Field Report

Tucson, Arizona, has a long history of filmmaking, dating back to the good old days when Old Tucson Studios was built, in 1940, for the epic western "Arizona". There is a clique of skilled filmmakers that still try to eke out a living making feature films in Tucson, and some of them, looking for word of paying gigs, occasionally show up at AIVF Salon meetings. And then there’s the rest of us—film lovers who are tired of waiting around for Hollywood productions to come to town and just want to make movies. We make up the core group of the AIVF Salon.

The Tucson Salon meets once each month at a local media hub, Access Tucson, to network, support independent film productions, and screen local filmmakers’ short films. The majority of our members make "no budget" videos, either by using their own equipment or borrowing it from friends or from Access Tucson. As a dynamic collective, we support members’ projects by critiquing scripts, giving advice and encouragement, loaning equipment, and crewing for each other.

But our organization, like any other arts group, has its share of difficulties. We have to face the question of how to create a sense of unity in a group of "independent" filmmakers who, by the very definition, are individualistic and dedicated to producing their own projects. But the group has made a real effort of late to help with each other’s projects as much as time and finances allow. Unfortunately, these "gigs" don’t pay, so members have to balance their day jobs with their volunteer crew work. As a result, AIVF Tucson also struggles with fluctuating attendance, as its core members become immersed in making movies. In the past few months four films have been shot here that used members and taxed their free time.

One way we keep the group engaged is through the AIVF listserv. Salon events, members’ accomplishments, screenings, and other events are posted on the listserv. Another way to keep members active is working together to be prepared when more filmmaking business comes to Tucson. We are doing that by educating our members and the filmmaking community in various aspects of filmmaking so we have a qualified pool of crew members for our own, as well as larger, productions.

Our members seem most interested in lectures that develop our skills as filmmakers or pertain to the financial aspects independent production. To that end, we have brought in guest lecturers to conduct short workshops during our regular monthly meetings. But the most successful workshop to date has been an intensive directing workshop with filmmaker and master teacher Jim Pasternak. Pasternak has directed feature films, television, documentaries, dramatic shorts, and coached Christine Lahti on her Oscar-winning short, "Lieberman in Love". For our workshop, twenty-five directors and fifty actors spent a three-day weekend in lectures, improv exercises, writing a dramatic workbook, storyboarding, and blocking and rehearsing actors in preparation to direct a two- to three-minute master scene under the tutelage of Pasternak.

As the principal organizer, I tried to keep the fees low while limiting the enrollment of directors to assure that everyone would have individual time with Pasternak. It wasn’t a money-making exercise; the workshop just covered Pasternak’s fees and workshop expenses. We produced it the same way we produce our independent productions: with no money, a lot of phone calls, and hard work by dedicated volunteers.

Participants were found by calling every person who had attended a Salon meeting in the last five years and by posting news of the event on the listserv. I got fifty actors by calling everyone I knew, putting an ad in the paper, calling theater groups and agents, and posting the event on various listservs. Everyone had to pay in advance, to make sure they would show and to assure that expenses would be covered.

AIVF members volunteered at registration and then participated in the workshop. One member acted as a runner, helping Pasternak locate the various "shoots" throughout the building. Participants brought their own cameras and lunches. We also charged actors $10 to help defray costs. The actors got to attend all of the lectures as observers, practice in front of the camera, and be seen by twenty-five independent filmmakers. After the workshop, the taped scenes were compiled for AIVF members to check out when casting future projects.

The workshop was so successful we put together a one day "Directing Bootcamp." This time, directors had the option of directing their own three-minute scripts for feedback from Pasternak in advance of the workshop.

In addition, the Salon continues to promote Tucson as a great place to make films by getting the word out that there are skilled crew members here. AIVF has had a positive influence on the Tucson Film community by teaching and encouraging its members to actually go out there and make movies—money be damned!

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