Interview: Anna Roisman & Michael Muntner on Making a Lasting Impact with Quickie Fest

To foster a sense of community among the attendees of Quickie Fest and to prepare them for the evening ahead, it’s been a tradition of co-founders Anna Roisman and Michael Muntner to start the night off by setting a timer for 60 seconds — and mercilessly roasting one another.

“It’s very fun. It’s lighthearted. It gets everybody in a good mood [for us to] get up on stage an insult each other,” says Muntner on the eve of the festival’s seventh edition at the SVA Theater in New York. “Anna loves it because she loves making fun of me. And also taking it.”

Says Roisman, “Yeah, just to see how much we can do in one minute.”

It turns out quite a bit, which was the initial inspiration for Roisman and Muntner to start a most intriguing film festival with Quickie Fest in which all films are just a minute long. Started in 2016, the biannual event has comic roots, as do its founders who have performed and produced short-form comedies for the likes of Funny or Die and College Humor, but one shouldn’t expect an evening of filmed sketches and half-formed bits if attending Quickie Fest, but fully fleshed out narratives with a beginning, middle and end where a filmmaker can give a strong impression of their distinctive personal style and storytelling skills without the burden of having to mount a full-scale production to sustain something longer.

“We see so many movies that do tell stories in a minute and that’s such a neat thing to see,” says Muntner, who with Roisman selects 60 shorts to play during the big night. “And the ones that do it well, do it really well and the ones that do it badly, you’re like 15 seconds in and it’s like,’Oh man, is this still going on?’”

“I think the people who try so hard to include so many different points of the story – they try and add in more jokes or they try to add in more twists and turns, don’t do as well as you would think,” adds Roisman. “It’s usually the videos that are shot well and have that one inciting moment that gets a whole audience so on board. That’s really all you need for a minute.”

What started out as a gathering primarily consisting of Roisman and Muntner’s circle of friends has grown into an event with regular industry attendance, with judges from agencies and companies such as Comedy Central often staying after the festivities have ended to chat up the filmmakers behind their favorites of the night. While the films have remained the same size, the event has not with Quickie Fest moving from the 187-seat Courthouse Theater at the Anthology Film Archives to the Beatrice Theater at the School of Visual Arts in Chelsea and recently, the pair spoke about the exciting new setting — a full bar with free beer! — while keeping the same scrappy spirit of the event intact as it gets bigger.

How did this come about?

Michael Muntner: A few years ago, we both realized that we wanted to create a film festival, and at the time, Anna had an office that was just open and available to use in the evenings.

Anna Roisman: So we were like, “Well, we can just see how it does.” We can get 40 people to submit videos – we make a lot of short-form comedy videos and have done it for years, so we were like, there should be a place where we can curate all of this, And it would be fun to give the challenge of not going over a minute.

Michael Muntner: So we put the first festival together back in 2016 and Anna’s office was filled to the brim with people. It was standing room only.

Anna Roisman: Yeah, we had to bribe the doorman with beer because I was like, “This is definitely over the fire code.” [laughs]

Michael Muntner: We did two of them there, and when people were turned away at the door, we realized we needed to grow and get to a different venue, so we moved to the Anthology Film Archives, which increased our capacity to 187 and again, we kept on selling out, so we moved again to SVA, which is an even bigger space.

Beyond the venue, has the festival evolved since its start?

Anna Roisman: Yeah, at first, we were just so excited to have people in it. Now we have so many submissions we have to make edits. We try to keep it around 60 and in terms of the quality of the work that we get, there’s definitely a standard that has been set. And if people have come to the festival, they know what will do well there. Obviously, we care so much that it’s diverse – that it’s equal men and women and that we have people of all ages. In the beginning, it was probably more of the comedy dudes that we know, so it was a lot of those videos, so now we reach out to a lot of those places to try and make sure that we have a diverse group.

Michael Muntner: And from the beginning, we made our big question, can you tell a story in a minute? And for me personally, I [wondered at first with the submissions] is that really what we’re asking? Is that what the core is? But I think it is and it’s also really funny because it’s the two of us putting this show on together and there are movies that we don’t like, but the audience ends up loving. You can’t always tell when you’re watching it alone if this is a hit whereas if you’re watching it with a big group of people, some of those movies end up being the biggest movies of the night.

Of course, it’s not only an entertaining evening, but seemingly a great showcase for new talent. Have you felt it’s grown successful on that front?

Anna Roisman: Yeah, we try to make it [so] if you’re putting in the money and the time to make a film, you’re going to get exposure for it. Whether or not you win, it’ll be up on the screen and we invite industry and we try and stack our jury with people who work in comedy or the entertainment field so they can meet people there if they don’t have their own agents setting them up with meetings.

Michael Muntner: The amount of opportunity you get from doing Quickie Fest is probably bigger than if you were to apply to another film festival because first of all, we don’t have as many submissions as a bigger film festival, so you have a greater chance of getting in and you have a greater chance of speaking with these executives or the people on the panel [of judges].

It’s interesting to see that you can apply without actually submitting a film, but where it’s more of an idea that gets approved and then a film can be made. Are there movies you don’t see until the night of?

Anna Roisman: That’s the most untraditional part of our process is saying, “Hey, you can submit something else that’s not necessarily your finished product and you can leave notes as to what you plan to make.” Now that we’ve done [the festival] six times, it’s pretty easy for us to see who knows how to make something versus who doesn’t — whether or not they have someone to shoot for them and who knows how to actually produce something, like who can put together good sound and it looks good — so that’s fine if you don’t have something fully produced for it. Some of the people that we’ve been on the fence about in the past where it’s like “I don’t know. It’s okay. They made [something] six years ago. Do they still have a network of people to help them make something [now]?” And then they’re like the best one of the festival. So we’ve lucked out. Of course, we get some that are just not up to par, but not as many any more. Now that it’s grown, we get a certain amount of great quality.

Michael Muntner: The majority of what we get is top notch. It’s like we’re watching Super Bowl commercials, one right after the other. And I really do think everybody is able to watch something for a minute, whether it’s good or whether it’s bad. so it ends up being a very watchable show [even if there are a few bad ones] and there are always big surprises for us. One of my favorite movies of the last festival was just an overhead shot in slow motion of a 747 done to relaxing music. It was just such a wonderful break. So much of the show is like bam bam bam, and to have something that’s almost zen-like was really amazing to be able to put into the show. And the audience loved it.

Is it interesting figuring out the order of 60 shorts and getting a rhythm?

Anna Roisman: Oh my God, the order of it takes so long. [laughs] It’s our worst nightmare. We stay up all night and what’s funny is we always try and find some common themes. We had one a couple festivals ago where there was a whole run of movies that were about cell phones, so we were like, “It’d be fun if we put a run of cell phone videos, like six in a row.” And I don’t think the creators liked that as much because then it just gets swept up in the cell phone bunch, but we [thought], “As a show, it’s pretty fun.”

Michael Muntner: Yeah, the placement for the videos is important. It’s funny, people that have done the show for a few years now, they’ll talk to each other, like “I don’t want to be last…”

Anna Roisman: Yeah, they have theories as to who will win because they’re like, “If you’re in the first half…oh, top tier. You’re not going to win…” It’s very funny. That’s how we started doing two halves. The first two festivals, we didn’t split it up, so it was like best video out of 50 or 60, but now we feel like it gets to be long and we don’t want people to be forgotten, so we split it evenly and pick a winner from each.

Michael Muntner: And the audience gets to feel really involved in being able to vote. They stay engaged in the festival as well because their vote matters and [these shows] end past 10 o’clock, but everyone seems to stay out and wait to hear who the winner is, so that always seems like, “Hey, this was a really great show that everyone cares so much to find out who won in the end.”

Is there anything you’re particularly excited about going into this edition?

Anna Roisman: This specific venue [of the School of Visual Arts], we’re excited to see if we can blow it out. We have a proper bar and now we have the whole lobby of SVA, and it feels like a nice professional step up. I hope people will love it more.

Michael Muntner: Yeah. We’re sponsored by Sixpoint Beer, so drinks are included and I’m really excited to see the festival up on the marquee outside. I really am. One reason we came together was because we wanted to just create an awesome opportunity for ourselves and for others to make movies and to be able to see yourself on a big screen. The SVA Theater is just such a great venue to do that in.

Quickie Fest will commence on June 29th at the School of Visual Arts in New York starting at 7 pm. Tickets are available here.