INTERVIEW with Charlie Ahearn

[Article originally appeared: http://www.pbs.org/pov/bamcinemafest_2011_charlie_ahearn_jamel_shabazz]

Charlie Ahearn has been taken up with New York City street art since he moved here in 1973. His 1982 film “Wild Style” featured graffiti artist Lee Quinones and a who’s who of hip-hop superstars. His latest, “Jamel Shabazz Street Photographer” falls neatly into place, following the titular photographer with whom he crossed paths back in the day. In my efforts to track Charlie down and interview the heck out of him, I went so far as talking myself into an art class he was leading in the subway system. He scoffed at that idea, but he was congenial and forthcoming in our long conversation.

Adam Schartoff: You grew up in Binghamton, New York. When did you arrive in New York City?

Charlie Ahearn: 1973. I came here to be a visual artist. I had a studio at the Whitney Museum independent study program that was sort of [an] elite finishing school for avant-garde artists. A lot of interesting people have gone through those doors. They set you up in a studio and you would meet, on a weekly basis, the creme de la creme of the avant-garde of that time. We would meet artists who were doing the most interesting things at that point, artists like Vito Acconci. It was a great way to come into New York.

AS: It must have been remarkable.

Ahearn: It was 1973, and what was going on at the time was a turning away from the traditional art world and the White Cube, and towards being out in the streets. There was this strong sense that if you were a happening artist of the time, the place to go was out, connect with people. It was a fresh view of what the whole process was about.

You had Gordon Matta-Clark deconstructing buildings up in the Bronx. He was taking photographs of graffiti. I was going into housing projects on the Lower East Side. I have 16mm film of kids break dancing in one of those housing projects from 1978. This morphed into my making a kung fu movie in one of those housing projects. During that time I saw the murals of Lee Quinones all over the housing project. He was an extremely allusive person. I was captivated by him as sort of the cutting edge of what I thought was the youth movement. He was the most respected graffiti writer among the kids in New York. Adults didn’t really know who he was. This led me to becoming involved in the Times Square Show in June of 1980. Fred (“Fab Five Freddy”) Brathwaite came with graffiti-related paintings. I ended up commissioning Fred and Lee to make a mural — which is like an illegal piece — out in front of the building. It was done in broad daylight in Times Square. Where they just wrote the words “Fab Five” in bubble style.

AS: So you were spending your time between the Bronx and the Lower East Side.

Ahearn: I wanted to pull away from that gravitational scene of the downtown punk scene and CBGB’s and the Mudd Club. The rapping, the dancing and the deejaying was coming from the Bronx. I felt that it would be a much more consistent, more codified statement to have the film about that. And, of course, the rest is history because that’s how people see it and understand it now. Otherwise, people would think it came out of the club scene. That would have been an easy mistake for people to make. Read more

INTERVIEW with Heather Courtney

Filmmaker Heather Courtney at BAM; photo credit: Adam Schartoff (c) 2011

[Article originally appeared: http://www.pbs.org/pov/blog/2011/06/bamcinemafest_2011_heather_courtney_where_soldiers_come_from.php]

Heather Courtney returned to her hometown on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with the idea of filming a documentary about rural small-town America. What she ended up with was the story of four local young men being deployed for a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Courtney found herself drawn to the story of the loved ones left behind and the effects on the community in general. Therein is the story behind her new documentary “Where Soldiers Come From”.

Adam Schartoff: Was Where Soldiers Come From always going to be about the effects on a family and community, as opposed to just following soldiers?

Heather Courtney: That was always my main motivation for making the film, to be the portrait of a town and how the community is affected. When I first started filming I didn’t even know the boys were going to be deployed. It was much more a coming-of-age film. They were trying to figure out how to grow up, what to do with their lives, and how to go to college. One of the ways they were going to do that was to join the National Guard, for the money. Then they got deployed. I had already filmed for two years.

AS: Did you find that it became increasingly more challenging to keep true to that original idea as the story was expanding? You had the period in Afghanistan and a national election going on at home.

Courtney: That’s true, but I still don’t consider it a war film. Again, it’s a coming-of-age film and how the men changed over the course of those four years. Afghanistan is a big part of it and we get to see how the people are going on with their lives at home while their sons are away. And the last segment of the film, when the men return, it’s also about the family’s struggle dealing with the men trying to adjust to a normal life. Read more

INTERVIEW with Marshall Curry

[Article originally appears: http://www.pbs.org/pov/blog/2011/06/bamcinemafest_2011_marshall_curry_if_a_tree_falls.php]

Marshall Curry is one of New York’s more prolific documentary filmmakers having made “Street Fight” (POV, 2005), for which he received an Oscar® nomination, and “Racing Dreams” (POV, 2011). In his latest film (co-directed by Sam Cullman), “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front” (coincidentally, a film you can watch later this summer on POV), Curry follows the story of environmentalist Daniel McGowan and what led to his house arrest and subsequent imprisonment for domestic terrorism. Even though this blogger lives in the same Brooklyn neighborhood as the filmmaker, I conducted this conversation over the phone two days before his film launched the documentary lineup at BAMcinemaFEST 2011. (You can also read my preview of BAMcinemaFEST’s documentary slate in my last post.)

Adam Schartoff: What influences your choice in making a film? Is it completely intuitive decision making or is there a practical approach to it, like what’s commercial or timely?

Marshall Curry: I guess the main thing that I am drawn to is making a story that I would want to watch. If you have to work on something for years and you get bored with it, that’s a disaster. All three of the movies I’ve made [Street Fight, Racing Dream, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front] have kept me engaged with new questions and new twists all the way through the process. The film has to be about someone or something complex enough to keep me engaged. One of the things about this story that attracted me was how different Daniel was from what I expected. He turned out to be nothing like what I thought a domestic terrorist would be like. It’s when stereotype cuts against reality, that’s appealing to me. Of course the characters have to be compelling and I need to see an arc in the story. There needs to be a beginning, a middle and an end so that it feels like a movie. All those things are important when I’m looking for a new project.

"ELF Fire at Superior Lumber" Photo credit: Roy Milburn

Curry: From start to finish, probably five years. It was about five years ago when Daniel was arrested out of my wife’s office. That started the story. So Sam Cullman [the film’s co-director] and I decided to jump in.

AS: During this same period you were making “Racing Dreams”?

Curry: That’s right. During the first year I was shooting both films. Then I put “If a Tree Falls…” on hold while I edited “Racing Dreams”. As soon as I finished “Racing Dreams”, I started editing this one. Read more

INTERVIEW with Dawn Hudson

Film Independent Executive Director, Dawn Hudson

On Demand Weekly‘s VOD Spotlight highlights stories from the On Demand industry.  Adam Schartoff interviews Film Independent‘s Dawn Hudson about the upcoming Spirit Awards and how VOD is shaping the independent film world.

Film Independent has been around for the 30 years. For the past 20, its Executive Director has been Dawn Hudson. Hudson is clearly in love with her job and proud of what Film Independent provides. The organization was started by filmmakers to create a forum for sharing information with other filmmakers. There are hundreds of workshops and labs throughout the year, offering essential information to filmmakers on everything from how to get financing to what kind of lenses to use on your shoot.

In addition to that Film Independent also hosts the annual Los Angeles Film Festival and the Spirit Awards. According to Hudson, it’s all in order to cultivate new original films and help them find an audience.

A southerner, Ms. Hudson has a down to earth and relaxed nature. She was delightful to chat with and completely unselfish with her time. Right after we got off the phone, she called back to apologize for getting my name wrong and to invite me to the Spirit Awards nominee brunch in Los Angeles.

Adam Schartoff: I was reading a little bit about you.  You’re going on 20 years at Film Independent.

Dawn Hudson: I know! 2011 is my 20th year.

AS: What do you make of that?

DH: My career seems to have spanned the entire growth cycle of American independent film, starting in 1991.

ODW: You mean the cycle that started with “Sex, Lies & Videotape” and Spike Lee and…

DH: …and “Reservoir Dogs”.  Then we go through “Pulp Fiction”.  And throughout the 90s it grows and grows and grows. And I think it’s continued to grow throughout the last decade but almost feeding off the frenzy of the 90s. There had been such an appetite for independent films. Then Netflix came along to make these films widely available. I think it was a struggle prior to Netflix for the mainstream audience to see these films. But with their success, it was proof positive that there was a large and diverse audience for original personal filmmaking.

ODW: VOD is another channel for that appetite, is it not?

DH: Before I started this career there was the decimation of the video production companies. They had all gone bankrupt. Companies like Helmdale, Vestron and Island Alive had been funding and distributing independent films. Movies like “One False Move” and “Gas, Food & Lodging” were funded for straight-to-video release except, guess what, they were really good films. Read more

INTERVIEW with Katherine Oliver

There’s much more to the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment than you might think. Commissioner Katherine Oliver discusses her office’s relationship with filmmakers who use the streets of NYC as their set. The following interview was conducted for Shooting People.

Adam Schartoff: As a native New Yorker, what are your memories of films and television programs that were filming here while you were growing up?

Katherine Oliver: Movies like The Godfather and Tootsie and all those Woody Allen films were shot in the City when I was growing up. I look back on them and other productions from the ‘70s and ‘80s with a different appreciation because I now know what it takes to film in our City. It’s also interesting to see the many iconic locations that have been used over the years and how they’ve changed or stayed the same.

AS: How political is your role?

KO: As the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, which includes the Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting and NYC Media, the official network of the City of New York, I work with local elected officials, the entertainment industry and the community to help keep the City a film friendly environment.

AS: How do you keep up with the sheer volume of permits that you must be granting on a daily basis?

KO: We have a dedicated and experienced staff that works closely with productions to ensure that on location shooting is properly coordinated. We hold pre-production meetings and liaise with other City agencies, like the NYPD, DOT or Parks.

AS: Most people know that your department is granting permits to shoot in NYC; can you describe some of the other areas of responsibility that people might be less aware of?

KO: Our office is committed to diversifying the City’s entertainment industry so that it more accurately reflects our diverse population. To that end, over the past several years, we’ve developed several workforce and educational initiatives to educate New Yorkers about career paths available in film and television production. Our ongoing “Careers in Entertainment” panel series features local professionals who share their working experiences and offer career advice in front of audiences filled with young people and interested New Yorkers. We’ve also developed several workforce development programs to help women, people of color and disadvantaged New Yorkers advance in their careers in production. Among them is the “Made in NY” Production Assistant Training Program, which was created in partnership with the nonprofit organization Brooklyn Workforce Innovations. The program provides free, month-long training for New Yorkers otherwise lacking opportunities in the industry and trains them in how to work on set and in production offices, as well as interacting with the local community. Since the program’s inception, more than 250 individuals have been certified as “Made in NY” PAs.

The Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting is actually now part of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, a new agency that was formed last year as a result of a merger between the film office and NYC Media, the official network of the City of New York. Across several television channels, a radio station and other online assets, NYC Media aims to inform, educate and entertain New Yorkers about the City’s diverse people and neighborhoods, government, services, attractions and activities with engaging content.

AS: Your office has gotten a reputation for being very media friendly. How do you suppose that came about?

KO: There’s much more to the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment than you might think. Commissioner Katherine Oliver discusses her office’s relationship with filmmakers who use the streets of NYC as their set. The following interview was conducted for Shooting People.

AS: As a native New Yorker, what are your memories of films and television programs that were filming here while you were growing up?

KO: Movies like The Godfather and Tootsie and all those Woody Allen films were shot in the City when I was growing up. I look back on them and other productions from the ‘70s and ‘80s with a different appreciation because I now know what it takes to film in our City. It’s also interesting to see the many iconic locations that have been used over the years and how they’ve changed or stayed the same.

AS: How political is your role?

KO: As the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, which includes the Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting and NYC Media, the official network of the City of New York, I work with local elected officials, the entertainment industry and the community to help keep the City a film friendly environment.

AS: How do you keep up with the sheer volume of permits that you must be granting on a daily basis?

KO: We have a dedicated and experienced staff that works closely with productions to ensure that on location shooting is properly coordinated. We hold pre-production meetings and liaise with other City agencies, like the NYPD, DOT or Parks.

AS: Most people know that your department is granting permits to shoot in NYC; can you describe some of the other areas of responsibility that people might be less aware of?

KO: Our office is committed to diversifying the City’s entertainment industry so that it more accurately reflects our diverse population. To that end, over the past several years, we’ve developed several workforce and educational initiatives to educate New Yorkers about career paths available in film and television production. Our ongoing “Careers in Entertainment” panel series features local professionals who share their working experiences and offer career advice in front of audiences filled with young people and interested New Yorkers. We’ve also developed several workforce development programs to help women, people of color and disadvantaged New Yorkers advance in their careers in production. Among them is the “Made in NY” Production Assistant Training Program, which was created in partnership with the nonprofit organization Brooklyn Workforce Innovations. The program provides free, month-long training for New Yorkers otherwise lacking opportunities in the industry and trains them in how to work on set and in production offices, as well as interacting with the local community. Since the program’s inception, more than 250 individuals have been certified as “Made in NY” PAs.

The Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting is actually now part of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, a new agency that was formed last year as a result of a merger between the film office and NYC Media, the official network of the City of New York. Across several television channels, a radio station and other online assets, NYC Media aims to inform, educate and entertain New Yorkers about the City’s diverse people and neighborhoods, government, services, attractions and activities with engaging content.

AS: Your office has gotten a reputation for being very media friendly. How do you suppose that came about?

KO: The office was actually created back in 1966 in order to cut through all of the red tape that was once involved in filming here. We are the one-stop shop for all production in the City, and we pride ourselves on our customer service. We feel that if a production has a good experience here, they’ll be more likely to return for future projects. Working with the production, our staff will come up with creative solutions for filming elaborate scenes. For example, in the instance of a car chase, we would suggest that the scene be filmed on a weekend or a holiday when there would be less vehicular traffic and minimal impact on local residents.

AS: What is the typical procedure for a film company in order to get a permit to film in NYC?

KO: Depending on the size and scope of a production, we schedule a pre-production meeting which would involve having the production manager, location manager, representatives from our office, as well as representatives from other relevant City agencies gather at our office. During this meeting, we discuss all of the production’s requests and review shooting plans and production schedules. Once that meeting takes place, productions can then apply for their permits, which are generally issued within 48 business hours.

AS: How do local neighborhoods benefit by accommodating a shoot on one of their streets?

KO: Productions that shoot on location in the City support over 4,000 ancillary businesses throughout the five boroughs. That translates to money spent directly in the community at places like hardware stores, florists, dry cleaners and restaurants. When you see a crew on your block, you’re actually seeing your fellow New Yorkers hard at work. There are approximately 100,000 New Yorkers who earn their living behind the scenes in film and television production.

AS: How does your department deal with renegade filmmakers who shoot without permits?

KO: Our rules and services are flexible enough that it’s in the best interest of a production to get permits from our office. With the permit, a production gets support from the City and has an insurance certificate on file that protects them. In 2008, our office codified its rules which lay out when a production needs a required permit and when it does not. Permits are required when a production uses equipment or vehicles or asserts exclusive use of City property. In cases when a filmmaker is just using handheld devices camera, does not have any equipment, and is not asserting exclusive use of City property, he or she doesn’t need a permit from our office.
We also offer an optional permit, for when a filmmaker doesn’t need a required permit, but wants to have documentation while they’re filming. In those cases when we have issued a permit to a production, our office does reserve the right to suspend any permit where public health or safety risks are found. If someone fails to abide by our permit, it may be revoked at any time.

We also want residents and business owners to know what to expect when a film crew comes to their block, which is why we created the Resident Frequently Asked Questions, posted on our website at www.nyc.gov/film. Residents should also call our office via 311 if a problem exists that cannot be resolved on set. Appropriate action will be taken right away.

AS: Does your office consult with filmmakers when it comes to location scouting, offering them support & advice?

KO: Productions hire location scouts who are responsible for finding and securing the locations where a production films. Our office maintains extensive contacts for those locations that are not covered by our permit, like state or federally owned properties or key private locations. We also have a list of City-owned properties posted online that are available to filmmakers.

AS: What’s the most requested, the most popular spot for filming locations?

KO: Central Park is a popular spot. Times Square and Wall Street are often used as well.

AS: Has there been a request to film somewhere location-wise that surprised you?

KO: Back in 2004, Mayor Bloomberg and I worked with filmmakers, local labor and Kofi Annan, who was the United Nations secretary general at the time, to help The Interpreter become the first film to ever shoot inside the United Nations. It was truly a unique experience.

AS: What is the legacy you would like to leave with the City of New York?

KO: The mission of the Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting is to attract and retain production business here in the City. Over the past several years, we’ve reached record levels of production. We’re incredibly proud of the achievements of our workforce development programs and diversity initiatives like the “Made in NY” Production Assistant Training Program. PAs who have gone through that program have worked on over 1,000 productions and collectively have earned more than $4 million in wages. As part of economic development for the City of New York, we’ve been committed to finding new ways to get more involved in the industry. One of the ways we’ve done that is through our free panels, which have brought information about career opportunities in the local entertainment industry to thousands of New Yorkers.

We’re also proud of our customer service, that our permits are available to download online, and of the “Made in NY” Discount Card program, which lowers the cost of doing business in the City by offering discounts off goods and services at hundreds of local businesses. We’ve created several PSA campaigns like “Reel Jobs. Reel Proud. Real New Yorkers.” which showcases local residents who work in film and TV production. We’re also committed to fighting piracy in its various forms. We first worked with the MPAA to combat video piracy and the sale of illegal DVDs on City streets, and more recently we’ve shifted our efforts to digital piracy and are trying to raise New Yorkers’ awareness that lost revenue in the entertainment and publishing industries from illegal downloads means lost jobs for New Yorkers. The campaign ??” which includes video spots featuring NBC personality Tom Papa and posters ??” can be viewed on StopPiracyinNYC.com.

AS: The real question everyone wants to know: has anyone ever wanted to use New York City as a substitute for Toronto?

KO: New York City is often used to fake other locations. In recent years, the City has stood in for Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, DC and even Ireland. The rural areas of Staten Island have been used to serve as the Midwest, and Prospect Park has even stood in for a Parisian garden. We’re not aware, however, of a production using the City as a substitute for Toronto. The office was actually created back in 1966 in order to cut through all of the red tape that was once involved in filming here. We are the one-stop shop for all production in the City, and we pride ourselves on our customer service. We feel that if a production has a good experience here, they’ll be more likely to return for future projects. Working with the production, our staff will come up with creative solutions for filming elaborate scenes. For example, in the instance of a car chase, we would suggest that the scene be filmed on a weekend or a holiday when there would be less vehicular traffic and minimal impact on local residents.

AS: What is the typical procedure for a film company in order to get a permit to film in NYC?
KO: Depending on the size and scope of a production, we schedule a pre-production meeting which would involve having the production manager, location manager, representatives from our office, as well as representatives from other relevant City agencies gather at our office. During this meeting, we discuss all of the production’s requests and review shooting plans and production schedules. Once that meeting takes place, productions can then apply for their permits, which are generally issued within 48 business hours.

AS: How do local neighborhoods benefit by accommodating a shoot on one of their streets?

KO: Productions that shoot on location in the City support over 4,000 ancillary businesses throughout the five boroughs. That translates to money spent directly in the community at places like hardware stores, florists, dry cleaners and restaurants. When you see a crew on your block, you’re actually seeing your fellow New Yorkers hard at work. There are approximately 100,000 New Yorkers who earn their living behind the scenes in film and television production.

AS: How does your department deal with renegade filmmakers who shoot without permits?

KO: Our rules and services are flexible enough that it’s in the best interest of a production to get permits from our office. With the permit, a production gets support from the City and has an insurance certificate on file that protects them. In 2008, our office codified its rules which lay out when a production needs a required permit and when it does not. Permits are required when a production uses equipment or vehicles or asserts exclusive use of City property. In cases when a filmmaker is just using handheld devices camera, does not have any equipment, and is not asserting exclusive use of City property, he or she doesn’t need a permit from our office.
We also offer an optional permit, for when a filmmaker doesn’t need a required permit, but wants to have documentation while they’re filming. In those cases when we have issued a permit to a production, our office does reserve the right to suspend any permit where public health or safety risks are found. If someone fails to abide by our permit, it may be revoked at any time.

We also want residents and business owners to know what to expect when a film crew comes to their block, which is why we created the Resident Frequently Asked Questions, posted on our website at www.nyc.gov/film. Residents should also call our office via 311 if a problem exists that cannot be resolved on set. Appropriate action will be taken right away.

AS: Does your office consult with filmmakers when it comes to location scouting, offering them support & advice?

KO: Productions hire location scouts who are responsible for finding and securing the locations where a production films. Our office maintains extensive contacts for those locations that are not covered by our permit, like state or federally owned properties or key private locations. We also have a list of City-owned properties posted online that are available to filmmakers.

AS: What’s the most requested, the most popular spot for filming locations?

KO: Central Park is a popular spot. Times Square and Wall Street are often used as well.

AS: Has there been a request to film somewhere location-wise that surprised you?

KO: Back in 2004, Mayor Bloomberg and I worked with filmmakers, local labor and Kofi Annan, who was the United Nations secretary general at the time, to help The Interpreter become the first film to ever shoot inside the United Nations. It was truly a unique experience.

AS: What is the legacy you would like to leave with the City of New York?

KO: The mission of the Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting is to attract and retain production business here in the City. Over the past several years, we’ve reached record levels of production. We’re incredibly proud of the achievements of our workforce development programs and diversity initiatives like the “Made in NY” Production Assistant Training Program. PAs who have gone through that program have worked on over 1,000 productions and collectively have earned more than $4 million in wages. As part of economic development for the City of New York, we’ve been committed to finding new ways to get more involved in the industry. One of the ways we’ve done that is through our free panels, which have brought information about career opportunities in the local entertainment industry to thousands of New Yorkers.

We’re also proud of our customer service, that our permits are available to download online, and of the “Made in NY” Discount Card program, which lowers the cost of doing business in the City by offering discounts off goods and services at hundreds of local businesses. We’ve created several PSA campaigns like “Reel Jobs. Reel Proud. Real New Yorkers.” which showcases local residents who work in film and TV production. We’re also committed to fighting piracy in its various forms. We first worked with the MPAA to combat video piracy and the sale of illegal DVDs on City streets, and more recently we’ve shifted our efforts to digital piracy and are trying to raise New Yorkers’ awareness that lost revenue in the entertainment and publishing industries from illegal downloads means lost jobs for New Yorkers. The campaign ??” which includes video spots featuring NBC personality Tom Papa and posters ??” can be viewed on StopPiracyinNYC.com.

AS: The real question everyone wants to know: has anyone ever wanted to use New York City as a substitute for Toronto?

KO: New York City is often used to fake other locations. In recent years, the City has stood in for Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, DC and even Ireland. The rural areas of Staten Island have been used to serve as the Midwest, and Prospect Park has even stood in for a Parisian garden. We’re not aware, however, of a production using the City as a substitute for Toronto.

INTERVIEW with Joe Swanberg

“Uncle Kent” is Joe Swanberg’s fifth time at the directing helm, the sixth if you count his co-directing “Nights & Weekends” with Greta Gerwig [“Greenberg”]. This film also happens to be his fourth time working with IFC in distributing his films. After the VOD success of “Alexander The Last” which ran concurrently to the 2008 South by Southwest Film Festival [SxSW], Joe had no trouble setting the same course at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  “Uncle Kent” is the story of single 40 year old animation artist Kent (Swanberg film veteran Kent Osborne) who invites Kate, an attractive New Yorker he meets over the internet, to fly in and spend the weekend. What results is a series of strange and funny, but utterly human, episodes. It’s a very contemporary story and, in its way, shows a filmmaker, like his main character, trying to move from behind technology and reach out for human emotional connection.

Joe Swanberg spoke with me in between screenings in Park City.

Adam Schartoff: How did “Uncle Kent” end up being chosen as one of the Sundance Selects?

JOE SWANBERG: I have a really great ongoing relationship with IFC. “Uncle Kent” is the fourth film of mine that they are putting out. We’ve always been up for trying new things, to push the envelope with technology and alternative ways of distributing my films.

Two years ago they put out a film of mine called “Alexander The Last” and we did a day & date VOD premiere with the South by Southwest Film Festival. When “Uncle Kent” got into Sundance, it just made sense that we would try it again here. We hope to reach a wider audience and keep pushing in this direction.

AS: How does it feel distributing “Uncle Kent” through an alternative channel, not just going to the theatrical route?

JS: I had the experience of going theatrical in 2007 when IFC released “Hannah Takes The Stairs”. It was great. I was able to fulfill that life long ambition of seeing it play in movie theaters. I had that filmmaker fantasy experience. Read more

INTERVIEW with Wavy Gravy

filmwax's Adam Schartoff with Wavy Gravy; photo credit: Michelle Esrick (c) 2011

Wavy Gravy — counterculture icon, court jester of the war protest movement, clown emcee of Woodstock, one of Ken Kesey’s original Merry Pranksters and King Hippie of The Hog Farm —was visiting the West Village recently. The man once long ago known as poet Hugh Romney was helping filmmaker Michelle Esrick promote her new documentary “Saint Misbehavin’: The Wavy Gravy Movie”.

Wavy was as mischievous and fun as ever.  He was also enthusiastic to talk about his current work raising money for cataract surgery around the world and Camp Winnarainbow, the summer camp he and his wife Jahanara run.

Dressed in his usual tie-dyed T-shirt and bowler hat, he proceeded to wave a rubber fish, mounted at the end of flexible rod, in my face making the fish kiss me.

When I asked him if he thought the political work done over the Internet is as effective as getting out there on the streets like in the old days he said, “I just don’t know. It’s what’s taking place now. And now is all there is.  Eternity now, I always say.”

Wavy Gravy with SAINT MISBEHAVIN' filmmaker Michelle Esrick; photo credit: Adam Schartoff (c) 2011

While reading up on Wavy Gravy, it occurred to me how many of my questions would begin with the words, “Is it true…?”  Like, Is it true that Lenny Bruce managed you? Is it true you shared a room with Bob Dylan over The Gaslight and that he wrote “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” on your typewriter?  I mean the list goes on and on.

“It wasn’t a private apartment, by the way,” said Wavy.  “It was part of The Gaslight, upstairs.  Dylan had got me to come back there and the room was part of the deal. I think we kicked Bill Cosby out of there, as a matter of fact. He was still a student at Temple, I think. I’m not sure.”

Wavy was doing spoken word at this time. “Then I began to do stand-up improvisation.  Rants, I guess you could call them. Then I started doing more true stuff about my life rather than making up jokes. In fact, joke telling is definitely not my thing. True stories are what I do. And some of them are funny.  Some of them are very funny,” he emphasized.

“When you laugh at stuff, your defenses go down and you’re able to hear something like ‘Nobody for President!’ Holy Smokes! And you think about it. At first it’s just a hoot.  But then there’s an owl behind that hoot.” Read more

INTERVIEW with Sofia Coppola

Director Sofia Coppola; photo credit: Adam Schartoff (c) 2011

[This article originally appeared: http://www.tribecafilm.com/news-features/features/Sofia_Coppola_Lost_in_Transition.html]

The Oscar-winning writer/director talks about film making craft, spare storytelling, and her new film “Somewhere”, starring Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning.

In her fourth film, “Somewhere”, Sofia Coppola (“The Virgin Suicides”, “Lost in Translation”, “Marie Antoinette”) tells the story of Hollywood bad boy Johnny Marco, who lives at the famed Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood. To say Johnny (Stephen Dorff in career comeback mode) “lives” might be a bit of a exaggeration; when he’s not in his car driving to some studio obligation, he is anesthetizing himself in one manner or another. All this comes to an abrupt stop when Johnny’s ex drops off their tween daughter, Chloe (Elle Fanning) for a prolonged visit before summer camp. The visit awakens Johnny and helps him start putting his life back together.

While watching “Somewhere”, one can’t help but wonder how much might be culled from the director’s own life. That said, Coppola’s life has hardly been fodder for the tabloids; in fact, she lives a fairly quiet life in Paris with her musician husband and their two daughters, the younger of whom who was born quite recently.

When you meet Coppola in person, you’d never know that she was Hollywood royalty or that she is the third woman (and the first American woman) to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Director. Thoughtful and soft-spoken, she sat for a round table conversation to talk about her newest movie, which opens this week.

Q: Can you describe your writing process?

Sophia: It depends. It’s different when I’m working on an original screenplay as opposed to when I’m adapting something. I try and be disciplined about it. I find it hard, especially to start writing. I used to stay up late at night; now I have kids and that’s not really possible. With “Somewhere”, I was interested in how simply you could tell a story. So I felt inspired to write something that we could make in a simple way: to show a portrait of a guy in a moment of his life. And this guy just sort of came along. I was curious about writing something from a guy’s point of view. Read more

INTERVIEW with Mike Leigh

Director Mike Leigh / photo credit: Adam Schartoff (c) 2010

[This article originally appeared: http://www.tribecafilm.com/news-features/features/Mike_Leigh_is_Not_Going_Hollywood.html]

As “Another Year” is set to release in the States, the British director talks about hope, disappointment, and why he doesn’t think his films are “British.”

Mike Leigh has been directing films about workaday Brits for 40 years, and his latest, “Another Year”, is no exception. The story of happily married Tom and Gerri—portrayed by Leigh stalwarts Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen— doesn’t amount to a whole lot of action (as is par for Leigh’s course). Rather, the film is a collection of moments, many of which are shocking in both their simplicity and their humanity.

Leigh sat with us after a New York Film Festival screening this fall, a festival that has been home to a number of his premieres, including recent successes Happy-Go-Lucky and Vera Drake.

Tribeca: I know that you, Stephen Frears, and Ken Loach all came out of the same period at the BBC. And you’ve also done plays. Were you doing theater concurrently with teleplays?

Mike Leigh: I made my first feature, “Bleak Moments”, in 1971. I didn’t make another feature film for another 17 years: “High Hopes” in 1988. Those years [in between] were spent mostly making films for the BBC, with the exception of “Meantime”…

We were freelancers, Ken Loach, Frears and I. At the time we grumbled that we weren’t making feature films, but the truth is that it was a golden age. We had complete freedom. I mean, these were in-house productions shot on 16mm. They weren’t made to the highest motion picture standards, but they were films. But the great thing was you had carte blanche on what they were about—and you had an audience.

The films came under the banner of a series called Play for Today—an episode would go out every week at 9:25 after the news on Channel 1, and you’d get huge viewing figures. They were very political and very uncompromising; it was a great picture of society that a lot of people took part in creating. Read more

INTERVIEW with Doug Block

Filmmaker Doug Block; photo credit: Adam Schartoff (c) 2011

Doug Block is a distinct type of documentary filmmaker—the subjects in his last few films have been those closest in his life: his family. From “Home Page” to “51 Birch Street” and now with his recently released “The Kids Grow Up”, he’s tackled the complex issues of being both a son and a father, and of growing up and letting go.

We sat with Doug over BLTs at a sandwich shop around the corner from his office in DUMBO, a Brooklyn neighborhood home to many filmmakers, musicians and new technology types. Much like the subjects in his films, Doug was extremely open about his experiences making The Kids Grow Up and the unique relationship he has with his daughter, Lucy.

Tribeca: It appears that you had to deal with a fair amount of resentment from your daughter Lucy. How did you deal with the dual roles of both filmmaker and father throughout that period?

Doug Block: It didn’t come up that much during the year, because I didn’t shoot a lot; it was really that last week. Lucy was really stressed out about leaving [for her freshman year of college]. My own theory is that if we hadn’t argued over my filming, it would’ve been something else. She would’ve accused me of not being there for her in another way.

Tribeca: So the camera wasn’t constantly in her face then. Clearly she was comfortable most of the time, but there were moments when she appears clearly upset.

Doug Block: There were moments when she would say, “Oh, Dad, turn the camera off, you don’t want me all pissed off at you.” Those times, it was kind of half bantering. But when she broke down in tears (towards the end), that scene was hard. That was the first time I realized, oh my God, she is deeply upset with me now.

Tribeca: Moments like that must have created conflict between your role as father and as filmmaker.

Doug Block: Absolutely. At that moment I described I was thinking this could just be a thing today that she is feeling and will blow over like so many of our upsets do. What do I do? Do I keep filming? Do I stop? We have all these important shots still to do. I have to shoot her packing for college, leaving the apartment; we have to say goodbye to her on campus—I can’t stop now! But I have to stop now. All this stuff is going through my mind.

But if they don’t press me on turning off the camera, then I generally keep rolling, knowing we can always handle it in the editing room. If I went too far, then I won’t use it. And the camera always had the red light on, so Lucy always knew when I was filming.

Tribeca: Is there any difference between filming your family and other subjects?

Doug Block: It’s not like I treat my family all that differently than any other subjects that I film. There’s a certain etiquette. I try not to people make look bad. I let them know when I’m filming. I don’t try and surprise or ambush them. Obviously this is somewhat different because Lucy is my daughter and I’m protective. And I’m putting her in a vulnerable position, and I feel a bit guilty about that. On the other hand, I know she’s going to come off really well in the film. I always knew. There’s no way I can even make her look bad. In fact, if anything, I might have gone too far in making myself look bad as a way of protecting Lucy. And generally, most people understand that, though there are some people who think I come off as a bit of a jerk. That’s fine, too, because I am. Admittedly.

Tribeca: Even though you’re behind the camera, you are very much part of the story. You’re not worried about how you’re perceived as a father?

Doug Block: I’m trying to bring you into the world of someone in conflict, someone who is trying to figure things out and [who is] not quite on top of the situation. At times comically; other times, absolutely not. That’s always the trick, navigating the tone—when to go from humor to serious and back again.

Tribeca: That’s the job of the storyteller. Frederick Wiseman, the legendary documentary filmmaker, has spoken about how he goes out of his way to demystify the film making process for his subjects, so they get to that unselfconscious place that much sooner.

Doug Block: He’s absolutely right. When I was working as a cameraman, I would say that at least 50% of my job was trying to get people to act naturally and comfortably with this stranger who had this big machine recording their every move. Making them feel it’s no big deal, engaging them in conversation, letting them see through the lens, whatever it takes. When it comes to shooting my family, usually they’d give me one dirty look at the beginning and then forget I’m there.

The Kids Grow Up is now playing in LA at the Laemmle Sunset 5. Check out the official site for details on other cities. You can also check out “The Kids Grow Up” on Facebook, or save it to your Netflix queue.

INTERVIEW with Kerry Washington

Kerry Washington; photo credit: Adam Schartoff (c) 2010

Kerry Washington has never been busier. The young actress is best known for her work in such diverse films as Ray, Lift and “The Last King of Scotland”. Reviews were terrific for her work in Mother and Child earlier this year, and she recently wrapped on the Broadway production of David Mamet’s Race while already shooting Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls”, opening on November 5. Also coming out in the next month is the Black Panther drama, “Night Catches Us”.

Washington sat down with us to discuss her work in “For Colored Girls” and her gratitude to Perry for casting her in what she regards as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She also spoke with great emotion about being able to work alongside the film’s amazing ensemble of talented African-American actresses, all of whom seemed to recognize they were working on a very special project.

Tribeca: You’ve been busy doing some weighty films recently, some very dramatic stuff.

Kerry Washington: It’s interesting, I’m in rehearsals right now for my next film, a comedy, and I’m just so grateful. I did Mother and Child, then I did “Night Catches Us”, then I did the Mamet play—which is not light at all; it was very intense—and then I did “For Colored Girls”. I am way overdue for a comedy!

Tribeca: When did you first become familiar with Ntozake Shange’s seminal 1975 play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf?

Kerry Washington: Towards the end of high school I came across the play. I was preparing monologues to audition for colleges. That’s when I first came across the material.

Tribeca: When you read the play back then, did it speak to you in an immediate way, or was it perhaps a way of connecting back to past generations of women in the community? Read more

INTERVIEW with Ed Burns

INTERVIEW with Matt Dentler

On Demand Weekly: How did you get started in film?Matt Dentler: I went to film school in Austin, Texas at UT. I took every possible film job you could imagine; from working on sets to volunteering at festivals and film organizations, to working at a video store. Some time after that, an internship during my freshman year at SXSW blossomed into a full-time job and then eventually into my role as the producer of that festival. I started film school thinking I would become a professional filmmaker but I soon realized that my true passion was on the business side.

ODW: What persuaded you to leave a prominent film festival like SXSW to join FilmBuff?

MD: When I started at SXSW in 2000 it was a different kind of film festival. By 2008 I felt at a place where I could feel proud of what I accomplished as the guy running the day-to-day operations. I was looking down the barrel of my 30s and felt like it was time for a change. Luckily, I got the call from [John] Sloss around the same time and it was a very natural fit. I’m really proud of all I did while I was at SXSW and I knew that it needed to mature under a different set of eyes because I would have become really lazy after a few more years.

ODW: There’s a trend of films premiering simultaneously at film festivals [SXSW, Sundance, Tribeca, etc.] and on VOD. Any proof that it has helped the views on VOD for films fans who can’t attend the festivals?

MD: My opinion of this strategy is that very few consumers are watching these films solely because they’re playing in festivals. However, this strategy allows for a great degree of promotion, publicity and merchandising which in turn creates more awareness for the films. You should be very selective in picking the right film and the right festival, but when it makes sense, it’s a great model. Read more

INTERVIEW with Matt Reeves

Remaking a beloved film can be a risky proposition. Just ask the guys who remade “Planet of the Apes” or “Psycho”. And if Tim Burton and Gus Van Zant have trouble pulling those off, just imagine how nervous director Matt Reeves was remaking the more recent international hit, Tomas Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In” into “Let Me In”, which has its highly-anticipated debut this week. While it might be an obscure Swedish horror film to some, since its release in 2008 Let the Right One In has become a cult classic among the fanboys. (It also won the Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival.)

However, any misgivings Reeves might have had going into the project were assuaged once he read the original novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. It was a story to which he immediately related and one which he understood to be a love story at its core; one not wholly unlike the play that his film’s main character Owen is reading for school, Romeo and Juliet.

We were delighted to sit down with Reeves this week and discuss the risks of remaking a film, casting his young leads (Chloe Moretz as Abby and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen), and how he unexpectedly ended up relating more to the story than he anticipated.

Tribeca: Whenever a filmmaker remakes a popular film, they’re going to be under some fire.  Was this something that concerned you going into “Let Me In”?

Matt Reeves: Yeah, of course. I saw “Let The Right One In” in January of 2008, right as Cloverfield came out. I was at a distributor about another project I was trying to get made. They asked me to look at Alfedson’s film because they were interested in remaking it. They weren’t so interested in the film I was bringing to them. I said, “I don’t know that I’m really that interested in doing a remake.” Then I watched the movie, and I was totally blown away. I literally called them up the next morning and said, “You know, that is a great movie. I don’t know that you need to remake it.” They said, “Yeah, but we really want an opportunity for it to get to a larger audience because not everyone will see a foreign-language film.”  All this was even before the original had even come out.

Then I read John Lindkvist’s novel, and I really fell in love with the story. I wondered if there was somewhere new to take this. And so, without in any way trying to step on the toes of the original, I began to think about how to translate it to an American landscape.

Tribeca: What was it about Lindqvist’s book that inspired you?

MR: Well, I saw the book was really about Lindqvist’s own childhood. He grew up in Sweden in the ’80s around the same time I grew up in the U.S. And I wondered if there was a way to build on that concept. So I embarked on a screenplay but, again, this was all before the acclaim of the first movie. Then when the original came out in the United States in October 2008, by which time I had already finished my first draft, I thought, “Oh my gosh, what have I done?”

Tribeca: Panic set in?

MR: Momentarily. Then I thought, well, it’s a great movie, of course people are going to love it. I had to remember to just keep my head down and remember that I’m a fan and I love this story. It was a labor of love. We weren’t making a big budget retread. This is a Hammer Film.

Tribeca: Did you have any contact with Lindqvist during the process of writing the screenplay?

MR: I actually wrote to him and explained why I wanted to make the movie. I wrote that not only is it a great genre story—which it is—but more so because I connected to the coming-of-age story which is at the heart of the book.

He actually wrote back, and he was very kind. He wrote that he was actually excited when he heard that I would be making the film because he really liked “Cloverfield”. He said, it was a fresh spin on a very old tale, which was just what he was trying to do with the vampire myth in Let the Right One In. He was happy that I got the personal side of the story, because it really was a tale of his childhood.

Tribeca: So, you bonded?

MR: Yeah, we bonded. He was very supportive throughout. He offered to help while I was adapting the script, to call him if I had any questions, which I took him up on. He was a very generous resource. I went to SXSW and spoke about the movie right after we stopped shooting. There were a lot of skeptics there, and I was answering some questions on a panel. [Lindqvist] sent me an e-mail, and it said, “You know, I had faith in you in the beginning, and hearing you speak I have faith still.” So, I hope he likes the movie.

Tribeca: Let Me In is not strictly a horror movie. The horror is there, obviously, but like Mark Romanek’s “Never Let Me Go”, the genre elements are very integrated into the film. Your film certainly has its share of blood and gore, but if you think about it, it’s really a love story.

A major example of this is Abby’s guardian, played by Richard Jenkins. His actions, no matter how horrific, are born out of a deep sense of love for Abby. Even the villain of the movie, the bully Kenny (Dylan Minnette), seems to carry the scars of not having been loved enough.

MR: Absolutely. While all these characters are doing these terrible things, there’s an attempt to understand the humanity. And I do think that’s true for the bully, too. And that’s why I cast Dylan Minnette. It was hard casting that role because I didn’t want someone who was one-note. I mean, he was certainly cruel, and I know that people will hate him. But the cruelty was stemming from some level of pain. You wonder, what is wrong with this kid?

Tribeca: And Owen is reading the iconic love story of all time throughout the movie.

MR: Exactly. That’s in the book, by the way. There are many references to Romeo and Juliet. It’s the perfect metaphor for Abby and Owen’s relationship: an ill-fated love story.

Tribeca: Let’s talk about the casting. The casting of Kodi and Chloe is what really elevates the film.

MR: I agree completely. I always felt the pressure to make this movie worthy of the Lindqvist’s novel.  When I found the two of them, I felt relieved. They impressed me in such a deep way. I hadn’t had the opportunity to see “The Road” [Kodi’s first role] or “Kick-Ass” [Chloe’s recent hit film]. Nobody could show them to me, [but] both directors spoke very highly of them. Kodi came in and read the scene from where he was on the phone call with his father. It was a very challenging scene, very emotional. I was worried about it being melodramatic. But he was so real, I was just blown away. Also, the kids in the original were so good, I felt the added pressure to cast actors who were as good.

Tribeca: Were you ever concerned that the subject matter was just too intense for the young actors?

MR: As you mentioned, the horror part of is just contextual. We didn’t focus on that. It was really an adult story and the emotional complexities that falls on two 12-year-olds. Who could do that? Kodi and Chloe did, and that was very exciting to see. They hadn’t had an opportunity to meet before filming started, but I had a feeling they would have chemistry. And during rehearsals they really connected.

Then I ended up shooting all of the jungle gym scenes, which is most of the central arc of their story. I shot those scenes in the first three weeks, because I figured I could shoot them as they were really just meeting each other for the most part and getting closer. And I knew that at the end of those three weeks we’d have the potential that this movie could really be something or we’d be in real trouble. I was very excited at the end of those three weeks.

INTERIEW with Robert Bella & William H. Macy

Article orginally appeared: http://ondemandweekly.com/blog/article/colin_fitz_lives_gets_a_second_chance_at_life_on_demand/?utm_source=On+Demand+Weekly+List&utm_campaign=1446019fa6-William_H_Macy8_23_2010&utm_medium=email

On Demand Weekly’s VOD Spotlight highlights stories in the On Demand industry.  Adam Schartoff interviews director Robert Bella and actor William H. Macy about the odyssey their film “Colin Fitz Lives!” went on following its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 1997 to being revived by Sundance Selects On Demand, thirteen years later.

ODW: There’s been a lot of buzz about the movie “Colin Fitz Lives”. Like the dead rock star in the title, there’s been much mythologizing about this movie in the past 13 or so years. Now it’s finally been resurrected and is currently playing on VOD. Can you give us some of the story background?

Robert Bella: I had never made a feature film before but I just decided to go for it. And then to have people like Bill Macy, Matt McGrath, Andy Fowle, Martha Plimpton and John McGinley agree to participate was incredibly flattering, terrifying and just this amazingly fun roller-coaster ride. Just making the film was a fantasy come true but then when we got into Sundance and it just went to this whole other level.

DIrector Robert Bella

I was in our office with a few other people from the crew and we were literally packing, taping up boxes, closing things down, thinking, ok we’ll get back together in a few months after I get some money to finish the film. The phone rings and it’s Geoffrey Gilmore (then Festival Director of Sundance) and he says, “Congratulations, your film is going to Sundance!” After we talk a while, I hang up and say to everyone, “well, it’s time to unpack the boxes!”

ODW: And, Bill, how did you come to the project?

William H. Macy: Robert and I both belong to the Atlanta Theater Company. We are both founding members along with Felicity Huffman and Matt McGrath, one of the stars of Colin Fitz Lives. Being in a theater company is like being in a large extended family. When a member comes to you with a favor you can only say yes. It’s just the way it is. So, we’ve acted together and I’ve directed him.

So I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to see him direct. A good script, a great cast; it was a no-brainer. Aside form that, I love independent films and Colin Fitz Lives is a lovely script. I’m so glad people are going to get to see it. Read more