Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tower Theater Open Screen Night Winners: May 2011

Posted By on June 8, 2011, 4:00 AM

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Its been a while since we've had a chance to check out some of the latest work from local filmmakers. --- Or at least short films from rising names in the film scene. Last month after a six month hiatus the Tower Theater's Open Screen Night returned to give local (and a few not-so-local) directors a chance to showcase their talent and works... as long as they were under ten minutes. We'll do better to promote the next one, but for now... 

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May saw a pretty big turnout for fest that had been gone for a while, and at the end of the night two films scored big. Ben Burden won the SLFS Choice Award with his film "Writer's Block," while the viral music sensation "Albino Raindrops" won director Sue Bell both the Critic's and Audience's Choice Awards. I got a chance ot chat with both about their films, as well as chat about filmmaking and the local film scene.



Ben Burden

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Clamzing on YouTube



Gavin:  Hey Ben. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you got into filmmaking.



Ben:  When I was young me and buddy used to make movies with an old VHS camcorder. I don't know for sure, I just really liked the idea of creating something that others can view and receive a certain way.  It’s just something that's stuck with me. I’ve done a lot of film test stuff. Also I started doing some sketch type shorts with a friend of mine under the name Bauston Films.  But I really prefer to do short films with stories and thicker plots.



Gavin:  What films and directors would you say had a big influence on you?



Ben:  As for directors a couple would have to be; Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher and Rian Johnson. As for films, a couple would have to be; "Brick," "Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums," "Hard Eight," "The Departed," and probably "Fight Club."

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Gavin:  Did you seek out any college for film, and if so, what was that experience like for you?



Ben:  I took an Intro To Film class in high school which is a college class.  I should note that I actually went to a High School specifically centered around film. It’s called East Hollywood High School.  I did enjoy the class because we not only had access to equipment, but also we had the enthusiasm and inspiration to create our own projects.



Gavin:  Do you prefer working as an independent filmmaker, or rather work with a group and form a production?



Ben:  Independent.  At least for the time being.  Working independent with a close group of friends on the set makes it a lot easier to push your own vision.



Gavin:  How did the concept for “Writer's Block” come about?



Ben:  I set myself down and started writing a script. As you write you produce more and more idea's and as you do this you slowly start to see a picture in your head of what it’s going to look like. And I love voice over, It’s hard to pull serious films off at this age. But I feel like voice over makes that a lot easier and actually gives your film a more independent specific feel. Not that I’m saying Writers Block was a serious movie, it just had more of a serious feel to it. Just come up with a very basic idea in your head, over time you’ll start piecing idea’s together and you’ll slowly create a movie.

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Gavin:  How was the experience for you in doing both initial casting and also finding the locations to film at for this particular piece?



Ben:  Initial casting was easy. Usually when I write I already know who I want to cast for the part. After that location scouting wasn’t hard either, I was living at the Covey apartments at the time, so I actually knew exactly where I wanted to film everything. Picturing all the locations and actors as you write makes it a lot easier when you want to start shooting.



Gavin:  What was it like on set during filming? And how long did it take you to film and then edit it up?



Ben:  It was fun, the hardest part was shooting with the gun, because we’re all a little on edge when you have a replica gun in public. But we found a spot that was vacant so we just shot everything quickly. Shooting took about a day.  And I’d say editing took about a day.



Gavin:  Did you show the film to anyone prior to the event, and what did they think of the film when it was finished?



Ben:  I made the film probably a year before I actually entered it. I showed it to a couple friends and some family members.  They all said they liked it. I didn’t actually intend on entering it into any festivals.

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Gavin:  How did you hear about the Tower Theater's Open Screen Night?



Ben:  Me and a buddy were actually just going to watch other people’s films. We arrived and found out it wasn’t for another day. So I decided I’d just throw my film in just for fun.



Gavin:  What was it like seeing it there and hearing the audience reaction?



Ben:  It’s an interesting feeling watching your own movie on the big screen in front of people. It’s a little nerve racking but it’s overall a good experience. Hearing the audience laugh when they’re supposed to makes you feel like you’ve done something correctly.



Gavin:  At the end you won the SLFS Choice Award. How did it feel winning that and receiving that recognition?



Ben:  Pretty great. I was honored that someone had chosen my movie. It just makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something.

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Gavin:  Going local, what’s your opinion of the local film scene, both good and bad?



Ben:  I like it, just because I feel local independent movies can offer more than big budget Hollywood flicks. Because someone who sets out to make their movie usually puts more appreciation and heart into it. SpyHop productions is an amazing program that helps young individuals get their visions off the ground.  And I know that Salt Lake Community College has a great film program as well as the University Of Utah. Sundance is awesome. But extremely hard to get into, from what I hear. Salt Lake City isn’t the best place to get noticed, but we do have some great programs that can help your movie made.



Gavin:  Is there anything you think could be done to make it more prominent?



Ben:  A lot of people want to make movies but don’t think they can.  If you have an idea for a film go to Spyhop and get involved with their programs. Go get a camera and start shooting with your friends. I think the best way to get good at making movies is to go out and do it. Cameras are so cheap these days. You can get an HD camera for a couple hundred bucks!  I edit on Vegas Movie Studio Pro which only costs about $150 and it’s great. I’ve used it for 4-5 years and haven’t really had a complaint. Filmmaking is becoming more and more doable as camera’s and software become less and less expensive. So go give it a shot. Even if your first couple attempts come out terrible, keep with it and you’ll be surprised at what you’re capable of.

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Gavin:  Are there any local directors you feel are at the top of their game?



Ben:  Besides friends, I’m not too familiar with any of them.  I’m honesty not too educated on the whole local independent film scene. I’d like to be, but at the moment I’m not.



Gavin:  Do you know what you’re doing for your next film, and what can we expect from you the rest of the year and going into next?



Ben:  I’m planning on making a serious movie called “Jameson.” I have all the actors lined up and the script is finished, I just need to get out there and film it!  By the way, I’m looking for someone who can do voice over. Someone with a deep voice who can speak clearly, if anyone’s interested in giving it a go contact me at BLBfilms@hotmail.com. Thanks!

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Gavin:  Is there anything you’d like to promote or plug?



Ben:  Me and a buddy are contemplating doing a sketch type series. We only have two shorts so far, but subscribe to us if you’d like to. Always appreciated. Also my buddy’s band.  Give them a listen! 





Sue Ball

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Albino Raindrops on Facebook



Gavin:  Hey Sue. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into filmmaking.



Sue:  I have been an actress and a performer for most of my life, and have been on sets (on and off) since I was fifteen years old. I've wanted to make films since 1992, but, was not confident that I could do it.  I dabbled a bit, but then backed-off.  By 2007 I realized that I had to do it, and I was confident that given the opportunity, I could.  Still... I did not know where to start.  So I just wrote it down.  As hokey as it sounds, I opened a journal and just wrote: "I am a filmmaker."  As soon as I identified "who I was" and what I wanted,  projects started to show up, and, things just started to fall in to place.

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Gavin:  What films and directors would you say had a big influence on you?



Sue:  I could list hundreds of films, and at least ten directors who fall under the category of "influential."  That said, I am crystal clear on specific moments I've experienced that lead me to filmmaking, and I think about those moments a lot.  When I was 8 or 9 years old I saw the film "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" on HBO, (which, at that time was called "Home Box Office," and, as I recall, literally, worked via a "box" in your home).  ANYWAY, I don't know if I was supposed to be watching it or not, but I saw the whole thing, and I was absolutely entranced. I really responded to the Alice character.  I was like, "THAT's who I wanna BE!"  That movie has informed and influenced not only every single creative project I've ever done, but it has contributed to shaping me as a person. I still watch it at least twice a year. Another similar experience I had was in 1992 while sitting alone midday in a theater in Los Angeles watching the incredible Allison Ander's film, "Gas, Food, Lodging."  I remember thinking as I watched it, "I want to make films like this!" And I was like, "YOU DO? When have you ever wanted to make films?"  Allison Ander's work is so honest and feminine and bold, I'm a huge fan. Her work feels so intuitive and smart, and her characters are so rich and so real.  She seems to make films from the place of a person who is fully alive and awake.  It may take me years to get there, but, I aspire to that.



Gavin:  Did either you seek out any college for film, and if so, what was that experience like for you?



Sue:  I went to Lesley College for a semester to study film in an independent study program.  I made a short film there called "Bob and Chuck" about two middle-class guys in their 20's who read a Rolling Stone interview with Nicolas Cage, and how it "mystically" changes their lives.  Technically the film is horrible, but I still really like a lot about it, and I'd love to reshoot it some day.  It was worth it to have studied film for that semester just to have had the experience of having made that first piece.  I haven't been back to any kind of formal film school since, although recently I've been thinking about taking an editing class. I got bit by the editing bug a little bit, and I'd like to get good at it.

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Gavin:  How has it been for you learning the ropes and working on various projects over the years?



Sue:  I am still well inside of the "learning the ropes" phase, so every time I am on a set I try to pay attention and learn.  I am learning as I go. I've had mostly great experiences working on shoots, although, occasionally, I've been on a set and thought to myself, "Well, I am sure as hell not gonna do that on MY set."  But, after shooting "Albino Raindrops" and working so hard on it for as long as we did, I'm not as fast to judge how someone else runs their set.  You can't please everybody, and if you try to, you've lost the reins of the project, and then whose telling the story? So, yeah, I'm still "coming up" in a big way, and I still have a whole lot to learn. I have found that every set, shoot, and filming experience opens a door to a broader filmmaking perspective.



Gavin:  When did you come across the song “Albino Raindrops” from The Me?



Sue:  Pat Munson, who is just a fantastic songwriter and musician, (one of the producers of our video, and the man behind "The Me" ) told me about "this 80's song" he wrote called "Albino Raindrops."

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Gavin:  What persuaded you to do a music video for the song?



Sue:  There was no real "persuading" at all. I've been a fan of Pat's songs for many years. I was pretty much in from the get-go.  I was new to Portland, and was looking to shoot something.  I'd expressed interest in shooting a video for another song of Pat's awhile back, and so that was kind of on the table. And Pat mentioned "this other song" he'd written that was "sort of an 80's spoof" inspired by a blog posting he'd read on dooce.com.  And then, one night last summer, Pat and I were at an outdoor screening of the film Pretty in Pink with a bunch of friends, and we started  "disruptively cracking wise" (as our Kickstarter campaign explains), and Pat told me the full story of this song and of how it came to be, and we decided right there that night that we were going to make an "80's classic" film in the form of a music video for Albino Raindrops.



Gavin:  How was the experience for you both bringing in old friends and SLC bands for the cast, and finding the locations to film at for the video?



Sue:  Casting a lot of our old high school pals and musician friends was awesome and a no-brainer.  We needed people who went to high school in the 80's and we just got on Facebook and on e-mail and on the phone, and started "casting."   I love that pretty close to all of the people onscreen (and several people on the crew) went to high school in Salt Lake in the 80's, and that several of them played in bands back then as well.  We were lucky to get talented people with whom we had histories. Everyone was really focused and professional and connected to what we were doing.  It was amazing.  Finding our location, on the other hand, was not so easy.  We initially wanted a much more conventional looking high school with huge, long hallways, and bunches of lockers etc...we wanted a school that hadn't changed much since the 80's, y'know?  And, we had some on our list.  We started making calls, going down that list, and came up against roadblock after roadblock.  The schools wanted us to take out insurance policies, pay custodians, and pay huge daily fees.  And I understand the whys of that, but, we did not have a budget that would allow for any of that at all.  We tried several angles, (uh, begging etc..) and were seemingly close to getting use of a couple of our "dream" schools, and then we'd find ourselves back to square one when they'd ultimately come back with, "yeah, we can't give you the school." I was very close to ready to change our "80's video in a high school" to "an 80's video at a party in somebody's house," when Pat said that he had a friend who knew someone at Realms of Inquiry School.  I called them and within a matter of minutes, we had our school.  It was not exactly the  location we'd been looking for, but, ultimately, it was the perfect location for us and our vid.  We love that school.  We love the fine folks who run it.  They went the extra mile for us in countless ways, and we will never be able to thank them enough.

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Gavin:  What was it like on set during filming? And how long did it take you to film and then edit it up?



Sue:  Being on set was great. It was just one of those creative experiences where everything kinda lined up.  Gary Turnier (another producer and our director of photography) and I had never met. Pat and Gary were buddies and bandmates from "back in the day," and when Pat suggested we ask Gary to shoot the vid, it sounded like a great idea, but, it was still somewhat of a risk for us to agree to work together having never met.  Luckily, almost immediately upon meeting (a day before the shoot), we became a team on that set.  We gave each other the space to do what we do.  We had some dynamic discussions and we laughed our asses off.  Gary is amazingly talented. I was so lucky to have worked with Gary. He elevated the project.  He is a true artist who happens to also be an excellent technician. As a director, working with the right DP is huge, and, our rapport on set really freed me to do my thing because I knew the camera was strong. Our set was fun because we were prepared.  We shot the video in 2 days.  Our cast and crew, for the great most part, donated their time, and we really wanted to be respectful of everybody's schedules.  People had work and family obligations, and, we knew that we really needed to work quickly and efficiently to accommodate everyone. Also, our budget did not allow for a "four-day shoot."  The editing took somewhat longer.  We had not secured an editor during pre-production, and we knew that going in to post, finding the right editor was going to be our top priority.  Pat and I both live in Portland, and so we decided to look for someone there.  We wanted someone who "got" the project, who preferably had been "a child of the 80's," who was willing to work for substantially less than their usual fee, and dammit, I wanted someone funny. Enter Wendy Peyton.  I can't say enough great things about this woman. She came up with so many great ideas, and added so much to the vid.  She knew what I wanted and she listened, and then she'd do an edit, and ultimately show me what I "really" wanted.  She just kicked butt. We took our time with the edit, until Wendy got a job working on a set out of town, and we had to make some fast choices with re: to the final cut.  Wendy is great.  She took a project that was important to a lot of people, and simply put, made it better.  The edit took about 2 1/2 months, and I'm really happy with it.

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Gavin:  What was the initial reaction from everyone when you started showing it around and then posting to YouTube?



Sue:  People were so supportive and psyched to see it.  We had a pretty big cast and crew, so, of course, everyone involved (and their friends and families) really enjoyed seeing the finished product.  I got a lot of feedback from folks who really appreciated the nostalgia of the video, and plenty of folks got a huge kick out of the hair, make-up, and costumes.  Christina McGregor (our key hair and make-up) and Deb Broughton, (our wardrobe supervisor) and their teams just really knocked it out of the park, and folks really responded to their great work.  We were also posted on dooce.com, and that really upped our initial youtube "views" etc...and it felt great to have the opportunity to get the vid out there in that way.

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Gavin:  How did you hear about the Tower Theater's Open Screen Night?



Sue:  Gary subscribes to the Salt Lake Film Society's newsletter, and that's how he heard about it.  He passed the info on to Pat and me, and told us he wanted to screen the vid there, and we were like, "Do it!"



Gavin:  What was it like seeing it there and hearing the audience reaction?



Sue:  Well, as I said, both Pat Munson and I live in Portland, OR, so we were not there for the screening in SLC.  Talking with Gary about it, he felt it was a cool experience to, first of all, have the opportunity to see the vid on a big screen, and also to hear the reaction of an unbiased crowd.  Pat and I will be screening the video at a similar event in Portland later this month, and we are really looking forward to it.

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Gavin:  At the end you won both the Audience and Critic's Choice Award. How did it feel winning those and receiving that recognition?



Sue:  It was really validating and exciting for me (and for all 3 of us). I knew when I decided to make Albino Raindrops that my goal was to take everything I'd been learning over the past 3-4 years, and apply it.  I wanted to make something really strong. When I heard that we won the Critic's Choice and the Audience award, my first thought was that I can't wait to make the next one. I love this stuff, (filmmaking), and to "win" something and/or to be acknowledged in any way for something you do from a place of that much love is just so cool and some sweet icing on an already tasty cake.



Gavin:  Going local, what’s your opinion of the local film scene, both good and bad?



Sue:  Well, not living in Salt Lake, I can only comment on the local indie film people with whom I've gotten to work.  Our cast included Jason Horn, (a great local actor) with whom I loved working.  He was perfect and he looks great on camera. Brian Higgins who is very immersed in the local scene was fantastic in the vid (I love him in it) and great to work with.  Kenyon Christian was our asst. camera and he was a tremendous asset to our crew and to the piece overall. He has a great attitude and a lot of skill, and I'd work with him again in a heartbeat. John Rogers and Lexi Hogan were our AD and PA receptively, and they were incredibly professional and tons of fun.  Jennifer Hyde is also involved in local projects and she worked as the Script Supervisor on our shoot and she was just an absolute doll and a true team-player.  Nick Rollins was an awesome grip/gaffer and he was instrumental in securing some of our equipment.  All of these people are local SLCers. And, of course, Gary Turnier is local, and just an amazing DP. It's a great scene with a lot going on.  Tons of talent.

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Gavin:  Is there anything you think could be done to make it more prominent?



Sue:  From where I'm standing, it seems like the local scene in Salt Lake is on it's way to greater prominence in that there are some smaller festivals and screenings that are showcasing local work.  And I think that those kinds of organized showcases can contribute to an amount of legitimacy that can attract attention.



Gavin:  What can we expect from both of you over the rest of the year?



Sue:  I've been talking with a local Portland band, "Autopilot is for Lovers," about shooting a video for them. Wendy Peyton, Darin Joye, (a Portland DP), and I have been throwing around some short film ideas that we hope to shoot this year. I have been working on a webseries for a character that I play called "The Rochelle Show," and I am working on a short film script for "Rochelle" that I am really excited about.  Gary and Kenyon Christian are working on a documentary about Salt Lake musicians during the 80's that I am really looking forward to seeing. And finally, Pat, Gary, and I are developing an idea for another music video. If I have it my way, this will be a busy and productive rest of the year film-wise.  Nothing would make me happier.





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