Jessica Loveland: The Comedic Short

Jess Loveland is the Development and Production Executive at Creative England, based in their Sheffield office, managing Creative England’s short film initiative iShorts, which is now in its third year and aimed at new filmmaking talent based in the English regions outside of Greater London. She discusses the nature of championing talent and reveals what programmers are looking for.

A: As part of Creative England as well as a programmer for this year’s ASFF, how do you think that the two organisations relate in terms of filmmaker support and championing talent?
JL: I think Creative England and ASFF have many shared goals: both organisations are dedicated to supporting new and emerging filmmakers and giving them a platform from where they can showcase their talent to audiences and industry professionals alike. ASFF always does an excellent job of promoting the filmmakers and helping them to get their work recognised often long after the festival has ended, as well as inviting ASFF award-winning teams back to the festival in subsequent years to screen their work and take part in panel discussions. The festival team are always really keen to build long-lasting and supportive relationships with filmmakers, which is also something that is at the heart of our talent development work at Creative England.

We’ve been bringing our short filmmakers to the festival for three years now and they always have a fantastic time immersing themselves in screenings, industry events and workshops, and of course taking part in the social side of things and meeting other filmmakers from all over the world. The BAFTA-qualifying status also means that the teams and their films get a fantastic start to their festival run.

In short the ethos of ASFF mirrors that of Creative England’s iShorts which is all about discovering and supporting talent to tell bold and original stories. I couldn’t think of a better festival to premiere our new iShorts at each year.

A: Did you see any developing themes and common connections in the entries?
JL: I was very impressed by the diversity of themes in the entries I watched. I think the most commonly recurring theme had to do with love and relationships, very character-driven narratives that found the humour in our common struggle to connect meaningfully, (or at all!) with our fellow human beings.

A: Programmers are often looking for originality and to see something that they haven’t before. How do you think that this fed into what you selected?
JL: That’s absolutely true whether I’m selecting films for a festival programme or looking for projects to develop and support through our funds at Creative England, I’m always really delighted to be surprised by a film or an idea. You see so many similar films and concepts that when something a bit different comes along it makes you sit up and take notice. However, that doesn’t mean you have to always come up with something utterly unique, it’s probably not even possible at this point, but if you can take a familiar subject or theme and subvert it in an interesting way that can be very exciting.

Since I was programming comedy films I had a rule that if something made me laugh out loud then it was in! Comedy is hugely subjective so what one person finds hilarious someone else might think is not funny at all, but I think I tried to select those films that attempted something a bit different, whether that was through bold characterisation like the US film Paco with its titular outsider protagonist, or through subverting a trope or cliché like the film 90 Grad Nord, which takes the idea of the law-abiding German citizen to hilarious extremes.

A: How do you think that the landscape of short film is changing and developing, and how do you think that the film-festival circuit is helping this?
JL: Well it’s a good deal easier to get things made and out to audiences now than it ever has been so filmmakers are able to play and experiment a lot more, and use this process to find their own particular voice and style. Filmmakers will no doubt always have to make short films as a means to hone their craft and build up a portfolio of work that demonstrates the types of films they want to produce and also reassures potential investors that they have the skill and vision to be able to make longer form (and therefore more expensive and riskier!) work.

Festivals enable filmmakers to get their films out into the world on an international level and hopefully attract the attention of programmers and industry professionals who can help them navigate the next steps in their career. Targeted industry programmes such as ASFF has developed over the years also help filmmakers to acquire new skills and gain helpful insights into the craft and business of filmmaking from experienced professionals. A good festival run can be career changing for a talented short filmmaker.

A: Litterbugs, which was funded by Creative England was selected by the York Youth Programme. Could you discuss the journey that this film took in terms of original ideas and how the scheme brought it to life?
JL: We were absolutely thrilled when Litterbugs picked up the York Youth Award this year and the team (Producers Nicole Carmen-Davis and Rebekah Gilbertson, director Peter Stanley-Ward and writer Natalie Conway) were especially pleased to have won in this particular category because it demonstrates that the film is speaking directly to its target audience.

In terms of the film’s journey, the team approached us with the idea for Litterbugs back in 2014 as they had a couple of ideas for family feature films that they wanted to develop but needed a good calling card short in this genre to demonstrate their ability with this sort of material. They had the idea for the short and we initially gave them a small amount of money to produce some test material and demonstrate how the mechanical flying creatures would look and move. The little teaser film the team produced was fantastic and so they were awarded the funds to make the full short film version of Litterbugs that played at the festival. It has been doing very well on the circuit and really connecting with audiences so the win at ASFF in November was wonderful.

A: What do you think that this year’s winners all achieved in terms of stylistic innovation or poignant narratives?
: I felt that the quality of shorts screened at this year’s festival was fantastic and it really makes me positive for the future of cinema when you see short form filmmakers producing work to this standard and level of ambition. I think the thing that unites all the winning films this year is a boldness of vision, a compelling narrative driving the film and uncompromising creative conviction.

ASFF 2017 will run from 8-12 November is now open for entries. Find out more:

1. Still from Detsky Graffam’s 90 Grad Nord. Courtesy of the filmmaker.