Independent Magazine http://independent-magazine.org Obsessed with Independent Film Since 1978 Sun, 03 May 2015 15:42:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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.

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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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10 Filmmakers to Watch in 2015: Radium Cheunghttp://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/10-to-watch-2015-radium-cheung/ http://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/10-to-watch-2015-radium-cheung/#comments Sat, 02 May 2015 15:30:33 +0000 http://independent-magazine.org/?p=2433 Over his 20-plus years in the world of film and television, Radium Cheung has worked as a gaffer, a camera operator, a director of photography, even an actor. But if there’s anything that has remained a constant throughout, it’s the grounding philosophy he has operated by: simplicity is key. Whether it’s his penchant for natural lighting, his distaste for cumbersome... Read more »

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Over his 20-plus years in the world of film and television, Radium Cheung has worked as a gaffer, a camera operator, a director of photography, even an actor. But if there’s anything that has remained a constant throughout, it’s the grounding philosophy he has operated by: simplicity is key. Whether it’s his penchant for natural lighting, his distaste for cumbersome props, or his tendency to let the elements dictate his style, his sensibility is characterized by a premium on fuss-free authenticity.

And yet, even he would agree that his latest endeavor, as co-cinematographer of director Sean Baker’s Tangerine, takes the “less is more” concept to new heights. The story of a transgender prostitute on a rage-filled search through the streets of Los Angeles for the pimp who broke her heart, Tangerine became one of the buzziest films to emerge from this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Screened as part of Next, a category celebrating innovative ways of storytelling in cinema, Tangerine more than fit the bill with its shoestring budget, an unconventional protagonist—and shot entirely on mobile phones.

Catching most of its audience by surprise during its premiere, only the most discerning eye would be able to detect that Tangerine was made with anything other than a professional camera: the focus is sharp, the grip steady, the angles atypical yet confident; but that is more than can be said for the actual production process, where the departure from conventional filming methods was acutely felt. Few would have been capable for the job. With little equipment and perhaps even less funding, it was hardly what any cinematographer would call ideal conditions for filming.

Cheung was a natural first choice to entrust with the challenge, not just because of his inherent minimalist mindset, but also thanks to his steadfast association with Baker. They initially met in 2006 on the set of TV series Greg the Bunny, for which Baker was cinematographer and Cheung—whose resume spans the spectrum from FX crime drama series The Americans, to the 2010 indie film Blue Valentine—was brought on by chance to assist with lighting for a single day’s shoot. “We just clicked,” Cheung reflected on their first meeting, “We knew we wanted to keep working together.” Their rapport only grew from there, leading to multiple collaborations, including their 2012 festival favorite Starlet, before the duo decided to take on Tangerine. Emboldened by their shared approach of letting the filming circumstances govern the look of a film, they decided to roll with the budgetary punches.

“We joke about me hanging up on him when he told me about using phones. But the truth is, I was involved in the decision from the start. We embraced it, saying, ‘this is what we’ve got to work with and we’re going to make the best of it,’” Cheung, who also took on a co-producer role for the film, explained.

It quickly became clear that the entire film would be an exercise in going with the flow. With no real financing to speak of, equipment boiled down to three major elements: three mobile phones purchased by the team, a gimble rig for keeping the cameras stable while filming, and a thumb-sized lens adaptor to achieve the desired Cinemascope aspect ratio.

“Sean sent me the rig, so I played with it for about a week. I was in Germany for the Christmas and New Year holiday to visit my god-daughter, and I spent it chasing her around with it. That was my practice,” Cheung recalled. But despite brief test runs, even Cheung couldn’t fully anticipate the extent of one of the biggest challenges that presented itself once production began: the inability to swap out various lenses for various shots—as is often done with regular cameras. “That entire part of the toolkit [the lenses] was taken away from us,” he said. “With wide, anamorphic lens on both phones, I’d constantly be able to see Sean and his mobile in my shot, and vice versa. We had to adapt tohow the angles worked.”

And the adjustments didn’t end there. Though permits were obtained to shoot on the sidewalks of Santa Monica Boulevard, inadequate manpower to block them off during filming rendered shots susceptible to the general public who, oblivious to the tiny phone cameras, would regularly walk through the frame and create continuity inconsistencies between takes. Asked how the crew handled the hurdles, Cheung guffawed good-naturedly, “What crew?!” With only six or seven people on set at any given moment, Cheung wasn’t the only one wearing multiple hats as co-producer and co-cinematographer. Fellow producers and assistant directors and co-writers filled roles as additional camera operators, costume designers, and supporting actors. “It helped that we were all a tight group of friends with a deep trust in Sean, but it’s almost crazy how we pulled it all off,” he chuckled in hindsight.

And yet, there were silver linings to be stumbled upon in having a meager bandwidth. In fact, the limited resources may have led to Cheung’s ability to remain all the more loyal to his preference of having as few encroaching elements on set as possible. “Usually, there are flags, stands, bounces, and all sorts of other things to make the shot look prettier,” Cheung said. “Here, we had to take control of what we had within the spaces. Indoors, we moved furniture, set house lights, and changed bulbs. Outside, with the streets being our only canvas, blocking came about very organically and really helped to define the film’s look for all of us.”

Even the unintentional wide angle, close-up perspective from the mobile phones became one of the film’s most distinctive stylistic elements, lending a unique, gritty yet dramatic intimacy with the characters. Further, while posing a technical challenge, the palm-sized devices also lent the crew an exceptional degree of invisibility, of which Cheung was especially appreciative when it came to shooting one of the film’s most iconic scenes, a sexual encounter taking place in a drive-through car wash. “It was just Sean in the backseat, and we drove the taxi right through like normal, getting the shot in one take,” he remembered. “Nobody noticed we were filming. The small setup we had was essential for that.”

Cheung ultimately credits the success of Tangerine to the crew’s collective trust in Baker’s vision. “Sean loves to catch the magic of a performance, and we have complete confidence in him. When we line up a shot and take it, and he says we can move on, we know he’s found that magic.”

While easy—and certainly natural—to view the use of mobile phone cameras as a revolutionary feat, Cheung was reluctant to categorize the film as a technically groundbreaking work. “If anything, I hope our shooting on mobile phones encourages people not to be afraid or held back by equipment. You can shoot it with anything, and to a certain degree you want to care about how your film looks, but there’s a certain authenticity you can’t get without honest performances,” he explained. “Tangerine really proved to me, and hopefully to audiences, that what is most important is telling a story truthfully.”

It’s an approach to storytelling that strikes a particularly resonant chord with Cheung, whose real introduction to film occurred when he immigrated with his family to the United States from Hong Kong at the age of 12. His flimsy grasp of English served as a harsh barrier to forming friendships, so he turned to Hong Kong and Taiwanese films as a way to alleviate homesickness. His affinity for regional cinema quickly expanded to films of all natures. “I started watching American movies, any movies, really,” he said. “I fell in love with them and with feeling close to the people and places in them. Their place in my immigrant journey has a lot to do with how I got into film, and why I want to be a part of seeing good stories through, from financing to distribution.”

Cheung’s ultimate advice to those looking to tell their own cinematic stories? Don’t wait. “Go out there and use what you have if you feel the moment is right. You can either take the opportunity when you have it, or wait another two or three years to get a bigger budget—but know that in that time, you may lose all the other elements that were once working. As indie filmmakers, that’s the constant compromise we face, and it’s a constant challenge to find the right compromise.”

Tangerine was acquired by Magnolia Pictures at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It will be released in theaters in NYC and LA on July 10th with a wider rollout to follow.

Check out the trailer for Tangerine to see some of Cheung’s work and why we think he’s 10 to Watch.

Filmmaker Camille Thoman will be working with Radium Cheung as producer on her upcoming film, You Were Never Here. Read about this on our Facebook page.

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Extra: Catherine Epstein talks with Fort Bliss cinematographer Adam Silverhttp://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/extra-catherine-epstein-talks-with-fort-bliss-cinematographer-adam-silver/ http://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/extra-catherine-epstein-talks-with-fort-bliss-cinematographer-adam-silver/#comments Fri, 01 May 2015 17:57:00 +0000 http://independent-magazine.org/?p=2587 Fort Bliss follows a single mother trying to reconnect with her son following her 15-month deployment in Iraq as a medic. It is, as Silver says, “the kind of movie that gets you out of bed in the morning.” Silver spoke with The Independent’s Catherine Epstein about the film’s visual style, the responsibility he and... Read more »

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Fort Bliss follows a single mother trying to reconnect with her son following her 15-month deployment in Iraq as a medic. It is, as Silver says, “the kind of movie that gets you out of bed in the morning.” Silver spoke with The Independent’s Catherine Epstein about the film’s visual style, the responsibility he and 10 to Watch in 2015 director Claudia Myers feel to the military community, and what makes their artistic collaboration strong.

Catherine Epstein: How did you and Claudia meet?

Adam Sliver: Claudia and I went to film school together at the graduate program at Columbia. We didn’t really collaborate in the program, but immediately afterward Claudia hired me to be the DP on an interactive training film for the army. That shoot had us at Fort Bliss in El Paso on an actual army post for five weeks. Through that experience, the movie Fort Bliss was born.

CE: What did you both notice while you were there that made you think this could be a strong story?

Sliver: There’s something really interesting about the location. It’s the largest army post in the country. It straddles the border, and El Paso and Juarez, Mexico are basically like sister cities. It has an interesting cultural position as a border town. So many themes of the film were about a character who’s sort of caught between two worlds – between the civilian world and the military world – and we thought there was an interesting parallel with Fort Bliss as a city in itself, which is in a similar position being on the border between two very different cultures and countries.

CE: Claudia chose to immerse herself in military culture and soldiers following your work on the training video– what prompted that?

Silver: It’s really hard for anybody who starts to even put a toe in that world to not get personally involved very quickly. It was such an important time for our country – we started talking about the film at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – and I think we felt like the soldier experience in deployment was very much a story in the media and the news and in film and television already, but the story that we’re telling in Fort Bliss was sort of the flip side of that – this other cost of war. What is that toll on the family? That was really important to Claudia to put a spotlight on, that extra sacrifice that people in uniform make that nobody really thinks about.

CE: Did the film’s timeliness – and the fact that you both spent so much time with military families – make you feel especially responsible to get the story right?

Silver: Yeah, absolutely. We always felt the core audience was people in the military community. And it was so gratifying that the response we got from them has been so strong. We had soldiers coming up to us after each screening thanking us for putting this onscreen and for doing our homework. It was such a mandate from the beginning to get it right from the soldiers’ perspective.

I think one of the big-picture goals that all of us had was bridging the divide that we always see between the people in the armed forces and the civilian community. That really became one of the primary missions of the movie – to bridge that divide.

CE: How did you and Claudia decide what the film was going to look like?

Silver: We wanted to ground it in realism and naturalism as much as possible, so we took a sort of documentary approach. The camera work was something like 90% handheld, and we used a lot of natural light, and there was a lot of freedom for the actors to move around and not be pinned down to marks. But then within that, we wanted to use the visuals to help reflect the journey that [the protagonist] Maggie goes through. A lot of films, I think, render the soldier experience in deployment in a sort of high-contrast, bleached-out, harsh way. But in this film, we wanted to show that for Maggie, the military world is the opposite of that. It’s vibrant and warm and colorful and rich. Whereas the civilian world, especially when she first comes back, is sort of lifeless. It’s muted colors, and it’s drab by contrast. And then as she warms up to her role as a mother, we see that world warm up for her. So we wanted to reflect the character’s journey, but we had to stay grounded in realism and naturalism.

CE: The film includes a few key moments of slow motion and muted sound or silence. What did you want to highlight and communicate in those moments?

Silver: We had a few buzzwords that we used to describe that mode of telling her story, which was very much Maggie’s internal perspective. For those sections, we used the phrase “combat mode.” Maggie needs to be able to tune out her emotions in order to do her job. The first time we see that is when she’s doing improvised surgery on a soldier who’s been hit by a grenade. Later, when she has to take [her son] Paul from his dad for the first time since returning, you see her sort of go into that same mode, which reflects that this is how she has to tune out her emotions to get done what she needs to get done.

CE: How would you describe Claudia’s filmmaking style?

Silver: She’s very detail oriented. She’s extremely passionate. I think she approaches all the stories she tells from a very personal perspective. I don’t know if she’d be capable of directing something that was done on the surface level. And she’s extremely committed and driven. We worked very closely together, but obviously without her dedication and her drive the project would not have happened. It’s also a social issue movie, which is a kind of amorphous term to use, but…it gives you a larger sense of purpose. This was the kind movie that gets you out of bed in the morning. This is a story that I think people should see, and an issue that people need to be aware of. That drove everybody, including Claudia.

CE: What do you think makes you and Claudia strong collaborators?

Silver: There’s not a lot of ego. There’s an acknowledgment that – this is sort of an army-ism – the mission is more important than the individuals on the team. That sounds cheesy, but it was such a purpose-driven project, and that superseded anybody’s ego. And on top of that, we just share a sensibility. We were on the same page from the beginning. There’s a look-book that we made way back in pre-production, before we even knew the movie was going to happen, and the finished film is so similar to the look book. The thing we set out to accomplish we achieved without a lot of disagreement. And on the original video project we did together, spending five weeks together in El Paso is such a test of how well you work together. You’re out in the desert with somebody in 110-degree heat, running around trying to make a movie. You have a shared sense of mission.

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10 Filmmakers to Watch in 2015: Claudia Myershttp://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/10-to-watch-2015-claudia-myers/ http://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/10-to-watch-2015-claudia-myers/#comments Fri, 01 May 2015 17:53:16 +0000 http://independent-magazine.org/?p=2393 Looking only at her resume, it’s easy to assume that Claudia Myers is a military filmmaker. One of her first jobs in film was working in development for The Thin Red Line. Following the graduate film program at Columbia, she worked on an interactive training film for the Army, then produced and directed documentaries about the... Read more »

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Looking only at her resume, it’s easy to assume that Claudia Myers is a military filmmaker. One of her first jobs in film was working in development for The Thin Red Line. Following the graduate film program at Columbia, she worked on an interactive training film for the Army, then produced and directed documentaries about the evolution of women’s roles in the military and soldiers who were severely injured in Iraq. Her latest fiction feature, Fort Bliss, centers on an army medic. But Myers, an associate professor at the School of Communication at American University in the Film & Media Arts Division, says that she is drawn more toward thematic elements than particular genres. “The two things that interest me most,” she said, “are the concept of resilience and how we construct our identity. From where do we derive a sense of identity? What makes us who we are? Can we be seen as more than one thing?”

Director Claudia Myers on the set of <i>Fort Bliss</i>. Photo courtesy of Marc Garrett.

Director Claudia Myers on the set of Fort Bliss. Photo courtesy of Marc Garrett.

These questions drive Fort Bliss, a film about a single mother, Maggie (Michelle Monaghan), trying to reconnect with her son Paul (Oakes Fegley) after her 15-month deployment in Iraq. The character embodies Myers’ questions about the complexity of identity. As she explains, “I really wanted to tell what, for me, is the ultimate working mother story. How do you balance these two things that seem to be in opposition? Can you be good at both of these things or do you have to choose? Are you viewed differently because you’re a woman? You know, a man is a hero for going off and fighting for his country, and the woman who does the same is essentially construed as a bad mother.”

Part of creating a rich and believable working mother depended on finding the right military job for Maggie. While working on her documentary about wounded soldiers, Myers interviewed a medic about her work and was struck by “the sense of satisfaction, the sense that she was doing something good, and that sense of commitment.” But being a good medic also means acting swiftly and without much emotion. As Myers explains, “even seconds spent trying to console someone or starting to feel upset for how upset they are, that can cost someone their life. I was very struck by the way that medics spoke about what they did in a clinical way because it’s a necessity.”

This kind of necessary detachment can be an obstacle as a nurturing parent, and Myers found this discrepancy compelling. “I wanted that to be almost like an Achilles heel when she returns to the civilian world, her ability to detach emotionally,” says Myers. “The thing that made her excellent at her job was also the thing that became a hindrance to her when she was trying to work with her own child.”

For Myers, complexity is not an end in itself; it also bolsters the audience’s connection to characters. “I don’t think we’re drawn to – or at least I’m not really drawn to – idealized characters,” Myers says, “and I think we relate in some ways better to characters that are flawed, because most of us are.” In addition, after spending four years making films for and about the military, Myers says that she “wanted to honor the complexity of both the situation that I was portraying and the people that I had encountered. I didn’t admire them any less because they were struggling – if anything it made me feel more connected to them.”

Part of what makes Fort Bliss so nuanced is its refusal to shy away from the uglier sides of parenting. In one scene, after Maggie’s son Paul refuses to eat his dinner because it’s not cooked the way he likes it, Maggie stands, roaring over Paul, with partially chewed pieces of chicken and rice flying out of her mouth. It’s startling and demonstrates Myers’s attention to the details of family life and her refusal to sugarcoat. As Myers describes it, Maggie “becomes more sergeant than mom in that moment. And I think a lot of people kind of connect to that. Parents get frustrated. We don’t like to show these things, but how many of have lost our patience with our children? I think most of us have at some point, if not on a daily or weekly basis.”

“There was never a sense,” Myers continues, “that we had to apologize for Maggie’s behavior or tone it down. [That moment is] not about cruelty, it’s about efficiency… She had a very specific way of dealing with stress psychologically, and she’s a woman of action. That’s what you’re taught. That’s what she needs to do to function in her world.”

The story is also complicated by Maggie’s relationship with her ex-husband, Richard (Ron Livingston). Their dynamic is neither overly antagonistic nor cordial; in other words, they seem like a real divorced couple. Like Maggie, Richard isn’t perfect – he cheated on Maggie before their divorce and frequently seems insensitive to her experience in deployment – but Myers’s script ensures that we don’t villainize him, in part because he represents an important, but often overlooked, element of the military experience. “[Richard] gives us a window, I felt, into the spouse’s story,” says Myers. “There’s a whole other side to deployment which is the person you leave at home – the stress, the frustration, the isolation. They, too, feel like they’re not understood. And they don’t feel like they can complain because they’re not being shot at.”

This is typical of Myers. She seems especially interested in spotlighting those experiences that don’t get attention elsewhere. The military is fertile ground for such stories. As Myers points out, less than one percent of the American population is in the military, which creates what’s sometimes called “the civilian-military divide.” There’s a lack of understanding, says Myers, “and I felt it personally. I’d never thought about single parents in the military. I’d never thought about what that must be like for the family, for the child, for someone who grows up and sees their parent over Skype once a month for over a year. So I think these stories are really important, and that gave the film a sense of urgency. Hopefully, people come away with a greater understanding or at least appreciation of what some of these people go through.”

As she worked to authentically represent the military experience, Myers at times enlisted the help of the military community itself. One of the most logistically challenging scenes came at the beginning of the movie during Maggie’s homecoming. Myers couldn’t afford the number of extras she envisioned for a scene that needed to be brimming with energy and emotion. Rather than use only the 10 extras they could afford, Myers put out a call in the local El Paso and military communities asking for volunteers to be part of the scene. One hundred families showed up. “So many of these families had been part of homecomings before, and so it had an authenticity that we were all very proud of, and it was very moving. Michelle [Monaghan] too, I think, was really affected by that scene because it felt so real. And the art department brilliantly brought materials for signs and let everybody make their own. It was that level of authenticity we were looking for and hoping for.”

Authenticity was essential to Myers in part because she views the military as a deeply important audience. Her work has paid off. After the film’s premiere in Los Angeles, sponsored by Veterans in Film and Television and the Easter Seals, a veteran approached Myers and said, “Every single thing that happened to Maggie happened to me.” As Myers said, “That’s just extraordinarily rewarding. It’s very satisfying to feel that you’ve struck a chord with the people who really know what you’re talking about.”

Myers says that she also feels that the film is valuable to civilian viewers. “The other reaction that’s equally satisfying in a different way is people coming to us afterwards and saying, ‘We had no idea,’ or ‘I completely related to Maggie and I’ve never known anyone in the military.’ A lot of professional women will be really surprised by the way they feel about the story, I think, because of that push and pull and double standard that they feel. That’s also incredibly rewarding because the story can transcend the setting that it’s in.”

Myers’s next film, called Shadow Girl, is, as she described it in an e-mail, a “magic realist tale about young woman who has faded to the point of becoming invisible and must find her way back with the help of the one man who can see her.” Reading this, I couldn’t help but think of Myers as the man she described. Myers, too, sees the invisible and aims to bring it back – to keep it from fading from view.

To read about how cinematographer, Adam Silver, collaborated with Myers on Fort Bliss, check out our extra article.

 

 

 

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Extra: Finding Your Flock…er, Your Tribehttp://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/extra-finding-your-flocker-your-tribe/ http://independent-magazine.org/2015/05/extra-finding-your-flocker-your-tribe/#comments Fri, 01 May 2015 16:07:00 +0000 http://independent-magazine.org/?p=2584 Back in 2011, 10-to-Watch-2013 producer Katie Tibaldi was working on the TV series Are We There Yet when she met 10-to-Watch-2015 Mike Luciano. Starring Terry Crews in the Ice Cube role, the TV series filmed an amazing ninety episodes in one year in Stamford, Connecticut. The sheer number of episodes and the daily commute from... Read more »

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Back in 2011, 10-to-Watch-2013 producer Katie Tibaldi was working on the TV series Are We There Yet when she met 10-to-Watch-2015 Mike Luciano. Starring Terry Crews in the Ice Cube role, the TV series filmed an amazing ninety episodes in one year in Stamford, Connecticut. The sheer number of episodes and the daily commute from New York City to Stamford made for some serious bonding among cast and crew.

Tibaldi shares some first impressions of Luciano and the job in a phone call with Rebecca Reynolds.

On-set photo of Mike standing next to a strange cutout of actor Terry Crews, star of Are We There Yet. (Photo by Katie Tibaldi.)

On-set photo of Mike standing next to a strange cutout of actor Terry Crews, star of Are We There Yet.
(Photo by Katie Tibaldi.)

Katie Tibaldi: I was working as the script coordinator/writers’ assistant on Are We There Yet.  Although I wasn’t officially in the hiring loop, I heard about some of the potential hires through the grapevine. I first heard about Mike when he was interviewing for the job of assistant to the Executive Producer of the show. My friend said Mike made these really funny videos. Turns out we had mutual friends who knew we’d hit it off. And we did.

Rebecca Reynolds: What was it like shooting ninety shows in a year?

Tibaldi: We learned so much on the show, which took over our lives. But it was invigorating – a really big learning experience.

RR: So, grueling, but fun?

Tibaldi: Mike and I commuted to Connecticut from New York City every day, which was crazy, plus we were both juggling the job with making our own stuff. One day we were so into talking about our own stuff that we got on the wrong train.

Having people like Mike to bounce things off of regularly was so great,. He was someone else like me – filling his passion of making stuff happen. For me, it was all part of finding your tribe. But it was an absolutely crazy schedule. We bonded to survive.

Like Animals’ writer/producer/voice actor Mike Luciano, Katie Tibaldi is also making stuff.  Her doc Street Fighting Man is in the final months of editing and post-production and will be hitting the festival circuit soon. The team was on our 10 to Watch list in 2013.

Her comedy web series Seeking Sublet will debut its full season of eight episodes by late summer or early fall 2015.

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10 Filmmakers to Watch in 2015: Mike Luciano & Phil Mataresehttp://independent-magazine.org/2015/04/10-to-watch-2015-mike-luciano-phil-matarese/ http://independent-magazine.org/2015/04/10-to-watch-2015-mike-luciano-phil-matarese/#comments Thu, 30 Apr 2015 15:37:30 +0000 http://independent-magazine.org/?p=2402 Mike Luciano and Phil Matarese met while working day jobs at an ad production company in New York City. In his free time, Luciano wrote, directed, edited, and acted in short films such as ¡Viva Espana! while in Matarese’s free time, he directed commercials, made ethereal animated shorts, and designed super happy-looking t-shirts with cryptic messages like “Kill Me Please. I’m begging... Read more »

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Mike Luciano and Phil Matarese met while working day jobs at an ad production company in New York City. In his free time, Luciano wrote, directed, edited, and acted in short films such as ¡Viva Espana! while in Matarese’s free time, he directed commercials, made ethereal animated shorts, and designed super happy-looking t-shirts with cryptic messages like “Kill Me Please. I’m begging you.”

One day while watching two pigeons outside their office window, Luciano and Matarese started improvising dialogue, and that inspired their new animated series Animals, which features lovesick pigeons, party-going rats, two horses hanging out by Central Park, and a host of other non-human urban denizens. Animals anthropomorphizes city creatures that share the same every day, real-world problems as their human counterparts. The first two of the 10 episodes in the series debuted at Sundance as a special event. Animals, the completed 10-episode series, was ready for a distributor to pick it up and seeking that at Sundance— a first for a television series at the festival. This model is one that is more typical of indie film, than TV.

Luciano and Matarese talked to The Independent’s Rebecca Reynolds about how Animals got started and how they hooked up with indie filmmaking powerhouse Mark Duplass.

A still from Animals.

A still from Animals.

Rebecca Reynolds: How did you two click as collaborators?

Mike Luciano: When Phil and I met at the production agency we quickly sussed out that we were the two in the company who were making things on our own.

Phil Matarese: We both like to make things.

Luciano: He was writing comedy scripts, and I was making short films and music videos, and we were sending each other stuff. Then when this idea for the pigeon thing emerged, it just happened pretty quickly.

RR: Before you started doing Animals, Mike, you were co-hosting music videos, short films, and live music at your variety show, Church.

Luciano: That was a community of friends in Brooklyn where we’d meet monthly and have all these cool people meeting through all these various outlets.

Matarese: Church was the first place we screened an Animals short. It’s always nice to get your work up as much as possible.

Luciano: Having a monthly deadline like that was invaluable. When you put it out there that on this date I’m going to invite everybody I know and put it on for the world, you realize – I’ve got to finish this short film or this music video, or whatever it is.

Matarese: I think another cool thing Mike’s show did – it was a convergence of comedy and music, which is a big thing on our show. In every episode we have really cool Brooklyn bands that our friends are in – bands that you normally wouldn’t see.

RR: Phil, your own animated films aren’t comedy per se, but you two are doing comedy together.

Matarese: I think for this project we started it as a comedy, and it’s always been comedy first. But that being said, in everything we do, the volume gets turned up and down on how emotional it is depending on what sort of story we want to convey.

Luciano: The way this show’s evolved now, you get the sense that for us the most important thing is making it funny and that’s what we’re really going after. But we find that in everything we write there’s this undercurrent of an emotional story, real characters with realistic feelings. Sometimes they’re sad, sometimes they’re morbid, sometimes they’re depressing. And that just emerges naturally.

RR: The game changer was when the twelve-minute episode of your web series won Best Comedy at the 2013 New York Television Festival?

Luciano: Right. That’s how we got agents and managers. From there we came out to LA for a week and a round of general meetings.

Matarese: Then our agent told us that Mark Duplass wanted to talk. So one day we’re back in New York in our supply closet at work on a FaceTime call with Mark, and he basically laid it out to us. He told us he and some private funders would give us the money to create our own series (executive produced by Mark Duplass and his brother and fellow filmmaker Jay). Once we had the funding, Mike and I packed up and moved to LA. That was last February. Then for nine or so months, we cranked out as many episodes as we could. We got a whole slew of cool voices to come in, and we screened two of those full-length episodes at Sundance. And that was basically our little debut to the world.

RR: Do you still improvise?

Matarese: Mike and I talk it out, acting out scenes. Then we get the three act structure down, figuring out what’s happening, then a 10 to 12-page outline.

Luciano: Then a full read-through with Mark.

RR: And these are now 30-minute episodes?

Matarese: Twenty-five to 27 minutes.

RR: So, did your TV series Animals break ground and actually find distribution at Sundance, or can you say yet?

Luciano: Yeah, there’s a lot of interest. It’s going to have a home.

RR: Great. Do you have any advice for other filmmakers?

Luciano: Do it.

Matarese: Make stuff.

Watch the trailer for Animals:

Click on our extra article to read about Mike Luciano’s friend and colleague (and 10 to Watch filmmaker in 2013!) Katie Tibaldi.

 

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Extra: An Interview with cast members from I Dream Too Much – Eden Brolin and Danielle Brookshttp://independent-magazine.org/2015/04/extra-interview-with-eden-brolin-and-danielle-brooks/ http://independent-magazine.org/2015/04/extra-interview-with-eden-brolin-and-danielle-brooks/#comments Wed, 29 Apr 2015 22:58:38 +0000 http://independent-magazine.org/?p=2581 The Independent seeks out the collaborators, mentors, colleagues, and friends of our 10 to Watch filmmakers in order to hear more about how they inspire others working in independent film. Steven Abrams talks with Eden Brolin and Danielle Brooks about what they learned from working with 10 to Watch’s Katie Cokinos. Steven Abrams: Eden, your character Dora, lives so... Read more »

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The Independent seeks out the collaborators, mentors, colleagues, and friends of our 10 to Watch filmmakers in order to hear more about how they inspire others working in independent film. Steven Abrams talks with Eden Brolin and Danielle Brooks about what they learned from working with 10 to Watch’s Katie Cokinos.

Steven Abrams: Eden, your character Dora, lives so much in her head that she’s not always aware of how her actions might hurt people. She hurts Danielle’s character, Abby, and Vera (Dora’s aunt) pretty significantly. How do you embody a character like that?

Eden Brolin: I don’t think there is anything ever malicious. She never intends to hurt anyone. And it is usually the complete opposite. She’s a little bit flighty, but she had gone to help Abby [Danielle Brooks] and got stuck on helping someone else. It was all about good intentions. That was a huge thing for me to realize, because at first I looked at the character and, it’s not that she’s awful, but where is the consideration? And I think the fact that – and Dora comments on it – she’s turning into her mom – not having any consideration. It is an interesting thing to look at and to learn. It’s those patterns and habits that you do pickup from your parents.

You look at Dora’s mother and she has the best intentions to her daughter and having her daughter follow a comfortable path. That is a control issue. Being able to realize that, and understand that it is about good intentions was really interesting for me. It’s given me a different perspective.

SA: Danielle, your and Dora’s character build a friendship very quickly. But your character is one of the few people who hold Dora to task for her actions. How did you approach that balance?

Danielle Brooks: Abby is someone who is about to turn 30 and she has to take on raising her stepsister. She has responsibilities.  She is more grounded and I feel that she is someone that does not have the patience for just making silly decisions. For instance, when Abby is given the opportunity to be in a room with a major music producer she wants to take advantage of that moment. She doesn’t have time for Dora. I love that layer about her.

SA: How did you prepare for the singing aspect of the role?

DB: I am a singer, but I have a weird relationship with calling myself a singer. I have one song that I wrote in the film and one written by a band called Three, a local band from Saugerties [in New York]. I got to go in and work with them on one of their songs, which was really cool.

I’m so honored that Katie and the producers used a song of my own into the film. It is the first song you hear her play. It really hit home, when we were in the theater and the audience is listening to a song that is actually mine, and my character is going through the same thing. It is kind of trippy in a cool way. It was a good experience for me personally for me to share something of mine.

SA: What was it like working with Katie?

DB: I really like working with her. Katie is very positive and caring. Being in the snow, she was always asking if we were okay and if we needed anything. I think it’s the Texas in her – that Southern hospitality. I’ve worked with other directors on the Orange is the New Black, we have guest directors coming in, and they aren’t as caring about those things. I don’t know if it is a New York thing or LA thing, but I really appreciate Katie. Maybe it is because she’s female, maybe that has something to do with it.

EB: She is always brings a lot of fun to the set and to rehearsal. I learned a lot about Dora from watching Katie, from being around her. I think that was a really nice part of her being the writer and the director. She is open to working with you. I got to watch her be Katie too and be able to take a little bit of her into Dora. Definitely the more positive, perky side of Dora.

DB: I think she’s a great director and very open. She allows room for creative freedom from her actors and she listens to what they have to say to enhance her vision. It’s nice to working with writer/directors who are open. Sometimes people are so precious with their work that they won’t allow room for creative freedom – and for the actor to do their actor duty too. As an actor, we actually embody the character and we get a different sense of that character than the director does. When you find a good balance of what the director is looking for and what the actor needs it’s a beautiful thing. You don’t find that balance with every director.

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10 Filmmakers to Watch in 2015: Katie Cokinoshttp://independent-magazine.org/2015/04/10-to-watch-2015-katie-cokinos/ http://independent-magazine.org/2015/04/10-to-watch-2015-katie-cokinos/#comments Wed, 29 Apr 2015 13:50:03 +0000 http://independent-magazine.org/?p=2318 Katie Cokinos’ return to SXSW has been a long time coming. The filmmaker had her first film screen at SXSW in 2000. In the years since, she had a family, moved from Texas to the Hudson Valley in New York, and wrote screenplays. But coming back to Texas is a homecoming for Cokinos. Growing up... Read more »

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Katie Cokinos’ return to SXSW has been a long time coming. The filmmaker had her first film screen at SXSW in 2000. In the years since, she had a family, moved from Texas to the Hudson Valley in New York, and wrote screenplays. But coming back to Texas is a homecoming for Cokinos. Growing up in East Texas, she moved to Austin in the early ’90s and was a fixture of the burgeoning film scene. So much so that SXSW founder Louis Black initially approached Cokinos to create the film festival in 1993.

Director Katie Cokinos of <i>I Dream Too Much</i>.

Director Katie Cokinos of I Dream Too Much. Photo Courtesy of I Dream Too Much.

Cokinos returned to SXSW 2015 as the writer and director of the feature I Dream Too Much. Executive Produced by Richard Linklater, the film follows Dora, played by Eden Brolin (Ruby Sparks, Bloodline), as she struggles to find herself after graduating college. Rather than face the pressures from her mother, Dora flees to the snow covered town of Saugerties, New York to help her injured great aunt Vera (Diane Ladd). While building a relationship with Vera, Dora develops a friendship with aspiring singer Abby, played by Danielle Brooks (Orange is the New Black). I Dream Too Much is that rare film that not only features layered roles for women, but also focuses on the relationships between them.

Steven Abrams, from The Independent, spoke with Cokinos at the historic Driskill Hotel in Austin during the morning after the SXSW world premiere of I Dream Too Much.

Director Katie Cokinos takes questions about her film <i>I Dream Too Much</i> at SXSW.

Director Katie Cokinos takes questions about her film I Dream Too Much at SXSW. Photo Courtesy of Steven Abrams.

Steven Abrams: What does it mean to have your film world premiere here at SXSW given your history with Austin?

Katie Cokinos: It is just beyond wonderful, really. It is what I had hoped and dreamed for, but you’re not in control of these things. You send the movie in and it would be so great to show in Austin and just be back. Yeah I’m just so excited. The last time I was here was in 2000 with my featurette Portrait of a Girl as Young Cat.

I lived in Austin during extremely formative years. I moved here in 1990 and ran the Austin Film Society to 1995 because Rick [Richard Linklater] got so busy with Slacker. I did what is called the Independent Images Conference in 1991 and 1992, so that’s before South By was even created, and brought in filmmakers. I worked on Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and location manager and did short films. I had people sleeping on my floor like Alexander Payne when he was scouting for Citizen Ruth. It was like a filmmaker flophouse over in Clarksville. This was my film school. It really truly was. I graduated with a history degree, but with a great love of movies, watching four movies a day, helping other people with films. Just a really strong community. It is all so really emotional to be back.

SA: You wrote and directed I Dream Too Much. Writers and directors sometimes butt heads when they are two people. What kind of hard conversations did the director-you have with the writer-you?

Cokinos: Writing, as you know, is so solitary. I started the first draft in the Spring of 2012. We started started shooting in February of 2014. I think the director in me was a little overwhelmed with what I wrote. Because it can be so writerly. That’s why I really depended on my actors to make it their own. I think that is where I did the most butting heads. How to keep it entertaining. Make it cinematic. But not so over written, that is the thing I was trying to work against.

SA: Was there anything that you really loved when you wrote it that you killed during the shoot?

Cokinos: The first scene in my head for the title I Dream Too Much was Dora having one of her dreams out on the sidewalks of the city, chatting up the paparazzi, being faboulous. It was one of the first scenes that I wrote [and] one of my favorite scenes that we shot. And it was the last scene that I cut back in December. I loved that scene so much, but the film outgrew the story.

And that’s why it is filmmaking and not a novel. The film became something else, and that was a huge learning experience for me. And I think that is a really good thing for filmmakers to realize in the editing process, that the initial story has grown into something else. And you want it to. There’s a great quote by one of the great cinema gods, “If it is all in the script why make the movie?” It is not all in the script. It is in the transition to the director that you realize this has got to morph into something else.

To hear from the actors on I Dream to Much, Eden Brolin and Danielle Brooks, check out the extra article.

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10 Filmmakers to Watch in 2015http://independent-magazine.org/2015/04/10-to-watch-2015-2/ http://independent-magazine.org/2015/04/10-to-watch-2015-2/#comments Wed, 29 Apr 2015 13:46:14 +0000 http://independent-magazine.org/?p=2386 It’s that time again! With 10 to Watch announced every spring, The Independent honors 10 filmmakers who we think are poised to make a notable impact on independent film in the coming year. Whether it is because their work pushes filmmaking in a new direction, tackles a difficult subject matter, or is simply something that we... Read more »

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It’s that time again! With 10 to Watch announced every spring, The Independent honors 10 filmmakers who we think are poised to make a notable impact on independent film in the coming year. Whether it is because their work pushes filmmaking in a new direction, tackles a difficult subject matter, or is simply something that we are excited for you see, the creative talent of these men and women caught our attention. And we think it deserves your attention.

With additional photos on our Facebook page, we highlight the collaboration and partnerships that are so essential to great filmmaking. Check them out for stories and insights from actors, producers, and other crew members who have worked with our 10 to Watch filmmakers.

Now in our seventh year, the 10 to Watch team is a great collaboration as well. We sought filmmaker nominations from film leaders, our nominating jury, and most importantly, through our open call—you.

We would like to thank our stellar nominating jury:

Chico Colvard, filmmaker and UMass Boston Film Series curator

Elizabeth Mims, senior film programmer for Austin Film Festival

Kamal Sinclair, senior manager for New Frontier Storylab, Sundance Institute

Kelly Leow, deputy editor for MovieMaker Magazine

And additional acknowledgment for the hard work of Maud Dillingham, special projects editor and writer, and our writers: Anisha Jhaveri, Catherine Epstein, David Pierotti, Rebecca Reynolds, Mike Sullivan, Minhae Shim, and Steven Abrams.

We will announce each of the 2015 filmmakers for 10 days in a row, in no particular order. New this year, we will also include a few projects in development that we recommend as “on the pulse.”

The Independent’s 10 Filmmakers to Watch in 2015:

  • DAY ONE: Katie Cokinos starts our list for her film, I Dream Too Much, which premiered at SXSW.
  • EXTRA: We talk with actors Eden Brolin and Danielle Brooks about how Cokinos inspired on set.
  • DAY TWO: Mike Luciano and Phil Matarese is next with for their ready-for-broadcast animated series, Animals.
  • EXTRA: We talk with Katie Tibaldi, Mike Luciano’s friend and colleague (and 10 to Watch filmmaker in 2013!).
  • DAY THREE: Claudia Myers makes our list this year with her film, Fort Bliss, a powerful drama about a female army medic.
  • EXTRA: We talk with Fort Bliss cinematographer, Adam Silver about his collaboration with director Claudia Myers.
  • DAY FOUR: Using cameras from mobile phones with some clever adaptations, cinematographer Radium Cheung is on our list with Tangerine, the story of a transgendered prostitute in Los Angeles, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival.
  • EXTRA: See our Facebook page to read about filmmaker Camille Thoman how will be working with Radium Cheung as producer on her upcoming film, You Were Never Here.
  • DAY FIVE: Next, we have director Ashley Maynor and producer Paul Harrill as they find meaning in the condolence items from the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Connecticut in their upcoming interactive documentary, The Story of the Stuff.
  • EXTRA: Sundance Institute’s Anne Lai Talks up Ashley Maynor and Paul Harrill.

 

 

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