By Pete Barell
LIU Post welcomed Paul Taylor and Alex Megaro, both 2009 Film BFA alumni, to screen their feature film “Driftwood” on February 29. The event was held in the Gold Coast Cinema in the Hillwood Commons, was well attended by film and art students, and included a Q and A afterwords. “Driftwood” was directed, written and shot by Taylor, with Megaro taking on editing and producing duties. The film won the Grand Jury prize for Best Narrative Feature at the Slamdance International Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
The filmmakers discussed their minimalist film, devoid of dialogue, telling the story of a young woman (Joselyn Jensen) who washes up on a mysterious shore and is held as a captive, infantile wife to a lonely bald man (Paul C. Kelly) in a cabin. Taylor described the story as rooted in Greek mythology, particularly of the tale of Charon who shuttles the dead to hades over the river Styx. In this case, the beach imagery and symbolism suggests the lead character to be a soul who hasn’t fully made the journey. The film was shot on a small budget, raised with the Kickstarter service, during a six day trip to upstate New York.
In addition to dissecting the subtleties of their film, Taylor and Megaro provided advice to those seeking to enter the film world. “Watch everything. Even if you don’t like it, learn why. Don’t just think something is [bad] because it is slow,” said Megaro.
Taylor stressed the advantage of having resources at Post as an undergrad. “You have access to free gear, as far as I know, it’s still free,” he said. “Use it while you can. You’re already at a better position than we are [as alumni] since we had to rent equipment out.”
Both filmmakers are accomplished in their own right, working consistently in the business since graduation, both for companies and freelance. “I’ve mostly worked editing jobs, since they are the most common to encounter,” said Taylor. The director has also spent significant time behind the camera, not only for “Driftwood” but numerous short and feature films, including “Eidos” — a thesis short by 2013 LIU alum Louis D’arpa.
Despite their personal successes, the filmmakers acknowledged the difficulty in making money as in the business. “It’s hard to make a lot of money,” said Taylor. “If you’re looking to make a whole lot of money, maybe study business.” However, Megaro pushed a message of perseverance, particularly as a freelancer. “If you stay at it, you can find a way to eek out a living. After doing so many commercial gigs, it’s the same thing as going to festivals, you’ll meet people, see what you like and don’t like and accrue experience,” he explained. “Go out and live for a few years, you’ll get experience and the films will get better too.”
Megaro noted that the professors at Post were critical in their learning as young filmmakers. He credited Professors Soopum Sohn, Elizabeth Robinson and Michael Atkinson for helping him. “Soopum helped us get onto film sets,” he said. ‘Listen [to the professors]. They know what they’re talking about. Don’t disavow advice because you think you know better.”
While accepting that their tastes in film are not definitive, both filmmakers stressed the notion of being open to experimental films, not just the mainstream. “Just understand that there are thousands of people doing the same thing, so it’s going to be hard for you to stand out,” Taylor said of the pursuit of Hollywood writing and filmmaking.
The most important advice, according to Taylor: think different. “Make things outside of the box, not just what is easy,” he said. Make films that push the boundaries and are different, so when you graduate you’ll know what works and what doesn’t. This is very important: don’t make films on campus. Go somewhere else, I tell you that your film will be a lot better for it. Hillwood Commons is not interesting.”
Before they departed, Taylor and Megaro told students that they are open to contact. “Reach out to us, seriously don’t hesitate to reach out to us,” said Taylor.