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.