94th Academy Awards Nominee 2022
Best Live Action Short Film
K.D. Dávila & Levin Menekse
In the not-so-distant future, Mateo (20s, Latino) is arrested by a police drone without explanation. Finding himself locked in a fully automated jail with no means of recourse, Mateo realises he’s fallen through some kind of crack in the system. To get out alive he’ll have to go head-to-head with the labyrinthine, computerised bureaucracy of the privatised American justice system, in search of an actual human being who can set things right.
Hi K.D & Levin thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?
Levin: We've been playing lots of video-games and watching old Would I Lie To You? episodes. Anything to keep the existential dread from settling in!
Congratulations on your 2022 Oscar Nomination Best Live Action Short for Please Hold, what does it mean to you to get this type of recognition for your film?
KD: It is incredibly rewarding and surreal. This was a scrappy production and we didn't have much money. We were on our hands and knees, carving bricks out of styrofoam in my dad's garage to make the set. We really called in a lot of favours to make this thing happen. My dad plays the lawyer in the movie, our friends are the voices of the automated systems. We were pleased with the end result but we are still a little pleasantly shocked that the movie resonated with people to the degree that it did.
As this is your first Oscar Nomination will there be any nerves ahead of the ceremony in March?
Levin: Oh yeah.
The Live Action Short Film category is perhaps one of the most significant categories at the Academy Awards as they shine a much needed light on Short Film. For most audiences the only way we get to enjoy short films during a film festival run, what more can be done to make Short Films more accessible to wider audiences?
KD: Shorts are definitely an under-appreciated art form. Film festivals are a wonderful way to experience shorts, since the programmers often put a lot of thought into what films they put together into a single shorts block... but yes, it's not always easy to attend festivals. So it's exciting to see some of the major streamers embracing shorts anthologies--for example, Netflix's series Love Death + Robots, which was an awesome showcase of animation talent. I think it would also be cool if more studios did what Pixar does--pairing shorts with features.
What was the inspiration behind Please Hold and what was the message you wanted to convey with this short film?
Levin: In our modern society, calling an institution and trying to get to a human being through a seemingly endless sea of bots is a somewhat universal experience. We thought what if you had to do that but the stakes were much, much higher? However, the more we researched the more we realised the things we are depicting in our movie are not so far fetched. There have been real instances of people being mistakenly accused and spending weeks in jail, awaiting trial. There are, unfortunately, private prisons where you can "upgrade" your cell and amenities. We wanted to put a spotlight on the absurdities of these unjust systems, so hopefully we can spark a conversation and avoid the future depicted in our short.
"I remember watching the Oscars as a kid and being confused why every winner thanks like 15 people, but after going through this experience, I totally get it."
As co-writers on Please Hold how important is it for you to be flexible with your screenplay, do you prefer to keep to the text how you wrote it?
KD: We stayed very close to the script as written while shooting. We shot all of the content that appears on the cell’s touchscreen in advance, so that Erick (our lead actor) would be able to actually see and hear what he’s acting against, rather than acting the whole time against a blank screen. That screen is basically the other main character in the movie, so it was important to me that Erick would be able to use it as his scene partner. Like in the scenes with the automated public defender, it was great to be able to look it in the eyes and hear its voice and feel how obnoxious it is! We did, however, discover some new things in post production. Our editor Brian Paison, who is a great writer/director in his own right, helped us elevate the film even further.
KD: You recently won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for Emergency at Sundance 2022, what has winning this award meant to you and what was the biggest challenges you faced adapting your award-winning short into a feature?
KD: Back in 2018, getting into Sundance with Emergency (only a short movie back then) was an amazing honour. Then we ended up winning the Special Jury Prize, which was huge for both Carey (the director) and I, and basically paved the way for us to make the movie together. To be invited back five years later with the feature version and to win the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award is just… wild. It meant the world to me.
The biggest challenge in adapting the short to a feature was sustaining that tricky tone -- the comedy and the horror/thriller elements -- throughout the running time of a feature length movie. It was difficult enough to do in a short! Fortunately, I was lucky enough to be working with Carey again, and our cast brought so much of their own energy to the roles.
Will you consider adapting Please Hold into a feature?
Levin: We are working on it now!
KD: Stay tuned!
What has been the most valuable lessons you have taken from making Please Hold?
Levin: It is so important to surround yourself with a team of people you trust and understand the tone of the story. Things will go wrong and you will run around putting out fires, but it will be so much easier if there are other people with you that you really trust. I remember watching the Oscars as a kid and being confused why every winner thanks like 15 people, but after going through this experience, I totally get it.
KD: Yeah, I second all of that. Levin and I are married, so it helped me as a first time director to have a collaborator who fully had my back. I learned so many valuable lessons from making this film, it’s hard for me to pick just one thing. I personally am someone who has trouble asking for help–I will often try to do everything myself. So I learned when it’s time to call in the pros!
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
KD: I have always loved film, as long as I can remember. But it was only when the Lord of the Rings came out that I started to realise that filmmaking was a job that people had. I remember watching the special features on the Lord of the Rings DVDs and my mind being blown by the amount of work put into the sets and the costumes and the practical effects. I started doing theatre tech as a high school student, and I fell in love with the magic of building something out of nothing. My family really wanted me to have a practical career, but I ended up here! Whoops…
Will you continue to work together on future projects and do you have any tips or advice for emerging screenwriters?
Levin: Yes, we are currently doing exciting things that are so exciting we are not allowed to talk about them. While "Please Hold" was our first time seriously collaborating, turns out it's a winning formula. For emerging screenwriters, I'd say a lot of people fall into the trap of writing "something terrible happens to the main character!" type of scripts. Make sure that you are writing about a journey your character goes through rather than an event that just happens to them.
And finally, what do you want your audiences to take away from Please Hold?
KD: We see technology as a neutral force that could be used to make our lives easier or harder. Or sometimes both at once. Our movie explores what happens when corporations take up a bigger role in the justice and carceral system–institutions that are supposedly intended to first and foremost dole out justice, not make money. The question we had is: how court automation and privatisation affect the future of justice in America? Hopefully our audiences will not want to live in this world we have depicted and will elect leaders at the local and state level that will work to prevent such a future!