Interview/Film & Video

WICF Film Fest & Rachel Bloom Short Challenge Winners: Meet Sydney Steinberg!

By Katie Conway, Contributor

This past April, The Women in Comedy Festival celebrated a week of showcasing women in the comedy industry. This including some very talented females performing stand-up, improv, and musical acts all across Boston. But did you know WICF also hosted not one, but TWO film festivals?

With two different film festival contests to submit to, the Brattle Theater debuted a number of short films – each helmed by and focusing on women. Four films took top prizes at the festival, two from the WICF Film Festival and two from the Rachel Bloom Short Challenge. The difference between the two being that films submitted to the Rachel Bloom short challenge had to be made specifically for the festival and begin with the line “you can’t do that.” For each category, the judges determined a festival winner. The audience chose the second winner by voting for their favorite films in each category. We checked in with all the winners to find out more about their filmmaking process and what projects they will tackle next.

Here to talk about her incredibly creative and funny film “Feminist Campfire Stories” – the Audience Favorite Winner of the WICF Comedy Short Contest – is Sydney Steinberg!

How did you first hear about the WICF and/or the Comedy Short Contest?
I found WICF on Film Freeway. I was just looking for festivals on the website and liked the idea of a festival just for women.

How much experience in film did you have prior to creating this short?
I’ve made a few things before but nothing ever felt as good as this. My producer, Rose Marziale, and my director, Brea Grant, really made everything so easy. They’re brilliant.

What inspired you to create this film/what sparked the idea for it?
I’m on a sketch team at UCB in LA with the three other women in the film and the premise for the short was actually Ashleigh’s (counselor Jenny) idea. She had this hilarious pitch for a woman who tells horror stories around a campfire but they’re all about dating. I just took the idea and ran with it. She and I work very well together. We have another short we’re working on together right now about female reboots that I’m excited about.

What was the most difficult obstacle you encountered in creating the film?
Scheduling! Everyone was working a lot and it’s hard to get together and make something for as cheap as we did. I hate not being able to pay people but luckily everyone on the shoot was my close friend. Of course I paid for sound and lighting and crafty but that was it. I have incredible and talented friends.

Any funny stories from filming?
The whole shoot was funny! It was the most fun set I’ve ever been on. Everything felt easy. We laughed at how silly everyone looked as a little boy. We laughed the entire time.

Your film is about telling scary stories (with a feminist twist) around a campfire – do you remember any stories from your own childhood that you told around a campfire?
When I went to camp all the stories we told around the campfire were actually scary. I’m a huge scaredy cat so this was not ideal for me.  Even the stories in my short scare me. I hate walking to my car alone at night! Being a woman is tough. But I love it. Women are the best.

Is there anything you would change about your short if you could?
The flashlight on Ashleigh’s face bothered me so much I considered never showing anyone this short. Now I laugh about it but if I could go back I’d get her a bigger flashlight and tell her to keep her hand still.

Give us a mini Oscar speech! Who would you like to thank for being a part of or inspiring this short?
I’d like to thank Ashleigh Hairston for always having the best ideas and letting me bring them to life. I’d like to thank Rose Marziale for loving the script and offering to produce it for nothing. She’s so talented and hardworking and I can’t wait to see what she does next. I’d like to thank Chris Sturgeon, my incredible DP and editor, for being a wonderful friend and a talented as hell filmmaker. I’d like to thank Brea Grant for offering up her time and expertise to help this little short come to life. And I’d like to thank my brilliant actresses, Ego Nwodim and Kaitlyn Tanimoto, for being the funniest little boys I’ve ever seen.

Who inspires you as a filmmaker? And/or was there a particular movie that inspired you to go into film?
My true love is the romantic comedy so I’ve always been a huge Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers fan. I grew up wanting to write romantic comedies but as much as I love them they don’t feel relevant anymore. I don’t think stories about women desperate to find love are truthful in 2017. At least not for me. I’m still going to write a romantic comedy. I just haven’t figured out how to do that in my own way yet.

What advice would you give to female comedians and filmmakers?
Just make things! This script was done for months before we shot it and that was such a waste. Also, don’t judge yourself too harshly. I almost didn’t submit this short because I thought it was bad! How horrible would that have been? You have to trust yourself. It’s already hard enough for women in film, don’t give yourself another obstacle just by not believing in your talent.

Do you have any projects in the works or ideas for future endeavors?
Brea and I are shooting another feminist short tomorrow and I have a few more written I’d like to shoot before the summer is over. We had a podcast together for years and when that ended I was so sad we wouldn’t work together anymore but we ended up finding something that’s way better than a podcast. I just want to keep up this momentum of making things. It feels good to have four or five things written and ready to shoot but it’s also stressful when you think about how long it’s going to take to get them all done when you don’t have any money.

Where can fans of your film follow you online?
My twitter is @thesteinberglar and my instagram is syd_steinberg. I also perform at UCB in Los Angeles every week on Harold Night and write for The New Deal on Maude Night.