They got it ‘Made’

AMM_JewelryThe latest great Recession has been the subject matter in many a recent film. Many of them retell the way the market crashed and strive to point fingers at the culprits who may have made it happen. In the new documentary, American Made Movie, two Georgia filmmakers also show us some people who make it happen. The difference is that many of the subjects in this movie are thriving in spite of the difficulties presented in the current economic landscape. Vincent Vittorio and Nathan McGill (An Inconvenient Tax) teamed to make American Made Movie which opens in theaters August 30th. They are native Georgians but their movie uncovers many areas of the U.S. and examines the decline in America¹s manufacturing workforce while also highlighting many success stories.

I was able to contact them about their project.

AMM_Sparks 1. What was the inspiration to taking a look at entrepreneurs in America?

Nathan: We both have family that worked in manufacturing. Vincent's wife has family that worked in Detroit, and my grandfather, father and uncles all worked for General Motors at the Lakewood and Doraville Plants in Georgia before they shut down. So, manufacturing has always been a part of our lives. As a company, we focus on bringing important to topics to life and covering these issues in a way that is more story driven than politically driven. We want to give a base of knowledge for the viewer to make their decisions from while offering a practical call to action. We want our viewers to know they can do more than just complain about the problems in the country. As documentary filmmakers, we were tracking several trends; one of them was the organic label.

Vincent: We saw how consumer demand leads to companies and retailers meeting that demand. The organic label is a great example of the difference that demand can make. A few years ago, there weren't any of these products and now there are entire stores dedicated to it. It made us think back to our families and the Made In The USA label they used to talk about. It brought us back to manufacturing at a time where lots of Americans were just starting to pay attention to the issue again. Within a week of green-lighting the film, Diane Sawyer was on ABC World News talking about Made in the USA.

2. Describe the biggest challenges in getting this project completed?

Vincent: The biggest challenge really is now with this release. We know that this film has the power to connect the viewer to this relationship that many people have never thought about. The response at advanced screenings has been outstanding!  But we need to get the audience to know about the film and to go see it, and when you are competing with millions of dollar budgets in a gigantic summer at the movies… it can be a challenge not to get drowned out. So we need everyone that hears about it to follow us on Twitter, like our Facebook page, and share, share, share! We can all make a difference by getting the film in front of more people!

3. Did you draw on any particular documentaries as influences for this movie?AMM_Slugger

Nathan: In its format and style, I think the film drew from the structure of a Food, Inc. as well as one of our favorite docs, King of Kong. Food, Inc.  is about the Food Industry and we are looking at manufacturing, but where they are similar is in the multiple story lines and characters to take the viewer through the information. We have a central character who's up and down ride in the global economy takes a surprising and bit of a funny twist, and so to tell that story in reverse was a fun process and not many docs do as good a job of connecting the audience to its characters as King of Kong does. - But I would also just add that with each film you learn to do things that are uniquely you. In our last film, An Inconvenient Tax, we told an hour and a half story with interviewees and no narrator. That's insanely hard and while even if no one else recognizes the feat, I'm proud of it. We wanted a bit of that interviewee style in this film to carry over, but depart from what we did in the last film by telling personal and emotional stories of the manufacturers and people who deal with this issue first hand. I think the stories are really where our viewers have been able to connect to the film.

American Made Movie starts Friday, August 30, 2013 at the AMC Colonial 18 Theater in Lawrenceville, GA

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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:

Blood Ties sets Release Date

I like to do a follow-up on stories we’ve already done at CinemATL, it proves our instincts were true in discovering a local filmmaker who had the mettle to bring their project to fruition. I especially like the one I’m doing now because of how determined the filmmaker involved has been at getting his work completed and at such a high production value.

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Building Up Atlanta's Indie Film Scene Part 1: Does Atlanta Have an Indie Film Scene?

I'm assuming you're reading this site because you are either vested in Atlanta's film scene, or you have a passing interest in it. It's also probably safe for me to guess that if you're an Atlanta filmmaker, you'd answer yes to the above question. A few years a go, I too would have answered the same. Now? I'd say that at best, we have half a film scene.

True, we do have a lot of filmmakers. Many turning out new work every few months. And we definitely have one of the larger crew bases in the country.

If having a large filmmaking community was enough, we'd be all good. Yet, a thriving Indie Film Scene is more than about counting bodies and productions. It's not even about producing "better" projects. And it's not even about finding more money (what!?!). It's not even about exhibiting more films locally (WTF!?! FU Charles!).

Those elements each play a part, most definitely. However, having a dynamic film scene, an interesting film scene, is at its heart, all about conversations, continuous growth, new challenges and constant reinvention. It's about being in a place where risks are taken and filmmakers push each other creatively. It's about an environment that fosters the development of new voices and building up an excitement that extends beyond the core film community.

These last two points are key.

Metro Atlanta is a city of 5 million and frankly over the last few years, we--and that we does include where I work, I'm not letting myself or my organization off the hook--haven't done the best job of tapping into that population to create new film fans or find the folks doing interesting work and giving them a supportive infrastructure.

If we can't get beyond our friends, families and co-workers to see our work, what hope do we have in engaging audiences beyond Metro Atlanta? What hope do we have that what we do will be rediscovered 3, 5 or 20 years from now. If we aren't creating spaces that allow filmmakers to experiment and fail, if we aren't offering them useful feedback they can apply to their next projects, why should we expect to see anything new or daring?

So right now, we have half a film scene. We've got a lot of the pieces and the ambition and the talent is here. Question is, how do we bring the elements together to elevate Atlanta's Film Scene to another level?

Before I get to that, we need to let go of a few of the basics:

  1. We must let go of the feature film and a theatrical screening as the holy grails. I'm not suggesting filmmakers stop making features or aiming for theatrical. I'm suggesting we expand how we tell stories and how we present (deliver) those stories. Not every story is meant to be a feature, not every film works best in a theater. And audiences want choices.
  2. We must let go of the idea that shorts are only good as calling cards. They need to be seen as being a part of a filmmaker's entire body of work. And they shouldn't be approached as if they're a culmination of everything a filmmaker has learned either. It's also silly to treat something that some will spend months and even years on as little more than an expensive, time consuming, business card.
  3. We must let go of the idea that we should make better films. Making better films as a goal is much too intangible. We need to be thinking about not only incremental growth, pushing ourselves to take chances in specific areas of our filmmaking. We should also be targeting filmmakers on a individual level. It's not the films we need to invest in, it's the people.
  4. We must let go of the idea that more money is the answer. Money is a tool, it's not a solution.
  5. If we have any fear of failure, we must let that go. If we're going to sit around, waiting for someone else to find the answers first because we don't want to put any skin in the game, we might has well not even participate.

If you have your own ideas about how to build up Atlanta's Indie Film Scene, please post them here. I'd love to hear them. They may even influence where I go with part 2.

ATL filmmaker Joseph Stovall is Coming Correct in 2010

Independent filmmaker Joseph Stovall has said, “Atlanta has a GREAT Film Community.” I definitely agree with that sentiment, but Joseph is also quick to challenge that same community to do better while not being frozen by the daunting tasks of doing so that it keeps them from simply doing it.

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ATLFF 2010: "Love" Rocks Festival

Rebound relationships can be a real bitch. So goes the theme of the RomCom/Horror mash-up Love on the Rocks which is written and directed by Georgia Tech grad Justin Edwards whose feature film marks his debut at the Atlanta Film Festival.

The film tells the story of Amber and Gavin who are ending their relationship for presumably greener pastures. Not so fast, my friend. Amber meets Patrick, an unexciting but thoughtful man that appears to be the kind of guys she’s been seeking. However, Patrick’s relationships never seem to end on friendly terms. Meanwhile Gavin meets Yasmine, a hypnotist who needs her mates to become her pets, literally. Fatefully the lives of the two new couples intersect.

Justin assembled a veteran cast and crew from the Atlanta area including Producer Kapil Gandhi (Rex), Cinematographer Jon Swindall, and Justin Welborn who’s no stranger to Atlanta Film Festival audiences with prominent roles in past festival favorites like The Signal and Dance of the Dead.

I asked Director Justin Edwards a few questions about his film.

This is your third feature film as a director, correct? Was it easier this time around or were the challenges more complex?

Second actually... My first film was a student feature, "John's Blender" which was done through Buzz Studios, the filmmaking club at Georgia Tech. This is my first film with an actual budget though, and it certainly was nice to be able to solve a problem during production by throwing money at it (albeit a small amount of money). With no budget, the smallest things can hold up production, so it was reassuring to know I had reserve funds I could tap into in an emergency. But of course (to quote the late Biggie Smalls) "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems".... A bigger production definitely brought about a myriad of logistical headaches. Luckily I had an extremely dedicated cast and crew, so we were able to collectively "share" this headache together.

You currently live in Boston but decided to come back to Atlanta to film “Love on the Rocks” what factors helped you make that decision?

I've lived in the Atlanta area most of my life, and it’s the place where I know the most people. And on a low-budget feature, friends and family are your greatest assets. We also were able to pick up Kapil Gandhi as a producer, who after just coming off the Union Feature "Rex," had made a lot of connections in the Atlanta film community. He was able to assemble a fantastic production team in the Atlanta area.

What were the biggest challenges in getting your film made?

Casting gave us a bit of a scare... I remember being two weeks from production and still not having three of our principle actors. The same thing with locations... some scenes we were able to find locations for only a day before shooting. Those are the kind of things you laugh about at the wrap party when it’s all over, but at the time, you tend to lose a lot of sleep for it.  Editing was another big challenge, a two year endurance run, many different cuts, many arguments, many punches thrown, many makeup hugs over a beer... and in the end we all got what we wanted.

What was the inspiration for the movie?

I remember five years ago, when I first came up with the idea, how I thought it would be fun to take two genres (romantic comedy and horror) from complete opposite sides of the spectrum, and see how they would react to each other. From this the character of Patrick was born, and the idea of a "hopeless romantic turned psychopathic killer" really intrigued me.

What are the next steps for “Love on the Rocks” and you as a filmmaker?

For "Love on the Rocks" we plan to continue our festival run, and hopefully somewhere down the line land a distribution deal. As for me... well, I'm gonna keep on truckin' I suppose....

Martin Kelley is Editor-in-Chief of He's also a local screenwriter and filmmaker who co-founded the Atlanta Screenwriters Group, one of the largest screenwriting organizations in the Southeast. His latest film "Battle" is in post production