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Archive for the ‘feature film’ Category

Sunshine Superman

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted here, but we’ve had some ups and downs in these changing media times. In fact, many days it’s felt like the photo above from the documentary “Sunshine Superman.” One Big Leap of Faith.

A special shout out to this heart racing doc “Sunshine Superman,” directed by Marah Strauch that Magnolia Pictures/Universal is releasing theatrically on May 22. The awe-inspiring story is about Carl Boenish, the father of the BASE jumping movement, whose early passion for skydiving and filmmaking led him to even more spectacular – and dangerous – feats of foot-launched human flight. I was the Line Producer for the Los Angeles portions of the film.
Nice mini review from Rolling Stone Magazine. In fact it’s been getting great reviews everywhere. See the trailer and follow the film on Facebook.

Another project I recently Line Produced/Produced was Nicholl Fellowship winner Alan Roth’s directorial debut “Jersey City Story” for Lexus. The dramatic short film is now available on the Lexus website, L Studio.

Our original comedy series “Love & Loathing: Adventures in Divorce Land” premiered February 14th through Mi Shorts distribution as part of Dailymotion The series questions if two middle-aged romantics can find true love flowering through the cracks of divorce? It’s pretty funny. Written and created by Tony Soltis (“The Shield”) and produced by myself, Tony and Mark Manos. I directed 3 of the episodes. The series stars Bonnie Burroughs and Christopher Hatfield. Love to hear your comments and thoughts. Watch it on the Love and Loathing Series site. Follow us on Facebook   Twitter @Divorceland

Inspired by these online showings and viral sharing, we’ve released some previous projects now for FREE online viewing. Many that I’ve written about on this site in the past. Check it out.

The Emmy Documentary on oil and the American men and women that make energy their business “Houston We Have A Problem” on Vimeo

My multi-award winning short narrative blues film, “Travelin’ Trains” Click on “Screening.” Also, the thought provoking short film I produced in 2005 starring Willie Garson and Misha Collins “The Crux”. Directed by Jeff Seckendorf​, Cinematography from Tom Houghton, ASC,​ Production Design from Edward L. Rubin.​ I think you’ll like both films.

The award winning 13 episode PBS series “Senior Year” on 12 young people in their last year of high school at Fairfax High School are now all available at a special Siteroll web site, SeniorYearShow . Also, from Displaced Films our documentary on race relations in the south “Displaced in the New South” continues to play on the wonderful preserve of documentaries on American roots, Folkstreams.

The documentary, “Go Public: A Day in the Life of an American School District” has been airing on PBS stations across the country since last May, 2014. The true stories of those hard working people in education; Teachers, advisers, students, etc. My favorite is the piece I directed on the janitor, Felix Lopez. Find us on Facebook for updates.

A television pilot “Kids2Kids” about children and their parents making a difference in their communities. Facebook

Enjoy and certainly spread the word! I promise to be back to the blog more often, but first you’ve got some watching to do!

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FAS

For the last couple of years I’ve been teaching a two-day film production course for the FAS Film Screen Training program in Ireland. This is an abbreviated version of the week long course I teach at the Maine Media Workshops. The students (all ages) are looking to take a career path to media. Some of them have remained friends.  One student, now studying film at St. John’s College in the beautiful city of Cork, Ireland, reached out, via email, with a series of questions on the role of the producer in the United States. I thought I would share her questions and my answers here in case others were interested. Thanks Yvonne.

Questions/Answers

  1. When did you decide that you wanted to be a producer?

Like many filmmakers when I started, I wanted to direct. I still do.  However, as I built up my resume and work experience, I started to understand the difference of a poorly produced production and a good one. I worked for years as an Assistant Director, which in this country is not a step toward directing, but more of the step toward producing. You get a real understanding of all facets of a production. How to accomplish the creative within the limitations of the budget. I started working with directors I respected and they asked me to produce their projects. I wanted to be part of the project. I don’t think I ever decided I wanted to be a producer, I just kept getting asked to produce.

  1. Can you tell me about your first producing job?

Well, when you’re an independent filmmaker, you have to do at least some producing, so even when I was 10 years old making Super 8 movies, I had to figure out how much of my paper route money was going to go to buying film, who of my friends I was going to cast, how was I going to create the set. In college to get a BFA in Film from Emerson College, I had to make a half hour movie. I had a producer, but I still needed to bring many of the elements together myself. I guess my first truly paid producing job was working for Ted Turner in Atlanta, Georgia. He had just started CNN, TBS and Turner Networks. I had a fair amount of experience as a rental manager and accountant for a company called Blake Films, so I got hired for some Turner jobs because I was willing to work cheap.

  1. Was the process of becoming a producer a difficult one after you finished your education?

Blake Films was my first job out of college and both my roommates had worked there. I started in the accounting office which for me was as far as you could get from making films, but on reflection, this is where I learned to create budgets, pay invoices, cost analyze. I was promoted to Rental Manager for a division of the company in Atlanta, Georgia. This gave me the knowledge of booking crews and equipment. However, at the time I still really wanted to direct, so I applied for grants and got the funding to make a short film, “Travelin’ Trains.” The film did very well at film festivals so I quit my job at Blake Films. I worked all different freelance jobs, but the only jobs I got as a director were unpaid.  I did get some production manager and producing jobs.  Most of the paying jobs were through connections and people I had worked with in the past. That’s so important in this business. It’s how I got my first job at Blake Films and how I continue to get work today.

  1. What advice would you have for someone looking to develop their producing skills?

Learn from other producers. Watch how they work. Being a production assistant or coordinator for a producer is the best opportunity to watch and learn. Hopefully, it’ll be a producer that is willing to share some of their knowledge. Then offer to help produce some of your director friends projects. Make mistakes. Get better. Develop a reputation as a good producer.  Don’t oversell your skills. Be honest.

  1. Do you find it hard when you’re directing, to be less hands on with producing duties?

Yes, I’ve been accused of this.  But in defense, when directing, I can make some cost saving decisions because of my producing and assistant directing background.  I’ve also been accused of being fairly hands on with the directing when I’m producing. The reason being is that many of the projects I’ve produced have required me to wear both hats. We really need to build a trust as a team before I can comfortably step away from taking on both roles. On the other hand, I’m not as interested in producing a project if I don’t have some creative stakes in the final result.

  1. How would you describe the film industry from a producer’s point of view?

Well, it certainly is getting harder to make money on a project and therefore investors are taking less risks. This flows down to everyone taking less risks on everything from ideas to hiring. It’s hard to find many new original independent films or television shows. That’s why I loved “Beasts of a Southern Wild” so much. (BTW, Fantastic article on the 10 lessons on Filmmaking from Director Benh Zeitlin in Filmmaker Magazine.)

What I find frustrating about the film industry in Los Angeles is that there is very little opportunity to move from one kind of job to another. I did this all the time in Atlanta – directed, produced, location manager, documentaries, feature films, directing theater. In Los Angeles, when searching for a job, I have to define my role as an absolute. Am I a documentary producer, reality television producer, indie film producer, televsion assistant director, indie film director, theater director? I’m all of the above and will do whatever it takes to get the job done to make the best project we can make.

As a producer, I want the best crew person that can do the job for the budget. If they have more experience then me, that’s even better.  Too many egos in this town. That’s why I think more and more people are going elsewhere to create their projects, that and tax incentives. I’m hoping to do all my future projects in Ireland.

  1. What qualities/skills/personal traits do you think a producer needs to survive in the film industry?

When I teach classes or meet a new student for my OneonOne Film Training, I always write down the traits they’ll need to “make it” in the film business. I believe that if you don’t have these qualities you won’t survive and may want to save yourself the heartache and think about going into a different business. Those traits (in no particular order) are: Good Organization Skills, Good Communication Skills, Good Problem Solving Skills, Creative, Great Attitude, Competitive, Abundance of Determination and Sense of Confidence, Hard work and Energy, Dashes of Passion and Excitement, a Sense of Humor, a large Network of Contacts and Lots and Lots of Luck.

  1. For projects such as ‘We’ll Always Have Dingle‘ which you were Production Manager and Assistant Director, how hard is it to get funding?

It’s always hard to get funding. It certainly is not my strong point. I’m much better at making sure the money that is available is spent wisely.  I can’t tell you how many great projects that I’m attached to as either a producer or director or both that I’ve spent years trying to raise money. Examples like my feature film “Press>Play” and my documentary “Witness Trees” will have a few months of interest from an investor, but then the deal will fall apart. Year after year.  Recently, I was contracted to produce and direct a documentary and after working for three months on the project, I was told “the creative had gotten a head of the capital.” This after I was guarenteed payment and turned down other exciting producing projects. A few years back, I had a feature film with a full cast and a production start date and then the financing fell through.  It can be so frustrating. You spend so much time trying to appeal to the money source and it ends up going nowhere. There are lots of people (especially in Los Angeles) that like to pretend they’re in the financing movies business, but they’re really just seeking attention. I’m sorry do I sound jaded here.

One of the things we did with “We’ll Always Have Dingle” was proceed to go into production before all the financing was secure. You see this done with many “Crowdfunding” projects.  I don’t recommend this method, but sometimes, like in the case of “Dingle”, you have no other choice because so many elements were in place just for that short period of time. Cast, Director, Director of Photography, Location. It can be a bunch of elements. The hope is that by having a trailer or long form presentation you can raise the remaining budget or interest a distributor for finishing funds. I’ve seen this done many times, successfully, when pitching television networks, not as successfully with feature films.

  1. From your own experiences, what would be the main differences in the role of producer when making a television show such as ‘The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman‘, a documentary like ‘Houston, We Have A Problem, a reality show such as ‘Kids 2 Kids‘, or a film like ‘Finding Hope’?

Every job for a Producer is different with a different set of challenges and variables. That’s why you can’t use the budget of one project and expect it to suffice for another project. You’ve got to do the work and research to create an accurate budget and pre-production plan for that specific project. Television series usually have union rules and network standards that need to be addressed. Documentaries usually have smaller crews, but bigger needs in post production, etc.

Let me answer your question on the role of a good Producer (in my opinion) for any production. A Producer brings new investors into the film business and they look out for the investors’ needs because they think long term and know they need that private equity to continue for future projects.  A Producer gets the script and pre-production right before moving forward. They inspire and develop talent because they embrace the project with their own love. Producers keep budgets at levels that make sense for the project, innovate, by making it a better project while controlling costs. Producers keep in touch with the audience, weighing what their tastes are, but also taking chances on emerging artists. This helps show the business and culture where it might aspire to be going.  Finally, good Producers help bring content, creative talent, technology, audiences and investors together.

Once I understood the elements of good producing is when I knew I wanted to be a producer.

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I am excited and honored to announce that our documentary, Houston We Have A Problem, which aired as part of the REEL IMPACT series on PLANET GREEN, has been nominated for a 2011 News and Documentary EMMY Award. We’re headed to New York City for the event on September 26th.

To celebrate our nomination and to give a new audience an opportunity to see the film, Prescreen and Unconventional Media have joined together to present the complete feature documentary online starting September 16 at the website for 60 days only. The buzz on Prescreen is great including a write up in the Wall Street Journal and we are honored to be part of their initial launch.  Check it out if you are considering online distribution.

For the September 16 premiere, the film will be available for a discounted price of only $4, so please help us spread the word and use this opportunity to catch the film if you haven’t seen it because the next day it doubles in price.

The documentary film is an inside look into the culture of oil and oil barons, exploring the history of our dependency that has led to the energy crisis.  Press includes a LINK TV interview with Director/Producer Nicole Torre, plus excellent reviews from the HUFFINGTON POST and  CURRENT TV . My favorite still is the British Daily Motion discussing the film.

For a complete listing of film festivals and reviews, visit the film site.

While in New York City, I will also be attending as Head of Production for Lady of the Canyon, the Independent Feature Conference as well as the New York Television Festival for the premiere at the Tribeca Cinema of a 22 minute taste of our film, Finding Hope, starring Molly Quinn, Chris Mulkey, James Morrison, Richard Riehle, Christine Elise, Kristen Dalton, Andy Mackenzie, Ray Abruzzo, Darby Stanchfield, Jon Lindstrom and a whole bunch more incredible actors. Written and directed by Diane Namm, I produced. Facebook Fan site

The film is the story of 16-year old Esmee Johnson (Molly Quinn), a child bride, forced to marry at 13, who runs away from the isolated polygamist community in which she grew up.  Esmee has to navigate through a world she never knew existed, and plunges into the seedy underbelly of New York City.  Pursued by her husband, Rev. Ezra Dobbins (Chris Mulkey), sought by the FBI as a government witness, and fearful of the human traffickers with whom she originally seeks refuge, Esmee runs because it’s the only way she knows to stay alive.  She becomes a teen fugitive in her quest for FINDING HOPE.  We’ve completed the first half of the film, but now seek completion funding. The screenings are FREE, but you have to register online.

Molly Quinn discusses her work in both the New York Daily News and Wetpaint .

This has been a long creative journey for both writer/director Diane Namm and myself which she acknowledges in this short video, “Why Finding Hope

The story started with Namm’s short award winning film, The Sacrifice, starring a then unknown Molly Quinn which can be watched online at the website. There is also a behind the scenes with Diane and myself on YouTube.

If you have any interest or questions regarding these projects or the slate of projects in development, please contact me. I’d love to hook up while in New York.  Thank you.

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Tonight, April 23, 2011, HBO is premiering a drama entitled “Cinema Verite.” Now I haven’t seen the film, but there has been quite a debate on Documentary message boards like Doculink, IMDB and even between film reviewers over the tag line being used in the marketing as this was “the first reality show.” San Francisco Chronicle loves the HBO film, Los Angeles Times does not.
Just the term “Cinema Verite” is hotly debated in documentary circles, about how real anything is once edited. I wrote in one of my previous blogs, “Virtual Sundance” about a wonderful two hour discussion between Werner Herzog and Frederick Wiseman on this very subject at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.

Filmed in 1971, “An American Family” (which the HBO movie is based on) followed the Loud family, Pat and Bill and their five children of Santa Barbara in their lives, airing two years later on PBS. At the time, it was considered a real life documentary series. I guess the HBO movie suggests things were staged, more like a contemporary “Reality” series.

This is all funny because Director/Producer David Zeiger and I were just talking about this with a few of the former characters from our series, “Senior Year.” Over 10 years ago we delivered thirteen episodes for PBS about fifteen kids at Fairfax High, the most diverse school in Los Angeles, as they navigated through their senior year on the edge of the new millennium. “Senior Year” is going to be rebroadcast starting May 5th on KCET and we were filming with some of the original students from the show, sort of a “where are they now” segment, to tag to the end of each episode.

We started to wonder aloud how audiences will react now that they’ve been poisoned by “reality” television. Would they think the scenes had been scripted, the diary cams and camera confessions a lame rip off of what was presently on television. The fact of the matter is there was very little reality television on in 1999/2000, so our influences were the Maysles Brothers, Richard Leacock, Wiseman and “American Family.” We wanted to be the fly on the wall, even hiring recent film college graduates to be camera people, so there wouldn’t be such a difference in age, to get a more honest approach. Of course, we edited the footage, but we refused to manipulate anything that wasn’t true. Maybe that’s why all the students we followed wanted to return 10 years later to recap and update their lives.

“Senior Year” was successful enough that after the series ran, I was offered and took a bunch of good paying gigs on reality television, (Simple Life, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Black.White., Dramatic Auditions) but I’ve also worked in narrative filmmaking, so I’ve always known the difference between reality television and documentary. I’ve almost lost friendships and jobs with producers that do not. My fear is that less and less audiences actually do anymore.

“American Family” lasts because it is still a great documentary. “Reality” shows, by contrast, have no shelf-life at all. Most have no success if repeated on television or sell on DVD.  I guess that’s another reason why “Senior Year” is a documentary, it’s got a shelf life. But Reality TV is here to stay, it’s too cheap to produce and although many claim to dislike Reality television, I think everyone has at least one show they love (mine is “Amazing Race”). Just like a piece of candy, we know we shouldn’t eat it and it’s not good for us, but we indulge anyway. I’m sure the HBO movie will be fun to watch, just don’t take it as “documentary” or “reality.”

If you want to know more about the upcoming rebroadcast of “Senior Year” we’ve started a Facebook Fan Page.

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Winner Best Director – Nicole Torre, DocuWest Film Festival, 2010
Winner Best Point of View Documentary, EcoFocus Film Festival

Official Selection – Documentary Fortnight, Museum of Modern Art, NYC, 2010
Official Selection – United Nations Association, Traveling Film Festival
Official Selection – Over 30 National and International Film Festivals

It’s been a busy year of festival screenings and promotion for our award winning documentary feature film, HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM.

Now available for a very short time to view online, this week only, special for Earth Day!  If you feel like others should see this film, like we do, help spread the word.  Until April 30, 2011 for only $8.95, (cheaper then most feature documentaries on itunes), gather around the computer, have an Earth Day party, discuss the increase in gas costs, the war in Libya, learn and enjoy the film.  If you have a fast internet connection, click on the HD button, either way watch it full screen. Watch it HERE.

HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM stands out in the surge of films that address “green” issues. It takes a close examination inside the energy capital of the world to see America’s dangerous appetite for oil consumption.  The film traces the history of oil drilling in America and how the United States came to rely on foreign oil, from the Texas oilmen themselves, tracking Congress’ empty promises for alternative energy since the 1970s. The energy policy of the USA has only been a strategy of defense, not offense, problems (like the Gulf disaster last year, an inevitable tragedy) that extend far beyond profit, politics, and party lines. However, a new form of “Wildcatting” in alternatives is changing the oil industry and the country.  See and Hear the confessions of oilmen, who work in the trenches every day, scrambling to feed America’s ferocious appetite.

HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM brings both sides together, seeking solutions, making it clear that we must embrace all forms of alternatives in order to save the planet and ourselves.

Director Nicole Torre has gathered exclusive interviews with an A-list cast of Texas oil barons, Wildcatters, and top executives, including the former president of Shell Oil; the chairman of BP Capital; Sen. Harry Reid; Van Jones, Founder of Green for All; and Middle East adviser Joanne Herring, who married the founder of Enron and was the basis for Julia Roberts’ role in Charlie Wilson’s War. Watch what everyone is calling “a must see film at this time in history”.

HUFFINGTON POST just reviewed the film and wrote, “Houston We Have a Problem is an educational, upbeat examination into the history and future of oil. It is a refreshing reminder that the energy debates are not black and white.” Read the full review HERE.

CURRENT TV reviewed the film and called it “upbeat and engaging editing harmoniously meshes with its original NON-partisan clean energy stance, LOOKING TOWARDS THE FUTURE UNITED AS A NATION.” Here’s the full REVIEW.

KPFK in Los Angeles did a one hour radio program in March of the film now archived for listening. My favorite is this British Press TV discussion.

PLANET GREEN, which aired the film as part of it’s Reel Impact Series has submitted HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM for an EMMY Award!

In addition to all this, HOUSTON has been recognized by the scientific community. Last May, it screened at the Athens International Science Film Festival in Athens, Greece, and has just recently played the Academia Film Olomouc, International Festival of Science Documentary Films. For a full list of festivals and screenings, go to our website . You can also see a POST when the film first started playing the festivals.

Anyway, as you can tell, I’m proud to have been a producer on the film and if you’ve seen it, please help us spread the word, embed the links to the website on to your favorite environmental sites and blogs. If you haven’t seen the film, please watch it online now or buy the DVD for $19.95 at the website. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also see a bunch of clips and extra material from the film at our youtube channel.

Thank you, as always, for your interest.

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I am honored to be the featured filmmaker and to present my short film TRAVELIN TRAINS, this Friday, 8pm, June 4, 2010 as part of the RAW: Natural Born Artists event at the great Hollywood screening venue, CINESPACE.  RAW Artists is a multi-faceted arts organization showcasing handpicked artistic talents in the avenues of film, fashion, music, art, DJs, models, photography and performing arts. Each month there is a party event promoting the artists and their work.  It’s an invite only, cocktail affair.  If you want, you can order your tickets by following this link HERE.

They posted an interview with me on their site, but I wanted to take this opportunity to expand on some of those comments and offer direct links below.

Q- Tell us about yourself.

I’m a Filmmaker that’s been based in Los Angeles since 1994. Before that I lived and worked in Atlanta for 10 years. I was born in New England. I went to Emerson College.

Q- How did you first get started in film?
I started making Super 8 films when I was 10 years old. Lots of three minute in camera editing. I loved going to movies and would emulate the stories with my friends that we saw at the theater. Recently, I’ve reconnected with some of them on Facebook and it’s been fun to share these films from our youth. When I was in college I started shooting in 16mm and video. Haven’t stopped since.

Q- Tell us about TRAVELIN’ TRAINS

TRAVELIN’ TRAINS is a short 16mm black and white film I made a few years back (well, actually more then a few) about a young man in search of his father in depression-era Georgia and the blues music that both joins and separates them.  We shot it in Atlanta, grant supported. Most of the script was written in a local Atlanta blues club, “Blind Willies.”  I’m excited that people are going to get to see the film on a bigger screen, because these days it is mostly watched on DVD. I think it is the best example of my work as a filmmaker because unlike other projects I’ve done that have producers, actors, clients involved, all the decisions, both good and bad, were my own. I take full responsibility.

Here’s a youtube link to the Trailer for TRAVELIN’ TRAINS

And here’s a link to “Freight Train Blues” scene from the film.

Q- Any other films you’ve produced?
I now work professionally as a producer and director after more than twenty years as an Assistant Director for film and television. Not to say I wouldn’t AD again, if the right project financially came along. I still love to AD commercials, but you do a couple of long term projects and you fall out of the loop quickly.

I recently directed a five-camera DVD live concert of David Arkenstone and his new band, Mandala. A couple of years ago, I produced the live action segments to the EA video game, “Need for Speed: Undercover.”  Directed by Joseph Hodges and photographed by DP Jeff Seckendorf, you can see some clips on my company website, Unconventional Media.

TALES FROM THE CATHOLIC CHURCH OF ELVIS continues its award winning film festival run recently winning Best Microbudget Feature Film at The Cannes Independent Film Festival in May. I produced this “shocking” true tale of a Catholic school girl in Las Vegas! Part “Canterbury Tales” meets “PeeWee’s Playhouse,” writer, co-director and lead actress Mercy Malick narrates, as a communal theater experience leeps off the stage and onto the streets of the City of Sin.

The acclaimed documentary on the USA domestic energy crisis that I produced with director Nicole Torre, HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM has also been playing the film festivals, including this week at The Barcelona International Environmental Film Festival and opening at the Downtown Independent in July. I also just returned from a great trip to Western Ireland after producing for writer/producer Diane Namm, a documentary-comedy hybrid,  WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE DINGLE.

Q- From where do you draw inspiration for your work?

I’m drawn to music projects. Music is a huge inspiration. I can’t play so maybe that’s why I love music so much, some of my best ideas happen when I’m at concerts. I also like travel, history and true stories. For some reason, I have never been interested in love stories.

Q- From start to finish, explain your process; what does a typical film-making day look like for you?
If I’m not working for someone else or shooting a project, then the ideal day starts with emails and reading web updates on Twitter. Lots of good leads and information so I have to watch out that I don’t get sucked in and spoil the whole day riding the internet highway. So, next thing I do is take a walk for an hour, listen to music, to clear my head for some writing. It can be writing a screenplay or writing a one-sheet pitch. Sometimes instead of writing, I’m editing a project. Sometimes I’m editing stuff I shot years ago. I’m convinced that something that you put aside at one point is the focus of your interest another time. Your old films are your assets. I’ve got lots of plans for my old footage.

In the evening, I like to have a glass of wine and read the newspaper. If the news doesn’t get me too angry, I check emails again, but sometimes I get lost on the internet trying to get more information. I don’t trust just one news source anymore. I’ve got to know the WHOLE story. At night, I either catch some live music or watch a movie or show on television. I’ve got a big pile of books that I want to read by my bed, but rarely get there early enough to get in some good quality reading. If I do, then I consider that to be an exceptional day.

Q- All time favorite film?
MODERN TIMES – Charlie Chaplin

Q- Are there any filmmakers–past or present–who strongly inform and influence your work?
There are many filmmakers that have influenced my work, but I’m most attracted to the filmmakers that try different styles, take some risks with different genres, sometimes successfully, other times not as much. I think a filmmaker is limiting themselves as an artist if they keep doing the same style over and over again. Stanley Kubrick, John Huston are good examples of directors that did different kinds of films. I think Clint Eastwood is proving to be a pretty diverse filmmaker.

Q- Are there any specific reoccurring themes or subjects that you explore and deal with most in your work?
Not really. As stated above I like diversity.

Q- Any previous films/collaborations that you are most proud of?
In 1999/2000, I co-produced with director/producer David Zeiger, the 13 part documentary series for PBS,SENIOR YEAR. We are about to release it on DVD and it’s amazing how after 10 years so many of these issues are still the issues of High School kids. It feels very contemporary. I wish more people had seen it and I hope with the DVD release they will. It was a pretty amazing series. We introduced a lot of cinema verite techniques, like diary cams, time lapse, that you see on most reality series now.

David is also talking about releasing on DVD the documentary we both produced and directed in 1995, DISPLACED IN THE NEW SOUTH.  The film explores the cultural collision between Asian and Hispanic immigrants and the suburban communities near Atlanta where they settled. It was the inspiration for the Indigo Girls song, “Shame on You.” You can see clips from our film in the music video. The interesting thing is the documentary covered issues still being debated in Arizona and the rest of the country.

That’s what I mean when I talk about filmmakers keeping their assets, their films. You never know when an interest will come again, look at TRAVELIN’ TRAINS.

Q- Why showcase with RAW?
Any opportunity to show some of your work on a big screen to a new audience is exciting. I’m honored to be a part of a show at a great venue with a group of artists I didn’t know before.

Q- Any current rising stars within the genre that you would recommend we look out for?
So many of the projects I’ve been involved with as a Producer lately have had limited funds. I wouldn’t make the commitment to help the Directors if I didn’t believe they were rising stars. I’m honored to have been able to help facilitate the directing visions of Mercy Malick, Diane Namm, David Zeiger, Nicole Torre, Stefan Rhys, Joseph Hodges, BrandU

But I should add, I still consider myself a rising star. I’d still like to direct a feature film. I’ve been trying to find financing for my narrative film, PRESS>PLAY and a couple of times we’ve almost had the money in place. In 2006, I was supposed to direct another feature. We had a cast and location and everything, but at the last minute, the money went dry. I’ve been developing a documentary film on Arborglyphs since 1992 with visual artist/musician Sandy Corley, entitled WITNESS TREES. Now that 3D programming for television is becoming a reality, there is renewed interest. So you never know where it’s going to come from. Just keep working on the projects that inspire you. I guess that’s the “artist” part of me. Thanks for having me.

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I am honored and excited to announce that the feature documentary that I produced with director Nicole Torre, “Houston We Have a Problem” has been invited to the Documentary Fortnight at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. This is a high profile event, so we hope to have a good crowd for both the 1pm and 3pm showings on February 20th, 2010.

For those of you that don’t know, “Houston We Have a Problem” is a feature film, shot on HD, about the history and future of US domestic energy policies beginning with the Wildcatter’s discovery of oil in the late 1800’s. The film premiered at AFI-DALLAS in March 2009 and has gone on to play at over a dozen festivals to critical acclaim, nationally and internationally, including the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam.

That following day, February 21st, the feature comedy that I produced, “Tales from the Catholic Church of Elvis” will be in competition at the Big Muddy Film Festival in Southern Illinois. I’m glad to have the film playing there since this is the very same film festival that I won my very first film award 22 years ago for “Travelin’ Trains” (Best Narrative Film) That film can now be viewed on IMDB.

I’m also excited to announce the world premiere in March of another comedy I produced, directed by Diane Namm, “Telemafia” at the Dingle Film Festival in Ireland.

In regard to upcoming projects, I am reviewing a few proposals, but like for most of us, funding is tight. I’m still trying to get my documentary feature “Witness Trees” and narrative feature “Press>Play” financed, but am also producing/line producing and Assistant Directing for other production companies again. I have also partnered with Jeff Seckendorf for commerical productions at Snaproll Films. Check out the body of work at the website.

Luckily, I also do have some post production rentals coming in to Unconventional Media through Stefan Rhys, a terrific editor. Check out his reel at www.CoffeeCartProductions.com We are also starting to see a return on the 4-hour DVD of the “BrandU – Conscious Entrepreneur Experience” presentation and talk show that I produced and directed through Unconventional Media last year. You can get a ten minute taste of the show at www.BrandU.com/FreeCEE

I also continue mentoring new filmmakers with the OneOnOne Film Training program and have been scheduled to teach another one of my week long workshops on Line Producing/PM/AD work in Rockport, Maine at the Maine Media Workshops in late June.

Looking forward to a productive 2010. As always, you can get updates at my website, EricMofford.com

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Houston We Have A Problem,” Nicole Torre‘s documentary feature that I helped produce, had a good run of film festivals this year (noted here in previous blogs). After the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam we began discussions on final distribution and if the film was a “feature” documentary or one slated for television.

Doculink, a documenatry discussion board (and one of the great resources for any filmmaker) has recently carried many postings on the top documentaries of the decade and some Listers were limiting their choices on “theatrical” releases. I’ve never met Adam Hyman with Los Angeles Filmforum, but I thought he did an amazing job of addressing the issue on Doculink and with his permission, I reprint it below.

American Documentary “Feature” vs. “Television” by Adam Hyman

There is an absurd division (although one with real economic and artistic effects) between “feature” and “television” docs in America, where almost always only the former are taken seriously, although, as with the UK, probably 95% or more
are made for the latter.

A large element of this is that the television docs almost always have pre-ordained styles from the networks, and often have narrators, and both of these factors are considered limitations on being either “true” documentaries or “expressions of the director.” Most often the latter can be true, when one does watch various television doc series (I am for now separating “reality” from “non-fiction” or “documentary” shows, as even the Academy does now), one can see is the issues, particularly in visuals and in structure. I think that despite those limitations (and lack of budgets for high-end CGI or reenactments), many television docs still have a smart and often interesting (in content if not in style) approach to their topics.

In part this is tied to the eternal hierarchy that the film world does its best to instill, with theatrical releases being “better” or at least more worthy of analysis than works made for television. (In part to overcome the vastly greater viewership of television). In part it’s related to the criticism world, still often conducted in terms of auteurs, where theatrical releases are seen as work of a director, and television works are seen as works of a producer and network executives. There is truth in the latter, of course, but the baby is also thrown out with the bath water.

Usually docs with theatrical releases are the only ones that get on people’s radars. Many of the best docs, of course, never get a theatrical release in the US, nor a TV release; if they are from a foreign country or are
unconventional (or even more just “observational”), perhaps they just play a festival or two, and that’s it. It’s also impossible to keep up with even a reasonable percentage of works made for television (or theaters, really).

Another factor is the bias in America for direct cinema docs as “truer” over any with narration or reenactments, also a longer discussion… There are a variety of other reasons as well, which I hope will be raised by others.

But, in the USA, the only documentary director who works for TV whose name is more generally known is Ken Burns, even though many others should be known. But for example, I think the program “102 Minutes That Changed
America
,” which was a History Channel show, was a remarkable documentary – the experience of the World Trade Center collapse assembled entirely from home videos, without narration. I am amazed that the History Channel aired it. And I can’t tell you the name of the director. But it’s a work that is worthy of viewing and discussion. But at the same time the History Channel (I also will never start calling it “History” as they attempt to rebrand it, especially as they reduce the
historical content on it) also still airs in the daytime lots of WWII docs, almost all stylistically the same, etc.

There’s also a strong bias from the Academy against “music” docs, and for “activism” and “war” docs. People (well, Academies) usually evaluate docs based on their subject and not on how good the film actually is…but that’s a whole other discussion. I did note the absence of music docs from Erin’s very good starting list (I would call it 50 Worthy Films, rather than “Best” but whatever) – “Anvil”; “Some Kind of Monster”; “Devil & Daniel Johnston” and “DiG!” I think are also
worthy films from the Aughts. Ah, but look, I also have just listed 4 that had theatrical releases, and I bet there are some fine ones made for TV. Just thought of one – “Musician” in the “Work” series – a portrait of Ken Vandermark, an hour doc, probably shown only on European television and some alternative venues in the US, but made by a Chicago filmmaker, Daniel Kraus. But portraits of musicians are also never considered to be “important” films, like those of other topics, even though they often get theatrical releases if the musicians have suitable public following.

Ah, another discussion of underlying biases – the best result of “Best of” lists… 🙂

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In our feature length documentary, “Houston We Have A Problem,” Van Jones, founder of Green for All and author of “Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our two Biggest Problems” states, “We need to honor the people in the oil industry, the coal industry, at this point they’re heroes in a way…stop the name calling, let’s work together. It is possible to go from the oil age to the solar age in a way where the wisdom and the genius of our existing energy sector is tapped and utilized. They know more about energy, better then anybody else. We now need to see that genius for the next stage.” Doesn’t sound like the Van Jones you’ve seen portrayed in the media lately, does it?

Attacks between the Left and Right have gotten this country nowhere, especially when it comes to discussions about energy. This theme resonates loud and clear throughout the documentary, to quote the director/producer Nicole Torre, “this is not a pro ‘Big Oil’ film, nor an anti-oil film, this is a pro domestic energy film.” After viewing “Houston” at the Cambridge Film Festival in England, Chris Peck wrote that “the film bores deep into the western world’s dependence upon oil, unearthing some uncomfortable truths. In particular it questions why political figures have constantly allowed the ‘sleeping dog’ of a global energy crisis to lie… (The Director) Torre approaches the issue with restraint, allowing an array of genuine Texan oil men to tell their own stories with candid honesty and humour and this is to the film’s benefit.” In the program guide at the Wine Country Film Festival, Asalle Tanha writes that “Director Nicole Torre has brilliantly gathered exclusive interviews with an A-list cast of Texas oil barons, Wildcatters, and top executives, including the former president of Shell Oil, the chairman of BP Capital, Sen. Harry Reed, the US Senate Majority Leader, and Middle East adviser Joanne Herring, who married the founder of Enron and was the basis for Julia Roberts’ role in “Charlie Wilson’s War.” You may just be pleasantly surprised to hear what they have to say. ‘Houston We Have a Problem’ is a devastatingly fresh documentary that stands out in the surge of films that address ‘green’ issues. Torre’s boldness in approaching oilmen shows that the energy problem extends far beyond profit, politics, and party lines. The film is nothing short, as David Clifton, the president of Rational Broadcasting puts it of ‘a masterpiece.’”

I’m proud to have been a producer on the film especially after it premiered at AFI-Dallas in March to a mixed crowd of Texas oil supporters and environmentalists and almost all congratulated us because we had made a film seeking solutions, not blame. That’s exactly the response we had hoped for, people to start thinking about solutions, together, as a country. As KERA-PBS wrote in their Art Seek blog review after the screening, “wildcatters got us here, and wildcatters are going to lead us out.” AFI-Dallas posted an interview on Vimeo. The film has also shown at the Maui International Film Festival, the Calgary International Film Festival, the San Diego Film Festival and has upcoming screenings scheduled for Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, the Austin Film Festival, and the San Francisco Documentary Festival. I’m especially excited to be part of “50 documentaries from 50 countries” in a planned worldwide tour as part of the United Nations Association Film Festival under their theme “Energy and the World.”

Van Jones wrote in his book, “the best answer to our ecological crisis also responds to our socio-economic crisis. The surest path to safe streets and peaceful communities are not more police and prisons, but ecologically sound economic development. And that same path can lead us to a new green economy.” As Carl Davidson writes in his review of the book, “Jones is a strategic thinker who gives definite answers to the question, ‘Who are our friends, who are our adversaries?’ He narrows the target to speculative capital with roots in carbon-based energy industries and the militarism needed to secure their supplies. He seeks close allies in the wider working class of all nationalities, especially in the Blue-Green Alliance formed on the core partnership of the United Steelworkers with the Sierra Club. He also looks for allies among faith communities, environmentalists in the suburbs and rural populations suffering at the hands of anti-ecological agribusiness, offering a vision of wind farms and solar arrays for sustainable rural development. He sees the importance of cutting back defense spending and opposing unjust wars abroad.”

This is radical thinking from a self-described “radical, rowdy black nationalist.” But as exemplified in our film, he isn’t the only one thinking this way and most are far from what Glenn Beck could term “Communists.” It’s the kind of thinking to move this country from dependency on foreign energy resources. That’s why I was so excited when I heard that Van Jones had been named “Special Advisor to President Obama on Green Jobs.” Here was a man who was right for the job, a job that required immediate attention. Judith Lewis writes in her LA Times article, “Meet the Real Van Jones,” that for 20 years, Jones worked trying to get Americans to pay attention to the urban poor. “We would call newspapers, television stations, saying kids are dying, we’re going to funerals every weekend. ‘Not interested.’ The deeper he got into it, …the more he realized that the environment was central to the kind of social justice he cared about. For the affluent lefties in the audience, he teased, environmentalism might be about polar bears and other “charismatic megafauna.” But “in the poor part of town, when they say, ‘Oh, the environment is terrible,’ they’re talking about air pollution, asthma, cancer clusters and birth defects.” As Carl Davidson states, “putting young people to work at low-to-medium skill levels retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency seemed like a no-brainer, so the demand for “Green Jobs, Not Jails” was raised.

In the film, Van Jones believes, “we have to have the determination as a people, as a country to continue to move aggressively into alternative energies.” From the blog, ODE, “Van Jones redefines ‘green’ change-makers from the rich or the fringe to everyday people that are looking for ways to be successful in the long term. Instead of distancing himself and others from entrepreneurs by idealizing them, he looks for ways that regular people can become progressive.” There is also a good interview with Jones from a few years back at Poptech.com.

Sadly, those committed to the past, a conservative mindset that would rather attack then seek solutions, quickly portrayed Van Jones as a “Communist.” Another McCarthy-era “Witchhunt” was ignited, first by Cliff Kincaid, of America’s Survival, when he wrote, “it appears that a Communist Party spin-off, the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS), was instrumental in some way in getting Jones his job.” As Harvey Wasserman writes in his article “Obama has feed his Green Jones to King CONG,” “like millions of Americans he (Jones) signed a petition asking for an investigation into the 9/11 felling of the World Trade Center. He used the dreaded term “asshole” to accurately describe some Republicans, and then used it to describe himself and his friends.” Fox News fueled the attacks with misinformation and as papers like the National Review followed up, it soon became obvious that Van Jones could no longer do a proper job for the President and he resigned.

I really don’t care what Van Jones did in the past as a “radical,” just like I don’t care that T. Boone Pickens (also in our film), formerly with BP Oil, now promoting wind power, helped fund the inaccurate “Swift Boat publicity” that harmed John Kerry’s Presidential run. I don’t believe President George W. Bush’s past drinking and cocaine snorting was a reflection on his presidency. People change, Thank God, and it was all about change for Van Jones. Changing this country for the better. As Lewis writes in her article for the LA Times, “These days, Jones is far from the wild-eyed radical Kerpen described. In fact, he has been moving to the center, where the power is, for years. He has spent his time writing grants, appealing to city councils and working with legislators such as Nancy Pelosi on green-jobs bills. He sat on the board of the Apollo Alliance, a group more-radical environmentalists have criticized as a mainstream sellout for its work linking industry with a greener agenda. And his nonprofit advocacy group, Green For All, recently launched a program to involve the private sector in building an ‘inclusive green economy.'”

“With clarity and verve, Jones finally brought to the mainstream the critical message that what’s good for the environment is also good for the economy… finally injected into the mainstream the message that there will be no prosperity, no full employment, and no survivable planet without the necessary and doable conversion to a green-powered Earth,” writes Wasserman. This is the message that comes from both Big Oil and the Sierra Club in our film, “Houston We Have A Problem.” We can free ourselves of foreign oil, but it’s going to take everything, (solar, wind, geo-thermal, algae, nuclear, clean coal and even new oil fields like the ones recently discovered by Occidental Petroleum in Kern County, California) but most of all it’s going to take brave new thinking, new ideas. We can’t be frightened of the new thinkers because all ideas usually start off radical, look at Darwin. As Lewis writes, “Jones’ departure is a big loss. He should be judged not by a few missteps but by his long history of working toward a highly desirable but elusive goal: an environmental movement that crosses boundaries of place, skin color and class. By working to bring green jobs to ‘the poor part of town’ and involving mainstream environmental leaders in the cause of fighting poverty, Jones has made a huge contribution…one can only hope that this… will have the positive side effect of galvanizing support for his work; that it will call attention to urban poverty, pollution and his ideal of a green economy.”

I agree with Harvey Wasserman, “Van Jones, as imperfect as the rest of us, was Obama’s critical firestarter in a green-powered revolution that is decades overdue… Pushing Van Jones aside is a major coup for the destroyers of the planet, and a big loss for those of us who would re-power and save it.” We need lots more Americans like Van Jones, otherwise the real terrorists win.

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As a follow up to my previous blog on mentoring, I had the privilege yesterday of attending a director’s retreat sponsored by the DGA.  The subject was the best tools for directing actors in feature films and television.  It was a wealth of information that I’ll only be able to touch on here.

I came into the retreat with more experience then some from my theater directing background (I’m still a directing member with Theatre Neo) and having read Judith Weston‘s wonderful book “Directing Actors” and Sidney Lumet’s important book, “Making Movies.”  Both books were mentioned more then once.  I’ve never taken any of Weston’s workshops but have worked with director’s that have gone through her course and met her a few times at the International Film and Video Workshops (now Maine Media Workshops).  I can’t recommend it enough.

Director John Badham (Saturday Night Fever, War Games), opened with a keynote address promoting his new book, “I’ll be in My Trailer.”  Badham, now directing episodic television, has been in the business for over 35 years.  He outlined five common mistakes director’s make that the other director’s (Neil LaBute, Kimberly Pierce, Jamie Babbit, David O. Russell, Jeremy Kagan, and Gordon and Helen Hunt) reiterated in the panel discussions.  First mistake, especially common in television is the “anonymous” director.  They all discussed the importance of introducing yourself to the actors, especially the nervous Day players.  Many directors get caught up in the technical and get flustered when the actors appear on the set with their own ideas.  Rehearsal is the most important thing and time with the actors must be scheduled into a production.  Television is harder because of time, but even a read through will help the director and actor’s relationship.  Come in early and go to the trailers while the actor is getting make up, introduce yourself, address their concerns before you go to the set at call time.

All the directors found it better for the production if they had enough rehearsal time.  Neil LaBute discussed respecting the actor’s process, no matter how crazy it seems.  Casting is so important especially with short rehearsal times, but if an actor is forced on you because of financing, you’ve got to research what that actor is capable of doing, rethink how you’ll approach the project.  At least, get a lunch meeting before you meet on the set.  Some actors know the camera, understand lenses.  They can deliver their performance in a few takes, others only really deliver after many takes.  The more you know about the actors personalities and previous work, the better you can plan your schedule, shooting the coverage of the actors based on their strongest ability to deliver.

The second mistake is hiding behind video monitors and yelling out direction or saying “nothing,” which is even worse.  Now, I’ve worked on a few feature films with directors like this and it never fails that the end product suffers.  If nothing else, say “great” after “cut.”  “More energy” is not good direction.  Action verbs that mean the same thing but at different degrees works much better then “Make it bigger” or “Make it smaller.”  Directors need to be by the actors.  Kimberly Pierce wears a small video monitor around her neck, so that she can do both.  Helen Hunt felt a little distance is good for sex scenes, certainly a limited crew around the actors.  All the directors hate the “village of idiots” that gather around a video monitor.

Both David O. Russell and Neil LaBute are doing their next film on digital so that they can just keep rolling, let their actors play, but Helen Hunt has been on a couple of digital features and finds them “too loose, not enough focus.”  Kimberly Pierce likes the ability to do more takes by changing the film lens and asking for the actor to give a different performance.  She sees no use in having the same take over and over again.  All agreed that having a second camera (B camera) will save you in the editing room.

Another big mistake is the director wanting to be the nice guy and never creating his or her authority.  Discipline actors that haven’t done their homework or learned their lines.  Failure is OK, but not reading the script is not.  It’s also useless to explain the scene to the actor, they can read that in the script.  They need to understand what their character wants in the scene and why?  But don’t give them the answer, they need to own the reason, then they can bring it to their performance.  Notes are important to the actor, but give it to them privately, a secret note, not a public shout out.

What if the actor doesn’t do what you want them to do, for the blocking of the scene or the line reading you expect.  It’s a big mistake to just tell the actor where to go, you need to help them find it out on their own.  Another big reason for the rehearsal process.  Gordon Hunt, Helen Hunt’s father and a long time television and theater director, including numerous episodes of “Mad about You,” suggests using the term, “how about” when prompting actors to try a blocking idea.  If the actor states that his character wouldn’t do that, then ask what his character would do, most of the time it isn’t the action, but a word that bothers the actor.  Hunt also revealed his secret to getting a line reading.  On the next take, if you are the director, you yell out to begin the next take at the particular line you want corrected and you give the exact line reading you desire.  It’s worked for him almost every time for close to fifty years.

The fifth mistake is saying “No.”  You need to help the actor get out of their personal polite space.  If an actor has an idea, let them discover it doesn’t work on their own.  I certainly have discovered this technique in many of my theater productions.  Actors have come in with some strange concept or prop and usually discover if it isn’t working.  On the other hand, they sometimes added a richness to the character that I didn’t think about before.  Be open.  “We will do it” is better then “you will do it”.  Also, realize that if an actor has a problem with his or her wardrobe, don’t ignore it because usually it has nothing to do with wardrobe and everything to do with the character they are portraying.  That’s an issue that needs to be resolved immediately.

Helen Hunt added much to the day because of her experiences from both in front and behind the camera.  In her view, all directors should take acting classes to understand the actor’s point of reference.  I agree and certainly find myself falling back on those Emerson College acting courses to guide my directing work.  Neil LaBute started as a student actor and many of his best films have been done working with actors like Aaron Eckhart that he has known since those days.  One of my favorite times directing was when I made the web series, “Unconventional,” because I pulled about fifteen actors that I had worked with in the theater, here in Los Angeles, and we created these characters based on my notes and the actors ideas.  There was no script, it was just me, a camera and the actors.  It was exhilarating and fun.  It’s the reason I got into this business in the first place.  It was nice to be reminded.  To quote director Martha Coolidge, “the most important role of a director is to work with actors.”

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