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

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Breaking Through: an interview with Raelene Loong, recent film school grad and producer

Australian filmmaker RAELENE LOONG

BIO: Originally from the vibrant city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Raelene Loong is an aspiring producer, independent filmmaker and recent graduate from Sydney Film School.   With a keen interest in marketing, she currently interns as a marketing assistant at local film distribution company Titan View, as well as the 1st Korean Film Festival in Australia.   Loong is co-founder and Artistic Director of the independent production company Fan Chan Pictures where she makes short films that have screened around Australia.

Her Film: When did you know you wanted to make films, and why did you decide to go to film school?

Raelene Loong: I think the desire began when I was a young girl at 12 years old. I loved watching movies and writing stories as a kid, so much that I used to write scripts for sequels to my favourite films, made Entertainment Weekly-esque newsletters about my favourite filmmakers (namely George Lucas) and spent all of my free time playing out these sequels and stories in my head (stories that would stay with me for years). It was not till I had left high school and started university that my love for film was reignited. In pursuing this interest, I decided to leave university (where I was doing a Bachelors degree in Fine Art) for film school. At the time, I had no experience in film apart from taking a semester long course in an Introduction to Film Studies at university – so the decision was a big leap into the unknown. Thankfully it turned out for the better.

HF: You say on your blog that you’re “a film graduate struggling to make a break as a producer.”  Why are you attracted to producing, specifically, and what is your next project?

RL: I think what attracted me to producing was the opportunity to learn from such an intense and highly organisational role. I had taken up the role for the first time in my first semester at film school, in hopes that it would help me improve my people skills, get to know every nook and cranny in how a production works, and to teach me a lesson in how to organise and manage a project. My next project is (hopefully) a series of experimental shorts on observations (the city is loudest past midnight, or a tree is happiest when it sways) as I really want to explore the art of experimental film. I’ve found experimental music in soundscapes incredibly interesting, and I’m hoping to collaborate with a composer on a track which I can use as a starting base of inspiration for these experimental shorts.

HF: Some filmmakers journal their experiences making films.  You blog about it.  How has blogging about filmmaking helped you?  Do you think you’ll continue the practice as you work on more films?

RL: Blogging has always been my way of reflecting on both myself as a person, my experiences and processes in film-making. I suppose a blog can also be considered a journal, only more accessible to others. I had started my blog as a way to document my experiences in film-making, and to reflect on my methods and thoughts about different aspects of film (including the film industry). It was quite a personal blog to begin with, but I feel my blog has now evolved into something more of a discussion platform to those who may or may not share the same opinion. I would definitely continue the practice as I work on more films, and enter the media industry.

HF: Evidenced on your blog, you watch a lot of movies!  What importance do you place on watching other filmmakers’ work as you start off on your own career in filmmaking?

RL: I cannot express how important it is for a filmmaker to watch lots of films. I watch different films (studio films, art house, documentary, shorts, music videos, etc) as a way of developing my own skills as a filmmaker. For example, Michel Gondry is a major influence of mine in my filmmaking; he uses alternative methods to create fantastical effects, by using little to no money. Apart from developing skills, it’s also a great way to find inspiration in all forms – be it a start to a great story, a single characteristic you want to add in the development of a character you have, or a style you want to develop in your own films.

HF: What are your thoughts on the current state of the filmmaking industry in Australia, particularly with regard to opportunities for young filmmakers?  women filmmakers?

RL: The film industry in Australia is a tough one, like everywhere else. It’s hard to get into, and it’s simply hard to make a living. In all honesty, I think there are some big issues within our industry. There are too many personal stories coming out of our industry, and not enough with the blockbuster breaking factor. Over the last two years, the top two films at the Australian box office have been adaptations from books (Mao’s Last Dancer written by Li Cunxin, and Tomorrow, When The War Began written by John Marsden). Clearly, this tells you that the Australian stories written by Australian writers for the screen are merely destined for a pricey DVD release and nothing more. Yet, everyone in this industry complains and whines about how our films never make money.

However, amongst the mess, you see the release of films like Animal Kingdom, which was a great success in the likes of USA; it first saw the big screen overseas at festivals like Sundance. It was then picked up by an international distributor, and has made lots of money as a result. It shows you that alternative distribution methods can work better for your film, and I think Australian filmmakers need to consider this.

I believe there has been an increase in programs for young rising filmmakers in Australia. In Sydney, there are a range of production houses that not only produce their own films but run part-time programs (be it short courses, certificate courses) for those who either want to get into filmmaking, or are already in the industry and want to build on their skills. There have also been a lot of competitions that act as a springboard to young filmmakers who want their break in the industry. There are also a wide range of opportunities for women filmmakers in Australia.  I’ve noticed programs for women to learn about filmmaking, festivals that celebrate women filmmakers in Australia, and film groups for women. I volunteered at last year’s World of Women Film Festival and had noticed an amazingly large audience for the festival, which was a surprise to me. It’s nice to know that women filmmakers are being celebrated for who they are and their work in film even in Australia.

HF: You’re an intern for the First Annual Korean Film Festival in Australia (KOFFIA) which takes place the first week of October this year.  What drove you to get involved in this inaugural festival?
(Note: This interview was conducted prior to KOFFIA 2010.)

RL: It’s mainly because my partner (with whom I co-founded Fan Chan Pictures) is the Marketing Director of the festival, and he has taught me a lot about what it takes to run a film festival, with particular interest in the marketing side of things. It also combines my love for film with my growing interest in marketing, and I have found it is a great way of learning about event management and the nitty gritty details behind marketing.

HF: As both a beginning producer and a marketing intern (at a film distribution company), how do you see those two areas of film relating and working together?  Also, what are your goals as a producer regarding how your films are/will be marketed?

RL: Through all my experiences as being a marketing assistant at events and especially the distribution company, I’ve learned that without marketing, your film will never have a life outside of its hard drive, or home. As a producer, I believe you have to constantly be considering the marketability of your film – whether it has an audience, and in what ways can you make your film’s content relevant to your audience. I think this is highly important especially if you are indeed making your film for a wider audience, and if you intend on making some profit out of it. Secondly, giving your film the marketing campaign it deserves will help create and build your audience, and therefore allowing your film to profit. I also have a great interest in the use of social media platforms, which over the past year, I have found to be of extreme relevance to any filmmaker wanting to get their film out there and straight to their audience. It’s just such a great way to reach everyone because of how direct it is. It’s amazing how technology has allowed us to move our marketing ideas into the incredible world of the wide web.

HF: What do you want to say as a filmmaker?

RL: Making a film is easier than you think. Filmmaking is not all about large crews, budgets, big and excessive equipment and everything the book tells you it should be. That’s not smart filmmaking. Smart filmmaking is what works for what you have at the given time and place. That’s my practising theory about filmmaking.

HF: Can you talk a bit about your thesis film This Is Not Poetry and your experiences both producing and directing it? (Note: Watch the teaser trailer.)

RL: The film is about a young poet who writes about his affection for a girl, only to achieve nothing but beautiful words of love. Without the confidence to approach her, he slowly loses himself in his own poetry as it consumes him – to the point where he must abandon what is most precious to him, which is ultimately his own words. The idea stemmed from an small experience I had. My cousin writes a lot of poetry, and it’s usually about a girl (I never knew, and still don’t know if it was only one girl he was referring to, of if this girl was simply a figment of his great imagination) – and it was always so depressing. His writing had such a great sense of tragedy and loneliness, yet it was always so beautiful. He used to upload his works onto Facebook as notes, until one day he decided to tell everyone that he would delete his entire collection of poems forever. He made it sound like it was a notice for a garage sale, as he said that he would leave them up for 24 hours, and for anyone to take them. This puzzled me, so I asked him why he would do such a thing. He said it was to let go of his past. I loved the idea of what he proposed to do, so I took all of his poems and put them into one single poem for an idea I had. The idea was to have this one poem read out like a stream of consciousness, or an internal monologue by this poet.

To be honest, there was no difficulty in both producing and directing the film. If anything, it was easier for me. When and if I suddenly needed something, I organised it for myself. It was better because I could plan out the production exactly the way I wanted it to look. As a director, I wanted to take on a more natural approach to the role — I didn’t want real actors in my film, and I didn’t want to write have a script. I wanted ordinary people to play my characters, and I made sure I gave my actors more freedom to try different things that were comfortable to them. The problems I had with directing/producing this film was that I had done so much visual and style research, that I couldn’t see my ideas in any other original way. I love Michel Gondry and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, so much that the film turned into my homage for his style. It’s great to watch and learn from different films, but I guess there comes a point when you simply have to stop in order to think outside the box. Now that the production is over, I often wonder if I ever gave my actors and crew too much freedom on set. I put a lot of trust in everyone, and as a first time director, I don’t know if that was the right approach for the job. Nonetheless, I think the film overall was quite a success and the experiences I gained from the production will be a great lesson for my future works.

HF: Can you tell Her Film readers about your production company Fan Chan Pictures and how it was formed, who the team is and what films you’re making?

RL: Fan Chan Pictures started out as a fun way to give ourselves a name behind our films. I co-founded it with my partner, Kieran, and we now have a graphic designer who helps us with logo designs and other graphics when we make our films. We also collaborate with a number of other people we have met along the way: old film school classmates, new friends from film festivals, and others. It is still a very new production company, and still remains as our way of bringing us together as a team to make films together.

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Read Raelene Loong’s Cutting Squares film blog.

Follow Raelene Loong on twitter @suupatrout.

Visit Loong’s production company, Fan Chan Pictures and follow on twitter @fanchanpictures.

Watch work by Fan Chan Pictures on vimeo.

Check out the First Korean Film Festival in Australia or follow on twitter @KOFFIA2010.

Take a look at the teaser trailer for Raelene Loong’s new film, This Is Not Poetry.

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EDITED 12-14-10

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.