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ATTACK OF THE KILLER SHORTS: Cucalorus Film Festival’s short films

Dozens of short-film blocks are scheduled throughout the Cucalorus Film Festival, including “Killer Bees” and “The Vamprentice.”

Big things do tend to come in small packages each year with Cucalorus Film Festival’s short-film blocks. Dozens of short films are scheduled throughout the festival, each representing varied themes and genres. Drama, comedy, horror, documentaries, animation, and more are packed into just minutes compared to hours of feature flicks.

KILLER FLICK: 'Killer Bees' is a featured comedy short at this year's Cucalorus Film Fest. Courtest photo, Cucalorus Film Fest.

KILLER FLICK: ‘Killer Bees’ is a featured comedy short at this year’s Cucalorus Film Fest. Courtest photo, Cucalorus Film Fest.

The short film blocks at Cucalorus are broken into various categories, like “Pelican Eel Shorts: Dance” on Saturday, Nov. 12, 10:15 a.m., at Thalian Black (Thalian Hall); “Global Perspectives” on Thursday at CFCC Union Station; “Cuddlefish Shorts: Love & Romance,” also on Thursday at Thalian Ballroom; and “Stingray VR Shorts: Social Justice” on Friday, Nov. 11, at Expo 216 (216 N. Front St.). Comedy, too, is represented in “Megamouth Shorts: Comedy 1” on Friday, Nov. 11, 7 p.m., at Thalian Hall and “Bumphead Shorts: Comedy 2” on Saturday, Nov. 12, 7 p.m., at CFCC Union Station.

Two local filmmakers represent films showing in Megamouth and Bumphead this week. encore went straight to the source to learn more about what folks can expect laugh over at Cucalorus 22.

Killer Bees
Megamouth Shorts: Comedy 1
Friday, Nov. 11, 7 p.m.
Thalian Ballroom
310 Chestnut St.
Tickets: $15
Passes: $40-$300

“Killer Bees” is an independent Wilmington production, shot throughout three days in Topsail by a crew of 17 women and three men. It stars Heather Shore (Trixie), Belisa Lea (Mona), Mike Cercone (Matt), and Anna French (Karen), and follows two ex-mobsters’ wives hiding out. It was a collective product between writers/directors Rebecca Busch and Monika Winters-Sanchez.

“We had an idea of what these characters would look like and when we held auditions, we were like ‘Wow. There they are!’” Busch says. “All our actors, as well as our crew, volunteered their time for this project and we are forever grateful.”

encore (e): Tell me about the idea behind “Killer Bees” and why you wanted to make it.

Rebecca Busch (RB): My writing partner, Monika, had this idea of two ladies who worked for Busy Bee Cleaning. They decide to right some wrongs. We tried to figure out how these ladies would have a special skill set needed to creatively make things right, so I created Mona and Trixie mob wives from New Jersey. Then, between the two of us, we bounced around ideas, and the story evolved into two ex-mobster wives on the lam in Duluth, cleaning homes, and who finally get payback.

Not enough movies are made for older actress so we wanted to create a movie for those ladies. Women in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and so on is a population that is packed with an abundance of amazing talent eager to continue their craft, but not many opportunities. So we had this funny movie, and we really wanted to give these women a chance to do their thing.

e: What is the most challenging aspect of doing a short? How did it apply to “Killer Bees”?

RB: For me one of the hardest things about doing a short is in the script writing. When I write I have a tendency to get carried away with one idea, leading into another, and the next thing you know, I have a 30-page script for a 15-minute movie. So the challenge becomes shortening the script but keeping it cohesive, while retaining all the key elements. With “Killer Bees,” like most scripts, it’s a lot of rewriting, cutting and rewriting some more.

Another challenge is shooting within a certain time limit. We had a serious deadline, so we had to work quickly and efficiently. A lot of prep work involved, but even with all our ducks in a row, stuff comes up. So knowing what we had to get and what we had to let go of was really important. And I think it’s even more important in a short. We didn’t have the luxury of a lot of time so we had to shoot as much footage as we could and minimize the number of takes. But when the unexpected comes up, it was really interesting to see how everyone pulled together for a solution. Three things I learned while making “Killer Bees”: to be flexible, not to be attached to ideas, and that when given the opportunity, people are eager to step up and be brilliant in making things work.

e: I see WilmFFilm is behind it. Tell us about the collaborative and the 17 women who helped create this.

RB: WilmFFilm is an amazing collective of female filmmakers, many of whom live in Wilmington. Through our collective, one of our members offered us a wonderful location. Our group created a database of actors that we contacted in the audition process. Our college members volunteered for crew positions and recruited film students to help with the project. Other members stepped up and graciously volunteered for key positions. Our DP is a member, and we have film professors who helped guide us through many phases of the process. We had a workshop on directing, led by an accomplished female filmmaker. The workshop was invaluable in learning how to direct. At meetings, we would have script read-throughs followed by questions and suggestions. Members donated financially and purchased items to help get “Killer Bees” made! This film could not have been made without the help of WilmFFilm!

e: Who were the three men who helped—doing what?

RB: Technically, we have four men on our project. Our editor, sound and music supervisor and post-production producer, Jeff Sanchez, B-camera operator Robert Chase and lighting by Wesley “Smiles” Miles. The fourth man is our lead male actor, Mike Cercone.

e: It says you’re proud 50-something females. Why is this important to you to state, specifically for being in the film industry?

RB: Because we’re kind of starting late in life in this filmmaking venture. I think filmmaking, like many things, can be a young person’s game. For us it’s important to recognize that we’re in our 50s, own it, and be proud that we have taken an idea, created a script and made a movie. We wanted to see our stories come to life. We don’t want to hear that because we’re over 50 what we have to offer in the filmmaking world is somehow less desirable because of age.

e: What’s next on the block for you?

RB: Monika and I are in the process of working on scripts for two “Killer Bees” sequels. We are also finishing up rewrites for two features.  I would love to do a longer film, maybe 60 minutes. I have a script in the works—a dramatic narrative that takes place in the mountains of Virginia, with a strong female lead and a predominately female cast.

I’ve written a couple of shorts for other female directors. I have a short script that I’m planning on entering in a screenwriting competition. I have a friend, another member, that is working on a series that I would love to write for. I think, right now, I would love to focus on writing and get some seriously solid scripts out there.


The Vamprentice
Bumphead Shorts: Comedy 2
Saturday, Nov. 12, 7 p.m.
CFCC Union Station  
411 N. Front St.
Tickets: $15
Passes: $40-$300

This parody could not be more timely with last night’s election of Trump to the position of POTUS. But before he took on the White House, he fired many in his hit reality show, “The Apprentice.” Local filmmaker Jon Landau has brought to the 2016 Cucalorus Film Fest “The Vamprentice.” It follows the matriarch of a vampire family who pitches his own reality show to a top television mogul. Landau says the plot attempts to develop “drama through the action of tangible story elements.”

Landau spoke with encore about the inspiration and underlying themes within “The Vamprentice,” which screens this Saturday at CFCC Union Station.

encore (e): Is this the first time you’ve had work shown in Cucalorus?

JL: I had a short called “My Friends and Me,” which was actually the closing film for the first Cucalorus. I have had others throughout the years, including a short called “Pushing Buttons,” which played Cucalorus 20. “Pushing Buttons” won multiple awards including the Director’s Award from the 2015 North Carolina Film Awards and a Platinum Remi from Worldfest Houston.

e: Tell me about the impetus to write “The Vamprentice.”

Jon Landau (JL): The idea came when we were planning our video for an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to produce a pilot episode for a television series we are developing called “The Vamps.” I had the idea of shooting a spoof of “The Apprentice,” in which the main characters from our show go into an entertainment executive’s board room to pitch themselves as the subject matter for a television show … essentially a short film that would also serve as a pitch piece.

e: How long is it? As someone who’s shot features vs. shorts, what are some of the challenges with the latter?

JL:  “The Vamprentice” is approximately 14 minutes, with credits and all. Shorts are much easier since the hardest part of producing quality films is raising the funds. Short films almost always require much less money than features because there are fewer production days.

e: What do you enjoy most about doing shorts?

JL: I enjoy that a short film can really be about anything—so long as people “get it” at the end. Even if the point is for the audience “not to get it,” that can still work for a short. You don’t need to think as much about the “marketability” of the film, too.

e: What was it filmed on? Anything about this equipment particularly special to shooting? 

JL: Shot with two Arriflex Alexa Cameras, provided by our co-producer, Lighthouse Films.


e: What are some of the themes in “The Vamprentice” that audiences can take away and connect with?

JL: It is a spoof, along the lines of something you might see on “SNL.” The idea to spoof “The Apprentice” was actually born before Trump had even announced he was running for president. By the time we got into production, though, he had announced his candidacy, so we put a couple of zingers in there that did pertain to the election. But I want people to know it is not a partisan look at Trump. It is purely and simply a light-hearted send up of “The Apprentice,” which allowed us to introduce our characters and some of the plot points from our television series, “The Vamps” (which we are currently developing). The performances are terrific by the way, most notably Cullen Moss as Ronald Dump and Tracy McMullan as the matriarchal Hillary Vamp. Her name has been Hillary for years by the way—it was just a happy coincidence.

e: As a filmmaker, how do you know when your story’s finished—when to walk away?

JL: That is a very great question. Sometimes it’s hard to know, but I think it is important not to overtly tell your story. You want the viewer to be allowed to use their own brains while absorbing the film and not tell “too much.”

For a full schedule of Cucalorus Film Festival events and activities, visit

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