Mitch Emoff is the screenwriter for FATHER, SON, & HOLY MOSES! one of the winning films at last week’s International Christian Film Festival. His name is also a familiar name for Nashville folks as he is the head of the Nashville Filmmakers Meetup group.
First, introduce yourself and your filmmaking background.
I started as a screenwriter in 2010 after writing many 1/2 novels earlier in life. My stories were always misfits as a novel: present tense, non-flowery almost basic descriptions, lots of dialogue. After finishing a novel in 2009, an editor said to me, you ought to write screen plays based on your style. I said “How do you do that?” Here I am seven full feature screenplays later. Only problem is I was lonely writing in solitude and found myself (and my characters) yearning for more. I dove headfirst into the Nashville film scene and haven’t looked back.
When did you first develop an interest in film?
I, like many, grew up chomping popcorn and marveling in front of the big screen. I particularly loved comedies that could make you laugh and still feel for the protagonist. Movies by Mel Brooks and Woody Allen, as silly as they could get, held deep substance for me.
Tell us about some of your award winning screenplays.
All of my screenplays are comedies with a message and have won or placed in contests at some level. Ironically, some of my favorite have not performed as well in contests. I’ve learned that you can’t let your determination be governed by contest results. As for my screenplays, I take pride in creating a fresh story line, much of it pieces of my own life experience with the details made up to be interesting. The common thread of my stories is that the protagonist learns something about him/herself, particular as relates to the importance of family oriented conservative values. On of my favorite screenplays is called INSUFFICIENT FUNDS. It’s like a modern MR. SMITH GOES TO HOLLYWOOD. It’s about a frugal man, tired of the government wasting his taxes. He goes to DC to take on big government and with all it’s allure, ends up becoming part of the problem. The key to the story is the how he must lift himself up by the bootstraps. There is comedic relief throughout as I believe people want to be entertained when the spend two hours at a theater, even if the underlying serious message.
Tell us about the Nashville Filmmakers group and your involvement with that.
I’m really excited about overseeing the Nashville Filmmakers Meetup and also really lucky. The group was dormant until 2 1/2 years ago. Jeff Dolan, a man with a vision, grabbed the unclaimed helm and started organizing monthly meetups. Membership grew from a few hundred to over five hundred in a year. Jeff had to miss a meeting and asked for a volunteer to run it. I responded immediately. Three days later, I got an email from Jeff. He said no one responded so the job of running a meeting was mine. Not exactly a ringing endorsement… A few weeks later, Jeff said he had to back down with his first baby on the way and wanted to know if I’d run the group. I didn’t know much about film but I knew with the expertise in the group and the willingness to collaborate, I’d have help. It’s been a privilege and humbling to say I lead this group. It also has given me the chance to build that film family that screenwriting wasn’t affording. We’re now up to nearly a thousand members strong. We make ten or so films together through the group each year and have a big Premiere in December to celebrate. Andy van Roon, founder of Film-Com and a Nashville film icon said our group is probably the most prolific filmmaking group in Nashville. I most proud of that for the fact that it’s proof positive that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
What is the greatest challenge that you see filmmakers struggling with right now?
Courage and Confidence. I know that’s a bit of an odd answer since there are many other big issues to throw out there like funding, competing in an overly saturated medium, and having the connections to get ‘the big break’. Still, I really believe the biggest limitation is the one we put on ourselves. Now, I’m not saying that you can simply ‘will your way’ to fame and fortune. I do believe, though, that we get to individually define what success means to us and go for it! For me, that is collaborating to make one feature movie a year, and if I can find a thousand true fans who enjoy it and it adds one little bit of additional inspiration to their lives, I’ve succeeded. It take courage and confidence to wake up and say, I’m going to make this movie, and while I see people struggling with it everyday, I also see people rising up to the challenge. I’ve never met a person in film who says they were sorry they rose to the challenge.
Tell us about the inspiration for FATHER, SON & HOLY MOSES!.
Thanks for asking this question. FATHER, SON & HOLY MOSES! is one of those personal stories that I wove into something hopefully intriguing. I’m Jewish and I go to church weekly with my Catholic wife and kids. Admittedly, as a Jew, I have a little extra time to reflect during church and so my mind wondered and came up with a story. Here’s the logline: In order to receive a portion of his father’s lofty inheritance, a renounced Jew must return to his roots and complete his Bar Mitzvah–all against the wishes of his older brother, the perfect son and Temple President, who gains all of the inheritance if he fails.
What’s been the response to it so far?.
There is one universal response. Funny! Hilarious! This truly is fulfilling to hear. I sent it recently to a filmmaker who also has her film screening at ICFF. She wrote a very serious, devout religious film. Here was her response that says it all for me: “Oh my goodness,That was too funny! Great Job! Our film style totally different.”
What is your vision for the project?
I’ve been told that the film has a TV feel. I can see that. I’ve written TV pilots so I’m flattered, but I’m not sure I’m suited for TV writing which is notoriously a pressure cooker team writing environment in LA. For me, writing starts alone and evolves into a team venture. That’s what I see for FATHER, SON, & HOLY MOSES! The short film was the collective product of eighty eight people on the cast and crew. If it goes anywhere, I’d like to see it as a feature or possibly a TV series (based in Nashville?). The joy would be making it with great people and delivering it to people who want to see it whether a small theater run or even just through a movie club.
What advice would you offer to aspiring screenwriters?
The best piece of advice I can offer to aspiring screenwriters is to look beyond their specific role in movie making. Take an acting class, work as a PA or script supervisor on a set, get familiar with the editing process. It really helps to hone the screenwriting craft that kicks off the whole process by having a better vision of how the end product is made. Additionally, I recommend having table reads done of your screenplay. It’s amazing how dialogue can dance in your head and then fall flat as it’s spoken.
There is tremendous film talent in Nashville. We can be the next Austin and in the top five filmmaking markets in the country if we play our cards right.
To learn more about Mitch, visit his website and check out his other award winning screenplays.