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Posts Tagged ‘Emerson College’

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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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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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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