A Short Film About Letting Go: World Premiere – a sabi pictures memoir
A Short Film About Letting Go world premiered at the Dances With Films 2010 festival in Los Angeles to a crowded audience gathered for the Fusion Shorts program at Laemmle’s Sunset 5 theater in Hollywood. This film has achieved beyond our expectations financially & creatively, and the life-long relationships forged by taking a chance on this art film has expanded the Sabi family and our brand of films in immeasurable ways.
All of us at Sabi Pictures are proud of this film and the talent behind it & in the coming weeks we will continue to get the word out there about this work of art. A Short Film About Letting Go recently played at the Hollyshorts Film Festival on Sunset in Hollywood, as well as at the Sacramento Film Festival. Letting Go is also on DVD with 40+ minutes of bonus content at cinefist.com
This sabi pictures memoir features J. Erik Reese, Daniel Carmody, Joshua Nitschke, Mark Ridley, Christopher Sowers & Aqua Yost. Narration is by J. Erik Reese. Music is by Deklun and what you hear was composed for the film.
Kevin K. Shah www.sabipictures.com
BOSS OF ME – A WEB SERIES by SABI
Boss of Me tells the story of a new Creative Director and Producer of Marketing and Distribution that is sent down from “corporate” to manage the newly acquired independent feature film production company Sabi Pictures. What ensues is a systematic restructuring (“Side-Shifting” as the star calls it) by Bret Donovan to the chagrin of the employees. But Bret is also an idea-man, and he alone believes his ideas are the one thing that can keep morale up and save the company.
A WEB SERIES FOR OUR FANS
It was created to be distributed on the web for free for our fans, with a healthy amount of humor and poking at both ourselves and this business we’re in. With all the talk about how Independent Film is dead (which it is not by the way) we felt a show like this couldn’t come at a better time — and setting a show in a production company was ripe for funny material.
CREATING THE SERIES: Co-Creating the Boss of Me web series with John T. Woods was a convergence of several factors. First and foremost, we (at Sabi Pictures) were looking for a fun way to connect with fans, and specifically our films and our company and who we are — with those that watch and enjoy our content. Reach out to fans and learn who they are — and at the same time (hopefully) entertaining them. Thus, the series extends out into Facebook, where the star of the show (Bret Donovan) has a very active Facebook profile. Often ideas offered by fans are certainly food for thought for future seasons…
We are excited to get some recent press from PopCultureMonster — where the :90 spot is featured exclusively for it’s first week of release. Exclusive interviews, pictures of the Cobb-Boom Helmet in action (see below) — as well as a write-up about the series is featured in the article on their site.
Our hope with Boss of Me is simply to stimulate discussion, interaction and as Bret says ‘smiles.” The entire notion of our having intentionally crafted ‘branded content’ was just a bonus — not the intention or the goal. We certainly do want more attention on the work of Sabi, but practically speaking, we just wanted to create something that wasn’t expensive so that we could offer it for free to our amazing fans without having to justify a return.
THE PROCESS: We shot everything on a Canon 7D, and used the prototype for a Cobb-Boom Helmet (which is an audio booming aid that you wear on your head invented by Jamie Cobb) to record sound. We used Pluraleyes to sync sound & Final Cut Pro to do the rest. Of course, these minimal resources isn’t ideal but it well suited our needs for keeping this small and on its feet. Often the shooter was wearing the Cobb-Boom Helmet to get the sound while also getting the picture — which aside from getting the job done, was a funny sight to see.
Much of the dialogue is improvised, and was guided by myself and John T. Woods through several phone calls, text messages with jokes, emails and a rough outline before going in. But it’s all really Bret Donovan. Bret was a find for us like no other, and of course there would be no show without him. His sincerity on and off camera is what keeps me as a co-creator interested in exploring new ideas and avenues while the camera is already rolling. The real investment with this series was our time and energy — so it was important to keep it a fun (and very fast) working atmosphere. We hope this translated into the series.
Boss of Me is certainly not for everyone — and it’s not something we were intending on getting on something like HBO for wide release — but at the very most we hope that fans subscribe & interact and want to see more (and at the very least — we hope they find it funny. In parts, anyway.) We look forward to your feedback!
Please take a moment to vote for my panel at SXSW 2010:
Nano-budget Interdependent Filmmaking: The New Sustainable Cinema
Acting, Digital Filmmaking, Marketing / PR / Publicity, New Technology / Next Generation, Production
Kevin Shah, sabi pictures
1. What does it mean for a film to be “Interdependently” made as opposed to “Independent”?
2. What is interdependent casting, directing, producing, and editing?
3. How does one foster creative collaborative relationships for the production?
4. Why is it important to use improvisation and HD in low-budget films? (Quality of Performance)
5. What marketing materials should I be working on DURING production to help during release?
6. How can I empower my actors to help guide and shape the story?
7. How can my marketing materials be intergrated into the web 3.0 model of things?
8. What are some examples of success stories that used radical collaboration & marketing?
9. How much does a high quality ‘nano-budget’ film cost, and what is a good profit-sharing agreement?
10. What is the creative satisfaction like with the utilization of the above process?
Technology and radical creative collaboration has empowered the interdependent filmmaker to make original, high-quality independent art films on a minimal budget. This panel will discuss how to manage and empower a creative team and a successful production on a shoe-string: creatively, practically, and spiritually. Also covered will be the ideal web 3.0 marketing materials one should create for the film’s release.
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.
Interdependent Cinema – An electronic Magazine / Blog / Print publication by Sabi
Today I had a terrific discussion with Sabi producer Daniel J. Carmody about the concept for a new Magazine/Blog for the modern indie filmmaker that understands/represents the true “interdependent” nature of collaboration on an ‘indepdendent’ film (and especially for those filmmakers that endeavor to create cinema art). Daniel sketched out the structure of the site, complete with case studies, how-to articles, improvisation articles, videos and filmmaker contributions (articles & behind the scenes on interdependent films).
He envisions an elegant and simple design for the site, with the information easily accessible for the first Phase. Subsequent phases will entail a place for audiences and filmmakers to interact in discussions about Interdependent filmmaking – and eventually lead to the debut of a film that subscribes to the ‘rules’ of this new realization of process on cinefist.com.
These rules, unlike those of the Dogme 95 movement, are entirely dependent upon each film itself (and thus, in flux) – but shares in its spirit an effort to depict a more organic and naturalistic style of filmmaking, a more true to life (realistic, honest) portrayal of the character’s journey. The rules include an emphasis on creative collaboration, transcendence, guided improvisation, set atmosphere, and several more elaborate details of making a successful ‘interdependent’ picture (most of which will be explored in our first Issue).
Interdependent Cinema magazine will work in close creative collaboration with Cinefist.com and we hope there will be some cross pollination of filmmakers from both growing communities, as well as a direct emphasis on emerging projects that share key qualities of the interdependent process. Daniel and my discussion about the Magazine – which will ultimately be a resource to up and coming interdependent filmmakers – got me very excited about the prospects and possibilities. And with a community goal of 1,000 completely new subscribers by 2009, Daniel has been put in charge of a very large and important undertaking.
As head editor & writer for the magazine, Carmody will be interviewing filmmakers about their creative collaborations with their crew and their cast, as well as regularly post articles from Zak Forsman, Erik Reese, Joshua Nitschke, Jamie Cobb, and dozens of other Sabi veterans that have taken part in the spirited process of ‘interdependent cinema.’
I’m truly excited about announcing here today the debut of “Interdependent Cinema” magazine, which will be available soon FOR FREE at www.interdependentcinema.com and www.interdependentfilmmaking.com
Our head editor Daniel Carmody and I are looking forward to seeing you there in 2009 –
Kevin K. Shah
Understandably, many actors are simply uncomfortable with the idea of using your own words for the character, but what should be happening is that the director and the actor are together finding the character’s voice.
The Screenplay: Discarding the Words for Dramatic Improvisation in Interdependent Films.
Freeing oneself from the confines of the words on the page sometimes makes for a more authentic route for the actor that seeks to explore and refine his/her craft. Often actors feel this process is more artistic, more “experiential”, and ultimately, more fulfilling when executed well, with a director that nurtures the kind of atmosphere necessary for good dramatic improvisation to occur. What’s fascinating, is that often when it’s all said and done (and the film is put together) most of the beats and the words that were true in the original locked script, end up on screen anyway – but filtered through the heart and soul of the actor/artist. And most of the scenes that never rang completely true – now do. I wonder what it would be like to reverse-write White Knuckles or Heart of Now (which was a terrific script written by Zak Forsman all on it’s own) – just to see how the words have changed and/or stayed the same. I’ve never gotten around to doing something like this, but someday maybe a huge Sabi fan will transcribe our films. It would be interesting at the most – the final film is the ultimate tale: what happens on set, and what is carved in the edit – is the truest story.
However, back to writing a screenplay to discard it: in discussing problems that might happen during Directing Improvisation by asking your actors to discard their words, there are instances in directing improvisation in interdependent films where an honest performance is given and the emotions and words shared are true — but the beat is not honest for the character at that particular point in the story.
With improvisation, actors tend to courageously dive into the conflict head on – floodgates tend to open early on for an actor once they get the hang of it (and a lot comes out in particular scenes at the top of the production schedule where critical emotions that are to be explored later are felt “too early”). That is ok. Everything is useful. Chemistry that will be explored later is sometimes put down here as a ground-work, or a foundation. And I believe this happens generally, if the scenes’ intentions & objectives are not structured properly. Again, that is ok. Every production is rusty at the start, particularly on feature films heavy with dramatic improvisation. There are ways to prepare for this. Rehearsals, meetings, and call back-auditions are a way to kick start everything (if each are done as if we were shooting the scene).
With White Knuckles we had a full rehearsal with the actors doing character exercises – and it happened a) on set, b) in the scene, c) with lights, d) with camera and sound — i.e. full on. And still we called it a rehearsal (though we were prepared to use it somewhere if it was needed – it wasn’t). The idea was to get moving, slowly – pushing the train the first few inches…
With Heart of Now, we got things rolling with what we called “Pre-Shoots” – 5 days of shooting with a bare-bones crew – which I think helped us ease into production (Note: there was also a million other things the core team – Jamie, Zak, Kester & Sam did to help the actors transition into this feature that would last 30 amazing and memorable days of everyone’s life – like White Knuckles).
HONEST BUT NOT TRUE OVERALL
But when discarding the words (which takes some time at the start) there are times — fascinating moments where the actors have a legitimate feeling about something and go with it – but it is incongruent to the journey of the character in a way that would alter the story to its detriment. I.e. change the direction of the story too far in an unrecoverable direction. Sometimes it’s compelling, real, honest, and exciting – but just not right for the overall arc of the story (which the director and producer and editor carries). Sometimes it is right, even though it was totally unplanned – and we must adjust the story around the moment accordingly. But again – if it is not honest for the overall journey of the story – or if the new material doesn’t excite and challenge the director to explore a new direction with everyone & the entire production schedule – then it must be lost immediately. Cut, clear our minds, re-set, move on.*
WHEN TO CUT, KEEP ROLLING
*It is important for the director here to be as quick and decisive as possible about where to stop an actor during improv, i.e. when to re-set rather than give a note and keep rolling, trying something different. On one hand all the previous takes are explorations of the take/moments that will be used (and should be allowed to play out) – on the other hand, a director doesn’t want to exhaust an actor (and acting for dramatic improvisation for all actors involved is physically exhausting). Also, too many different options without clear direction leads to confusion (for the actor on set, and the editor in the bay).
Of course, this happens (exhaustion, confusion) – and there is no way of avoiding it. 8-10 hour days max for the actors I believe is a great help to heavily improvised shooting – to stave off the exhaustion factor. But I say this to say, it’s important for a director to be fully aware of what will and will not be used in the final edit – on set – as best as possible. And rather than cutting these moments off too soon – in directing improvisation, it helps to let them play out, let the emotions rise and fall again naturally. Especially when discarding the words of the screenplay. There are awkward silences in these moments that are real and could otherwise never have been staged. There are glances of a deeper understand, and the struggling to find the right words. All of this is real. And conversely, there are often beats that happen just after an intense improvisation scene where the actor may say the perfect line — out of real exhaustion — long after a conventional filmmaker would call ‘cut’. A glance often says everything without all the words before it, and to help ensure we get these kinds of looks when directing improv – we often do what we call a “silent take” after all the other takes are completed. We did this quite a bit with White Knuckles and it helped us tremendously in the edit (though it’s not necessary if you’re actors don’t rush through improv – as in comedic improv).
Often, that little tiny silent beat where the camera kept rolling might end up being the only part used in the final edit, if that is what is honest in that moment – and right for the overall story.