Actor and filmmaker Christopher Tillman likens the journey into the film industry to the mythological Greek king, Sisyphus, who was sentenced to roll a slipping bolder up a hill for eternity. After earning his theater degree at Vanguard University, Tillman found himself in a Sisyphean struggle to chase his dreams of being a professional actor. He was fired from Disneyland and found himself writing weekly scripts for a church youth theater program.
Tillman found the key to his success in breaking out of just acting; he began by customizing his own characters, and found himself churning out entire scenes based around a line he envisioned his character saying. In this manner, he wrote his first short, Misusing Irony, planning to pass it off to another writer. He quickly realized he had something here, on his own, and found he enjoyed the process of taking his writing through to the finished project, which he also starred in. “That was basically the beginning of me being a filmmaker.”
Today, with 14 years of acting under his belt, Tillman is also producing full time. He admits that most aspiring filmmakers do not have the financial advantage of being able to focus solely on projects that they would like to produce. While Tillman feels that a low budget forces filmmakers to figure things out and be more creative, there is a bottom line. “All short filmmakers have to say, how do I make money off my short film?”
Tillman financed his first short himself, and ran a Kickstarter campaign for the next. He and his friends have been trying to crack this nut, brainstorming ways to fund their creative works. “We started to think along the lines of what ZoomTilt is doing. If it’s a Western, maybe you can get Wrangler. These filmmakers don’t consider themselves above a little bit of branding.”
Tillman founded Benchwarmer Productions in 2010 on the idea that in order to translate passion into success, you have to put yourself in the game. He is excited about producing his own films, but admits that the business side can be hard to manage for some filmmakers, and making fresh connections with people and brands can be tough. While ZoomTilt aims to make these connections possible, Tillman says he tries to meet as many people as he can at film festivals. He raves about the experience of interacting in a tight space with other filmmakers for a short amount of time like a mini camp.
Misusing Irony had a successful festival run in 2011, receiving the Audience Choice Award at the SoCal Independent Film Festival, and was also shown at Ojai Film Festival and the LA Film+Music Weekend in Los Angeles. Look for Tillman’s most recent short, The Distance Between, premiering on September 10th at LA Shorts Fest and later in September at New Filmmakers LA.