INTERVIEW WITH… JAY STERN FROM IRON MULE SHORT COMEDY FILM FESTIVAL
You’ll come to realise that we love sharing a good genre-led festival, because it pays off to know where there are specific screening opportunities to submit to. And we also love good comedy. So in case you didn’t know of Iron Mule Short Comedy Film Festival already (next deadline coming up October 6th), we want to be the ones to tell you all about it. We say ‘we’, we’ll let our interview with Jay Stern, one of the co-founders and programmers, tell you more…
Tell us a bit about your job, and what you do…
I am the co-cost, co-founder, and programmer of the Iron Mule short comedy film series. We’ve been screening short comedy films monthly since April, 2002. In our 12+ years we’ve presented more than 1,000 short films from around the world on the big screen.
We’re seeing more genre-led festivals, such as comedy and horror, happening. What do you think are the main differences between curating a genre-led festival to that of a non-genre specific one, if there are any to begin with?
We became a genre festival mainly by accident. My co-founder Victor Varnado and I wanted to be making and showing our own films and we happened to be working at a comedy theater. So we made it a short comedy film festival in order to get our theater to host it. The genre angle has helped focus our festival of course, but I was quickly impressed with how virtually any kind of film can fit into the short comedy genre (provided it’s funny of course). Tragedy, documentary, experimental, horror, fantasy, period films, political films, literary adaptations, animation – you can find them all in the world of short comedy films.
What do you wish filmmakers did more of?
There are a few things I wish our submitting filmmakers would do. I wish so many of them didn’t try so hard to be funny. If the premise or situation is funny then you don’t need funny music and over-the-top performances. We like films that concentrate on storytelling, share some sort of idea or point of view, or try to create a certain kind of experience. Interesting visuals help, but honestly production values only get you so far if there’s no story and the film isn’t funny. And keep it short: in general I’d say most of the films submitted to us are too long (including some ones we show).
We’ve heard from other comedy festivals that they get an influx of sketches as opposed to shorts. What’s the one piece of advice you’d five filmmakers to reiterate the difference?
As for your comment about sketches vs. shorts – YES. Taking some witty dialogue or something that works well on stage and filming it isn’t enough to make a good comedy short. It needs to demand to be told as a movie. We get fewer sketches these days thankfully, but we do get them occasionally, and it’s only rare that a sketch will work as a short on its own.
Describe Iron Mule Short Comedy Film Festival in one sentence…
The Iron Mule is an open and accessible festival that fosters and celebrates a community of filmmakers, comedians, and film fans.
On that note we really try to develop a community. We started the festival to create the kind of festival we’d ideally like get into. And we regularly produce films for the festival, teaming up different writers and directors and crew. Lots of collaborations have come out of our festival.
What’s your advice to someone who gets a rejection from a festival?
As a filmmaker I’ve been on both sides of festival rejection. I have been rejected hundreds of times. I can’t necessarily give advice to people submitting to other festivals, because I’m bewildered and saddened by how other festivals seem to work. If you’re rejected from our festival though, don’t get too upset, because comedy is highly subjective. And we’re a comedy festival so we often view comedies differently than other non-comedy festivals do. Your short might not be right for the Iron Mule, but it could kill at another festival. In any case, don’t give up. Keep making shorts. If you’re doing it right, you can make them cheaply and then you can keep making them until something you do eventually gets into the Iron Mule.
Tell us the best and worst part of your job.
The best part of running the Iron Mule has been meeting interesting filmmakers and connecting them with each other and other members of the Iron Mule community. We like to be matchmakers. Which we have been – literally! There’s at least one Iron Mule baby out there that we know of.
The worst part of running the Iron Mule: it’s a huge amount of work. Each month we have to start all over again and it’s very hard to find great short comedy films. And none of us get paid for our work so we’re doing this in our spare time. Slogging through submissions can be quite painful sometimes. There are a LOT of bad short comedies out there.
Share with us one of your favourite films and tell us why you like it…
We have shown 1026 short films at the Iron Mule and so many of them are favorites, and each one can serve as a great example of a different aspect of the short comedy form. But since I have to choose one, I’ll pick a recent film we’ve shown.
“Float,” by Nick Hunter and Seaton Kay-Smith, stands out because it’s not exactly laugh-out-loud funny at every moment, but is such an odd and hilarious take on what someone goes through post break-up. It has some darkness in it, and a lot of emotional truth, and yet it’s also utterly ridiculous. I also happen to really like the performances. And it really does a lot in seven minutes.
Thanks to Jay for taking the time to speak to Festival Formula, we do recommend any comedy filmmakers to submit work their way!
Jay Stern has directed and produced over 30 short films and directed over 20 theater productions. Jay’s first feature film The Changeling opened in NYC in May, 2007. His second and third features, Spirit Cabinet and The Adventures of Paul and Marian are currently on the festival circuit. In addition to the Iron Mule, Jay is a founding member of the WorldWideLab, a collective of international theater directors dedicated to creating director-collaborative work.