Archive for the ‘SRF Interviews’ Category

Take the Survey: 50 States, 50 Filmmakers

Monday, October 26th, 2009

The United States of America


I’ve been looking over Ted Hope’s blog lately and one thing he keeps returning to is the idea that in order for cinema to be truly free (i.e., liberated), we have to do our part to help film culture. I agree.

That’s part of what this blog has always been about. One of the reasons I began this blog was to champion filmmakers working regionally.

But now I’d like to undertake a concrete project specifically dedicated to spotlighting filmmakers that live around the country. To do that I need your help. Not a lot of help, mind you — just a few minutes.

I’m calling this undertaking 50 States, 50 Filmmakers.

It will probably end up being a series of discussions with filmmakers working around the country. I hope to talk with others about why they live and work where they do, the challenges and opportunities they face, the resources available to them, and how they support their work. Ideally, these discussions will include links that allow you to watch or purchase their work. And I’d like to do one for each state, in case the title didn’t tip you off.

So, to restate, to do this project completely, I need your help.

I want you to tell me who you think is living and making interesting films outside of New York or Los Angeles. The films can be feature films, documentaries, or short experimental works. I don’t care. “Interesting” and “not-New-York-or-Los-Angeles” is all I care about.

If you want to nominate a filmmaking team or filmmaking collective, that’s cool. I’m open to doing a few historical surveys, too, so if you prefer to nominate someone deceased (say, Eagle Pennell of Texas or Colorado’s Stan Brakhage), go for it. I just want some interesting ideas.

So, without further ado, CLICK HERE TO TAKE THE SURVEY.

Don’t know 50 filmmakers in 50 states? That’s okay. I don’t either. That’s why I’m doing the survey — to fill in some blanks and to get some good ideas for this thing. Just take the survey and give suggestions where you can. You don’t have to provide nominations for all 50 states.

And please pass this along to your friends. I’d like as many people throwing out ideas as possible. I’m going to leave this post up for a couple of weeks, after which I’ll start compiling replies.

Again, here’s the link to the survey.

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The Conversation… with Scott Kirsner

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Though this website is a direct result of my belief that new technologies are reshaping filmmaking, as well as the relationships that filmmakers have with their audience, I rarely write about the intersections between cinema, the web, gaming, and business. One the reason I don’t is because there’s already someone that does that much better than I could. His name is Scott Kirsner.

A journalist by trade, Kirsner is the author of “The Future of Web Video: Opportunities for Producers, Entrepreneurs, Media Companies and Advertisers”, the editor of CinemaTech (his must-read blog) and a contributor to publications as diverse as has also contributed to Variety, Wired, Salon.com, and BusinessWeek, among others.

Recently, Kirsner announced a new event to be held this fall in Berkeley, called The Conversation.

The Conversation

 

Billed as “a gathering… intended to explore the new business and creative opportunities emerging in 2008,” The Conversation is “targeted to media-makers and technologists who want to understand and help shape the future of the entertainment industry.”

If the list of organizers and “conversation leaders” is any indication, The Conversation will be well worth sitting in on.

In anticipation of the event, Kirsner and I exchanged a couple of Q+A emails. I thought I’d share this (lowercase “c”) conversation with you:

**

Your journalism has covered motion pictures, new technologies, the internet, and the intersections of all of these overlapping worlds. But I’ve, at least, always thought of you as a journalist — someone that reports, someone that analyzes. With The Conversation you’re an instigator, a participant.

I’m really interested in innovation, and how new ideas get introduced to the world. It’s fun to write about that, but it’s also fun to bring together people whom I’ve met in my journalistic travels, and get them talking to each other — in person. All kinds of cool sparks fly. That’s what we aim to do with The Conversation. I’ll be there to ask questions and instigate, sure, but I also expect that our participants will do a lot of that, too.

How did The Conversation got started (no pun intended)?

There were two dynamics, really, that led to its creation. One is that a lot of times at film festivals, the discussions about new technologies, new tools, and new business models wind up as a side-show to the main event, which is watching movies. We wanted to do something where mapping out the future and getting up to speed with what other creators are doing would be the central purpose. The second dynamic was that there used to be this great event that happened twice in Montreal, called Digimart. Lance Weiler, Peter Broderick, Tiffany Shlain and I all spoke at the second Digimart a few years ago. It was a great gathering… but it didn’t continue after 2006, and we wanted to keep its spirit alive and take it to a new geography.

One of the things the website says is that The Conversation is “definitely not a conference.” Why make the distinction?

Conferences, to me, are about listening passively. They’re often sold out to sponsors, which means they don’t serve the participants very well. They tend to feature the same old speakers delivering the same old PowerPoint presentations. We’re trying to avoid all that, and simply host a high-energy conversation among people creating change in the entertainment industry.

If you could only ask one question to all the people that will be attending — the presenters and the registered attendees — what would it be?

How is your relationship with your audience changing? That’s a topic I’m obsessed with right now — I think that some of the biggest changes over the next 10 years in TV, film, video, and games are going to revolve around that relationship between creator and audience.

 

**

The Conversation unfolds October 17-18 in Berkeley, California. Visit the website for more information and to register.

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DENTLER TAKES THE STAIRS: Kevin Bewersdorf Interview

Friday, August 17th, 2007

In anticipation of the release of Joe Swanberg’s Hannah Takes the Stairs, South by Southwest Producer Matt Dentler interviewed the film’s major contributors then asked several film bloggers (myself included) if they would be interested in posting one of the interviews online. I warmly reviewed Hannah back in March, immediately after its premiere at SXSW, so I happily agreed.

I find it impressive to see a festival director support the work he programs well beyond the festival itself. Dentler’s vision has made SXSW one of the finest film festivals in America and his support of truly independent fare has helped make it so.

Enjoy the interview. And see the movie. Hannah opens in NYC on August 22. (Showtimes are here.) Rollout for the rest of the country is here.

***

On the eve of the theatrical debut of Joe Swanberg’s SXSW 2007 hit, “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” I wanted to check in with each of the film’s principal collaborators. The film has been documented as a successful collaboration between acclaimed film artists from around the nation, each one offering their own trademark influence on the final film. “Hannah Takes the Stairs” will open at the IFC Center in New York, on August 22, as well as be available on IFC VOD the same day. As part of an ongoing series you can find throughout the film blogosphere, here is an interview with “Hannah” composer and frequent Swanberg collaborator Kevin Bewersdorf:

Dentler: How did you first get connected to “Hannah Takes the Stairs?”

Bewersdorf: Joe and I had just been touring the festival circuit with our film “LOL” (set to come out on DVD August 28). During the festivals Joe kept talking about wanting to shoot a new movie in the summer, and I guess we both just sort of assumed I would be working on it. A month later I was somehow sleeping on the floor of an apartment in Chicago and hanging out with a bunch of great people. Like all the projects I’ve made with Joe, “Hannah” just sort of fell in to place.

Dentler: What do you remember most about the shoot in Chicago?

Bewersdorf: The whole thing was a gift from God. Every moment was happy. I do want to bring up one particular incident however: the moment that the Bujalski vs. Rohal feud began. This mock-feud has been mock-annoying everyone for a while now, and it is time for me to mock-bring-it-out-into-the-open. One day, when we were sitting around at the office location, Bujalski told Rohal that he looked like an actor that he couldn’t place of the name of. Everyone tried to guess the name of the actor as Andrew listed his filmography. Finally, Kent correctly guessed that the actor was Vincent Schiavelli (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Amadeus”). Rohal was extremely insulted. We consulted a picture of Schiavelli on imdb, and he looked like an gaunt and droopy troll, may he rest in peace. To counter the attack, Todd claimed that Andrew had a particularity to his countenance which made him appear as though he had Down’s Syndrome. Andrew was outrageously insulted. For the rest of the shoot the two maintained a mock rivalry over the incident. The rivalry has continued in public statements made by Rohal on various blogs (such as the “Bujalski Sex Tape” jab on Matt Dentler’s blog) although to this day Bujalski denies that the feud exists. I want to bring this out in the open so these two can finally make up, and put the feud behind them.

Dentler: How did the production process differ from your own other projects, or projects you’ve acted in before or since?

Bewersdorf: I’ve primarily worked with Joe in the past, so for me it was totally natural. None of the projects I’ve worked on since have been as stress-free as “Hannah.” There was no producer present in Chicago, so that removed any notion of authority or hierarchy in the production. There was extremely minimal equipment, basically no lights or gear, no schedule, no script, and no typical movie pageantry (Joe rarely says “action,” for example). It was just like hanging out, we were a perfectly balanced family unit from the start. Working on an indy film is almost always hell. Everyone is concerned with their own agenda, or worried about making their own reel look good, or restricted by an impossible schedule, or moaning about money problems. But, if everyone is willing to just let the movie happen, to enjoy the accidents and rock with the waves (while making sure to keep anyone with bad vibes away from the production) it can be so much fun. Usually people are a too concerned with their own success to have a good time.

Dentler: What are your thoughts on the issues of sex and relationships that come to the forefront of the film?

Bewersdorf: Many girls I’ve spoken with have despised the Hannah character. Usually it’s either because they resent that they are so much like her, frequently leaving trails of destroyed guys in their wakes, or because they have been pissed off by girls like Hannah in the past. Girls like Hannah are so awful and unhealthy to be around, and I’ve encountered them often. But I’ve never been able to hold their sporadic heartbreaking actions against them — they are young and confused and don’t know what they want, which everyone knows the feeling of.

Dentler: Ever been in a love triangle?

Bewersdorf: Yes. I was unknowingly involved a love triangle for months. The last side of the triangle wasn’t apparent until much later though, when someone else revealed their feelings. At that point it sort of dissolved in to a “love obtuse angle.” “Hannah” doesn’t technically involve a full love triangle though, unless the character Matt is secretly in love with the character Paul (Ed. Note: they’re co-workers and best friends, so it counts).

Dentler: Did you ever work with “the stairs?” Any thoughts on why they didn’t make the cut?

Bewersdorf: There was one scene with the stairs, a nude scene, but Kent was worried that his balls looked too fat so Joe cut that out.

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James Longley: SRF Interview

Monday, December 4th, 2006

‘You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people,’ he told the president. ‘You will own all their hopes, aspirations, and problems. You’ll own it all.’ Privately, Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called this the Pottery Barn rule: You break it, you own it.

– from Plan of Attack by Bob Woodward

While the title of James Longley’s mesmerizing new documentary, Iraq in Fragments, literally conjures images of the now-infamous “Pottery Barn rule”, the connection runs much deeper than the title. Like Colin Powell’s admonition to the president, James Longley’s film actually considers the situation of the Iraqis. I say “actually” because, though it may seem like an obvious consideration, Iraq in Fragments is, to the best of my knowledge, the only American documentary about Iraq — and this year has seen several of those — that focuses solely on the citizens of that fractured nation

Divided into three discrete segments (hence the title’s double-meaning), Iraq in Fragments first follows a fatherless 11 year old working in a Baghdad garage. The second section chronicles the growth of the militant followers of Muqtada al-Sadr. The film closes with a portrait of a family of Kurdish farmers. It’s an illuminating approach, one that prevents it or us from making generalizations about how Iraq’s citizens, have, and haven’t, been transformed by the war. I imagine it will also help American audiences understand, at least a little, how American forces are viewed — as occupiers by some, as liberators by others. Certainly, the time Longley spent with his subjects (well over a year, and 300+ hours shot) helps provide a perspective that’s been absent from what we see on the nightly news.

While Iraq in Fragments would be noteworthy for its content, the film also happens to feature striking cinema verite cinematography and edgy editing, which gives the film a quality that is more poetry than prose. The style creates an impressionistic sketch of what it might feel like to be in Iraq, without (in my opinion) grossly aestheticizing the pain, rage, and hope he finds there.

The combination of style and substance has been met with critical praise. At Sundance, where it premiered, Longley took home honors for directing, editing, and cinematography — a first for a single film. Since then its laurels include Best Documentary awards at major film festivals (Full Frame, Thessaloniki, and Chicago, among others), as well as a Gotham Award.

That Longley did most of the work (e.g., cinematography, editing, music, etc) single-handedly will make the film’s achievement that much more impressive for some. Longley, though, suggests that working this way was precisely how he was able to achieve things.

We emailed back and forth last week, soon after Iraq in Fragments was short-listed for the Best Documentary Oscar.

(more…)

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Tom Schroeppel: SRF Interview

Tuesday, July 18th, 2006

You won’t find Tom Schroeppel‘s face adorning the cover of Film Comment, Filmmaker, MovieMaker or any other film magazines that champion American cinema, yet, in his own way, Schroeppel has exerted a quiet influence on aspiring filmmakers in film schools across the country for the last twenty-five years. How? As the author of The Bare Bones Camera Course for Film and Video, one of the simplest — and by simplest, I mean best — textbooks to cover the basics of motion picture production.

When you get a copy of Bare Bones in your hands the first thing you realize is that Schroeppel’s not kidding with the title. It starts with the brown (think: “paper bag”) cover and block lettering. Open the book and you find text in double-spaced 12 point Courier font and simple hand-drawn images. The content is standard film/video textbook stuff, only it’s distilled to its most essential, readable essence. It’s like the film textbook equivalent of one of those incredible, out-of-nowhere independent films from the late 70s or early 80s. What it lacks in production values it more than makes up for in content and handmade charm. But don’t take my word for it — no less than Nestor Almendros called it “a marvel of clarity and conciseness.”

In true “self-reliant” fashion, Schroeppel took the DIY route to publishing and distributing the book. What’s unusual, though, are his sales, which are approaching 120,000 copies sold. When you stop to think about the number of student filmmakers that have learned about such basic concepts as “color temperature” or the “rule of thirds” from him, well, that’s what I mean when I say quiet influence.

After I decided to use Bare Bones this fall for the production courses I’m teaching at Virginia Tech, I approached Tom about doing an interview. Happily, he agreed, and over the last few days we emailed back and forth about his 89 page/$8.95 wonder, and its sequel, Video Goals: Getting Results with Pictures and Sound.

(more…)

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