SxSW 2021 Interview – JOANNE IS DEAD director Brian Sacca

It’s easy to dismiss the ramblings of the dementia-riddled elderly as nonsense. But what if there is a deadly truth behind those words? Having its World Premiere at SxSW Online 2021 in the Midnight Shorts section, we talk to filmmaker Brian Sacca on JOANNE IS DEAD. 

I hear you are back at SxSW this year! Tell me about your previous experience here at the festival and what you showed.

I wrote a short that played at SXSW 15 years ago, but I wasn’t able to attend that year. JOANNE IS DEAD is my directorial debut, so it’s only fitting that I can’t attend again! I am beyond thrilled to be a part of this year’s festival!

How did you first hear about SxSW and wishing to send your project into the festival?

SXSW is the ultimate film festival. When I hear that a film played at SXSW, I know that it’s going to be a uniquely engaging storytelling experience. In my brief time speaking with other filmmakers before this year’s festival, I know that’s going to be the case again. There are some incredible films playing this year! 

Tell me about the idea behind JOANNE and getting it made!

After spending almost two decades in Hollywood, I noticed that some of the best actors I’ve worked with were the ones playing the most basic roles. So, I focused my creative process on building spaces for showcases for underrepresented talent. For JOANNE IS DEAD I wanted to write a role that would subvert the audiences expectations of what a “woman of a certain age” should be. Often, our society dismisses elders as unremarkable. I reject that. I believe that there isn’t a single boring person in the world, if you ask the right questions. 

Who are some of your creative inspirations? Any particular filmmaking talent or movie that inspired you for this project?

I’m inspired by filmmakers who strive to meld genres. Some of Martin Scorsese’s most haunting movies have moments of levity. Despite being a horror/thriller, Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” had more laugh out loud moments than many comedies I’ve seen. That is the kind of filmmaker I strive to be.

How did you put this together from a technical viewpoint?

Our short was challenging because we had less than one day to shoot it. My DP, Chris Darnell, and I wanted the look to be crisp and cinematic which is difficult when you’re shooting seven pages in one day and one of those pages including a physical scene with an older actress. So, we planned each shot to the tee and went in with a very specific idea of what I needed. Also, I brought cupcakes for the cast and crew. Cupcakes never make things worse. 

Being all virtual this year, what do you hope to get out of the virtual SxSW experience? And where is your project going next?

With it being virtual this year, I’m excited that there’s more accessibility to the projects and that more people will be able to view the collection of work. To be honest, I’m mostly excited to watch the other filmmakers work and be inspired by it. Of course, off of SXSW, I will try and set up the feature version of the short. 

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?

We live in an age of disposable content; videos that are posted today and forgotten tomorrow. I actually love that. It has leveled the playing field when it comes to short form content creation. So I think film festivals should celebrate that content as much as the crafted “cinematic” content. Some of the most impactful shorts I’ve seen in the past years were made for zero dollars on an old iPhone by teenagers. Let’s promote that short form as much as ours. 

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?

You have a camera in your pocket. You can edit full videos on that device. Just shoot something and cut it together. It doesn’t have to be for likes or views. It can just be for you. But do it. 

And finally, what is your favourite short film of all time?

I’ve seen thousands of short films. I was lucky enough to have a short film programmed in the same bracket with the short film version of PARIAH at Sundance. So, I watched that short over and over. And, every time, I was in tears. It was masterful.

Follow Brian on Twitter and Instagram at @briansacca!

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!

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