Phillyist Interviews… The Folks Behind Project Twenty1

Project21group.jpgMatt Conant, Stephanie Yuhas & Quang Ly are local filmmakers hoping to inspire the filmmaking community around them – so they’ve come up with the Project Twenty1 Film Festival, a Philadelphia-based film festival/contest. Phillyist pulled them away from working out the final details (we’ll keep you posted) long enough to ask them a few questions about the project and their feelings on the Philly film scene: 


Can you describe ProjectTwenty1 for our readers, using 21 words or less?
Twenty1 Teams have Twenty1 Days to create a short film or animation based on a common “Element.” One winner takes all.

Philly has a number of film festivals a year (including the 48 hour film project, which has an even shorter deadline than yours).  What inspired you to create ProjectTwenty1?
We’ve noticed a common phenomenon amongst some filmmakers: lack of motivation. This is not due to laziness; it’s just that “life” can often get in the way. The deadline is there simply as an impetus to act, and it’s our hope that 21 days gives teams a chance to really get all the details in place: normalized sound, a good score, a special effect or two, and maybe even give them time to do a re-shoot if something just isn’t sitting right with them. The emphasis of Project Twenty1 isn’t on the speed at which the films are made, it’s on the quality of the films overall.  We want our filmmakers to be proud of the film they’ve made, and to be able to use it long after the Project ends. And of course, we figured offering fabulous prizes would be an added bonus!

Who do you hope will participate? Are you strictly targeting local talent, or will you reach out to national and international filmmakers?
We don’t have any residency restrictions; however, you must have at least one “Team Member” who is able to attend the Launch Event and the Drop-off Event. With 21 days to work with, it is entirely possible that a team in Los Angeles or New York or, heck, even Brazil, could participate with the assistance of a Team Member in the Philadelphia area. Films will premiere locally to promote the Philadelphia region as a strong filmmaking hub and friendly, prosperous community.

We’re also hoping filmmakers from all experience-levels get involved (which is why we’ve dropped the “all-volunteer cast and crew” requirement other festivals often employ).  This is as much to raise the overall quality of the films as it is to give an opportunity to students in the Project to actually compete and potentially WIN against productions with budgets.  Have you ever looked at a major Hollywood film and said, “I could’ve done that better?”  Well, prove it!  Here’s your chance to be screened, and given equal exposure, along with people who may have been doing this for years.

(More after the jump…)

Do you plan to screen the entries in theaters, or will they be available on-line?
Entries will be screened in theaters and get released on a compilation DVD. Anyone can pop a film up on the internet these days, but there is nothing quite like sitting in a full theater and watching your film on a big screen or showing all your friends and family your commercial DVD debut.  Short descriptions, contact information, behind-the-scenes, and trailers will also be available on the Project Twenty1 website.

Your mission statement includes the promise that you’ll assist participants with marketing their entries to other festivals.  Will that be just for the winning entries, or will you be extending that assistance to everyone?
We will be submitting the final compilation DVD of all films to domestic and international film festivals, as well as including promotional material on our website. We have also set up an online forum ( and a MySpace account ( to encourage filmmakers to build relationships with other filmmakers, writers, actors, composers, and creative-types in general. The best assistance we can provide is networking like-minded people so they can help one another obtain a final product that everyone is happy with.

Stephanie, your bio says that “…ProjectTwenty1 is a perfect venue for animators to screen their films alongside live-action filmmakers.” As an animator yourself, do you really think filmmakers choosing to work in the animated form for this project might have a greater challenge with the deadline?
Live-action film and animation are equal and different challenges, but in the end it all boils down to production value. A hand-painted cell animation might take a long time, but so does editing live-action montage that was shot forty-seven times just to get the right angle and lighting. I actually hoped having 21 days would encourage live-action filmmakers to incorporate animation into their films; after all, animation isn’t always just bug-eyed cartoons characters hitting each other with anvils. Special effects animation is often undervalued because the intent of the medium is to be seamless. Perhaps Project Twenty1 can give some credit to the some of these “magicians behind the curtain.”

The three of you each focus on different aspects of the movie process.  How do you find Philadelphia as a venue for working in and exploring your field?
Stephanie: We are very lucky to have a tight-knit community of filmmakers and so many well-established organizations that are willing to promote Independent Films. It’s also wonderful that the citizens of Philadelphia are very spirited and passionate about their community. Passersby are usually supportive when it comes to filming on location and generally see filmmaking as a positive initiative. Philadelphia wants to be seen and heard!

Matt: I love making films in Philadelphia.  Upon announcing that I’m working on a film, I’ve had literally hundreds of people come out of the woodwork from the area to help out with whatever it was we happened to need, often simply for resume and exposure reasons.  Places like the Philadelphia Film Office ( are invaluable resources for filmmakers in helping put out the word when working on a project.

Quang: Philadelphia has a lot of young creative artists with a lot of ambition to get into films. There’s a certain energy you get from collaborating with the people here.

What are your favorite Philadelphia-based movies?
Stephanie: “The Sixth Sense” is probably one of my favorite films because of Haley Joel Osment’s tremendous performance and the incredible script and cinematography. There is also something completely surreal about seeing a lion on the steps of City Hall in an abandoned Philadelphia during “Twelve Monkeys”.

Matt: “The Sixth Sense.”  Shyamalan makes the city of Philadelphia virtually a character unto its own as well.  All the history and culture around the main characters just contributes to the visions Cole sees around him at all times.  It would be tough to have ghosts appearing from 18th Century courthouses if the film were set in, say, Las Vegas.

What is it about independent filmmaking that inspires you?
Stephanie: There is no better way to understand what an artist sees than actually looking through his or her eyes. Indie films are generally untouched by commercial filters, so what you are viewing is a direct reflection of the filmmaker’s genuine thoughts, feelings, and soul. The growth of indie films through the mass market is what’s really inspiring; it shows that America would rather watch a film shot on a consumer digital camcorder that conveys an authentic emotional response than get lured into a film with an $80 million budget and a contrived storyline.

Matt: The best part about making indie films is that there are no egos.  Everybody puts aside their own personal goals, at least while on set, for the good of the project as a whole.  And much more often than in larger movies, the more each person puts their effort into the project, the more that effort actually manages to shine through in the final film.  I find it amazing how, even if an actor or actress is acting in a film, he or she will get MORE excited from the fact that, in a pinch, the director borrowed their jacket, or cell phone, for use in a totally unrelated scene.

Quang: The entire creative process from script to finished product requires an immense amount of team work and leadership. There’s a sense of camaraderie when something comes together and succeeds.

Images provided by Stephanie Yuhas

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