“Do you have an IMDB?”
“No. But I have a business card.”
Already, I can tell I’m in way over my head.
Two boys whose combined age is still more than 20 years less than mine are talking like two Hollywood directors taking lunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Budgets. DSLRs. Raw film. Editing houses. The work of Guillermo del Toro.
I guess they don’t call it National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY) for nothing.
The four-day festival, now in its seventh year, draws some 10,000 people and young filmmakers from around the world. India. South Africa. Greece. Norway. And, of course, Seattle.
Leo Pfeifer, 15, a freshman at Ballard High School, is showing his documentary, “74,” about the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington state.
Chase Crittenden, 16, a sophomore at Eastside Catholic High School in Bellevue, will present his short feature, “Lost and Found,” about a father and daughter’s relationship after the mother disappears under suspicious circumstances.
It’s wonderful to sit with two young men who can see their goals as clearly at Mount Rainier on a spring day.
It also made me a little suspicious.
“Once an hour, people ask me how old I am,” Crittenden said. “I look like I’m 12, but I think like I’m 40.”
“It’s an obstacle to overcome,” agreed Pfeifer, “but once you come with a camera and serious questions, that all changes.”
So they relish the chance to hang out with kids who, like them, live and breathe film. NFFTY is the young cineaste’s dream weekend, with awards and exposure and the smell of possibility as strong as that of the popcorn in the lobby.
“Those three or four days are the best days,” said Pfeifer, who attended last year. “I felt inspired. Youth filmmaking is a niche thing, and having all these people like us is amazing.”
Crittenden’s parents are both film fans, so when he was assigned a book report that could take any form, he chose to make a movie. A parody of “Romeo and Juliet,” for example.
At 12, Crittenden was making films on VHS tapes, transferring them to a mini DVD and then editing them using Final Cut Pro 7.
Last summer, Crittenden attended a two-week camp put on by the Seattle Film Institute, then joined a team on the Seattle 48-Hour Film Project, which put him with adults who taught him a lot and didn’t mind having him around.
“We were on the same plane,” he said, “because we only had 48 hours.”
His film, “Icebreaker,” won The Spirit Award.
His father, a jury consultant with ties to the film industry, put him in touch with a filmmaker named Hakim Quest, who agreed to mentor Crittenden, have him on-set for a small feature he was working on in New York City, and be his writing and producing partner on “Lost and Found.”
Crittenden spent time last fall and over Christmas break working on it.
“I directed it and produced it, sent it to Atlanta, edited the raw film and went back and forth 11 times until we had a master,” he said. “Turned out amazing.”
When Pfeifer was nine, he asked for and got a video camera for Christmas. He made little videos with his friends for a few years, and then in middle school, attended a camp put on by The Film School in Seattle.
“That is where everything sprouted from,” he said.
He made a documentary about the camp, and found his passion.
“I’ve always been fascinated by storytelling in different mediums,” he said. “But there are so many possibilities with film.”
Pfeifer’s “74” is his third documentary. His first two were made for a “Student Camp” competition put on by C-SPAN. His second film, “Who Owns Free Speech?” won first place from C-SPAN and was accepted into NFFTY 2012.
“74” is told through interviews with State Rep. Jamie Pedersen, footage of rallies and Pfeifer’s narration.
“Documentaries are an uphill battle,” he said. “You can’t write it. It’s about how much you learn throughout the process; just talking to people who are genuine and care about the issue translates to the viewer.”
If you have good footage and can tell a compelling story, he said, the editing comes easily. But even with technology speeding everything up, he said, “People don’t realize how much work it is.”
All this, while still keeping up with school.
“It can be overwhelming,” Pfeifer said. “But if you make time and you have a passion and love and believe in it, you make time.”
Crittenden wants to make films forever. You sure? You’re 16.
“Forever, yeah,” he assured me. “I have my whole life planned out.”
Same with Pfeifer. High school, then college, and always film. He handed me one of the aforementioned business cards: “Leo Pfeifer. Filmmaker.”
“There’s something about it,” he said. “I can’t see any other path.”
Previously published on; seattletimes.com