We recently had the chance to speak with Chris Osborn, winner of the Spring 2016 ScreenCraft Film Fund backed by BondIt. His short True Blue, which benefited from the film fund grant, premiered on Vimeo as a Vimeo Staff Pick last week after a long, award-winning run on the national festival circuit. He’s had an incredible journey since winning and we’re glad we can share his success with you. His answers are below.
Congratulations on the multiple awards your narrative short film True Blue has garnered since winning the Spring 2016 ScreenCraft Film Fund backed by BondIt grant. And most recently, congratulations on being featured as a Vimeo Staff Pick! How did the ScreenCraft Film Fund help this project?
ScreenCraft and the Film Fund were instrumental to the completion of True Blue. I believe short films are where the truest cinematic innovators work, but there is virtually no path for shorts to get funded. Financial constraints can lead to some very cool creative choices, as artists will make do with whatever is available to them, but the lack of material resources is also limiting in so many other ways.
While we had raised a substantial amount during our successful Kickstarter campaign, the ScreenCraft Film Fund, and other in-kind support offered by BondIt and Buffalo8, helped us offset certain post-production costs and really make sure every element of the film came together at the level we needed it to. We quite simply wouldn’t have done it without you!
What was your inspiration for this story?
True Blue really started with the characters. Each lived in their own separate story idea at first. I had become obsessed with the labyrinthine world of multi-level marketing and other dubious get-rich-quick schemes. The products are always opaque, usually some kind of health supplement, but also completely beside the point—the idea is simply to attract other people into the gambit, to sell the art of selling.
I watched tons of videos that sellers posted online and found conservative, individualist rhetoric all mixed up with very real frustrations of being broke, directionless, and lonely. The schemes deliberately poke at these insecurities in people. Sellers are really just trying to get close to other people, but they only know how to do that by gamifying these relationships for their own monetary gain. Which is a kind of a pure microcosm of how capitalism works. It’s this kind of parasitic loneliness that was really fascinating to personify through Larry.
And in the other corner was Patrice, who is partially based off a friend of mine I first met on a music video shoot. He was a bodybuilder, absolutely huge, who had transformed his body through an impressive self-designed regimen. He was absolutely the most effervescent, sweetest big man you’d ever meet. He always had a hustle, and a side hustle, and a side-side hustle. At one point he was hawking a raw-vegan cookbook, then an intense workout program, then he tried to get me to make a documentary about him. At one point he was writing a metal opera. But a couple years after we worked together, he took his own life. It really, really shook me up. There was a loneliness in him that only reveals itself now in hindsight.
Once I noticed how much these two characters shared in common, it only made sense that they should meet and kinda fall in love in the detritus of Trump’s Atlantic City, a beautiful place that has been sucked dry by charlatans at the top of the pyramid propped up by people like Larry and Patrice.
As an emerging screenwriter, what’s it like to be recognized by both the Sundance Screenwriting Lab, Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting and ScreenCraft? How has placing in these screenwriting programs helped your craft and career?
I would say that, at the core of it, is some kind of reassurance. Writing is solitary, and honestly, when you’re doing it, it can often feel like you’re painting in a cave, especially when you are not well connected or don’t have representation. It’s hard to know if what you’re doing even makes sense or connects with others. So being recognized in this way means somebody else vibes with it, and that at least tells me I’m doing something right.
I will also say that my writing exponentially improved once I stopped seeking an external sense of validation in the form of awards and just wrote what I felt deepest. In unconscious ways, you can start to tailor your style to what you might sense is most marketable, what others tell you will be best for your “brand,” or even what accolades you most want to your name, but your best work won’t come that way. I’ve found the truer I’ve gotten with myself the better the writing has been, and the more that success just materializes as a result.
That said, you do still have to put yourself out there. You still gotta find opportunities for prizes and grants. You still gotta learn how to pitch your stuff and figure out where you fit into the landscape. Because you can’t eat a good script. I’ve tried!
Learn everything you need to know about screenwriting contests, competitions and fellowships with this free guide.
You have experience as an independent filmmaker, raising money on Kickstarter and applying to grant programs, traveling the festival circuit and building an audience for your films. In light of your early career experience so far, what’s some advice you have for your younger filmmaker self, say 10 years ago? And what advice do you have for up-and-coming screenwriters now?
To the up-and-comers, my advice is to demystify the process of making movies however you can. That can be going on set, finding a radically transparent mentor, working with raw footage, going to a festival and seeing someone you admire totally wasted and making a fool of themselves… anything that’s gonna put filmmaking into your realm of possibility.
Know that “movie magic” is actually the product of a lot of work, and a lot of workers, who all put their fingerprints on the thing. Hang out with them and learn how it actually comes together. Even if you only plan to write, knowing what it takes to actually create these images will improve your writing and help you hone in on the most satisfying way to visually convey all the ideas in your head. Above all, always be curious.
And if you plan to direct/produce: Pay your crew. Pay your crew, no matter what, even if you can only spare a good, hearty hot meal. Your dream is never more important than other people’s well being.
To my younger self, I’d say: your impulse to question things is good. But don’t let it keep you from showing up. Make yourself useful and start fixing up the house. And leave a crack in the door for the others behind you.
What do you see next for yourself in 2019?
I’ve recently been invited to curate a special slate of shorts for this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam, which is a literal dream come true that I can’t believe is actually happening.
Creatively, I’m in a horror zone right now. I’m currently directing a new short, the first I didn’t write, about two childhood friends who reconnect in adulthood to find the monster they thought they saw in the woods as kids. Thematically, it’s very similar to True Blue, but aesthetically it couldn’t be more different: it has absolutely no dialogue, is shot largely handheld and with only a few close-ups. I’m excited to see what’s left when I lean off of all my usual directorial crutches.
I’m also developing a feature, Beyond Mountains, with my producing partner Breanne Thomas, who co-wrote the script with me. It’s an atmospheric horror film about rural America, female friendship, and witchcraft. It’s extremely gothy and maybe the most upsetting thing I’ve ever had a hand in writing. I can’t wait for you to see it.I’m also casually working on a weird documentary/narrative hybrid about the time my school’s Picture Day coincided with the attacks on 9/11. And I’m always spreading the gospel of D E E P, my monthly showcase of experimental film found on the internet.
Watch True Blue in full below.