On nights I can’t sleep I find that the best thing to do is to enjoy a horror story. (I assume all normal people do this.) Sometimes it’s a novel…sometimes it is a movie…and sometimes it is a short film. A short horror film that I recently came across that I was blown away by is called The Jester. Made by the Florida based company, MakeDo Entertainment, the creators were of this short talked to me about filming in Florida, going to F.I.R.S.T. for their education, and The Jester.
Nicholas Yanes: So when did you all know that you wanted to have careers in the entertainment industry? Were there any specific movies or TV shows that influenced you the most to pursue this industry?
Michael Sheffield: It was sometime after high school, I was in college, and I was just going for general education, and I’m like, “I don’t want to get just some job. I want to get a job that’s awesome.” I was watching 3-4 movies a week, and I was like, “This is what I want to do. I need to figure out how to do this.”
Colin Krawchuk: I remember, I think I actually was enrolled in the audio program at F.I.R.S.T.
SHEFFIELD: Oh, really?
KRAWCHUK: Yeah, before I graduated high school. Because I was in band and I played instruments, I was like, “Yeah! Recording audio! That’ll be similar!” But I don’t know, I think I ended up recording a small movie on my iPod Touch in high school one time, and I cut it together on Windows Movie Maker, I thought it was so much fun. It was a combination of that, and always wanted to watch behind-the-scenes special features just as much as the movies themselves. So I thought I really should just switch into the film program.
Michael Sheffield: The best choice you ever made. Well, probably not the best choice.
Colin Krawchuk: I think buying my car was the best choice I’ve ever made.
Andre Eleam: I don’t think there were any specific movies are TV shows that influenced me, I’ve just always had interest in what goes on behind the scenes on set. And I used to do dumb stuff with cameras all the time. Just like Mike, I was taking general courses at school school and wondering when I was ever going to be using high-level math or things like that. I knew I didn’t want to be an accountant or anything like that. I want to do something that’s going to apply to me, and find some schooling in something I want to do.
KRAWCHUK: Yeah. Nothing against accountants.
ELEAM: No, of course not.
Yanes: The three of you met at F.I.R.S.T. College. Out of all the film/media production schools out there, why did you all pick F.I.R.S.T.?
SHEFFIELD: Because it was nice and cheap.
KRAWCHUK: That’s it. It was cheap and eight months long.
ELEAM: A school like Full Sail was $77,000, and none of us had that.
SHEFFIELD: I would’ve had to take out probably $100,000 in loans to go to Full Sail. Because you can’t work when you go, because you have 40 hours of class [a week]. So you’ve got to think of two years of living expenses on top of the $70,000 for the class.
KRAWCHUK: …it was just out of practicality.
ELEAM: Pretty much that’s what that was.
SHEFFIELD: I was living in Tallahassee, and my friend was going to the audio program at F.I.R.S.T. And I was telling him, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to keep going to community college.” And he was like, “This is where I’m going!” He gave me the F.I.R.S.T. website.
Yanes: What are some of the experiences you had at F.I.R.S.T. that made you three realize that you made the right decision?
KRAWCHUK: I think the experience for me that was kind affirming was when we went to St. Augustine. We had a class project where we had to make a short documentary, and that was really the only stipulation. So we chose something that we thought was interesting, which was “Ghosts of St. Augustine.” And then we just drove there. We set up interviews, and almost all of them fell through, but it was still just being able to bum around the city and say, “Hey, there’s a thing! Let’s shoot this!” And it was the first time we were able to be spontaneous and collaborative at the same time.
SHEFFIELD: And we made this relationship, and we kept it up after school, which was the best thing about going there.
Yanes: Several pieces have been written about the film industry struggling in Florida, so let’s try something different. How has beginning your film careers in Florida been beneficial to you three?
SHEFFIELD: I’m not sure if where we are is necessarily a benefit, it’s just a matter of circumstance.
KRAWCHUK: It’s not like somebody asked us, “Where would you like to shoot?” and we said,
“Florida.” Nothing against shooting here, but it wasn’t anything about Florida specifically that made us feel like it was going to benefit us.
SHEFFIELD: We shoot in Clermont because it’s a sleepy enough town, and we don’t want to go and shoot in the woods, like a lot of other 20-year-olds making YouTube short films.
KRAWCHUK: I don’t know if it’s because there’s not a lot of filmmaking going on around here that when we show up with our equipment, clearly working on some kind of video production project, people don’t mind, because it’s not something that’s seen often. But we just do what we always do: Put to use what we have available to us.
Yanes: On this note, what are some steps you think could be taken to improve Florida’s film industry?
SHEFFIELD: I don’t know if we’re qualified to answer this question.
ELEAM: That’s what I was thinking.
KRAWCHUK: I don’t know if it’s anything specifically about Florida that makes it to where it’s not a big player in the industry. I just feel like, especially now, where consumer-grade cameras are so accessible, and can deliver really high-quality content, any state could have a strong independent filmmaking base. But I think a lot of people think, “Aw, man, I would love to do that, but I don’t live in the right place.”
SHEFFIELD: Like New York, or LA, or Vancouver.
KRAWCHUK: And so they just feel like they can’t make films because of what they are, but nowadays, you can make stuff on cameras you buy from Best Buy.
SHEFFIELD: That’s true. We shoot a lot of our stuff on a Canon 7D, which is a very middle-tier DSLR.
KRAWCHUK: You just need to want to do it. And I think, if we’re talking about Florida specifically, I think if enough people really said, “I want to be in filmmaking. I want to make my own films, and tell my own stories.” I think you would see a rise in independent filmmaking.
Yanes: I discovered your company after coming across your short film, The Jester. What was the inspiration of this story? Were there any films that shaped how you all approached this story?
SHEFFIELD: We knew we didn’t want it to just be a horror short, we wanted it to really be about Halloween.
Grant Palmer: I mean, I think a big one that we kept coming back to, and it sounds obvious, but you talked about ‘Halloween’, and about how it so nails the spirit and the feeling of the holiday. I think that was kind of the underlying thing that we winged on, was that we need to make this feel like it’s a product of the holiday.
KRAWCHUK: And I remember us saying, the few horror movies we did prior to The Jester, were CREEP and On My Way, and both of those had really unhinged, animalistic antagonists. We wanted to do something that’s not just some maniac in a mask again. I liked the idea of, instead of having someone with really reptilian goals, which is just ‘attack anything that moves’, to have a character who is always one step ahead of you, and is much more methodical.
GP: The Jester is more of a lawful evil, and he has a set of rules, where as everybody else has been a bit more chaotic. I think that’s a good distinction to draw from our other outings, which were more punctuated incidences of chaos and crazy people, and this is not.
Yanes: The look of the Jester is perfect. How did you all go about designing his appearance? How long did it take to find the mask?
KRAWCHUK: (laughs) It’s all about that mask, man.
SHEFFIELD: This is like when we released On My Way, and everyone wanted to know how we did it, and you don’t want to tell them, because it’s like seeing a magic trick revealed; it’s not impressive anymore. I mean, that mask was just at Walgreens. Not even a costume shop, it was just a drugstore.
KRAWCHUK: My friend had sent me a photo of that mask, saying, “Aw, man. If only we had something like this for On My Way.” And I thought it was a neat mask, and that was really it. But then when we started talking about this character, I knew I wanted him in a mask, because I don’t like the idea of ever hearing him speak of seeing his face.
GP: He’s almost an entity, and not really a person.
KRAWCHUK: And he’s really a mascot of the holiday, and part of the tradition of the holiday is dressing up in costume, which a lot of the time involves wearing a mask. Plus, a mask is so nice and emotionless. So I remembered that mask, and we went to Walgreens and went, “Oh, there it is” and just bought it.
GP: I think, too, the idea of that mask specifically, was like you said, the expression is so frozen, but it’s frozen in almost a positive way. He’s very sinister, but he’s smiling, like he’s enjoying it, so I think that’s part of it, too. The one emotion that he’s frozen on, is the same as his one-track mind.
SHEFFIELD: And then the suit was a product of us wanting him to wear a solid-colored suit, something that was festive toward Halloween.
KRAWCHUK: And we weren’t even thinking about orange. We were thinking about maroon.
KRAWCHUK: Yeah, and when you get to purple, you get too close to “Joker” territory, and we didn’t want him to be compared to the Joker.
GP: That was kind of a mandate. We were like, “Let’s make sure that no comparisons can be drawn.”
KRAWCHUK: It was thanks to the owner of the Halloween store we were at, though, because we found the suit, and it was on clearance, and they were all that awful orange color. And so I asked the owner, “Do you have any other colors of this suit?” And of course they didn’t, because they were on clearance. And I told him, “Eh, it’s just SO orange.” And he said, “Well, it is Halloween!” And I went “…you’re right!! This could work!”
SHEFFIELD: And luckily, that grime effect that Grant was able to put on it added so much to it.
KRAWCHUK: And not only did adding that grime help bring down the loudness of the orange, but we didn’t want it to look like he was just wearing a cheap suit from a Halloween store, we wanted it to look like he’d been in that suit for years and years, every day.
SHEFFIELD: That was the same idea behind the makeup effect we added to his neck.
KRAWCHUK: Yeah, that effect was like a bruising and yellowing of the skin.
SHEFFIELD: Like he’s just dead.
KRAWCHUK: Well, that’s the thing, it doesn’t matter what he is, and we’re not explicit about it. I just knew the neck was going to be the most exposed area right next to the face, and didn’t want it to be just plain neck.
GP: It’s too human, almost.
KRAWCHUK: Right. I wanted to give it that look of busted capillaries and rotten skin. Just give the impression that there’s something not right about him.
GP: And the top hat and gloves are just obvious flair for the theatrics. And the size of the top hat, is just…
KRAWCHUK: It’s pretty top.
GP: Yeah. The top-est.
Yanes: Now that The Jester is completed, how do you think this improved your film production skills?
KRAWCHUK: From a story perspective, in terms of progression, I feel like, even though it’s a short film, it’s always tough to ride that line of not enough exposition, and approaching feature-length film’s worth. A short film should be a snapshot of a specific situation. But you can’t leave the audience wondering what just happened. And we’ve done that before, in our attempt to cut the fat. I think The Jester is the best balance that we’ve had, where we took the criticisms we reviewed on previous films, and were able to set up and establish certain things.
And on a technical level, we wanted our shots to be more precise than previous projects. We wanted plenty of coverage so that we had plenty to play with in editing. I think it might our most mature film to date, on a technical level.
Yanes: Additionally, what are your long term goals for The Jester? Is this just something to add to your portfolio or are you all hoping to expand it to a full length film?
SHEFFIELD: I don’t think we have any plans on making it into a feature-length film. We did submit it to the Florida Film Festival.
KRAWCHUK: I think it is just something to add to the portfolio. We just want people to let us know what they think of it. I kind of have this thought, I don’t know about you guys, but I have this outlook on projects that, when they’re finished, to not go back and remake them when we get better.
KRAWCHUK: They should stay at those benchmarks, at where we are in our skill level. We like the idea of films that we’ve done that we could absolutely go back and make them now, and make them better, but I don’t think we should. Because that is the best that we were at that time. And to remake that would kind of nullify those projects.
As far as The Jester, think the only vague plan we have is to make, throughout the years, some sort of Halloween anthology collection of films, each year the holiday comes up.
SHEFFIELD: I don’t think turning it into a feature would be necessary.
GP: Yeah. It serves its purpose.
SHEFFIELD: Because you fall into that trap of, people liking the character, so they want to see more of him, and then you show too much, or give too much, and it’s not exciting anymore.
There’d be no mystery to him.
Yanes: What are some projects MakeDo is working on that people can look forward to?
KRAWCHUK: Of course we have ideas. We have ideas for projects we’d like to do in the future. It just always comes down to resources. We made The Jester with $500 and four people. There are always going to be ideas, and there are always going to be things we want to do, but I think the thing we can guarantee that people can look forward to is that we’re always going to try to pushing ourselves. We’re always going to try making each project with the best quality that we can with what is available to us.
GP: I think that’s a fair assessment.
SHEFFIELD: We’ll MakeDo with what we have.