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The “big talk” between every parent and child becomes a source of comedy for Joe Otting’s aptly titled The Talk.

Written by David I. Jenkins, and at just under nine minutes, The Talk follows two characters — a father (John Hoogenakker) and his 10-year-old daughter (Isabella Crovetti-Cramp) — as they enjoy dessert in a restaurant, a seemingly suitable opportunity for a parent to deliver a fact feared by every child: Santa is not real.

But what starts out as a simple revelation soon becomes the foundation for a night of confession, and not just by the parent. The result? A clever comedy that reminds us that parents aren’t always grown up and children should never be underestimated.

The film, which was released online last December, will make its festival debut at the Cinequest Film Festival, which runs from March 1 to 13.

Ahead of its film festival premiere, I spoke with the Chicago-based Otting about directing a child actor versus an adult actor, why The Talk resonated with him on a personal level, and the challenges of short film distribution.

On what drew him to The Talk:

After working on back-to-back commercials, Otting was eager to direct a short film. So he pitched to writer David I. Jenkins the idea of writing 10 short film scripts, one of which they would produce together. A week later, Jenkins submitted six scripts to Otting. They narrowed it down to four before ultimately deciding on The Talk, a father-daughter comedy. The concept, inspired by Jenkins’ own experience, was something that resonated with Otting, a father to a 10-year-old girl. “It’s something that I hadn’t seen before, and it works so well,” Otting said. “It’s really hard to tell an interesting story and build character in seven pages of a short film. So those are the things that I immediately connected with.”

Otting’s decision also came down to logistics. And with only two characters, and a single location, The Talk was the most reasonable choice of the four. “I know that the amount of time and effort that I put in to try to build a visual world, the cinematic world of the story, is really important,” Otting said of the film, which was shot last April at Barrington’s Canteen Restaurant. “And if we were in — a couple of the other scripts were in multiple locations over many days of shooting — even though they were great, it just poses more problems. So I think all of those things combined led me to The Talk.”

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On casting Isabella Crovetti-Cramp:

The four-month casting process took place in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The daughter, played by Joy‘s Crovetti-Cramp, took significantly longer to cast than the father. “She had an honest quality to her that nobody else had,” recalled Otting about casting his 10-year-old leading lady. “I mean, I looked at a bunch of different age groups. Too young didn’t really make sense; a little bit older didn’t make sense. She sort of fit in that world.”

On directing a child actor vs. an adult actor:

Although most adults change the way they speak towards children, Otting claimed it wasn’t necessary for Crovetti-Cramp. “She’s wise beyond her years at 10 years old, but she still has this innocence,” praised Otting. “It would be irritating to me, if someone felt that they had to talk a certain way or treat me differently. So I didn’t. I spoke to her the same way I did with John [Hoogenakker].”

He did, however, accommodate the filming schedule in her favour. “I shot all of her side of everything first, knowing that maybe after ten hours of this, you know, she might be drained and lose a little something,” said Otting, who covered the script in its entirely without breaking it down into sections. “It was the only difference and that was only a technical thing, not a choice to treat her any differently at all.”

On film festival plans:

The Talk was released online last December via Vimeo, a decision that Otting believed was the best choice for his film. “The whole distribution part of it is very interesting to me,” Otting said. “You go out and you do something, you put a lot of time and effort on finances into something. From the get-go, I wanted to release this on Vimeo and have it be free to any audience; and that was really important to me.”

The festival circuit, however, is still in the The Talk‘s future. “We will have the world premiere at the 2016 Cinequest Film Festival in Silicon Valley, in March — the first film festival that I submitted it to,” revealed Otting. “There are a few others out there that the response deadlines aren’t until March and April, so there are a handful of others that I felt made sense for this type of film, the genre, the story.”

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On short film distribution:

Regardless of the platform, the challenge of reaching a mass and diverse audience is something that all short films face. But Otting remains content with the route he chose for The Talk. “Certain festivals are very, very important, I think, if someone’s interested in getting an agent or whatever,” Otting said. “I’ve seen case studies of films that have been around in festivals, and the amount of people that it actually reaches through a year on a festival circuit compared to the audience you can reach online — it’s drastically different.

“The online world, in my opinion, reaches a much larger audience. I think that anything quote unquote ‘viral’ is really tough; it’s very tough to go viral. It’s the subject matter, the entertainment value of the film, to find that audience and hopefully spread. I’ve been happy with what we’ve had so far just staying to Vimeo. We are currently in negotiations on a couple distribution deals in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Japan.”

On his filmmaking influences:

Like many directors who grew up in the ’80s, Otting listed Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Zemeckis, and George Lucas as some of his early influences. Steven Spielberg, in particular, stood out. “It’s a little bit more mainstream, and I’m not ashamed to say that, yes, Spielberg has been an inspiration,” Otting said. “The first time I saw Duel on television, it was his first feature film, it was a TV Movie, but I remember being completely moved by that. And that was before he did any theatrical feature at all. To this day, he’s one that stands out.”

As he grew older, names like David Fincher and Ridley Scott were added to his growing list of filmmaking influences. “This was later as I started to evolve,” Otting said. “And there’s so many. There’s so many that I like and most of them are fairly mainstream. But I’ve never been ashamed to admit that, because part of the film business is entertaining people, selling tickets. I enjoy doing that.”

On what he wants audiences to take away from The Talk:

A scenario like The Talk may start dialogue between parents and their children, but for Otting, there is only one goal: to entertain. “We’ve taken a conversation that many parents have faced, or will face at some point, and turned it into something unexpected, humorous and fun,” Otting explained. “Parents can often feel like they are in a no-man’s land, filled with unexpected landmines and barbed wire. We go in it with the best intentions, but at the end of the day, the children are always the ones who have the upper hand.”

On his upcoming projects:

Along with continuing his commercial work in Chicago, Otting has plans for various features, TV shows, and short films. The project closest to pre-production is The Guns of Ridgewood, an action-thriller. “I can’t get into the plot, the storyline, too much, but it’s a really great project and very timely,” teased Otting. “I think it’s an exploration, too. What am I good at? It’s fun to explore the different genres. And I think, ultimately, I will stick with one. I’ll pick one and go down that path.”

The Talk is available to watch below.

THE TALK (2015) from Joe Otting on Vimeo.

The Talk will be screening at Cinequest:  March 4 at 10PM; March 6 at 3:45PM; March 11 at 4:30PM

(All photos are courtesy of Connor Hartnet.)