Introducing AFC: The Roundtable, a New Series in the Atlanta Film Chat Family!

Introducing a brand new series in the Atlanta Film Chat family! Guests April Billingsley, Keith Brooks, & Sherrie Peterson along with guest host Pamela Deritis from Call Time Atlanta discuss what it takes to be an actor in Atlanta and why they feel the trade is so important.

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Atlanta Film Chat Episode 70: Producer & Actress Jessica Leigh Smith (The Sunday Lady, Alyssa's Tips for Easy Parenting)

Producer and actress Jessica Leigh Smith came on to talk about her film The Sunday Lady, the faith based film market, the struggles women face in the film industry, and much more!

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Atlanta Film Chat: John Pruner & Jessica Hinckle Talk About New Projects and More!

John & Jessica of Muse of Fire Films stop by to talk about their new projects, what it's like in their "day jobs" as camera operator and script supervisor/Atlanta Film Festival employee respectively, and why Back to the Future is possibly the best movie of all time!

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Atlanta Film This Week

British Gangsters, pillow talk, and aliens are on the menu this week.  Enjoy!  

 

Tuesday (1/29)

 

 

 

Wednesday (1/30)

Thursday (1/31)

Friday (2/1)

Saturday (2/2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ‘Magic’ art of puppet films

Believe it or not, Atlanta has a rich history of Puppet movies. Recent short film like The Dark Companion, Puppets of War and Shadow Puppets have made their presence known on the film festival circuit and even the sock puppet feature film from Lynn Lamousin, The Lady From Sockholm have proven to be inventive takes on the genre. It helps that Atlanta is home to the fine Center for Puppetry Arts which is very committed to the magic of puppetry.

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In the 'Blood'

In the 'Blood' Lagrange, GA native Ben Watts recently successfully raised funds through the popular crowd-funding site Kickstarter to create a short film. He shot near his home town with young actors William Harrison and Cooper Guy.

The film is titled Blood of Man and it follows a young man, a compulsive liar, and his older brother who battle boredom during the summer in a quiet southern town. When they take a shortcut through the woods, they are forced to grow up much quicker than they had ever planned.

I had the opportunity to catch up with Ben and ask him about his latest project.

Questions for Ben Watts (“Blood of Man”)

What made you want to make this film?

I was living in New York, working a job I didn’t really enjoy, and I was itching to direct again.  I wasn’t sure of the story yet, but I knew I wanted to cast children in the lead roles.  During my commutes back and forth to Manhattan, I started rereading a book of short stories by Flannery O’Connor, and something struck a chord in me that said, “This is how the film needs to feel.”  From there, I started remembering my childhood, growing up in the South and all those summers where my brothers and I had nothing to do, and the pieces fell into place.  I wanted to make a film that was steeped in that Southern culture that I grew up in and that shared the same characteristics of the O’Connor stories that I loved—the small-town sensibilities, the moral ambiguity, religion, violence—and I thought the best way to explore all of these ideas would be through the eyes of two brothers.  

How long have you been developing “Blood of Man”? Have you made other films prior to this one?

I wrote the script back in November 2011, but didn’t really pursue making it until February of this year, when my wife and I moved to San Francisco.  I started making phone calls and sending out casting notices in March, launched the Kickstarter in early April, and we just wrapped production on June 8.  I directed a few shorts in college (where I didn’t have a crew), and I’ve worked on different films in various capacities over the years, but this is my first professional short film where I got to focus on directing.    

You started a kickstarter campaign to raise the production budget, can you talk about your strategy and what you thought the key was to it ending successfully?

A friend of mine named Steve Gibson successfully raised over $11K on Kickstarter to fund a feature film in 2010.  Up until that point, I had no idea what Kickstarter was or how beneficial it could be to independent filmmakers.  When I started budgeting, I knew that crowd funding was the only way to go, and I purposefully wrote the script with the budget in mind (as I’m sure many independent filmmakers do), constantly asking myself: What’s the best story I can tell with the least amount of characters, sets, and artificial lighting?

Going into the campaign, I figured a key to being successful was giving as much detailed information as possible: who you are, where the money is going, who else is involved, etc.  A fundraising campaign is not the time to clam up and get coy about your intentions.  I think the other key to being successful was simply reminding people about your project; posting about it on Facebook, emailing, calling—whatever you can do to get the word out and keep your project name on people’s tongues.  But I can’t attribute our success to anything other than the incredible generosity of our family and friends.  In the end, they’re the ones who made this entire film possible.

What are you plans for the short once it has been completed?

We certainly want to try the festival route.  I’m knee-deep in post- production right now, and I would love to premiere the film in September, back in my hometown of LaGrange, where we shot it.  Then, after that, we’ll hopefully move on to bigger and better projects, like a feature.

Was it challenging to work with younger actors?

Believe it or not, no.  Working with the kids was honestly the most exciting part of the process for me.  I was a little nervous going into it because I was producing and coordinating from San Francisco, and I was only able to fly in a week before we started shooting.  We had almost no rehearsal time until we got on-set, and that scared me at first, but I couldn't have asked for better or more professional young actors.  All of my actors were phenomenal, but I got to work with our leads William Harrison and Cooper Guy the most, and they are both just amazingly talented.  Even at a young age, they (and Canon Kuipers, who has a supporting role), have a lot of experience in filmmaking (i.e., sitting around waiting for the next take and eating all of craft services) so they knew what to expect with the process. William and Cooper’s families have been friends for a while, so not only do they look like they could be brothers, but they act like brothers off-screen, as well; they were always trying to start fights, teasing each other--the same kind of things my brothers and I would do as kids.  Several times during the shoot, one of them would do something in between takes that was perfect for their relationship (slapping each other on the head or calling each other names) and I'd tell them to incorporate it into the scene we were doing.

Watch the teaser for Blood of Man here: https://vimeo.com/44222508

Fake Wood, Reel Talent

Atlanta has some excellent Film Collectives. Obviously, Film Collectives are nothing new, they’ve been around for years and in many places but in Atlanta they occupy a special place in the independent film scene. We’ve had a relatively recent history of success stories that came from film collectives from Atlanta . The thing with collectives is that it often seems hard to maintain a high level of commitment and energy to keep them going. From famous collectives like Zoetrope to Atlanta’s own Pop Films, film collectives often energize a group of filmmakers to achieve more together than they can working separately. Fake Wood Wallpaper is a collective that has been working together for a few years on Atlanta ’s film scene. With shorts like The Adventure which screened in film festivals such as Rotterdam International Film Festival among others as well as their cult-favorite feature Blood Car they displayed a unique style and commitment to quality productions.

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Is ‘Snow’ a 'Bluff' or all too real?

Ever since the phenomenal success of The Blair Witch Project, there seems to be a fascination as well as an eagerness to blur the lines between reality and fiction to keep an audience off guard as to what feelings to be drawn from what they are watching unfold on the screen in front of them. It can be effective marketing to boot.

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The Next Cool Thing - Georgia Film Industry Demonstrates Its Creativity and Its Power to Unite

Last night I attended the VIP Gala portion of The Next Cool Thing, a three day extravaganza displaying what Georgia's Interior Design community, inspired by the movies, as well as television, could dream up.

Impressively covering every inch of the 90,000 square feet of converted warehouse space, one could find booths featuring design elements influenced by classics such as Casablanca, Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory and Ben Hur, as well as iconic characters like James Bond. Not to be excluded, recent releases including Black Swan and box office juggernaut Avatar were also represented. Adding a festive element and bringing a bit of movie magic to the night, there were actors, models and look-alikes walking the floor, taking pictures with guests, and performing mini-shows.

Russell Kozlosky Daniel Craig Look-Alike

As an event intended "to showcase local talent and resources for the purpose of building the infrastructure for the growing film and television industry in Georgia," I think using the word success is underselling what was accomplished this weekend. Pulling together nearly two dozen sponsors and 300 exhibitors is no easy feat.  And the result of all that hardwork--especially after TNCT had to move back a week, thanks to the recent snowstorm--was an energy, a vibe, and yes, even a sexiness, that was infectious.

I hope much praise is heaped on producers Higher Ground EventsTo The Trade Only and Entertainment Design Group. They did an amazing job. And, as a member of Georgia Production Partnership*, I'm excited to see GPP playing such an integral role in reaching out beyond the film community to ensure others are benefiting from Georgia's 30 percent tax incentive.

Making a film requires a small battalion. Building up a film industry requires an army of creatives. This weekend demonstrated we've got that army, and they're ready work.

*In full disclosure, I also serve on the Membership Committee.

Raising $80,000 in 60 Days, Crystle Roberson's New Project

If you hang around the Atlanta filmmaking community long enough, you'll eventually hear the name Crystle 'Clear' Roberson come up at some point. Since being awarded Women in Film & Television's Woman to Watch award back in 2008, Roberson's been busy building up a healthy resume including working on some of Georgia's most high profile productions including Zombieland, Vampire Diaries, Footloose and of course several Tyler Perry projects. She's currently working on her next project, Echo at 11 Oak Drive, and along with her producer they've set the crazy, insane goal of raising $80,000 via iFundie in the next 51 days.

The project itself, three stories set in 1951, 1973 and 2010, in the same house, and all sharing the same dialogue, sounds intriguing and also a bit dangerous, but in a good way. It's taking what has been done in movies such as HBO's If These Walls Could Talk and its followup If These Walls Could Talk 2, a few steps further.

One of the most basic acting exercises actors go through is making a scene out of raw dialogue stripped of cues, context and direction. At first glance it can be daunting and most beginning actors go for the obvious choices. However, when an actor is on top of her game, and she takes a few risky gambles, you can get something really powerful.

A director upping that ante across time, and three radically different eras, and in something much more complex than a single scene, is something that excites folks like me. Hopefully Roberson can pull it off.

First though, is the funding. While the goal is ambitious, other folks have been able to raise 80k (although I'm curious why link to Kickstarter for examples of projects that succeeded when they went with iFundie).

Four things I really like about the way Roberson and her producer approached this is:

  1. They edited in previous work. Too few crowd sourcing campaigns from filmmakers include any examples of previous work to illustrate what the money raised might help fund.
  2. Roberson has a well written, and updated bio that exudes confidence.
  3. Offering some unique items. At the magic $20 level (that's where most donations come in) they're sharing a private link to "a never-before-seen music video" with The Wire actor Idris Elba that was directed by Roberson in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It's a nice bit of exclusivity--it's one of the reasons we all love special features on DVDS, getting to see the unreleased footage. And at the $100 level they'll let you in on the behind the scenes info of the film's making. Including sharing script changes, shot lists, casting decisions and more. Most folks won't dig all that deep into the info, but by offering such an intimate look into their process, the filmmakers are both acknowledging and honoring how much trust is involved in crowdfunding.
  4. They made the accompanying pitch video fun. There's no indie filmmaker, I'm broke, hand wringing. It's clear these two young ladies love what they do, have great personalities, and are excited about their project, and that's infectious. It also shows how much faith they have they'll reach their goal. Raising $80k? They got that.

As I'm wont to do, I do have one suggestion. Their logline is more of a tagline and they could use a succinct logline that gives a little more story detail. As someone who has to read lots and lots of loglines, vague ones are a pet peeve of mine. And, since the tagline includes, even if it's unintentional, the title of the aforementioned If These Walls Could Talk, a stronger logline would help their project stand apart more.

You can check out their pitch video below and the Echo at 11 Oak Drive iFundie page here.

Yes, But What Resources Do We Need?

"There is not enough [re]sources for film makers in Atlanta. We got to change that." That's the random tweet that came across my TweetDeck yesterday. It's a sentiment I've heard over the years, long before I worked at the Atlanta Film Festival. And in general, it's a legitimate wish. Making films is hard work and for filmmakers just starting out, support, like for any other business or art,  is key.

My issue with it though is what resources are folks really talking about?

The obvious and central one has been money. How to get funded is a primary concern with filmmakers. However, why should someone fund your film if you a) have no track record, b) have no business plan and c) (coming off b) there's no interest in what you create?

Not being harsh, I'm just being real, because there are 30,000 to 40,000 films produced around the world every year. With a majority of them coming from first time or beginning filmmakers, even when they have b, like little gremlins, a and c are still rearing their ugly little heads.

Before we get to the money part, I think we need to really think about what resources would assist local filmmakers in not simply getting started, but would help them develop, grow and evolve.

The two things that bother me more than funding are the lack of awareness of what local filmmakers are here and the lack of institutional support to help talented and promising filmmakers find their voice.

Of the many challenges for folks like me the questions are: How do we build the infrastructure to achieve these goals? How do we make that infrastructure  impactful? How do we make it self-sustaining, both financially and culturally?

Yes, Atlanta can use more resources for filmmakers. However, if we want to create a vibrant Indie Film Scene, we have to think more broadly than "get more funding" or "help our films get seen". We have to start thinking about what specific things can we do invest in our film culture here. If we create the right climate, people will want to see what we create and with a track record, people will have a better idea what they are funding.

I've got a few ideas and approaches on that and I'm aiming to post those thoughts here over the next few days.