48HFP Alumni Achievements: "The Greater Evil" Predicts An Election AND Wins Big At FestivalsSunday, November 20, 2016
A seasoned but contentious female Democrat goes toe to toe with an inexperienced but idolatrized male Republican in the U.S. Presidential election. Sound familiar? Despite being a near-perfect description of the real life events of the recent U.S. election, this actually details the two fictional candidates in The Greater Evil, the award-winning short film by Tohubohu Productions. Ironically, the film was created for the Washington D.C. 48HFP PoliCom Project in September of 2015--over a year before the election, and months before the Presidential primaries.
The eerie similarities between movie and real life don't end there, including the results of the election--the Republican nominee upsets the Democrat for the win. But for the film, the truly frightening stuff takes place when the new President comes to power and his campaign manager discovers that he is truly more evil than anyone ever imagined.
This well crafted and slightly prophetic film was chosen as the winner of the inaugural 48HFP PoliCom (Politics & Comedy) Project last year in Washington D.C. The film has had continued success since its creation, gaining acceptance to over 20 different film festivals and winning many awards. But this shouldn't come to too much of a surprise to anyone familiar with Tohubohu Productions--they have been a long time 48HFP participant and have racked up a number of awards (through the 48HFP and otherwise) throughout the years.
Tohubohu's most recent accomplishment is another festival screening, but a very special one--the Central Michigan International Film Festival will be showing The Greater Evil along with not one, not two, but SEVEN of their other films. The Festival programmers liked Coughlan's films so much that they created a screening event called Eight Films by William Coughlan. Out of the eight films, seven of them were created through the 48HFP!
We got to chat with Tohubohu Productions team leader and director William R. Coughlan to find out more about his team, as well as the continued success of The Greater Evil and the Central Michigan International Film Festival's screening, Eight Films by William Coughlan.
48HFP: Tell me a little bit about your background with the 48HFP--you've competed a number of times in several different cities, and have won multiple awards, haven't you?
Coughlan: I first participated in the 48 Hour Film Project way back in 2004. I'd heard about the event (as well as the National Film Challenge, now the Four Points Film Project) through some friends who were taking an improv class together. I was in the process of creating a video production group at The Advisory Board Company at the time, and the Project really seemed like a great opportunity to get some rapid-fire experience (and hopefully have some fun in the process). I did a couple of short films beforehand to work out the kinks, and then jumped into the fray in May of that year. The initial team (which — needing a team name — we dubbed 'Tohubohu,' meaning roughly 'chaos and confusion') was primarily coworkers, along with some actors recruited from those aforementioned improv classes. I've participated in some capacity in each of the DC-based 48 Hour Film Projects ever since (2004–2016), one Baltimore competition (2015), several National Film Challenge entries (2004–2006), 2007's Fall Shootout, 2009's International Shootout, 2011's 48 Go Green, and 2015's 48 Hour Film Politics & Comedy Project. For the competitions themselves, we have frequently been selected for inclusion in the 'Best Of' screenings, as well as earning Top 15 Film and Best Romance honors in the 2005 National Film Challenge, Best Sci-Fi in the 2006 National Film Challenge, 48HFP Audience Award for 2009 (DC), Honorable Mention for Acting for the 48 Go Green in 2011, 48HFP Audience Award and Best Musical Score for 2015 (Baltimore), and Best Cinematography, Best Writing, and Best Film for the 2015 Politics and Comedy Project. In addition, we've received numerous TIVA Peer Awards (the Television, Internet, and Video Association of DC, Inc.) and accolades in several film festivals worldwide — including winning a 2016 Rosebud Award and the Levin Grand Prize at the recent Wheaton Film Festival.
48HFP: What is your team's background--do you all work together on a day to day basis or just for 48HFP?
Coughlan: In the early years, our team was mostly made up of coworkers. But as our team grew (and people moved on to other jobs), we became a more diverse troupe. We do still tend to work with a lot of the same people year over year (in both the 48 Hour Film Project and other projects), but (with a few exceptions) aren't working together in our respective 'day jobs.' We do continue to bring in new people, both in front of and behind the camera — looking first and foremost for people who are able to balance the idea of having a positive experience with the mandate to create a professional-level product.
48HFP: Why did you participate in the 48HFP PoliCom Project? Did you feel like you had a strong political message to share, or was this just something fun to do in addition to competing in the flagship 48HFP competition?
Coughlan: At the time, it wasn't that I had a particular political statement to make. Having done mostly light comedies, I knew this was going to be a distinct change of pace. The one thing I knew going in was that we were going to be concentrating on the political subgenre more than the comedic one — we could do comedy any year, but this was an opportunity to really embrace our DC location. I had some vague ideas as to what I might like to do, but the story didn't materialize until we drew the 'campaign trail' genre. This was going to be the very first 48 Hour Film competition in which I was going to be the sole screenwriter and director, so it was very much going to be my voice (as brought to life by the phenomenal cast and crew, without whom I'd just have some scribbles on a page).
48HFP: The two political candidates in The Greater Evil seem very familiar--are they directly based on our two recent U.S. Presidential candidates?
Coughlan: The characters are certainly more familiar in hindsight than they were at the time. Remember, we made this in September of 2015. Trump had only announced his candidacy a few months earlier, and while there had been two debates, there was no real belief that Trump would win the candidacy. The Democrats hadn't even had a debate yet. So I wrote characters that could play to the strengths of the actors I had on the team. In order to create a convincing villain, I took the most extreme statements coming out of the GOP camp and exaggerated them. Actor Michael Gabel and I were clear that we did not want to try and do a Trump impression, since we weren't trying to make an explicitly anti-Trump statement, but a commentary on the frankly religious devotion that a populist political figure can inspire. What if it really were a kind of religion, with a malevolent deity feeding off of that adulation, gaining power through that blind fervor? Ultimately, I wanted to posit the idea that perhaps the enablers of power hold more accountability than those whose nature is to seek power — monsters though they may be.
48HFP: What has people's reaction been to the film? It is oddly prophetic, given that the film was created before most of the events of the election. Have reactions to the film changed at all post-election?
Coughlan: The reaction to “The Greater Evil” has been frankly overwhelming, especially since more and more of the “predictions” we made in the film came true (including not only Trump's winning of the GOP candidacy, but bringing a woman in as campaign manager). At the time, I thought we were exaggerating for dramatic effect, but statements I'd written as hyperbolic satire were almost immediately surpassed by reality. (I actually wrote and shot a few new 'bridging' scenes to at least try and keep up.) Now that the election's passed, I think people are more likely to curse me as a witch... but seriously, it's frankly harder to watch now that the separation between fantasy and reality has become so blurred.
48HFP: The Greater Evil has been an official selection and/or award winner at quite a number of festivals--did you do anything special to market the film, or do you feel like it fits a special niche? To what do you attribute its great success?
Coughlan: As with every film our team makes for the 48 Hour Film Project, we strive to make something that can stand alone outside the context of the competition. I never want to be in the position of justifying a film, or rationalizing any shortcomings with the excuse that we only had a weekend to make it. I want audiences to enjoy each film on its own merits, regardless of its origins. But in this particular case, we had a singular marketing opportunity — not only was it a politically themed film, but it had a distinctly Lovecraftian horror tone as well. So in seeking out festivals for submission, I was able to target everything from political activist festivals, to human rights festivals, to sci-fi/horror/genre festivals. And in that regard, we really saw amazing success. So far, it's screened at about 20 festivals or film competitions beyond the original Politics and Comedy Project (including all three U.S. editions of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, and won eight awards. But most importantly, I think our entire team was really at the top of their game, and everything came together in just that right way.
48HFP: We also heard via Facebook that you recently got some amazing news about a festival in Michigan--can you tell me more about that?
Coughlan: We'll be screening at the upcoming Central Michigan International Film Festival this coming February, which is an honor in and of itself. But there's an amusing twist to that story: Because I opted to submit several of the films I've done over the past few years, the festival organizers actually found several of their judges coming up with different films of mine on their short lists. And so they decided to put together a special screening of eight of my short films — seven of which were (or at least started as) 48 Hour Film Project entries. (The festival organizers actually made a statement that none of them knew me, just to make it absolutely clear that this wasn't pre-planned at all.) I'm really looking forward to that — while it's certainly enjoyable to watch movies at home, there's really nothing that compares with seeing your film with a live audience.
48HFP: What's next up for you and your team?
Coughlan: In addition to continuing to submit to festivals (and FilmFreeway has made that process so much easier than in years past), I've got several scripts in various stages of completion, and am also working on an audio-drama series (a hard-boiled tale about a professional poker player in Las Vegas) that we're hoping to go into production with in the next few months. And, of course, the Tohubohu Productions team will be gearing up for next spring's DC 48 Hour Film Project as well!
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