Lisa Stark may be a relatively new name in the film and television industry here in Chattanooga, but she is already making her mark as the go-to professional who gets things done. We are delighted to feature Lisa in the CFS SPOTLIGHT and to share with everyone the story of one woman who made her creative dreams come true.
CFS: What is your involvement in the film and television industry?
LS: I freelance in several areas; Art Department, Casting, Wardrobe, & Locations. In a small market such as Chattanooga, wearing several hats allows me greater opportunity. This summer I earned my first Producer credit for the short film, “The Day After Stonewall Died”, shot in Chattanooga and Dalton, GA. I serve on the board of directors of the AFFT – Association for the Future of Film & Television in TN, and the Chattanooga Film Society.
CFS:What are some projects you’ve worked on in recent years?
LS: I’ve worked with a number of area production companies and ad agencies on local TV commercials for the Chattanooga CVB, BCBS, EPB, Memorial Hospital, Bank of America, and AT&T. I was a Costume Assistant on “Water for Elephants”, and a production assistant for “42”. I’ve also worked on several reality TV shows; “Small Town Security”, “Hoarders”, “My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding”, “Toddlers in Tiaras”, National Geographic’s “Mystery Manhunt”, and “Extreme Makeover Home Edition”.
CFS: Are you able to keep busy as a freelancer?
LS: I’m relatively new to the field and just got started in 2010. Each year I am getting more work. It takes a little time to build a network, but once you get connected, work picks up. 2013 has been the best yet! To help balance the peaks and valleys of freelance activity, I volunteer with groups that inspire me. Volunteering keeps me engaged between jobs. Being with folks who contribute to the larger community feeds me. This year, I spent time with Mark Making helping with their civil rights mural series. “We Shall Not Be Moved” was installed on the side of Champie’s on MLK, this summer during the Bessie Smith Strut. I also worked with The Center for Mindful Living and their pilot program to teach Mindfulness to CSLA 6th and 7th graders. I attended the Holmberg Arts Leadership Institute in the fall, where I met many wonderful people, got connected with the Chattanooga arts community, and found inspiration to continue pursuing my passion for film.
CFS:What drove you to pursue this kind of work?
LS: I had been working part time for several years teaching at a local preschool and wanted to get back to my creative roots. When I joined Facebook, I reconnected with some of my friends from the NIU school of art. I was inspired by their creative careers. I read about the production assistant training program at Chattanooga State in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, and saw it as a springboard into working behind the scenes in film and using my creativity in a fresh way.
CFS:What is your background?
LS: I grew up in suburban Chicago, studied art at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, and Spirituality at Mundelein College in Chicago. As a student in DeKalb, I frequented the Egyptian Theatre for it’s art house films. I saw Blue Velvet, Biko and My Beautiful Launderette there. I guess that’s when my interest in film began. As newlyweds, my husband and I had date nights at the Fine Arts Theatre in Chicago. Two films we saw there stand out in my memory, Camille Claudel, and Dreams by Akira Kurosawa. We had a public library with a fantastic film section near our 1st apartment. We would drag our mattress to the living room floor & watch foreign films all weekend on our 13” color TV from Montgomery Ward and a rented VCR.
I’ve been married for 23 years and am the mother of 3 teenagers. I treasure the years I spent with my children as a stay-at-home mom. As they got more independent, I began to pursue creative work outside the home. My eldest son is a sophmore at Vanderbilt and we just took our 2nd son to begin his freshman year at Emory-Oxford College. Our daughter is in high school.
CFS: What kind of training did you have, if any?
LS: In 2010 I took the Production Assistant training and Location Scouting & Management classes at Chattanooga State in the Professional Film & Television Training Program.
LS: Being patient as my career develops. I’ve had to take a lot of chances, get out of my comfort zone and trust in the process. You put your best foot forward, and learn to live with ambiguity as you blunder about because you are new to the field. When working as an office production assistant for a major motion picture company, you should know that there is difference between yellow & goldenrod paper before making 200 copies! Luckily, there are angels in the field who will cut you some slack, because you try hard and have the right attitude!
CFS:What is the most rewarding?
LS: I enjoy creative collaboration and working with smart, fun people that bring out the best in each other and push the creative envelope. Taking risks has created opportunities. Accepting a volunteer position as Chattanooga area board representative for AFFT led to producing “The State of the Film Industry in Chattanooga” meeting in May and required reaching out to local government, state representatives, senators, the local film community and stretching myself in a leadership position. A successful meeting led to being invited to take on the role of Producer for the short film “The Day After Stonewall Died”. In my role as Producer for the short film, I helped bring together crew by calling on people I met through the Chattanooga Film Society, the Holmberg Arts Leadership program, Chattanooga State, Mark Making, and “42”. It was a thrill to help assemble a team of talented and passionate film professionals.
CFS: Have you worked in markets outside of Chattanooga? How do our crews compare to other places?
LS: I’ve not done much work outside of Chattanooga, but have worked with crews from around the country. I think our Chattanooga crew is top-notch! What we lack in numbers, we make up in quality. It takes people working thoughtfully to create a positive crew culture. We have that core group of thoughtful individuals in Chattanooga. These folks are smart, have a great work ethic, a “can do” attitude and respect for each crew person as a part of the creative whole. It is an absolute pleasure to work with a “professional” crew. I worked on a project with a production company from Nashville recently and the producer was very impressed with our Chattanooga crew.
I’m looking forward to venturing into bigger markets in a few years, when my “nest” is empty. I took my first business trip to work as a set-dresser in Florida this summer, which was fun!
LS: I’d love to see more Independent film come out of Chattanooga. I hope “The Day After Stonewall Died” will set a precedent for the quality of work that can be produced locally. More production should originate here. I’d like to see local production companies developing content for major networks. Chattanooga is brimming with talent. With the Chattanooga Film Festival on the horizon April 3rd-6th, 2014, let’s #respectcinema and embrace Chattanooga’s emerging identity as a film town!
CFS: What advice do you have to other people contemplating a career in film and television production?
LS: Be prepared to pull up your sleeves and work hard. See every job as a gift and show up hungry to learn. Practice the golden rule – treat others as you would like to be treated. Understand and respect set etiquette. Don’t be defensive. Put your ego aside and be willing to take direction from those who have more experience. Bring a calm and helpful energy to all that you do.
This month in the SPOTLIGHT we are moving from the big screen film world to the small screen of television and discovering there’s nothing “small” at all about the work of Tom Rowland. Tom says his career all started with fishing and now he’s in the big television ponds of ESPN, NBC Sports, and 55 million viewing households. Tom’s career has taken him across the country from Idaho to Florida, with multiple stops in between, but now he calls Chattanooga home. CFS is pleased to welcome Tom to the SPOTLIGHT.
CFS: How did you first get involved in television?
TR: I got involved with television through my fishing. I was a professional fishing guide in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana before moving to Key West, FL and guiding there. I was asked to be a guest on Shaw Grigsby’s One More Cast show for TNN. The next year, I was invited to be in the Inaugural ESPN Great Outdoor Games and was able to win both a gold and silver medal. I liked being on television, I liked the whole process. At the time, I was a guide in Key West, FL with a lot of experience fishing the Rocky Mountain rivers. I had a good hook as a saltwater guide who just won the most prestigious fly fishing competition in the world and over 20 television shows came to film with me. My next step was to start fishing in the professional redfish tournaments. These tournaments required a ton of travel and that was very hard for me. My wife and I had two babies in diapers at home and the travel was extremely difficult. When I was in Venice, LA at a tournament, Hurricane Charlie came across Key West. I could not leave LA and my family could not get out of Key West. We began the drive home and I developed the concept for the show on the way. With a lot of hard work we made the show a reality. That was 10 years ago.
CFS: Did you have any mentors in this business?
TR: Shaw Grigsby was very helpful in the beginning and has remained a good friend. We have many to thank that came before us and paved a road that we can follow like Bill Dance, Roland Martin and Jerry McKinnis.
CFS: What is your business model?
TR: We buy time on networks like ESPN or NBC Sports, produce the show on our own budget and sell commercial inventory, in-show integration and sponsor mention within the show. We sell category exclusivity to all of our sponsors.With the success of Saltwater Experience, we started another show for Offshore Fishing called Into the Blue and replicated our model.
TR: Facebook has been successful for us. Saltwater Experience has 162,000 friends and Into the Blue has 132,000. We are also active on Twitter and Instagram for both shows as well. Youtube is important and we are developing a fan base there and have recently added free podcasts for both shows.
CFS: Why did you decide to move back to Chattanooga?
TR: I grew up in Chattanooga and have visited through the years. Every time I returned, the city was nicer and more beautiful. I am still amazed at the transformation of the downtown area.The schools in the Keys were ok, but I found it hard to accept when I knew that there were schools of the caliber of Normal Park, Bright School, McCallie, Baylor, and GPS in Chattanooga. Ultimately the schools and proximity to family was the catalyst to return, but we had to get Saltwater Experience in a position that I could move. Once that happened, we were able to sell our house in the Keys before the big crash. My friends joke that I sold the last house in Florida.
CFS: What have your experiences been like here working with local crew compared to crews you’ve worked with in Florida over the years?
TR: On the fishing shows, I have a team of true professionals that have been producing that type of programing for a very long time. We work extremely well together and have created a repeatable formula that people really like. I have worked with some local crews on other projects and have been both very impressed and very disappointed. It is just like anywhere else. I have had the same experience in the fishing world before I assembled my current team.
CFS: What is Fitness Truth?
TR: Fitness Truth is a show about my group of guys that meets at 5:00 am five days a week to train in about every conceivable way. I noticed that people were REALLY interested in what we were doing because when I would go out that’s all anyone wanted to talk about. The group has turned into something way more than just an exercise group. We are brothers, like a fitness fraternity complete with the pranks, humor, suffering and craziness. One day I thought I would turn the camera on and see what happened. We filmed two seasons and the show is now in 55 million households and we are preparing for a third season. It is my hope that the show can inspire people to take control of their health, learn how to eat properly, and really enjoy their life far more than they are doing currently. I have seen it happen countless times in my small group. If we could have an effect like that on a large group of people, I would consider the show one of the biggest successes of my lifetime.
CFS: Do you shoot that locally?
TR: The majority of the show has been shot locally. We travel to challenge ourselves in Tough Mudder races, Spartan Races, and other stuff. We have brought in Green Berets to put us through 12 hour challenges and will do the same with Navy SEALS later this year. We are always looking for more challenges and something that will make a good story. I have teamed with Mindflow Media locally and I am very excited to work with them on Season three.
CFS: Where is it shown?
TR: We air on many different FOX affiliates, ROOT Sports, Universal Sports, CSN and other regional networks. Currently it is in 55 million households.
CFS: What are you plans for growing your audience?
TR: Right now, we are placing a high priority on the social media and growing that. It is much more active than the fishing show audience and we add stuff everyday. Some people are following our workouts from other countries and lots of people just go to the site every day to see what we have done this morning before they woke up. We are using Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Tumblr, Youtube, and Pinterest. So far, the most exciting thing I have seen in the social media space is Vine. It works really well with our content and we can easily add fresh content daily.We are working hard to take the show to a new level and hope to partner with a network in 2014 to produce original episodes.
CFS: Do you see potential for the local film and television industry to grow?
TR: There is a tremendous potential in Chattanooga. As Chattanooga brings in more young entrepreneurs and exciting businesses, the need for film and media will grow quickly. I don’t think there are enough talented film makers and television industry people in Chattanooga now to fill the future demand. It is exciting.
CFS:What other TV projects would you like to pursue?
TR: We have a show about inshore saltwater fishing, one about offshore saltwater fishing, so the next step in the fishing world is a freshwater show. Fitness Truth is really important right now and I expect that it will be a big part of 2014. I will get the freshwater show going in my “spare time”.
CFS: Will Chattanooga be a part of your future plans?
TR: Chattanooga is the perfect place for a freshwater show. BASS just named Lake Chickamauga the 6th best lake for bass fishing in the entire country. We have some fantastic trout fishing and striper fishing in the immediate area. I would love to do a show that could promote tourism in the area like we have done for the Florida Keys.
CFS: What advice do you have for people interested in a television career?
TR: Just do it.
CFS: Anything else you would like to add?
TR: I love Chattanooga and sincerely hope to do a lot of television work here in the future.
CFS: What was it like doing your first indie film?
CFS: Tell us about the films you have shot locally over the years. Where did you shoot? How much local crew and talent did you use?
CFS: You have some experience with made for TV movies. Would Chattanooga be especially well-suited to host those kind of productions?
JB: Yes, absolutely. There are diverse locations and talent in Chattanooga, so any number of Hallmark movies, SyFy movies, HBO movies, etc could be done here. BUT…there are several clear reasons why they aren’t being shot here, which we will get to in the next question.
This month we are proud to put one of the founding members of CFS in the Spotlight. When we say Wallace Braud has done it all, we aren’t kidding. Find out how he got his start in film and television production and what he loves best about the business, and doing business in Chattanooga.
WB: I have been working in media production since the late 70′s. Most of my work over those years has been telling “stories” for companies and large non-profits. My first major production management position was starting the media department for Habitat For Humanity International at their headquarters, back in the early 80′s. Over a five year period, the work there allowed me to travel to Central and South America, Africa, and almost every state in the U.S., shooting stills and mostly 16mm film. Story telling for organizations and companies has included commercials, training, internal communications, sales, public relations, live events, news, and documentary style productions. Within that structure, I’ve worked as director of photography, producer, editor, director, videographer, grip, gaffer, set designer, you name it. Since 1999, I’ve worked predominately freelance as a shooter and editor, but have also trained staff at large broadcast entities (NBC, Verizon, Turner Sports) in media asset management systems and other technology. Another sidebar has been some large media system installations for organizations. Recently more of my work has been in documentary and museum projects. I enjoy every aspect of production and as long as it’s legal, moral, and pays decently, I am happy to either turnkey a project or just support another producer or company produce the best product possible as part of the crew.
CFS: You were one of the original co-founders of CFS. Can you explain your involvement and what motivated you?
WB: My love for this industry and this art. There is a lot of talent in this area and my hope was to help cultivate that for each of those artists, this community, and the production market. A main driving force was to see more cooperation among the production community.
CFS: What inspired you to go into the film and television industry?
WB: It was a bit of an accident. I was a journalism major, with a minor in theatre, and ended up working as a volunteer for the PBS affiliate in Houston writing for their fund raising auction. I got hooked on the TV production environment and it seemed like it might be a good place to put together all my artistic interests and skills, along with, maybe, making a difference. I was able to get an internship at the station during my junior year in college and was hired two weeks later, allowing me to spend the last two years of my degree in communications, working in the special projects and public affairs departments of the station. In that two years I worked on the crews for two national news specials, two music specials, a weekly public affairs program and various other projects. It was a great way to start.
CFS: How long have you been working in the film and television industry and how much of your career has been in Chattanooga?
WB: About 35 years. Have been in Chattanooga market since 1987, so about 25 years.
CFS: You have a wide range of experience and a have had a lot of different titles from cinematograper to editor, director, producer and more, so what’s your favorite of all?
WB: My favorite, which I don’t get to do as often as I’d like, is directing. But most days, it’s whatever part of the process in which I am involved. The creative process, no matter what facet of this business, is what keeps me going. Would be hard-pressed to do anything else.
CFS: What changes have you seen in the local professional community since you started working/ living here?
WB: It seems to me that the interest levels and the quality of the folks involved has grown. People seem to be pretty serious about really “doing” production, ranging from great indie narrative work to some interesting documentary projects. The increased training available in the area has also been a factor both on a formal collegiate level and through community based initiatives.
CFS: Where do we need to go to truly be a “film” town?
WB: Going back to something I mentioned earlier, I believe we still need more cooperation between various people and arts entities within our area. A bit more collaboration, less rivalry, focusing on common goals and building up the whole industry here rather than separate pieces of the same big pie. It’s started, it’s much better than it was 6 or 7 years ago. We’ve got the talent here, we just need to be more intentionally organized. I have a lot of hope for what we could do as a whole. With all that said, though, it would help if there were more state governmental support for our industry. It’s hard to compete with other states and their incentive programs.
WB: As usual, my projects tend to be pretty eclectic in nature. Recently did a Civil War video, a music video with a menopause theme, installed the audio/video/internet system in a $3M house in Atlanta, and completed an interactive touchscreen database, and am currently working on a personal video project with my wife that we hope to get to market in the near future. Of what am I most proud? It’s hard to say . . . but, probably the work that I’ve done in documentaries and for non-profits. These story-telling ventures provide personal fulfillment and, hopefully, provide a means of moving this community and/or our world in a positive direction.
CFS: Do you think Chattanooga is a well-kept secret in the film and television community?
WB: It is a well kept secret. As a freelancer, I am constantly being amazed and perplexed that companies and producers will bring crew in from out of town to do work for which there are plenty of great people locally that could do the work as well, or maybe better. I hope we can overcome some of that secret through our coordinated efforts. It’s happening, but pretty slowly.
CFS: Why do you value your CFS membership and why should somebody join?
WB: I believe CFS can be a great place to start the idea of cooperation between people in our profession, the arts community here, and with the world that needs to know what we can do. It’s also provides a venue for networking, training, and enhancing the influence of our industry within this community. If you are passionate about what we do and having more reach through an economy of scale, then here’s a great opportunity.
CFS: Are you still learning and growing as a filmmaker?
WB: I definitely learn from every project with which I am involved. Hopefully, I’m also growing because of that. I have the opportunity to learn from those above me in the chain of command on a project. I, also, always learn from my peers on a project and those that report to me. Our art is collaborative. No one can do this alone, or at least, not very well. From technical issues, to the politics of being on set, to the nuances of the artform itself, we always need to be absorbing the best of what’s around us, then be willing to employ that knowledge and experience with energy and integrity into whatever our role is in the present work. I have been blessed with great teachers and those willing to share what they know with me. I also ask a lot of questions.
CFS: We’re told you bear an uncanny resemblance to the renowned Hollywood director Norman Jewison. Is this true? Have you ever been mistaken for him?
WB: You’d have to judge the resemblance, yourself, but from the pictures I’ve seen, it does appear that we might be twins separated at birth. If that’s the case, though, he obviously ended up on the more profitable, influential side of the family. Someone did tell me they wondered how my picture got on the front of one of the trade magazines. Of course, it was Jewison, not me.
CFS: Favorite film?
WB: Don’t really have a favorite. Hate me, but I’m a Spielberg fan, no matter what the genre. I love a lot of old movies, some musicals, many animated films, and a lot of sci-fi. It’s kind of like my taste for music, if it’s done artistically, with enthusiasm and commitment, then I tend to enjoy and admire the work. My list would be pretty long of those that I have admired.
CFS: Anything else you’d like to comment on?
WB: No, this is more words than necessary, already. Thanks for asking, though.
This weekend Brandon Tabassi and the rest of the cast and crew of Argo will be watching the 85th Annual Academy Awards with excitement. Since award season began Argo has cleaned up the competition for its stunning portrayal of the recently declassified CIA mission. Brandon played one of the critical roles in the films final climax and we’re thrilled to have him in the CFS Filmmaker Spotlight to talk Argo, Hollywood, and politics.
CFS: What inspired you to go into movies?
BT: I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts; my family and I would go to the movies often and I remember the awe of being transported to faraway lands and the blessing of being able to see other people on the big screen living as humans. As I grew up I got involved in school plays, and really enjoyed the process of being involved in a collaborative artistic endeavor.
CFS: What are your favorite films and, in two sentences, explain why.
BT: THE GODFATHER, THE MISFITS, GIANT, and BEING THERE. The performances are outstanding, and these films are timeless.
CFS: Who are your favorite filmmakers or actors and, in two sentences, explain why.
BT: Bryan Singer, Michael Bay, Gus Van Sant, Werner Herzog, Terrence Malick, Asghar Farhadi, Ben Affleck, George Clooney. They’re all eclectic.
CFS: What is your favorite movie theater?
BT: Arclight Hollywood.
CFS: How did you get your “big break” or first chance working in film?
BT: I met with the casting director of Argo, who also happened to be the executive in charge of feature casting at the studio, and she read me, put me on tape, and showed it to Ben, who cast me, and then on my first day on set, put me in a different larger role.
CFS: What is it like working on a major Hollywood movie as an actor?
BT: Like any other film, there is a large period of waiting around, during which time I met many lovely people who had fascinating stories. While we were filming in Ontario, I was put up in the same hotel as Ben, the producers, and the rest of the cast so a lot of these well-known artists gave me advice as the newcomer – which I will cherish moving forward. Ben and the producers had chosen some of the finest film production artists in the world to work on the film: make-up artists, hair dresser, costume designers, director of photography, AD’s… these were people who are at the pinnacle of their craft. And their histories were fascinating and reaffirmed that dreams do come true, with a lot of hard work of course.
BT: At the least it’s a wonderfully crafted film, with some fine performances, cinematography, and outstanding direction. Outside of this, Argo is an excellent retelling of the historical record that explains the relationship between the United States and Iran, how it evolved, and how it got to where it is today. If we don’t learn from our past, we are condemned to repeat mistakes over and over. That’s why it is imperative that people know what came before us to know what will come after.
CFS: We have to ask, what’s it like working with Ben Affleck?
BT:Ben is a gem. A true artist and statesman. A perfectionist. As a director, he will gently guide you where you need to be, and will work with you until as an actor you have given your finest. No actor can ask for more.
CFS: What advice do you have for young actors looking to get into a feature film?
BT: Study your craft. Do scenes in front of the camera with someone off camera reading the lines with you. Do one every day. Dot it until you are satisfied with your work, but of course, no artist will ever be completely satisfied. Learn about the film industry. Go to events. Put your hand out and shake people’s hands. It’s good to make friends and your peers of today will be running things tomorrow. Learn how great actors got to where they are, how they got their breaks but make your own path. Like Robert Frost, travel the road less take
BT: He always encouraged me to be open, fearless, and a doer. He also taught me to treat everyone the same, whether they mop the floors or they are a future US President. He taught me to always write thank you notes, and to keep in touch with people I meet throughout my journey . I think it was easy to follow his advice, because he truly did all of these things. A man of his words.
CFS: Do you see any correlation between Hollywood and DC?
BT: Yes, Hollywood and DC are similar in the fact that sometimes people may forget that they are comprised of people, that are just working, (usually) the best they can, exactly like people in every other town, in every other part of the country. There’s no mystical quality, and if one is a doer, has a vision, and treats people with respect and dignity, I don’t see any reason why he or she can’t be successful in either or both.
CFS: What’s next for Brandon?
My days are filled with meetings, lunches, on-camera appointments, and tests. As a new actor on the scene, a lot of time is spent getting to know people around town (and them getting to know you). I’m very much hoping my next project will be of equal substance to Argo. There are a couple projects that have late spring start dates that are looking good right now.
CFS: Although you’re not from Chattanooga, you are from Boston, an area of the country with a strong identity. What advice do you have for local and regional talent who are trying to make it in film?
BT: Where I am from makes so much of who I am. I hope the readers don’t forget this, that being from a place with a strong identity has given them character, strong values, and so much more. I know being from Massachusetts has done this for me, and the people I know from Chattanooga are in no shortage either. With all of these tools in your bucket, there is no reason that with vision and action, you can’t achieve all that you envision.
Daniel Griffith is the man behind the special features that we all love; and while we may know him primarily for his documentary work, it was a certain 1970′s horror film that was the beginning of his “cinematic obsession”. He has produced over thirty-five documentaries and worked with the likes of director John Carpenter, actor Dolph Lundgren, and make -up artist Rick Baker. We are thrilled to put Daniel in the Filmmaker Spotlight.
CFS: What inspired you to go into movies?
DG: As far back as I can remember, motion pictures have played essential role in my life. From an early age, I was exposed to many film genre’s… all ranging from contemporary to classic. My grandfather introduced me to westerns and crime drama’s, while my father ushered in the sci-fi/fantasy films. But my Grandmother and Aunt exposed me to the horror genre.
As a matter of fact, my first horror film experience played an essential role in my cinematic obsession. On a dark summer night, I was subjected to THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. Now, as a four year child, I was already terrified by the supernatural events transpiring on the silver screen. But then, to be told that it was all a ‘true story’, well… that was the beginning of many sleepless nights.
Watching AMITYVILLE for the first time helped me appreciate the fine line between fact and fiction, and how easily it can be manipulated to spin a good story. Come to think of it, that was also my first exposure to the art of ‘ballyhoo’ being applied to a motion picture. The theatrical one-sheet itself states that the film is “based on the bestseller that made millions believe in the unbelievable”. Now, how could you avoid of film claiming that.
CFS: What are your favorite films and, in two sentences, explain why.
DG: It’s really hard to narrow the motion pictures I love down to only a few examples. I enjoy so many… for so many different reasons. I personally believe that Sergio Leone’s crime epic, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, is one of the most beautifully constructed films of all time. Another is Joseph H. Lewis’ GUN CRAZY, which has the perfect mixture of crime drama and reform school hijinks. But, in my opinion, one of the most perfect films of all time is RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. It contains everything you would ever want in a picture. Action, adventure, mystery, romance, history, horror, comedy. It is almost too grand for its own good.
CFS: How did you get your “big break” or first chance working in film?
DG: While in film school, I interned on several major studio motion pictures, but that didn’t lead to much more than crew jobs, which is perfect training for anyone who is interested in filmmaking. But honestly, if you want make your own films, you have to just go out there and DO it. And expect your first few projects to be unwatchable. Mine definitely were! Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Just remember that you HAVE to have something to say. Too many filmmakers are motivated by current trends. MAKE YOUR OWN TRENDS. Don’t be afraid to break the rules.
CFS: Can you explain the process of making your films? How do you raise money, where do you shoot, what format did you shoot on, and how long did it take to produce it?
DG: Most of my projects are partly financed by DVD/Blu-ray distributors. They approach me with a film title, and from there… I try to calculate the best way to document its creation. Now, I do have my own ‘passion’ projects that require some extra assistance, but mostly there’s a small budget put aside for the work I do. Of course, these restrictions limit ones vision from the very smart. That’s when you have to get innovative. Sometimes compromising ones artist intentions brings about more creative solutions.
Since, I usually have to shoot where the story takes place, most of the budget is spent on travel, whether it is in the rural south, Hollywood, or London. But this also has its advantages, especially when it comes to b-roll footage. You can also ‘piggy-back’ several projects on one trip. That certainly helps.
CFS: Tell us about your current projects.
DG: Well, I just wrapped three documentaries this past week. One of them is about the ‘making of’ the 1961 rampaging monster film, GORGO, which is the British equivalent to TOHO studio’s original, Godzilla. Simultaneously, I was completing work on my latest Hammer Films documentary… which highlights the 1971 psychological thriller, HANDS OF THE RIPPER. That film takes place in Edwardian London, where a young woman is possessed by her murderous father, Jack the Ripper.
As for the future, there’s several feature documentary projects being released this fall, all centered around the 25th anniversary of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. I also have more classic British horror films waiting in the wings.
CFS: Where can we direct people to help you raise funds or support your new projects?
DG: Most, if not all, of my documentary productions are available on DVD and Blu-ray in most retail outlets (and online). A large majority of them are featured on the MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 boxed sets from Shout! Factory. Most of those of available in BEST BUY and BARNES AND NOBLE. But the best way to support any filmmaker is to watch their work, and if you enjoy it, pass it on.
CFS: It seems you are very interested in the documentary world. Do you plan to stay in that genre or are there plans to expand into scripted, narrative stories?
DG: My focus has always been visual storytelling, regardless of genre or type. I do love real human stories, just as much as I adore the fantasical. But I fell into documentary filmmaking by accident (or chance).
While everything was falling apart on a web-series I had been developing for over a year, I stumbled upon a simple solution to my budgetary frustrations. I could visually tell a story without the participation of actors or a large crew. In the documentary world, my crew could be a minimal as myself. All I would have to do is research each story and find the right individuals (or interviewee’s) to bring it to life. THE WONDER WORLD OF K. GORDON MURRAY (the feature-length documentary on distributor K. Gordon Murray) was born out of that rationale.
Looking back, I was very naive. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I would later discover that documentary filmmaking is far more taxing then narrative film, and far less rewarding.
As far as what type of narrative film, who can say? Most of the screenplays I have written in the past defy most of the genre conventions. I have always admired filmmakers who strive to re-invent a particular genre. But since I have always been a follower of supernatural-based short fiction and pulp novels, most of my projects (so far) are within that realm of storytelling.
CFS: How can Chattanooga be a better place for filmmakers? What changes would you like to see?
DG: For starters, we need to establish a filmmaking community. To do that, we need a beacon… that is, a single location where film enthusiasts can congregate and talk about their idea’s. A place to share film and film experiences. A revival house movie theater, like the NEW BEVERLY in Hollywood or the ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE in Austin. That would be a great start. There’s not a good retro theater in the Chattanooga area. We need that. A beacon. Something to draw us out of our little caves so we can at last get to know one another.
We’re thrilled to have folks like Daniel working in Chattanooga. Filmmaking is a collaborative process and Daniel is part of Chattanooga’s growing film community. CFS hopes that the Filmmaker Spotlight introduces you to the creative minds in our region and encourages you to attend a get-together or seminar. We personally thank Daniel for his time. Stay tuned for the next Filmmaker Spotlight…
Coming February 21: Hollywood Filmmaker Spotlight with Brandon Tabassi
Brandon played one of the critical roles in ARGO’s final climax and we’re thrilled to have him in the CFS Filmmaker Spotlight to talk Argo, politics, and acting in Hollywood.
When you hear the names John Cotton and Brady Effler, you can’t help but imagine them displayed on a screen. Their names are synonymous with both music and film. In their first film, Reel Old School, the directors poured every resource into creating a documentary that captures the heart of music in a world now overthrown by the digital revolution, and they did it the indie filmmaker way: bootstrapping and guerilla marketing. For young, soon-to-be directors preparing to make that plunge into a first movie, these guys are the template to follow. We’re thrilled to put them in the Filmmaker Spotlight and hear how they started out, why Casablanca is like a fine wine, and how Chattanooga can grow to support filmmakers of all styles and genres.
CFS: How did you get here making movies? What was your inspiration to get into the industry?
John: When I was a child, I was inspired by the stylized Martial Arts movies of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. My brother and I broke dad’s tripod while shooting our own fight scene in the living room, which ended my early attempts at film making. My interest shifted when I was 16 from Martial Arts to music. When I went to college I wanted to be a studio engineer. I went to school for mass communication and eventually got into video production as well.
Brady: Every filmmaker says, some about their childhood, blah, blah, but honestly my best friend asked me to help one day, and now here I am.
CFS: So for both of you, what was your big break or that first chance to work in film?
John and Brady: When you say ‘big break’ that implies that in someway we have made it. This is only true in that we have made a few films that people enjoy. In many ways I would say we are still looking for our big break. But, our first victory in film would easily be when we worked with a close group of very talented friends (The Surprise Surprise Film Collaborative) made the short film “Face Card” which was a top pick for FilmRacing’s 24-hour film race. This little short took us all the way to a festival in Brooklyn, which for us was a big deal. I mean, they had an open bar.
CFS: Face Card is great fun. You can’t go wrong with a protagonist who uses a Razor Scooter as his means of transportation. But what about Reel Old School? What drew you to the subject matter?
Brady: I have a huge passion for music culture and history. Anything that drives you crazy is hard to turn down when you have the option to show it off.
John: Curiosity is what drew me to make Reel Old School. I had a large list of questions and the answers weren’t readily available. I wanted to discuss the history of recording and ask industry heroes what is really important in recording music. And luckily, some of the best producers, engineers and musicians think about those questions all the time. No one really takes the time to ask them.
CFS: What was the process of making the film? How did you raise money, where did you shoot it, what format did you shoot on, and how long did it take to produce it?
John and Brady: Reel Old School was mostly made in segments. We would raise some money, shoot until we ran out, and then edit what we had and use that footage to raise more funds. It was made on a pretty tight budget. I bought a DSLR camera with my student loans, we asked our school for travel expenses and used Kickstarter to raise a little over $1100. Since there were interviews from all across the U.S. (mostly in Nashville), we spent our entire budget on gas. We shot it digitally and edited/mixed the film on my laptop. From first shoot to release, it took two years – but that was mostly because of balancing the making of a documentary with finishing our last two years of college.
CFS: Reel Old School is about the transition from analog to digital in the music industry. How has the digital evolution of film making helped you? Could you have made this movie fifteen years ago on 16mm?
John and Brady: The digital evolution of filmmaking has really helped us as far as cost and storage. Rather than film stock, we have several external hard drives that hold the footage we captured on flashcards. You can shoot an interview with one person rather than having a crew of 3 or 4 to run camera, lights, and audio. Documentaries benefit the most from the digital evolution. Like with the music recording industry, the technology is democratized. Anyone can attempt a documentary story regardless of connection to studio or executive producer. This allows for a much closer relationship between the audience and the filmmaker. As for16mm? We might have. But without the Internet, probably not.
CFS: What is it like being a young filmmaker in the South? What advantages do you have shooting film locally as opposed to going somewhere else like California or New York? What about disadvantages to being local?
Brady: We have an incredible history available to us, the scenery is great and the people are friendly.
John: The south is full of people that will do anything they can to help you and that is definitely an advantage to shooting here. Some of the disadvantages of producing locally are that this is still a growing community and all of the resources of a major market are not readily available. But Chattanooga is definitely moving in the right direction.
CFS: We think so, too. A lot of progress has been made, but we have a long way to go. Which leads us to your next project. Tell us about it.
John and Brady: We are raising funds to make a documentary about QR codes. This project is the next step in our storytelling adventure. We are moving beyond our nostalgia stage with ROS and focusing more on global culture and futuristic technology. QR Codes are an example of how no matter how far technology progresses, there will always need to be a tangible element. These little squares add a layer of interaction into advertising and marketing that is unique and new to this generation. We hope to raise funds to cover some international travel as we investigate how the world uses QR Codes, the companies that have been started to implement their uses, and of discuss their origin, culture, and the interactive digital age that this form of tangible/digital interaction will bring about.
CFS: How can we get people to help?
John and Brady: We are trying to raise a budget of $8500. The website, qrdocumentary.com, has an embed as well as a link to the Indie Go Go page that serves as the hub for project fundraising. Anyone wishing to donate can do so via paypal, or credit card.
CFS: Real quick: Lets talk movies. What are your favorite films?
Brady: Star Wars, Casablanca, Dumb and Dumber. Star Wars will always be my childhood favorite. It’s a sci-fi opera. Casablanca is like a fine wine, it only gets better each time I see it. As for Dumb and Dumber, it’s a comedy like that never gets old.
John: The Royal Tenenbaums and Before The Music Dies. The Royal Tenenbaums is a wonderful character based movie that uses a larger than life family to work through real life problems that are familiar to almost any family. Before The Music Dies is a very powerful documentary that showed me how nonfiction can be arranged in a way that is entertaining and true to the reality of the story.
CFS: Chattanooga is a great place, but how can the city be a better place for filmmakers? What changes would you like to see?
Brady: It’d be great to see an indie movie theatre. But I think what would really help is a larger networking of production companies allowing those with great ideas to accomplish their dreams.
John: What makes Chattanooga strong is the people that are here and working hard to improve the film culture. We as Chattanoogans should continue to stand by our local filmmakers and support the creation of local films of all genres.I would love to have an indie theater and international festival to bring screenings of many other great films that are not making it into the area theaters.
Support John and Brady and Chattanooga Film.
These guys represent what is great about Chattanooga and Local Filmmakers. Take some time to support them by donating to their next project, QRDocumentary . You should also be wise enough to buy Reel Old School on DVD.
As CFS spotlighted filmmakers we were extremely happy to offer Brady and John free honorary 2013 memberships into the Chattanooga Film Society. Supporting our region’s filmmakers both young and veteran is just one of the many ways CFS strives to make the city of Chattanooga a safer place for film and filmmaking. Their memberships will entitle them to free entry to all the exciting professional seminars and members only film screenings we’ll have in 2013 and believe us when we say you aren’t gonna wanna miss any of our offerings this year. Interested in joining our cause? Visit our website now.