.
Q: How did you first get interested in filmmaking?
A: I saw Jurassic Park during my childhood dinosaur phase. My obsession changed targets, from the subject of that film to its creators.
Q: What does the AT&T Developer Program and contests like this mean to you?
A: Any chance to screen your work in front of an audience is a blessing, especially for short-form work, which (given online distribution) rarely receives the attention of more than two eyeballs in a room at any given time. Group dynamics are unpredictable, and make the reception of a film unique to that audience, which is fun. Furthermore, the financial and networking opportunities that arise from contests like this allow me to continue working as a filmmaker, which is the real gift. Anything that gives me a chance to pursue the next job is better than whatever laurels might be draped on my last one.
Q: Who have been your biggest influencers in the film industry (directors, writers, teachers, etc.) and what have you learned from them?
A: Ang Lee has been my biggest indirect influence. All of his films focus on interpersonal dynamics that play out in unique ways depending on the surrounding circumstances. Regardless of setting, there’s always a human core to his movies, which is a kernel of storytelling wisdom that I cling to. My biggest direct influence was my acting teacher, Laurel Vouvray in Austin, TX. Laurel opened my eyes to the vibrancy that scene work can acquire as soon as the actors feel free enough to take real, personal, emotional risks with others (and a camera) watching.
Q: What advice do you have for new filmmakers just getting started in the field?
A: Surround yourself with people who can help you clarify and strengthen what you were trying to do in the first place.
Q: What is the filmmaking background of all the team members?
A: We’re all film school brats, largely from Texas. (Not me, I’m a Midwestern boy.)
Q: What video technologies do you see shaping the future of film and content creation?
A: Augmented Reality. The Black Mirror episode “Playtest” feels about an inch away from what’s actually coming.
Q: What are your future plans for your project?
A: Festival and contest submissions. I’m using it as a tool for networking and fundraising opportunities, in an effort to transition from a student to a professional filmmaking peer group.
Q: What do you hope to do with the prize money?
A: I’m not spending a dime of it until it’s time to make my first feature film. This prize money is going into that project’s budget, which I’m gunning to shoot in early 2018.
AT&T Official Selection – Exes
Watch all the films and interviews with the filmmakers here.