Skip to main content

Omaha Magazine

Drawn to Film: Neil Sandhoefner Earns Festival Accolades

Mar 28, 2022 04:52PM ● By Joel Stevens
neil sandhoefner poses in studio

Photo by Bill Sitzmann    

 Neil Sandhoefner didn’t set out to become an award-winning filmmaker, or even a filmmaker at all. 

The 34-year-old Omaha native, a product performance director at Mutual of Omaha, aimed to push the limits of his own short fiction and accompanying sketches and doodles into a less static medium.

In much the same way the onetime University of Nebraska at Omaha English and philosophy major stumbled into a career as an actuary at Mutual of Omaha over a decade ago, he found he liked filmmaking. And film festivals liked him.

In September, Sandhoefner’s five-minute, animated short film “Samson and Samson” took home Honorable Mention for LGBTQ Short at the Los Angeles-based IndieX Film Festival. In November, the film added to its accolades, winning Best Microfilm at the New Wave Shorts Film Festival in Munich, Germany.

Sandhoefner’s always been creative, but never considered film until he had some down time during the pandemic and thought, “film might be the right medium for getting across what I’m going for.” 

“So, I took my short story writing, coupled them with drawings, and filmed it almost like a comic with music,” he said.

He describes “Samson and Samson” as a “kind of sad” story tracking a gay man in a domestically abusive relationship during the COVID-19 pandemic. The story is based on personal experience Sandhoefner preferred not to go into details about.

“But I think it’s also important to acknowledge this is a real thing that happens to people, and you shouldn’t have shame or a stigma about it,” he said.

His goal in telling the story was to show these things happen and this is a reaction to it.

“I just want to share that with people. I think that’s really what art is. Sharing your creation is hoping people find meaning in it.”

“Samson and Samson” is handmade in almost
every way.

Sandhoefner drew each image on transparent acetate cels, and, using his iPhone, shot each image frame-by-frame. He then used editing software to stich it together. He also performs the strummy guitar music that plays throughout the film. 

He admits he’s no animator, but his characters, in their own squiggly minimalism, are distinctly drawn. There’s no spoken dialogue, rather, word bubbles provide the narration. 

“The only sound is music. It’s almost silent film-like title cards between drawings,” Sandhoefner said.

When he completed a rough cut, he showed a handful of family and friends.

“I was like, ‘Hey this is a strange thing I did, what do you think about it?’,”  Sandhoefner said.

The feedback was encouraging enough that he posted the film on YouTube. He began submitting to film festivals last year.

“I was proud of it enough I wanted to get it in front of other people and share it.”

No one was more surprised than Sandhoefner that the film was a hit at festivals, which, due to COVID-19, were mostly online. The festivals praised the film’s story but called the filmmaking “rough.” He doesn’t consider that an insult.

“It is a little rough and I think that’s part of what it is,” he said.

“The way I do it, it’s always going to be a little bit rough, and that’s kind of my style. I just want to get better at it to make it easier for more people to access what I’m trying to get across.”

Sandhoefner’s second film is on his YouTube channel now. He hopes to continue to make short films that focus on personal stories and experiences in his own handmade style. He feels like he’s found his home there, but didn’t rule out live-action films in his future.

“I’m happy with how they’ve turned out and what I’m doing,” he said. “But who knows what’s next?”

Search for “Neil Sandhoefner” on youtube.com for more information.


This article originally appeared in the April/May 2022  issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.