Newport Beach Film Festival 2019
by Derek Nguyen
As always, the Newport Beach Film Festival provides the perfect spot for Orange County film artists to share their craft. With theaters in Fashion Island, Costa Mesa, the Lido, and more, you can hardly imagine a better venue to premiere your films and shorts. It’s well-run, industry professionals enjoy the slower pace of Orange County in comparison to the chaos of Los Angeles, and great food venues like Five Crowns are open for the VIP’s and filmmakers to wine and dine. It’s been five years since I’ve last been here, and while my outlook on filmmaking has shifted, my love for the festival itself definitely remains strong.
Back in 2014, I was a senior in high school just starting to learn about filmmaking. The ever-fantastic Mark Sevi was teaching me screenwriting and every time he showed me some facet of filmmaking, I was completely enthralled. My technical knowledge of film was nil, I simply knew that I loved the storytelling. So, when I went to the festival for the premiere of “Chef,” I just watched it as a fun movie. You can find my review on this website actually, and my thoughts about the event afterwards. In terms of film criticism, I mainly focus on screenwriting because that was the (small) extent of my knowledge. I looked at the premiere party simply as a fun excursion with good food and drinks. Looking back at all of this and comparing it to how I took in the event this year, it makes me realize just how much my perspective on filmmaking has changed.
Since 2014, I’ve went and graduated from UCLA, and pursued filmmaking the entire way through. At first, this began with screenwriting and narrative shorts, but as I grew as a filmmaker, I ventured into other mediums such as music videos and branded content. This led to me evolving from a writer to a director, and often times I would work as a producer for my own works too. These experiences necessitated that I learned about all facets of film, from writing to cameras to VFX implementation. So, when I went to the Newport Beach Film Festival this year, I watched the shorts from a much more analytical standpoint.
I went to two different short showcases, the UK Shorts and the “Realizations Came Shortly” selection, and I dissected them based on scene count, locations, production design, and equipment in order to guess-timate the budgets. I found that most of the shorts from the UK showcase were actually rather expensive and often had a medley of sponsors. It makes sense though, as the UK shorts had to have a sizeable budget in the first place to be submitting to festivals across the world. These shorts often had big casts, many scenes, intricate production design, and expansive locations on top of their top-notch equipment (drones, ARRI Alexa’s, Steadicams and the like). They exuded money, and I wasn’t surprised to hear that the budgets were upwards of $30,000 for most of them. On the other hand, the American shorts I saw in “Realizations Came Shortly” did have some lower budget selections. I could tell right away when a short was lower budget: the camera movement would not be as free-flowing, the casts were small, there would be only one location or continuous scene. As I watched these shorts, I made sure to analyze them to think about how I’d execute my own short. I wasn’t there just to watch them for simple enjoyment.
That being said, I’m a sucker for good stories. I found myself slowly starting to focus less on the logistics and “ugly” side of filming, and started to focus on what made these stories click. Comparing how I interpreted these stories to how I viewed “Chef” five years ago, it was comforting to know that I still valued stories above all. Reflecting back o nthose shorts now, after I was enthralled by quite a few of them, I realized that I loved the stories when they were distilled to just one, simple narrative. They never needed to be overly complicated or produced. It didn’t matter whether it was a $5,000 budget or a $30,000 budget. A short can be great as long as it had a compelling story.
After the shorts, I also attended the dinner party at Five Crowns this year, and it was fascinating watching all the networking going on all around. As a freelance filmmaker, I couldn’t help but to think of how great an opportunity that party would be. While I have a portfolio, I definitely needed a short to take full advantage of this party as narrative filmmaking really was the main subject people were interested in. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed the well-drinks, the great food such as the delicious tuna tartare tacos, and the cozy environment that Five Crowns has to offer.
Looking back at this year’s festival, it really illuminated how much there is to know about the film industry. I’m still a novice to say the least, and I feel infinitely more knowledgeable than I did five years ago. Five years from now, I’m sure I’ll think that I knew nothing about film in 2019. I just hope that next time I’m here, I’ll be able to showcase my own stories instead of simply watching them. At least now I know I don’t need a $10,000+ budget to pull it off! I just got to find the right story to tell.