Most short filmmakers have a hard time getting people to watch their work. Joe Nicolosi has had the opposite problem. His filmmaking career recently took off because of the playfully inventive and technically accomplished bumpers he wrote and directed for the SXSW Film Festival. Because they play in front of every film, his shorts were guaranteed audiences as they screened again… and again… and again. “There is a certain responsibility in making something that people will watch as many as 30 times,” Nicolosi admits. “So I try to cram these pieces full of details so there will always be new stuff to see.”
Nicolosi grew up in the suburbs of New York and moved to Austin after college where he’s been doing part-time jobs, including a stint in the creative department of the Alamo Drafthouse, and freelance motion graphics. He got involved with SXSW three years ago, volunteering his video services for their website. “Janet [Pierson, SXSW Film Festival and Conference producer] asked me to pitch bumper ideas,” he says. “I didn’t even know what a bumper was. I pitched 40 ideas, they were all rejected, so I just went ahead and shot my last idea on spec.” Needless to say, it was a hit, and he was invited back.
This year the festival approached him early, with a budget — $400 a piece — and the directive to make bumpers for every section of the festival. “It was a bit of a challenge,” Nicolosi says. “I had to go out of my horror/action/comedy-focused mind.” The results are both charming and witty, including a fake doc on street-artist knitters, a rom-com set on line outside the Ritz and a live-action thriller that morphs into a Mario Brothers spoof.
The buzz from all those repeated viewings got Nicolosi meetings with agents and studio execs during the festival, and a few weeks later he did an L.A. trip. “I started with 12 meetings on the books,” he said, “and when I finished I had done 35.” He took studio meetings for features as well as Web series, but what he was most excited about pitching was Kingdom of Dave, “a post-apocalyptic renaissance comedy” that he says has elements of both Mad Max and Monty Python. “It’s not an idea that’s really sellable because it’s really weird. And I can’t make it on my own because it’s kind of a blockbuster. So I’m not sure how it’s going to happen.” He’s finishing that script while he works on another, perhaps more sellable, project: “a behind-the-scenes slacker/office comedy TV pilot about an annual Austin music festival.” But immediately upcoming are more shorts, this time in a new partnership with Machinima and the company’s branded YouTube channel. Nicolosi says he hopes to be able to make a living off online ad revenue splits while he develops his various projects. Premiering this summer on YouTube are “a short documentary where the survivors of a zombie apocalypse talk about how Twitter played a role in the chaos; a stop-motion-Lego-crime-procedural called CSI: Legoland; and a faux behind-the-scenes documentary about a large media corporation that specializes in mass producing cat videos for the Internet.” — Scott Macaulay