What does it mean to win #socialshorts? We catch up with last year’s winners to find out

As we reported earlier this week, The AFI-AACTA #socialshorts competition is back for its fourth year, which will award winners across three categories later this year – and voting is now open! To learn more about what the competition has meant to those who have successfully entered and won their category, we caught up with last year’s winners: Sean Meehan, whose film Lost Face took home the Open Category, Andrew Kotatko who won the Drama category for Whoever Was Using This Bed and David Hansen, director of the Comedy winning Slingshot.

How did you find out about the competition and why did you enter?

Sean Meehan: The editor of the short film contacted me, he’s an AACTA member, and he said I should enter. We were in the open category and they notified us from there.

What did the win mean to you?

Andrew Kotatko: AFI AACTA’s #SocialShorts was an exciting and important award for Whoever Was Using This Bed to win because it was not only judged by film industry peers, but also by the viewing public. The #SocialShorts platform offered me a broad audience to play to, so the win is clear validation of the film’s resonance and appeal.

David Hansen: Winning the AACTA #socialshorts Comedy category was a huge honour. It is voted by the public, which means that you’re getting direct feedback from the audience. In the industry you are always talking about what audiences want, so to be able to point to this win and say to potential producers and investors ‘hey look, there is a audience for this kind of material’, is proof of your ability to find that audience. The awards are broken up into categories, too, so to get the popular vote helps push your chosen genre.

What do you think set your film apart from the rest?

Sean Meehan: It was based on Jack London story, and people love that story including me. A lot of people love jack London. It’s been interesting, because the reactions have been “feverishly loving it” or “I hated it”. We’ve won almost 50% of festivals we’ve entered. But at others, we’ve had rejection letters with “it’s violent we don’t understand it”. People who’ve bothered to comment on it has been positive otherwise. I actually prefer that to have a luke warm response… if you get that you’ve done something wrong. I hate middle of the road.

Andrew Kotatko: Whoever Was Using This Bed is a mature film and appeals mostly to thirty-five plus audiences. That said, we’ve had some great responses from eighteen year olds, too! The film explores the themes of love and mortality – two challenging subjects – and in the end it doesn’t let the audience off the hook. It’s a provocative piece grounded by two very exciting performances from Jean-Marc Barr and Radha Mitchell. It’s a film that gets people thinking – and talking! I think it probably stood out for those reasons.

David Hansen: I made sure the script was very tight. The script really is the seedling from which everything else can grow. We were also lucky to get some good performances from our cast. (Of course our crew and producers were amazing too… love you guys.)

What advice would you give to someone entering their films this year?

David Hansen: Have faith in your work, ask as many people to watch the films as possible and enjoy the company you keep (being the other filmmakers in your category). Some of them will be getting their features up soon, so good mates to have.

Sean Meehan: Some people try to second guess what a festival is for, and tailor the perceived desires of a winning film. Make a story you desperately want to tell. It will either resonate or it won’t. You’ll hope it connect with audiences, but you sort have no control on how people will react. I didn’t know until people saw it – prior to that I was shitting my pants.

Andrew Kotatko: You must passionately promote your film online via social media. They don’t call it #SocialShorts for nothing! Hashtag it, baby.

What came out of the win for you?

Sean Meehan: It was the first thing it won, it was a really early win for us. It was immensely gratifying and validating. The prize included money, which was gratefully welcomed, but the thing I got the most from was the mentorship part. I met up with Nash Egerton out of this. We’ve since become friends he’s a great guy. I shot 2nd unit stuff for him on his film, Gringo, with Amazon Studios. That was the most radical part for sure. When you make your first film you’re hoping for an introduction into the industry. Which is what happened!

Andrew Kotatko: Whoever Was Using This Bed has since won nineteen more awards and has screened at over eighty film festivals around the world. I’ve been very fortunate. The #SocialShorts award really spearheaded the film’s international festival success.

David Hansen: I had my first meeting with Kieran Darcy-Smith (my AACTA socialshorts mentor) only a few weeks ago so difficult to pull out too much from the win directly. I can say that he is a fantastic person and was very encouraging of me and my projects. It was refreshing to talk openly about the ins and outs of the industry with such a down to earth guy. Surprising to see someone of that calibre with two feet planted firmly on the ground too. I’m super grateful to have had the chance to chat with him.

Also, being able to attend the AACTA Awards last year was a highlight. To be in the same place with the cream of the Australian industry was a massive buzz. Makes you want to work harder, create more and get back in ‘the ring’.

Sean, you’ve been in the industry for a while, what was the catalyst for directing your debut short?

Sean Meehan: I started in the camera department and I’ve been directing commercials for 16 years. Suddenly I woke up wondering why I wasn’t directing films. Which was what led me to make this film.

What are you working on at the moment? And what’s next for your winning film?

Sean Meehan: I’ve written one feature, prior even to doing the short. The short got me a manager. I’m working on another script, and an addition script with an Australian writer. Getting as many balls in the air as possible! The film also won at the Edmonton Film Festival, which is an Academy Award qualifier, so we’re now in for that, and it won the audience award at Palm Springs. It just got into its 51st festival!

Andrew Kotatko: I’m developing another project for Radha Mitchell, whom I really love working with. It’s a psychological thriller. There’s also talk of a feature adaptation in the US, so I’m heading over next month for a meeting with the author. My film is screening at the Academy Awards qualifying HollyShorts Film Festival in August, and we’ve just been nominated for Cinémoi’s CinéFashion Film Awards in Hollywood this October. I’m busy!

David Hansen: I have two scripts in the late draft stage, so will start looking for some producers to jump on board those very soon. I have also started plotting a feature version of Slingshot, the short that won last year’s prize, which is super exciting.

To view and vote on the 65 films shortlisted for the 2017 categories, head to socialshorts.com.au. Voting for the Drama category closes this Sunday!

Still: Whoever Was Using This Bed 

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Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.

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