Freshman filmmakers pop into national film festival


Photo by Nikole Kost

Daniel Kelly and Leo Pfeifer’s short film, “Popped,” will be showing at the National Film Festival for Talented Youth in Seattle April 27-30.

Written By Matt Petras, Staff Writer

When Daniel Kelly described how he did independent video advertisements for various clients, he was wearing a t-shirt he got from one of those clients – “Calypso.”

Leo Pfeifer could look back all the way to 8th grade when remembering film festivals he had entrees in.

The freshmen’s short film “Popped” will be featured at the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY) in Seattle, Washington this April. However, their professional bodies of work extend far beyond that one film.

The two friends and the two balloons 

“Popped” was initially made for the 48-hour freshman film festival the John P. Harris (JPH) Film Society did in October of last year at Point Park. The beginning of their work on the film was impromptu.

“The festival was actually right after one of our midterms, which made it kind of difficult, so we weren’t going to do it,” Pfeifer said in an interview on campus Wednesday. “Then three hours into the 48 hours, we decided we wanted to.”

The two were hanging out when they decided they would do a film. Kelly and Pfeifer both directed, wrote, shot and edited the film, enlisting the help of fellow freshman film students Kelly Tran for the music and Ethan Green for the movie’s animated effects.

“Popped” is a love story between two balloons that runs the gamut on emotions, at times silly, sweet, sad and more. They held up balloons around the city and animated facial expression on top of them. There are no humans in the film, other than the snippets of hands and arms that remain in the frame.

Despite the usage of balloons, the film explores human issues.

“I think the contrast between [adult themes and the use of balloons] created an interesting way to explore those issues,” Pfeifer said.

The animator, Green, is more interested in directing, he explained in an interview on campus on Sunday, but has picked up animation skills throughout his film-making. He was tasked with applying animated facial expression to real-life balloons, a request an animator does not get every day.

“A couple of times they asked me to do something I had no idea how to do,” Green said.

At one point, Green had to track an animated facial expression on one side of a rotating balloon, which befuddled him at first but was eventually worked out.

This was the first time the composer Tran had to create a score for someone else’s film project, rather than her own. She went through a few drafts with Pfeifer and Kelly before the music was finalized. The music begins “bubbly” and happy before turning toward something more somber, she explained in a phone interview Sunday. She’s happy with how the “wonderful” movie turned out.

Kelly was exhilarated by the end of the process.

“This has been the best response I’ve received for a movie I’ve done,” Kelly said in an interview on campus Wednesday.

Leo Pfeifer, the young Seattle filmmaker

The movie will be screened during the Seattle film festival, which runs April 27-29.  Seattle is Pfeifer’s home town, where he attended Ballard High School. He values the education Ballard gave him.

“That’s where I can attribute around 80% of everything to,” Pfeifer said.

Several of Pfeifer’s pre-university films were entered into film festivals and have racked up a slew of awards. The film he’s most proud of is a short documentary called “Clipped Wings,” which he made alongside past high school classmates Cole Anderson and Duncan Gowdy in 2015. This piece is about the complicated relationship between the Boy Scouts and the gay community.

It has over 200,000 views on YouTube and has been showered with awards such as “Audience Award” from the 2015 NFFTY, “Award of Excellence” from the 2015 Northwest Emmy Awards, and first place documentary at the 2015 Dominique Dunne Film Competition.

“[Pfeifer] is probably one of the most organized and professional people I’ve ever met,” Anderson said in a phone interview Sunday.

Pfeifer and Anderson met as underclassmen in high school through a film class. Anderson now studies film at New York University, but the two still remotely collaborate together, Anderson said.

“We were kind of awkward together at first, but as we worked together we became good friends,” Anderson said.

Daniel Kelly: artist,photographer, and commercial videographer

Kelly has done commercial video and photography work alongside his efforts as an artistic film-maker. He was “eager” before even graduating high school, he said.

“It was all I wanted to do,” Kelly said. “I would reach out via email to companies that didn’t really have a big video platform.”

Kelly did a television ad in 2016 for “Calypso” lemonade, which was awarded the “Winner of Best Commercial” from Rising Star Film Festival.

Last summer, Kelly interned with Simba Productions, a video production company in New York. There, he worked on advertisements for Sephora, Bloomberg and more.

Alongside commercial video work, Kelly has also run his Instagram, which currently more than 2,300 followers. Before Kelly even had his first day of class, as she put it, Point Park Social Media Manager Felicia McKinney reached out to Kelly, wanting to hire him.

“I knew someone else was going to hire him if I didn’t,” McKinney said in a phone interview Friday.

Kelly wears a lot of professional hats, so to speak, but he has a preference.

“I do like the creative stuff a lot better,” Kelly said.

Will their collaboration inflate further? 

Pfeifer and Kelly enjoyed working together and are looking into possible collaborations in the future.

“We definitely want to,” Pfeifer said.

“We hang out all the time,” Kelly said.

Their friendship does actually go back to before they enrolled at Point Park, as they met at a film festival in New York and bonded over a shared love of each other’s work.

“We found out we were both going to Point Park, so we already had that connection going in,” Pfeifer said.

The two even have similar taste in film; they were inspired by the work of Pixar, the animation studio behind classics such as “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo,” when making “Popped.” Both Pfeifer and Kelly are big fans in general. Pfeifer even has a Pixar sticker on his MacBook.

They both regard “Up” as their favorite Pixar movie, which tells the tale of an old man whose house takes to the sky, carried by balloons.

It always come back to balloons with these two.