Eye on Independent Film
By Christine Bunish
The film: Take Me To The Water
Take Me To The Water tells the story of the last piece of Georgia oceanfront property owned by descendants of freed slaves.
Documentary short; 30 minutes
What it’s about:
The story of Pin Point, a Gullah/Geechee fishing village south of Savannah that’s the last piece of Georgia oceanfront property owned by descendants of freed slaves from the barrier islands.
What it’s really about:
“It’s about family,” says filmmaker Jeff Bednarz who directs spots with Directorz. “The community is such a close-knit family that when the fishing and oystering factory shut down, the area shut down too. The women of the village pushed education and pushed the kids out; now a lot are coming back to save Pin Point.”
What inspired the production: “The Pin Point Heritage Museum wanted a film that talked about the community – in their own words. I sat back and listened, and ended up with something totally different from what I expected. It’s less a Ken Burns history and more about family, values and the culture of the village.”
The biggest hurdles to financing: “As a commissioned piece, I got a budget and rolled. It was a lot like a commercial in a way: Here’s what we want to do and here’s the budget we have.”
Director Jeff Bednarz captured the story of the community – in their own words – in Take Me To The Water.
The biggest production challenge: “Getting to know the people. The community is so tight-knit that you have to visit several times before people will start talking. We discovered that Pig – the oldest male in Pin Point – was the gatekeeper of the community and widely respected. When he finally decided to participate, he talked for three hours, and it seemed like 15 minutes.”
The biggest post-production challenge: “Weeding through well over 100 hours of footage. We have no voiceover, no narrator: We wanted it to be in everyone’s voice. [Editor] Marc [Chartrand] had to pick through many stories and weave together a piece that made sense in 30 minutes.”
I couldn’t have made the film without: “The community. And the support from O&H Brand Design and Emily Owens working with us.”
Why this film was important: “Pin Point is one of the last rural communities with a tale like this to tell. It was important to log all these stories for them. All our footage has been archived and will be used in other museum displays.”
Lessons I’ll take to the next film: “I learned to listen a long time ago. But manners can also get you where money can’t. [Doing the interviews] we didn’t pull out the camera right away, we let the occasion present itself then sat back and listened.”
Jefff Bednarz, Tammie Kleinman. Jeremy Besser, John Gilliland, Travis Hopper, Brian Owens, Emily Owens
Mark Thomas; camera: Patrick Smith
Marc Chartrand, Lucky Post/Dallas; assistant editor, Wes Williams
Michael Haines/Dallas, mixer
Jimmy Lowrance, Cayan Recording Studio/Dallas
Canon EOS 5D
Pin Point and Ossabaw Island
Charleston International Film Festival
Jury Prize, Best Documentary
The film: Sironia
Wes Cunningham rediscovers his music in Sironia.
Dramatic feature; 104 minutes
What it’s about:
A singer/songwriter who’s been chewed up and spit out by the Hollywood music scene packs up with his pregnant wife and moves to Sironia, Texas to lead a more authentic life.
What it’s really about:
“Trying to discover contentment outside your circumstances,” says filmmaker Brandon Dickerson, who directs with kaboom productions, which also produced the feature. “The film is about Thomas’s journey – letting go of things he thinks will fulfill him and make him cool in exchange for what’s truly meaningful in life.”
What inspired the production: “We were living in Hollywood when my wife’s mother in Waco, Texas was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and we moved with our two kids to care for her. There I reconnected with a friend, Wes Cunningham (who plays Thomas), who had given up his music career and moved to Texas to start a family. The two of us, and Wes’s playwright friend, talked about how visual Wes’s songs are, started crafting a screenplay around Wes’s music and ended up with Sironia. I never thought leaving Hollywood for Waco would spark my feature film career.”
The biggest hurdles to financing: “It’s an enviable financing story. I tagged along on a business meeting with my wife whose company, Raven + Lily, empowers impoverished women with design skills and market opportunities. [The family we were meeting with] asked me what I did, and I described the film we wanted to make. Two weeks later, the husband introduced us to our investors.”
The biggest production challenge: “Having our very first shoot day scheduled at the rodeo. We wrote mutton-busting, an event where kids ride sheep, into the script and everyone at the rodeo was super helpful. But they didn’t let us know about a concert that was happening simultaneous with our event, which posed a huge challenge when we were trying to shoot dialogue.”
Brandon Dickerson directs the mutton-busting scene in Sironia.
The biggest post-production challenge: “Letting go of a fantasy dance number that didn’t work. But I didn’t let it go entirely…it plays behind the credits.”
How to get distributed: “We just signed with FilmBuff in New York. They really understand the film and are passionate about finding an audience in the digital realm. We also signed with TUGG for theatrical screenings; they have relationships with theater chains nationwide and if x number of people in a town book a ticket to ‘Sironia,’ it screens in the theater. In addition, the Hollywood theater chain in Waco will run ‘Sironia’ in the fall.”
I couldn’t have made the film without: “It takes a great cast, crew and producers to collaborate with. I was blessed beyond measure with all three, starting with Wes and Thomas. But I couldn’t have made the film without my wife’s support. Her own passion introduced me to the investors, and her mother drew us to the whole experience in Waco in the first place.”
Lessons I’ll take to the next film: “Spend more time with the crew in prepro because once the ball is rolling you’re in it.”
Laura Smith, Lauren Schwartz, Steven Sills
Thomas Ward, Brandon Dickerson, Wes Cunningham
Gary and Diane Heavin, Randy Chenot
Michael M. Miller
Ian Vertovec, Light Iron Digital/LA
Michael Cioni, Katie Fellion, DI supervisors,
Light Iron Digital/LA
Trip Brock, supervising sound editor; Mark Rozett, Kelly Vandever, sound mixers, Monkeyland Audio/Burbank
35mm film, ARRIFLEX cameras
Hollywood and Waco
Heartland Film Festival, San Francisco Independent Film Festival, Dallas International Film Festival, Nashville Film Festival, Sedona International Film Festival, Hill Country Film Festival, Austin Film Festival (2011)
Audience Award, Austin Film Festival
The film: Proof
Joel Murray and Daryl Sabara star in Proof, which Murray and the late Chris Farley originally performed at Second City Chicago in the late 1980s.
The genre/length: Dramatic short; 6 minutes
What it’s about: A father picks up his delinquent son from the drunk tank following an all-night bender. Proof was originally performed as an improv piece by Chris Farley and Joel Murray at Second City Chicago in the late 1980s and became a mainstay in the repertoire of touring companies for the next two decades.
What it’s really about: “A father and son finding common ground in a really unexpected place,” says director Rob Pritts of Backyard.
What inspired the production: “Blair Stribley, my childhood buddy and the owner of Backyard, is friends with Joel Murray. I had wanted to do a piece longer than a TV commercial, and Joel knew we were looking to do a short. He told us about this 20-plus-year-old improv piece that would be great to put on film. It’s hard to find any kind of improv piece on film – they’re performed and poof! They’re gone.”
The biggest hurdles to financing: “We’re very fortunate that we shoot a lot of commercials, and crews were gracious enough to let us call in favors. We put up some money to finish it; at that point you get into some hard costs.”
|Director Rob Pritts capturing the iconic improv piece, Proof, for posterity.|
The biggest production challenge: “Taking a stage sketch and turning it into a film. You’ve got two actors and a chair: How do you make it filmic without making it unnaturally cinematic with dolly moves for no reason. I wanted to keep something of the stage feel to it – it added to the intimacy and came out a whole lot more dramatic and poignant than we expected.”
The biggest post-production challenge: “We had two actors (Joel Murray and Daryl Sabara) shot in three angles. Editor Jim Staskauskas had to augur into the comic or dramatic beats and find the right amount of space to let the line play or keep the ball bouncing. It’s tricky to edit a performance piece like this. A scene can die if the beats are left too long.”
How to get distributed: “We’ve just started to enter Proof into every film festival that’s appropriate. Then it will hopefully live online; Second City wants it on their website. And if you get a short that’s really popular or an Oscar winner, it can be available as an iTunes download.”
I couldn’t have made the film without: “Joel – it’s his baby. And Blair who has a passion for new projects and giving directors an opportunity to grow.”
Lessons I’ll take to the next film: “Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! Joel and Daryl were both very busy. Although they worked together once before, they came in cold and ran through the piece about three times before we started shooting. I was a nervous wreck. Joel had lived the piece, but you could see Daryl grow into the role with each take. No matter who you’re working with or how little time you have, definitely rehearse and have readthroughs.”
Blair Stribley, Kris Mathur, Anton Maillie
Chris Farley, Joel Murray
Jim Staskauskas Optimus/LA
Joel Signer, Optimus/Chicago
Luke Sloma, Optimus/Chicago
Joe Hettinger, mixer, POP Sound Santa Monica
End title music “Bobbyflow and Spike”
performed by Van Morrison
“We pulled in so many favors, but I’m pretty sure
it was under $10,000.”
DC Stages, Los Angeles
Accepted into Palm Springs Shortfest
The film: From Nothing, Something
Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Steve Breen at his drawing table in From Nothing, Something.
The genre/length: Documentary feature; 79 minutes
What it’s about: Profiling creative thinkers across a variety of disciplines and finding common methods, habits, mindsets and neuroses that help bring breakthrough ideas into being.
What it’s really about: “It’s an attempt to distill universal truths about how things get made,” says director Tim Cawley. From Nothing, Something is a thoughtful, intimate, often funny look at the creative process, straight from the brains of some of our culture’s most accomplished and inspiring talents.
What inspired the production: As an agency creative director, songwriter and filmmaker under the Five2Nine banner, Tim Cawley takes idea generation personally. A conversation with his dad over a beer sparked an exploration of how 15 people – from cancer researchers and fashion designers to a creature designer and editorial cartoonist – approach the creative process. “I wanted people whose hands touched the work,” he says.
The biggest hurdles to financing: “Financing was just me; I didn’t want to owe anybody anything beyond my production partners, Brickyard and Element, who worked out of belief in the project.”
|DP Geoff McAuliffe (left) and camera operator Henrique Ghersi of
Brickyard Filmworks shooting in artist Huma Bhabha’s studio
for From Nothing, Something.
The biggest production challenge: “We did multiple interviews in a day. Schedules were tight. We flew coast to coast, drove thousands of miles lugging our own gear, eating on the go, sharing rooms. Basically just five people playing multiple roles to get the thing done.”
The biggest post-production challenge: “I’m from a fiction filmmaking background. In a fiction film, you have script to follow. But with a documentary, you write the story through editing. I didn’t know exactly what we were making until it all came together. The practical, business parts were also a challenge.”
How to get distributed: “I see this as a television film and think it will do very well in the educational market, too. We’re in the process of talking to sales reps right now – we had a very good screening at IFFBoston, which led to some sales contacts.”
I couldn’t have made the film without: “We made From Nothing, Something with a very small, tight-knit group. If I had chosen my collaborators poorly it would have been impossible – we were working 18-19 hours a day in LA for no pay. You have to pick people to work with who are as crazy as you are – people who are driven and don’t know why. Everyone stayed friends, stuck with me and believed.”
Lessons I’ll take to the next film: “Shoot a lot of B roll. Conceive an idea that requires no licensed footage. Get your lawyer and a sales rep involved early. Actually, for a team that had never made a documentary before we didn’t do very many dumb things.”
Amy Appleton, Jim Buckley
Lisa Belden, Eran Lobel, Mark Hankey, Tim Cawley
Brickyard Filmworks, Element, Five2Nine
Geoff McAuliffe; camera: Henrique Ghersi
Kat Baker, Element/Boston
Owen Williams, Locomotive Post/Boston
Geoff McAuliffe, Robin Hobart, Ellen Schmidt, Gina Downing, Henrique Ghersi, Brickyard VFX/Boston
Mark Wong, mixer/Boston
Conan Skyrme, Skyrmish/Los Angeles
RED Digital Cinema’s RED; Canon EOS 5D for walk-and-talks
Boston, New York, California, New Mexico
The film: Deadline Every Second: On Assignment with 12 Associated Press Photojournalists
Ken Kobré taping AP photographer Oded Balilty during a clash between Palestinian youth and Israeli soldiers outside Jerusalem.
Photo: Oded Balilty, AP
The genre/length: Documentary feature; 56 minutes
What it’s about: Follow 12 top photojournalists in eight countries as they cover war, political clashes, financial markets, natural disasters, sports and human-interest stories.
What it’s really about: Deadline Every Second takes viewers behind the scenes with photojournalists of the Associated Press, the world’s largest news picture agency, as they capture still images behind global headlines that range from comic features to international tragedy. The documentary will change how viewers look at news images, especially if they bear the credit “AP Photo.”
What inspired the production: “I want newspaper, magazine and Internet audiences to understand and appreciate what it takes to capture the images that they see, but take for granted, every day in their print publications and online,” says filmmaker Ken Kobré.
The biggest hurdles to financing: “The entire documentary was self-financed. When the time came to distribute [it], WNET (New York), KQED (San Francisco) and American Public Television all offered to be the presenting stations to the PBS network. However, all three required that I find an underwriter. I never did, so I have to distribute the film to PBS stations one at a time, myself.”
Laurent Rebours, one of the AP photographers in Deadline Every Second, covers the finish line on the first day of the Tour de France cycling race.
Photo: Ken Kobré
The biggest production challenge: “Losing a critical SD memory card during a wildfire that almost burned up Santa Barbara, Calif. The day after the flames died down, I was able to go back to the site where I dropped the card and, after a meticulous search, miraculously find it.”
The biggest post-production challenge: “Auditioning multiple candidates to find the perfect voiceover narration, which proved elusive. Solution: We used title cards instead of a voiceover.”
How to get distributed: “I sent the documentary to PBS stations in New York, San Francisco and Boston. So far, it has been aired by WLIW, Long Island and was in San Francisco (KQED) on July 25 and New York City (WNET) on August 26. French distributor, 100% Distribution, is handling the non-U.S. rights and has sold the documentary to SBS, Australian public television.”
I couldn’t have made the film without: “My editor and co-producer, John Hewitt. He took the 60 hours of raw footage I shot from eight countries and turned it into a viewable, cohesive one-hour story.”
Lessons I’ll take to the next film: “Get the funding settled first before starting to shoot. However, frankly, in this situation, I don’t think I would have ever started if I had waited until the funding came through.”
John Hewitt, Current World Films/Mill Valley, Calif.
Scott Stender, Digit Video/Mill Valley, Calif.
Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring
“I’m still trying to figure this out. I will let you know as soon as all the bills come in.”
Panasonic AG-HMC150 3-CCD AVCCAM camcorder
New York City; Santa Barbara and San Francisco, Calif.; Monaco; London; Provence; Jerusalem; Gaza, Palestine
Screenings followed by panel discussions featuring wire-service photojournalists at the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, New York; UCLA; City Club of San Francisco.