The Austin Film Festival is regarded as a writer’s film festival. This year, in addition to marquee screenings of Isold Uggadottir’s And Breathe Normally, Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux (starring Natalie Portman), and Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite, the festival hosted a whole week of shorts and features, workshops, and pitch competitions aimed at honoring up-and-coming writing talent.
We caught up with writer/director Max Rissman, whose digital series Root for the Villain played as part of a new Scripted Digital Series block, to chat about his writing experience and to get his advice on directing a digital series.
1. A Good Bridge Project
Coming out of film school at NYU, Rissman (like most film school graduates) already had several short films to his name. However, jumping straight to a feature isn’t always the path for everyone. While Rissman was looking to challenge himself with more than just another short, the concept of doing Root for the Villain as five digital shorts (about 8 minutes each) ended up being a better bridge project right out of school than taking on the major risks of shooting (and financing) a full feature.
2. Let the Formula Find You
Once I decided on doing a digital short series, it really allowed the formula to find me in the early writing stages. You don’t have to let screen times dictate your story when you’re setting your own constraints.
In the Scripted Digital Series block at the Austin Film Festival, short series came in many different time formats and episode counts. For Root for the Villain, Rissman’s five eight-minute episodes were simply the right formula and screen time for his stories. Festivals usually have strict rules for what shorts and features need to be, but this new format can be much more open to filmmakers exploring their stories’ needs.