After the mysterious death of his father in a house fire, Aaron and his mother, Beatrice, go on a retreat with their extended family where Aaron’s longtime bully cousin, Richard, awaits. As the day drags on, Richard’s incessant torment causes Aaron to finally snap.
Screening in the Texas High School Shorts section of SxSW 2021 Online, we speak with Meredith Smith, the director (and writer, cinematographer & editor) for COMEUPPANCE.
Welcome to SxSW and congratulations! Is this your first SxSW experience?
This is my first time ever getting accepted into SXSW. I have attended the festival before, but it’s an amazing and mind blowing experience to be an accepted filmmaker. I first went to SXSW my freshman year of high school by chance; I had answered a trivia question correctly and won a film badge. I was immediately hooked. I saw all of these amazing films and listened to all of these talented filmmakers and knew I wanted to have a chance to showcase my creations there some day. Ever since that spring break, I made it my goal to make a film that got accepted into SXSW. It’s been four years and I finally achieved it!
How did you first hear about SxSW and wishing to send COMEUPPANCE into the festival?
I first heard about SXSW through my mom. She then brought me to a SXSW meetup to learn how to network with other filmmakers and learn about SXSW. I had never heard about SXSW until that meet and greet and it was amazing to talk to older, more experienced filmmakers. I actually won a badge answering a trivia question about former SXSW alum Barry Jenkins. Through that experience, I learned that SXSW is truly amazing and the place for creatives to network, grow and flourish. I am very honored to be attending as an accepted filmmaker.
Tell me about the idea behind your project and getting it made!
I am mentored in Dallas at Spacesuit pictures with Xai Homechan, a producer, where we learn about pre-production, production and how to craft a story. He encouraged us to write and direct our own short film to enter into festivals and use in college admissions. I wrote Comeuppance as a result of that encouragement. The inspiration behind Comeuppance was from a camping trip over a decade ago when I learned about and played flash tag. I remember nothing from that camping trip except the game and I’ve always wanted to work it into a story. I like the cat and mouse aspect of it and I wanted to see if I could expand the theme into a short film. Preproduction for this short was challenging, as it collided with COVID, college applications and the stressful fall quarter of a virtual senior. It was also the first time I had hired outside actors and walked out of pre production armed with the proper and professional forms.
Who are some of your creative inspirations? Any particular filmmaking talent or movie that inspired you for this project?
My creative inspiration for COMEUPPANCE was a childhood memory of camping in the woods and playing flashlight in the dark. As a whole, I also wanted to draw on the tension and slow burns of thrillers.
How did you put this together from a technical viewpoint? What sort of cameras/lenses did you use and/or did you have any creative challenges in making it?
For the entire shoot I used the Sony a7sii with 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm Rokinon lenses. The largest technical challenge I encountered on the shoot was power. Just over half of the film is shot in the middle of the woods. In order to power the lights we had a couple hundred feet of extension cords through the woods connected to a generator in the back of a pick-up truck. Collecting those cords and wrapping them at four in the morning was a bit of a challenge, especially since they ran through dense sections of woods that were filled with spiders. Another challenge we ran into was the campfire. We had to station a PA by it and they were in charge of gathering firewood and keeping it alive for 5+ hours. The fire was also extremely finicky and would sometimes die down without explanation just as we were about to start rolling.
Being all virtual this year, what do you hope to get out of the virtual SxSW experience? And where is your project going next?
It’s an honor to be accepted into SXSW and begin my career as a filmmaker. This year at SXSW, I hope to connect with other amazing filmmakers and build a network. I hope to fully utilize my pass and attend as many events as I can and learn from others. I don’t know where my project is going next, but I hope to enter it into other film festivals.
What would you suggest to film festivals as a way to show more short films or make them more accessible to audiences across the country?
I think that short films often get overshadowed and overlooked in favor of feature films. I think that more advertising and promotion should be put into marking short film competitions and the short films that are later accepted into those competitions. Additionally, I think that it would be incredibly helpful to have hubs or some sort of streaming platform or category dedicated to showcasing short films.
If you had one piece of advice to offer someone to get their start as a creator or filmmaker in the industry, what would you suggest?
The piece of advice that I would offer is to find a mentor and learn everything you can from them. Filmmakers who have experience and are in the industry are very giving and want younger / newer creators to also succeed and are incredibly willing to help out.
And finally, what is your favourite short film of all time?
The Secret War, part of the Love, Death and Robots short film collection, is my favorite short film. I love how the writer keeps the story small by focusing on a small band of soldiers while still working in a fascinating backstory and intriguing world building. I also love the final climactic battle as it has a fantastic emotional push and pull of wins and losses. The color pallet, while minimal, allows for the red from blood and flares to pop.
This film and many others like it will be showing at the virtual South By Southwest taking place March 16-20th. For more information and to register for the festival, point your browser to www.sxsw.com!