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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 ways you can learn how to make films. You can go to film school. You can study film books/history/theory. You can get a job as a PA on a film set. Or starting at age 15, you can make 300+ rap music videos in the nooks and crannies of London, England. As you’d expect, Charlotte Regan did the latter, which is perhaps why her work stands out as being beautifully offbeat, charmingly nonconventional, and — best of all — funny.

There is a point at which most creatives wonder if they’ll ever get where they’re going. Usually, it comes along after they’ve invested a number of years, a lot of effort, and a substantial amount of money. There doesn’t seem to be a way forward, and there doesn’t seem to be a way back. In story terms, you might call it a dark night of the soul. For Rachel Morrison, this point came about after she spent two and a half years directing photography for a reality show called The Hills.

Hip Hop Cafe is smart. Very smart. From the location to the soundtrack, the concept to the execution, it all works together seamlessly — which is quite the feat considering the entire short film is framed solely around classic hip-hop lyrics. It’s a simple, yet incredibly time-intensive and difficult concept to pull off. When we talked with U.K. filmmaker Robbie Samuels (a.k.a superrocketman) about his Staff-Picked film, he seemed to have a matter-of-fact reaction to our glowing review of his passion project. To him, it was simple:

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 you gave five different filmmakers the same prompt, you’d get five different films. That’s because every objective element of the process (plot, characters, story) passes through the most subjective filter of all: our perspective. What results is an infinitely nuanced version of reality, with all of our biases, opinions, and values attached. This perspective is what makes films unique and it’s defined by our first-hand experiences, which is exactly why U.K. Director Charlotte Regan’s films are successful — she writes what she knows. Nothing more, nothing less.

It may have started as a film school assignment, but the short film AWAY quickly became a film school in itself for Zach Zombek (a.k.a. Convolv). Over the course of its three-year production, the demands of the film forced Zach to master everything from cinematography to visual effects to scoring. “That’s one reason we kept the team so small,” Zach told us. “It forced me to learn these things instead of having someone else do them for me.”