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On Campus News

Zack Morrison discusses his short film, set to screen at this year’s Cannes Film Festival

By Naomi Laeuchli
posted Mar 19, 2013, 18:24

Zack Morrison, a student at Rutgers University, talks about his short film ‘Don’t Make Me Sing’ the winner for Best Comedy at Campus MovieFest (the largest student film festival) and set to screen at the Cannes Film festival this year. Morrison talks about his inspiration and experiences as well as his hopes for the future.

Can you tell me a little bit about 'Don't Make Me Sing' and the experience you had working on it?
Don't Make Me Sing was such a wonderful experience. It is a short musical comedy about a guy whose life is turning into a musical comedy. The inspiration behind the film came from a mix of things. I met a group of filmmakers from Colorado who made a film about a band that wanted to write a song that changed the world. It was so wild and crazy that after my friend and I saw it, we knew we wanted to write a wacky musical. Over the summer, I wrote a screenplay about a guy that had the ability to create music anywhere. He had a magic baton and could "conduct" the world around him. My co-writer and I kind of took the two ideas and mashed them together. That led to DMMS. It was my first time writing the score and soundtrack to a film of mine, so I really had no idea what I was doing at first. I play the saxophone and am self-taught in guitar, piano, drums, and harmonica. My friend Chris Pasi, who was the producer on the project, is also a great piano player, so we kind of sat down one night over a couple beers and thought up the outrageous songs "You're Not Getting Laid Tonight" and "Do The Number Two." It's obviously very tongue-in-cheek college humor, but that's our audience. I don't think I ever laughed harder on set. Chris happened to know all the great singing talent on campus, so it really couldn't have worked out any more perfectly.

The film won Best Comedy at last year’s Campus MovieFest. What was it like being involved in that competition?
CMF is such a whirlwind but it's a blast. The rules of the competition only allow seven days for the production of a five-minute movie. It's crazy. I take off from school and from work and it really consumes my life. In terms of the film, because it can't be a frame over 05:00, it forces you to really examine what is the core of your movie. There is no room for any superfluous plot details. Pre-production, however, can begin as far in advance as you want. This was the second year in a row that my team and I worked on Campus Moviefest. My freshman year, my film Live won Best Drama at Rutgers. We went out to Hollywood for the CMF Hollywood festival over the summer, and it was such an awesome experience. It also opened my eyes to the level of quality and production value the other student films had around the country. It forced us to step up our game for the following year. After returning to Jersey, we took a week off and then got right to work on the early drafts of Don't Make Me Sing. By Thanksgiving, we had a completed screenplay and by February we were recording the music. Come production week in mid-March, we were very prepared. Of course there were the standard last minute issues that always occur, but I had such a great cast and crew to work with--it made my life very easy on set. Like I said before, I have never laughed harder working on a project. Especially in the editing room. We made a party out of the editing session.

'Don't Make Me Sing' has already appeared at the Big Apple Film Festival and New Jersey Film Festival. What has been the most important thing you've learned from screening it at the multiple festivals?
A correction: Don't Make Me Sing did not play at the NJ Film Festival. I have had other films play at the NJFF--my first CMF short Live as well as a documentary I made on the rivalry between Rutgers University and Princeton University (Knights, Tigers, and Cannons. Oh My!). That one actually won Best Student Film at the NJFF in 2012. Either way though, I do have some experience at film festivals in the area. They're fantastic. It is so cool to go to a festival and see a community of a bunch of other people showing their work. A lot of the crowds are much older than I am so I've felt like "the college student" at times. On the other hand, there is a huge level of mutual respect though among all the filmmakers there--everyone wants to network and share ideas. I've met some really good friends at Big Apple FF as well as the CMF Festival in Hollywood, many of whom I still talk with, bounce ideas off of, and even have worked on set for various projects. That's the best part of festivals. When you're in a room with so much creative potential and passion, everyone wants to help you. It's very constructive. Seeing the kind of work that others do, and being able to pick their brains over their creative process really helps you figure out your own process and your own kind of stories. The best piece of advice that I have gotten is "Just keep doing what you're doing." Among student and indie filmmakers, that may come across as a bit of a cliché, but it is very true. The more work you create and the more you get it out there--the sky is the limit.

‘Don’t Make Me Sing’, along with 30 other Campus MovieFest student short films, will appear at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in France. What about this opportunity are you most excited about?
I am so excited for France. So excited! So many filmmakers spend their entire careers reaching for Cannes, and the fact that I have the ability to show my work there as a 20 year old college undergraduate--it's so humbling and I am so appreciative of the opportunity. I am pumped to learn about the business side of filmmaking. The buying and selling of films and distribution deals. That's something they don't teach in my classes at Rutgers, but it's a huge part of the business, and Cannes is the world leader in the film marketplace. I'm hoping that I'll have a chance encounter with someone which could lead to something else. One can hope right? Just the opportunity to surround myself and immerse myself in the world there is such an overwhelming thought. Plus, the Campus MovieFest guys are such great people. I have become friendly with a lot of them, so I'm pumped to just hang out with them on the trip. They have been so very good to me over my two and a half years of college so far. And above all else, any opportunity to wear a tux at a red carpet premiere is guaranteed to be pretty incredible.

What are your future filmmaking plans?
I have some plans thought out, but a lot of this career path is just doing it live. I want to go to grad school. Hopefully I can get good enough for NYU, USC, AFI, or one of the other big film schools. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for that, because the amount of opportunities those schools provide are enormous. However, it is extremely expensive, so I'm not sure if I'll be able to make it work. One can only hope. In my perfect world, I would love to just take a year off and sit down with my good friends from high school and college and produce a feature. Whether or not that happens is another story because we all need to find jobs at some point. For the immediate future, I'm just going to keep making films and see where that takes me. I'm extremely inspired by the Oscar short-film category. Here are guys that have a small, simple idea and really make something incredibly beautiful out of it. In 2010, Luke Mattheny, a NYU grad student won the Oscar for Best Short Film for God Of Love, his thesis film. How amazing is that? It’s stories like that which keep me motivated. I saw God of Love my freshman year of college, and it has been the biggest inspiration for me. If he can do it, why haven't I done it yet?


Zack Morrison’s Official Site


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