Friday, February 19, 2010

Finance Plans for Indie Films

This is my first film, and it's basically a zero-dollar budget one; however, I hope that the next film might have a little bit of funding. It's too early to think of these things in great depth because we're still editing this one.

Every now and then I look up from editing to take a deep breath and stretch. Today I came across this article while doing so: Top Independent Filmmakers, Take Finance Plans Seriously. It's a short, well written article and something I look forward to revisiting when we finish Abandoned Allies.

There's no clue what the future will bring, but I know that filmmaking is something I will love for a very long time. I look forward to having a financial plan for the next film I do and hopefully a bit of financial backing, too.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Triangle Film Society Launches March 4th

On Thursday, March 4th, 2010, the Triangle Film Society will officially launch at a party in Durham, N.C. At an event I organized earlier this year (#TriFilm) with help from several friends including @RobLaughter, Nene Kalu announced plans to form the Triangle Film Society. Nene Kalu and Kathy Justice previously worked together on FilmSPARK, which is part of SPARKcon (

I was told that the society is a means to unite some of the existing film communities in the area. Over the past few months, my friends have graciously introduced me to some of those existing communities and I am delighted about them! It is so much fun to be in a room full of people passionate about filmmaking. The energy is tangible.

Sorry for the confusion, folks. Nene and I had several conversations since my event in January, and she asked me to help promote the Triangle Film Society. Nene informed me that they have a limited amount of space at the venue for the launch party so it is, in fact, not open to the public. This is a great lesson in today's age of rapid communications, no?! I'm told that they will have an event later that is open to the public, although I don't have the details on that yet.

In the meantime, I am organizing another #TriFilm event by request of a few people. We will likely have the informal networking event some time mid-March. There's no fee to attend. Just a chance to meet others in the area and talk about one of our favorite subjects: making films.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

25 Tips to Make Documentary Film Interviews Better When Going Solo

There are a lot of lists of tips out there for documentary filmmakers. Here are a few recommendations of my own. These tips are based on doing the interview process by yourself, but I recommend getting someone to help you.
  1. Ask someone to help you: carry equipment, set up, run errands, etc.
  2. Read as much as possible about conducting interviews, the subject matter of your film, and the expertise of your interviewee before filming begins.
  3. Get a lot of rest before the interview.
  4. Pack your bags and check them twice. Do you have all of your cables, tapes, notes, extension cords, extra batteries, 2 sets of head phones, etc.?
  5. Get to the location earlier than you think you should.
  6. Bring water for you and the interviewee.
  7. Bring your digital camera (not just film equipment). Take a picture of the subject for promotional materials before the interview begins. Take a picture of the subject in front of the cameras so you'll have behind the scenes promotional materials.
  8. Schedule breaks for lunch so you don't work / film for 12 hours straight.
  9. Have your questions ready--all typed on one page so you can look down easily to get to the next one.
  10. Share the questions with the interviee prior to filmming, but only if appropriate to do so.
  11. Interview the person in chronological order--don't jump from past to present too much if possible.
  12. Choose a quiet room, with no distractions/interruptions to conduct the interview.
  13. Choose a background that's not distracting.
  14. Choose comfortable chairs that make no noise when sitting in them. (Or choose uncomfortable chairs if you want to have a certain impact on the person you're interviewing.)
  15. Choose a room that has no windows if you have lighting equipment. The sunlight will change a lot during the course of your interview, causing lighting inconsistencies on film.
  16. Remember to turn off the room's lights if you have lighting equipment. They may cast an unwanted tone on your subject.
  17. Put the camera in front of you so you can be sure the subject matter is framed properly.
  18. Wear ear phones to be sure the audio is being captured.
  19. Don't make any noises while they interviewee is talking.
  20. Maintain eye contact with the interviewee while they're speaking and react to what they're saying--nod, smile, laugh, etc.--but do so silently.
  21. Don't worry about stopping / starting the tape if there are interruptions.
  22. Ask questions so that the interviewee speaks in complete sentences, not just yes or no answers
  23. Be patient. Give the interviewee the moments of silence so they can organize their thoughts before you move on to your next question.
  24. Don't be afraid to cut them off if the interviewee derails from the information you really hope to capture. Every minute of what's filmed costs money in tape availability, transcriptions of footage and time spent editing it out later.
  25. Get your interviews transcribed by a professional to make editing easier later.

There are so many more tips to share, but one of the best ways to learn is by doing. I had to learn a lot of this by diving in, with my executive producer's support and encouragement. Sink or swim isn't always the best way to learn, but it will certainly make those lessons hard to forget.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Surround Yourself with the Very Best

After each filmed interview, I would give Surry a recap of the experience. We've conducted 15 interviews (two or three of which we'll have to reshoot so that they are also in high def). After each one, I remarked that I felt so privileged to talk with such impressive people on camera. These men really are some of the finest you'll ever meet.

They are strong, humble and brave but they are so much more than that. They are smart, tactical, genuine, generous and have a protective/parental air about them that is in no way condescending. They have corrected me when I misunderstood the story, given me advice on where to get more information, and gone above and beyond to make sure that this story is accurately shared with others.

Monday night we had a meeting with some of my volunteers helping with marketing, communications, social media and event planning. As we went around the table introducing ourselves, our backgrounds and our roles/interest with Abandoned Allies I sat in awe at the team surrounding me. These, too, are some of the finest people you'll ever meet.

They are lending me their talents, wisdom, time and guidance to help make Abandoned Allies a great film. To them, I am most grateful for the support and the not-so-gentle reminders that I need to let them help me.

You see, for so long we have been working on this project with a very small team. Since March 2008, Surry and I have been working together with the occasional assistance from some very talented people. That's almost two years of working with just a handful of people. On the whole, there was no collective team with which to meet, as was the case last night. What a great feeling it was to sit with six people, each of whom has said, "Yes, I'll do what I can to help!"

My number one focus for Abandoned Allies right now is editing the "talking heads" version of the film. So, to some degree, a meeting about marketing, communications, social media and event planning seems a bit premature. Years of experience tell me otherwise, though. It's never, never too early to gather a team of that sort. The introductions, strategy planning, brainstorming--all of those things must happen right now. It takes time to plan, get things in order and prepare. That time is now.

One of the best things about this group is that they, too, are challenging me to be a better filmmaker. It's delightful. And each one of them seems to have a great sense of humor. We laughed a lot at dinner. You know, if it's not a touch of fun, then why do it? Life's too short. This should be fun, for sure.

It'll be a great pleasure to introduce everyone to you at some point. Like I said, I'm working hard to get the "talking heads" version of the film finished right now. (In fact, the minutes of edited footage is playing as I type this so that I can hear it.) You might see some guests posts from the team in the future.

In the meantime, we're all looking forward to this summer's release of Abandoned Allies.

The Cove

This weekend I finally had a chance to watch The Cove. It's a film about the slaughtering of dolphins in Japan. Annually, about 23,000 dolphins are killed in this little cove in Taiji, Japan. Those that aren't killed go into captivity to perform for people. At the end of this post is a synopsis pulled from their website.

Images from the film will not cease to keep replaying in my mind. It is a very powerful film, something that has inspired me to believe that our little film might actually lead to positive change. They worked hard to get footage of what's happening, and to put it out there so that the world knows about the injustice that's taking place. I'm furious about it!

It took me a great deal of courage to watch the film. Simply to watch it. Dolphins are quite sacred animals in my world. I have always been a big fan because I'm a beach girl. We grew up on the water, where wild dolphins swam around us and near our boats. In Florida, at a company that claims the dolphins come and go as they please, I swam with a dolphin named Fonzie. It's tough to put into words the chemistry and the unspoken connection between man and animal.

While watching the film, I wanted some resolution to have taken place. I wanted the problem to be solved before the credits rolled. I wanted them to say, "This was a huge problem, but through the production of this film, positive change has happened." Guess what? That wasn't in the film. And unfortunately, it won't be in ours either. And that breaks my heart.

You know, the only promise I can make right now is that this film will bring awareness and even that feels like it's a big promise. So desperately I want to shout, "Don't you see what's happening?! We have to do something about it. These are people who are suffering. Yes, dolphins are undeniably important, but these are people---our allies--who need our help. We as American citizens need to stand up and say that we don't want this to continue."

The Cove gives me hope. It's a documentary with passionate people behind it, pushing for positive change. I am taking a lesson from what they have done, hoping that we might do the same.

The Cove begins in Taiji, Japan, where former dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry has come to set things right after a long search for redemption. In the 1960s, it was O’Barry who captured and trained the 5 dolphins who played the title character in the international television sensation “Flipper.”

But his close relationship with those dolphins – the very dolphins who sparked a global fascination with trained sea mammals that continues to this day -- led O’Barry to a radical change of heart. One fateful day, a heartbroken Barry came to realize that these deeply sensitive, highly intelligent and self-aware creatures so beautifully adapted to life in the open ocean must never be subjected to human captivity again. This mission has brought him to Taiji, a town that appears to be devoted to the wonders and mysteries of the sleek, playful dolphins and whales that swim off their coast.

But in a remote, glistening cove, surrounded by barbed wire and “Keep Out” signs, lies a dark reality. It is here, under cover of night, that the fishermen of Taiji, driven by a multi-billion dollar dolphin entertainment industry and an underhanded market for mercury-tainted dolphin meat, engage in an unseen hunt. The nature of what they do is so chilling -- and the consequences are so dangerous to human health -- they will go to great lengths to halt anyone from seeing it.

Undeterred, O’Barry joins forces with filmmaker Louis Psihoyos and the Oceanic Preservation Society to get to the truth of what’s really going on in the cove and why it matters to everyone in the world. With the local Chief of Police hot on their trail and strong-arm fishermen keeping tabs on them, they will recruit an “Ocean's Eleven”-style team of underwater sound and camera experts, special effects artists, marine explorers, adrenaline junkies and world-class free divers who will carry out an undercover operation to photograph the off-limits cove, while playing a cloak-and-dagger game with those who would have them jailed. The result is a provocative mix of investigative journalism, eco-adventure and arresting imagery that adds up to an urgent plea for hope.

The Cove is directed by Louie Psihoyos and produced by Paula DuPre Pesman and Fisher Stevens. The film is written by Mark Monroe. The executive producer is Jim Clark and the co-producer is Olivia Ahnemann.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Conversations with Annie Beth

This weekend Annie Beth came to visit. It was so wonderful to catch up with her! We know one another from good old Little Washington, where we ran cross country together. Annie Beth is a firecracker, I tell ya what!

She came to stay with me on Friday. We spent some time catching up, and then she watched the edited footage. It was great to hear her laugh when I laugh. The more people watch the footage, the more nervous I get about sharing it with a big audience.

One of my friends, Chris Moore, showed a film of his once at a film festival. It was a really great short film, which starred some of my fellow improvisers. I remember watching it with him at the film festival, in a room full of people laughing simultaneously. It was very surreal. (What a cliche word to use, eh?) I was so excited to see my friends in the film, sitting with beside my fellow filmmaker as his work played on the big screen.

Watching Annie Beth watch my few minutes of edited footage brought me to that moment instantly. Yikes! I can't imagine showing my film in front of a big audience. It'll be so exciting!

Annie Beth has been gathering music for the film, getting samples from various independent artists. As she played some of the samples for me, I visualized where they might fit within our film. What a fun experience. Each time one played, I thought about the clips and how to put them all together. I am so excited about adding music to the film. It brings so much to it.

My parents are to thank for my love of music. My dad was in a three-person band in college. Our families would visit, and the kids sat on the floor listening and singing along to the parents playing things like "Puff the Magic Dragon" and "Blowin' in the Wind" or any other Peter, Paul and Mary song.

We were very surrounded by music, even before I was born. My mom says that she played music for me in the womb! Haha. I think that's pretty cool. They also helped me learn to play the violin and guitar. My aunt plays the piano.

I digress.

Having Annie Beth on the team is such a treat. Annie Beth, like so many of our volunteers, is interested in a great number of things. She studied music therapy, sings, plays the guitar, has FOUR children, home schools her eldest son, and started a website for people living with Spina Bifida. She's, in one word, fearless. She sees a need and does something about it, even if she doesn't know how to do it all. When starting her website, for example, she taught herself HTML so she could make the site.

It was an amazing weekend, and I feel so grateful to have such a power team. I am in awe at the talented people helping with this film such as Annie Beth.

Editing Challenges

So, I didn't get a total rough cut ready for Annie Beth's visit last weekend, as I had hoped. But setting deadlines gets me motivated, and puts the pressure on to get things done. Despite my best efforts to get it finished, we had an external hard drive fail, an editor out sick, project files that wouldn't open and a handful of other challenges.

We have had a lot of editing troubles in the past few weeks. OK, let's be honest, we've had a lot of editing troubles in the past YEAR. It's not exactly been a smooth process. That's the way we learn in the school of hard knocks, though! For a first-time filmmaker, learning by doing is one way to guarantee you won't forget the lesson.

I'm really grateful for the one-to-one lessons I took at the Apple store, plus my experience right out of college editing video. This past week, I sat down to do the editing myself and those experiences really helped. While I'm not the editor that finds joy in sitting at the computer for hours to piece together the story, I have most enjoyed the forward momentum.

If nothing else, I have what Surry calls a "fire in the belly" to get this damn rough cut finished. It's do or die, people. Watch out!