Prior to the anticipated geek event that is Fantasy Con next week, the event will be preceded by the launch of a brand new summer film festival. —- FilmQuest will invade the Megaplex 12 at the Gateway Mall starting on June 30, presenting blocks of short films revolving around fantasy themes, running for three days before they move over to Fantasy Con for the duration of the festival. The new festival launches with hopes that it will be a staple of the community for years to come in a time where Utah has no major film festivals happening, giving out awesome awards like what you see below.
Today we chat with the founder, Jonathan Martin, about his own film career and starting up this festival, as well as the program itself and what he hopes fans will take away from the festival's inaugural run. (All photos courtesy of FilmQuest.)
Gavin: Hello Jonathan! First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Jonathan: Hello Gavin! Well, for starters, I was born and raised in Houston, Texas where I grew up with a little swagger and a little bit of that Texan Pride. I moved to Provo when I was 15 and attended Timpview High School. I took AP art there and played some baseball, before graduating and attending Utah Valley University. After a two year LDS mission to Manchester, England, I returned to UVU where I graduated in Business Entrepreneurship with an eye towards producing and directing films.
Gavin: What first got you interested in film and what were some early influences on you?
Jonathan: I can honestly say that there was never that "A-ha!" moment with me and film, as just know that I've always loved the movies. I grew up watching Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Big Trouble in Little China, films like that. I would have to say these films with their fantastic ideas, creatures and ghouls have ended up influencing me immensely. I mean, I grew up wanting to be a pro baseball player or a plastic surge, but it wasn't until high school I would say that the thought of perhaps making movies started to enter my mind. When I was 18 or 19, I knew I definitely wanted to make movies, but it wasn't until a few years later that I would get my chance. In fact, even during my missionary days I would scribble story ideas and concepts in our little rule book during bus rides, which ended up being a pretty large list and gave me some ideas I'm still playing with now.
Gavin: What was it like for you breaking into the business through writing, directing and producing?
Jonathan: Well, I actually entered the business through documentary filmmaking. It was really the one card I was given to play, and I took it. This was back in 2008, and I had literally never made anything before or been on my own film set. I had never been to film school, only taken some classes on film history, so this was all very "seat of the pants" stuff. But making a documentary has to be the best film school you can do. It really teaches you to recognize the moments that click, when to capture the emotions you're witnessing in real time and are only going to get one shot at, and to work fast. For me, the experience of making a documentary first, which was followed by some videography, really shaped what was to come for me in regards to my own expectations on a film set and taught me how to be independent and trust in my own ideas.
Gavin: For those unfamiliar with your career, tell us a few of the highlights that people should check out.
Jonathan: My first real break hit in 2011 with the premiere of my horror short film An Evening with My Comatose Mother. The film barnstormed through the festival circuit, eventually playing at over 100 film festivals world wide and winning 76 festival and industry awards, making it the most awarded horror short film of all-time. I followed this up with a couple music videos for the Utah based artists Muscle Hawk ("Electric Light") and Shaun Canon ("I'll Always Be Young"). Both videos went on to win some awards, including Best Music Video seven times, at several festivals and events. I'm now in post production on another music video based in the Comatose universe, and another short film, a dark fantasy starring Doug Jones that I co-directed with my younger sister titled Kiss the Devil in the Dark. Both are slated for release in the next couple months.
Gavin: How did the opportunity come about to do FilmQuest?
Jonathan: I was called into the FantasyCon office by one of the members of the team, just to introduce me to it and see if I'd like to get involved. This was in January. So I showed up, and to be honest, the meeting wasn't going too hot as there were just to many distractions and it was beginning to feel like a waste of time. Then in came Josh Patel, the founder of FantasyCon, and he saw some of my work that happened to be on the computer for the mentioned meeting. He dug it, started asking questions, and was impressed by my knowledge and history with film festivals and film. So he pulls me into a meeting right away, literally into the fire, and starts asking how I would run a festival. There was a bit of opposition from others at first, weariness you could say. In the end, he called me up the next day and offered my the gig to run the film festival, and voila, the seeds of FilmQuest were born as I accepted the gig.
Gavin: What was it like for you putting together a plan for the festival and getting everything organized in time to run with Fantasy Con?
Jonathan: It was empowering, but quite quickly it became clear a lot of time was going to be spent putting the event together. Due to my experience with festivals, I knew how to make a festival not just good, but great, but I needed the support. Fortunately, I was given that opportunity with FantasyCon and their backing. Instinctually you know what to do, you just need to build a plan, and then a plan of implantation. This is battle, and you need to strategize and get aggressive. You're on the offensive here, and it's not a business for passiveness. Even then, we only had about 3 1/2 months to take films, get the word out, organize a major event, etc. So putting together a competent team who could help review the films, help carry out the plan, and buy into the vision whole heartedly was also essential. Fortunately, I was able to get these together very quickly and to build a festival that I believe is going to be quite special, despite it only existing for only half a year now.
Gavin: What was it like getting the Megaplax on board to do the screenings?
Jonathan: Pretty easy actually. I knew that there were only a couple options as to where FilmQuest could be hosted, and they had to be in the heart of downtown. Megaplex was the first to reply to me, and eagerly I should add, and we were able to arrange the dates and screenings blocks without any hassle. Really, one of the easiest portions to putting the fest together. Nearly no hassle.
Gavin: What were the major guidelines for the films to be considered for FilmQuest?
Jonathan: First and foremost they needed to be genre; Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Horror and the Fantastic. We made few exceptions. Next, they couldn't become totally indecent (graphic sex, overly graphic and grizzly gore, etc.). Outside of that, it just needed to be a good film. I'm all about quality, but I'm also about quality in the other disciplines, such as costuming, art direction, score, cinematography, etc. If they could excel at those points, the films would catch our attention.
Gavin: What was the submission process like and how did you go about choosing what got into each block?
Jonathan: As a first year fest, we needed to get the word out. Social media, slick branding and advertising, great awards and perks. These things helped. Then I went about building relationships with the submission companies, like FilmFreeway which is a fantastic startup that within three months already became the second biggest film submission site in the world. So this really helped spread the word, and in just 3 1/3 months we got more films and screenplays sent to us than most festivals get, with over 500 submissions — which is quite unprecedented for a first year fest. Of course, this meant there were a lot of films to watch with little time to do so. When it came to choosing the film, it had to fit the before mentioned criteria, and most of all, it needed to be good, and at the very least decent. Anything less than that, and it would not be considered for the festival, with very few exceptions.
Gavin: What are some of the highlight films in this year's selection that you're looking forward to the most?
Jonathan: It's hard for me to single out films, as I feel all films deserve the attention and notoriety. That being said, we do have Death of a Shadow, an Oscar nominated short film. We also have The Landing, a sci-fi yarn which won SITGES an is Oscar Shortlisted for 2015. We are also screening a few great feature films, including our opening night film Echoes, a haunting tale of what happens in your sleep. I'm also quite jazzed about a sci-fi film called Entity from France, which has some of the most amazing visual effects I've ever seen. The Visitant stars Amy Smart and Doug Jones, a story about a mother protecting her children from a demon, and was directed by Nick Peterson, a talented dude who was raised in Utah. I really could go on and on. There's so many amazing films here, and people are going to be amazed at the quality of the films. These films are coming from New Caledonia, Australia, India, Canada, Mexico, Britain, Japan and more. It's truly a international event that we're hosting here, and there's no bigger film event in Utah this summer.
Gavin: Who did you select to be on the grand jury and how will they help decide who wins in every category?
Jonathan: My Grand Jury is is made up of Doug Jones (Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy), Amrita Acharia (Game of Thrones), Dameon Clarke (Borderlands 2, Dragonball Z) and David Farland (New York Times Bestselling author). The Grand Jury itself is only going to be selecting the winners in a few of the key categories. If a Grand Jury member happens to be involved in a film at our fest, like Doug Jones is for example, then they can have no say in a category that film is nominated in. We're quite strict on that. We have a selection committee jury selecting the winners in the remaining categories, but the Grand Jury is definitely very involved. The process is pretty simple really. The jury watches the films, and then they rank them to their preference, from first to last. We then weight that average and the winner is revealed.
Gavin: Speaking of awards, there is an impressive list to be handed out at this event. Why did you go with so many categories as opposed to keeping the awards area simplified like other fests?
Jonathan: I find that a simplified list of awards doesn't acknowledge the hard work and accomplishments of all the artists who work on a film. Filmmaking is a hugely collaborative effort, that can take upwards of thousands of people to finish just one work of art. It's everybody's baby, and to neglect even one category in my opinion neglects that artists who work so hard to make a work successful. So it was essential to me to acknowledge and award the costumer, the art director, the composer, etc.
Jonathan: There is also another goal: To one day become the Oscar's of Fantastic & Genre film. That's why we created the incredible award, designed by Ryan Peterson, a Utah artist, and made by Society Awards, the same company who makes the Golden Globes. We want this to an award and event of notoriety and prestige, and while the award is exclusive, it is also attainable enough to help filmmakers as they progress throughout their careers. In the end, this is about the filmmakers and helping them in every way we can. And we're not even discussing fully the screenplay competition, where up to three of our finalists can get a production deal with Arrowstorm.
Gavin: Seeing how this is the inaugural year, what are you hoping to accomplish with this festival, both with the convention crowd as well as the local film scene?
Jonathan: Put simply, I want this to become THE summer film event of not only Utah, but around the world. There is no major film festival in the heart of summer, not by my research at least, so we have a real opportunity to create a truly special landmark event in Utah each summer. Through this, filmmakers and the local community will benefit as Utah opens its doors to the world again. I think we're going to see a lot of special things happen as the festival grows. I mean, we've already got over 50 confirmed filmmakers from outside the state planning on attending, which is nearly unheard of for a first year festival. The convention crowd will feed off this, and so will the local film scene. It's something worth getting exciting about.
Gavin: For those who wish to attend, how can they take part in both the theatre presentations and the ones at the Salt Palace during Fantasy Con?
Jonathan: To get into the first three days of the fest, which we very much so recommend as that's where you'll see a lot of our major nominees and headliners, you need to get your tickets at the Gateway Megaplex. Tickets are only $6.75 per block, no matter which block. The dates run June 30 until July 2 at the Gateway. We then shift over to the Salt Palace for FantasyCon, where screenings are free with your ticket of entry into FantasyCon. We'll have a large setup you can't miss, but films aren't screening twice, and while we still have some really great films screening at the convention center, if you want to get the whole experience or to see those headliners, you need to get to the Gateway to see the films, walk the red carpet, and mingle with the filmmakers. We've aimed at making this a very accessible event for everyone, from filmmakers to fans, so we encourage all to take part.
Gavin: What can we expect from both yourself and FilmQuest over the rest of the year?
Jonathan: Well, I've got a few things in the work I'm not sure I can talk about yet. But I am looking at getting a feature film made later this fall, or at least pre-production. And FilmQuest is only going to get bigger. If we could get 500 film submissions in just 3 1/2 months, imagine what we'll do with a year to promote and take submission. It's going to get bigger, better, and even more exciting. These are just the seeds right now, and I'm excited to see what comes next, and I hope others are as well.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Jonathan: Go to FilmQuest, June 30 to July 5 at the Gateway Megaplex! Tickets are extremely limited, so get your tickets now and we look forward to seeing you there!