Behind the Scenes: Meet the creators of Five Windows, the winning student film
In October, we announced the AT&T Entertainment Project, an open competition seeking imaginative, undiscovered short films from aspiring professional and student filmmakers. Filmmakers are vying 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. We’ve narrowed down to the finalists and will fly them to Las Vegas to show their short films at the 2017 AT&T Developer Summit. Join us in congratulating the creators of Five Windows, who won for their student film entry. They won $10,000 and a meeting with the AUDIENCE network.
Five Windows is a deceptive short film intended to put the convention of “narration” on trial. Enter the mind of an eccentric assassin as he leads his respected enemy down a trail of deception and illusion. It soon becomes clear however that his rival is not the only one being deceived. The psychological thriller experiments with the relationship between sight and sound, and the idea that our perceptions are unreliable.
The filmmakers set out to not only create something unique, but also to create something that questions reality through the lens of an unconventional film experience. We caught up with Daniel Cooper, Co-Writer, Co-Director, and Film Editor of Five Windows, to learn more about the film and the overall experience.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for your short film?
A: In High School, I played Harry Houdini in Ragtime and found him very inspiring. That’s sort of where it emerged from. We wanted to make a film that felt like a magic trick. So, we came up with this idea for a haughty assassin who thinks of himself as an artist, and applies the techniques of magic tricks to his “work.”
Q: Tell us a little bit about your team and how you worked together to create your entry:
A: We were lucky to have an amazing crew comprised of friends from high school and from the Motion Picture Institute of Michigan, where the film was shot. Our producer, Harper Shecter, attended the Motion Picture Institute of Michigan. Our Director of Photography, Jonathan D’ambrosio, was somewhat of an old rival in the local, high school film festival circuit back in the day. We joined forces and really built well off each other’s creativity. We were extremely lucky to stumble upon a casting website and find our actor, Jonathan West. He was so great to work with on the project and we’ve worked with him multiple times since. William Tokarsky, our other actor, was somewhat of an Internet sensation after starring in Adult Swim’s “Too Many Cooks.” We loved him in that, reached out to him, and to our utter disbelief, he responded within seconds saying, “I’m in, just gotta check with the wife.” He is as much of a character off screen as he is on, and such a riot to work with. We could not have pulled this off without our amazing team.
Daniel Cooper, Writer/Director/Editor, New York, NY
Adam Cooper, Writer/Director, Chicago, IL
Harper Shecter, Producer, Detroit, MI
Jonathan D’ambrosio, Director of Photography, Los Angeles, CA
William Tokarsky, Lead Actor, Atlanta, GA
Jonathan West, Lead Actor, New York, NY
Q: What do you find most interesting about making short films?
A: I feel like with short films you have more creative license to experiment. There is a little less risk involved than with feature films. I also love the challenge of having to get a message across in the shortest amount of time possible. You can focus a lot more energy on every little detail, which we, as perfectionists, fully exploit. We want our shorts to offer high-replay value.
Q: What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
A: We decided that we didn’t want to shoot in an actual hotel room, as we would have more freedom and control in a studio. The problem with a studio, however, is that the view outside your set window wall is a craft table and lighting equipment. Using a green screen would have drastically restricted our camera’s freedom, which we try to avoid at all costs. (Another piece of advice: Try to do everything practically. “Fixing it in post” should be a last resort.) Instead of using green screen, we used rear projection on a screen outside the fly window to display stills of a New York cityscape right on set. It actually looked very strange in real life, but translated beautifully on camera. I don’t think anyone can tell the difference.
Q: Is this the first time you’ve entered your work in a contest?
A: We have had films win a couple of film festivals in the past, but never a contest as great as this one!
Q: How did you first get interested in filmmaking?
A: My twin brother, Adam, and I have been making films since we were little. I think it was the idea that with film you can literally bring to life anything you could possibly imagine. It’s crazy how this thing exists that allows you to show other people, visually and aurally, what’s going on inside your imagination. It’s almost like magic. 😉
Q: What does the AT&T Developer Program, and contests like it, mean to you?
A: The AT&T Developer Program, in facilitating a contest like this, is a source of motivation for aspiring filmmakers everywhere. Speaking as a young and aspiring filmmaker, it means that there is genuine support for this crazy, ill-advised path we are choosing, over becoming lawyers, doctors, or other things with a bit more security.
Q: Who have been your biggest influences in the film industry (directors, writers, teachers, etc.) and what have you learned from them?
A: We can’t answer this question without discussing our inspiring, high school video/drama teacher, Micah Greene. He passed away earlier this year, and was one of our biggest influencers early on. He helped out on all of our sets, including this one, and would always insist that every film we make should have a profound message and meaning. “We need that,” he’d say. I believe we’ve done that, or at least we’ve tried to.
Our other high school video teacher, Kevin Walsh, continues to support us and we are very lucky to have him. Our creative influences include Christopher Nolan, Charlie Kaufman, Martin Scorsese, and David Fincher, to name a few.
Q: What advice do you have for new filmmakers just getting started in the field?
A: Be different. There are a lot of us filmmakers running around and the only way to stand out is by realizing what makes you unique and injecting that into your work. Find what makes you unique and strive for originality in every creative decision you make.
Q: What is the filmmaking background of all the team members?
A: Here’s a rundown of the crew:
- Adam (Writer/Director) and I (Writer/Director) have written and directed five short films to date, and are currently developing a feature. We both went to film school. Adam went to Columbia College Chicago and I just graduated from New York University.
- Harper Shecter (Producer) is a Detroit-based producer with many award-winning films under her belt. She graduated from the Motion Picture Institute a few years ago.
- Jonathan D’ambrosio (Director of Photography) is a versed writer, director, cinematographer, and actor, with a long list of impressive work on short films and feature films. He is based in Los Angeles.
- William Tokarsky (Actor) is an Atlanta-based actor who has appeared in multiple TV shows, and is a regular on the Adult Swim series “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell.”
- Jonathan West (Actor) is a New York-based theatre and film actor who has appeared in numerous short and feature films.
Q: What video technologies do you see shaping the future of film and content creation?
A: Right now the thing everyone seems to be buzzing about is virtual reality. I think it’s revolutionary and has so many implications that we can’t yet even begin to imagine. I’m excited to see where it goes and hope to have a part in it.
Q: What are your future plans for Five Windows?
A: We just want to see it enjoyed by as many people as possible! We also intend on using it as a “proof of capability” to help us get a feature made.
Q: What will you do with the prize money?
A: Use it for the next one! We hope to invest it in the development of our first feature film, which we are almost finished writing.
AT&T Official Selection – Five Windows
Watch all the films and interviews with the filmmakers here.