By Christine Bunish
Scenes from Right There: A Short Film About Intolerance
|Man Up, Little Boy||From Queens to Cairo||Chasing Shakespeare|
Eternal life and love; a father and son’s epic – and comic – battle; the peril of being just too set in one’s ways; a political revolution one year later; and teens’ lessons on tolerance in post-9/11 New York City. Indie filmmakers nationwide tackle subjects humorous and serious.
The film: Bart and Lulu
Bart is too shy to talk to women face-to-face. He prefers online communication.
The genre/length: Short drama; 7 minutes
What it’s about: Elderly people using new technology to find love through online dating.
What it’s really about: “Bart is so set in his ways doing online dating that when he finally meets a woman face to face, he panics and goes back to searching online,” said Director Michael Manese.
What inspired the production: “I had the idea to remake something I did in college about two people who keep meeting but don’t know they’re meant for each other,” said Manese. “At that time, it was college kids searching newspaper personal ads to find their loves. Now I’ve got elderly people doing online dating.”
The biggest hurdles to financing: “I didn’t have any hurdles – my film cost $500 to make.”
The biggest production challenge: “Finding the right actors. Not only would they have to be talented and dependable, but also understand and deliver what you have in mind. You get used to seeing the movie in your head all the time and when people start saying your lines or acting out the parts, it’s totally different. The actors who play Bart and Lulu – Mike Falco and Sue Kroll – are a professional comedy team.”
The biggest post-production challenge: “I did my own post using Apple’s iMovie on my MacBook. Going black-and-white was a last-minute decision; it gave the film a certain softness. There’s no dialogue in the film. I felt it wasn’t necessary.”
|Bart and Lulu has been named an official selection at
multiple film festivals.
How to get distributed: “From what I’ve researched, the key to getting distribution is to get your film screened at festivals and hopefully have it seen by a person or company with the means to distribute it. I wish they had taught us this in film school, at least when I was an undergrad. When it comes to entering festivals, you have to be shrewd because there are hundreds, maybe even thousands, and most charge entry fees. I try to hit all of them. You can make a really great film, but in the end it’s going to be competing with other great films. The challenge is how do you make yours unique? Getting selected by a festival is great! It’s the ultimate validation really. I get psyched when my friends and family like my work, but when people in the industry who you don’t know like it, I’m on top of the world! Right now Bart and Lulu has no distribution deal in place, but a friend I met at the New York City International Film Festival has offered to look into selling rights to it. The last short he worked on screened at Cannes and was sold in different markets in Europe and America.”
I couldn’t have made the film without: “It’s all about the idea. An idea will keep me going. If I can play with it, squash it, stretch it, see if it’s there the next day, then I know I have something. Of course, you also need money to make films. But between the two, I would much rather have no money than no idea.”
Lessons I’ll take to the next film: “Have a marketing strategy and budget. If you don’t, you’re just making a home movie. I’ve spent twice as much money and effort on marketing – festival entry fees, posters, copies of DVDs, a movie website – than on production and post.”
Director/producer/editor/colorist: Michael Manese
DP: Luke Abaffy
Music: Jon Tinnirello
Acquisition format/camera: Canon 7D
Locations include: Little Neck, Long Island, NY
Film festivals: Premiered at New York City International Film Festival opening gala; Reel 13/PBS, New York; Staffordshire Film Festival (UK); Sprockets and Splices (TX); Underground Cinema Film Festival, Dublin; Albany Film Festival (CA); Howard County (MD) Community College TV; River Aire Film Festival (UK); Deep Fried Film Festival (Scotland)
The film: Chasing Shakespeare
Young William Ward and Venus Red Hawk (Mike Wade and Chelsea Ricketts) are wed in a Native American ceremony (by actor Graham Greene)
in Chasing Shakespeare.
The genre/length: Romantic drama; 116 minutes
What it’s about: Chasing Shakespeare is a beautiful, enchanting love story about a young Native American woman’s search for her destiny and her widower husband’s attempts to reunite with her after her death.
Lightning plays a central role in Chasing Shakespeare.
What it’s really about: “Eternal life and love. The fact that through love we live forever,” said Director Norry Niven. “What’s great about having a Native American clan at the root of it is that it’s easily accessible to people. It takes you to a very spiritual and rewarding place.”
What inspired the production: “I had another project underway with the Twilight folks and was experiencing creative frustration on the studio level,” recalled Niven, who also directs commercials via Three (One) O in Marina del Rey, Calif. “James Bird wrote this for me; he created something that’s pure art. I read it, and it blew me away – everyone who read it was totally mesmerized by the screenplay.”
Landing the cast: “My friend is a casting director, and we got her on board as soon as the money was in place. She got Danny Glover, Graham Greene and Tantoo Cardinal attached. It took longer to find the young people who could be believable versions of Danny and Tantoo.”
The biggest hurdles to financing: “We had an angel come in and provide the majority of what we needed early on. We began production while raising additional funds. It was scary to know there was no way to finish unless we raised the money while we were shooting. We stayed in Texas because my production and post-production family is in Dallas. I knew we’d get the most value on screen here, although Texas incentives are not the best right now. Without the support and talents of ReelFX, the film would not have been possible – there were wall-to-wall VFX.”
The biggest production challenge: “There was a bit of pressure working with celebrity actors with tight schedules, and we had to shoot a lot of nights. But I’d done hundreds of commercials with my team, and they pulled it off without a hitch. Danny created a real bond with his onscreen son and wife that shows up in the film, and Graham kept the mood light. It was unbelievably wonderful to work with them.”
The biggest post-production challenge: “The film had two personalities in post: the story and the VFX. It was a challenge telling the story without having the VFX in place. We had to take a leap of faith and have a lot of imagination. It took over a year to trim the film to two hours and then apply the VFX – we couldn’t afford to create the VFX simultaneously and have them cut. Peter Tarter had an enormously difficult job, and his editing is truly like ballet.”
Left: Chelsea Ricketts plays the young Venus Red Hawk in Chasing Shakespeare.
Right: In Chasing Shakespeare, Danny Glover plays the elder William Ward who believes he sees the ghost of his wife, Venus Red Hawk, returning in a lightning storm.
How to get distributed: “It’s important not to get lost with a big company. We wanted a distributor that was hungry and aggressive, yet experienced. But we had to get seen, be well reviewed, win some [film festival] awards – which is an impossible task! The awards we won meant the world to our exposure.”
Norry Niven directed
I couldn’t have made the film without: “The talented people who surrounded me – they all gave their hearts and souls and were the key to Chasing Shakespeare.”
Lessons I’ll take to the next film: “I was aware of what I was getting into, but I learned about time. My commercial work tends to go quickly, but this film needed TLC with Peter and me tweaking and fine-tuning it. I’ll have that time budgeted next time.”
Director/DP: Norry Niven
Producers: Norry Niven, Loren Basulto
Executive producers: Anya Remizova, Bonnie and Alan Petsche, Rich Moses and Selwyn Razor
Writer: James Bird
Editor: Peter Tarter, Treehouse/Dallas
Colorist: Kelly Remenscheider, Dallas
VFX supervisors: Dale Carmen, Scott Gordon, Kevin Althans, ReelFX/Dallas
Post-production sound: John Northcraft and James Pinepinto; music, Eric Kaye, The Lodge, New York City
Acquisition format/cameras: Red cameras with Panavision anamorphic lenses; Phantom high-speed
Locations include: Waxahachie and Dallas, Texas; New York City
Dallas International Film Festival; Best Feature and Best Actor (Danny Glover), First Glance Film Fest (Hollywood); Best Feature, Artisan Festival International (Cannes and The Hamptons); Audience Award and Best Feature, Big Island Film Festival (Hawaii); Special Selection, Montreal International Black Film Festival; Best Romance, WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival; Title Design Award, South by Southwest; Breckinridge (CO) International Film Festival; Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival
A storm brews at William Ward’s farm bringing a night of strange visions in Chasing Shakespeare.
The film: From Queens to Cairo
From Queens to Cairo Director Sherif Sadek in Tahrir Square.
The genre/length: Documentary; 54 minutes
What it’s about: This insightful documentary follows Egyptian-American filmmaker Sherif Sadek as he returns to his native Cairo with his family one year after the start of the Egyptian revolution during the Arab Spring. He journeys from the famed Tahrir Square to rallies and slums, searching for perspective from all walks of life.
What it’s really about: “It’s about a country experiencing a revolution, trying to change from a dictatorship to a liberal democracy. In order to do that, Egypt has to overcome obstacles,” said Director Sherif Sadek. “Intertwined is the story of a person who lives abroad and returns to Egypt [with his children] for the first time since the revolution.”
Egyptian flags fly in Tahrir Square in From Queens to Cairo.
What inspired the production: “In the beginning of the film, I talk about how hard it is for Egyptian-Americans like myself to leave their families, jobs and new lives to participate in a revolution,” said Sadek. “I waited a year until I was able to go back on the anniversary of the revolution. I consciously decided to see myself as a character in the film, so it’s not so much about me, me, me.”
The biggest hurdles to financing: “It was hard to find help writing grant applications, so I ended up raising the money from my own savings and crowdfunding, which was much more successful for me than grants would have been. I raised almost $10,000 from crowdfunding – I expected only a third of that! I used Indiegogo, which gave me the option of keeping all the money I raised even if I fell short of my goal.”
The biggest production challenge: “When I went to Egypt I had a bit of a different film in mind, things I specifically wanted to shoot for the story. But the situation was so fluid that I had to adjust my shooting day by day.”
Right: Teamaker in Heliopolis graces the screen in From Queens to Cairo.
Left: A crowd in Tahrir Square one year after the revolution in From Queens to Cairo.
The biggest post-production challenge: “Paying Editor Dan Hacker what he deserved to spend eight hours a day, five days a week concentrating on the film. If I had been able to do that we would have finished in three months instead of nine because Dan had to do other jobs around this one. It’s the existential problem for documentary filmmakers.”
How to get distributed: “I’m still going through that challenge. I’ve talked to a few companies: One asked for a $10,000 retainer, which ended the conversation. The film has been accepted by NewFilmmakers New York, which has a website listing distributors and marketing and PR companies, so I now have an intro to them.”
From Queens to Cairo captures the slums of Giza one year after the Egyptian revolution.
I couldn’t have made the film without: “First, the revolution and its martyrs. Second, the support of my family throughout this period. And third, Assimilate, the company I work for [developers of Scratch software and other digital film tools]. Their support for an employee with an artistic vision was immense, and the software they make helped me tell the story.”
Lessons I’ll take to the next film: “In production, I learned that the documentary filmmaker’s best tool is the monopod, which allows you to be in any situation with a small camera and not a lot of gear and stabilize your shots. In post, I learned not to reverse engineer a film. I had a film in mind and ended up shooting something different than I had planned on making – and a more interesting story cinematically.”
Nut seller in Tahrir Square captured in a scene in From Queens to Cairo.
Shooting an epilogue: “I’d love to shoot an addendum to the film, but I need the money to do it. I say in the film that the revolution will take a few generations – you can’t go from a dictatorship to a liberal democracy overnight. I’m not surprised [by president Mohammed Morsi’s overthrow]. It’s another step along the road.”
Director/producer/DP/conform: Sherif Sadek
Associate producers: Sherif Shafie; Ash Davis; Mary, Sameh and Sylvia Iskander; Karim Hanna; Dalia Gayed
Additional camera: Tarek Hosny, Blackout Studios/Cairo; Mosireen Collective/Cairo; Nader Sadek; Dan Hacker
Editor: Dan Hacker
Colorist: Jason Crump, Metropolis Post/NY
VFX: John Kitses/Queens
Post-production sound: Corey Folta/Queens
Music: Dorian Besson/Brooklyn
Acquisition format/cameras: Nikon D7000 HDSLR, Canon 5D, iPhone
Locations include: Queens, New York; Cairo
Film festivals/awards:Best Feature Documentary, Queens World Film Festival, NY; Best director, short documentary, Madrid International Film Festival; Best Director/Short Documentary, Rainier Independent Film Festival (WA); Indiewire Project of the Day; Ismailia (Egypt) International Film Festival; San Antonio Film Festival; NewFilmmakers New York, New Jersey Film Festival
The film: Man Up, Little Boy
Bradley Whitford and Zachariah Palmer play a father and son who square off in an epic arm wrestling battle as Molly McCook observes in Man Up, Little Boy.
The genre/length: Comedy short; 8 minutes
What it’s about: A domineering father (Bradley Whitford) and his underachieving son (Zachariah Palmer) square off in an epic and over-the-top battle of wills and wrists in an arm-wrestling contest that escalates to unforeseeable extremes.
What it’s really about: “It’s about the circle of life – and not aging gracefully,” said Director/Producer Jeffrey Williams.
What inspired the production: “Writer and Co-Producer Dan Greenberger plays tennis with this daughter, and she’s been getting better and better, and finally beat him in a match. That didn’t go over well with him,” Williams said. “It’s that horrifying sense of not being on top anymore – that you’ve been knocked off your perch as the alpha in your house. So Dan wrote a script asking how far would a guy go to maintain his alpha male status.”
The biggest hurdles to financing: “I asked my very, very understanding wife, ‘Do you mind if I spend a couple thousand dollars making a short film with Bradley Whitford?’ Dan and I were originally going to shoot this for $500 in my living room, but when Bradley joined the production we said we’re in a new tax bracket now! But everybody on board knew it was a labor of love. The crew did it as a favor, and we’ll return the favor on their projects.”
The biggest production challenge: “Dan was college friends with Bradley Whitford and realized the role of Walter was tailor-made for him. We were amazed when he said ‘yes,’ and more than a little intimidated. The scope and scale of the production changed overnight – he’s so talented that we had to rise up to his level. Since we only had one day to shoot everything, we wound up with a 15-person crew to keep the shooting rolling along smoothly.”
The biggest post-production challenge: “I’ve worked as an editor for 20 years, so at the risk of sounding cocky I’ll say post-production was a piece of cake. I’ve post-supervised other people’s films and knew I’d be able to shoot in a way that would get me through post without a hitch. The key is to organize your dailies before you start cutting.”
In Man Up, Little Boy the long-time rivalry between father (Bradley Whitford) and son (Zachariah Palmer) comes to a head.
How to get distributed: “That’s the million-and-a-half-dollar question, especially for short films. Distribution is chaos, and it takes a long, long time. The sad truth about making shorts is that you do it for the passion of it or to get attention for future projects. We’re on the festival circuit currently, then hope to get picked up by something like Shorts.tv or the Holy Grail of short distribution: iTunes. But it takes a long time.”
I couldn’t have made the film without: “Dan, my co-producer. And we couldn’t have made it without Bradley, and the three of us couldn’t have done it without our great crew.”
Lessons I’ll take to the next film: “Slow down. As a director of a low-budget film you feel every second you’re bleeding money and time. Your adrenaline starts pumping and it’s go, go, go! But when you line up a shot it’s important to slow down, take a moment and really look at it. You have to find the mental space where you can push all the pressure aside and ask if the shot is the best you can get, if it’s going to make the film, and what you can do to make it better.”
Director/producer: Jeffrey Williams
Writer/producer: Dan Greenberger
DP: Saul Herckis
Editor: Jeffrey Williams, Mile 47 Post/LA
Colorist: Kelly Reese, LA
Post-production sound: Will Ogilve, LA
Music: Robert Toteras, Film-Noise.com/LA
Acquisition format/camera: Canon T3i
Locations include: Eagle Rock, Calif.
Film festivals: Premiered at Dances With Films, Hollywood
The film: Right There: A Short Film About Tolerance
From left to right: Jenice, Emma, the director’s son Harrison, Sarah, former PS 234 principal Anna Switzer, director Florence Buchanan, Ethan, the director’s daughter Octavia, Andrew, Julia, Sam and James reunited for Right There.
The genre/length: Documentary short; 16:33 minutes
What it’s about: Now teenagers, alumni from elementary school PS 234, three blocks north of the World Trade Center, return to their school on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and reflect on that pivotal day in one of the south-facing classrooms.
What it’s really about: “Probing teenagers’ attitudes to subjects connected to 9/11,” said Director Florence Buchanan. “These teens are not only tolerant of people of other races and religions, but also have a strong moral compass and a powerful sense of right and wrong. At the end of the day, it’s all about education. If you’re not educated you tend to be more intolerant.”
What inspired the production: “I’ve been concerned since 9/11 about increased racial profiling and intolerance in general. I got an email from PS 234 about doing a 9/11 commemoration and thought what an extraordinary thing it would be to capture on film former students who were gathered [there] that day,” said Buchanan, whose daughter Octavia was among the returning PS 234 grads. “I got permission from the principal, emailed parents and found 14 amazing kids who were interested in being interviewed.”
The biggest hurdles to financing: “I work in advertising, so people I work with commercially seem to be happy to work on indie film projects, and they are incredibly generous. My post-production was mostly a labor of love. I also emailed a bunch of friends asking for help. Some very generously funded the one-day shoot and other friends did the catering.”
The biggest production challenge: “We organized the kids to come up to the classroom for their interviews during the course of the day, but it’s always hard to keep on schedule. So we doubled up on some kids, putting friends and brothers together. It gave us an interesting dynamic, but mostly we were concerned about running out of natural light. Joanne Dugan was also shooting stills and video portraits of them, and we also needed each kid to do the time-lapse tower building sequence in another classroom. It required precision scheduling.”
The biggest post-production challenge: Editor Peter Mostert at Hooligan was so generous, but of course other jobs came in, and we had to work at odd hours. Sometimes it’s good to step away from things for a while. Ultimately everything went the way we wanted it to go. Peter came up with the split-screen idea: We didn’t want to do traditional talking-head cutaways, so he solved the problem by layering images on the screen against a textured felt board background. It gave a graphic sensibility of school – think of the sign identifying the class in the annual class photo.”
How to get distributed: “We’re doing the festival circuit first, which has been great, then I want to get the film into schools as a tool for teachers to talk about 9/11 and the issues it raises. I’d love for it to be part of some 9/11 commemorative TV programming this year, too.”
I couldn’t have made the film without: “If those teenagers hadn’t been so poised, articulate and thoughtful, there wouldn’t have been a film at all.”
Lessons I’ll take to the next film: “Don’t wait around if an idea comes to you – go for it. You may not always be able to pull it off, but remember that Goethe said that ‘The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.’ That’s utterly true in filmmaking.”
Director: Florence Buchanan
Co-director/B camera and timelapse: Arthur Bijur
Producers: Susan Smitman, Florence Buchanan
Executive producers: Nadia Zilkha, Jane Wells, Susan Ould, Jane Newman, Donna Green
DP: Melissa O’Brien
Stills and video portraits: Joanne Dugan
Editor: Peter Mostert, Hooligan/NY
Graphics/assistant editor: Damien Oramas, Hooligan/NY
Post-production sound: Phil Loeb, Cory Melious, Jodi Levine; Heard City/NY
Music: Amber Music/Opus/NY, Michelle Curran, executive music producer; Mike Perri, music supervisor
Acquisition format/camera: Canon 7D
Location: PS 234, Tribeca, NY
Best of Festival, Documentary Short, Richmond (VA) International Film Festival; New York International Short Film Festival; Mill Valley (CA) Film Festival; Cinemonde Private Screening Series (NY); Hamptons (NY) Take 2 Documentary Film Festival; Worldkids International Film Festival, Mumbai; Peace on Earth Film Festival (Chicago); River Bend (IN) Film Festival; Sonoma (CA) International Film Festival; New York No Limits Film Series; San Antonio Film Festival; Indianapolis International Film Festival