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South By Southwest Film Interview – THE SHORT GAME director Josh Greenbaum

by Jason Whyte

“THE SHORT GAME is a feature documentary that follows the lives of the best 7 year-old golfers in the world as they train for and compete in the World Championships of Junior Golf. I chose to follow the youngest golfers on the circuit specifically because I’ve always been fascinated, and perhaps more importantly, incredibly entertained by seven year olds. I find that their unabashed confidence coupled with their innocent naiveté makes for a very funny combination of inspiration and unexpected wisdom; and ultimately, for a film that appears to be about kid golfers, it quickly becomes about much more.” Director Josh Greenbaum on THE SHORT GAME which screens at this year's South By Southwest Film.

Is this your first SxSW/Austin experience?

Yes, this is my first time to SxSW and Austin and I could not be more excited!

Tell me a bit about your background and how you became a filmmaker. Also would love to hear about anything else you have made in the past!

I am originally from upstate New York and now live in downstate California.  As for my past, I have won some awards (Emmy's, MTV Movie Award, Coca Cola Refreshing Filmmaker Award, Best Holiday Sweater and so forth), I've written and directed for lots of companies that help convince my parents that what I am doing for a living is legitimate. Most recently, I directed a short film for the Clinton Foundation that starred Matt Damon, Kevin Spacey, Sean Penn, Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Bill Clinton, Kristen Wiig and others. I am a graduate of Cornell and Oxford Universities and received my MFA in film from the graduate program at USC's School of Cinematic Arts.  I am married to the greatest girl of all time, I live with a dog named Dorflinger, a large cat with a tiny head, and my two 8 month-old identical twin girls, named Zoe and Maizy, named after the character in John Hughes film UNCLE BUCK.

What was the biggest challenge, or challenges, in making the film?

As with any project, there were lots of problems in the development of this. One was casting. There were tons of kids to choose from, and so many were cute, funny, and talented that it made it difficult to decide who to follow.  Beyond that, some of the kids and their families were not native English speakers, so I had to direct via a translator, which I'd never done before, and don't recommend.  The sheer amount of travel involved in the project was difficult, especially since I was traveling just as my twin girls were being born; I made it back from shooting in South Africa and my twin girls were born less than 24 hours later. And lastly, covering the final tournament was a huge endeavor. We had to follow nine golfers, all on different holes, and sometimes different courses, all at different times. So I had to lead a final production that was made up of 9 field crews, of 18 total camera operators, 9 sound mixers, and 18+ production assistants. It was a crazy undertaking, but all worked out in the end.

What was your single favorite moment out of the entire production?

Too many to choose from, but since you’re making me answer, I think the highlight for me was actually the first time I sat and watched the entire film put together in a screening with people I didn’t know, and got to hear them react so positively to the film.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

I think for me, it’s that feeling you get when you wake up each day and you have no idea what is going to happen. It’s terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. And it happens in both narrative and documentary. In both, you come into the day with some sort of idea of what you want or hope to capture on film, and hopefully along the way, you capture something completely fresh and unexpected. It may come from an actor bringing something out of a scene or character you never considered, or a subject in a documentary opening up and revealing something about themselves you never knew. Every time that happens, I feel reinvigorated. What drives me? Probably some deep need to communicate, but specifically, on the more conscious level, I think I am driven by a quest to find and expose universal truths in the world around us, and ideally, to try and expose them in as funny and entertaining a way as possible.

I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography, what the movie was shot on and why it was decided to be filmed this way.

We shot the bulk of the film on the Canon C300 using EF lenses.  I wanted the film to feel cinematic and avoided the smaller sensor ENG style camcorders for that reason. As for my relationship with the DP, I had over 20 DP’s on the project due to our schedule, travel, and budget, so it was definitely a fun challenge to make sure the film had a singular visual aesthetic. We also utilized Go Pro cameras for some of the more creative camera placements, like inside a golf hole, on the end of a golf club, as well as a FS700 mounted to a RC helicopter to get some of the more epic shots of the location as well as the golf action. As for covering the final tournament, we had 9 field teams, with 18 cameras, 9 sound guys, and 15 PA's.  It was a huge crew for a small documentary, but given the spread out nature of the tournament, it was the only way we could cover all the action.

What do you want audiences to take from the film?

As cheesy as it sounds, I hope audiences come away happier than when they walked into the theater.  These young athletes are inspiring in their approach to the game and to life and I'd like audiences to walk out of the theaters, thinking back to their own 7 year-old selves and see the world again through their eyes, full of wonder and awe, hope and possibility, void of judgment and negativity.  I also hope people come away having laughed a lot, because these kids say some really funny shit!

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

I think critics are always an important part of any film’s life beyond its first screening. I think for lower budget, festival films who can’t afford the marketing blitzes the studios can, then critical/media responses are incredibly important. On a personal level, I pay very little attention to the critics, as I try and keep my voice and instincts as raw and unaffected as possible, however, as a movie-goer, I definitely check out reviews prior to, and after, seeing a film.

After the film screens at South By Southwest, what is the future release plan for the movie? Where would you like it to go?

We think the film will play very well theatrically, so we are obviously looking for a theatrical distributor in addition to a broadcast partner here at the festival.

Alamo Drafthouse and Paramount theaters in Austin aside, if you could show this movie in any cinema in the world, which one would you choose and why?

I know I’m not following your rules, but I honestly would want the film to screen in Austin at SxSW. Since before we finished this film, I’ve always thought SxSW would be the perfect fit for it’s premiere, given its rich history of discovering and showcasing outstanding documentaries like SPELLBOUND, DARKON, and UNDEFEATED. So, I feel very lucky to get to premiere the film exactly where I had always hoped it would.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking or texting during a screening of your film?

“Excuse me, but you are destroying a piece of my soul right now.” Or, I’d probably just politely ask them to stop.

There are a lot of up and coming filmmakers both at SxSW and reading our site. I was curious if you had any advice to aspiring filmmakers?

I think of all the advice I’ve been given over the years, there’s one line that feels most true when it comes to filmmaking: “if you’re not close to failure, you are nowhere near success.” Firstly, make sure you take risks. The only way to find your voice is to fail as many times as you succeed. Secondly, know that failure is part of the process. Just like you have to throw a lens out of focus to find out what in focus looks like, so to do you need to fail to fully understand or take note of what success looks like.

So, Josh… what are you working on next?

What a great question! I am currently in the middle of production on a 10 episode docu-series for Hulu that I am directing called BEHIND THE MASK that follows the lives of 4 sports mascots, both inside and outside of the suit.  It will premiere late Summer 2013.  I am also attached to direct a feature narrative film that we are in the middle of casting, as well as several other projects that are in the works. And as always, I am writing, not writing, and feeling guilty about not writing, all at the same time.

And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have seen at a film festival?

In all honesty, I haven’t been to that many festivals in my lifetime. However, I was at Sundance in 2002 and I remember seeing a totally off the wall and hilarious film during the midnight screening at the Egyptian called FUBAR by Michael Dowse. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch. And not the sequel on Netflix instant, look for the original one.

This is one of the many films screening at the 2013 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 8-16. For more information on the film’s screening, point your browser to

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte Facebook: jasonwhyte

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originally posted: 03/06/13 06:13:18
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