Director Jennifer Sheridan shares her filmmaking experiences and advice with me and we dive a bit deeper into the hilarious but true short film Acoustic Kitty (2014).
Since its premiere, Acoustic Kitty has received fantastic critical response and wide acclaim. Some of the film's accolades include Audience Vote at Aestheitca Film Festival, Best Cast Ensemble and Special Mention at the London Lift-Off Film Festival. I couldn’t wait to find out more about this short gem.
1. Where did the idea for the story come from and what does it mean to you?
Acoustic Kitty is my take on the true ‘tail’; (mind the puns there's going to be a lot of them) involving the CIA’s Cat-astrophic (told you) use of felines as espionage equipment during the Cold War. My friend Tim told me about it after he saw a documentary on TV and I was hooked on the idea that the CIA actually did this. It was a story I could really get my ‘claws’ into (sorry). I loved that such an expensive, inventive and ambitious plan came within a ‘whisker’ of success, but was reduced to ashes by a simple and tragic everyday event.
2. What were the main challenges you faced when putting this film together?
Getting the script right, my writer/producer Adam Shakinovsky and I worked on it for over a year. Also bringing the CIA to London was a challenge, but once we had the budget and the location it was all down to our incredibly talented production designer, Laura Ng. She worked wonders, I've actually been asked at festivals if we shot it in the CIA which makes me very happy.
3. What were the biggest lessons you learned during the making of the film?
My biggest lesson was in working with actors. As a director I had previously worked with models, friends and dogs, so it was great to have that experience. I learnt just how valuable good actors are to the success of your story and I can't wait to work with them again. Ben Willbond who stars in Acoustic Kitty is an absolute legend, I would have him in all my films forever and ever from now on… if he’s up for it.
4. What was your best experience during the shoot?
The short answer is everything! The long answer is that I've been a professional editor for the past eight years and I really love it, but when I did Acoustic Kitty I was the director and got to make all the decisions and take full ownership of something. Not that I could have done that without the help of my very talented cast and crew of course. Also, working with my DOP (Dan Stafford-Clarke) and bringing to life something that had only ever been in my head before that moment was incredible.
5. What has been your best experience screening Acoustic Kitty?
We premiered at the Heartland festival in the US, which is an Oscar Qualifying festival. It was also the first time I saw it with an audience who were not attached to the film and I was pretty nervous. I always hoped it would get a reaction and it certainly did. The ending made people cry out and I actually heard someone say “did that just happen?!”. It made my day.
6. How have you found the festival circuit?
You make a film and it’s your baby, then you send it out to festivals and start taking the hits. Each rejection can feel like a punch in the face and I’ve had to learn to have much thicker skin then I had when I started. Then when it gets accepted and wins awards you feel like it was all worth it again. I’ve actually had a really great festival run and have met so many amazing people, so I feel very lucky. My advice to people is never give up, there will be a festival that’s right for your film.
7. What plans do you have to distribute your film?
This is probably my next learning curve as I don’t know much about distribution options for short films. Once we’ve finished our festival run, we might just put it online. I really just want people to watch it and hopefully enjoy it.
8. What was the last short film by another filmmaker you enjoyed?
I found Operator (2015) very moving. I appreciated its simplicity and felt it took you on an emotional journey in a relatively short amount of time. That’s something that is difficult to achieve with short films, it was a well-deserved BAFTA win.
9. Is there anything you would like to add as advice to fellow/budding filmmakers?
Be generous with your time and be grateful for the time of others. Work out where your skills are and then find people who can fill in the gaps. Try to make something your proud of that speaks to you personally. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but I think originality is very important. Finally, watch short films! Loads and loads of short films and they will help you make something that’s not like anything else out there.
To keep up to date with Sheridan's latest projects, follow her on Twitter @filmineer. Take a look at more productions from Afloat at www.weareafloat.com.
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