Tag Archives: Documentary

Understanding the Work: Collaborative filmmaking as the future.

28 Jan

If we reduce social life to the smallest possible unit we will find that there is no social life in the company of one. 

– Jerzy Kosinski

‘Purple,’ my short created in collaboration with the cast.

Hey all,

I hope you all survived the blizzard intact.

2015 is here, and I have big filmmaking goals. One is to shoot my feature, The Cape House, but another is to adopt a new way of working.

Almost 3 years ago, I made a short film called ‘Purple.’ ‘Purple’ was unique in how I made it. There’s a longer post about this specific subject on A-Bittersweet-Life today, but, briefly, I didn’t write a script before casting. I instead came up with a basic idea, cast the film, then, through rehearsal and conversations, wrote the movie in collaboration with my cast.

This is not a new approach. Many great directors, like Mike Leigh and John Cassavetes, have already done it or something similar. But it was a revelation for me.

I come from theatre (Yea, I’m the one rocking out). The best part of theatre, to me, was always rehearsal. Seeing the finished show open was always a rush, but there was never anything more exciting than a group of people in a room trying to solve dramatic, comedic and experimental problems.

This is the approach that I took with Purple. Four people in a room solving problems, writing the story on our feet. It was the most fun I’ve had making a film. Ever.

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The actors warming up before rehearsing for ‘Purple.’

However, traditional screenwriting dominated my short ‘Future Perfect‘ and has been the main approach for ‘The Cape House.’

But a few things have happened in the past few months, which have led me back to collaborative movie writing.

I am currently writing a film with writer/director/actress Victoria Negri, who has a feature called ‘Gold Star‘ in post-production. Victoria and I connected through twitter, and had a few long conversations over coffee. We talked movies and running. Eventually, I showed her a script I had written about the weird connections people make (and don’t make) while running in New York City.

Victoria was interested, but we decided to throw out the script as it was and start fresh. But we weren’t sitting in a room with pens and paper. We’d meet and talk. We tell each other stories about our running experiences. A huge part of this script is based on things people have said to us and thoughts and feelings we’ve both had.  It was informal, but focused. Every so often, I’d write down some notes.

As a result, what we’ve written feels true. Plus, it’s proven remarkably easy to get words on paper, something I’m terribly slow about. We already have a first draft after only 3 meetings, and I feel more confident about it than any script I’ve written this far.

This is a beta test of how I want to proceed going forward. Get a group of people together, ideally an already-decided-upon cast, several other writers, and experts/advisors on the topic, and have long sessions where we work together through conversation and improvisation. I believe the alchemy of people could get something really interesting going.

Most of all, I think it will get out of my own way, which has always been my goal. No idea of mine has been made worse by collaborating with others. It reminds me of why we tell stories, and why I wandered into a theatre when I was kid anyways: to meet and be close to others who understood me. The energy of collaboration always brings out my best.

I am also in the early stages of putting together a collective of filmmakers to make features. We are ironing out the details, but I am excited about its potential. More to come.

As it gets cheaper and cheaper to make films, more films are being made and less are getting equal levels of attention. Great films receive little-to-no traction. A good way, I believe, to counteract this trend is to give your team ownership on the film, thus getting them excited about the film. How to do that? Involve your team in the creation. Make them part of the conversation. Filmmaking is a social art.

So make it social.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out the post on ‘A Bittersweet Life.

Best,

Liam

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#RealWorldArt: Bonnie Blue Edwards.

8 May

Whenever I read about artists who are successful at making their own work, I always wonder ‘how the hell did they do this and live a real life while doing so?’ As a working artist, I find achieving a life/art balance to be incredibly difficult. I am always on the lookout for advice about how to do it. When my former theater professors at the University of New Hampshire asked me to speak to a group of artists about life post-school, I went to social media to get new perspectives. Over 40 people commented, and my friend (and blogger/filmmaker extraordinaire) Michael DiBiasio asked me to guest blog. The response was so good that I’ve decided to conduct interviews with working artists on a semi-regular basis.

My subject this week is film and theatre producer Bonnie Blue Edwards. I met Bonnie through a mutual contact who often introduces me to people within my field. Often these meetings go nowhere, but Bonnie and I instantly hit it off and became pals. We bounce ideas and projects off of each other, and I find her work ethic impressive and inspiring. As she is working on her first project as a director, I thought now would be a great time to highlight her! So, read on, and enjoy!

 

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Bonnie and cinematographer Jeanette Sears shooting a scene from her documentary, Out in Alabama.

 

Have you always wanted to be a filmmaker, or did you evolve into it? How did it come about?

I suppose, at some level, I always wanted to be a filmmaker. It was a childhood hope that I kept kicking aside as I lived the depths of Alabama, with no exposure to the film world.. Yet, here I am!  But, overall, it was an evolution sparked by intuition. After studying international business, doing a bit of traveling, moving to NYC, and gearing up for graduate school in development, I opted for an unpaid internship at The Moth instead. I had this aching feeling that my life-time profession needed to have an artistic backbone to it, as opposed to my previous jobs working in trade and politics. At the time, I felt uncertain what art form was the most compatible with my skills and figured all art was a bit of storytelling, so why not start there! Once I dove into the internship, then opportunities began to arise for me to produce–first theatre and literary events, then film. Specifically, how it came about was through blatant requests for introductions to people who might want to guide or mentor me. You never get what you don’t ask for… so I just started asking around and people offered to give me experience. Sometimes the experience was much trickier than I thought, but I just kept moving forward, following that achey intuition.

How have your expectations changed the longer you’ve been making art, and how has the art you’ve made changed?

Initially, because I trusted people to follow through with projects and ideas, I was generous with how long I would wait for their lead. After two years of being a freelancer, I realize that a lot of talk is, well, just talk. And that the best way to do the type of projects that interest me with the type of people I admire is to start them myself. Before, I felt like I was always supporting other artists and projects, and sometimes those projects ended up not being what I expected or simply failing to start at all. Of course, many projects did take off and I forever cherish those that changed my career. But, for the others, I took them as valuable lessons on gaging when to get the ball moving, even in another direction. I feel empowered to approach things in a much more direct way–which ultimately alters the art itself. It is much more hands-on.

What role does your day job (or jobs) play in your creativity? How has being a producer shaped your own work?

I am a full-time freelancer, so I choose projects that inspire my creative side and fuel further empowerment of others. Whether I am producing avant-garde theatre or putting together a period-piece short film, all of my projects are geared towards getting a message across in some way. Being a producer means that I see things in a macro-sense–full of longterm objectives and multifaceted collaborations. More than a producer, I have an entrepreneurial spirit. So, I am always thinking of how to make something as engaging as possible.

How do you balance making art and dealing with your everyday life, job, and responsibilities?

It is hard to stop working, when your profession is something you care so much about. The way I balance everyday life with my career is through the people around me. Friends, colleagues, and family. I try to surround myself with positive, good-hearted people who are also passionate about their own dreams. That way, we support each other in our different times of need. Plus, my boyfriend is an artist who understands the challenges of my work–while I understand his professional challenges as well. So, when I am overworked, barely eating, looking like a wild woman, he forces me to step away from my computer and go on a walk. His support, and the support from my friends and family, is important. So it is important for me to know when to use their support, and when to take a break.

What’s next for you?

Inspired by my life’s journey which you have somewhat experienced through the previous questions, I am currently fundraising for my documentary OUT IN ALABAMA–about the brave Alabama communities that embrace LGBT rights. As an Alabama-native, the project is dear to my heart and a way to spark a movement while also turning the stereotype of the South on its head. Additionally, the film is a focus on the individuals who support one another, as we are all shaped by those around us. If we get the funding we are seeking ($25,000) the documentary will serve as my directorial debut. And, with Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Cynthia Wade on board as consultant, I am hoping this film reaches a broad audience–with artistic recognition through festivals as well as social impact through inspiration.

So there you have it. Bonnie’s film is exciting and important, and needs your support! Crowdfunding is becoming an increasingly important way to get films made that you want to see. So, if this is the kind of doc you’d like to see, this is for you. Click the photo to check out the film on kickstarter! For more on Bonnie, check out her website!

 

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My best until next time,

Liam.

 

 

 

 

Understanding The Work: The Cape House and Process.

28 Apr

 

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A screen grab from an impromptu shoot for a film I’m making this summer.
Stayed tuned on twitter and instagram.
#secretproject

Hey there friends and followers,

Well, it’s spring, and with the beginning of spring comes the inevitable spring cold.

And with that cold has been a chance for me to sit and reflect. Something I hadn’t done in over a year. Well over that long, actually. Despite oodles of free time last fall, (owing to lack of employment), my mind was trapped on

1)WORK! WORK! I NEED WORK.

and

2)I HAVE TO MAKE THIS FEATURE FILM OR I’M NOT A FILMMAKER.

I couldn’t escape any of this thinking. I had lots of time to think, yet the only thing I could think about was my failings and financial insecurity. Not the best place to create from, right?

So where did this need for a ‘feature or bust’ come from?

Let’s flashback a little more. January, 2013. I was finishing up film school, and didn’t have a clue as to what was next. I was advised by a professor to start working on a feature. This professor believed that you should have the next project ready-to-pitch. To me, the idea of doing another short was terribly unappealing. Why waste my time with that? Now I needed to be a feature filmmaker.

Thinking economically, I briefly considered ‘what in my life do I have that could make for an interesting location and story?’

My mind quickly came to my family’s house on Cape Cod. I dutifully sat down and sketched out a story. Within a month, I had a first draft that peopled liked and saw potential in. I wrote a second draft over the summer that even more people liked. Drinks were poured and everyone was excited about it!

I was ‘in development.’ I had a PRODUCER. Now came the time to start telling the world.

I started pitching the film all over the place: workshops, subway trains, loud bars after film events and screenings. To anyone who would listen, really. People loved the story of a man returning to his family’s vacation home and having to confront his past. They identified with the painful family dynamics and the issues of divorce and death in the family. I felt great. I was becoming a feature filmmaker.

Then the other shoe dropped.

I spent so much time talking about the film I forgot to keep working on it. I was squeezing writing sessions into tight hours when I wasn’t off talking about it. I networked like hell and got people interested and excited. I started a Facebook page. ALL OF WHICH IS GOOD, and I’m glad I did it.

But my head wasn’t in the movie. It was in the idea of making the movie. It was ‘playing at the thing’ instead of ‘doing the thing.’

Everytime I sat down to ‘write’ I just got distracted and looked on the internet, reading about people getting more work done than me, which is the equivalent of looking on Web MD when you have a headache.

I spent months avoiding the script. Why? Because I hated it. Because I had no ideas. I was bored with it. There were too many characters. Details I could see in my mind weren’t on the page. I was bored with the story of a ‘white guy finding himself’ and I was terrified that was all the script had going. The initial excitement of exploring personal themes in my life made me queasy. I couldn’t work on it, and I needed something else to think about, at least to make returning to the script more bearable.

I then came to a personal conclusion: I wasn’t being a filmmaker. I was a guy making one film, and I was barely making it. Sitting in a room and writing wasn’t enough. I had to be out, making stuff, channeling my energy and working. I need a constant workflow.  Paradoxically, This has helped me to think more clearly.

So what’s happening now?

Easy: I’ve diversified. I’ve just finished shooting a short piece on a painter friend. I’ve started teaching media classes. I’ve begun shooting a new film. I just had a wonderful meeting about it. Here’s a photo.

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A big part of my process. Note cards on the wall.

I’ll be directing, shooting, editing, and probably exporting the film myself (with a great deal of help from friends). I also have another short film in the ‘thinking’ phase that deals with some of the issues explored above.

All of this is an attempt for me to remind myself why I love filmmaking. To remind myself that this is supposed to be fun.

And what’s going on The Cape House?

Good things, exciting things. I’m writing a new version of it that has a lot in common with my short film Purple. I consider Purple to be one of my better films, and it was definitely the most fun I’ve had making a film. I’m going to detail the process in an upcoming post, but until then, take a minute and give it a watch.


So, what’s the lesson I’ve earned? 

Make long term and short term plans. Be working on a bigger project, and let something you see inspire you to shoot a film next week, the next day, or at that very minute. Embrace it as a life style. This gets more accomplished than going from one project to the next. It keeps you moving, thinking, and creating.

I spent a long time being frustrated with The Cape House, but then the simple thought occurred to me: This is just part of the process.

So I’ll continue the film. What it is, and what will be, continues to evolve. The process is what makes it.

Thanks for reading.

Best,
Liam.

#RealWorldArt: Heather Freudenthal

22 Apr

Whenever I read about artists who are successful at making their own work, I always wonder ‘how the hell did they do this and live a real life while doing so?’ As a working artist, I find achieving a life/art balance to be incredibly difficult. I am always on the lookout for advice about how to do it. When my former theater professors at the University of New Hampshire asked me to speak to a group of artists about life post-school, I went to social media to get new perspectives. Over 40 people commented, and my friend (and blogger/filmmaker extraordinaire) Michael DiBiasio asked me to guest blog. The response was so good that I’ve decided to conduct interviews with working artists on a semi-regular basis.

My first subject is documentary filmmaker Heather Freudenthal, who also works at Sundance TV. I’ll let Heather take it from here.

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Documentary filmmaker/film programmer/Sundance TV employee/good friend Heather Freudenthal.


Liam: When did you decide to be an artist and what were your expectations?
 

Heather: I don’t think there was a day or a moment when a light bulb went off and I suddenly  “decided to be an artist.” Since I was little, I’ve always been interested and involved in artistic crafts. My parents sent me to private schools where creative arts were a big part of my everyday curriculum. So by the time I was a teenager, I had already gotten my hands in drawing, painting, sculpting, dancing, acting and so on.

It was actually a total coincidence that I got involved in filmmaking. In college I was planning to major in Psychology but suddenly halted when I found out Statistics was a required course. I had to pick a new major quickly so I chose Communications. This is how I first started taking classes like “Intro to Video Production” and “Intro to Film Analysis”. I fell in love, ran away with it and never looked back.

As far as my expectations go, I never had my sites set on being rich and famous from making films. I’m a very practical person, and so I know I’ll most likely have to work a 9-5 to pay the bills, leaving filmmaking to come in second as a “passion” rather than my “job”. My expectations and goals are to be a filmmaker recognizable enough that my name is known beyond just my immediate friends and family, and that my opinions about films, filmmaking, and programming are valued by others in the field. I’ve been fortunate enough to have achieved some of these goals already, but I have only scratched the surface.

Liam: What attracts you to the documentary form?

Heather: All generalization and overstating aside, I think it’s relatively easy to make a narrative film (assuming you have the time and the money). Your outline, or your script guides you, and it’s a matter of filling in the blanks. I’m not suggesting that making a narrative film is easy by any means. This is a very general analogy.

With the documentary form, however, there is no such script to begin with. You may have an idea of the story you want to tell, but you have to build a script from scratch and watch as it changes constantly before, during and after shooting. Plus, there is so much to consider, aside from just telling a compelling story– Telling a story based on real people, things, places and/or events, comes with a lot of responsibility, and finding a way to be ethical, as well as creative and engaging is a juggling act very few can pull off.

A few other reasons why I love docs– I love how there are so many genres and sub-genres of non-fiction story telling, and how, especially in more recent years, filmmakers have really been pushing the boundaries of how to show “reality”. And finally, I appreciate how documentaries serve as a learning tool, in addition to entertainment.

How have your expectations changed the longer you’ve been making art, and how has the art you’ve made changed?

My expectations have changed a lot over the years, although I wouldn’t say I started off thinking A and now I think B. My expectations flip flop every year or so between being more practical and being more whimsical. I recognize both the importance of putting my life responsibilities first, and the importance of having an artistic passion come first. I realize that a healthy balance of both is essential for a happy life.So every year or so I lean more toward one or another. Two years ago, it was “Screw society! I would rather be a starving artist than sit at a desk all day!” Whereas this year, I am thinking more practically, and finding other, less time-consuming outlets for film. At this point in my life, looking forward, I expect that filmmaking will always be in my life in some way, shape or form, but I don’t expect it to ever be solely responsible for putting food on the table.

My art itself has changed a lot. The content was dictated by whoever I worked for. I made a lot of corporate videos, wedding videos, executive interviews, and so on. Now, I do those things once in a while for side money, but the longer, personal projects I focus on for myself are documentaries about everyday people, their psyches, and human experiences. Those things fascinate me.

What does the work you do at Sundance mean to you as an artist and documentary filmmaker?
 

I currently work in the promo planning and scheduling department at Sundance TV, so I am not dealing directly with films or film festivals. However, being in a creative office environment, I am surrounded by a lot of people who, like me, are filmmakers “in real life” or who have artistic talents outside their day jobs. At work we have meetings where we are asked to brainstorm or bring our creative ideas to help improve our programming for air. During those meetings is when I can tap into my creativity, what I know about film, documentaries, film programming, and so on.
Although it’s funny, whenever my boss introduces me to someone new in the office, she always says, “This is Heather. She is a documentarian in real life, but she works in our promo planning department”.

How do you balance making art and dealing with your everyday life, job, and responsibilities?

Again, I’m a very practical person, so it would be very unlikely to find myself slacking on the day job because my filmmaking was taking up too much of my time. If the balance was slipping, it would be in the other direction. Right now for example, I am working on several films and yet, when people ask me about the progress, I have barely anything to report because I spend most of my time focusing on work- my day job. Although I can miss spending more time working on my films, the practical side of me says to suck it up and deal with it. However, if I find that this imbalance is causing a major void for me, one I can’t just “suck up,” then I will block out some time (even if it is just half an hour every Saturday) to work on a film, or do something creative. It is about recognizing your priorities and carving out time to have that healthy balance.

What’s next for you?
 

With regard to my film programming, I’ve been working with BRIC for some time now to bring some of the films I’ve curated in my own film series to their network. The plan is to have a regularly curated film bloc where I will be interviewing filmmakers and showing their films, only on TV instead of in a cafe, theater or bar. As for the filmmaking, I’m working on a feature-length and a short documentary at the moment. I have no deadlines for either  film so the plan is to continue to work on both in my spare time until I am satisfied enough to share them with others. Of course after that, I plan to do the traditional festival submissions and screenings. Stay tuned!

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Thanks Heather!
Check out Heather’s site, where you can read about her work and her Sunday Film Series.
Next week I’ll be posting a more personal piece. I had intended to send it out this week, but it’s an important one, and I want to get it right. Hope you’re looking forward to it!