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Posts Tagged ‘Senior Year’

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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On Tuesday May 8th, 50 directors and their teams spread out among 28 public schools in Pasadena, California to document “Go Public: A Day in the Life of PUSD.”  The plan was to follow a wide-ranging group of individuals who participate in the School District, be it Teachers, students, principals, administrators, school workers, volunteers and any others that make a public school district function. An introduction to all of those that think they know, but haven’t actually stepped into a public school for a long time. Each Director is assigned to make a short film of their subject which will then be presented on the website, afterwards all the footage will be collected by Producers Dawn and James O’Keefe of Blue Field Productions to create a feature documentary that will (according to their Mission Statement), be “a window into the world of one urban school district, the many dedicated people, the myriad of opportunities available and the complexity of effectively serving the needs of all students.”

When I was introduced to the project I knew immediately I needed to get involved. My two daughters have gone through the Pasadena Public School System from kindergarten to high school graduation and now are successfully getting their degrees at Occidental College, (in fact, my eldest just graduated “Cum Laude” with plans to teach in public schools).  Both my parents were public high school teachers. I believe in public education, especially in Pasadena.

However, after co-producing the 13-part series, “Senior Year” in 2000-2002 for PBS and just recently completing “Senior Year: Ten Years Later,” I wanted to follow a different story then students and teachers, which had been the center of our series. I had recently been amused by a statement from then Republican Candidate Newt Gingrich, “most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they’d begin the process of rising.” Well, I wanted to explore that idea, on a regular school day in Pasadena could a kid do a janitor’s job.

My team (of 2) and I met the custodian Felix Lopez at Washington Middle School at 5:30 am on May 8th, the day of filming. He unlocked the chains and opened the gates to the parking lot, just like he does every morning and just like each day at the school, he never stopped working once the gates were open. “I like to see this place clean,” he told me later in the day, “the environment clean really helps.  When the parents say what a beautiful school, it makes me feel good.” Lopez is a Mexican immigrant, one of ten brothers and a sister, he grew up poor and attended school only up to 4th grade. “English language was so difficult for me, but I learned by listening, especially PBS. The proper English from England, so many good shows.” He still donates to PBS every year. I liked that.

Vice Principal Eric Gothold said, “Feliz Lopez goes out of his way to provide a clean and safe environment for our kids, but he also takes every opportunity to teach them as well, life lessons, skills, conversation and compassion.” He’s right, everywhere Mr. Lopez went around the school (picking up trash, sweeping the floors, washing down the lunch tables) students and teachers greeted him and he knew each of their names. One eighth-grader we interviewed said, “Felix, he’s an awesome dude. I came here every morning, he helped me with Spanish a little bit. He keeps you out of trouble, he influences me.” His friend added, “Nobody wants to be bad in front of him, it disappoints him. Some kids are disrespectful to their teachers, but they’re never disrespectful to Felix. He’s a good person.”

We didn’t go to Felix’s house out of respect for his wife. Her Mother was very sick and she was emotional and concerned about the possibilities of losing her. That wasn’t the documentary I was making. However, we did follow Mr. Lopez as he picked up his daughter at John Muir High School in Pasadena. She is a Sophomore and is a terrific writer for the school newspaper. Her plans are to go to college to study Architecture. He also has two grown sons in their twenties who no longer live at home. It isn’t hard to see the love he has for his family, especially his daughter. “If we want to learn, we’re going to learn. If we don’t want to learn, we won’t. I want someone to be better then me, anyone, I’m so proud when someone does well, doesn’t matter rich or poor, but you have to want it. I’m keeping this place nice and clean for all of you.”

To Felix Lopez, he helps children learn by giving them a clean, beautiful place to be educated. He cares about his job and the school and it shows. The hallways sparkle. We joyfully filmed reflections of students on the floors of the halls because of how clearly we could see them. It was a cameraman’s dream. Recent budget cuts have forced the school system to cut back on janitors, but it hasn’t stopped Felix. He now does the job of two custodians. At the end of the day, we were exhausted just following him around the large campus. But as we watched and interviewed the Principal Marion Stewart, the Librarian Christina Diaz, the Vice Principal, the security staff and many of the teachers, we were struck by how hard all of them worked. Nobody had time to kill. My team was usually the only ones in the Teacher’s Lounge. They all have a job to do and that is to educate the next generation. The same job that all those that work in public education, teaching 90% of the children in this country.  Everyone who thinks they know about public education by presenting a few bad apples, needs to spend a day at their public school before judgement. It certainly realigned my opinion. Go Public.

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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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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 just watched the premiere of my friend Mary Feuer’s new webisode series, “With the Angels” on Strike.TV.  The story is about a young religious Arkansas woman moving to Venice, California and discovering how much she is a fish out of water.  Some fun stuff, good acting and writing, which in the end is the key to good webisodes.  In fact, there were a few webisode shows on Strike.TV that I found better then most other websites.  I shouldn’t be surprised, Mary comes from doing close to sixty shows as the head writer for LonelyGirl15.  She was also the Story Editor for “Buried Alive” on FEARnet.com.

It really gets you wondering where all these web series are headed.  When I did “Unconventional and “Senior Year” back in 2002, there were very few webisodes, now they seem to be everywhere.  The big question is are people watching.  So many of these shows have the feel of failed television pilots, but others hold up on their own.  The previously mentioned LonelyGirl15 continues to be a leading force, building storylines beyond the original character, Bree.  A whole conspiracy theory and underground resistance keeps the show interesting and worth watching.

Most of these webisodes use YouTube both as a server and as an audience resource, a viral marketplace.  In July, five billion videos were viewed on YouTube, was one of them yours?  Now after experimenting for months with long-form, YouTube recently made the announcement that they would start offering full length episodes of television shows.  YouTube also created “theater view,” a larger video player for longer content.  So if YouTube is now showing television shows, what happens to webisodes?

The longer videos will include advertising before, during and after each episode. YouTube has resisted this for shorter videos, which makes sense, but are now looking at in-video overlays.  I don’t know if you’ve seen these, but I can’t stand them.  The overlays resemble the banner advertisements that appear at the bottom of television programs.  As a content producer and director, I find these things distracting and irritating.  But I guess that is the point.  Unless you’re going to pay for the series yourself, it’s got to have a money source and advertising and sponsors is what is paying those production costs, no matter how small.  So even the advertising banners and advertising breaks will resemble television.

I prefer the format of Strike.TV and FEARnet.com.  They have interactive areas that include advertising banners and usually you get a short commercial before the requested video, but once the program begins, there are no interruptions. In fact, the whole interactive qualities of comments, games, behind the scenes documentaries, etc. is really the thing what separates these webisodes from regular television.  I firmly believe that any web series has to have interactive elements if for no other reason then to draw your audience in and remain on the site beyond the short video.  This is becoming the only difference between a series on the web and one on television.  Something to consider if you are creating a new show.

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I’m seeing more and more “webisode” television and it reminds me of my days in Los Angeles theater.  It’s up there, not as a staged experience or to even just entertain, but as a showcase.  The creator is actually hoping someone will discover their series and put it on Network television.  It’s content for the wrong medium.

In 2002, when I co-produced the documentary series “Senior Year” with David Zeiger for PBS, I also produced a series at KCET, based on the television show for the web.  At the time, our biggest challenge was how to make the series accessible and easy to view on home computers.  I faced those same problems when I presented my political narrative webseries “Unconventional.”  These days we’re past access and viewing issues, but I still haven’t made a dime from any of my webisodes.

I continue to develop webisodes and related content.  I’ve come to believe these two things:

1) that there is too much good free entertainment on the internet to expect anyone to pay for your webseries unless you’re Joss Whedon.

Sorry, but someone sends me a link, I usually take a few moments to see what they’ve created, but not if I have to pay on my credit card or Paypal.  I even hesitate if I have to enter my email and become a “member.”

2) Unless you don’t care about the costs (and this could be because you’re putting up the webisodes hoping to eventually sell the series to television, you know as a “showcase” of your incredible talent) you’ve got to find an advertising sponsor ( see reason #1).

Now, that’s not always easy, but take some time to figure out the marketing of your work.  In a recent issue of Hollywood Reporter, IAC/InterActiveCorp CEO Barry Diller talks about the Web as being in just the early stages of its potential as an advertising medium.  He doesn’t see banner advertising having any real success and believes Video ads will be targeted and interrupt programming, as well as playing before and after the content.  I’m seeing this happen more and more.  I don’t know about you, but as a filmmaker I hate a show being interrupted when I watch it on television and I certainly will hate it on the web, especially if it is my show.  However, if that is what it takes to get the money to produce the programming, then I’ll bite my lip and shut up.

So what’s a solution.  Well, after producing the live action elements to the upcoming EA video game “Need for Speed:Undercover,” I’m convinced that it is a waste of money to make webisodes look and feel like short three-four minutes of regular television.  Instead, it needs to be a whole different form of entertainment, a mixture of interactive gaming, virtual worlds, comedy, music, etc.  The viewer needs to say, “wow, I couldn’t have seen that being done any other way.”  You’ve got to want to stay at the web site and explore.  Then the banner ad does work on the site because it is not ignored but becomes part of the experience.  You can even have a commercial, not in the content of the video, but in the interactive content.  This stuff requires a lot of thought and planning, but I’m seeing some great cross-over.  I think it’s evident on the Need for Speed and Which Road to Take sites.

We’re developing some of these ideas (still very much in development) on the PressPlayMovie site, with ChanneledObsession.com as the marketing portion.  On all these sites, things keep changing so the site becomes more interactive and worth a return visit.  You build on that.  It can’t be just a new episode of television, it’s got to be a bigger experience.

I’m very interested in any other thoughts on these ideas.

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