From the archives: Interview with filmmaker Michelle Latimer

This interview originally appeared on April 11, 2011.

 

INTRODUCTION

The following interview with Michelle Latimer has been a collaborative effort over the past several months between Ottawa-based Nelson Jack Davis (President & CEO of Makatok Pictures) and myself (see below for our bios).  Nelson, whose own work focuses on Aboriginal, First Nations and Indigenous stories,  was kind enough to come on board to share his knowledge and contribute questions to this interview, and for that I thank him most graciously!!!  He was a tremendous help.  Aboriginal film and filmmakers is a topic that is at best under-discussed, but at worst, ignored, and we’re both happy to introduce this special interview with an important figure within the Aboriginal film community (in Canada and beyond!)  On behalf of Nelson Davis and myself, I’d like to offer a sincere “thank you” to Michelle Latimer for taking the time to engage with us and with readers on this crucially important topic.

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MICHELLE LATIMER is a Métis filmmaker based in Canada.  She is a writer, producer, director and actress who has been involved in a number of projects focused on Aboriginal peoples.  For more information about her work, please see the list of links following the interview.

Her Film: What is the situation for First Nations women filmmakers in Canada today? How has it changed over the years?

Michelle Latimer: That’s a difficult question, as I truly believe that everyone’s situation is individual and specific to his or her experience.  To remark on an overall situation for all women filmmakers who are First Nations would be to lump them all together, and I fear that this is an external view that has perpetuated past stereotypes.  However I can say, based upon my own experience as a Métis filmmaker that I am consistently struck by the depth of talent and strength emerging from deep within our community.  There seems to be a creative renaissance happening. And I think, now more than ever before, the community is gathering together to support one another in an organized type of way.  It seems to me that this has contributed to a confidence that transcends the medium of film and has enriched the work we’re producing.

The First Nation’s community is expansive – we occupy a massive piece of land that separates us both geographically and, in some instances, culturally, so it’s not always easy to connect with one another.  But I would say that our films tend to have a vastness in scope and theme that’s reflective and authentic to this experience.  However, I believe that connecting and supporting one another has been key to the work getting out there in the world.  Personally, I’ve drawn much inspiration from the female filmmakers who forge ahead.  In fact, I had a real ‘eureka’ moment last week when Sundance announced the inaugural Indigenous Film Showcase at this year’s festival.  We have three First Nations films represented from Canada.  And all three films have all been directed by women! I think I’m still basking in the after-glow of that!

“…I am consistently struck by the depth of talent and strength emerging from deep within our community.”

Oh, yes, you asked me what I think has changed over the years….well, I can’t say for certain, but I can say that things have changed.  How can they not?  I guess the Sundance announcement is a reflection of some of those changes.  But, on a larger and more significant scale, I believe that when you engage in storytelling from a truthful place you’ve enacted change just by speaking the words or capturing the images.  There’s tremendous power in that.

HF: You’re the programming director for imagineNATIVE film and media arts festival that celebrates work by indigenous artists. What role does imagineNATIVE play within the larger Canadian and international film industry?

ML: ImagineNATIVE is the largest Indigenous film festival in the world.  So, just by sheer size, we are considered the premiere festival to showcase indigenous work from Canada, as well as international, indigenous filmmakers.  But, on a broader scale, what inspires me most about ImagineNATIVE is the festival’s uncompromising support of groundbreaking and innovative cinema and new media.  We are always looking to program work that pushes the boundaries of the medium, and we’re very conscious of supporting emerging artists.  I would venture to say that some of the most interesting work submitted to the festival is within what would be classified as experimental cinema that breaks the confines of form and expectation.  I love to see work that challenges the medium of film and takes storytelling to the next level.  In this way, the tools of cinema can be expanded, sculpted into what becomes the best way to convey a story.  It’s quite incredible that ImagineNATIVE can provide a platform where these types of films can be seen and celebrated.  And I think the exhibition of this work has contributed to the progressive evolution of expression that is often remarked upon when it comes to Canada’s contemporary, indigenous cinema.  We are leading the way globally, and our films are breaking new ground, pushing beyond traditional stereotypes of what a ‘native’ film is thought to be.  Aside from the creative expression, ImagineNATIVE is also integral to our industry’s growth on a professional, business level.  The festival brings international buyers, commissioning editors, and international festival programmers together with filmmakers from all around the world.  In this way, our filmmakers can benefit by getting their work out there.  They can connect with other like-minded artists and draw inspiration from one another. For an emerging filmmaker, having your work bought and/or screened internationally can be a huge contributing factor to getting your next film made.  I know that when I made my first short film, all I wanted was for people to see it at the festival.  I wasn’t thinking about actually selling it or having it seen outside of Toronto.  Essentially, I made it to learn and had given very little thought to the business side of things.  But, attending ImagineNATIVE with my first film opened up a whole new world to me.  As I learned more about the industry, I realized that I could sustain myself by doing this for a living.  And that realization gave me the confidence to focus on the craft of filmmaking in a more precise and dedicated way.  That kind of influence can profoundly change a person’s artistic trajectory.  Speaking from experience, if I had not dedicated myself to making films, who knows where I might be right now!

HF: An article ran in the Honolulu Weekly in August [2010] that discussed the native Hawaiian filmmaking community and the responsibility that filmmakers often feel toward their communities when telling stories about native Hawaiian culture. What are your thoughts on the issue of responsibility toward one’s ethnic and cultural community as it relates to indigenous filmmaking?

ML: I would say that my own work delves into synonymously universal and specific themes of identity and connection to place and nature. But I think that’s reflective of my experience growing up with mixed heritage, and less about a responsibility I must fulfill.  It’s where I come from when I approach a film and that sense of place is what makes my films unique to my own experience.  A wonderfully talented writer friend of mine once said to me “you must create from your place of obsession”.  And I suppose, as an artist, that’s about all you can do – dig deep inside your own wonder while striving to communicate the truth within moments.  As far as responsibility goes, I believe that the only responsibility an artist can have is to be rigorous and focused in that quest.  That is ultimately what resonates with people, no matter what one’s background is.  In the end, we all have the same human desires, needs, and inclinations.  So recognizing this authenticity of voice within filmmaking (or any other form of art) is something that brings us together in our humanity.  And I think that goes a long way towards cultivating understanding.

HF: In August, you curated a screening of films by First Nations women directors called Keepers of the Earth, at the Winnipeg Film Group. How did you become involved with the WFG and can you describe the process you went through to decide which films would screen?  What is the significance of the title of the series?

ML: ImagineNATIVE has been working with WFG for a number of years now, and I think it’s been a very positive partnership that continues to grow with time.  We often show our “Best of the Festival” films in Winnipeg.  Also, this year Dave Barber [WFG Cinematheque Programming Coordinator] asked me to sit on WFG’s programming advisory board.  Through this partnership, I curated a number of film programs that are slated to play over the next three years as part of WFG’s public screening series.  So that’s what we’re working on now.  He’s very committed to showcasing First Nations work, and I’m thrilled to be a part of that plan.

The Keepers of the Earth program was more specific, as Dave had approached me to put together a program of works by emerging, female First Nations directors.  We called it Keepers of the Earth because that’s how women are viewed within First Nations culture.  Before European ways were introduced within Canada, many of our communities operated based on a matriarchal social structure.  Women were and still are seen as the ones who carry the voice for that which cannot speak – the earth, the vulnerable, etc.  Actually, the name of the program emerged as I was writing my curatorial notes for the catalogue.  When Dave asked me to come up with the program, I immediately began compiling a list of films that we’d previously showcased at ImagineNATIVE.  When programming, I like to pull out the films that had a strong impact on me.  Then I start to lay them out together to see what themes emerge.  It’s amazing how clear this becomes once you’ve narrowed down the films and can begin to look at things associatively, consider what resonates between films, and draw ideas out through structuring a program just so. Ultimately, selecting films for a program is a very organic process.  It’s not just about picking the strongest work, but also about how the works compliment each other. Do they flow together? Does the program start in one place emotionally and end in another?  These are all things I’m looking at when I curate.  One of the greatest thrills I get from programming comes when I experience how individual films can elevate one another, both thematically and emotionally, when they are presented together in a well structured program.  I would say it’s akin to hearing an orchestra performing….each instrument doing their part to bring to life a singular piece of music.  That’s how I view film programs.  It’s about the individual film, coming together with others to support a larger idea.  As a programmer, that’s something I find extremely satisfying.

“Film has the power to reveal new ways of seeing the world…”

HF: Producer Marilyn Thomas and director Kate Kroll adapted a children’s book, Shi-Shi-Etko, into a short film, which has won many awards, including imagineNATIVE 2009. How important is it for Aboriginal woman filmmakers to tell the stories, experiences and culture of First Nations in a traditionally male-dominated medium? Can you provide us with some Aboriginal woman filmmakers making waves in Canada?

ML: I think film is a very powerful medium in that it allows us to observe life from another perspective, and the act of participating in this collective observation changes what the outcome is.  For example, if you and I were to sit down and watch a film together, what I glean from it is probably going to be different from what you experience.  And I’m sure our observations are different, again, from the filmmaker’s. We can’t help but approach the work as different beings, coming from very different experiences. Film has the power to reveal new ways of seeing the world, and our individual future actions will inevitably change to reflect our new understanding.  But, in the end, we’ve shared an experience just through watching the work together.  And perhaps the changes within each of us will be small or seemingly insignificant, but I like to believe that it’s the imperceptible differences that contribute to a larger collective consciousness. So, to answer your question, I think it’s very important that we continue to tell our stories from our individual perspectives, as our films have the power to precipitate change on a much larger scale than what we are aware of.

Shi-Shi-Etko is a great example of what I was talking about earlier with regards to authenticity of voice.  I have seen many films about residential school, but what really made Shi-Shi-Etko stand out was its ability to interpret the emotional state of the central character.  This deep and complex character work, coupled with beautiful cinematography literally transported me into her world, and made me see the situation through that little girl’s eyes.  It’s a very moving and authentic film.  And I would say it’s a quietly brave film. There’s an understated confidence in its simplicity, and that confidence is definitely an attribute that’s growing amongst the work I’ve seen coming from our female, First Nations filmmakers.  We have fantastic and diverse women forging ahead in the medium right now. I guess if I had to name a few of the filmmakers I’m inspired by, I would say that I really admire the works of: Ariel Smith, Cara Mumford, Danis Goulet, Terril Calder, Caroline Monnet, Lisa Jackson and Shelley Niro.  And, of course, none of us would be where we are if it weren’t for the intrepid Alanis Obomsawin. But I know that I’m going to wake up tomorrow and say ‘why didn’t I mention that person?”  I guess it’s a great thing that I can think of so many amazing women filmmakers who are creating exciting work. I can honestly say that I’ve drawn inspiration from far more women than I’ve briefly named here.  Every time someone in our community makes a film, we’ve accomplished something together.  And that’s what makes us stronger.

HF: Since the creation of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and the introduction of various Aboriginal audiovisual workshops and courses across Canada (i.e. NSI), including specific funding mechanisms created specifically for Aboriginals (i.e. Telefilm), do you believe that Aboriginal filmmakers and artists have a better chance of having their voices heard and seen in the mainstream media, or do you believe they are marginalized and segregated from such opportunity?

ML: APTN gave, and continues to give our community a tremendous gift.  Not only do they offer a place for professional filmmakers to have their work seen and heard, but they also have contributed to a very meaningful and important cultural preservation.  APTN airs work in traditional indigenous languages.  These are the languages of our ancestors and, unfortunately, they are the languages that are becoming lost.  So by airing films that celebrate language and culture, APTN is integral to keeping a way of life alive in our communities.  Also, I think that APTN has positively enriched our cultural landscape as a whole.  All Canadians benefit from diversity of voice and an enriched understanding of other cultures and traditions.  I think it’s also about understanding where we come from, what are cultural ancestry is.  The First Nations people of Canada were the first people to populate this land, and I believe that this has influenced the values and social framework that are inherent to Canadian values.  It’s not a coincidence that Canada upholds the right to universal health care or supports social welfare initiatives.  This sense of taking care of one another, of adopting the belief that our nation is only as strong and as healthy as the weakest among us – this is an inherently Aboriginal concept that stems from communities working together to survive under incredibly challenging circumstances.  Every time APTN airs a program created by an Aboriginal producer, they are furthering the understanding and practice of these value systems.  They are furthering our understanding of what it means to be of this nation.

Also, I think that you can’t ask people to tell their stories or meaningfully participate in contemporary society if you don’t equip them with the tools they need to do so.  APTN has given our television creators and storytellers the tools and the platform to tell their stories from their perspectives and, in that way, they have allowed our voices to be heard on a scale that is changing the way our industry embraces Aboriginal culture.  It’s not just about reclaiming our culture, it’s also about respecting how we mentor one another and grow an industry that is healthy, authentic and honest to our experiences as indigenous peoples.

HF: On the topic of marginalization, Hollywood historically portrayed Aboriginals in certain forms and figures: the native princess; the wise medicine man or chief; the bloodthirsty warrior. These depictions have survived for decades. In 2010, do you believe that Aboriginal roles and artists are breaking away from these images? Or are we still living the same stigma but in a different context or era?

ML: I guess it goes back to what I’ve been saying about authenticity of voice.  I think that in order to gain perspective into a situation, you need people to rise up from within that to tell their side of the story.  The magic of cinema is that we have an opportunity to see things in many different ways – it’s all about how you present something, how you structure a narrative, the time you take to see the images presented to you, how you associate story and image to create a meaningful expression of ideas.  If we look at past representations of Native people in cinema, we are seeing an external view of what it meant to be aboriginal at that period in time.  But I do believe that things have changed significantly since then.  Now, with the emergence of accessible and affordable technology, almost anyone can pick up a camera and shoot a scene or document a situation. The internet alone has connected us in a way we’ve never before experienced.  Remote communities that were once separated by massive distances are becoming connected via technology.  We are able to encourage dialogue and interaction on a global scale.  And our methods of distribution are growing daily.  This has all contributed to the prevalence of film and media that is being generated from “inside” communities.  It’s less about an external perception or interpretation and more about an authentic retelling of story and experience.  I like to call it “films made from the inside out.”  For instance, a kid in Moose Factory [Ontario] can shoot a UTube video this afternoon and have it posted for the world to see in a matter of minutes.  I think that this kind of accessible technology is a huge and positive contributing factor to breaking down the stereotypes of the past.  As long as people continue to tell personal stories, as long as they continue to strive for truthful exchanges, we will continue to see work that elevates all people beyond stigma.  That may seem simplistic or a bit naive, but I believe that at the core it is that simple.  I know that it’s sometimes hard to cultivate and retain idealistic thinking but, for me, it’s integral to what propels me to continue to create films.  We need to head toward the light more, you know?!

“I would like to continue to give back to my community by supporting the younger generations who are embarking on this path of storytelling.”

HF: What does the future hold for Aboriginal (women) filmmakers in Canada and for yourself?

ML: Oh, I wish I could look into a crystal ball and predict the future so clearly.  I’m certainly not sure what the future holds for me.  Every time I venture a guess I seem to be wonderfully surprised by how far off I am. The surprise is part of the magic, right?!

I suppose my wish is that Aboriginal women continue to have the courage and strength to share their voice with the rest of the world.  It’s a difficult industry, and I would say it can be more difficult for women.  So it’s important that we stick together and support one another in our creative efforts.  I hope that we see more work from emerging talents and that our films continue to find a place among film festivals and networks so that others can enjoy what we have to say.

As for myself, I am truly grateful for the opportunities I’ve had up to this point. I would like to continue to give back to my community by supporting the younger generations who are embarking on this path of storytelling.  I also hope that my films can bring people together – in thought, in dialogue, in enjoyment.  That in some, small way my films are contributing to a greater good.  It’s my hope that my work achieves that on some level….I guess you could say it’s the thing that keeps my pilot light burning!

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To read more about Michelle Latimer, her work, and Aboriginal and First Nations film, please visit these links below:

IMDb page for Latimer

imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival

Keepers of the Earth: First Nations Women Directors

Sundance Film Festival 2011 page for Jury Prizes for short films (Latimer’s short film Choke received Honorable Mention)

Telefilm page for Choke

Indian Country Today Media Network article on Choke

Jackpot film website

Reel Injun film website

Related: First Nations\First Features (showcase of indigenous film & media), Canadian Women Film Directors Database, IsumaTV (Inuit & Indigenous multimedia), First Nations Filmmaking links.

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About the interviewers

Kyna Morgan is the author of the Her Film blog and is an independent film publicist.  She has a background in marketing & publications as well as film studies, and in her spare time she focuses on screenwriting & film research.  She is currently finishing a Certificate in Publicity & Public Relations (University of Toronto) & a Certificate in Entertainment Administration (University of British Columbia).  Film is her passion!

Nelson Jack Davis is President and CEO of Makatok Pictures Inc. (www.Makatok.com), a media company specializing in Aboriginal, First Nations and Indigenous content. Nelson graduated with Honours from Toronto’s Humber College of Applied Arts & Technology and is a past recipient of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television’s National Apprenticeship Training Program (Producing). With almost 15 years working in the Canadian cultural industry, he has worked both on set and behind the scenes on major Hollywood productions, in small to large entertainment companies and with respected Canadian Producers. In the last several years, he has worked for numerous programs and policy groups under the Department of Canadian Heritage’s Cultural Industries Branch, including the Canada Magazine Fund, the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office, and the Canada Book Fund. Nelson, his wife and two children, are proud to call Ottawa, Ontario, their home.

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MAMACHAS DEL RING: Interview with filmmaker Betty M Park

BIOGRAPHY

BETTY M PARK is a Korean American filmmaker based in Brooklyn, New York, and makes her debut as a feature film director with Mamachas del Ring. She works as a producer and editor in TV, and her work as an editor includes the documentary The Innocence Project, which screened at the 2003 Hamptons International Film Festival.

Betty was born and raised in New York, and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a double major in English and Philosophy. In addition to making films and TV, she continues to encourage others to resist the urge to punctuate her name.

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Her Film:  You work as a television producer and editor, with Mamachas del Ring being your directorial debut.  How did you draw from your producing and editing experience to inform this film?

Betty M Park: Being in the daily grind of telling stories for TV is definitely a kind of bootcamp for storytelling, and while I can’t point to specific links between that work and Mamachas del Ring, I’m sure it has helped develop my craft.

Photo courtesy of Noah Friedman-Rudovsky

HF:  Inevitably, filmmakers learn something about themselves in the process of making a film.  What have you taken away from your experience making this film and what did you learn from the women whose lives you documented?

BMP: One of the things that struck me the most is how similar Carmen Rosa’s experience as a struggling wrestler is to that of an independent filmmaker, or anyone who has an all-consuming passion for that matter. There are distinct choices we make in terms of prioritizing our personal lives versus our work, and these are the choices that in part define us and make us who we are.

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“The film landscape is constantly evolving, and there will always be an infinite number of ways to approach it.”

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HF:  There is a strong theme of self-empowerment in Mamachas del Ring while also showing the cholitas’ reality of “gendered responsibilities” as you say on your website.  What do you think the legacy of the cholitas will be?  

BMP: My hope is that the cholita wrestling revolution has forever challenged and changed the stereotype of Bolivian indigenous women for both Bolivians and those abroad. I also think that, due to media-interest even outside of this specific documentary, cholita wrestling has provided an entertaining and interesting entry-point into a country and culture relatively unknown to your average person.

Photo courtesy of the filmmaker

HF:  Mamachas has screened around the world in front of culturally diverse audiences from Buenos Aires to Montreal, Austria to Uruguay and many places in between.  Do you notice differences in how audiences interpret the story or their attitudes toward the film’s themes?

 

BMP: While I think each audience comes with a different background of information, I’m not sure I could speak to region-specific reactions. 

Generally speaking, I think what initially attracts people to Mamachas is the opportunity to peer into what appears to be a strange and exotic universe of women wrestling in indigenous clothing, but what they take away is a more personal connection with Carmen Rosa and her struggles. 

HF:  Did you have a film festival strategy and if so, how did you decide on where you wanted it to premiere and screen?

 

BMP: The general rule of thumb for me (and for most people, I think) was to try to premiere at a festival that was well-known enough to provide the opportunity to generate some press and “buzz,” in addition to having a strong market where there would be buyers and industry folks in attendance. The regional premieres that followed were also guided by a similar principle. 

I had always thought that Mamachas would have an audience outside of the US, and so for me international festivals were as important as the domestic ones. It was also extremely important to me to have a strong Latin American premiere, since this is a film about Latin America.

HF:  How have you utilized social media and new/online media for Mamachas?

 

BMP: Facebook and twitter have been invaluable in connecting with both fans of Mamachas, potential fans of Mamachas, and the film community. I reached out to a lot of pro-wrestling fans online, and diva-dirt.com was especially supportive. The site focuses specifically on female wrestling fans, and they were extremely generous in helping to promote the Indiepix DVD and VOD release of Mamachas earlier this summer.


Photo courtesy of the filmmaker

HF:  Can you describe your marketing and distribution plan for this film?

BMP: The marketing and distribution for this film relied heavily on connecting with folks in the film community through festivals and general word of mouth. There were a few identifiable audiences that I tried to reach out to, including fans of wrestling, fans of Latin American film/Latin American audiences, and the more general arthouse film crowd. Of course distribution comes down to having the right platform through which people can access the film, and right now it is available in its most democratic form–DVD and VOD.

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“There are distinct choices we make …that in part define us and make us who we are.”

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HF:  Are there any lessons or skills — technical, financial, creative — that you picked up along your journey making this film that you will apply to future projects?

BMP: One of the most valuable experiences I’ve had in this process is connecting with other filmmakers, many of whom have grappled with similar hurdles in the ups and downs of indie filmmaking, some of whom who have become dear friends. The film landscape is constantly evolving, and there will always be an infinite number of ways to approach it. To have a few trustworthy sounding boards within the community is priceless to me, and will be especially helpful moving forward with future projects.

Photo courtesy of Noah Friedman-Rudovsky

HF:  What’s next on your slate of projects?

BMP: I’m currently working on an animation, and exploring a few documentary ideas.

To connect with Betty M Park and learn more about her work, check out the following:

No Sleep ’til Fruition: Interview with 18-year old filmmaker MJ Slide

Read MJ Slide’s biography and her first Her Film interview (“Staying True to Yourself”) from September 2010 here.

Her Film: It’s been about a year since your first interview with Her Film when you discussed your film, The Saving, and you took it to the Seattle True Independent Film Festival this June.  Can you talk a bit about your expectations you had for the film and what’s been happening with it?

MJ Slide: The release and reception The Saving has received has far exceeded my expectations. It’s been screened in dozens of the theaters across the US and in the UK. As awesome as getting into festivals is (5 to date for this film) more importantly for myself as a Writer/Director would be the fact that individuals have really connected to the film’s message and passed on the word that this upstart 18-year old filmmaker is serious about making films and making them with quality generally not associated with my age.

Filmmaker MJ Slide at the premiere of her first film, The Saving, in South Carolina. (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)

HF:  What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in making your first film and navigating the festivals?

MJS: Do your research and if you can, snag a personal contact with someone within the festival structure even before submitting to it. It will go really far once you’re ready to submit. There’s nothing wrong with having an “in.” Be personal and go the extra mile to convince the fest your film is one their festival NEEDS. Also Watch Paul Osborne’s Official Rejection, a documentary on the politics of film fests, and go ahead and buy Chris Gore’s Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide. Both are invaluable resources to any independent filmmakers prepping to take on the fest circuit.

“Give back to your audience…because honestly, without them, your film is just that, a film…”

MJ Slide with STIFF student block director, Daniel Hoyos, at Seattle’s True Independent Film Festival (STIFF) 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)
HF:  What tools or skills have you found to be the most effective for building an audience?

MJS:  First and foremost, (and it’s kinda sad how many people overlook this step), have a quality film.  Second, know your demographic, and third, be personable. People like to deal with real people; be genuine, know your stuff, and continue to build relationships with those who are in similar situations. Reach out and connect, it’s a two way street. Give back to your audience, treat them like royalty because honestly, without them, your film is just that, a film…that no one is watching. Cultivate your image both on and offline, and I can’t stress enough how important social media is. It’s one of a filmmaker’s strongest tools. It’s free but it is an investment. Your audience is waiting for you. All you have to be willing to do is put yourself out there in creative engaging ways.

Official development one-sheet for Fruition Hard Line. (Image courtesy of the filmmaker)

HF:  What are you working on now?

MJS:  Several different projects but garnering most of my attention is my very first feature film, an indie steampunk movie entitled Fruition Hard Line.

From the Fruition Hard Line screen test (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)

 I’m both co-writing and producing. It’s a truly amazing project and the group of people we’ve already assembled in development is by far the strongest, most versatile, and talented set of individuals both myself and my director, Timi Brennan, have worked with in either of our careers. We’re working very hard to push the envelope and raise the bar on what people would consider possible for an independent film shot in what would be considered a less than ideal filmmaking climate.

From the Fruition Hard Line screen test (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)

The story itself is about a young girl, haunted by immense psychic abilities, who becomes entangled in a bizarre underworld of machinery and magic. I can list on one hand the amount of properly made sci-fi fantasy indie films, and my sincere hope is that Fruition Hard Line will be able to join their ranks. It’s going to be a long haul but I most definitely think it would be worth you guys coming along for the ride. As we say at Magnolia Hideout Pictures, it’s all indie film world domination up in here 🙂

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To connect with MJ Slide and learn more about her work, check out the following:

Junk Ink Films

Fruition Hard Line (film)

The Saving (film)

@MJ_Slide on Twitter

Interview with Screen Stockport

“Kinks”: Guest interview by filmmakers Juliane Block & Virginia Kennedy

Juliane Block and Virginia Kennedy are the filmmaker duo who created Kinks, a feature mockumentary about two sisters who meet while shooting a kinky American reality show in Malaysia and fight because one is the Host and the other, the Censor.

Virginia & Juliane about Kinks:

How did you get to work together?

Juliane: When I finished my first feature Emperor I already thought about the next film. And there was one thing I haven’t tried out yet – Acting. I knew Virginia from some Indie film meetings in Kuala Lumpur and thought maybe it’s a great fit. I knew she was keen on directing her first feature, so I approached her. First, just with the idea of having collaborative writing sessions, but [to tell the] truth I already thought about asking her as director or co-director at an early stage.

Things progressed and Virginia came on board!

Virginia: The first time I saw Juliane she was selling a short film she had made and I was blown away by this opinionated German woman’s strength. She was fiery and powerful. I was too scared to even make contact with her. I hid in the back and made a silent escape. The second time I met her, a film distribution friend of mine thought I should meet this “female” director. It was Juliane! Up close and personal we actually had a lot in common and I realized I had as many if not more scary qualities like her. And honestly she is FAR from scary. She is strong and honest and all great qualities. I was so lucky to meet her. Julie said she had an idea for a feature film and I was looking to work with someone who made things happen. Juliane was that someone!

Betty's Elimination. (Photo courtesy of the filmmakers)

Working together to create Kinks:

Virginia: Firstly Juliane has an amazing work ethic. Working with her was perfect for me. She is driven to achieve, so our writing schedule was regular and geared to succeed. Within a year we had a full feature script. We found that we worked well together. Only arguing maybe three or four times… and those arguments were usually when I was on a diet or needing relationship advice! Juliane was a great couch therapist and within that year I wrote a script with her and healed a broken heart! Great achievement.

As the shoot day came nearer, I also realized Julie has an amazing producing ability. Her organization skills are better than a lot of the professionals I have worked with and we had to work around crews that were working for no budget.

Juliane: I think Virginia and I have a very good set of skills we were able to bring to Kinks. Virginia is great in writing and I have experience with low budget producing. Additionally we have both our own experiences about living as white women in Asia and all those experiences we could use to add into the story of Kinks. The finished film is really our collaborative product. I think both of us learned a lot!

Movie poster for "Kinks" (Image courtesy of the filmmakers)

What do you plan to do with Kinks?

 Juliane: We finished Kinks a couple of months ago and are currently looking for distribution. We are on the festival circuit, awaiting the replies of some of the big ones. However, knowing it’s always very tough to get even into the Tier 2 festivals, we are working on our blog and alternative social media strategies to make Kinks public. We want to release it around May 2012 on itunes and other internet outlets, and have time to build our audience till then. Of course a big festival premiere would help, so fingers crossed!

Virginia: Our plan for Kinks is to entertain and enlighten. Julie and I have both lived in Malaysia and we have a lot of respect for Malaysia and Malaysians. I personally love Malaysia. It is warm and sweet and caresses you like a buttery muffin. I love Malaysia but like all countries they have their “ways” and this can be cause for humor just as western culture can be made fun of.

Kinks celebrates all cultures. It looks at Malaysia which is different from my western upbringing and looks at it in a humorous way from the perspective of shooting a crazy reality program in Malaysia. We want everyone to appreciate Malaysia by seeing Kinks.

What did you learn so far?

 Juliane: I think the biggest thing I learned is that you need to put money aside for your distribution. I came along with a range of skills to actually kickstart production and to last with almost no budget until the film is finished. However, now we are realizing that distributing the feature film is an entirely different challenge, as difficult as creating the film itself. Well, once you realize that, it sounds logical, but when you are on it, you might just overlook some very important aspects – like the distribution 🙂 I recommend anybody who wants to make a film – double the production budget, keep 50% for distribution!

Virginia: I learnt how wonderful Malaysian actors are and how generous and willing they are to work hard. I learnt that you need to prepare even harder for distribution. Shooting is the easy part but getting it out there on a no budget production takes work and strategy. I learnt, with the help of Julie, how to create a strategy for selling an independent film. Without her I probably would have given away all rights to the film and it might have been left on the shelf. I also learnt that you have to LOVE your script from the beginning. It is a little like a marriage because you have to stay married to it for a long time.

Production of "Kinks" (Photo courtesy of the filmmakers)

SYNOPSIS OF Kinks

Kinks is a mockumentary style feature film. The movie takes a cynical but nevertheless humorous look at two inter-racial sisters who appear far from alike. Inside and outside. One is white and one is dark.

Split up as children, because their parents divorced, the film starts when they finally meet again after years growing up on separate continents. On meeting it is obvious their agendas are as different as their looks. The fiercely competitive, western educated Caucasian looking Jay wants international success for her cross cultural dating show. She returns to Malaysia to produce her dream, a reality show for the American market. To succeed she needs it to be as outrageous as possible. Jay’s Malaysian sister, Joythi, the Indian looking darker one, happens to work for Ministry of Culture. She is more introverted and has to learn to stand up to her sister while desperately trying to keep her job, while in charge to establish some decency in Jay’s misguided production.

Clashes are inevitable!

The story of this mockumentary feature evolves during the two weeks production of the dating show pilot. Through the seemingly different sisters, Jay and Joythi the audience will witness first hand all the bruised egos, crazy accusations and extreme cultural clashes and misconceptions between East and West but also the similarities of two sisters being eventually just humans.

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Short CV Juliane Block

My filmmaking career started in Germany as special FX make-up artist on an underground Zombie flick (“Mutation,” released on DVD in 1999) followed by producer & screenwriter credits on several other shorts (e.g. “Killerbus,” released on DVD in 2004). I got hooked. Even though I have a design masters from the university of art in Braunschweig, I continued with film making.

In 2005 I migrated to Asia to pursue Asian cinema. I directed and produced a no budget feature in 2008 (“Emperor”) which screened at the Asia Pacific festival of 1st Films in Singapore and won the feature category at the Portable Film Festival. Since 2007 I directed, wrote and produced 13 shorts which have been screened in film festivals around the world, and my 2nd feature (“Kinks”) just completed post. I participated in the Berlinale Talent Campus in 2008 and my short film “It could happen to you” was chosen for production in the BTC Hands on Training “Garage studio”. I’ve held lectures about low budget film making in Hong Kong (Hong Kong Int. Film Academy) and Singapore (SAE Institute).

After living the last 6 years in Asia (Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand & Indonesia) I just returned to Germany to pursue my next feature film projects.

I love my life!

Short CV Virginia Kennedy:

I started out working as a special effects editor and animator in commercials in Australia and South East Asia. Designing program openers and promos for CHANNEL 7 in Melbourne. I then moved to Sydney and into Advertising.

I was offered a job in Malaysia and was excited to travel so the first time I left Australia was to live overseas. Soon I moved into directing music videos and commercials in 1994. I have shot many commercials all around the globe and won Malaysia best MUSIC VIDEO (AIM) four times. In 2007 I shot a Music Video in LA for Karkis.

I moved into films with a Malaysian 60minute telemovie Jalan Berangan which I wrote and directed for the “Festival Series” on NTV7 and after a few short films, a horror, “@traction”, and a sexual revenge drama “I’ll Trust this January.” I wrote and directed Kinks with Juliane Block.

I have completed shooting a magic realism, short film “Thread” I wrote and directed and will be submitting to festivals in 2012. I am continuing writing with two completed feature film scripts.

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To find out more or to follow the film, watch a trailer of Kinks online here and connect with the film on twitter @kinksthemovie, on facebook at kinksthemovie or subscribe to the newsletter by signing up on the website.

Stay tuned…

This blog has been on hiatus of late due to this author’s studying in Vancouver, Canada (go Canucks!) in a wildly intensive four-month entertainment administration program.  While it’s awesome to now understand how film distribution works, what a “nut” is (hint, it’s not a nut, and it’s often preceded by “house”), how to prepare a cash flow, understand a cost report, and what goes into prepping for a pitch, and then doing a story pitch to a panel of industry folk, needless to say it does not particularly help me when it comes to writing this blog!  But this blog is about to reboot and get crackin’ with more interesting stories from filmmakers.

Coming soon are a number of interviews with incredibly varied and multi-talented filmmakers — doc, short and feature filmmakers — who live and work in different areas of the world, all in keeping with part of the mission of Her Film to engage in discussions with women filmmakers and crew members from all over this blue and green globe.  Topics to be discussed include navigating film festivals, comedy, women in sports, women making movies about women, and much more.

Her Film is growing! 

Begun in collaboration with Marian Evans, author of the Wellywood Woman blog (of which Her Film is a sister blog),  writer/cultural activist and inspiring tweeter @devt, the Her Film blog is now growing into a global effort to build audiences for films that are by, for and about women.  We’ve joined google+ (if you’re not on Google+ yet and would like an invitation, please send an email request or simply find us on google+), and Marian, especially, is developing some fascinating and inspiring ways to engage with people across the world.  Stay tuned for more news on the expanding horizons of Her Film.

In the meantime, as you await new posts, here are a few links to blogs, articles and websites that have particularly inspired me of late and demonstrate some commendable development within the filmmaking industry worldwide:

African Women In Cinema Blog

Discusses topics affecting African women working in film.  Affiliated with the Center for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema.

The Case for Global Film: Discussing everything that isn’t Hollywood (and a little that is).

Gender Across Borders: a global feminist blog

India’s Portrayal of Women in Media

Blog post on the Women’s Media Center website.

Older Than America (2008)

First feature film directed by a Native American woman (Georgia Lightning).

The Pink Gorilla (Tuesdays with Lucy)

Tribute to Lucille Ball by actor and her former student, Taylor Negron.

Women Film Critics Circle

Women’s Film History Network – UK/Ireland

Women Talk Sports: media coverage of female athletes

Zen Producer

Written by filmmaker Sheila Hardy, past guest blogger here on Her Film.

If you know of any new films by women filmmakers, blogs about independent film (especially films by, for or about women), or awesome women’s film festivals, please send me an email with a link and I’ll post the link here on Her Film.

13 Short Films about Atomic Power: Interview (pt. I) with British filmmaker Vicki Lesley

Filmmaker VICKI LESLEY

BIO: Vicki Lesley is a 33-year old documentary producer from London. She has worked in the UK television industry for the last 11 years working on high profile single documentaries and documentary series for a variety of network and cable broadcasters including the BBC, Channel 4, Five, Sky One and Discovery. She is also an active campaigner on environmental and development issues campaigning in her spare time with Greenpeace, the World Development Movement and CND [Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament).  Vicki set up Tenner Films as a way of combining her twin passions for social and environmental justice, and engaging, thought-provoking documentary films.

Her Film: Explain if you would the significance of the word “Tenner” in Tenner Films.

Vicki Lesley: A tenner is British slang for a £10 note. When I first launched my nuclear documentary project in mid-2006, I worked out that if I could persuade 10,000 people to give me a tenner each that would give me a reasonable, if modest, budget for a feature documentary. And that’s how I hit on the name for the company!

I found out later that I’d had the very same ‘crowd-funding’ idea of that’s since taken off with sites like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter and successful docs like The Age of Stupid. I haven’t reached that £100K target yet – crowd-funding donations stand at more like £5K which is still a very respectable total I think – but the idea of involving many, many people at a grassroots level remains central to my approach.

HF: Your current project is a documentary series of 13 short films about atomic power.  What made you want to do this project, especially as a series instead of a feature?

VL: It is a feature! From the outset, this has always been conceived as a feature documentary but because nuclear power is such a complex and multi-faceted subject area, I needed a way to break it down into smaller, easily understandable chunks. I knew I didn’t want to use any kind of on-screen presenting figure, which would have been one way to structure the film. So I was working with the idea of small segments or chapters right from the start. It was just a question of how to hang them all together.

But after I went to the States to do the first bit of filming in 2007 – looking at the impact of uranium mining on the Navajo communities of Arizona and New Mexico – I decided to cut that together as a stand alone short documentary which I entered and subsequently screened at a number of festivals. That served as something of a calling card, helping me to gain further grant funding for the project. But it also sparked something creatively – the idea of compiling a number of discrete but thematically-related short films together into one full-length feature.

Of course, this isn’t a brand new idea – I particularly remembered a biopic from the early 90s about an Australian pianist 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould – but it is unusual and I liked the idea of being able to ‘curate’ my shorts to build up a nuanced picture of the nuclear power industry without having to spoon-feed the audience with a particular ‘line’. By choosing which subjects I would turn my camera on, creating individual, stand-alone segments and then playing those out one after the other, I felt that the juxtapositions would become as important as the content itself, allowing viewers to make their own connections and draw their own conclusions.

I’m now coming full circle again and re-visiting whether I should create some sort of overarching framework with short, interstitial content between each of the shorts to help tie them all together as one film. I’ve also come up with a new working title ‘Chain of Decay’ to help prevent confusion about the film’s form. I’d love to know what HerFilm readers think – interstitials or just ‘pure’ juxtaposition..?

As for my motivation in making a film on this subject, it was a combination of personal frustration and political timeliness. I started this project in 2006  when I was coming up to 30 and working in TV on documentary subjects that were fun (everything from au pairs to aliens) but pretty insubstantial. As someone who spends a lot of her non-work time campaigning on environmental and development issues, I felt like the broadcast work I was doing wasn’t entirely fulfilling my ambitions in terms of turning the spotlight on important issues and untold personal stories. So I decided to make my own film on a subject that would!

At the time, the UK government was consulting on whether they should sanction a new generation of nuclear power stations. It seemed (and still seems) a subject people know very little about and I felt that here was an area where I could perhaps add something to the conversation, using the skills I’d learnt in mainstream TV documentaries to make something more thoughtful, but still very watchable.

Looking back, I don’t think I really knew what I was getting into, trying to make a completely independent documentary outside of the TV structures I was familiar with. But I’m very glad I did it – and hopefully everyone else will be too when the full film is finally finished!

HF: You’ve involved a lot of major players within the field of nuclear energy oversight, organizations with a mission focused around nuclear power, etc.  Discuss how and why you approached these figures.  Have you been able to access everyone you’d like to involve in the project?

VL: My whole approach has always been driven by the personal stories I’ve been trying to tell so the organisations I’ve approached have been ones with a direct connection to particular stories, for example the Southwest Research & Information Centre in Albuquerque [New Mexico] who work with the Navajo Nation in their struggles with the government and companies involved in uranium mining in the area, or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency who are the regulators overseeing the clean-up of radioactive particles released onto the beach at the Dounreay nuclear site in Scotland.

These organisations have generally been pleased to be able to draw attention to their work in the nuclear field and have been very co-operative in working with me on the film. Thus far, I’m glad to say no-one I’ve approached has been unwilling to take part.

HF: You also have used records of incidents and accidents at one nuclear power plant in England in the short Fifty Years.  Can you explain the process of accessing those records – were there any special restrictions placed upon you as a filmmaker?

VL: The records I used for Fifty Years were all already in the public domain. A British campaign group based near Sellafield, the power station in question, had compiled a list of accidents and incidents up to 1997 from Health & Safety Executive reports. I filled in the gaps from 1998 to 2005 by accessing the HSE reports for that period myself (they are readily available online). I’m not aware of any restrictions in reporting this information, which is basically what this short film does, albeit in an experimental style.

HF: Has there been any public or institutional reaction to your project?

VL: The reaction I’ve received from people who’ve seen any of the short films either online or at screenings has been overwhelmingly positive, although there have been one or two less complimentary comments on YouTube!

I’ve not had much in the way of a direct institutional reaction so far, apart from the now-defunct UK Atomic Energy Authority who were in charge of the decommissioning of the Dounreay site in Scotland when I filmed there in 2008 (the site has now been handed over to a private company). They told me they were very pleased with the way that short turned out, which I was really happy about, not least because the film is fairly unforgiving in its discussion of past safety lapses at the site. It was great to know that the industry considered that I’d presented a fair and honest account of events at Dounreay.

HF: How has your perspective on atomic power changed during the course of this project of making 13 short films?

VL: When I first started researching the film, I had a fairly stereotypical environmentalist’s suspicion of nuclear power, based chiefly on fears about radiation and the risk of accidents. Those fears have not been entirely allayed, although I’m now more informed on the research and statistics that underlie them. However, I now feel there are two issues that, above all others, count nuclear out as an attractive energy source going forward: the waste and the economics.

I find it shocking that over 50 years since nuclear power stations first started producing radioactive waste, the world has not found a satisfactory answer to disposing of it safely and reliably over the mind-blowing timescales concerned (this was very much the impulse behind Beyond, the stop-motion animation piece I produced about waste).

And economically, nuclear power to me just does not seem to make sense. I’m unconvinced by politicians and nuclear industry figures who say it can operate without government subsidy. Both the back-end costs of decommissioning and waste disposal and the costs of insuring against major accidents appear to be left out of most analyses of the costs of nuclear energy.  This seems to me both dishonest and morally unjustifiable – especially when there are other, renewable sources of electricity available that don’t come with these kinds of costs attached.

HF: What are the most pressing issues, in your opinion, regarding the use and production of nuclear energy?

VL: As mentioned above, the waste is probably the number one unsolved major problem. But I’m also worried about the proliferation risks of the world’s ever-growing stockpiles of nuclear material and the risk of a terror attack on a nuclear facility that could make 9-11 look like a minor event. Safety-wise, I also think nuclear energy presents a very unsatisfactory gamble for society. The chances of a major accident occurring are certainly very, very low. But the scale of the impact any accident would have if it did occur is potentially so catastrophic, I just can’t see how it can be justified.

HF: You have a list of links on your film’s site which includes artistic works with a nuclear-focus:  books, movies, songs, art. What do you find to be the most poignant arguments and concerns within the discussion/debate over nuclear energy?

VL: As I’ve discovered while making the film, the nuclear industry has a long and not very proud history of secrecy about its activities. This has meant that many of the human costs have not been very well known. Even where the human impact is widely known – such as with the victims of the accident at Chernobyl – this hasn’t stopped proponents advocating its continued use. I find the huge imbalance of power between the industry and the people on the ground affected by its actions to be very poignant – it’s what lies at the heart of my whole project.

HF: Where do developing nations fit within the larger discussion of nuclear power?

VL: A number of developing countries have begun to show an interest in nuclear energy and the multi-national companies involved in the global nuclear industry have been keen to encourage their ambitions. But it’s hard not to wonder whether these companies are motivated more by their own countries’ political and economic interests than by a genuine desire to help developing nations meet their  energy needs in the most appropriate way.

HF: On your website, you mention global injustice as an issue you want to address through your films, along with environmental degradation. How do you see global injustice playing out, on a regional or global scale, within the context of atomic power?

VL: There are obvious justice issues around mining for the nuclear industry – many of the world’s biggest uranium deposits are in places where the local population are poor and marginalised and/or where local governance is weak or prone to corruption (eg Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, Kazakhstan in the former Soviet Union and indigenous communities in the United States, Canada and Australia). You have to look at who is and isn’t benefiting, from uranium mining and from nuclear power production in general. It tends not to be the poorest people in the world…

Check out Vicki Lesley’s documentary at Tenner Films.

Join the Facebook group for Lesley’s film.

Follow the conversation about this film & atomic power on Twitter @TennerFilms.

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Part II of Vicki Lesley’s interview will drop in a few days… Stay tuned!

Staying True to Yourself: An Interview with Beginning Filmmaker Mahogany J. Slide

 

MJ Slide discusses a shot with Location Manager Stuart Sabin.

BIO: Mahogany J. Slide is a 17-year old independent filmmaker and native of Greenville, South Carolina, who  just recently embarked on her directorial career.  Inspired by a lifelong fascination with art, writing, and self expression, she took the plunge into the world of filmmaking, both feet forward. She’s a self proclaimed nerd, lover of classic and modern science fiction, and has a passion for quality filmmaking well beyond her years.

Her Film: Why do you love film?

Mahogany J. Slide: I love film simply because it unites my two favorite artistic mediums, photography and writing, like nothing else can.  At my essence, I’m a storyteller, just ask my parents.  I know in this generation there are so many more people who will watch a movie then read a book and so therefore I can reach those audiences with the same great stories and concepts through making films. I love the ability to express myself, experiment and constantly learn about people, myself, and the world that surrounds me.

HF: How long have you been writing and what are your goals as a new filmmaker?

MJS: I’ve been writing for a little over a decade now. The funny thing is before the age seven getting me to write was like pulling teeth.  It was a real challenge but my mom worked hard to build my passion for words.  She made me read – a lot – and then I started reading all by myself and realized I had stories of my own I wanted to tell, so I did.  I began with novels and short stories.  I didn’t really get into screenwriting until I was thirteen.  People kept reading my work and saying “it reads like a movie” and they were right.  It was as if I had been waiting for a writing format to come along that gelled with my minimalistic style, and screenwriting kinda fell in lap. My goal as filmmaker is to learn everything from the ground up, all the facets of production and be well rounded but true to myself as a writer.  I think like any writer our goal is to write what we get excited about, our passions, desires and our thoughts and perceptions of the world around us.

The Saving promo poster

“I love the ability to express myself, experiment and constantly learn about people…”

HF: Describe the process of writing and directing your debut film The Saving. Why is this story important for you to tell?

MJS: The inspiration for The Saving came from one line in one my favorite novels of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird.  The basic idea was there are many different ways of turning people into ghosts.  To me, that statement sinks into my mind like this:  people in general don’t have to be dead or in some form of limbo to be ghosts.  When we get so wrapped up in our troubles or tough situations that life throws our way we become only a shadow of who we really are, letting our problems define us.  We become ghosts.  It’s that concept that really is backbone of The Saving and then how does humanity remedy that?  Who’s our hero?  Who’s gonna save us?  Sometimes people ask why I decided to tackle such a heavy theme in what is my true debut short film and the reasoning behind it is simple — everyone on the planet has lost someone who’s been close to them or knows someone who has.  It’s a common experience for all mankind.  Our reactions are all very different but at our core we’re bound together. How do we handle it? What’s right and what’s wrong?  What is truth?  These are some of the questions I wanted address.

I wrote the first draft of the screenplay in a weekend and then let it sit for several weeks but it was never far from my thoughts.  I finally went back and decided this is a film I know I can make – it was as simple that.  I wanted to make the movie and I was gonna figure out how to make that happen.

HF: You’re very young — 17 yrs. old!  Who & what are your influences as a filmmaker?

MJS: Oh heavens, my influences are on all sides of the spectrum.  I pull a lot from classic American poetry and literature:  Shakespeare, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Cornelia Funke, C. S. Lewis, Phillip Pullman, and I’m also a diehard sci-fi fan, so Issac Asimov and Phillip K. Dick have a huge effect on the more science fiction areas of my writing.  For those who are not familiar with the indie filmmaking scene, my greatest mainstream influence is the shooting and directing in M. Night Shyamalan’s earlier films, barring The Happening and The Last Airbender.  It’s actually his film Signs that made me want to be a filmmaker. That was the “ah-ha!” moment for me as a beginner.  I love the fact he keeps his successful stories well contained (such as The Sixth Sense and Signs) and they’re not these vast, sprawling, epic films which I think anyone in the indie film biz can appreciate.  I also admire the fact of how little he cuts between angles in scene, he holds himself accountable for the shots that he takes, not allowing them to detract from the characters and what is going on in the story.  He doesn’t normally do things strictly for the shock and awe factor – every angle has a purpose.  Which brings to my one of my favorite films,  hands down.  No matter how cliché and overrated people think this film is, I love Citizen Kane.  Orson Welles had it all in that movie:  minimal cuts, powerful lighting, a stellar script, and an unrelenting passion that drove the whole storyline.  As far as writing goes, I liken my style to sci-fi guru Joss Whedon, at least in dialogue and pacing.

HF: You have an experienced crew and a production company.  Describe how you made contact with your crew and the biggest challenges you’ve faced as you make the film.

MJS: Three words:  Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo.  Social media was the way to go for what I needed for this film.  It’s a great way to establish your local and international contacts and simply to meet loads of creative people and build friendships with other in the arts. I found my mentor, Chris Jones, who is an author and a director shortlisted for an Academy Award, through twitter, along with my executive producer and composer, and my director of photography on facebook.  Social networking is not a piece of cake.  Like any good collaboration it’s gotta be built on a relationship which takes time and motivation.  My cast, crew and myself have poured all that in and it’s paying off, although a lot of people assume it hasn’t really been all that difficult to pull together a crew of professional because of my age.  It’s actually been a large part of my success.

Passion is contagious and I don’t think anyone could ever claim I’m not passionate about The Saving and the art of filmmaking.  It also helps that I have a pretty killer script. It won a lot of people over and for me, that’s how it should work.  It’s not about the money, it’s about the storyline – is it worth telling or not?  The biggest challenge I have and I am still facing is balancing my normal life while running a production company.  Finding the time to meet with my crew, work with my actors – it’s definitely a divide and conquer type situation.  My family have been real troopers throughout this whole experience and I wouldn’t be half the person I am today without their constant support.

The stars of the film, Patrick Hussion as "Paul Connel" and 16-year old Stephanie Ibboston as "Skye Mattheus."

HF: What are your hopes for The Saving (fests, distribution, etc.)?

MJS: My hopes for The Saving, well I wanna get it made for starters.  We’ve scheduled a release date for the film to premiere (hopefully) at a local theater that is partial to independent films, on February 5, 2011. Then if all goes well, we’ll ship it off to several film festivals within the area, just to test the audience.  Of course, every indie filmmaker dreams of Sundance or Slamdance and I won’t say I don’t have my eyes on those festivals, but I’m not gonna be totally heartbroken if The Saving isn’t accepted.

I plan on going for self-distribution through a website I set up for anyone interested in purchasing a DVD, but for the most part distribution isn’t a major point of focus.  Short films can’t really snag a major distro deal simply because…well…they’re short films.  People don’t generally want to pay twenty-something dollars for twelve minutes of movie and those who do are usually art house types (which is completely fine by me).  The whole point of making The Saving is for me to have the experience of directing a decent sized film, building my skills on all levels, and getting my name out there.

HF: What are you working on next?

MJS: I’ve actually got a few other short films in the works, most notably my In Protest of Twilight with the working title Bleeder.  It’s a vampire story but it’s not.  Feel free to be confused.  I’ve also got a feature script up my sleeve I’m in the process of writing entitled Jersey Noise. I’d describe it as The Great Depression meets X-Men.  Depending on how well The Saving is received,  I’d really like to bang my first feature before I’m 21. That’s the goal.

HF: How have you raised funds and how is the process working out for you as you prep for production?

MJS: All the money we’ve raised so far for The Saving‘s production budget as been through this really neat crowdfunding site called indieGoGo .   It took a lot of prep work to get the page set up, with the pitch, teaser trailer, backer incentives, etc., but as far a micro-crowdfunding goes, IndieGoGo is really working for us. We still need help to secure the $3,500 we need to shoot The Saving and we’ve got to raise $2,700 in less than three weeks.  We’re working all routes, both local and online to get the word out about this film. I had an interview just yesterday with our local newspaper and we’ve been plastering posters and handing out postcards all over the place in hopes of garnering more local interest and support for this production and the independent film scene in my home town.  It’s a lot of work but I truly feel it’s paying off.

Visit The Saving online.

Become a fan on Facebook.

Follow MJ Slide on twitter @MJ_Slide.

Read the blog at Junto Ink, MJ Slide’s production company.

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Thanks to MJ for doing this interview via twitter and email.