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Jeff Kongs
Tonight's Feature Presentation


an interview with jeff kongs

The Green Room

Millions of people across North America have probably seen Jeff Kongs at work without realizing it, but commercials aren’t his most impressive claim to 30 second fame.  As the founder and artistic director of the 30 Films production team, Jeff Kongs has made it his mission to compress the standard plots of genre features down to 30 second short films – credits included!  Fortunately, he had more than half a minute to chat with Ziggy about what goes into those short films, and where he got the idea to do them in the first place.

The Interview

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Ziggy: Where did you get the idea to condense popular genre films into 30 second shorts?  How did it all come about?

Jeff Kongs: I was sitting in bed one night trying to come up with ideas for my actor demo reel. I had done some independent films and little videos here and there, but I didn't have enough footage to put together an entire reel. So I thought maybe I should just shoot some scenes, rather than an entire short film. At this time in my life, my friends and I had been watching a lot of horror movies. We even had a script written for a horror feature, so I thought it would be a blast to shoot a classic horror scene for my reel. When trying to come up with what scene I could shoot, I realized there are so many good "typical plot points" in horror films that I could shoot several if I wanted to. I started scripting it out and realized that by just hitting the major plot points of a horror film, I could actually tell an entire story. It would be very quick, but the whole story would be there. I would just cut out the superfluous parts because the audience would fill those in with their minds, and I would just concentrate on the most visually compelling moments. The script was like a page and a half long, and I laughed at how much it could actually work. It would be too quick to use for demo reel purposes, but I loved the concept of it. 

Ziggy: You’ve got a dedicated group of players making these films.  How did they come aboard?

Jeff Kongs: Everyone involved with these films is an incredibly talented individual that brings a lot to this company. Most of us went to college together at Missouri State University, and have all moved out here at various times. Representing Missouri, Texas, Illinois, and Nebraska, 30films is a heartland dynamo!

Ziggy: How do you go about picking the next genres you’re going to tackle?

Jeff Kongs: After the fun we had making 30 Second Horror Film, we decided that we could actually do this "major plot point" thing with several genres of film.  We're all so familiar with the layouts of genres that these films really do write themselves. One of our actresses, Darby Kennerly, was interning at a ranch, so we were able to take advantage of that and decided to make a Western next. My garage has also been used in nearly every one of these films as various set locations; it was completely transformed to look like a saloon for the Western. Once the Western was done, we just asked if anyone was interested in trying out a new genre.

Ziggy: You rotate writing and directing duties amongst the members of the company.  How do you determine who does what film?

Jeff Kongs: Some people just have a love of certain genres. I am a horror fan and so I wanted to do that one very badly. When someone has a clear cut vision of the genre and is very knowledgeable and passionate about it, they just step up and say they would like to tackle it. We haven't had too many people fighting over one particular genre. It's been fairly balanced.  So far we have kept the pattern up of whoever writes a script also directs it. This gives people a chance to really learn how to do things. It's quite a different experience shooting one of these 30 second films over a regular short film, so each film has a personal touch to it. They follow the guidelines of the genre, but the writing and directing reflects the vision of one individual. 

Ziggy: What about casting the roles?  Were you vying for the part of the male romantic lead in 30 Second Romantic Comedy?

Jeff Kongs: Casting was originally left up to the writer/director and the availability of the actor. We have since transitioned into having Donald Pawloski become our Casting Director. He works with the director and the actors and helps decide who would be a good fit for what role. Rebecca Holopter, who directed 30 Second Romantic Comedy, was kind enough to offer me the male lead in her film. I graciously accepted and had a blast shooting it. She also did the make up for the film, including the rosy cheeks of Seviin, played by TJ Pederson. 

Ziggy: The individual scenes in these films are so short that a Director could literally yell “Action!”, inhale, and then yell “Cut!”  That has got to be murder to set up.  Walk us through it.

Jeff Kongs: It is so quick! Yes, that is honestly the only negative part of making these things. We put so much work and detail into every scene, and we never get to fully enjoy them. My philosophy with these has always been that we aren't making a short film: we are making a full length, 2-hour movie and squeezing it down to 30 seconds. I always want it to look like you could be watching a feature where all the boring parts have been cut out. That being said, we have to set up each shot like it's part of a larger scene, and it's frustrating because we would love to play out a long take or slow things down, but we know it won't make it out of the editing room. Most of the time, we yell “action” and the actor usually repeats the same line 5-10 times with different intent and inflection. We know one of those takes is going to work. 

Ziggy: What has been the most fun moment you’ve experienced on the set of one of your 30 Second films?

Jeff Kongs: There were two really fun moments for me. One was shooting the 30 Second Beach Party. I loved that experience. Just silly and fun times, and everyone got to wear vintage bathing suits and we got a gorilla costume. Awesome. The second was when we built a box and filled it with dirt so we could give the appearance that we were dragging Jennifer Holloway underground in the 30 Second Haunting.  

Ziggy: What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome on a shoot?

Jeff Kongs: It's a standard Hollywood cliché that pets and children are the hardest things to use in films. Can't argue with that. They were needed for the 30 Second Holiday Film, but it was difficult wrangling both. The dogs wouldn't do what they were supposed to do, and kids got tired and weird. Actors got cranky and weirder.  

Ziggy: Your trademark timetable leaves no room for fudge factor: you have got to be in at 30 seconds and no more or less.  How brutal does the editing get?  Do a lot of scripted scenes end up on the floor because the timing was just one second off on another?

Jeff Kongs: The editing is probably my favorite part, and also the most challenging. We do have to cut out things that just don't fit in the final film, but most of the time the scripts get cut down before we even start filming. We are also very conscious while we are filming to use alternate takes of lines. Instead of saying, "Mrs. Black, you killed your husband", we'll also need a take of just "You killed your husband". Doesn't seem like much, but it can make a huge difference. 

Ziggy: As a member of the audience, what's been your favorite of the 30 Second Films to watch, and why?

Jeff Kongs: I constantly have a new favorite every time I watch these. Right now my favorites are 30 Second Heist, 30 Second Film Noir, and 30 Second Beach Party.  All bring a smile to my face every time I watch. The more in sync with the genre, the better the film is, in my opinion. 

Ziggy: Many filmmakers look upon short films as “a means to an end” – extended demo reels showcasing the talents of those involved as a springboard to “bigger and better” (read: feature-or-episode-length) things.  As the Artistic Director of a company dedicated to just making short films, what’s your take on that?

Jeff Kongs: It's funny because like I said, I was originally trying to come up with ideas for my demo reel, and when I came up with 30 Second Horror film, I knew it would be too short to use for my demo.  However, I have now discovered that because we have made 11 of these movies, if you put all your footage from these films together, you do actually have some unique stuff for your reel.  

Ziggy: Where do you think short films fit into the modern era of rapidly expanding New Media?  Do you find the medium limiting at all?

Jeff Kongs: Well we are obviously very specific with our films and very limited right off the bat because we've only got 30 seconds. On the flip side though, people's attention spans are getting shorter and shorter by the day.  People want “instant,” so we definitely play into that reality. We actually have stated something along the lines of, "do you really want to waste 1:47 of your life? 30 seconds is much better".

Ziggy: Does it provide extra incentive to those involved given that whereas even ten years ago, a short film would make festival runs for a year or two and then disappear save for a few archives and demo reel clips, now, a short film potentially lives forever so long as there's an internet?

Jeff Kongs: What's nice about this group of friends is that it doesn't take a lot of incentives to [get them to] do the films.  We enjoy the work.  We love the shoots and the challenge that comes with making them.  We really love the finished product.  We have been in a few festivals now and have seen our work alongside other web series and shorts.  We are very happy with the type of work we are producing, and everyone is along for the ride because it's unique.  We even have copycat acts at this point that have taken our idea and tried to do their own thing with it.  That's pretty flattering.  My goal is to have these films become so well know that people instantly recognize our brand and requests start flying in to make more.  (As well as donations!)

Ziggy:  Short films generally don’t have sponsors screaming to pay for them.  So how do you pay for them?  Is there outside funding, or is the running assumption that the film is made for the sake of making it and possibly as an investment in the futures of the people involved, with any outside money coming in looked upon as gravy?

Jeff Kongs: Well when we decided to do 30 Second Horror Film, we raised the money by having a yard sale outside of the apartment where we were shooting, while we were shooting! Our friend, Carissa Kalkbrenner, was kind enough to let us use her place while she ran the yard sale. We ended up raising about $200 through the yard sale and personal investments. After that, we decided we could probably shoot all of these things on a similar budget, and we should all just chip in ourselves. There is a group of about eighteen of us, and we have a voluntary monthly amount due of $10 per person. People have also been so amazing about loaning us cameras, lights, sound equipment, wardrobe, and just their overall time and talents. We are always looking for sponsors or investments for our group and welcome the donations.

Ziggy:  You’ve recently had something exciting happen with MTV Canada.  Tell us about that.

Jeff Kongs: We were contacted by the casting director of MTV Canada out of the blue. He told us about a program they are doing up there called "30 Seconds Go!" It is a user submitted show that displays 30 second films to the country. I felt incredibly blessed to be asked to submit some of our stuff to it. Most of the videos are just people hitting record and dancing in front of the screen for 30 seconds, so when our productions came on the screen, and we had taken the time to put thought and effort into making actual 30 second films, it really stood out. They ended up using four of our films on their program.  

Ziggy:  Like many actors, your experience with 30 second media goes beyond your short films; you’ve also done commercial work.  Though it’s the venue by which most casual viewers see the greatest number of acting professionals on any given day, most people tend not to think of commercials as being made by “real actors.”  What are some of the differences and similarities between commercial work and “regular” work?

Jeff Kongs: I will take commercial work anytime it's offered. I don't buy into the "real actor" thing. It's true, I'm not out there doing Mamet; I'm drinking a Bud Light. But you know what? I'm still on a set surrounded by crew, cameras, wardrobe, make-up, actors, and directors, and we're shooting something. We're creating. To me, that's heaven. It's why I moved out here. Plus, sitting in your own trailer does make you feel like a real badass. 

Ziggy: You’re also involved in an upcoming feature that’s drawn a fair amount of “tabloid curiosity.”  Tell us about Millennium.

Jeff Kongs: OCTOMOM! She sat in my living room! We had to do a scene and our apartment location fell through, so we ended up using my apartment. Honestly, the entire shooting of that film was an incredible experience. I was smiling from ear to ear the entire time. She was a very nice person, full of energy and a great attitude. The mansion we shot the majority of the film in was stunning, and I ate free food, swam in the pool, sat in the hot tub, and got to do a ton of improv with one of the most famous people in the country. Do I wish she was a positive famous? Sure. But I know people are very curious about this film, so I'm hoping it draws some views. 

Ziggy:  What’s next for Jeff Kongs?

Jeff Kongs: Up next, I am playing one of the leads in a short film written and directed by an Emmy nominated writer named Jim Geoghan. It is the film adaptation of his twice-nominated Drama Desk Award play, Only Kidding.

Ziggy: And what about for 30 Films?  Have you guys figured out which genres you'll be tackling next, and when we might see them online?

Jeff Kongs: For the time being, we have slowed our pace a bit. We cranked out six or seven last year, and we aren't chugging along at quite the same grueling pace. However, that doesn't mean we have abandoned plans for future films. I have a script written for a 30 Second Zombie Film I would like to make. We have a Musical on the way, as well as Buddy Cop, Silent Film Comedy, Hero Film, Dance Film, War Film, and Fantasy Film. We hope to get to them all soon. The biggest hold ups right now are scheduling, work conflicts, and budgets to do these genres right. The original goal was to make thirty 30 second films. We're at eleven. It is entirely possible to get there, so don't blink. They go by quickly; you don't want to miss them!

Ziggy: What kind of cheese and alcohol do you pair well with?

Jeff Kongs: I am a Captain and Coke kind of guy. I'll gnaw on some sharp cheddar if you got it.

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- Interview conducted by Ziggy, May, 2012

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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