Last summer, nearly 10,000 people congregated at Bryant Park for New York's inaugural Tropfest, a short film festival from Sydney that introduced the likes of Rebel Wilson and Sam Worthington Down Under.
This year, Tropfest will be held in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, and it's expanded to include all the things that make the borough a buzzword -- namely food stalls, indie music (Chairlift, Neon Indian) and even free yoga.
Malcolm Gladwell and producer Fisher Stevens will be on hand to judge the night's 16 films, all of which run under seven minutes and take on a "bridge" theme, while Liev Schreiber will host. Festival organizer John Polson, also the director of popular TV shows like "The Mentalist," talked to Huffington Post Arts & Culture about what we can expect this year, the biggest mistake festival contestants make, and his single piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers today.
This is your second year holding the Tropfest in New York. Why move it to Brooklyn?
We really needed a bigger place. And we found a lot of our audience and our filmmakers are coming from Brooklyn. I live in Brooklyn, so I’m kind of biased, but it’s just got a lot of interesting things happening and great energy.
I actually happened to be in Sydney in February and saw what a big event the festival was. How has it been bringing Tropfest to other cities?
There’s really not too many festivals that are exclusively about short films. Tribeca will play short films, but I don’t think anyone thinks that's a short film festival. Same with Sundance and Toronto. To us, the short film is the main event.
How many submissions do you get? What do you look for?
We got over 200 people making films specifically for the event. It’s got to be a premiere -- they have to be made for Tropfest New York. The finalists should be ten from New York, a couple from Australia, one from Canada, one from South Africa. This is the first time we’re doing 16 finalists; last year we did 8 finalists. That’s because of the quality of the films.
They come from all ranges of people. Tropfest is outside the wheelhouse of Hollywood. It's not about who you know, or growing up in L.A, or my friend runs William Morris. This is about talent. This is a complete meritocracy. Anybody can enter. The budget can be $50, and often it is $50, or it can be $50,000. The films can be shot on a mobile phone, an iPad, a 7mm Imax camera. There are no rules or limitations at all, as long as your idea is good and your execution is good.
How has technology changed the game in terms of independent filmmaking?
It’s night and day from when Tropfest started. We started just as video cameras were becoming available. The idea of making short films -- which most people frankly hadn’t heard of unless you’re a film school student -- [was seen as] arty, high-brow, and not accessible and not popular in the way they can be seen today. Technology has made it almost possible, for almost nothing, to make a great film. There was a time in the early days when you can tell by looking at a Tropfest film what the budget was. Nowadays you have no clue! It looks like $1 million: beautiful imagery, crystal clear HD, tracking shots and editing and music and the whole thing. And then you find out it cost $100 or $500.
What's the biggest mistake when submitting your film to Tropfest?
Using all seven minutes. The winning films have always been three, four, five minutes, maybe six minutes. Almost never the whole seven minutes. Because with film, like anything, the shorter you keep it, the better it is.
What's one big piece of advice?
Embrace your rejection. I remember when I was starting out as a filmmaker, I’d send my crappy little shorts to festivals around the world, and get endless letters back saying no. I started framing the rejection letters on my wall, so every one of these is going to get me closer to somebody saying yes.
How many frames did you hang on the wall?
Let’s just say I had to move into a larger office.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Malcolm Gladwell's first name. We regret the error.