Kevin K. Shah’s M.L.M.M.M.T. VOLUME ONE
Day 1. Baraka: Montage World Art Film. 2. Red (From the Three Colors Trilogy): Kieslowski Drama, one of my fav. 3. A Woman Under the Influence: J. Cassevettes. 4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: Milos & Jack, made me want to make movies. 5. Raising Arizona: Comedy Coen Bros. 6. Breaking the Waves: Devastating Drama 7. Raising Victor Vargas: Childhood/adolescence Drama
Day 8. The Son : Drama, Suspense (Dardenne Bros.) huge influence. 9. The Ice Storm: Ted Hope, ahead of its time 10. Ratcatcher: Childhood Drama 11. After Hours: Scorsese 12. Amelie: A Romantic Comedy 13. City of Lost Children Dark Fantasy Children’s Story 14. Brazil: Terry at his best
Day 15. George Washington: Child Drama 16. Wings of Desire: Fantasy Drama 17. Big Fish: For fun, Romanic Fantasy Comedy 18. Robocop: Action, nothing like it. 19. Hustler & Cool Hand Luke: Paul Newman wow 20. Who’s Afraid of Virgina Wolfe?: Liz and Paul 21. Dog Day Afternoon: Police Drama
Day 22. Werkmeister Harmonies: Hard to Describe – incredible experience. 23. Down by Law & A Perfect World Double Feature: Comedy (Jarmusch) & Costner redeemed 24. Quiz Show & GoodNight, Good Luck Double Features: Historical Drama 25. Stranger than Paradise More Vintage Jarmusch 26. MicroCosmos A film for the family! 27. Dombivli Fast Slick Bollywood Drama 28. Infernal Affairs Slick Hong Kong Cop Drama
Day 29. Shawshank Redemption Prison Drama, Classic 30. The Apartment: Classic Comedy 31. Restrepo: Fav documentary of the last 10 years.
I wrote this in response to a recent tweet from Filmmaker Magazine editor Scott Macaulay, after our NEW BREED panel on ‘Creative Collaboration’ at DIY DAYS Philadelphia. He wrote re: our panel on creative collaboration: “I didn’t ask panelists to define it. Isn’t all filmmaking collab? What’s diff now?” The following is to continue the dialogue:
CHANGES IN THE NATURE OF COLLABORATION IN FILMMAKING
There are presently several ascending levels to degrees in which creative collaboration occurs in the making of a film. On one end of the spectrum, collaboration could mean a Director communicates his/her vision and the Cinematographer adjusts to make the visuals resonate. It could be a Director and Composer in a booth changing rhythms of music. It could mean an Actor suggesting a line on-set. These old-school forms of collaboration are obvious to all – and this is one level of collaboration. Great films, and incredible moments in cinema have been created this way, and until recently – it perhaps only this way.
Then there is, on the other end of the spectrum – something radically different and altogether new – what I would consider a higher level of collaboration in creating cinema. To understand this new form of interdependent collaboration, you have to step back a moment and look at how far we’ve come technologically, and more specifically, how technology has shaped and empowered the next generation of young creative collaborators.
A BREIF HISTORY OF KIDS WITH CAMERAS
Sabi Pictures co-founder Zak Forsman and started making films with the first generation VHS camcorders at 12. We worked together with kids in the neighborhood and our families – taking ideas from everyone and each other – and created the movies mostly as we went along ‘in-camera’. After us, came a micro-generation of self-taught filmmakers who had access to video cameras as a grade-school toy. Now, they’re cutting features on their laptops complete with graphics and special effects. Using the technology, they’ve learned from their mistakes and they’ve learned how to tell artistic stories. They make movies organically and without a lot of money. Their film school is watching independent and foreign films, hours of DVD bonus features, the occasional class – but primarily, the act of doing. They are of any age.
MULTI-HYPHENATES: THE NEW COLLABORATORS
This intelligent, empowered new generation of young artist/filmmakers are the new collaborators. They understand intrinsically how to tell stories, and make movies organically – and how to make them engaging and real despite their budget limitations. They collaborate interdependently rather than independently – they work with each other, not ‘for’. Their power relationships are shifted in a way that fosters a creative spirit among all. Any one member’s contribution to whole would be greatly affected if they were not a part of the project. They are all empowered by the directors/producers – and quite often, they are all friends (or become friends). This collaborative filmmaking team has learned together by doing – and doing everything together – and no one would dare suggest a particular task is ‘not my job.’
This generation of filmmakers (emerging everywhere) feels deeply entitled to more than whatever job they apply for. They quit jobs that do not engage them – or lose interest in films that they cannot be fully invested in. They are all, each and every one – a potential motion picture studio unto themselves – but they work together. For the greater picture of the Arts vs. Commerce – this is a great victory for the Arts, for these emerging artists are not hampered by anything or anyone. With the internet as an avenue for distribution, those with the clearest and most original voices – finally have a chance.
These serious writer/director/producer/editor/shooters understand that creative collaboration is actually working with other multi-hyphenate filmmakers to tell a story – and to share an ever-changing organic experience that is greater than any one person’s vision. Despite their smaller crews, homegrown style, and simplified locations – this next generation of creative collaborators work together in a radically new and exceptionally creative way. By listening to each other, and allowing the possibility of improvisation to occur on set (be it dramatic or comedic) – the new collaborators of today foster a spirit of creativity and free expression from all involved with the project, from the D.P. to sound mixer to the stars. There is a greater sense of shared pride on projects of this sort, and the results are often more engaging and honest.
The only way I can describe this method of collaboration is to call it Interdependent Filmmaking. The way in which interdependent filmmakers work is to tell their film with each other – despite antiquated models of hierarchy on-set. In fact the entire model of above the line and below the line breaks-down fundamentally when collaborating on this high level. Everyone’s contributions are equally important and under the guidance and vision of a director (whose mission is to explore character, and tell the best story possible with input from the cast and crew) and a producer (whose mission it is to be flexible to change and to create a safe atmosphere where creativity is fostered) and their interdependent team. Everyone has their roles, but everyone’s contributions are important and valued. The relationship between the director and the actors are emboldened by these new production practices, and there is a process of mutual discovery during the experience of making the film.
These new highly collaborative artist/filmmakers are too smart for one role, and one role is far beneath them – they need to be a part of the crafting experience of the film, they have a tremendous amount to offer it tapped as a resource rather than just a helping hand. These creative collaborators are empowered by their prior experience and knowledge (regardless of age), and by creating with/for each other. They seek surprises on-set, they strive for honesty and deep emotion on screen, and ‘real’ performances. In fact, the new stories we see emerging were always written with the intention of being made (and revised to make things possible) . The characters are conceived with—and fleshed out by—the actors that were always intended to play them. Creativity is happening on-set while the production is on its feet – not just in the darkness of the writer’s room or editing bay.
EMPOWERED BY SCARCITY
Using social networks and the internet as an inexpensive testing and meeting ground for ideas and publicity, this New Sustainable Cinema trend of smaller, more collaborative films is fully empowered by scarcity in funding rather than hampered by it. This is an amazing thing and different than experiences of the past. Our limitations are forcing us to tell better, more inventive, more impactful stories. Producers arrange to shoot guerilla, with DSLR cameras. Directors and Composers that have never met in person, score an entire film online. Actors that really care about their craft, seek out collaborative directors that could push their creative boundaries based on seeing their work online. These nano-budget films are not only being created collaboratively, they are marketed to communities online, with the cast and crew interacting with fans to get the film out there. It’s from start to finish and entirely interdependent effort.
And what has been the result of this changing nature of collaboration? Nothing short of a resurgence of beautifully executed, meaningful cinematic stories. These films are emerging everywhere – and without any debate or controversy over who gets the ‘film by’ credit.
END RESULT: FILMS OF VALUE AND MEANING (PAST & FUTURE)
In a way, it’s a throwback to films that were made in an earlier time in the history of cinema where the filmmakers themselves determined which films were made (though present interdependent cinema is comprised of films radically smaller in budget, size and scope). At the time, most everyone understood that a good film was good because it was at once entertaining, artistic and meaningful. People went to the movies for different reasons entirely, and as an art form – it was still discovering its voice. The films that are being polished in the editing bays of many young filmmakers all over the country continue that search. These are filmmakers making projects that couldn’t have been possible without the help of everyone involved. The motivating factor is to create a good story and tell it well – and by any means necessary. And their ideal – is to put the final work in front of audiences and fans in the hopes they someday make another.
It’s hard to argue against the fact that the process of making a worthwhile interdependent art film begins in the audition. When it comes to the actors that will ultimately play the part for a film by Sabi – we hope that not a moment is wasted for either the filmmaker or the cast, and we hope that the casting process is creative and insightful, and useful to all parties involved.
Christopher: “I found the audition process at Sabi very intriguing. Auditions can be very uncomfortable experiences but that wasn’t the case here. It was a very warm and welcoming environment. There was no vicious casting assistant staring at me with daggers and I got the sense that I was more than valid as a human being. Ahhhhh…. back to the real world.”
Chris, thanks for posting. It’s nice hearing about what an actor feels and thinks during our auditions at sabi. We try to keep them warm and inviting (and creative) as often as possible – and also we try to keep them useful to both the filmmakers as well as the actors that graciously share their time with us. There are times that this process doesn’t go as planned, and there have been people we have collaborated with that initially didn’t fully understand why auditions at sabi pictures are handled so delicately and carefully.
Often it is our duty to inform them immediately, that quite simply, the Actor is to be regarded as the star from the moment they walk through the door and should be treated with kindness. We let them know that the actor that is ultimately cast — is the guide that holds the key to unlocking the deeper, inner workings of the character.
When Sabi sets out to make a film (and begins the casting process) we’re ultimately not looking for a pre-conceived notion of the character that already resides in our head (if we were satisfied with the depiction in our head, why make a movie?) Rather, I believe at this stage, sabi’s casting process tries to find the actor that can teach us more about the character we’re creating… real, human details and insights into fears, emotions, and hidden qualities that we couldn’t have otherwise known.
These details, and what happens in the casting process (which is really the first rehearsal) often find their way into the film – and every moment during auditions and rehearsals help develop the chemistry of emotions that we will circle around for the duration of production. Most importantly, the audition begins the actor-director relationship.
It was amazing watching how Zak integrated things he saw, tried and learned from the audition process of “Heart of Now” right into the production phase of the film. I too changed scenes to better fit who Julie and William were becoming when I had finally found Martie Ashworth and Larry Strauss for “White Knuckles”. The insights that Kelly and Marion brought to Zak and vice versa during the auditions created a bridge. And to see J. Erik Reese and gang do it once again in Moments with you, Aqua, Mark and Malcolm, was once more – a truly remarkable process to watch*.
All three films were ultimately enhanced because of this attention to an otherwise mundane, and often cold, calculating experience (as you described).
We learned a great deal from the process of a film called “Blue in Green”, which was a feature that Zak and I produced along with 5 others in a collaborative called Unica, and under the auspices of producer Ron Austin and Poet/Journalist Gabriel Meyer. In “Blue in Green”, we didn’t even have auditions – we just staged group meetings where everyone discussed issues personal, social and spiritual – and then six weeks of rehearsals. Both the group sessions and the rehearsals were critical to the telling of the deeply improvised film.
In the cast of “Blue in Green”, Unica had found the story of the film with the actors that stayed – and Unica developed these unique characters in complete collaboration with the actors that would play them. In my opinion, it was a completely successful experiment.
*I want to reiterate that the processes described above may be unique, but are by no means new or original or exclusive to Sabi Pictures or Unica or otherwise.
Really, whenever a filmmaker casts for a project they are deeply passionate about, they intuitively settle on the final actors for the same reasons, using the same techniques involuntarily.
The real fundamental difference lies in the amount of exploration that happens after the casting decisions are made. And the extent to which Sabi intends to explore in our films sets us apart (in my humble opinion) from most projects that are made more ‘conventionally’.
The exploration – going deeper – is something that we try to do from the very beginning. The peeling away at the character, at their emotions, at their deepest source of suffering – is pretty much continuous (and necessary to the success of the experiment) from initial casting to the final edit.
When casting for our films, Sabi filmmakers are often looking for an actor that brings to life the heart and soul of the character by giving us insight (or creating the right questions) which we then filter and translate into the story/characters/dialogue. It’s an organic (or ‘natural’) process in our estimation – and there is never a script that doesn’t change because of auditions and rehearsals. Simply put, it’s about respect.
Respect for one’s fellow artist. Respect for what the actor brings to an art film, and lastly, respect for a process that seeks to uncover fundamental and transcendent truths about the character through a collaboration between the director, all of the rest of the crew, and most importantly – the heart, soul and mind of the artist/actor.
Of course, we sincerely hope that you (the actor/artist) can let us know what we can do better, as all of the above is a constantly evolving, refining process.
And we’re always learning…