What’s it like to be a non-studio, “indie” filmmaker? Film Fest, written and directed by Marshall Cook, explores, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, the challenges of getting your film into and distributed at film festivals. Sound kind of like boring business? Not at all. The film is full of laughter and tears.
Film Fest features an ensemble cast including Matt Cook (True Blood), Diona Reasonover (NCIS), Will Sasso (Mad TV), Laird Macintosh (The Mick), C.J. Vana (Hot in Cleveland), and Ellen Wong (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World).
I sat down (via Zoom) with Marshall Cook and with stars Matt Cook and Diona Reasonover. Matt plays a highly motivated, if somewhat insecure, writer/director, and Diona plays the all-business producer, trying to get their film distributed.
I’ve been to at least 50 film festivals and will attend two more later this month. As I watched the film, I thought, “This is not fiction. This is my schedule for two weeks from now.”
The film was such an accurate send-up of the film fest world, I asked Marshall if it was too inside-the-industry focused. Would people who hadn’t done film fests get the jokes?
Marshall replied, “We hope so. It is kind of “inside baseball.” But it also is a road-trip comedy about relationships and with characters who need to resolve their expectations against reality. I think people will be interested in learning about a world that they are not familiar with.”
Diona agreed, pointing out the universality of the characters: “I think we’ve all worked with people who are like Matt’s character. People who are chasing their dreams, but who are having trouble at every turn. And I have worked with people who are like Will Sasso’s character. I really think there is something for everyone.”
The Cast, Crew Moment
I asked whether Marshall had screened the film at film festivals in front of indie filmmakers.
He explained that it had shown at SXSW, but virtually. He added that they did have a special screening for cast, crew, family, and friends in Hollywood.
I recalled that one of those special, often emotional, film fest moments is when a film is first viewed by the people who made it.
Diona said that it was that kind of moment for her and asked Matt if it was for him.
Matt said, “Yeah, I never had an experience like that. It was cool to be there watching the film with an audience for the first time, seeing my character watching his film with the audience for the first time. It was very meta.”
He laughed and added, “It was cool and I’d like to do a little bit more of that.”
Diona recalled, “And Matt was adorable. His whole family came out. I could hear him in the seat behind me crushing and twisting water bottles the whole time.”
I found Diona’s performance to be the most riveting and asked her if she had drawn on anything from her past to bring the character to life.
Diona said, “They really gave me a great character to sink my teeth into. All I really had to do was tap into the words and listen. When Matt is delivering some of those lines, they are so funny and cutting and it’s impossible to not feel it. So, I was really lucky.”
She added, “And Marshall let me really play. I know it drove him crazy, but he let me have a lot of leeway with the character, which was very cool and very fun.”
The Last Scene
I asked Marshall if the last scene in the movie was drawn from real life.
“Well, kind of,” he joked. “But it all happened in my head.” He then mentioned that at that moment he had felt inspired to contact Paul Alan Cope, who became his co-writer. Marshall continued, “He was my first casting of who to work with and he is such a good writer. I’ve read a couple of his scripts. He’s a really great dramatic writer and I hope this project opens some doors for him.”
I asked Marshall how he made the connection with Will Sasso.
“I got invited by some friends to go watch a football game at his house. We hit it off and we’ve made several films, shorts, web series together. Then we wrote a comedy which should be shooting in October.”
I asked what it would be called. Marshall said it would be called Champions of the Universe. I said that sounded very Marvel or DC.
Matt joked: “The Sassoverse”.
I asked Diona what was next for her.
She said, “I am very fortunate. We are just about ready to start shooting the next season of NCIS next week, so I’ll really be happy to be back in the lab.
“Also, next week, will be the second season debut of my podcast, Periodic Talks, which I co-host with Gillian Jacobs from Community and Netflix’s Love.”
I asked the creative trio what they hope people will take away from Film Fest.
Matt said, “This is a really funny film about people trying their hardest. I think anyone can relate to that.”
Diona asked, “Can I take five seconds to brag about Marshall? He is such a great director. He gave us these pointed notes that let us get to the heart of a scene quickly. When you’re filming 10 or 11 pages a day, you don’t have a lot of time for rehearsal. He made it easy for the actors to get to the heart of it, to play, and have fun.”
Marshall said, “I’m very much of the keep-it-simple-stupid (KISS) ilk. Just a little thing, then get out of their way. As for the movie, one of the things I’d like people to take away is from Matt’s character. Stay focused on why you are making movies and don’t get lost in the trivia.”
Beginning July 23, you can watch Film Fest via streaming on Amazon Prime, Vudu, Tubi and other platforms. To rent or buy check iTunes, Fandango Now, or Google Play. You can watch a preview below.