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Depth of Field

Columbus filmmaker Jason Tostevin is like a brilliant chef. Only in his case, a master who spends thousands of hours meticulously preparing a meal destined to be devoured briefly, or perhaps discarded altogether. “You’re so lucky if someone even watches a short film,” he said. “I have such gratitude anytime there is someone watching one [...]
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Columbus filmmaker Jason Tostevin is like a brilliant chef.

Only in his case, a master who spends thousands of hours meticulously preparing a meal destined to be devoured briefly, or perhaps discarded altogether.

“You’re so lucky if someone even watches a short film,” he said. “I have such gratitude anytime there is someone watching one of the movies we’ve worked on. There is just no outlet for it. It’s festivals or Facebook. And people online abandon shit in 30 seconds.”

So, why did the married father of two and communications consultant choose such a specific discipline, one without much of a specific demand?

Well, because his first film kinda crushed. And it was made in two days.

His movie Stones, written by friend Torin Scott, was not only a winner of the Columbus 48-Hour Film Project, but it also placed high enough in the organization’s international contest to earn it placement in the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

He had never recorded a single frame of film before.

“I didn’t sleep for 48 hours…I’ve never been so high in my life. And I will chase that high forever,” he said.

And that high preceded his early success on the festival circuit. The big reveal happened just after the final edits on Stones.

“I came home and I turned on that Christ-awful western (Appaloosa) with Ed Harris and Renee Zellwegger, and I thought, ‘I could do that.’ I felt like I was standing at a window and I could feel the camera department behind me and the lighting techs on the side…it was like everything in black and white and someone turned the color on.”

He has duplicated the success of Stones several times over on the festival circuit with his follow-up shorts Room 4C, Help Wanted, and ’Til Death, the latter of which was a selection at 25 film festivals, garnering 20 award nominations and 10 wins, including Best Film at HorrorHound and Indie Gathering.

While Stones was more whimsical, ’Til Death’s story focuses on four unhappily married husbands who wake up to a gruesome surprise the night after killing each others’ wives. The genre-bender – “ha-ha-horror,” you could call it – has become a hallmark of Tostevin and writing partner Randall Greenland’s style.

After all, he says, short film is a joke.

“If you’re making a comedy, great; if you’re making horror, it’s a jump/scare…if you’re making a drama, it’s an emotional insight. But it’s all a joke [structure]. Ninety-percent setup for 10-percent payoff.”

Along with Greenland and Scott, Tostevin has become the grand marshal for short film in Columbus, fighting for screen time at the Gateway Film Center, Independents’ Day, and this month, at the Columbus Arts Festival. His informal collective of creatives also produced two seasons of a web series called The Screen, which profiled filmmakers from around the country. For his latest project, Tostevin stayed in the producer chair, enlisting another local director, Mike McNeese, to direct I Owe You, a dramatic thriller starring Gateway’s Johnny DiLoretto. He’s not just chasing his own high, but getting others hooked in the process.

“It’s a miracle anytime we get a movie finished,” he laughed. “We have volunteers and friends doing it for peanuts – really talented people trading really valuable skills for the promise of…nothing. Other than getting up on a movie screen somewhere.”

“Is it passion?” Tostevin asked rhetorically. “It’s part addiction, part endless pursuit, part chasing a grade… it’s madness. It’s f*cking impossible. When someone says, ‘I’m gonna make a movie,’ and they take that first step, it’s a step into crazytown.” •

 

See Tostevin’s four short fiction films and his short documentary, Dream Job, as well as McNeese’s Deafening, and Matters of Great Import by Brant Jones and John Dranschak at the Columbus Arts Festival, June 6 – 8.

 

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Arts & Culture

True Stories: One Theme, One Mic, One Night

Columbus is a city of storytellers. From Larry Smith’s dedication to developing diminutive memoirs to Barry Chandler’s penchant for forging better brands, Ohio attracts and inspires wordsmiths from near and far. The transcendent allure of stories is that we all have them. As shared as the air around us, they’re still seldom spoken—especially amongst strangers. [...]
J.R. McMillan

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Columbus is a city of storytellers. From Larry Smith’s dedication to developing diminutive memoirs to Barry Chandler’s penchant for forging better brands, Ohio attracts and inspires wordsmiths from near and far.

The transcendent allure of stories is that we all have them. As shared as the air around us, they’re still seldom spoken—especially amongst strangers. Television is tedious and social media doesn’t count. One is increasingly broadcast distraction for the masses, the other a safe haven for hecklers.

Story Club Columbus is different, turning noise into narrative. On the first Tuesday of the month, the stiff drinks and potent sodas of The Rambling House prime an informal gathering of experienced and aspiring storytellers. Audiences can hide in the shadows, but any pretense of anonymity disappears as soon as presenters step into the light and take the stage. The rules are deceptively simple: Everyone gets eight minutes. Stick to the theme. And stick to the truth.

That doesn’t mean someone is going to quickly kill the microphone if you run too long. Nor is a little latitude or literary license going to earn you a giant gong. The format isn’t for the faint of heart, but it isn’t intentionally intimidating either.

“Telling a story is extremely empowering. I love watching new storytellers get on stage and realize they have a warm, captive audience for the first time,” explained Meryl Williams, founder of Story Club Columbus, who brought the idea here from Chicago. “I used to live there, and once a month, I went to Story Club Chicago with a group of friends. It took me more than a year before I got enough nerve to get on stage myself. I knew when I moved back to Ohio that I wanted to start a branch of Story Club in Columbus.”

“Telling a story is extremely empowering. I love watching new storytellers get on stage and realize they have a warm, captive audience for the first time.”

Intimate oratory isn’t always easy, even in a sympathetic venue filled with eager ears and fueled by liquid courage. It’s not stand-up comedy, though it’s often amusing. And it’s not beat poetry or spoken word, even when the room grows solemn or silent. It can be all of these, or none of these over the course of an evening—or even a single performance.

“The stories that stick with me the most are the ones that were clearly hard for the performer to tell,” Williams recalled. “Sometimes stories are kind of heavy, or they’re hilarious, but my favorite stories told on stage are the ones that manage to be both.”

Story Club isn’t the only outlet of its kind. Right around the corner at Wild Goose Creative, Speak Easy also meets monthly. The programs are similar, but not the same. Both have a monthly theme, but Story Club is a curated mix of open mic and invited presenters. Add the libations and atmosphere of The Rambling House, and maybe the art form feels a little less polished and more spontaneous.

Now two years in, Williams has moved to eastern Ohio and recently handed the microphone to a new host, Samantha Tucker. The two share more than a passion for storytelling. They’re both Ohio Roller Girls, so neither was short on grit or afraid to take a hit. But being fearless on her feet isn’t the only skill that made Tucker a natural fit.

“I have experience in writing, theater, and improv, so it was an easy transition. But the focus on non-fiction is what initially attracted me to Story Club,” noted Tucker, whose first show as host in October had the seasonal (not intentional) theme of “Fear”. November’s theme was “Election”, though that didn’t keep political concerns from slipping into the collective conversation ahead of schedule. “I think my first month’s theme was a happy accident. Several presenters mentioned the Supreme Court. We try to keep our theme open, relevant, and in the moment—where we are as a city, and as a country.”

Though the basic construct remains unchanged, the content is evolving with a more noticeable shift from known voices to new voices. Outreach into the immigrant and refugee communities, seeking the stories of New Americans, is quintessential for Columbus and personal for Tucker.

“Both of my grandmothers were what some would call ‘war brides.’ One is from Korea, one is from Germany, and that’s where they met my grandfathers. In my family, a lot of what we know and understand about each other is from oral history,” she revealed. “I feel like my identity is shaped by immigrant stories, and very different perspectives of what it means to be an American.”

Regardless of the theme or tone, the thread that binds each evening together is the appreciation of stories that are live and true in an era favoring discussion that is distant and dubious. Tucker offered a few pointers for those apprehensive to take the stage.

“If you’re a first-time presenter, I tell people to reverse-engineer their stories. If you’re not sure how to get somewhere, start with the ending—the last thing you want to leave with your audience, the thought you want to linger with them,” she explained. “Think about five moments you want to include in your story, then work your way back to the beginning. You have to know where you want to land.”

Some storytelling suggestions are esoteric. Others are obvious, or should be.

“If there’s a theme, know it and stick to it. That hasn’t happened once or twice. No more than three puns per story, because you don’t want the audience to turn on you,” chided Tucker. “Okay, I made that rule up, but it’s still good advice. Speak into the mic, that’s also a good one.”

“There’s something romantic about stories that happen that evening and nowhere else. People are reluctant to pay for art because they don’t realize they’re part of the process.”

Another defining element of Story Club is that featured storytellers are actually paid, which is exceptionally rare for upstart art exhibitions of any kind. With a suggested donation of $10 for a one-night-only performance (which is a steal), proceeds are divided among invited performers. Patrons cast ballots at the end for their favorites, which offer guidance for future shows. Amateurs become regulars, and regulars often become featured storytellers. It’s a simple strategy that still works.

“There’s something romantic about stories that happen that evening and nowhere else. People are reluctant to pay for art because they don’t realize they’re part of the process,” noted Tucker. “I don’t know if there is art without audience. When we ask people to vote and pick the story that meant the most to them, that’s what we’re acknowledging, that we’re doing this for you—that we can’t do this without you.”

For more details on Story Club Columbus and upcoming themes, visit storyclubcbus.com.

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Girls Just Want Societal Autonomy

It’s the holidays and your conservative uncle is at it again. He’s going on-and-on about how women are flooding into politics and are becoming a larger-represented group in areas like Congress, the House of Representatives, and the Senate. His sentiment is simple: women hate men, especially feminists, and they’ll stop at nothing to take down [...]
Mitch Hooper

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It’s the holidays and your conservative uncle is at it again. He’s going on-and-on about how women are flooding into politics and are becoming a larger-represented group in areas like Congress, the House of Representatives, and the Senate. His sentiment is simple: women hate men, especially feminists, and they’ll stop at nothing to take down every man.

But what do feminists actually want? Maybe I’m not the best person to answer this. As a man, my life is pretty simple. I can go outside wearing any outfit I want and no one, besides maybe my mom, is going to say anything to me. If I want to sit in bed and eat a large cheese pizza by myself on Saturday, my roommates won’t bat an eye or tell me that it’s going to go straight to my thighs. And when the plumber comes to fix my toilet, we talk about sports and the weather—there’s no grazing eyes or unsolicited flirtations.

These are just the things that I, as a man, don’t have to endure. But for women, these are day-to-day experiences. Women are presented with a constant struggle of, “I had a long week, but I can’t go to work without my makeup on—” because everyone in the office will surely ask, “Are you okay? You look tired.” And heaven forbid a woman sit in bed and binge Netflix while they gorge on junk food. You *know* where all those carbs are going, right?

As you can see, it’s tricky waters for women. For every potential voice pushing forward for progress, there seems to be a louder one pushing against. But treading these waters is something some women are used to, and when it comes to the authors of “New Erotica For Feminists: Satirical Fantasies Of Love, Lust, & Equal Pay,” they are experienced.

“We take the literal view of feminism as all people should be equal, We’re not trying to create a society where men don’t exist. It’s just literally like, ‘treat women like humans.’”

“New Erotica For Feminists” is not an erotica novel. Readers will experience the same stereotypical situations you’d find in erotica novels, or maybe even pornos, but the story is told much differently. The book uses those erotic yet corny situations—the plumber stops by the house while you’re alone to “lay some pipes”—and juxtaposes them with moments that shed light on modern-day feminism—the plumber and the protagonist happily walk to the bathroom where the plumber lays down new copper piping and the two talk about the upcoming midterm elections. Instead of an overly and ridiculously sexualized situation where the woman is but a sex pawn for the story, the book uses these scenarios to show that feminists aren’t after some sort of hierarchy, rather, sometimes they just want some new copper pipes and a good conversation with another human being.

“We take the literal view of feminism as all people should be equal,” co-author Brooke Preston said. “We’re not trying to create a society where men don’t exist. It’s just literally like, ‘treat women like humans.’

The book was a collective effort of four different satire writers: Caitlin Kunkel, Fiona Taylor, Carrie Wittmer, and Brooke Preston. Coincidentally, the collective effort was actually more of a cloud effort—the four writers never actually met in a room to write the vignettes until the weekend they finished the book. Their meeting spot? Brooke’s hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

“He calls me into his office and closes the door… to promote me. He promotes me again and again. I am wild with ecstasy.”

The women were already experienced writers because of the website they co-founded, The Belladonna, a comedy and satire site with women and non-binary authors. In the book, the women explain that the idea sprang from them all goofing off in their group chat while editing some things for the website. It started with trying to devise a scheme that would get LaCroix Sparkling Water to deliver them cases with the intent to obtain a “corporate sponsorship.”

“And hey, while we’re speaking these desires into the universe, why not send, say, Tom Hardy to make that delivery?” —excerpt from the ‘Foreplay’ of “New Erotica For Feminists.”

After a shorter version of the book went viral in early February 2018 on McSweeney’s Internet Tendencies, a humorist website that’s been around since 1998, the four women did some legwork, secured a book deal in the United Kingdom, and eventually secured a deal in the States as well. Believe it or not, the entire process—from contracts to writing to publishing—all happened in 2018.

“He calls me into his office and closes the door… to promote me. He promotes me again and again. I am wild with ecstasy.” — vignette from the original McSweeney’s story.

While on the surface, reading this book might create the illusion that these writers are professional comedians with touring careers, Brooke said it’s not as it seems. She said she lives in “the shadows of suburbia,” or in other words, she’s a wife and the mother of a five-year-old. For her and the other authors, the joy of this book is in satire writing.

But why erotica? When Brooke told her parents about the book deal, she was quickly met with, “Brooke? Are we going to be able to show our face in church?” But, as the book says, erotica offers the chance for the reader to imagine themselves as someone else, and this book is no different in that sense. Sometimes people’s reaction to that is good, and other times people are a bit more reluctant.

“For the most part, people get it. [When I was in] New York, people were like, ‘Yeah, no I get it. I read the subtitle,’ ” Brooke explained. “But here the reaction I usually get is, ‘Oh, my!’ Usually, I’m like “stop clutching your pearls, it’s fine! It’s all tongue-in-cheek!”

Brooke said the themes in the book were meant to be universal, and that included steering clear of being too political.

“We felt like the book was political in itself just because all of those things do affect women on every level. We do touch on health care, paid maternity leave, and all those things, but we didn’t want to put Trump in our book.”

There’s many reasons for that, but most notable is the idea is that anyone should be reading this book—regardless of party lines. Yes, the book itself is progressive and your aforementioned conservative uncle will probably not agree with everything therein. But what the book does do is open the eyes of people who might not realize their actions have implications.

“It’s like you walk up and press the button and a man walks up behind you, checks, and presses it again ‘just to make sure’ that it’s been pressed. It’s just like, ‘Cool! You’re an adult, you know how to use elevators!’,” Brooke explained about the elevator vignette in the book. “It’s just a small subconscious thing, but when it happens to you all the time, you’re just like, ‘I’m not a child! I know how elevators work! And if it’s not working for me, it’s not going to work for you.’ ”

So maybe this book won’t be the driving force for a change in conversation for the holidays this season, but what it might do is change the way we go about these conversations. Instead of your uncle bitching up a storm about too many women in politics, he might respectfully accept your point of view as another human being and engage in a political discourse that is beneficial
to society.

New Erotica For Feminists is available on neweroticaforfeminists.com. You can also find more work from the authors on their website, thebelladonnacomedy.com.

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A Podcast Awakens

Not so long ago (2014), in a city not terribly far away (New Albany), two best friends are up late, mashing buttons on controllers, getting drunk, and yukking it up. Little did they know that this interaction on one chilly January evening would eventually lead to a raving community of fans totalling up around 150 [...]
Danny Hamen

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Not so long ago (2014), in a city not terribly far away (New Albany), two best friends are up late, mashing buttons on controllers, getting drunk, and yukking it up.

Little did they know that this interaction on one chilly January evening would eventually lead to a raving community of fans totalling up around 150 thousand downloads over the course of 165 podcast episodes.

While this might not seem like a fitting genesis story to match the galactic grandeur of their source material, this is the moment when Cody Boyce (aka Commander Cody) and Paul Melton (aka Mopar) knew that they had unique chemistry.

“[Rogue Squadron Podcast] started as an accident,” chuckled Melton. “We were living in New Albany and I was visiting Cody playing Battlefield 4. We were loving the game, screaming at each other, getting triggered—just having a blast of it. It got to a point where we were laughing so hard we were crying. I remember saying, ‘Dude, we should just record this.’ ”

It just so happened that Boyce has an audio engineering background and owned a myriad of sound equipment that he kept in his spare bedroom. So, the two old friends got drunk and went to work.

“It got to a point where we were laughing so hard we were crying. I remember saying, ‘Dude, we should just record this.”

“I had just gotten turned on to the Joe Rogan experience,” said Boyce. “I remember thinking that we do the same thing he does, except instead of talking about drugs and UFC, we talk about beer and Star Wars. So, we miked ourselves up and three hours later, we had our pilot episode.”

Rogue Squadron, while entertaining, debuted with a bit of an identity crisis. If anything, it was more an onslaught of stream-of-consciousness style of nerdom ranging from film to television to video games. Boyce explains that it was merely coincidental that a recurring commonality in their content happened to be Star Wars and craft beer. But despite their lack of structure, austere style, and crawling three hour runtime, their cutting commentary was infectious, gaining them a modest handful of dedicated listeners.

“It was a cool feeling at first when we put something out there and we saw, like, three listens—that someone out there was actively clicking on our podcast to give it their attention,” said Melton. “About a year in, we began to implement a structure and committed to a once-a-week schedule, and that’s when the podcast really started to take off and people started to reach out.”

A few of the recurring staples in their now hour-long podcast is a craft beer review, a “guess that scene” segment, and a revolving door of special guests from around to country, ranging from fellow podcasters to YouTube celebs.

“We unintentionally created this community,” said Boyce. “Even our fans reach out to other listeners to yell at each other and develop friendships. It gets out of hand in a good way—you have a guy in Germany who is yelling at guy in Australia about Rogue One on our forum. It’s abso-lutely crazy.” Since its inception, the team has moved their studio into the Idea Foundry in Franklinton: a tiny sound studio ornamented with collectible figurines, sci-fi posters, and a record player spinning Zeppelin III. The duo hands me a Quadrahopic IPA (rated 3 stars) from Land Grant Brewing.

“We unintentionally created this community. Even our fans reach out to other listeners to yell at each other and develop friendships.”

There is a special symbiotic relationship between the Rogue Squadron podcast and local breweries, pairing with the likes of Land Grand and Wolf’s Ridge, among others, to create collaboration brews to serve at their events (complete with puntastic names like The Last Red-Eye). And listeners from all around the world tune in weekly and learn about the nuances of Columbus craft beer.

And that, to me, is pretty damn cool.

“Columbus is such a supporting community for creatives,” said Boyce. “I never would have thought that I could walk into Land Grant and say, ‘Hey, you guys wanna do a Star Wars beer?’ and they are just immediately into it. Same goes for Gateway Film center, who hosted our first event with open arms.”

But at its core, the duo just wanted a platform to nerd out about Star Wars—the living and breathing universe that they have sunk their teeth into since they were old enough to say Tatooine. Podcasts are about finding a hyperspecialized niche and forming a community around it.

“There is an opportunity for every person on earth to enjoy a bit of Star Wars,” said Melton. “You can get enjoyment whether you are three years old, just enjoying big bad Vader beating someone up, or a grown-ass man enjoying the true spiritual aspect of the force. My short answer to why is Star Wars so good? Because it’s not Star Trek.”

For more information about Rogue One Squadron and to download every episode, visit roguesquadronpodcast.com

What local beer would these characters drink?

Luke Skywalker: Photon from Actual Brewing. Something real light. He seems like too much of a baby to enjoy a strong craft beer.

Darth Vader: Hmm, absolutely something dark–I’d say the Yub Nub Imperial Stout from Wolf’s Ridge.

Han Solo: Han would probably rock an IPA. Or maybe like a brown ale. Let’s go with Franklinton Pub Ale from Land Grant.

Princess Leia: She’s doing something citrusy. Or yeah, probably Thunderlips IPA from Columbus Brewing Company because she’s got a mouth on her. She’s talking shit to everyone.

If you could get hammered with any Star Wars character, who would it be and why?

Melton: If I am looking to just chill in a dive bar, I would choose Obi Wan-Kenobi. He’s been through so much shit that I would just love to pick his brain and hear him talk. But if I am looking to cause some debauchery, I am definitely going with Episode 3 Anakin. He’s going to get in a bar fight and I’ll be cheering in the corner.

Boyce: I would go out with Chewbacca because he likes to have a good time, and if anyone wants to talk smack, he can throw down. Also I’d get to cuddle with him after.

What character would you least want to share a jail cell with?

Melton: C3PO because he wouldn’t shut the hell up! “The chances of us getting out of this jail cell is 3.24 perce—…” He would just keep going and going.

Boyce: Jar Jar Binks. He just looks like he smells like bad seafood. He’d probably get his tongue stuck in the door and would just mumble and drool everywhere.

Which Star Wars character is most likely to throw their life away due to alcohol abuse?

I feel like Episode 3 Anakin is in a very weird place. That and Watto. I feel like they would go out together and cause some trouble.

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