Independent Magazine http://independent-magazine.org Obsessed with Independent Film Since 1978 Tue, 19 May 2015 11:20:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Filmatic Festival Showcases the Art and Science of Cinemahttp://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/filmatic-festival-showcases-the-art-and-science-of-cinema/ http://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/filmatic-festival-showcases-the-art-and-science-of-cinema/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 21:40:52 +0000 http://independent-magazine.org/?p=2730 The Filmatic Festival  is a forum for that film geek and science nerd in all of us. It describes itself as dedicated to “the art of science and cinema” and explores the convergence of science, technology, cinema, and the artistry that can develop from it. The festival ran from April 30–May 3 at University of... Read more »

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The Filmatic Festival  is a forum for that film geek and science nerd in all of us. It describes itself as dedicated to “the art of science and cinema” and explores the convergence of science, technology, cinema, and the artistry that can develop from it. The festival ran from April 30–May 3 at University of California, San Diego, in Atkinson Hall, a building that looks like it could be from the set of the Big Bang Theory, but is actually the headquarters of the Qualcomm Institute at the campus. Qualcomm is also a sponsor of the festival, as is Stromer and Arc Light Cinemas. ArtPower at UC San Diego runs Filmatic, along with other events throughout the year, such as music, dance, film, and exhibitions. Filmatic is the first of its kind in California and only in its second year, but it packs a punch. The festival showcased a variety films, digital games, music, interactive performances, workshops, and indoor and outdoor exhibitions, over the four days.

At first glance, one can easily find similarities between Filmatic and new media initiatives in other film festivals, such as Sundance’s New Frontier or Tribeca’s TFI Interactive. All are dedicated to exploring the future of film, as the film industry, and media in general, is rapidly changing.  They all look at how the art form is transforming traditional passive audiences into active participants in immersive and alternative film experiences. But what distinguishes Filmatic is the deep connection to science and technology over story, fostered by the UCSD and Qualcomm Institute foundation.

A key challenge of these types of festivals, particularly one as science-focused as Filmatic, is to make this highbrow–and very complex–science, not only engaging, but meaningful and relevant to audiences. While work steeped in storytelling has an easier time of this, Filmatic found the humanity in several ways, including programming artists talks before and/or after performances describing the process and background, using professors, artists, and graduate students to staff exhibits and mingle around, and providing written explanations of each event and exhibit.

Filmatic Festival

Of the plethora of things to do at Filmatic, the exhibits that were highlights for me are below.

Weaving Mercury

The keynote on Thurday night, entitled Weaving Mercury kicked off the festival with a talk from Alex McDowell, most known for his production design work on Minority Report and Fight Club, but also co-founder and creative director of the University of Southern California’s 5D Institute dedicated to the art and science of “world building” and former Visiting Artist at MIT’s Media Lab, and Sergei Gepshtein, a vision scientist at the Salk Institute. McDowell discussed storytelling as it relates to world building – “storytelling contextualizes the unknown,” he told the audience. And, Gepshtein described what affect the audiences interpretation of visuals has on a film.

San Diego Studies

San Diego Studies is a lovely series of four time lapse and manipulated videos to reveal hidden patterns and rhythms in the city of San Diego. Filmmaker Cy Kuckenbaker said of his inspiration for the series, “This city can sometimes have a plastic one-note reputation so that invites you to figure out what it really is.” The loops include airplanes leaving from the San Diego airport, mid-day highway traffic re-ordered by vehicle color, a skateboarder in a skateboard bowl, and, yes, surfing on the San Diego beaches. Each frame in the loop is so visually engaging that it could be and picture unto itself.

The traffic organized by color creates a streaming effect that sneaks up on you. Each piece has a unique rhythm, whether it is the lull of the traffic or airplanes or the swish of the skateboarder. In that piece, the same boarder is seen multiple times sliding up and down and back and forth the bowl, narrowly missing the other images of himself. At the end, they leave the park one by one. Leaving one lone skate boarder to wrap it up.

Filmatic displayed each across a 4×4 screen. Each includes the environmental sound and no music. The series is supported by San Diego’s Museum of Photographic Arts and it was shot on a mobile phone – a Nokia Lumia 390, and meticulously edited without any CG elements.

Memory Lines

Memory Lines  is a movie lovers delight and the work of The Independent’s own Neil Kendricks. The film, one of the more story-oriented pieces in the festival, was exhibited as an outdoor projection in the evenings, of a looped short, just over four minutes long. It is a dialogue between two characters made up entirely of famous movie lines. You know those lines–from “You talking to me?” to “There’s no place like home.” How about “I’ll have what she’s having.”? And many more classics. However, the film re-contextualizes each line because now that they fit together in a new story, each line takes on a different meaning than the one that we know. “Neil wanted a different intent than the original lines. We had to re-invent them to find the new story,” said Jade Martz, one of the actors in Memory Lines told me.

The two characters, a man and a woman, meet and sit in a movie theatre whispering back and forth. “We created the relationship between the two characters. We created a new sub-text for the lines and had to find the motivation for these lines within the characters and situation,” said actor Matt Hoyt.

Haunting music, composed by Mike Mare and Will Brooks accompanies the piece. “I didn’t want to do a parody,” said Neil Kendricks, the film’s director, writer, DP, and producer. And it doesn’t play as one, but rather an experimental film that explores the social context of film. “It’s about taking ownership of the movies that you love,” said Kendricks.

There is a simplicity and playfulness about Memory Lines. There is also a slight awkwardness to the movie-line dialoged, reflecting the very real awkwardness between two people meeting for the first time. The imagery is simple – a black and white image of just two people, formatted for and projected on a rock sculpture in the Atkinson Hall courtyard. The textured rock adds a unique depth and dimension to the image. The rock sculpture that this film plays on–the belly of Tim Hawkinson’s massive Bear sculpture, a playful part of UCSD’s Stuart Collection.

Kendricks said that he plans on creating version that can play as a stand alone short, sans bear sculpture. He is also shooting a documentary about comic book artists called, Comics are Everywhere, and a three-minute video-artwork, called Wounded Sky with artist Carlos Pelayo. Wounded Sky premiered Saturday, April 25 and will screen at the Bread & Salt Art Gallery in San Diego through the end of June 2015.

Slow Art & Godfrey Reggio’s Visitors

Filmatic included a, much needed, (in my opinion) series of events, which they categorized as “slow art.” Slow art, a term described by Arden Reed, Filmatic Co-Curator and Arthur M. Dole and Fanny M. Dole Professor of English at Pomona College, in an essay on the Filmatic site, is a nice counter to the high-tech aspects of the festival, but also a chance for the viewer to think about the our culture of speed and instant gratification driven by our high-tech and Internet-focused society. What are we missing out on by not truly taking in things?

One such piece of the slow art series, is Stainless, by Adam Magyar a Hungarian artist and photographer. In his work, Mgyar, films, in black and white, an ordinary people standing at the Alexanderplaz subway station in Berlin. Then he slows down the footage so much that the people seem frozen in time, until you catch a glimpse of a small child running in the background – so gracefully and purposefully – or a woman weaving through the crowds, her faster pace drawing your attention. The result is hauntingly beautiful and surprisingly riveting.

Filmatic presented Stainless and other slow art video events, as looped video in various theatres in Attkinson Hall and participants could wonder in and at sitting either standing on chairs or comfy beanbags. The slow art series included four films, one of which was Visitors, a film by experimental documentarian, Godfrey Reggio.

Reggio, a filmmaker with over 30 years of experience in this genre, whose last film Koyaanisqatsi was released in 1983. Like Koyaanisqatsi, Visitors is without a story, dialogue, or characters and uses visually arresting imagery. He spoke about Visitors, both before it and afterwards. He prefaced the unspoken film by saying “it’s not entertainment or informational. It’s a pictorial composition, like visual poetry. If you are looking for meaning, you might as well leave,” he told the audience. He said that in fact he expected that many of us would leave in the middle.

The film is a meditation of about the trancelike effects that technology has on human beings. “Technology is now the environment of life,” Reggio said. Meticulous black and white images slowed to 70 frames per second of people and children watching TV, playing video games, or watching sports fill the screen – almost from the point of view of the TV or machine itself. We see he micro-expressions of a child reacting to something on TV – she looks sad, angry, puzzled at times, and always deeply engrossed in her own world. So transfixed that it’s almost a confrontational stare into the camera.

The film is made up of just 74 total shots in the 87-minute film and all are stretched over time. Having spent 14 years as a monk, Reggio can tell us a thing or two about mediation and slowness. It took seven years to make. Every image was highly affected in post to make it look as natural as possible.


In only its second year, the Filmatic Festival is undoubtedly still finding its stride, as it explores the technology and science behind and related to film and new media. By focusing as aspects of storytelling rather than stories for the sake of it, the festival takes a different tact than the new media arms of other film festivals. This unique lens will make Filmatic stand out in years to come. As for the slow art theme, one cannot help but realize that slow and careful observations honors both the film subjects and the work itself. Something that is much needed in the way we all consume media.

 

 

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Extra: Hear from Amelia Evans’ mentor and former professor, Ross McElweehttp://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/extra-amelia-evans-ross-mcelwee/ http://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/extra-amelia-evans-ross-mcelwee/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 16:09:13 +0000 http://independent-magazine.org/?p=2686 The Independent‘s Minhae Shim, talks with esteemed filmmaker Ross McElwee (Bright Leaves, Photographic Memory), an advisor on Minor Attraction and Amelia Evans’ former professor, about how he advised Evans through the complex subject matter of her documentary. Minhae Shim: What was your first experience of working with Amelia like? Ross McElwee: I could tell from the first film... Read more »

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The Independent‘s Minhae Shim, talks with esteemed filmmaker Ross McElwee (Bright Leaves, Photographic Memory), an advisor on Minor Attraction and Amelia Evans’ former professor, about how he advised Evans through the complex subject matter of her documentary.

Minhae Shim: What was your first experience of working with Amelia like?

Ross McElwee: I could tell from the first film Amelia made in the introductory level course I taught in documentary film production that her “filmmaker heart” was in the right place.

MS: What are her strengths as a filmmaker? 

McElwee: She films her subjects with great affection and sensitivity, and dealt quite creatively with obstacles that were placed before her. She clearly has curiosity and conviction by the bucket load, not to mention incredible energy and intelligence. And she has a great sense of humor, all necessary for success in the difficult arena of independent documentary filmmaking.

SM: How did you guide Amelia through making a film about the sensitive topic of pedophilia? 

McElwee: With Minor Attraction, there was a whole new realm of complexity to deal with, and I’ll admit that at first I advised her to write an article about the people she had contacted, rather than try and make a film about them, given the sensitivity of the subject matter. At least that way, their identities could be concealed. But Amelia was determined to find a way to make a film about the subject, and did so. I simply helped guide her through the completion of the first phase of the filming, which she completed while enrolled in my course.

Read about Ameilia Evans on 10 to Watch 2015.

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10 Filmmakers to Watch in 2015: Amelia Evanshttp://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/10-to-watch-2015-amelia-evans/ http://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/10-to-watch-2015-amelia-evans/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 16:03:09 +0000 http://independent-magazine.org/?p=2396 Minor Attraction is a risky project. The documentary follows the lives of pedophiles in order to find ways to prevent child abuse and understand the taboo attraction to children. LEF Moving Image Fund grantee Amelia Evans, a human rights lawyer turned filmmaker, talks to The Independent’s Minhae Shim about her film’s controversial topic, her filmmaking process, and living with pedophiles. Minhae Shim:... Read more »

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Minor Attraction is a risky project. The documentary follows the lives of pedophiles in order to find ways to prevent child abuse and understand the taboo attraction to children. LEF Moving Image Fund grantee Amelia Evans, a human rights lawyer turned filmmaker, talks to The Independent’s Minhae Shim about her film’s controversial topic, her filmmaking process, and living with pedophiles.

Minhae Shim: Can you tell me about your background?

Amelia Evans: My life is rather chaotic. I split time between human rights law and filmmaking. Human rights work is the background to who I am. That’s what I was doing in New Zealand before I came over to the states [to be a Global Human Rights Fellow at Harvard Law School]. I specialize in corporate accountability. I currently run the human rights organization, Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative (MSI) Integrity [in Massachusetts]. I’ve been lucky in the sense that I’ve been able to do both simultaneously: be a human rights lawyer and a film director. Obviously, one will give or take. Film is very much my life. It is my complete and utter love.

MS: What is your film about? And why are you making it about this particular subject?

Evans: It’s an intimate subject. When I tell people I’m making this film, people feel one of two things: either that I was molested as a child or that I’m attracted to children myself. Socially, we don’t understand what pedophilia means and we haven’t put much thought into the fact that a portion of the population is attracted to children. This is the reality of world we live in. There is a huge stigma associated with someone saying they’re attracted to children. The assumption is that if you are attracted to children, then you have already molested children. Pedophilia and child molesting are seen as the same. But in mental health, those terms aren’t linked. You can be attracted to children and may not be a child molester. Vice versa is true too. You can be a child molester and not a pedophile.

The film is about unpacking what it is like to be attracted to children. These people have had this attraction since they were young children themselves. There is a sense of alienation for those who are grappling with what it means to be attracted to children. There is disappointment, disgust, and self-alienation as well. However, despite having this attraction, which is unchosen and unwanted, pedophiles can lead ethical lives. They don’t have to act out and they don’t have to commit any crimes. One of the main purposes of the film is to unpack the distinction between attraction and action.

MS: What else do you see as the goal of your film?

Evans: The dual goal of my film is to prevent child abuse and understand what it’s like to be attracted to children. These people have an unwanted attraction to children. It’s considered as vile and taboo. So, how do you, as an individual, stop from offending?

People [who are] attracted to children experience their attraction as unchangeable and unasked for. There is scrutiny around what it’s like to live with this attraction. This is not something that they decided. With the film, I ask, what can we do societally to help these pedophiles not self-hate? How can we help people attracted to children so that they do not take action on that? They are never going to be able to have consent in their attraction, so how can we give them a quality of life to exist without a total hatred of themselves?

Filmmaker Amelia Evans. Photo by Joshua Conover

Filmmaker Amelia Evans. Photo by Joshua Conover

MS: How did you find people to be in your film?

Evans: It took a couple of years. I was researching about the topic. I went online. There were online spaces for people with attractions to children, like forums and self-help groups. I posted that I wanted to make this film. As you may imagine, the risk of participating [in the film] is critically high. I didn’t want to demonize or dehumanize anyone. But, if people appear by blurring faces or distorting faces, it contributes to idea that pedophiles are not human. We needed to see faces. It shows that this person is part of humanity.

This made it difficult to get people. It was asking people to reveal to the public that they were attracted to children. These are people who haven’t acted on their attractions. These people have most likely never admitted this publicly. So it took time gaining trust. I gave them a lot of my information on my part too. And then when I gained the trust of one person, they referred me to another person. It was a snowball effect. I found a number of people to be in the film that way.

MS: How was the experience of traveling across the country and living with your subjects?

Evans: It’s weird to travel across the country and live with pedophiles. When I started filming, I set out completely blind. I didn’t know these people at all. It was incredibly intense. My emotional wellbeing was fine, but I wouldn’t encourage others to go in the exact same space as I was.

The intention behind it was by being in their homes, it wouldn’t be as much of a shock for them that I had a camera. I wanted to see people as comfortable as possible in their lives. My hope was that it would be intimate so we could see who these men really were. The barriers certainly came down and the filmmaker-subject barrier broke down intensely. There are some pretty intense revelations that are sent towards me [in the film]. I did not necessarily set out to do that.

MS: What have you learned throughout production?

Evans: It’s not possible to do it all alone. I need an outside voice to keep me sane. [My mentor] Ross McElwee helps me with that. Also, I made the mistake of thinking that with digital cinema, I can endlessly record. That has created an annoying situation in post-production. It’s not costless to keep filming.

MS: Do you have any anecdotes from your travels across the USA?

Evans: As I was traveling across the country, I would sometimes film at a truck stop or diner or some other place. People would come up to me and ask about the film. I filmed my interactions and explained what the film was about. When I was [in the South], I expected intense reactions. Once, I was outside a rodeo with my camera and people were just lining up to express their support for film. I was surprised by an almost universal acceptance that it was time to start asking these questions. And in the same breath, these people would hate on Obama because they think he doesn’t have a legitimate birth certificate. It was astounding.

MS: What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

Evans: I hope that audiences take a more sophisticated and critical perspective on human sexuality.

Check out our interview with Ross McElee, Amelia Evans’ mentor on her film, on our Facebook page.

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10 Filmmakers to Watch in 2015: Navid Khonsari and Vassiliki Khonsarihttp://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/10-to-watch-2015-navid-and-vassiliki-khonsari/ http://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/10-to-watch-2015-navid-and-vassiliki-khonsari/#comments Thu, 07 May 2015 16:14:05 +0000 http://independent-magazine.org/?p=2499 The late, great film critic Roger Ebert sparked a furor in 2005 when he claimed video games were not, and would never be, art. The Internet erupted in howls and he was engaged in a spirited (to say the least) debate for years. He eventually retracted this sentiment. I think both the outrage and his... Read more »

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The late, great film critic Roger Ebert sparked a furor in 2005 when he claimed video games were not, and would never be, art. The Internet erupted in howls and he was engaged in a spirited (to say the least) debate for years. He eventually retracted this sentiment. I think both the outrage and his change of heart were due mainly to a poor choice of words. Given the creativity involved, games are surely an art form. Yet, the most fervent gamer would concede video games tread within a fairly narrow emotional range. Death is less a cause of grief than it is, often, the object of the game. And if there is a video game that can induce tears, I haven’t heard of it. Ebert also famously said of film that it is “an empathy generating machine.” Games can allow you to pretend to be a soldier, but no amount of Call of Duty will make you feel like one as much as a couple of hours with Saving Private Ryan.

Despite the heated debate, movies and video games share commonalities. Both have lengthy, costly, and necessarily collaborative development processes. Many games have scripts and actors, utilize storyboards, and include animation. All of which suggests an opportunity, that a space exists where the virtues of both mediums can be preserved and merged into something new, where the interactivity of a game could enhance, rather than avoid, the empathy of film.

This is the challenge Navid and Vassiliki (or Bessie) Khonsari, a husband and wife team, of InkStories, chose to pursue when they began work on 1979 Revolution, a video game unlike any other. As a partnership, they are also a merging of genres. Navid is a game developer, having contributed to Rockstar Games‘ titles including Grand Theft Auto, Max Payne, and Red Dead Revolver. Bessie’s background is in Visual Anthropology and documentaries, as a cinematographer, producer, and editor, on projects including Pindemonium, which played on the Sundance Channel, Our House, winner of over 20 film festivals, and directed Pulling John, which premiered at SXSW in 2009 and was broadcasted in over 12 countries.

1979 Revolution refers to the Iranian revolution that toppled the American-backed Shah and led to the rise of the theocratic regime still in power today. The “game” puts the participant in the role of an ordinary person trying to navigate the increasingly dangerous situation as one government disintegrates and another rises up to replace it. The player is not asked to pick a side and fight, and there is no score or leveling up. As Bessie says, “You don’t win a revolution, you survive one.”

The game is expected to be released for a variety of gaming platforms within the next few months, but it is already creating a buzz in the gaming world and beyond. An art installation based on the game premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, in New Frontier, and continues to exhibit at film festivals and museums around the world including, Museum of the Moving Image (NYC), SXSW, IndieBo, FoST and more.

The Independent’s David Pierotti talked with Navid and Bessie Khonsari about their work.

Game developer Navid Khonsari of <i>1979 Revolution</i>. Photo courtesy of Ink Stories.

Game developer Navid Khonsari of 1979 Revolution. Photo courtesy of Ink Stories.

David Pierotti: How would you describe what you’ve created?

Navid Khonsari: We draw from things people are already familiar with, but I do think we’re creating something quite new. At its core, it’s an interactive experience that draws heavily from game design, but the game design is drawing heavily from narrative storytelling, and because it’s based on real events, the story is leaning heavily on documentaries. It is inclusive of all these different realms of storytelling. We’re calling it verité games.

DP: Was that your intention from the beginning? To create something new?

Navid Khonsari: What got us excited was the idea of a revolution as an environment, as a world to engage in. And as we started delving into it, we realized most games have not based their story around real events. It might be too sensitive or too serious. Other games have used historical eras as references or for aesthetics, but they don’t embrace the actual events. So we thought it was an amazing opportunity to push into a new genre. I don’t think any of us at InkStories were interested in making just another game. And we also recognized that no one had really nailed down making a narrative game. How do we get you emotionally involved in this world and how to get you to possibly understand a little bit more about that world? That was the challenge.

DP: How is this different from games that people are familiar with?

Bessie Khonsari: Firstly, it’s based on real events. We’re looking to emphasize the authenticity of real events, and through that, reveal the greater truth of these historical events. Our characters are based on interviews with real people and each was meant to represent the actual, on-the-ground experiences of people who lived through it. The real events never change during gameplay, only the character-paths based on the player’s choices. And the characters do not fall into the typical good guy/bad guy, but everyone is a shade of gray. We’re departing from the norm to show the complexity of history. By making this branching narrative where you get to choose what these characters do, it’s inciting empathy.

Also, we’ve collaborated with photographers and photojournalists who were there at the time. One of the gameplay features is taking photographs and then you can reference the real versions. Within the world, you can also collect these audio tapes. These were illegal tapes of speeches and news reports that were passed around. So the player can access the actual key points of influence that helped shape events.

Filmmaker Vassiliki (Bessie) Khonsari. Photo courtesy of Ink Stories.

Filmmaker Vassiliki (Bessie) Khonsari. Photo courtesy of Ink Stories.

DP: What is the conclusion for the player? It doesn’t sound like you can win, right?

Bessie Khonsari: That’s right. It’s more akin to episodic television. We think episodic consumption lends itself to this kind of story. Each episode will be a two-hour experience. And we’re looking at nine episodes for 1979 Revolution.

DP: I imagine something like this takes a long time and the skills and talents of lots of different people. What was the process like?

Bessie Khonsari: Yes, this idea first started four years ago. First, we had to create a prototype to show people what we had in mind. That includes writing a script, storyboard, concept art, game design and implementation within the Unity engine. Then the whole animation process starts, incorporating art and photography references for the world and characters. We also used motion capture, which is normally used only for blockbusters games. So, that means casting for voices and the motion capture work.

This project is totally independent, which is so unique for video games. It [a failed Kickstarter campaign] also helped us get a lot of amazing partners, like the New Frontier Story Lab at Sundance in 2014. The lab led to the creation of an installation at the New Frontier Exhibition space during the 2015 Sundance festival and then later at SXSW. It is now playing at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York. We also received a partnership with Doris Duke Foundation that provided us a grant for bridging cultures through the Middle Eastern studies program.

DP: All nine episodes will take place within the 1979 Revolution?

Bessie Khonsari: Yes, it actually starts in 1978. The first episode starts on what is called Black Friday, when Iranian soldiers fired on protesters and was a turning point. And it will go through the ouster of the Shah, through the hostage crisis all the way to the Iran-Iraq War.

DP: What do you see in the future for this form?

Bessie Khonsari: A lot of this will be trial and error. I think it may blend into virtual reality, but we also want to make sure we reach a wide audience, so that means tablets and mobile. We want to deepen the experience and deepen the possibility for empathy and make it more exciting, engaging, entertaining. We think gaming is in its infancy and so we think it’s important for the industry to push on these boundaries and make sure it keeps going in all directions.

1979 Revolution will be released summer 2015.

Check out two behind the scenes video clips, exclusive for The Independent’s 10 to Watch, on our Facebook page. One is a clip from the cast’s read-through of 1979 Revolution. The other is of the cast suited up and ready for video capture.

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10 Filmmakers to Watch in 2015: Stephanie Langhoffhttp://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/10-to-watch-2015-stephanie-langhoff/ http://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/10-to-watch-2015-stephanie-langhoff/#comments Wed, 06 May 2015 15:04:45 +0000 http://independent-magazine.org/?p=2512 In many ways, Stephanie Langhoff has a dream job, although certainly not an easy one. Langhoff is a producer at Duplass Brothers Productions, the company from indie-film-machines Mark and Jay Duplass. Langhoff produced The Bronze, a raunchy comedy that was the opening film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Sundance 2015 represented a big moment... Read more »

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In many ways, Stephanie Langhoff has a dream job, although certainly not an easy one. Langhoff is a producer at Duplass Brothers Productions, the company from indie-film-machines Mark and Jay Duplass. Langhoff produced The Bronze, a raunchy comedy that was the opening film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance 2015 represented a big moment for Langhoff and her career. Not only because of The Bronze, but also because she received the Sundance Institute Red Crown Producer’s Award. The award includes a $10,000 grant and honors an emerging producer of a film at the festival who demonstrates “bold vision and a commitment to continuing work as a creative producer in the independent space.” Past recipients include Elisabeth Holm (Obvious Child, Sundance 2014), and Josh Penn and Dan Janvey (Beasts of the Southern Wild, Sundance, 2012).

Horsing around on the set of The Bronze. From left to right, co-writer, Winston Rauch, co-writer and actress Melissa Rauch, producer Stephanie Langhoff, and director Bryan Buckley. Photo by Matt Lefebvre.

Horsing around on the set of The Bronze. From left to right, co-writer, Winston Rauch, co-writer and actress Melissa Rauch, producer Stephanie Langhoff, and director Bryan Buckley. Photo by Matt Lefebvre.

The Bronze was Langhoff’s third film at Sundance in four years, all with Duplass Brothers Productions. Her first was Safety Not Guaranteed in 2012 and her second was Skeleton Twins (personally, one of my favorite films) in 2014.

“I am so happy and fortunate, but I don’t take my job for granted. It was challenging to get here,” Langhoff told me over the phone on a rare break from night shoots in Detroit for the second season of Togetherness, a comedy series from Mark and Jay Duplass. Langhoff, an executive producer of Togetherness, was shooting in New Orleans earlier that week and flew with the crew to chilly Detroit to shoot Wednesday through the weekend.

Melissa Rauch (Big Bang Theory) stars in The Bronze, and co-wrote the script with her husband Winston Rauch. The film follows Hope Ann Greggory, who became an American hero in 2004 after winning the Bronze Olympic Medal in women’s gymnastics, but is now a train-wreck — bitter, washed-up, and clinging to her small-town celebrity status. But she is also likeable, compelling to watch, and vulnerable. The Independent covered The Bronze at Sundance and found it to be visually engaging and big hearted with acerbic dialogue and tightly-woven, purposeful scenes, including a highly choreographed, hilarious – and much talked about – sex scene, involving characters pole vaulting, cartwheeling, and pirouetting all while wearing white gym shoes (and not much else).

Langhoff said it was love at first read with her and the script, which sold her on the project. “The script was the funniest thing I had read in a long time. It’s so clever. I fell in love with the script and then when I met Melissa and Winston I fell in love with them. They are kind and wonderful and complement each other so well. But their script made me wonder what they have in the dark recesses of their mind.”

According to Langhoff, The Bronze is a low-budget movie, but not really a low-budget script. “We had a lot of stunt doubles and re-created the Summer Games – twice! That involved CGI for the crowds. We needed a way of telling a lot, while showing a little.”

The broad comedy proved to be the perfect match for the talents of acclaimed commercial director Bryan Buckley. He had honed his skill of making every moment count with his over 20 year career directing TV spots, including over 50 commercials for the Super Bowl since 2000. The Bronze is Buckley’s first feature. His first short ASAD, which he wrote and directed, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film in 2013.

“Bryan’s approach of telling the story and his specific eye added so much,” said Langhoff, of the director choice. “For instance, that enormous painting of Coach P in the gym was all Bryan. It [the painting] was so narcissistic, but so reflective of Coach P and her background, that in an instance you [the viewer] know exactly who she is. Bryan tells the story visually so that you understand right away what these characters are going for.”

Melissa and Winston Rauch and Brian Buckley were also producers on this film. Langhoff cited many challenges in securing the financing to get the film up and running, but the team also had a tight timeframe to shoot, due to Melissa Rauch’s limited, and immovable, hiatus from The Big Bang Theory. “There was a lot of pressure to have the shoot done at that time – a lot of logistics and strategizing,” said Langoff. In terms of the shoot, “Melissa and Winston knew the pacing of the jokes so well because they had recited the script so much to each other in advance as they were writing,” said Langhoff.

“Jay and Mark’s roles change, depending on the project,” said Langhoff of the other dynamic duo on the crew. “Their only constant is how they complement each other. It’s fun to watch them get excited about a creative moment. They both come from an editing background so they are able to see that side of things at an early stage in the game, which is important.”

“I love working with them, but I also love the kind of movies that we are making,” Langhoff told me towards the end of our conversation, just before she was heading in to another night shoot. “It’s such a challenge to make these films that it has to be something that you just can’t sleep at night, if they are not made. It’s hard enough to make them, even when you love them. If you don’t love the films you’re working on, you shouldn’t be making them.”

Relativity bought the distribution rights to The Bronze and it will be released in June 2015.

Did you know that Stephanie Langhoff went to high school with Mark and Jay Duplass? Check out our Facebook page to read about how they reconnected years later.

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Extra: How Thomas Ikimi works with his editor, Scott Brockhttp://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/extra-how-thomas-ikimi-works-with-his-editor-scott-brock/ http://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/extra-how-thomas-ikimi-works-with-his-editor-scott-brock/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 15:20:28 +0000 http://independent-magazine.org/?p=2668 The Independent’s Mike Sullivan talks with Scott Brock, who has worked as an editor and consultant with our 10 to Watch filmmaker Thomas Ikimi on several of his projects. Brock is a UCLA graduate and an award winning editor with twenty years of editing experience. He has assisted editor Thelma Schoonmaker on several films for Martin... Read more »

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The Independent’s Mike Sullivan talks with Scott Brock, who has worked as an editor and consultant with our 10 to Watch filmmaker Thomas Ikimi on several of his projects. Brock is a UCLA graduate and an award winning editor with twenty years of editing experience. He has assisted editor Thelma Schoonmaker on several films for Martin Scorsese, including Shutter Island, The Departed and Casino. Brock worked with Ikimi on Limbo, Legacy, on his network series The Temp, and as a consultant on Ikimi’s feature documentary, Homefront.

Mike Sullivan: How did you first come to work with Thomas?

Scott Brock: I met him on his very first film project, which was a feature project, called Limbo.  I met him and read his script and I knew instantly I wanted to work on that project.  He was quite a different kind of writer, and something of a breath of fresh air, at a time when big superhero VFX films were beginning to hit their stride in Hollywood.

MS: How prepared is Thomas in the edit room? 

Brock: Completely. Except for Limbo, which was shot when we met, we both have always discussed the project long before it shoots. He will let me read several versions of the script, and he makes thorough and fully realized storyboards. A lot of productions, by the way, don’t do storyboards any more; they do shot lists. As visual artists and storytellers, I’ve never understood why this trend towards shot lists gained its de rigeur status. Storyboards bridge so much in describing the style of the film and fulfilling its total construction; his especially are so thoroughly delineated. They are so, so very helpful.

MS: Does he sit with you or allow you some time to work with the footage yourself?

Brock: Both. And he strikes an absolutely perfect balance between the two. We both completely trust each other’s sensibilities and each other’s understanding of what we need and/or would like to do. That’s not to say that we agree with each other all the time; we don’t. And we allow each other – vigorously – the ability to do that, if we feel strongly about a scene or a section of dialogue or an entire scene flow construction.

In the end it is his project; the decision is always his, and of course we both know that, but we both feel comfortable about voicing our opinions. Sometimes he does feel that he needs to steer a scene in a very, very specific direction and that’s when he will sit with me – or he may want to edit the scene himself until he gets it in a shape that starts to resemble the direction he wants it to be taking. I know some editors might feel a bit uneasy about that, but I’m something of an old-fashioned editor in that I firmly believe in the Frank Capra “one man, one film” mantra. It’s the director’s film, and he can do anything he likes to get it to where he wants it to be going. But that does not happen that often anyway, mostly because of how well he is prepared and how he helps prepare me as well.

MS: As a filmmaker, what qualities does Thomas bring to the table that are different from other directors you have worked with?  

Brock: He has an acute and original intuition to his vision and pre-visualization when he plans his projects. He is well-read, which is a big factor as to why his scripts are so well-written. All of us who do this for a living love film, but very few of us take or get the opportunity to have an immersive study of it. When he was young, he saw literally hundreds and hundreds of films from his family’s video library, so he has developed in his creative repertoire an immediate bank from which to withdraw an enormous amount of inspiration for visual and sound construction.

MS: The relationship between editor and director is one of the most important for a film. Have you and Thomas found a way of working together that has developed over the different projects?

Brock: Definitely. It’s as if we have developed a shorthand based on each other’s sensibilities. The storyboards and script versions he sends help in becoming an important part of that shorthand. I might work on a scene a certain way, but I’m always thinking about both his comments as well as his preferences and sensibilities – and the storyboards. Sometimes I might cut the scene based on that, even if my own preferences might be different. Or I’ll present different versions, if I feel strongly enough about it.

To see a few pages of Thomas Ikimi’s script for Nostradomus, check out our Facebook page.

Read about Thomas Ikimi on 10 to Watch 2015.

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10 Filmmakers to Watch in 2015: Thomas Ikimihttp://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/10-to-watch-2015-thomas-ikimi/ http://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/10-to-watch-2015-thomas-ikimi/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 14:42:16 +0000 http://independent-magazine.org/?p=2493 In 2005, the two films that served as bookends to the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily, Italy (Italy’s oldest film festival) had a somewhat special relationship. The closing film was Batman Begins, an old-school Hollywood blockbuster with a budget somewhere north of $150 million. On the polar opposite end of the filmmaking spectrum was the opening... Read more »

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In 2005, the two films that served as bookends to the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily, Italy (Italy’s oldest film festival) had a somewhat special relationship. The closing film was Batman Begins, an old-school Hollywood blockbuster with a budget somewhere north of $150 million. On the polar opposite end of the filmmaking spectrum was the opening film – student filmmaker Thomas Ikimi’s thriller Limbo. Ikimi’s film was produced for a mere $9,000 – most of that amount coming from his own maxed-out credit cards.

Sicily was only one stop along a journey that has taken Thomas Ikimi from London to Nigeria to New York City and Los Angeles. On April 18th he made his second appearance at Tribeca Film Festival with his latest short film–Nostradamus.

Ikimi, 36, was born in London but grew up in Nigeria and, like so many before him, was raised on a steady diet of good old-fashioned Hollywood movies. “My family collected movies on VHS and Betamax. We watched movies everyday,” Ikimi said. His father introduced him to Alfred Hitchcock and other movies from the 1940s and ’50s, but it was his brother who introduced Ikimi to the movie that would finally give him the confidence to pursue filmmaking and storytelling as a career. In another Christopher Nolan coincidence, that movie was Memento. After watching Nolan’s seminal suspense picture, Ikimi realized “that if this guy can make an entertaining film out of an idea… well, I have a lot of ideas.”

While studying literature and philosophy at Columbia University in New York, Ikimi took as many elective film classes as possible. In between his homework and exams he wrote the screenplay for Limbo. In 2002, using his credit cards and donations from family and friends, he raised $9,000 to make the film. “I was very young,” he says now. “I thought $9,000 was a lot of money to make a movie.”

It turned out that $9,000 was the perfect amount of money to make that movie. Producing an intelligent feature on such a small budget brought international aclaim to the young writer/director/editor. Limbo was screened at the Cannes Film Market, in addition to opening the 2005 Taormina Film Festival.

In 2007, back in London after graduating from Columbia, Ikimi began work on his next project. His script for what would become Legacy attracted a major star in Idris Elba. Once again, Ikimi raised the money to make the film, but this time he had more cash to play with – $500,000. Legacy premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in 2010 and went on to win several awards on the festival circuit.

Ikimi’s third film brings him to Tribeca Film Festival for the second time. Nostradamus, a 25-minute short, was not intended for the festival circuit. “I made Nostradamus because I love film and I wanted to make something to entertain people and get back behind the camera myself,” Ikimi said.

Writer/director Thomas Ikimi on the set of his short, <i>Nostradamus</i>, with cinematographer Allen E. Ho. Photo by Stefon Cromartie.

Writer/director Thomas Ikimi on the set of his short, Nostradamus, with cinematographer Allen E. Ho. Photo by Stefon Cromartie.

Ikimi says he was inspired by Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, but the film carries the DNA of early Steven Spielberg as well. The young and hungry Spielberg that made Duel and Jaws.

Production for Nostradamus took place over two days in the sweltering heat of Amboy, California, and Ikimi made sure he was extremely prepared. He now had 12 years more experience than the student filmmaker who made Limbo. “I knew exactly the kind of film I could make for the money [and time] I had.” His planning was so complete that there was nothing left on the cutting room floor after he finished editing. “Everything I shot is in the film,” he says. The story, co-written by Ikimi and Joshua Banta, is full of surprising twists and turns and Ikimi lets his camera (cinematographer Allen E. Ho), his cuts, and his actors (leads Austin Nichols and Amy Sloan) draw the viewer in to his engaging story.

Like his previous work, Nostradamus is a thriller. What draws Ikimi to this genre? The simple answer is budget. He says his favorite film genre is sci-fi/fantasy, but those types of films inherently require large budgets. “I find it easier to make thrillers on a smaller budget. Thrillers allow you to tackle very complex ideas in entertaining ways,” he said. The plot of Nostradamus rotates around a timely topic–drone warfare–another technique he stole from Hitchcock. “It’s a very good way of buying yourself some instant connection with your audience. [But] you then have to turn things on their head to give them a tale that’s nothing like they expected.”

Thomas Ikimi, writer/director (right) on the set of <i>Nostradamus</i>. At left is cinematographer Allen E. Ho. Photo by Stefon Cromartie.

Thomas Ikimi, writer/director (right) on the set of Nostradamus. At left is cinematographer Allen E. Ho. Photo by Stefon Cromartie.

Ikimi’s background allows him to bring a unique perspective to his films no matter the genre. “I have a different perspective on the world based on being a Nigerian. I always approach genres from a different point of view based on my varied background. I’ve spent a third of my life in three continents – Africa, Europe and the United States.” One thing is certain, regardless of genre, we will certainly be seeing more of Thomas Ikimi’s work on screen in the future.

Read more information about Thomas Ikimi from the point of view of his colleague and editor, Scott Brock, in our “extra” story.

To see a few pages of Thomas Ikimi’s script for Nostradomus, check out our Facebook page.

Read Kurt Brokaw’s review of the Nostradamus here. Brokaw coincidentally chose this film as one of his top picks from Tribeca. Great films, great minds!

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10 Filmmakers to Watch in 2015: Hasan Minhajhttp://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/10-to-watch-2015-hasan-minhaj/ http://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/10-to-watch-2015-hasan-minhaj/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 16:21:14 +0000 http://independent-magazine.org/?p=2479 Hasan Minhaj may be best known as one of the newest correspondents on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (joining the show in the fall of 2014), but it was his work merging stand-up with storytelling that brought him to our attention for 10 to Watch. Minhaj and his collaborator, director Greg Walloch, participated in Sundance Institute’s... Read more »

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Hasan Minhaj may be best known as one of the newest correspondents on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (joining the show in the fall of 2014), but it was his work merging stand-up with storytelling that brought him to our attention for 10 to Watch.

Minhaj and his collaborator, director Greg Walloch, participated in Sundance Institute’s New Frontier Story Lab, also in the fall of 2014, to develop his solo show, Sakoon, and its film adaption Paint the Town. Much like his work on The Daily Show, the project uses comedy as a way to make difficult issues relatable, but this work explores Minhaj’s personal story of his life as a first-generation Indian-American, part of the immigration boom in the early ‘80s – which has very different story than first-generation Americans of the past.

The word “sakoon” is a Hindi word referring to “a day-to-day peace of mind existing in your heart and soul” and reflecting the show’s theme of forgiveness, self-worth, and personal identity. This solo/stand-up show is coming out as an off-Broadway show in the fall of 2015, and Paint the Town will follow its release.

Minhaj hosted Stand Up Planet, a documentary transmedia series funded by a grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that connects stand-up comics with the developing world, including areas in India and South Africa. He is a member of The Moth Mainstage Company and produces his web series called The Truth with Hasan Minhaj. The Independent spoke with Minhaj about his work, his experience at the lab, and his thoughts on the changing nature of comedy and film.

Maddy Kadish: What type of things did you do in the New Frontier Story Lab?

Hasan Minhaj: I worked on combining the narrative of the stage show and the traditional script. Both convey a narrative, but in a different format. All the storytellers there work in different medium, but telling that narrative story is the driver. I also performed my stage show for all the advisors at the lab, which was incredible.

MK: How did participating in the New Frontier Story Lab impact you as an artist?

Minhaj: By performing the stage show, I got feedback from this diverse team of creatives – video game designers, graphic artists, video artists. They can see past the extraneous fluff. They can pinpoint the exact essence of the work and identify what I should be focusing on in the work and what’s extraneous. I discovered what they find special in my project, and that was priceless.

So much of what we do in this business is product-driven: when’s the DVD coming out? How many theaters is it playing in? When’s the movie premiering? Did you get a deal? That’s what we’re trained to do. There are so many moving parts. But the story lab was like creative summer camp. It was all about the process. I got to go back to the drawing board and become obsessed with the building blocks of my show.

MK: Your stand-up work interweaves comedy with some heartbreaking personal stories. What has been the audience reaction in general?

Minhaj: Audiences have been supportive. I think it’s because my work is about something that is authentic to me. You can’t deny someone’s true story. As consumers of art, we are all trying to feel something. We want to feel connected to people. When people gain empathy and love, they feel less alone. That feeling transcends any joke that you can write. It generates a reaction that’s true and bigger.

MK: What was it like being the only comedian at New Frontier Story Lab?

Minhaj: It didn’t really make a difference. I didn’t put that pressure on myself. I just wanted to share my story. I focused on developing and building the show. We had the foundation and needed to determine our approach. Should we take a low-fi approach or the HD version with the bells and whistles? It was more about the process.

MK: How did you and Greg Walloch work together as collaborators?

Minhaj: Greg is such a seasoned storyteller, and I needed that. I was a rookie in the storytelling world. I’m more experienced in the stand-up world. He could speak my language and helped me to realize that they are essentially the same.

MK: Tell me about your work with Stand-up Planet. What has performing for international audiences meant for your work as a comedian and storyteller?

Minhaj: It’s enriched my work. Anytime you travel, it’s an opportunity to expand your mind. Comedy is the universal language. Even when the stand-up is in another language, you can tell when it’s funny. It’s the way that they use the microphone, their expressions, how they act out.

MK: Both comedy and film are changing – new formats, new audiences, new artists. How is your work contributing to this change?

Minhaj: The game is changing; it’s democratizing. The narrative and the makeup of this country is changing. The first-generation Americans now are from different areas than immigrants from years ago, like Asia, the Middle East, India. These first-generation Americans who grew up in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s are coming of age now. Their narrative hasn’t been told before. But they understand the American experience. That is my story that I’m telling. We’re not only bilingual in terms of language, but in terms of culture too. I speak both English and Hindi and can go back and forth seamlessly. I grew up with McDonalds and Starbucks and steeped in Indian culture at home. It’s not divided. There is no separation of these worlds. We’re dual-compatible. This dual-experience hasn’t been told yet, but it’s an American-narrative, just like Norman Rockwell and apple pie.

For a glimpse of Minhaj’s work that is a central part of his solo show, Sakoon, check out his story on the Moth: https://themoth.app.box.com/s/h74w08gmtzxnwuidg6su

Check out photos of Hasan Minhaj performing at the New Frontier Story Lab on our Facebook page.

 

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Extra: Sundance Institute’s Anne Lai Talks up Ashley Maynor and Paul Harrillhttp://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/extra-sundance-institutes-anne-lai-talks-up-ashley-maynor-and-paul-harrill/ http://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/extra-sundance-institutes-anne-lai-talks-up-ashley-maynor-and-paul-harrill/#comments Sun, 03 May 2015 15:36:23 +0000 http://independent-magazine.org/?p=2640 The Independent’s Maud Dillingham talks to Anne Lai, the director of Sundance Institute’s Creative Producing Initiative, Feature Film Program, about 10 to Watch 2015 filmmakers Ashley Maynor and Paul Harrill. Maud Dillingham: How do you know Ashley Maynor and Paul Harrill? Anne Lai: We have a fellowship focused on feature producers and supporting the next... Read more »

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The Independent’s Maud Dillingham talks to Anne Lai, the director of Sundance Institute’s Creative Producing Initiative, Feature Film Program, about 10 to Watch 2015 filmmakers Ashley Maynor and Paul Harrill.

Maud Dillingham: How do you know Ashley Maynor and Paul Harrill?

Anne Lai: We have a fellowship focused on feature producers and supporting the next wave of indie American producers. In 2011, I knew Paul’s work, but didn’t know Ashley’s. She applied for a fellowship and was accepted. She was exactly as she presented herself on paper: She was warm and bright and lovely and thoughtful.

MD: Do you see self-reliant filmmaking as viable force?

Lai: I think in general, the indie film producing landscape is really tough. You have to be pretty resourceful to survive and pay your rent. What was interesting to me about Ashley and Paul was that they were creating their own hub. That is always appealing to us. They were not in New York or LA. What struck me about them is that they have a deep dedication to place, geographically and culturally.

MD: What’s the biggest challenge of self-reliant filmmaking?

Lai: Sustainability. I think that with the regional filmmakers there are pragmatic [barriers but] the cost of living is better. Ashley and Paul have been teaching for a long time, staying in an artistic community. [Harrill is the Dee and Jimmy Haslam professor of cinema at the University of Tennessee, and Maynor is an assistant professor and digital humanities librarian at the University of Tennessee.] You wouldn’t naturally go to Knoxville to find a filmmaker. They have brought their experience back to their region. There’s something of a cycle there.

In independent film you have to have a generosity of spirit. You can’t throw money at problems. With Paul and Ashley, their way of both finding story and being within that world, and training a whole other group of artists, is really interesting. It’s very fertile. They’re some of our favorite people. We love great collaborators. They are genuinely talented. Hopefully they will get more attention.

Read about Ashley Maynor and Paul Harrill on 10 to Watch 2015.

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10 Filmmakers to Watch in 2015: Ashley Maynor and Paul Harrillhttp://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/10-to-watch-2015-ashley-maynor-and-paul-harrill/ http://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/10-to-watch-2015-ashley-maynor-and-paul-harrill/#comments Sun, 03 May 2015 14:44:58 +0000 http://independent-magazine.org/?p=2419 Producing-directing team Ashley Maynor and Paul Harrill are based in Knoxville, Tennessee, where they make regionally-focused films under the banner of their production company, Self-Reliant Film. For Something, Anything, a low-key meditation on searching for life’s meaning, Harrill wore the director’s hat and Maynor was the producer. Maynor was a 2012 participant in Sundance Institute’s Creative Producing Initiative. Their latest work documents... Read more »

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Producing-directing team Ashley Maynor and Paul Harrill are based in Knoxville, Tennessee, where they make regionally-focused films under the banner of their production company, Self-Reliant Film. For Something, Anything, a low-key meditation on searching for life’s meaning, Harrill wore the director’s hat and Maynor was the producer. Maynor was a 2012 participant in Sundance Institute’s Creative Producing InitiativeTheir latest work documents the overwhelming number of condolence items poured out in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012.

The film, entitled The Story of the Stuff, is a web documentary combining video, audio, images and text, and this time Harill and Maynor have swapped roles. It is directed by Maynor and produced by Harrill and was released on April 16, 2015 – the eighth anniversary of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, which happened when both Maynor and Harrill were living in that town. The event had a profound effect on them, leading them to take on the Newtown story when it broke.

Ashley Maynor, director of the documentary, The Story of the Stuff

Ashley Maynor, director of the documentary, The Story of the Stuff.

The Independent’s Maud Dillingham spoke with the producer/director duo.

Maud Dillingham: How do you tell the story of thousands of inanimate objects such as letters and teddy bears in The Story of the Stuff?

Ashley Maynor: The web documentary follows a linear structure, with a beginning, middle and end. It’s very much character-driven. The people responsible for managing the material become lead characters.

Paul Harrill: And it’s about what happens to them as they manage the material. They’re really good people to follow. It’s hard to imagine the project without them.

MD: Did you have a technique for approaching people for this sensitive subject?

Maynor: I found that once people knew that I was not there to exploit their tragedy, but make something good, we were on same page. Normally, I don’t film anyone without their permission. I made contact long in advance to give them a sense of who I was. I had permission from the town. In dealing with emotional subject matter, it helps having been through a similar experience. I’m very sensitive to how people want to be portrayed. I try to practice the Golden Rule. Am I being true to them in every cut?

Harrill: We are both acutely aware of how cameras can take advantage of people in documentary filmmaking.

Paul Harrill, producer of the documentary, The Story of the Stuff

Paul Harrill, producer of the documentary, The Story of the Stuff.

MD: How has The Story of the Stuff been funded?

Maynor: The project has been self-funded and received a grant from the University of Tennessee library. The project does have fiscal sponsorship, and people can donate. We are doing an Indiegogo campaign. The money will go back into educational materials.

MD: What does self-reliant filmmaking mean to you?

Harrill: At root it’s about nonconformity – telling the story that you need to tell. And really relying on whatever resources you might have to tell that story. That ultimately can mean personal filmmaking. The promise of self-reliant filmmaking is that you can live where you want to live and tell stories there.

Maynor: It’s about the way you make something shapes what it is. It’s about using alternate forms of production and distribution to tell a story with uncommon sincerity. To circumvent the gatekeepers at studios which dominate the film industry.

MD: What advice to you have for first-time filmmakers?

Maynor: Tell a story that only you can tell. That you have to tell. I’m frustrated by films that don’t have heart. You must feel that you have to do it. It has to be a calling, not just a project. And maybe it’s better not to know everything before you start. If you knew how hard it was going to be, you probably wouldn’t do it.

Harrill: Pace yourself. Filmmaking’s really hard and it can take a lot out of you. Don’t give up. Decide what kind of film you want to make. Do you want people to see it, make money, or change the world?

You can read more about Paul Harrill and Ashely Maynor from the perspective of Ann Lai, director of the Sundance Institute’s Creative Producing Initiative, in this article.

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