Celebrity Interview: Weinstein Producer Joey Horvitz Talks on The Lexus Weinstein Short Film Contest, The Process, and Partnership

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The Lexus Weinstein Short Film Contest has recently premiered the four short films, producer Joey Horvitz and team have spent the past year making, the winners in a competition that brought in nearly 4500 submissions from hopefuls globally.

Game, Friday Night, Messiah and The Nation Holds its Breath: Four uniquely different and deeply resonating films that cover a range of topics including gender equality in the award winning Game, mysticism in the aborigines spiritual comedy Messiah, a Mother searching in Paris for her daughter in the very personal Friday Night and the family comedy sports drama, The Nation Holds its Breath.

The producer for these four films, and all the shorts in the Lexus Weinstein Short Film competition, is Joey Horvitz, who has made feature films and commercials with an ad man background. 

I recently had the pleasure of  screening the four short films and interviewing Joey Horvitz. We met at The Weinstein Company office, in Los Angeles, and talked on the process, the partnership, and some of the unique moments in last year’s winners. Below is an excerpt of my interview.

Janet Walker: A few of the questions I had wanted to ask Chelsie answered and so I wanted to ask you a little about the film festival . .

Joey Horvitz: film festival?

Janet Walker: The Lexus Weinstein Shorts Contest.

Joey Horvitz: The funny thing we actually treat it like a film festival. In order to find our filmmakers we accept submissions globally and the only requirements that first and foremost, our filmmakers have not written or directed feature film, that’s number one. We try to keep it up and coming and emerging, although there are emerging filmmakers that have done features as well, it’s just easier for us to keep it on an even playing field. So no features.

Also the filmmaker need to have had at least one short film that has competed at any film festival and if they haven’t had that then they can be currently a film student and have a short film. So those are basically, and they have to be the writer and director of the short that they submit. We accept directing teams as long as they are both writing and directing.


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What we do and we use Withoutabox, (a well-known software that allows filmmakers to submit to film festivals online), and so it is very much like a film festival. In fact we hired, a friend of mine and a colleague that has done this for many film festivals. I’m taking about the screening of all the submissions, and so we basically hired him and all the crew that does all the film festivals.

And the crew is like the screeners, I mean right now we are up to 10 screeners, we had over 4500 submissions last year of short films that needed to be reviewed. We hired screeners who are programmers at various festivals and when they are not programming their own festival what a programmer does is screen for others.

The Difference Between Lexus Weinstein Short Film Competition and Film Festivals

The big difference between us and a film festival is that a film festival may have up to 300 slots to program and we have four and we’re not programming that short film so what happens is we go through the submission process.

We’re at the point where we are watching the films. Each film is scored and has a comment by each of the screeners so each screener is scored between one and five; then I watch all the five’s, watch all the four’s and watch most all the three’s. And last season I watched 600 movies in the course of a month and a half which was insane.

Then, we shortlist, about 80 filmmakers, usually it’s based on regions of the world but were not held to that if we see two amazing talent coming out of Asia, then were going to do those.

Usually we want to spread it around the world a little bit also this is where Lexus gets involved, it’s the regions that there involved in. There is no mandate to use a car, no mandate to have a story about a car, but where Lexus gets involved a lot of times, is the region where we want to shot.

The Process

So what happens is we short list these 80 or so filmmakers and we give them a creative brief, and last year’s theme was “Anticipation,” and this year’s is “Transformation.”

What we do is elaborate on that theme and come up with different ideas of what the theme could me and we also include guidelines, like no graphic violence, no graphic nudity, we try to steer clear of divisive issues, politics and what not.

At the end of the day the brand is on the line and the brand wants to appeal to as many people as possible. They don’t want to divide people.

So we give them that information and they come back to us with a two page treatment so then we go through all 80 of those treatments.

What we’re doing this year (and they are still taking submissions) that is different from last season is that we’re going to shortlist even further and take about 20 filmmakers or so and ask them to develop their two page treatment and develop it into a full scripts. And then at that point we will be reading all twenty scripts and then we will chose four filmmakers from that bunch.

And that’s how we get our filmmakers. And then we for a whole year we’ll go and shoot brand new movies based on the treatments and the scripts the filmmakers wrote.

The Partnership

JW: So how did Weinstein get involved with Lexus? How did they become your partner in all this?

JH: Lexus was always a partner here at The Weinstein Company so they were like the official car of The Weinstein Company. About five years ago they wanted to do more so there was this idea of short films.

So I was approached because I had produced feature films in the past and also produced commercials in the past and so when I was approached I asked two simple questions: Is there an ad agency involved because my experience with commercials is that you have so many cooks in the kitchen having an ad agency, in my opinion, complicates things.


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So no ad agency which means direct to client, so that was one. Number 2, I asked to we have to do these films about cars; because I was very familiar with the BMW series, BMW films, and as much as they had Clive Owen as their main lead , the real main lead was the car. And there was no mandate to use a car and so that’s how I got involved and then we developed it from there.

The Four Surviving Films

JW: So let’s talk a little about the four films of this year, Game, Friday Night, Messiah and The Nation Held its Breath, if you want to elaborate a little on what happened when you brought them to the table?

JH: Friday Night was an interesting situation because we chose the director on a science fiction treatment that he had put together. What happened was is we we’re announcing our filmmakers in November of 2015 at the Napa Valley Film Festival.

If I remember correctly the actual announcement was on November 15th and the Paris attacks were on November 13th and the French filmmaker almost didn’t get out of Paris to come to be announced at the Napa Valley event. Because of obvious reasons. He got out and he came just literally a day after it had happened.

And it was so very raw for him. And he got through the festival and on the plane ride home he wrote with a whole new story, a brand new script.

And he calls me up and says, '“you’re going to kill me but I have a brand new story and I can’t ignore that I want to tell it”' and then it was first getting the Weinstein company on board because it was a terrorist attack involved in this and most importantly it was about getting Lexus on board because it’s the brand.

This was like getting involved in political situation they want to steer clear from and not exploiting issues and it took a lot of finessing it took several weeks of getting our Lexus executives on with our Director and explaining it’s not about the Paris Attacks it’s about a Mother’s love for her daughter, it’s a fish out of water story, the backdrop was the Paris Attacks it could have been any type of disaster, it was just about a mother looking for her daughter. And so that’s how that happened.

And Game, I think Game was also pushing the limits a little bit with Lexus. Just because it is dealing with gender equality, another issue. They don’t want to be dealing with issues. They just want to be giving entertainment to people. I mean you look at Game and it could be divisive to some people, although it has been very well received.

We got them involved with it; we got them to okay it and it worked out really well.

Deadline for Series Four

The four films, all branded with the Weinstein name, present quality entertainment, strong creative choices, stellar casting, and introduces to the audiences to new and emerging directors as well as recognizable talent and newcomers.

The films deal with both timely issues and comedy which can be difficult to present a full, emotionally reverberating story in the time allotment.

Game, which has just won a Cannes Lion Award, and the others which are circulating in various Film Festivals, will be featured separately along with talent interviews from both Game and Friday Night.

The Lexus Weinstein Short Film Competition is currently accepting film submission for the 2018 series. Deadline for submission is August 23, 2017. 

 

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