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Archive for the ‘Music documentaries’ Category

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’ve just returned from a three week trip to the west coast of Ireland, Kerry County to be exact. Beautiful country. The weather was erratic, as I’m told it is at this time of year, including rain, snow, sun and heavy winds all changing within the hour. I was there to Line Produce a feature doc-dramedy entitled, “We’ll Always Have Dingle,”about filmmaking and film festivals in Dingle, Ireland, wrapped around recreated classic Hollywood films. Become a Dingle Doc Facebook Fan.

The project was produced and directed by Geoff Wonfor (“Beatles Anthology“) and produced by my good friend Diane Namm (“The Sacrifice” “Telemafia“) and Debbie Vandermeulen of Fusion Entertainment. The Irish crew was top notch, including DP Eugene O’Connor, AC Conor Kelly and Trevor Cunningham handling sound duties. The real surprise was the amazing assistance from a group of ten students from the Irish training program, FAS. All were enthusiastic and creative. We couldn’t have done the project without them.

For me, the highlight of the shoot was the day spent at Cuminole Beach on the Dingle Peninsula. Until recently, the peninsula was remote from modern influences and therefore, the language and traditions of the area have survived intact to a greater degree than in most of Ireland. This is evident by the local Irish news report on the production. (See it here, about nine minutes into the broadcast.) We were recreating a scene from David Lean’s 1970 film “Ryan’s Daughter” (which was originally filmed in the area). We couldn’t have asked for better weather and visibility. From the location you can see the Blasket Islands, including one that looks exactly like a giant man sleeping in the ocean. It really wasn’t difficult to understand how the Celtic myths and legends began in this part of Ireland.

Dingle is a gorgeous, small fish and farming village, rich with Celtic history and known for its pubs and friendly people. I met a bunch of American ex-pats and local artists, some to surely be life long friends. Unfortunately, because of the workload, I didn’t get to see much at the actual Dingle Film Festival, but was very impressed by the crowds of avid film lovers. It reminded me of the early days of the Sundance Film Festival.

I did get the opportunity to introduce our documentary film, “Houston We Have A Problem,” which played at the film festival. After the screening there were many discussions on the film and American energy policies at the pub. Amazing, how European audiences seem to get the film and understand the history of U.S domestic energy better then most Americans. I also sat on a panel for the RED camera. This seems to be the camera of choice for independent features in Ireland. “We’ll Always Have Dingle” was shot on the RED. I showed some RED clips that I produced through my company Unconventional Media for the EA video game, “Need for Speed:Undercover.”

After the exhausting eleven days of production, I traveled inland to Trelle, the industrial center of Kerry County. I presented a two day workshop on Line Producing/UPM and AD work for the FAS students. The students seemed real interested in the process of shooting film and television in the United States. Many comparisons were made to production in Ireland, but really, other then budgets, the differences are few. I passed around information about our OneOnOne Film Training program at the class conclusion.

My last night was spent in Cork, Ireland, a city on the southwest coast. The city reminded me of a small San Francisco, but with lots more history. I visited the birthplace of the amazing guitarist Rory Gallagher and an exhibit on Medieval life in that part of the country. At the end of the night, I ended up at a pub catering to foreigners with lots of loud Americans. At that moment, I wasn’t sure I was ready to leave and get back to all that.

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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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It’s a lot of time and energy to keep up your profile on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Linkedin, Ning sites and dozens of other social networking sites. However, if you’re trying to make a living in the creative arts, be it an independent filmmaker, musician, artist, then you’ve got to look at it as part of the job.

Here’s just one recent example with my short film “Travelin’ Trains.” A few weeks back I notice Greg Sarni has become a Facebook friend with my sister Lindsay Mofford. Now I remember Greg, not well, but I remember drinking beer and hanging out with him at Emerson College. We reconnect, become online friends. On his Facebook site are photographs and notes about his days running the Boston Blues Festival. I mention “Travelin’ Trains,” my short blues film about a boy in search of his father in the Depression-era South. It’s full of traditional, acoustic blues. He wants to see it, especially because one of the stars is Chicago Bob Nelson.  A few years back, Bob collected the Blues Trust Lifetime Achievement Award. Greg is a fan of his music and makes mention of the prize and film in his online newsletter, Blues Trust. He also adds the Cacchi link where you can see my film for free.  The film gets a jump in views including a recommendation on Twitter by the famous Ash Grove bar in Los Angeles. I see the text and Twitter back that we need to do a documentary on the history of one of the most important folk clubs in the country. Discussions and developments begin. Thanks Greg.

Do you see where I’m going with all this? At Unconventional South in Nashville, we are constantly talking to an incredible roster of talented musicians who know that the old ways of creating an audience no longer apply.  Brian Adams knows this and is developing the network television series “Stone Cold Sober in Music City” with an online home base. You can read more about that venture in a previous blog.  We’ve also been exploring that with Billy Falcon, his daughter Rose Falcon and The Sowing Circle on Ustream.  A wonderful write up at indiemusictech.com covers what a musician has to do these days to get their music heard.  It was also a big issue of discussion at the SXSW music conference as referenced in Wired magazine.

Mashable.com is a wealth of information of guidelines, with success and failure stories of what works for artists and entrepreneurs. The write up about Ning job networks and entrepreneur networks are two of my favorite resources. How do I know when there is a new article? I follow them on Twitter. When a new story is online, they’ll put a link on Twitter. I can access it if I’m interested. This process is exactly the same for all us artists. You release a new song, photograph, film, art show and let people know it is there. The fans decide if they want to access it or not. They hear or see it and your network spreads the word. If they’re not spreading the word then something isn’t grabbing their attention.

Now everyone has their own set of rules of what and how they want to communicate via the web. I use MySpace mostly for listening to new bands and keeping track of gigs via bulletins. I reserve Facebook for my actual friends, mainly because I’ve got some friends on there that I’ve known since Junior High School.  I’d rather not share those old stories with someone I just met at a networking event. In those cases, I stay linked to the business contacts, new and old, via LinkedIn. And for me, Twitter is all about the RSS feed. I’m following you because either I like what you have to say, play, write or communicate. If you’ve got a suggestion, I want the link. I hope those that follow me feel the same way about my “tweets.”

Now I know there are dozens of other social networks including “Ning” sites like my Brother-in-Laws site, All Hands on Board, which can be very specialized. I just don’t feel like I need to be on all of them.  It might look like some sort of desperate need to be noticed. You see, there is a fine line and only you can decide what is needed to get the word out and what is too much.  We each make our own rules and that, my online friend, has got to be one of the greatest things about social networks.

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sowingcirclegroupsmallA few weeks ago Jeff Seckendorf and I were interviewed at the Cinema Innovators Event by the PixelHead Network.  We talked about Unconventional Media and our commitment to New Media.  I also discussed the video streaming we’ve been doing at Unconventional South.  I can’t tell you how excited I am by our upcoming event  on Saturday February 28th at 8:30 PM,(Central Standard Time), 6:30 PM (PCT) presenting Billy Falcon and The Sowing Circle live on a national video stream.

There has been some great recent posting including Mashable.com and Dorkmuffin on the best outlets on the internet for new musical artists, definitely worth checking out.  However, neither mention live internet streaming, which gives the opportunity for anyone in the country, and sometimes the world, to be part of an audience seeing and hearing a performer live.  I enjoyed the last stream Unconventional South uploaded of Billy and the Sowing Circle so much, I was hung over the next morning.  That’s how real it felt, just like I was sitting at the Blue Bar in Nashville from my living room in LA.

This time things will be a little different, it’s an informal house party.  Since we are still experimenting, Michael Catalano of Unconventional South, will be flying solo with camera and sound.  It will be an intimate, uncut live performance.  If you read my post on “Stone Cold Sober in Music City” you know one of the things I love in James Szalapski’s film, “Heartworn Highways,” are the scenes of Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle and others sitting around the living room, playing music, drinking, smoking and espousing the importance of back-to-basics country.  I hope this video stream Saturday night will evoke that same feeling.

The “Sowing Circle” is a conceptual night of music Billy Falcon started two years ago.  Billy is a well established musician and songwriter, mostly known for writing over 12 songs for Bon Jovi, including most of the hits.  To Billy, the Sowing Circle is “at its worst a lot of fun, and at its best, it’s something tribal.  Unplanned and unrehearsed; it’s gifted singers, songwriters, violinists, guitar players, sax players, trumpet players, percussionists… coming together for the love of the music and nothing more.  Audiences are not merely spectators, they become part of the experience, with musicians sitting next to them and microphones set up for them to join in at will.”

Mix in some Dead, Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Hank Williams and Phish and you only begin to understand the Sowing Circle.  Tune in for this is a rare opportunity to not only hear, but see some of today’s most prolific and talented songwriters and performers including Billy’s wonderfully talented and beautiful daughter, Rose Falcon, present their music in the most honest and direct way possible.  Join Billy, Rose and all their visiting guests this Saturday, February 28th, 9:30pm EST, 8:30pm CST, 6:30pm PCT by following this UStream link.

This weekend, on the West Coast, the fun doesn’t stop there.  On Sunday, March 1st at 2:30pm, the short film I produced “The Sacrifice” is playing at the Beverly Hills Shorts Film Festival.  Written and directed by Diane Namm, “The Sacrifice” recounts the gripping tale of 13-year-old Esmee Johnson on the day in which cult leader Rev. Dobbins comes to take her as his wife.

The Sacrifice” was shot on Super 16 film, the multi-talented cast includes: Chris Mulkey (Cloverfield, Friday Night Lights, X Files); Darby Stanchfield (Mad Men, Jericho); Jon Lindstrom (Must Love Dogs, Right on Track, and General Hospital); Richard Riehle (Office Space, Grounded for Life) and Molly Quinn (Castle, A Christmas Carol, directed by Robert Zemeckis) ).  Ivy Isenberg was the Casting Director.  I’m so glad to see the film continue to get festival play.  A great weekend ahead, indeed.

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rippedbannerThe music/reality television pilot “Stone Cold Sober…In Music City” is picking up steam and it looks like we’re headed into production later this Spring.  I’m excited because this is a project I’ve really wanted see get off the ground ever since Michael Catalano introduced me to Brian Adams and Jared Blake over six months ago.  In fact, it was my trip to Nashville to meet these guys and the band, The Levees, last summer that I decided to open Unconventional South.  I’ve always loved the music energy of Nashville, ever since I was working there doing music videos with Think Pictures (Martin Kahan and Venetia Mayhew) in the late ’80s and early ’90s.  I’m glad to be back.

Check out the Stone Cold Sober Music website and you’ll hear what an amazing roster of musicians creator Brian Adams has gathered for this series.  Anyone that has seen my film “Travelin’ Trains” knows my love of Americana roots music and with this show, we plan on delivering not only the music, but the stories of the struggles to get the music heard.  When talking about “Stone Cold,” I keep referring to documentarian James Szalapski’s late 70’s film, “Heartworn Highways,” which followed artists like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, Steve Young and Steve Earle before any of these guys were household names.  They’re all so young, sitting around the living rooms and small studios, smoking cigarettes and drinking, playing music and espousing the importance of the back-to-basics movement  in Country.  This is intercut with performances by the Charlie Daniels Band and David Allan Coe in sparkly outfits.  I think of “Stone Cold Sober…In Music City” as a retelling, but now it’s thirty years later.  The show will touch on all the dramatic aspects of a musician’s life— including the secrets, challenges, competitiveness, successes and failures.  The struggle to get your music heard has not changed, only the musicians.

Brian Adams has been the catalyst in keeping the momentum of this project moving forward.  Unlike so many good ideas that fall away without a champion, Brian has lead the charge and continues to ignite interest in the possibilities of the show.  Adams comes from a financial background and has always specialized in managing projects from the development stages, but I’ve worked with many that call themselves “producers” and I truly believe Brian has found his calling.

Brian recently brought on Jennifer Rachidi, Owner and Brand Developer for TRUST, to provide promotion and branding.  The plan now is to line up shows throughout the Southeastern United States for Spring 2009.  The reality tour series targets a wide range of venues, sponsors, and fans.  As Brian said in the Press Release, “I felt drawn to expose the public and fans to the secrets and developments of a singer/songwriter on their way to a star career. It’s the untold and unseen sides of a performer that will be exposed.”  Audiences will be able to watch clips and interviews via online streaming, adding comments and ideas, during this phase of the production.  Public involvement at this stage will be the key to the success of the completed show.  Check out the MySpace site to hear the music and become a Friend.  It’s going to be a wild ride.

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A very nice interview with Michael Catalano of Unconventional South in the recent issue of Nashville Music Guide Magazine.

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