Last year, beginning in June, Warner Bros. Pictures began accepting submissions from aspiring directors to take part in the WB Emerging Film Directors Workshop, designed to give access and a voice to new and underrepresented talent. Five burgeoning talents—Kristin M. Burke, Elaine Mongeon, Xu Zhang, Alexis Ostrander and Justin Floyd—were selected from more than 5,000 applicants back in November.
Since that time, these five members of the inaugural class of the Workshop were each giving $100,000 budgets to make their short films as they were taken through the entire feature film process from beginning to end, including script development, shoot, and post-production. It all culminated this week when the filmmakers showcased their work to industry agents, managers and professionals at a film festival here on the Warner Bros. lot.
“Each of these films and the talented directors behind them is unique, thoughtful and provocative,” said Toby Emmerich, President and Chief Content Officer, Warner Bros. Pictures Group. “The level of creativity and dedication brought by Justin, Kristin, Xu, Elaine and Alexis is awesome, and we’re excited for them to continue honing their craft and telling great stories. I’m proud that Warner Bros. is helping to give voice to the next generation of filmmakers through our Film Directors Workshop.”
Recently WB.com caught up with all five of the directors to discuss their films and what they gained from this one-of-a-kind experience.
Mongeon is from Nantucket, Massachusetts. After attending Boston University, she moved to Los Angeles and eventually became the assistant to director Greg Jacobs, working with him on nine different films.
Going into the Workshop, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect other than that I was going to have the incredible opportunity to direct my first short film through the studio process with a budget of $100k. The level of studio support in making the film far exceeded my expectations. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience having had the opportunity to work with such fantastic execs who, along with their teams, were tremendously helpful and supportive throughout development, production, and post.
I previously worked on several films at WB in the role of assistant and Associate Producer. In the Workshop, in my new role as Director, I was grateful to have been given the chance to work with some of the same execs with whom I had worked in the past. I truly appreciated the incredible resources the studio provided. To name a few, for production we were given a production office and had access to the props/set-dec and costumes warehouses without having to pay rental fees. WB arranged a camera package for each film through the ARRI Group. We had the chance to shoot on the WB studio lot and at the Warner Ranch, which was a big deal considering how active the lots are and how costly they normally are. For post, we were given an editorial suite with Avids. We were also given the opportunity to mix on WB soundstages and color time at the WB facility.
Many people at the studio devoted a lot of time, energy, and resources to make the Workshop possible, and I was completely blown away by their generosity throughout. In addition to the studio’s support, because my short film was a Warner Bros. project, the cast and crew that came out to work on the film was top notch. I had the best team in Hollywood on my short!
Most Valuable Lessons Learned
I learned to embrace flexibility. As is usually the case in development, production, and post, things come up or questions are raised that can cause your original vision to adjust or change. I knew this already from my many years of working on other filmmakers’ projects, but when realizing my own creative vision, I was able to really understand the importance of having an open mind.
Additionally, I already had a working understanding of the importance of collaboration in filmmaking, but I was excited to be able to put that collaboration into practice on my own film. I truly appreciated the experience of having a talented, collaborative cast who brought great ideas to the table. And I had the opportunity to work with an amazing professional crew and studio team. To have everyone involved elevate my project by contributing their extraordinary level of expertise was a dream come true.
Your Film: Good Morning
The most simple theme of Good Morning is: “Life goes on.” It’s about the love between a father and a daughter. It’s about normalizing life situations that are not normal. It’s about finding control in an out-of-control situation, survival, role reversal, perseverance, and hope. I chose this as my film as I wanted to tell a story that was personal but also gave the audience something they’d never seen before. I'm excited! I hope people enjoy the film.
I didn’t have a calling card/directing sample before participating in the Workshop. Now I do! I can now actively seek out representation, apply to other workshops and fellowships, and present the film as an example of my work in order to be considered for other directing and writing opportunities.
Zhang grew up in southern China, where she attended the Zhejiang University. She earned her MFA in Film & TV Production at University of Southern California, during which time she worked on more than 20 short films, directing several of them.
There are several expectations I had going into the Workshop: to make a good short film; to explore new things that I’ve never tried before (story, genre, techniques, etc.); to meet people I want to work with in the future; to learn about the studio system and grow as a filmmaker. My expectations were definitely exceeded.
Firstly, I’m happy how the film turned out. It’s a period piece, a psychological thriller and a spy movie—all of which are new for me. And I tried some new visual language that I never tried before. Secondly, I had the opportunity to work with top-notch professional cast and crew. They’re the best in their fields and I would love to continue working with them in the future. Besides that, the full studio experience was a huge plus. I was surprised by how involved our two supervisors and the whole WB family are. They were there the whole time from script development to post production, and they went through a lot of effort to support us fully and make these projects happen.
A Learning Experience
The most valuable things I learned during the process of making Luna is how to be a good leader as well as a team player. I learned from Luna that I have to find the fine balance between the two. A good leader has to be decisive, know what he/she wants and be able to convey that vision clearly to the crew. A good leader mustn’t be afraid to say “no” when things aren’t going right. On the other hand, a good team player has to be open-minded and trust the people he/she is working with and give them room to bring their talent to the table.
Your Film: Luna
Luna is a story that is set in 1930s Shanghai. The main character, Luna, is a high-end prostitute. When an unexpected guest visits her, she offers to play a dangerous game with him, and their bargaining chip is his pinky finger. As the game goes on, the sexual and political tension develops, which leads to unexpected consequences.
I chose this as my film for two reasons. The first reason is because the story is inspired by the experience of my great grandfather—he was an underground rebel during the White Terror era. He passed away before I was born, but I heard of his story from my mom and wanted to do a film for him. The second reason is because I wanted to try things that are new to me—period piece, psychological thriller, and strong female lead.
Thanks to Warner Bros, this Workshop connected me with agents, managers and producers both in L.A. and China. I would love to use this opportunity to find like-minded people to collaborate with, and continue engaging in original, high quality storytelling. I’m currently developing three projects with my writing/directing partner Mei LiYing, and we’re hoping to make one of them happen next year.
A Syracuse University graduate, Ostrander spent her first few years after college producing documentaries and directed her own in 2011. She has also directed and produced three original narrative short films. In 2014, she participated in the AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women and she’s also a participant in Ryan Murphy Television’s Half Foundation mentorship program, through which she has shadowed directors on shows such as American Horror Story.
The Warner Bros. Directors Workshop has been a significant influence on me as a creative filmmaker. The Workshop pulled back the curtain to the studio process and created a safe space to explore, make mistakes, and learn from the best collaborators in the business. Throughout the filmmaking process I gained greater insight into the studio process of development, production and post-production, thanks to the focus and support of the Warner Bros. team. The employees, executives, cast and crew helped breathe life into our story and pushed me to make the best film possible. It was a life changing experience.
Solidifying the Vision
The Workshop had a huge impact on my artistic vision. Going into this project with a clear vision and big ideas, I was able to carry out those ambitious goals within the limited budget and create something truly special. Coming from the indie space, it was a big adjustment and very different from what I am used to, but I felt supported and nurtured throughout the process. My ultimate goal is to do epic films in the studio space and Sensum was my training ground. After making this film, I feel like I can do anything.
I'm thankful and inspired by the cast, crew and Warner Bros. employees, and I’m incredibly excited to share the finished film with them and with the other incredibly talented filmmakers in the workshop! It’s been an honor to be in this program and to see the other films come to life and share this ride together.
Your Film: Sensum
Sensum explores the inevitable desensitization of humanity through the eyes of a failing marriage. Catalyzed by science-fiction technology, the short film delves into the psyche of our protagonist, dissecting his deepest and darkest thoughts and fantasies. I was drawn to this film because I love to ask questions about the human condition. I wanted to push the boundaries of my previous directing experiences and pursue a grounded sci-fi with VFX elements and expand my vision and knowledge of filmmaking.
My goal is to work in the studio system as a director, and I feel this process has pushed me to reach a higher level and become an even better filmmaker. I approached this program with ambition and the goal of learning the studio filmmaking process and to collaborate with the brilliant team at Warner Bros. I feel this program has helped me to develop and I leave as a stronger director. I'll be directing multiple episodes of television this fall in various genres and styles. I am also attached to direct two feature films and am currently developing several new projects for film and television.
Floyd is a graduate of Fullerton College and participated in the Inner City Filmmakers program (ICF) and the Sundance Film Festival Ignite Fellowship. The Los Angeles native has worked as a production assistant on Fast 8 and Sinister 2, and has written, produced and directed four short films.
I originally did not have any expectations. I enjoy living in the now moment and I was ready to tackle any challenges headed my way to prove as an Inner-city kid, that I can do this with just the simple power of believing. Once established in the program though, all expectations that could have been felt, were far beyond exceeded. The Workshop develops a unique experience that is far beyond and better than any possible film school you can attend and/or any Indie project you can make. Not having gone to film school myself, I really treated the workshop with great importance. You learn best on the job. I’m incredibly grateful and the Workshop has left me speechless.
I believe the most valuable things I’ve learned during the process of making my short film were how the studio operates and the ability to compromise when necessary. I also feel that I’ve learned how to be an overall better filmmaker. My favorite thing about the learning process was all the smiles we got to share on my set and the payoff that will only make those smiles brighter. In those smiles you learn something, you learn something about yourself, and something about people in general. There is no agenda. We come together as a community to evolve one another and to share something with the world in the hopes that we make it a better place to live in.
Your Film: Resurrect
Resurrect is a psychological drama that depicts the revelations of the Hollywood entertainment industry. Specifically, in our tale, Alice, a 50-year-old has-been, has set out to relive her past life as an actress. During the filmmaking process she relies on her past techniques as a good looking actress. But, it’s not till our antagonist, Director Warren pushes her to her limits, that she is then able to resurrect her acting career and take responsibility of her old spiraling down life by looking within herself and empowering herself to achieve the scene with true emotion. She really does know.
I chose this as my project because I’ve always found something interesting about the relationship between directors and actresses, such as Stanley Kubrick to Shelly Duvall and Alfred Hitchcock to Tippi Hedren to name a few. That, and a contemporary touch of something heartfelt like empowerment towards women, who today are making a stronger voice for themselves and struggle in more than just the entertainment industry, but in many male dominated jobs in general. This makes me want to bring awareness to the mistreatment of females in any workplace.
To further my goal of being a filmmaker, I will remember everything I learned in the Directors Workshop. That includes, handling stressful situations, networking, compromising, working with a studio, my professional demeanor and making creative choices. As for now, I am focusing my attention on my three feature screenplays. Maybe find a part-time job. I’m hoping not to have too much free time. I don’t want the kind of ennui that comes from having too much time on one’s hands and too little will to find something productive to do. I like to keep the gears moving as much as possible. I think this is an incredibly competitive industry and many think it’s harder for me to succeed because I live in Compton and Los Angeles, but if anything I’m extremely lucky to be living here. The studio is in my backyard, I just have to reach out and play in it hard so that my future dreams of making high grossing memorable films, come true. Stay tuned!
Kristin M. Burke
Burke has worked as a movie costume designer for 25 years, working on such movies as New Line Cinema’s The Conjuring. She has written, directed, edited and produced three original short films.
To be honest, I try to keep myself free of expectations—it allows me to be more present, and to appreciate the good things when they happen. That is the honest truth. I can tell you that I had an amazing time, and I learned so much. Everyone worked tirelessly to bring my vision to life, and the cooperation was truly impressive. The most valuable thing I learned was to trust the process. Hire good, talented, hard-working people, give them direction, and let them work their magic. Be humble; learn from their expertise. This is a collaborative effort on all levels.
Showing Your Film
I'm very excited to share my film with the world. I’m proud of what we were able to achieve and I look forward to scaring the bejeebus out of the audience. Hopefully I’ll be able to work with the friends I’ve made here for a long, long time. It’s been a wonderful experience, and I look forward to a fruitful and collaborative relationship with everyone!
Your Film: Urban Myth: Nest
The synopsis: young woman with infant child, husband is deployed with the U.S. Navy, weird things start happening in their house and she has to deal with it. Why did I choose this film? I’ve worked on a lot of scary movies over the years, and I love the genre. Hands-down, scary movies are the most enjoyable kind of film to make—more fun than a comedy, more exciting than an action movie. I also had some strange things happen in my own home, and this is my way of making peace with it all.
Immediate future plans include settling in with a writing/directing agent, selling a script, and taking a vacation with my family. Balance is everything!