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.
There are a lot of action-sports films out there. A lot. Maybe that’s because in extreme sports the drama is baked in. High stakes (failure, injury, death), conflict (man vs. nature, man vs. skate park, man vs. gravity), and dynamic characters (who does this stuff anyway?). But despite all of this, these films often lack the basic element for a lasting effect: relatability. They are awe-inspiring, yes, but don’t connect. Spellbinding, sure, but hard to remember. They are — not always, but often — lightning minus the thunder.
Eliot Rausch likes parables and has a habit of turning them into beautiful and thought-provoking, albeit highly ambiguous, short films. On the surface, the form might seem outdated. Parables aren’t data-driven. They’re not timely. They’re not easily retweetable, shareable, likeable, loveable, Snapchat-able. They don’t contain takeaways. All reasons why it would be easy to write them off. And all reasons why we need them now more than ever. “Our time is limited and our attention spans are really short,” Eliot told us. “There’s something incredibly beautiful about passing on these short parables to future generations.”
At just 26 years old, Daisy Jacobs was nominated for an Academy Award for her animated short film, The Bigger Picture. Short in this context is a bit ironic. The project was physically massive: life-sized paintings painstakingly animated frame by frame over six months. The result is striking — unforgettable even. Ostensibly a simple story about a family, the film explores life-sized issues including death, loss, anger, and grief. In many ways, the scale of the art matches the scale of the themes. But that might be too tidy of an interpretation. Daisy’s reasons for working in the large scale are much more down to earth: “Personally, I can get more into the character,” she told us. “He is the same size as me; and what he does and physically touches, I’m animating at the same scale I encounter in the real world.”
In a film, “Every object, every color, every detail tells a story,” cinematographer Laura Merians told us. “For me, philosophy and filmmaking have a lot of similarities. You’re trying to communicate something. You’re trying to explore a subject or find meaning. As a filmmaker, I’m constantly trying to find the deeper meaning.”
No matter what kind of profession you work in, there’s something to be said for good, old-fashioned hustle. Squeezing every bit of value out of an experience. When director Tucker Bliss stepped up to direct the Staff-Picked Monster Factory, he was bringing a wealth of experience, taste, and style to the table — all of which were developed in one place: commercial work. Whether you’re a filmmaker whose goal is to make a feature-length narrative or to direct ads for Nike, there’s a lesson to be learned here: why pay for an education when you can get paid for an education?
The “based on a true story” trope is equal parts appealing and daunting for a filmmaker. An amazing story rooted in some sort of reality can feel like the perfect creative storm. But how do you do it justice — especially when it hits close to home for a community in the wake of a tragedy? That was the challenge facing Evan Ari Kelman, director and co-writer of Where There’s Smoke, when he set about exploring the transformative nature of the tragedy that occurred one night in 2005 when three FDNY firefighters lost their lives — otherwise known as “Black Sunday.”
If our conversation with Dan Sadgrove seems to rove a bit, bear with us. It’s what he does. “I don’t have a mortgage or assets. I have a suitcase of clothes and that’s about it,” he told us. The director films projects during his travels across the globe, so when our conversation went to Vietnam, South Africa, or West Texas, we let it go there. And while it may seem like he lives a romantic life on the road, Dan didn’t hesitate in admitting that it’s a hard life as well. In fact, he was reluctant to encourage anyone to take it on.
Defining the role of a producer is like trying to hit a moving target. One day they may be drumming up funding and the next day they may be booking flights for their team. Or, in Lindsey Hagen’s case, doling out ginseng tablets to help prevent altitude sickness and climbing a 19,000-foot volcano in Ecuador. As the executive producer on La Cumbre, she played a decidedly hands-on role from start to finish. In fact, she formulated the film’s concept herself on a 3-month hike across New Zealand. Her goal: to bring a group of adaptive athletes to a region where “adaptive athlete” wasn’t even in the vernacular.