Philly Creative Guide

Creative Personality

Stephanie Yuhas | Executive Producer of Project Twenty1

Interview :: Stephanie Yuhas
by by Juanita Berge, 1 Jun 2010

Stephanie Yuhas is the Executive Producer of Project Twenty1, an international competition where teams of filmmakers and animators have 21-days to create an original short based on a common Secret Element. All completed films in the competition have their World Premiere October 1-3, as a part of the 2010 Project Twenty1 Film & Animation Festival (P21Fest). Their offices are in Norristown, PA, but they produce events around University City, Norristown, Center City and Northern Liberties.

Project Twenty1 Entry Deadlines/Costs

Early Deadline: May 21 ($100)
Regular Deadline: June 21 ($125)
Late Deadline: July 21 ($150)

PCG: When does this year's 21-Day Filmmaking Competition Launch Event take place?

SY: The Launch Event is July 31, 2010 at North Bowl Lounge N' Lanes, from 3pm to 8pm. Teams from as far away as the United Kingdom and Canada have already signed up, but local Teams have the added benefit of attending the Project Twenty1 Launch Event, a community networking party where Teams are connected with artists to assist them with their productions.

From Left to Right: Jason Heffner, Doug Seidel, Sean Gallagher, Stephanie Yuhas, Mary Sheerin
Photo by: Skylon Digital, LLC

The concept of the Launch Event is simple - show up to the door and tell us "what you are" - actors, crew, musician, writer, filmmaker, animator or general volunteer. You will receive a sticker (or several stickers) depending on your specialty. Official Team Leaders will wander the room to find new people to work with what fits their production's needs. This is the one time you should not listen to your mom's advice and GO TALK TO STRANGERS!

Last year, only two people were not "connected" with the team by the end of the night, so they were offered a chance to pitch at the podium in front of the 300 people in attendance. Both parties (one actor, one musician) were snatched up by teams on the spot!

On August 21, 2010 at 4 pm, Project Twenty1 will hold its annual Drop Event, also held at North Bowl. Attendees consist of Team Leaders rushing against the clock to drop off finished films and share production horror stories with eager reporters and camera crews. There is a count-down to 6 p.m., and any stragglers will not qualify for awards. This is a time to bond over triumphs, failures, and start talking about potential marketing plans for the World Premieres. Teams outside of the Philadelphia area can mail their films, as long as they have a time-stamp by 6 p.m.

From Left to Right: Danielle Krantz, Elizabeth Mahoney,
Jason Heffner, Brian Hannigan
Photo by Gary Hanna, Philadelphia, PA

PCG: Is this a project for individual filmmakers?

SY: Although there have been filmmaking teams in the past that were "lone wolves", we highly encourage collaboration. Often, the connections made at the Launch Event, Drop Event, and P21Fest turn into professional relationships beyond the festival that spawn more original productions. Mark Mackner from Team Sickening Thud said on camera, "It's the best thing that's happened to me in my whole life... I did one film and suddenly there are all of these cool people in my life. Project Twenty1: Do it!"

Several productions even formed online! A few years ago, there was an animated co-production between a team that was based in Los Angeles, Japan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York; the teams simply sent the files back and forth without ever meeting.

Teams that fall into trouble or need extra support can write into Susie Filmmaker, a Facebook, MySpace and Twitter profile manned by several Project Twenty1 female volunteers. "Susie" will repost any questions, casting requests or technical concerns to her list of over 10,000 followers on the combined sites.

Throughout the 21-Day process, many of the filmmakers upload Podcasts of their progress to YouTube. Watching the 21-Day films progress is very much like watching Reality TV, without the remote. All of these Podcasts, as well as past podcasts, can be seen on Project Twenty1's YouTube channel,

Anthony Griffin - Photo by Gary Hanna, Philadelphia, PA

PCG: What stops a team from working on the film prior to the Launch?

SY: The Secret Element. The industry judges are also told to give higher rating to the films that better incorporate the Secret Element in a creative way, so unless you have a crystal ball, you really can't start your film in advance. It is blatantly obvious if a filmmaker tries to "stick the Element in the background", and it harms the filmmaker's professional reputation not just with the judges, but with his or her fellow participants. If proven that it was completed in advance, it will be pulled from competition and will not be screened.

The whole point of Project Twenty1 is to receive motivation to complete a film within a given deadline and get connected with volunteers provided by our organization. We don't mind it if people create the film that they've been "meaning to" create but never had the resources or motivation to do so, but the 21-day process is as much a part of the festival as the final film.

Project Twenty1 readies themselves for a simulcast
at the 2009 Launch Event:
Ryan Suits, Matt Conant, Mel Orpen, Ian Rose

PCG: Tell us about the mysterious 'Secret Element.'

SY: The Secret Element is always an amorphous topic, phrase, etc. We want people to create films that can stand alone outside of the context of our Festival, so we would never have an Element like "Flying Zombie Pigs" since that would probably force the filmmaker's hand in terms of style and genre. Besides, that sounds terrifying. At 6 pm on the night of the Launch Event the host will announce the "Secret Element" that all the films must contain. Filmmakers from out of the area will watch the events stream live on the front page of to ensure that they hear the Element at the exact same moment as the local teams. They will also receive the Element via e-mail and those without computers can call the Hotline to find out.

PCG: Can any of the film work be done prior to the launch?

SY: We encourage people to:

Recruit Teams Members: Ex. Round up actors of all types that are available during those three weeks; scout for musicians that are ready to write original scores or have music they will license for your film; find crew members willing to donate/lend equipment and services.

Scout Locations: You would be surprised how many local businesses will work with you if you promise to give them a credit in your film.

Start Marketing: The idea of a "mystery film" is exciting to most people. Start talking about your journey through podcasts, blogs, newsletters, press releases and social media.

Make Friends with the News: It's in your best interest to develop relationships with local arts & entertainment journalists, as well as journalists that specialize in local news and public interest pieces. Pick up the copy of your local paper, find folks that write articles about people similar to you, and start writing some really nice letters.

Start Fundraising: Many people will donate money in exchange for an executive producer credit, product placement, official T-shirts/posters, props from your set, or guaranteed tickets to your screening.

Get Connected: Add us on Facebook/Twitter/MySpace. If you don't want to make a profile for yourself, you NEED to start one for your production company. There are other people out there that want to join your team but don't know how to reach you.

Make a Website: If you don't have the funds, find a volunteer web designer to help you or make one yourself on a free site like WordPress.

Project Twenty1 Volunteers & Interns
First Row: Sean Gallagher, Stephanie Yuhas, Melanie Orpen, Matt Conant; Next Row: J. Rudy Flesher, Lee Rosenfeldt, Ian Rose;
Last Row: Dawn Harvey, Na'lmah Akbar, Nicole Greene
Photo by William Schmidt

PCG: When are the winners announced and films screened?

SY: The Premiere of the 21-Day Filmmaking Competition films is October 1-3, 2010. All completed films will receive a listing on IMDB and have their World Premiere at the International House Philadelphia, 3701 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, October 1-3, as a part of the 2010 Project Twenty1 Film & Animation Festival (P21Fest). The Awards Ceremony will be on October 3.

PCG: What is the genesis of Project Twenty1?

SY: I went to school for animation and realized that I needed to meet people outside of my school to get honest constructive criticism on my scripts and projects. I went on MySpace, looked for screenwriters in the area, and found Matt Conant, a local filmmaker. His profile made me laugh out loud, so I messaged him. Soon we were going to festival events together and realized how the festival market wasn't providing enough for the local filmmaker. We also realized that since graduation, all of our friends had stopped creating their own films and animations. Many of them started projects with great gusto, but they quickly petered out when they realized that they had no deadline, no guaranteed screening, and no manpower to finish. We met up with a local musician and actor, Quang Ly, who complained of the "closed door" policy of filmmaking and wanted to encourage community involvement.

The three of us decided to change the face of festivals. We wanted to create not just a film festival, but a full service arts organization to inspire artists to create original work by giving them a theme and a deadline; to connect them with fellow artists and business people that could help them achieve their goals; provide exhibition in a REAL movie theater, not just some library or coffee shop with people ordering lattes two feet from the screen; and promotion to television stations, film festivals, screenings venues and other non-profits that need quality content and don't have the capabilities to solicit films one at a time. And we did it.

Project Twenty1 Launch Event Crowd - Photo by Lee Rosenfeldt

PCG: Why do you think it remains so popular after all these years?

SY: It's addictive. Once people realize the passion that is behind this Project, they become a part of our community and invite their friends. Even though it's called a "Film Competition," I see opposing teams high-fiving each other at the Drop Event... a team from Jamaica that has never experienced snow in their entire lives lovingly hurling a snowball at a team from California... I think the best feeling I had was when we received a letter of apology from a team in the U.K.

Dear Project Twenty1,
We apologize that we cannot participate in your 21-Day competition this year as we met some filmmakers from your Philadelphia Filmathon at the Awards Show and are now working on a feature in Los Angeles. I do hope you understand, but thanks for the connection.

We have never been so happy to receive a "rejection letter"! We want our organization to serve as a platform for careers. After all, once our filmmakers "make it in the real world", they can always come back as celebrity judges.

In addition, I believe that Philadelphia itself is a draw since often people want to visit the fair city, and going to Philadelphia for the World Premiere of your film sounds a bit more impressive than just going for cheesesteaks. And as filmmakers from other regions come to the city, they will fall in love with it and bring their larger productions - and crew - and budget. And that benefits not only the art world, but the local economy.

2009 P21Fest Crowd - Photo by Lee Rosenfeldt

PCG: What are the prizes?

SY: Top films will receive DVD distribution, compete for prizes and get submitted to screening partners all over the world.

GRAND PRIZE: (Winner "Best Film") will win over $2000 in Prizes, including:

  1. NEW! 1 Glidecam 4000 Pro
  2. NEW! 1 copy Final Draft 8 screenwriting software
  3. NEW! 1 free film budget, courtesy QuickFilmBudget
  4. A guaranteed spot on the Project Twenty1 2010 Compilation DVD
  5. A free voucher to enter 21-Day Filmmaking Competition and Philadelphia Filmathon in 2011
  6. The coveted Project Twenty1 trophy.

Runners-up (Best Director, Best Writing, Best Acting, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Soundtrack, Best Effects, Best Use of Element, Best Marketing) will receive:

  1. Guaranteed spots on the Project Twenty1 2010 Compilation DVD
  2. An Official Award Certificate from Project Twenty1

ALL Official 21-Day Competition Films will receive:

  1. World Premiere screening of their film at P21Fest, October 1st-3rd in Philadelphia.
  2. Two free VIP all-access passes to The 2010 P21Fest

2009 Show Us Your Shorts Crowd - Photo by Lee Rosenfeldt

PCG: Is there an entry fee?

SY: The entry fee for the competition is $125, which is a small price to pay for a guaranteed-screening in the heart of Philadelphia. The entry fee helps offset some of the costs associated with the production of the Festival, but only accounts for a small percentage of the overall budget of the event. Our filmmakers save slightly over $1000 in submission fees, shipping costs, and countless hours of forms when they create a film for us because we submit them on their behalf to other film festivals, partner venues, broadcasters and TV networks. The entry deadline is June 21, 2010.

For the record, the founders of Project Twenty1 have been running this organization as volunteers since 2006. That means that entry fees help run the Festival - they have never paid anyone's salary - we've actually been funding the Festival out-of-pocket because we believe in it. Since we have grown to capacity, we are offering sponsors related to our industry the opportunity to become a part of the Project Twenty1 community at this critical juncture so we can finally create jobs within our own organization, in addition to our filmmaking community.

PCG: Use of copyrighted material in the films could cause some real headaches. What's Project Twenty1's view on that?

SY: We provide connections to talented artists, composers, filmmakers, actors, and writers - there is absolutely no reason someone should use copyrighted material. One of the first things we did when founding this nonprofit was to get an attorney (Reed Smith, LLP). They have worked hundreds of hours to create release forms and waivers so you can easily, fairly and legally get waivers from everyone involved in the project.

This is not just a single screening that will disappear; we offer distribution from local to national networks, to startup film festivals in basements to Slamdance in Park City, Utah. If your film is seen by tens of thousands of eyeballs, it's likely that the copyright holder will see it too and then, to put it quite frankly, it's your ass on the line.

PCG: Who are the judges in the competition?

SY: Our most well-known judge is James Rolfe, known primarily for his role as the Angry Video Game Nerd (AVGN). He is the ninth most subscribed-to director of all time on YouTube, grossing over 160 million views on YouTube alone since 2006. He is also a fellow Philadelphia filmmaker and a professional reviewer of films and video games for MTV Network's GameTrailers, ScrewAttack and SpikeTV.

P21 Fest Screening - Photo by Angel Stevenson

PCG: Does the Official Project Twenty1 Film Festival feature anything other than the competitors for the 21-Day Filmmaking Competition?

SY: If a filmmaker wants to create a film outside of the 21-Day deadline without the Element, we encourage them to do so and then enter it into our Philadelphia Filmathon. The Philadelphia Filmathon is selection of short and feature-length films and animations from around the world that screen alongside the 21-Day Competition Films during P21Fest. Anything goes - shorts, features, animation, live-action - just about everything, except for porn (no need to show that at a film festival; you can find enough of that on the internet).

Project Twenty1 also acts as a non-exclusive "agent", in order to share Philadelphia Filmathon content with partner festivals, screening venues and television stations. The goal of the Philadelphia Filmathon is to provide quality connections with the community and give filmmakers a unique opportunity to reach new audiences. Filmmakers have the option of pulling their film from the Philadephia Filmathon library once they sell their film, but in the meantime, it gives many of our filmmakers peace of mind that someone else is out there doing some work on their behalf.

We also have an educational mission. Workshops featured at P21Fest run the gamut of film-related skills, teaching Acting, Special Effects, Makeup, Financing for Independent Film, Grant-Writing and Pitching Yourself. Emphasis is placed on the skills needed to help our artists turn what is frequently their hobby into a full-time career.

Project Twenty1 also trains artists with an interest and a drive to make a career in the entertainment world through our Internship Program based in Norristown, Pennsylvania. Interns learn video production, cinematography, editing, lighting, graphic design, web design, social media marketing, grant-writing, event-coordination and other essential tasks behind a film festival and non-profit arts organization. Project Twenty1's most recent graduate from the internship program, Ian Rose, won two student Emmy's for a project created with the tools and education provided by Project Twenty1.

Here is the breakdown of some of our other programming throughout the year:

SHORTS & SHOTS: An open-mic night for short films. Filmmakers bring their work to a casual, open setting such as a bar or restaurant with projection displays, and films are selected and screened from a grab bag. Typically, Shorts & Shots has a theme for the evening, involving anything from "Environmentally-Friendly Filmmaking" to "Local Animation."

CINEMA UNDERCOVER: A traditional double-feature with a clever twist - the first feature is announced in advance, but the second "Undercover Feature" is left a mystery until the film begins to play.

Cinema Undercover makes movie-night interactive by providing clues to the "undercover feature" online. Audience members that guess the feature win the mystery prize giveaway. Audiences are also encouraged to live-Tweet at events, as well as to write reviews, provide feedback and interact with the featured independent filmmakers. This very exclusive audience of V.I.P.'s help create buzz around strong independent films. Cinema Undercover is a joint venture with the Philadelphia Film Society.

Friday Night FX: A theme party where attendees dress up in the goriest makeup they can conquer. At the end of the night, prizes are awarded for Grossest, Most Realistic and Most Ridiculous.

Speed Networking: Like Speed Dating, but more productive. Attendees are seated across from each other and each have one minute to pitch themselves and exchange cards. At the blow of the whistle, they have to move down one seat.

For more information on Project Twenty1 see

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