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Who hasn’t had to scale back an epic film project knowing there is no way to actually pay for it? Between quality actors, a camera crew, makeup artists, stunt doubles, and you name it, the cost of a film adds up fast. But, thanks to great crowdfunding platforms, there’s no better time to pitch your film to potential patrons and help your film go the extra mile.

Movie magic happens in an instant. It’s an alchemy of elements that, for whatever reason, creates something much more valuable than the pieces themselves. And like alchemy, the formula has been sought for generations. So far, no luck. But if there’s one thing we know movie magic does not require, it’s a lot of time.

When Ricky Staub, founder and director of Neighborhood Film Company, decided to make his first narrative short film, he went back to the oldest writing adage in the book: write what you know. And what did Ricky know? North Philly, that’s what. “It’s the most inspiring place I’ve ever lived,” he told us. “It’s a unique world that I don’t see explored a lot — a world I have tons of nuanced insight into.”

A sculptor doesn’t see the rock. A sculptor sees what’s inside the rock (i.e. The Sculpture). It takes a different kind of eyes — ones that look past the surface and see the shape underneath. In many ways, it’s the same kind of eyes that a documentary filmmaker needs: x-ray eyes. “You have to chisel away at big chunks of rock,” filmmaker Jake Viramontez told us. “But what it ultimately reveals is something beautiful underneath.” Jake’s latest film, Killing the Rock, is both about a sculptor and is a sculpture in itself: a piece of art carved from the Syrian refugee crisis, and one man’s attempt to make sense of the senseless. Watch the film below, then read more about Jake’s experience making it.

Three recent design school graduates are sitting in a room somewhere in the Netherlands, listening to an album. The record skips. They think: Did the record just skip? Or did we travel through time a little bit? It’s the kind of bizarro question that will become common for these three. Jump-cut 10 years into the future, and this seed of an idea has become the Oscar-nominated animated short film A Single Life, created by the now-renowned animation studio Job, Joris & Marieke.

Documentaries excel when they don’t hold back, when they give an “unmitigated” perspective on someone’s life, as director Garrett Bradley puts it. That’s exactly how she managed to make an incredibly specific story relate on such a broad level, by telling a story in its entirety. Because, when you get below the surface-level details, great documentaries remind us that our stories aren’t as unique as we may have thought in the first place.

Tom Levinge’s comedic short, Mister Biscuits, is silly. It suspends reality by putting humans in the roles of beloved pets. There’s the occasional poop gag. And it’s unapologetically a “dog movie,” whereby the power of one’s pet’s affections is strong enough to help the protagonist recover, repair, and move on with their life — despite undergoing some pretty significant hardships. And yet, that’s exactly what makes this piece such a fantastic filmmaking achievement. It’s recognizable but inventive. It’s impossible, but it’s honest.

Sometimes the most compelling way to present a story is to take a step back. A narrative can, and will do the work for itself, giving the audience the chance to make its own conclusions. But, make no mistake; this “hands-off” approach doesn’t take any less work than the alternative. Documentary filmmaker James Burns went to painstaking lengths in building relationships with his subjects in Revolving Doors, a film that follows a man facing his second stint in prison. But, by putting in the time to build relationships, he had the opportunity to reveal the humanity behind recidivism in the prison system. Burns, an ex-convict turned filmmaker, crafts stories about how quickly we forget that incarcerated individuals are still human like the rest of us.

Dylan Allen’s The Privates manages to tackle sci-fi, indie-rock, group dynamics, and merge them into one brilliantly thoughtful short film. The ideas in the ensemble comedy transcend filmmaking: waiting for your big break, struggling through creative differences, grappling with the drive to create something so great it melts faces. But despite all of those highly recognizable elements, the film has a wit and through-line that is totally original. That’s probably due in large part to the work Allen put into making every single role in his cast of characters strong enough to stand out from the background noise.