Slam Dunk at Slamdance: Local Filmmakers Share Austin Comedy

Local filmmakers Shannon Cloud and Kent Juliff met in a special projects class at the University of Texas at Austin’s Radio-Television-Film department. Now they are breaking out of the Austin bubble and moving into the world of professional filmmaking by screening their short experimental film, “Last Night," at Park City, Utah’s Slamdance Film Festival. Juliff and Cloud sat down with ORANGE to talk about their recent festival experience and how standup comedy influences their creative process.

Story by Katarina Brown

Photo courtesy by Isaac Benavidez

Photo courtesy by Isaac Benavidez

ORANGE Magazine: How was Slamdance?

Kent Juliff: It felt like a good sort of crop of people really early on.

Shannon Cloud: Yeah, we met some people we might want to collaborate with sometime soon.

KJ: Yeah, before the festival, I got in touch with a couple of people there with whom I particularly wanted to try to get together with.

SC: The people we hung out with were in a similar boat where they had made a film in their last year in college as well.

KJ: There was a select few of us – maybe three or four films – and whenever we watched each other’s films, we were like, ‘Wow, it makes sense that you’re here.’ As a bunch of people coming from different scenes of their own, it was very interesting, and it was cool to be considered in that same caliber. Having ‘Last Night’ at the festival, it felt like a reward. We worked so hard on this project, and it felt like we earned this field trip.


ORANGE: Shannon, you’ve worked with South by Southwest before. How is it seeing both ends of the festival spectrum?

SC: Having gone to Slamdance, I see SXSW differently. I think South By prides itself on growth, whereas Slamdance has stayed small and wants to keep it that way. They want to keep it a community of about 200 filmmakers, where South By does a really good job of curating more and more content. I think Slamdance is a really special festival in terms of how small it is – how distinguished the world is – because you’re talking to people you can tell have been working hard for a long time.

KJ: Slamdance seems like a bunch of people who haven’t given up in any way. There was a bunch of different filmmakers who are a part of this American,independent generation.


ORANGE: How has your relationship changed over the course of the three projects you guys have now worked on together?

SC: I think at the beginning I was most concerned with what Kent wanted to film. On the first project, it was like, ‘What do you want to make?’ And then we just made it. With this project, we asked more questions and it was more collaborative than ever. We were looking at more than just shots in the film.

KJ: Yeah, in this project we spent more time getting on the same page creatively from the start, having conversations about talent and art direction in pre-production and what’s narratively important. I think with this project, we shared more on both sides.


ORANGE: Is it strange looking back on the first project you did together?

SC: I think so, but I’m always more impressed by it now, because Kent had a really clear idea of what he wanted to make, and I was happy to help. I look at it, and I’m proud of it – proud of him. He had a good idea.

KJ: I think our understanding of timing has gotten a lot better. I’ve also been thinking about trying to bring in a lot of disparate influences. I was lucky with the last film, because I was in my last year of school, and I was in some interesting art history classes. Learning about all those different things taught me to open up and be almost hyper-referential, in a way. Now our work is a new sort of amalgam of things – a pastiche.


ORANGE: Shannon, in the past you’ve mentioned that you’re inspired by a lot of Texas filmmakers like Richard Linklater.

KJ: I don’t think about Linklater as the Austin filmmaker – though I guess he is – and I don’t think of him personally as this huge influence on me, but it is funny how similar our films are, because they exist in this lineage. There is something about the mentality in Austin that makes you consider things like –

SC: Just go grab a camera.

KJ: I was saying more thematic, but I think you’re thinking more technical. You’re considering about how the style might be born out of a cinematic revolutionary spirit.

SC: Yeah, a very independent spirit.

KJ: Which I think is true for Austin, but I was thinking more in terms of thematics, like dealing with time and characters who inhabit and share a meaningful space with people. Austin’s a place to think about time a lot.

SC: Yeah, all of these pieces are very specific slices of these characters lives, and I think we are similar in that way.


ORANGE: You’re both involved in the standup community here in Austin, does that affect your filmmaking at all?

SC: I think we’re very informed by stand up comedy sets, because we’d been watching them so often. For ‘Last Night,’ one thing we mentioned was that watching it should feel like watching a stand up set.

KJ: Louis C.K. talked about this, where if you’re in the back of a club and not really paying attention, the sounds of standup are waves. The mood is fluidly changing, and we thought about that with the film too.

SC: And it’s awesome to see how the different types of comedians will play into that. Everyone we had in our film, “Last Night”, just has such a different style, so you see those rhythms play with one another. And from a producing side, comedians are very reliable.

KJ: Through standup, you value other people’s time.

SC: Because you have to be so patient. If you do open mics every night, then you’re watching two hours of four-minute sets.

KJ: It grooms them for filmmaking, because you’re either waiting for people to do their sets or do their lines. And I think maybe those people are excited to do something that involves playing on someone else a little more.

SC: Definitely. I think a lot of it with comedy you’re in your own head, so it’s just nice to rely on a script; it takes the pressure off, because it’s less about a personal performance and more about playing. It’s an exciting thing to go to work.


ORANGE: Do you both feel that UT prepared you for the professional world of filmmaking that you’re now in?

SC: It’s a really experiential kind of degree. They want you to go out and do it. And a lot of our professors have been quick to tell us about the realities of what it’s been like to be an independent filmmaker.

KJ: I think it can feel a lot of times in film school like, ‘What are you really teaching me that is going to be that valuable?’ Because I could just go out and be working on a film right now, but there are things that you really pick up on.

SC: Also, since I’m younger, it was cool to watch Kent and his friends and see this community where people were always bouncing ideas off of one each other. I think without the filmmaking degree, you wouldn’t have met all those people.

KJ: I definitely appreciate UT, and I learned a lot there.