Get to Know a Studio: It's Time to Put Doppler on Your Radar!

As a cinema sound enthusiast, I typically experience the most severe episodes of fangirl-dom whenever I’m in the presence of iconic sound facilities and the people who make the magic happen inside. Upon entering the lobby of Doppler Studios, in Midtown Atlanta, I was instantly drawn to a wall bolstering an array of gold and platinum records, including those by ATL music legends Outkast and Usher.

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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

Review: DAMSELS IN DISTRESS

Whit Stillman has returned to feature filmmaking after a 14 year absence with his latest movie Damsels in Distress. The reaction from those who were able to see the film upon its early release has ranged from bemused nostalgic welcoming to callous rebuffs from those immune to the charms of Stillman’s affectionate observations of the "urban haute bourgeoisie", dubbed UHBs in his classic first film Metropolitan. Times have changed but, maybe thankfully, Stillman’s characters don’t seem to have astutely noticed.

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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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No Little feat; Bret Wood completes another indie feature

Bret Wood is an example of an atypical filmmaker for the Atlanta scene. He’s a scholar of classic film and someone bold enough to make period pieces on an ultra-low budget. The fact that he’s also been an enthusiastic participant in the popular community film activities like the 48 Hour Film Project right next to the weekend warrior auteurs show that he’s also willing to have fun with filmmaking too.

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What The Nation Is Talking About: Film Production Tax Incentives - June 24

Movie ClapperIn the eight years since the number of states offering incentives to lure film production ballooned from under ten to forty, the incentives have been praised by industry advocates and damned by financial hawks. For many states, it's been about bad timing, as the incentives for some were enacted just a year or two before the economy tanked and they never gained any traction. Here's a snapshot glance of what's being talked about locally Tax Incentive wise in Wisconsin, New York and Maryland. Once a state offering subsidies to filmmakers, Wisconsin has become an early dropout in the race to woo Hollywood.  More than 40 states offer incentives, but Gov. Jim Doyle slashed Wisconsin’s subsidy program in 2009, leaving leaders in the state’s fledgling film industry complaining he cut too far.

Wisconsin now offers only a miniscule $500,000 a year grant program to filmmakers and video game companies. Local filmmakers say it’s not enough to foster growth in the state’s film industry.

“I don’t know of anybody that’s been able to take advantage of it,” says Michael Graf, a director and owner of Madison’s Spot Filmworks, which produces commercials for Midwestern and national clients. It’s one of just a few commercial production companies in the state. That began to change in 2008 when the state’s incentives took effect, he says – but the new studios, camera rental companies and other businesses that sprang up wilted when the incentives died.

Wisconsin, you could have been in the pictures!

Speaking at a press event outside of the Capitol, [Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick] Lazio blasted the state for replacing the $500 million Empire Zone program with the $50 million Excelsior program while increasing the Film Production Tax Credit by $85 million, Gannett’s Jon Campbell reports.

“The big shots in Hollywood—the celebrities, the big investors, the big money players—they’re actually getting an increase at the expense of the average small businessperson in New York,” Lazio said.

“The answer is pretty clear: the special interests are in control of the special interest government.”

Lazio Visits Albany, Talks Tax Breaks and Cuomo

Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said Wednesday that he would lure television and film productions to Maryland by expanding a state tax credit that has been cut since he left office.

The state budgeted $6 million for the tax credit under Ehrlich; the current figure is about $1 million. As a result, the Ehrlich campaign said Wednesday, no major production has come to Maryland in three years.

Ehrlich would boost credit for film, TV productions