BEFORE/DURING/AFTER FILMMAKER INTERVIEW with Festival CEO/Artistic Director, Tonya Mantooth

Alyssa Rodriguez, Content Writer
San Diego International Film Festival

This month we had the pleasure of curating a Q&A discussion with Director Deepak Sethi of the short film Coffee Shop Names as well as with Director Stephen Kunken, Jack Lewars and screenwriter Finnerty Steeves of the feature film before/during/after. Let us highlight some of our favorite questions and discussion points here for those who missed it!

After an hour of mingling in the Festival’s Virtual Village Cafe Tonya Mantooth took the stage with Deepak Sethi, Director/writer of Coffee Shop Names who is also known for his work in Family Guy, Brickleberry, and Close Enough

Tonya began by asking Deepak to talk to us about the cultural message behind the short Film Coffee Shop Names. Based on the fact that many people use pseudonyms when ordering from Starbucks, Deepak stated “I personally use Starbucks names and I thought that it was interesting that other people too were also using Starbucks names. I always thought it was interesting that people couldn’t say my name. My name is Deepak until Deepak Choprah became famous and then suddenly people knew how to say my name.”

“I thought it was also interesting that I had this universal connection with these other people who also used nicknames or Starbucks names. And not just Indian people but people across the board. You know I find it very interesting that Starbucks names are just another sleeve of identity in today’s world. We create aliases for ourselves on the internet and with profile photos on apps it’s just very interesting. In one split second at a Starbucks counter I chose the name Derek and I used that for almost 20 years.”   

When asked about current projects Deepak confirmed, “I’m writing a feature film at the moment, a live action film which is different for me since I come from an animation background. The feature film I’m working on has a South Asian lead which I like writing about Asian leads because there are still many stories to tell. You know, India still doesn’t have an adult animation show so I’m just thinking that maybe I will also be the first person to do that after this film!”  

Of course, we were delighted to hear that we can be expecting more stories from Deepak in the future. Tonya concluded this half of the Q&A with Deepak by letting Deepak know “You are such an incredibly talented young man, very funny, very clever you know both as a writer and now a director, so please when you finish your feature film please bring it back to us so we can bring it to the audience!’’ Deepak was delighted to hear this and with a smile nodded that he would.  e can’t help but be excited to see more from Deepak Sethi.  


Next Tonya introduced Director/Writer and Star Actor Finnerty Steeves, Co-Director Stephen Kunken, Actor John Ellison Conley and Casting Director, Amy Christopher. As the panelist took the stage Tonya gave a brief introduction of the film outlining it as  “A really profound film inspiring and heartfelt. It really talks about an actress who reinvents herself as she is going through a very difficult break up.” Tonya did not forget to mention that this film won Best Ensemble at the 2020 San Diego International Film Festival this past October! 

Speaking directly to Finnerty, Tonya asked her to talk about how the project came about.

“I’m an Actor,” Finnerty began. “And I have always had respect for Writers. In some way, too much respect! In the way that I was actually paralyzed to ever try to do it myself and I also wasn’t sure I had a story to tell to be honest, and then my seemingly  perfect marriage fell apart and I was like, ‘Oh! This is something I could write about!’”

Tonya asked about her writing process.. “Did the story develop in pieces or was it just there from beginning to end?  Since you take the three phases and weave them so seamlessly, was that always the approach you were going to take or is that something that evolved as you were crafting the story?”

“I signed up for a class originally thinking I would write a play,” Finnerty stated. “But the class was full and so I overheard someone talking about this class I could take with this great writer as an NYU extended education class.   I just started turning in pieces and the teacher, Jason Greiff,  really just took me under his wing and took me to a writers group that he had … and I was just turning in scenes … and not sure how it all fit together… and he was the one who said ‘you know Finn this is your film.  You have us riveted because you’re telling this to us out of order and it’s messy and we are trying to figure out where you are in it.’  And I was like Oh! That’s it! And I ran with it because that’s what it felt like to me, even when you’re healing and moving forward there are always memories that pull you back.”

Later in the conversation Tonya asked Director Stephen Kunken what it was like working as a Co-Director with Jack Lewars. 

Stephen elaborated that “We had a very small pre-production window. We are all working actors and we all had this small chunk of time before our day work started up again.   We had this space launch moment where we were going to have clear weather for about a month.  So we ended up making that our friend.

“At first, Jack and I  compressed and separated our skill sets.  And then by the time we got to the set we realized our skill sets completely overlapped and there was no break in the information.  It definitely was a plus one for me. There wasn’t ever a time that I ever felt like we were at loggerheads and I love Jack like a brother. He is a fantastic visualist. I thought it was really seamless,” he added. 

“It should have never worked as good as it did but we both wanted to help Fin figure out this script and tell this wonderful story so really there was this selfless approach to try and put the best company together which is why coming away with an Ensemble Award (2020 San Diego International Film Festival) was the most the most gratifying thing we could possibly do!! We just managed to assemble this incredible team of friends and of people whose work we just fell in love with,” said Stephen.

It truly was an insightful and motivating night filled with the passionate truths of these artists from both Coffee Shop Names and before/during/after who really made a celebration of their experiences by creating these films to reach out to others to say ‘I see you and you’re not alone in these experiences’”..

If you missed us this February, know that you can join us the third Thursday of March as we dive into our second San Diego International Film Channel Event with a short film called The Fourth Wall and the feature film Through the Glass Darkly along with Filmmaker Q&As.

For details on how to join, please head to our website where you can learn all about how to become a MySDFilmFest member and access our Film Channel Events! We really hope to see you all there!


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