quick editor's note regarding the response to our last issue. We
are truly astonished. Astonished at the response, yes, but moreover
at what is crystal and clear: independent filmmaking is alive and
kicking and ferociously ready for a strong voice. Your voice. All
of your voices. What arrived at our offices and in our email left
us agog, left us wondering why this community – your community
– has not integrated sooner? Well, now it has and we have
big plans. So, welcome.
this year’s AFI International Film Festival, the so-called “somebodies”
like Charlize Theron, Jon Favreau and Sir Ben Kingsley walked the
red carpet while the "nobodies" flanked them famelessly
on both sides. A good image to keep in mind when talking about film
director Azazel Jacobs and his recent feature, Nobody
Needs to Know, which screened at the festival as the only US
entry in its International Feature Competition. The low-budget film
illustrates how our culture can make ordinary people into stars through
constant photographic surveillance.
I spoke with Jacobs during the festival, he explained the unconventional
vision he had for this film. He and his cinematographer, Daniel
Andrade examine the lives of the so-called “nobodies”
by using common black-and-white surveillance cameras. That footage
makes up 75% of the film, which they both edited. Jacobs is a graduate
of the AFI Film School, and names among his influences Jim Jarmusch,
the Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki, and his own filmmaker father,
surveillance footage used throughout the film pushes Nobody
Needs to Know into the realm of social commentary. It creates
an intentional unease, blurring the lines between pretension and
authenticity, between fame and ordinary life. While co-writing the
screenplay with Curtis Winter, Jacobs tried "to
make it so the stars become extras and the random people become
the real stars of the film without being on film.”
film's actual cast is led by Tricia Vessey (Ghost
Dog: The Way of the Samurai) as Iris, an actress who comes
to the abrupt realization that she is not willing to die for fame.
Alvin Seme stars as Lamont, a character inspired
by Lamont Cranston from Orson Welles’ The Shadow.
Jacobs describes Lamont as a man “pushed by the constant surveillance
of his everyday life to discover the real power is off-screen."
featured performers include Liz Stauber (Three
Kings, White Oleander) as an actress desperate for
fame, Matt Boren (Pranksters), as a weary
schlock-film director and Norman Reedus (Blade
II, 8MM) as a famous actor willing to trade his stardom
for the public's notice of his absence.
actors] didn’t get paid nearly what they should have been
paid,” Jacobs confesses. His budget for the three-year project
was $65,000. This did not include the blow-up to 35mm for the festival.
financed Nobody Needs to Know primarily by asking friends
for cash, though Peggy Weix, one of the producers,
also came up with money. Jacobs was candid: “I had this crazy
idea, that they [should] all know they weren’t going to make
their money back," But he "promised them the best film
[he] could possibly do." This approach was only partially successful.
"Obviously I lost friends by asking them for money, as well.”
The film will be travelling the festival circuit this year, seeking
next project is Greased, a feature about a young couple’s
road trip from New York City to Los Angeles.
can contact Azazel Jacobs at: www.nobodyneedstoknow.com
you’ve ever received an e-mail from Hunter Todd,
the Chairman and Founding Director of WorldFest,
you’ve more than likely been greeted with his easygoing salutation:
"Howdy from Houston." In this month’s Rag Megaphone,
however, Hunter offers up hard-hitting thoughts on the festival
circuit and, between the lines, offers a solid reminder: Don’t
Mess With Texas.
Even Bother with a Film Festival?"
of all, a warning: most of the 300-plus "film festivals"
in North America are not really film festivals. They are screening
events. They show a few films and tapes in a less-than-excellent
venue and generally do very little for your film. A lot of scams
are out there too... One in NYC (we won't mention names here, but
they are easy to check on) attempts to charge the filmmaker anywhere
between $300 and $3000 to "participate" in their so-called
Independent Film Festival. Think that’s bad? Some "festivals"
don’t actually exist, let alone show a single film. So, my
first advice? "Filmmaker Beware."
the reality: after you've poured your blood, sweat and tears into
your film, along with 27 credit cards, you’ll have reached
the “now what” phase. Film festivals are truly the best
avenue to gain notice for you and your film, since it's almost impossible
to get a studio or distributor or network to look at an independent
film. Trouble is, you have to be accepted into that festival. Sundance
has such a perverse agenda that no one can really figure out what
they are looking for. Casting a major star in your film –
or an offspring of a major star – helps, but Sundance has
essentially become a promo platform for the major studios. Nearly
80% of the films they screen have distribution already in place,
or worse, were actually financed by a major studio.
what to do? Find a festival that’s right for your film. Talk
to other filmmakers, go to www.filmfestivals.com
and look around, though you may be boggled by the vast selection.
Check with www.filmthreat.com.
Key point: watch out for the “1st Annual” anything.
No track record may mean no real event. Checking out websites helps;
professional-looking sites will at least indicate a feel for the
business. No website? Big problem. Choose festivals that accept
the kind of film you have made. There are specialized festivals
for shorts, docs, children's films, features of all kinds and shorts
of all kinds. Toronto is the 900-pound gorilla, but hard to get
into. San Francisco has a good short-film festival, so does St.
Louis and Doubletake. We hear good things about Ft. Lauderdale and
Seattle. And I would be remiss if I did not mention our festival,
the upcoming 37th Annual WorldFest, in Houston, Texas.. We show
about 60 features and 100 new shorts on film and digital.
European festivals are great, with low entry fees, or often none
at all. European festivals receive huge government grants, so most
don’t charge an entry fee – though some are starting
to do so. Many of these fests have very strict guidelines on things
like running time and format. Cannes screens only 35mm, and they
don't accept shorts longer than 15 minutes. Some Euro fests do accept
DVD and VHS, you just have to do your homework to find them. Most
US festivals are not recipients of government largesse, so most
charge entry fees. Important note: avoid any festival that has an
entry fee and then a "Finals Fee" as this is a big hint
there is a scam going on.
your film is accepted: congratulations. Now the work really begins.
Attend the festival. Be everywhere. Be a charming pest! Hand out
lots of flyers, business cards, DVDs of your short. Work the festival,
and work it hard. Be noticed. You may get a studio interview, a
real job offer, maybe even a look at your feature script! Spielberg
actually got his first job offer at WorldFest. Frank O'Connor, the
Senior VP of Universal was at WorldFest, saw his film (Amblin')
and told Spielberg to look him up when he got to LA... The rest
is cinema history.
luck, keep rollin'...
Chairman & Founding Director
the 37th Annual WorldFest
Joel Sadilek was tired of hearing the same lame
chorus from LA production companies: "It's a good script but
can you make it more commercial?" Determined to remove the
middle man and find his own funding, Sadilek wrote a letter titled
"Joel's Tin Cup" to 400 of his closest friends requesting
the $400,000 he needed to complete Truth or Fiction, his
writer Emmett Williams trades emails with Joel
to find out if and how his tin cup is filling up.
Williams: What's been the reaction to your letter?
Joel Sadilek: There are many follow-up calls to be made,
but so far I have about 30 people who want to invest somewhere between
$75-$100,000. I've also received donations for equipment and locations
valued at about $75K.
EW: Have you ever done anything like this before?
JS: In film school I tried to fundraise by approaching
people like presidents of large companies. What I realized is that
most people won't invest in a film unless they know you.
EW: What brought you to the point to where you felt you had
no other choice but to write the letter?
JS: I've been producing for long enough that I
know how to get it done. The difference came down to the financing.
I have a lot of connections outside the film world. Many of these
people saw me transition from one career to another and have followed
my progress. All have admired my ambition so I figured now is the
time to see how much support I can muster up.
EW: Is there a schedule for getting Truth
or Fiction completed?
JS: That depends upon how much I raise by January.
It's nice to have some financing committed already so that when
I approach new potential investors they don't feel like they're
taking the first leap.
EW: What will you do if you don't get all the necessary funding?
JS: I don't like to think about that, but it's
a good question. This will happen no matter what. At this point,
it's just a matter of when.
drop a dime into Joel's tin cup: Jrsadilek@aol.com
- Emmett Williams
filmmaker Paul Kell’s feature documentary,
5 Sides of a Coin, premiered at this year’s 2003
AFI International Film Festival. It showcases interviews and footage
from some of the world’s top hip-hop artists, including Grandmaster
Flash, Phase Too, Run DMC,
Afrika Bambaataa, Jurassic 5,
Prince Paul, The Beatnuts, Del
Tha Funky Homosapien, Mix Master Mike,
Rahzel, Spearhead, and DJ
Krush, among others. The Festival Rag’s
Michelle Paster heaves Qs towards Paul Kell, who
throws back some As.
Michelle Paster: Why hip-hop as opposed to another musical genre?
Paul Kell: For me, hip-hop isn’t about being
a genre. It transcends musical boundaries, which is probably why
it’s spread so far abroad. It’s giving people a new
way of living, a new way of thinking. I suppose you could draw the
parallels to what rock 'n’ roll once was as a movement, but
I have a feeling that is because of the multiple elements (emcee,
deejay, writing, breakin’, beatboxin’, etcetera). Hip-hop
goes so much further, much deeper. Ultimately, I think it’s
something that comes closer to touching what’s innate or primal
within every one of us.
MP: What is hip-hop to you? Has your definition changed since
making this film?
PK: The best answer I can come up with is that
it’s a way of life. I don’t know if I ever had a definition
when I started out, and I still don’t know if I do today.
The bottom line is that it’s many different things to many
different people. Perhaps your definition is affected by what your
relationship is to it, which in my case would mean that I’m
an outsider looking in, and that I don’t really have the right
to have an opinion. On the other hand I did grow up with it and
it was a major influence on my development. At one point, as an
11-year old, I tried breakin’, but learning from a K-Tel record’s
pullout poster didn’t cut it.
MP: Jeru says hip-hop is the “earth,
the dirt” and the “ultimate outlet of artistic expression.”
This reminds me of hip-hop's roots in vaudeville, blues and jazz.
What do you think about that?
PK: Hip-hop’s roots go back much farther
than the Black experience in America, even though they are a part
of its history. The truth is you can go as far back in time as is
possible for humans: it all started with the drum and hip-hop just
brought the drum back to the forefront.
Dash 167 says, “White people like you –
they won’t come to the Bronx to see you, [but] Roxy performances
led to deals and international status.” Did you have difficulties
getting honest material?
PK: Back in the '70s white people didn’t
go to the Bronx because they’d probably get into trouble.
Today things are different, but even while I was shooting in New
York there were white New Yorkers that thought I was nuts for spending
so much time in Harlem and the Bronx, especially at night. Perhaps
I was too naïve to see the dangers, but I always felt welcome,
and I always felt safe. The truth is, I’ve gone into a number
of neighborhoods, restaurants and clubs where I was the only white
guy. I didn’t have a problem with it, and nobody else did
either. On the other hand, if a black person went into an all-white
neighborhood, they probably would have themselves a problem. What
does that say about tolerance in America?
MP: Did any of the artists or public relations people think
it strange or out of place for a white man to be inquiring about
hip-hop culture for a film?
PK: Nope. Race was never an issue, which almost
everyone in hip-hop will tell you. I might have felt or have been
out of place in certain circumstances, but once you get to know
people, you forget about skin tones.
MP: Tell me how you went from saying, “I want to make
this film” to actually making it.
PK: It’s taken me almost four and a half
years to get to where I am today. It started out as an idea for
a short documentary on the local scene and it grew into what it
became. As for how I took it from an idea to the camera, I just
bought a camera and did it.
What’s next: Paul has an emcee-battle reality TV show called
Scorch the Mic in the works. He will also be producing
and directing the pilot for Teddy's Vittles, a show that
will introduce the world to the genius of Theodore Thomas.
International Digital Festival.
Otherwise know as VIDFEST, this festival wants
to see your digital movie whether it's MiniDV, 3D animation, Flash
or some crazy-ass method that hasn't been thought of yet.
Heck, here's a festival that wants you to mix and match technologies
and explore all the options that digital formats afford. They'll
take most genres: drama, comedy, tragedy, music video, docs,
experimental, game sequences, and animation. Your project
must be digital, and it must be under 22 minutes.
February 13, 2004
the Mafia get enough screen time already?
Does the world really need The MAFIA Documentary Awards?
Actually, yes. Especially when MAFIA is an
anagram for Music And Film Independent Artists. The MAFIA
Documentary Awards, now in their third year, are the only Australian
film awards dedicated solely to showcasing independent short documentaries.
During the first two years they gave away more than fifty thousand
dollars' worth of prizes. No specific theme is necessary to
enter, but unusual issues are highly encouraged (a short documentary
on how three guys in New York started a newsletter called The
Festival Rag, perhaps). Films must be completed in 2003/2004
to be eligible for submission.
March 1, 2004
Year to Dance on the Road.
This festival takes place outdoors on the roads and in the parking
lots of Park City, Utah... Hence the name: ROADANCE.
Two. The Festival will take place in Park City, January
15-24, 2004 during the same 10 days of the 2004 Sundance Film Festival...
Hence the name: ROADANCE.
Three. The theatre that will show your film
is actually a 16-foot truck with digital projector, DV deck, genny
and a screen, parked on a Park City street... Once again, the name:
[Four. ROADANCE is looking for filmmakers who want
exposure at Sundance but can't afford the time or the money to actually
go to Park City during the Sundance festival.]
January 12, 2004
Newport Beach Party
More than 250 features, shorts, documentaries and animated films
will compete for both Jury and Audience awards during the fifth
Newport Beach Film Festival, April 15-25, 2004.
Newport's programmers are looking out for filmgoers, too. Newport
Beach isn't just the standard mix of independent and studio
worlds, but a lively international melange – films from Asia,
Europe, Africa – providing a unique cinematic blend of genre
and culture. And a note to all filmsters making shorts: last
year NBFF unspooled one wonderful short after after another, for
nearly ten days straight. Well-recommended to vie for this fest.
January 15, 2003
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