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I had the opportunity to sit down with the founders and staff putting on “Salute Your Shorts” Film Fest happening Aug 17-19 in Hollywood. You don’t want to miss out on what sets this film fest apart and why you must go this weekend!

Here is an excerpt from our talk:

Jennica: Can you all go around and tell me a little bit more about who you are and what you do for the fest?

Becky: Becky, the festival director. I moved to L.A. almost 8 years ago. My first job was for a film festival. I just love live events so it’s kind of what drew me towards this project with Erin. I didn’t actually move to L.A. to be an actress or a producer or director, I actually moved to L.A. to help artists.

Erin: Becky really enjoys helping people become who they are, as a creative. The work that she does with Epiphany Space gives her the opportunity of giving artists a platform, being able to share their creativity.

Melissa: Melissa, the founder and President of Epiphany Space.

Erin: Which is our presenting sponsor in our incubator.

Melissa: My background is in hospitality. I was a hospitality executive before moving to L.A. My husband’s a screenwriter, which is why we came to L.A. and being out here, I just noticed that L.A. was difficult for artists to be able to connect and having people along the journey of creativity and experiencing what’s hard, and that’s why I started Epiphany Space. The film festival has been one of those things that has just naturally happened out of collaboration, in community here at Epiphany.

Erin: I’m Erin, I’m the creative director. I’ve been in L.A. a little over 11 years and I’m a filmmaker, so my approach to the idea of a film festival, comes from the perspective of a filmmaker having attended festivals. One of the things that drew me is … Because we work in a competitive industry, where it’s easy to look at other people and compare what you’re making with what other people are making, I found that once I started, once I had it in mind that I wanted to start this event, when I would see an outstanding film, I would get excited instead of threatened. I feel like I’ve made all these real genuine relationships with other filmmakers whose work is just amazing, and challenging, and awesome. Because I’m truly celebrating the great things that they’re doing rather than just sitting there wanting to be inspired to make what they’re making.

Lauren: Lauren Brown, the program coordinator. I came out to L.A. 5 years ago. Spent 9 months out here with Melissa and Erin, in partnership with them. Got really interested in filmmaking. Last year I was a screener for this festival, and really enjoyed the experience and then this year I’m the program coordinator.

Jennica: The only person we are missing for this interview is Emma-

Erin: Emma is our festival coordinator. She’s built our website, she’s doing all of our social media, she screens probably about 450-500 films. And Emma loved this platform for giving artists voice. She’s really passionate about the kind of discussions that come out. And I’m not joking when I tell you she would come to me and say, “I’ve watched this film 10 times, because I love it so much.”

Jennica: And what is the mission of this particular fest? What about it sets you apart? What has made your experience so positive and successful?

Erin: Our mission is to give the filmmakers a platform to share the things that are important to them and part of that is all attention to them: us knowing their names, us knowing their films inside and out, asking a couple questions when we do a QnA, and part of that is providing an audience that also is excited to listen.

Melissa: The heart of Epiphany Space is to empower artists to be able to create and to be fully who they are. And so, the way in which the film festival is unfolding, is exciting because I’m seeing the excitement of the community as they’re engaging with other artists and hearing their stories, understanding the thought and the heart behind the stories that they’re telling. It’s exciting.

Jennica: And how did the fest come together with all these incredibly passionate and efficient women at the helm?

Becky: Melissa told [Erin and me that] we should talk to one another and one day after church last year, [Erin and I] stood in the parking lot and we’re like, “Hey, do you wanna start a film festival?” And we’re like, “Sure”. Within a week, we had all the social media, we had a website, we had a name, we had a logo, and —

Erin: A date and a venue. We had an idea of what we wanted, we just hadn’t secured it yet. It was in the process.

Becky: Yeah. And we had a page up on Film Freeway and we were taking submissions. Erin is an activator and totally made that happen quickly. I would probably still be talking about it if it was just me. But we work well together… And we had so much fun, we just decided to do it again this year.

Erin: With a little bit more time. One thing that really helped because we knew that first year festivals, people don’t always submit a ton of films, we had 2 strategies with getting really excellent films the first year:

Which was choosing a name we wanted a name that people would think that the festival had already existed for a while. And there was this show in the 90s called “Salute Your Shorts” and no one else had used that name for a film festival before and I pitched it to Becky, and it just rolled off our tongue and someone else was like, “Oh I’ve heard of that”. And we were like, “Perfect”. We had so many people who had submitted last year who wrote “I’ve heard things for years about how great your event is”. That was part of it, picking a really good name and just making sure our branding said that we’re established even though we weren’t.

The second thing is that last year I had a short that was just starting the festival circuit. So every weekend I was going to a film festival at that point, with my own film. So, you know, we did a mixture of recruiting great films that I would see. I would say a good 30% of our lineup from last year came from things that we knew were going to be good because we had seen them and then our screeners agreed with my assessment that the film was good. We definitely relied heavily on our screeners, because that’s our audience.

With Melissa’s help with the hospitality background, and then of course, a ton of volunteers as well. Both my parents were active volunteers last year, and they’re both out here this year. And they both, like I said, screened a lot of films. My mom screened every single one that was submitted.

Becky: One real quick thing. I think that was also part of the ‘how’ is that we have a lot of people in our community that have influenced one way or the other. Jeremy Howe, who is a producer writer on Big Bang Theory as a good friend. Dan Lin is a good friend. Doug Jones, Tony Hale, Emily Best from SeedAndSpark, and several other people. They all agreed to be on our judging panel in the first year, and that brought a lot of legitimacy to what we were doing. Because they were willing to let us use their name when we advertised for the festival.

And we have really cool judges this year, which are yet to be unveiled. Of the same caliber!

Jennica: I have to know, with all your intention, increased resources, and time to do it the best way possible — What do you want to see happen this year? And part of that is — How are you working towards achieving those goals?

Lauren: For me, I just want lots of people to come out. We have a bigger venue, much larger, air conditioned venue, with incredible films and with so many filmmakers coming, I just want to see a lot of people come and enjoy these films. [And] great parking!

Erin: And the theater’s gorgeous – The Assistance League Theatre is like this hidden gem in Hollywood.

Becky: It’s nothing to look at from the outside, but like a lot of places in Hollywood, you step inside it’s really nice.

Erin: Beautiful. It seats 350. But it feels intimate.

Erin: What I really want is the filmmakers to feel that attending the festival was worthwhile. I can tell you that we are doing everything we can to ensure that it’s a good experience for the filmmakers. Part of that is making sure that everyone who’s running the QnA has screened all the films and has thoughtful questions prepared. Another part of that is reading people’s bios ahead of time. We want to make sure we know filmmakers and can make introductions to other filmmakers. We want to facilitate the networking that’s already gonna happen because you know sometimes that networking is not the easiest thing for everybody.

If I go up to a filmmaker, and I start talking about how great their film is, then they don’t have to say it for themselves.
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Go to Salute Your Shorts Fest for tickets and screening info. Some events are being held at Epiphany Space and some events are being held at The Assistance League Theatre. All are in Hollywood. I will be there, join me! #SYSFF18

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MS. JENNICA SCHWARTZMAN, Actress, Writer, Producer, Mother

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