Behind the Scenes: Meet the creator of The Shochet, an Entertainment Project finalist film
In April, we called for submissions for the AT&T Entertainment Project, an open competition seeking imaginative, undiscovered short films from aspiring professional and student filmmakers. Filmmakers answered the call, all hoping for a share of $20,000 in prizes, meetings with AT&T Entertainment executives, and their film to potentially air on the AUDIENCE Network on DIRECTV. Now here’s your chance to get to know more about one of the finalists. We’ll be screening the shorts at AT&T SHAPE, Tech & Entertainment Expo on July 14-15, 2017 at Warner Bros. Studios in Los Angeles.
Meet Michelle Nahmad of Brooklyn, NY, who created The Shochet, a coming of age story, with blood and chickens, starring Edith Wigoda. The short is a mixed media animation based on one of her grandmother’s many stories about her childhood in Costa Rica, growing up in a small neighborhood of Jewish immigrants. In addition to being personally engaged by such stories, Nahmad has found, that this community, and similar communities of Latin Jews, was one that many were unfamiliar with and were surprised to find existed. In focusing on this story, Nahmad aimed to further examine and give light to this particular tradition and peoples, combining elements of the specific and the more universal.
We caught up with Nahmad to learn more about her experience making the film, what inspires her, and how she views the future of filmmaking.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for your short film?
A: As some might guess from watching my short film, I’m very close with my grandmother, Bube, as I call her. Though she is also a lovely woman, I believe this closeness comes from her telling me stories for as long as I can remember. Her stories are largely those of the Jewish community in Costa Rica, Eastern European immigrants and their descendants, and her own experience growing up in that environment. These narratives blend the foreign and familiar, the humorous and grave, and drew me in from a young age. I knew I wanted to adapt and visualize one of her stories at some point and this seemed like a fun one to run with as a short.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your team and how you worked together to create your entry:
A: Eager to experiment with short film, even though it was somewhat outside of the focus of my curriculum and what many of my studio mates were working on, I created this film for my undergraduate Communication Design capstone project at Washington University in St. Louis. While it was nice to work with my grandmother as a subject and narrator, most of the work on this film was a solo (and somewhat trial by fire) endeavor.
Q: What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
A: This was the first short film of this scope that I’d ever made, so bringing it to life, learning about its various components and new tools as I went, was a challenge from start to finish. Not getting hung up on my shortcomings or limited tools and letting the story lead was really the only way I was able to make it.
Q: How did you first get interested in filmmaking?
A: My interest in filmmaking came from a combined draw towards narrative and image making. I had been studying bookmaking and sequential images and, realizing the connection between these formats and film, particularly through watching animated and mixed media shorts, inspired me to try my hand at it.
Q: What do you find most interesting about making short films?
A: I think the wider range of narratives and techniques that can be found across many short films is inspiring. As creating a short film is more accessible, including for those that, like myself, come from distinct non, strictly film backgrounds, a lot of exciting experimentation can happen in this format while still creating something meaningful that can connect to an audience.
Q: Who have been your biggest influencers in the film industry (directors, writers, teachers, etc.) and what have you learned from them?
A: I primarily studied art history, illustration, and graphic design before making my first short. My approach to filmmaking is very much informed by the visual arts. As my background is also steeped in making, various animators who fully construct the world of their films were my most direct source of inspiration. They made my jump from creating combined images and text to a short like this one seem feasible and worthwhile, regardless of any new tools I’d have to teach myself along the way.
Some films and directors that have been a continued source of inspiration in the particular stories they tell and compelling characters they bring to life (which also happen to be strong female protagonists) include Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s Persepolis, Adam Elliot’s Mary and Max, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie, and Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. Films like these demonstrate the power of strong and imaginative world building and earnest storytelling.
Q: What video technologies do you see shaping the future of film and content creation?
A: I worked at The Future of Storytelling Summit last year and was inspired by the way various writers and artists were using VR and AR to tell stimulating stories and augment audience experiences. I’m currently completing the MFA Visual Narrative Program at the School of Visual Arts, which embraces a wide variety of content creators and is invested in shaping what this future, which could seamlessly merge strong narrative and new technology, might look like. While I think various new technologies allow for truly exciting ways of unfolding and emerging an audience in a story, I’m a firm believer that narrative is paramount and should continue to be the driving force – more than the cool factor of any particular new technology.
Q: What are your future plans for your project?
A: I’d love more people to see it and for it to create other opportunities for continued pursuits in visual storytelling of all kinds.
Q: What advice do you have for new filmmakers just getting started in the field?
A: I still consider myself in that spot, to a large degree, and look forward to continually learning as I go. Either way, my advice would be to begin with a solid foundation in a story that you’re fully invested in, letting what directly serves that particular story be your guide. Starting off, discouragement and hang-ups on various details come readily, but if you have that core of compelling narrative, it’s much easier to see the forest for the trees.
Q: Is this the first time you’ve entered your work in a contest?
A: I’ve entered my design and illustration work into contests, and some film work has been shown in smaller festivals and exhibitions, but this is really the first contest I’ve entered with this film.
Q: What does the AT&T Developer Program and contests like this mean to you?
A: The AT&T Developer Program creates an exciting spotlight for unique work and motivates emerging creators like myself to keep tackling new challenges.
Q: Why should the audience vote for your short film?
A: Nothing would make Bube prouder. Really, I hope they would choose my film because they enjoy it, appreciate a maker immersing herself into somewhat unfamiliar territory with whatever tools she has, and would welcome more narratives like it.
Q: If you win, what do you hope to do with the prize money?
A: I hope to be able to invest in future projects that would collect and highlight more untold stories.
Come See a Screening of The Shochet at SHAPE
SHAPE is an immersive event that explores the convergence of technology and entertainment. Experience interactive demos that give you a glimpse into the future and explore the magic of virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality. See how entertainment tech will revolutionize content creation. You’ll be among the first to witness firsthand some of the latest technology trends poised to go mainstream. This is where you’ll find real inspiration.
SHAPE is happening July 14 and 15, 2017 in Los Angeles, California, at Warner Bros. Studios.
We hope to see you in Los Angeles in July.