Film Courage: Where did you grow up?
Thomas Verdi: I grew up right outside of Philadelphia but now live closer to Villanova when I’m not living at school. My grandparents grew up in South Philly, so I have a strong affinity for the city and love how close I am to it—that and the cheesesteaks.
Film Courage: Best movie going experience as a child?
Thomas: In terms of strictly going to see movies as a child, I have to say Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. The prequels get a lot of hate these days, but I saw this film as a kid with my dad and thought it was pretty badass. I think we bought the rest of the Star Wars films in a DVD box set the next day and watched them straight through. Definitely a moment in my life that piqued my interest in cinema.
“For some reason a lot of people feel detached from movies, like they’re this far-off entity. I became friends with some creatives in high school, and they got me into Tarantino in a big way. I know that’s every budding filmmaker’s cliché these days, but he broke the rules and opened my mind up to what can be done in the world of cinema. Pulp Fiction floored me when I first viewed it. It was so raw, so creative compared to most of what I’d seen in the past, and at that age I just didn’t know movies could be like that.”
Thomas Verdi, Founder and CEO of The Film Fund
Film Courage: How did you get your start as a screenwriter/director?
Thomas: Haphazardly! I’ve always loved movies. Always found them as a refuge from whatever was going on in my life—and still do. But, starting out, I never realized filmmaking could be pursued as a serious career endeavor. I was passionate about watching movies, but—as a token of my former ignorance—it didn’t dawn on me until around the end of high school that filmmaking exists within anyone’s grasp. For some reason a lot of people feel detached from movies, like they’re this far-off entity. I became friends with some creatives in high school, and they got me into Tarantino in a big way. I know that’s every budding filmmaker’s cliché these days, but he broke the rules and opened my mind up to what can be done in the world of cinema. Pulp Fiction floored me when I first viewed it. It was so raw, so creative compared to most of what I’d seen in the past, and at that age I just didn’t know movies could be like that. So, already accepted to universities that specialized in engineering, I decided to start making films on the side. I started with my high school friends over winter break, filming in a blizzard with a boom made from a painter’s pole I got from Home Depot. That represented my first serious attempt at making a short film. It wasn’t amazing, but I learned more during those few weeks than I ever have from reading anything, be it online or in books. I switched from studying engineering in my undergraduate years to pursuing creativity, and I haven’t regretted anything for an instant. My productions have improved since then, too, with my short script “Son of Blackbeard” being named a semi-finalist in HollyShorts Film Festival’s Screenplay Contest a few summers ago.
Film Courage: How did growing up in Philadelphia color your love for filmmaking? What culture does Philadelphia bring to movies?
Thomas: This is a great question, because to me, Philadelphia is all about culture and passion. Food, sports, history. Sure, people rag on our outspoken fans and whatever else, but I feel more comfortable in the city than anywhere else. I was in the Reading Terminal Market the other day, and it truly defined the City of Brotherly Love. I stopped a man eating a hot pastrami sandwich and talked with him for about twenty minutes. I shared a table with a woman whose parents were visiting from out of town, and it was like I was part of their family, if only for a short while. Moments like these encapsulate what filmmaking is all about for me. I’m all about how movies have the power to make us feel something, and this power stems from the human condition and how we’re all connected. Even when the Eagles depress and enrage me, which is often, I still feel a connection with my fellow Birds fans. We all share something on a basic human level, and filmmaking hits that spot. Although films usually never get the accent right. That does bug me a little. And of course the Rocky films had a huge impact on me as well.
Film Courage: Are you still on the East Coast?
Thomas: Yep, still here. I’m finishing up my undergraduate degree at Lehigh University, so I’m here for the time being. I’m contemplating applying to film school after completing undergrad, so we’ll see where that takes me. I’m sure I’ll end up in LA at some point—just a matter of when.
Film Courage: Of your creative writing classes, which course, required reading or professor’s world view has been most helpful?
Thomas: I took an elective creative writing course called “Walking in Literature and Life.” To be honest I thought it would be pretty corny—sorry, Professor—but it did fill a requirement so I figured I’d take it. While we did read excerpts from classics like Walden, the professor focused more on concepts like Tai chi and the notion of mindfulness, and that really stuck with me. The professor was definitely an older dude—if you’re reading this, sorry, again—yet he was pursuing his black belt at the time, so the class was one of the most interesting I’ve taken for sure. We read Wild, which was adapted into a film with Reese Witherspoon, so that was cool, too. Learning to be mindful of one’s own presence, of one’s every minute action, resonated with how I view the world.
Film Courage: How many films have you personally been a part of?
Thomas: Performing exceptionally in school eats up a lot of my time, but I’ve been involved in seven films in different capacities, although I do focus primarily on writing and directing. I’ll have an updated director’s reel on my personal website soon. My favorite genre by far is black comedy. The Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino, Martin McDonough—that kind of stuff. I’m also partial to psychological thrillers and edgy cerebral films. I keep an unranked list of my favorite directors—Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, The Coen Brothers, Christopher Nolan, M. Night Shyamalan, Darren Aronofsky, and Kevin Smith.
Film Courage: What is your script SON OF BLACKBEARD about?
Thomas: “Son of Blackbeard” tells the comedic story of the classic pirate Blackbeard’s stoner, partying, lackadaisical son. Blackbeard somehow exists in the modern world and has a modern-day son named Son of Blackbeard, so the script largely deals with common father-son issues but places them in the context of growing up under menacing piracy. Son of Blackbeard parties along, destroying his father’s hard-earned legacy—until Blackbeard raises the stakes. As far as inspiration, the concept hit me while studying Philip Larkin’s poem “This Be The Verse.” The speaker in the poem warns about the dangers of having children in a tongue-in-cheek manner, and there was something about the title that reminded me of pirate-speak, so I combined the two idea kernels.
Film Courage: What is the most essential book on screenwriting or filmmaking you can recommend to a fellow creative?
Thomas: In true independent spirit, I have yet to take a formal screenwriting or film production class, but the most helpful book that I continually reference has to be Syd Field’s Screenplay. It places an emphasis on structure, and a successful story must have a logical structure, even if non-linear or experimental. I’ve read the book several times, and it breaks down the entire concept of screenwriting quite nicely. As an English major I can’t just recommend one book, so another recommendation is Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman, which was recommended to me by a respected colleague who has extensive experience in the film industry. The latter is a little dated in terms of screenwriting techniques and form, but it provides great insight into the industry. I can’t help myself: another book that I read early on is Master Shots: Volume 1, 2nd edition: 100 Advanced Camera Techniques to Get An Expensive Look on your Low Budget Movie by Christopher Kenworthy.
Film Courage: When you go to a theater or press play for a Netflix or other VOD film, what do you want from the experience?
Thomas: I don’t know how to describe it exactly, but my favorite films leave me rattled upon completion. I can’t stop thinking about them for days. And it’s not even thinking, really, not in an analytical way or anything like that: it’s more of an emotional resonance that I feel in my chest. It’s as if nothing exists except that film, and it blows my mind. A good film will leave me feeling this way each time I watch it. I guess, put simply, it’s awe.
Film Courage: What is The Film Fund?
Thomas: The Film Fund is a short film funding contest I’ve been working on to provide an alternative to screenwriting contests, grant proposals, and crowdfunding for independent filmmakers. It’s not that these other opportunities are inherently awful; I just see more and more that they are dominated by industry experts or people who already have sizeable filmmaking experience. Only 14.7% of projects on Kickstarter are short films, and almost 50% of these campaigns fail. So the small number of campaigns that do succeed are usually by known industry figures or accomplished creatives or producers with decent social media followings. I haven’t seen too many newcomers—meaning people with hardly any experience, not “first-time filmmakers” who are heading up some big production with an adequate budget—break into film festivals, no matter if they’re prominent events or not. Like anything else in the world, film funding goes to those with experience. But it’s a vicious cycle similar to the problem of entry-level jobs in the corporate world: how can a green applicant possibly be selected for this entry-level position when the job states that it requires three years of experience? I want to change that problem in the film industry. The gatekeepers act with proven logic: why fund someone who does not have a proven track record? I want to take that chance on sheer creativity in its simplest form, and I want to level the funding field. The structure of the contest inherently provides no advantage to entrants based on their experience. You write one sentence that encapsulates two things: the vision you have for your short film and how you’ll creatively use the funding/why you need the money to make this specific idea.
Film Courage: When did you begin The Film Fund?
Thomas: It started out as a simple concept in one of my entrepreneurship classes almost a year ago, and I got such great support from the research I’d presented that I’ve decided to pursue it full time. We’re pretty new, but I’ve already gotten a colossal amount of support from interested independent filmmakers throughout the pre-launch process who love what I’m setting out to accomplish.
“Why waste hours devoting time to writing a screenplay when odds are it’s not going to win a contest and be produced? Why not start with one simple sentence, see if it’s viable, and then proceed once you’ve validated your creative concept assumptions? The short-term goal of The Film Fund is to provide funding to a filmmaker with a unique short film concept that will allow its production with an adequate budget.”
Thomas Verdi, Founder and CEO of The Film Fund
Film Courage: Why did you begin the Film Fund? What are you hoping to accomplish with it?
Thomas: Starting out as a filmmaker, I struggled raising funding for my ideas through intensive grant applications and screenwriting contests, and these funding avenues are still jam-packed with competition comprising experienced writers and filmmakers. I look at it through a similar lens that many startups employ: be lean. Why waste hours devoting time to writing a screenplay when odds are it’s not going to win a contest and be produced? Why not start with one simple sentence, see if it’s viable, and then proceed once you’ve validated your creative concept assumptions? The short-term goal of The Film Fund is to provide funding to a filmmaker with a unique short film concept that will allow its production with an adequate budget. The long-term goal is to disrupt Hollywood. I want to change how films are funded and produced.
Film Courage: Who is eligible to enter?
Thomas: All filmmakers of all skill levels over the age of eighteen are encouraged to enter.
Film Courage: How do you enter?
Thomas: Visit thefilmfund.co–that’s .CO, not. COM—enter one simple sentence that’s less than two hundred characters, and submit. The first round is free just to see how simple the entry process is compared to other funding avenues, and then if you want to enter the actual contest you write one sentence and pay $25.
Film Courage: Can you provide an example or two of a compelling sentence that conveys what you’re looking for?
Example 1: A woman is haunted by a misunderstood psychological condition where she struggles to find joy in even the happiest of situations, and I need the funding largely for special effects and a helicopter.
Example 2: When killer crabs attack a small-town hotdog bun factory, only one man can stop all hell from breaking loose, and most of our funding will go to professional crab-wranglers.
These two above sentences are pretty different, but they both showcase the necessary elements that will be judged—a compelling premise and why the entrant specifically needs the funding. They’re also both under the two hundred character limit.
Film Courage: How many levels of entry are there?
Thomas: The contest has two rounds, but the first round is free and exists to show how simple the entry process is. To be officially entered to receive a shot at the funding, the entrant must enter Round Two.
Film Courage: What are the costs to enter?
Thomas: $25, paid one time.
Film Courage: What are the prizes?
Thomas: The writer of the winning sentence will receive up to $10,000 that will be used to make a short film based on the entry sentence.
Film Courage: How many winners are there?
Thomas: One winner.
Film Courage: Since the main prize can be up to $10,000, how would you advise a filmmaker budget their film? Can you provide a rough estimate on how the budget for this short should look? How long of a short film are we referring to?
Thomas: It’s tough to provide even a rough estimate for the budget since all films are different. One short could require one actor or actress whereas another could require fifteen, and all would have different rates. It’s really a case-by-case basis. With this type of budget, though, and depending on the size of the funding, in our experience films should be approximately between three and ten minutes. Long enough to develop a concise and compelling premise with a high production value but short enough as to not drag on.
Film Courage: What is next for you creatively and/or professionally?
Thomas: I try not to separate the two. What’s next for me creatively is what’s next for me professionally. If I don’t employ a creative mindset to my professional tasks, I’ll get nowhere. Right now I’m working on The Film Fund and will continue with it along with finishing up my undergraduate degree, then I’ll apply to graduate programs and eventually head out to the West Coast. If anyone out there has any questions whatsoever, hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As Founder and CEO of The Film Fund, Thomas Verdi is a dynamic creative who wants to help indie filmmakers with their projects. Finishing up a BA in English, a concentration in creative writing, an entrepreneurship minor, and a film studies minor at Lehigh University, he looks forward to focusing on the synergy between creativity and innovation in his future pursuits. He has been writing and directing films since childhood, and his short script “Son of Blackbeard,” currently in pre-production, was named a semi-finalist in HollyShorts Film Festival’s Screenplay Contest. Thomas also works as a freelance content writer for several prominent startup companies such as Flip.
CONNECT WITH THE FILM FUND:
From The Film Fund – Get up to $10,000 to make your short film by writing one sentence.
The Film Fund is providing funding up to $10,000 for a short film in a way that’s a lot simpler than screenwriting contests, crowdfunding, or applying to grants – read more about Founder and CEO Thomas Verdi’s The Film Fund here via his website.
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