Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Avrec Art House

A look inside the facilities of the downtown film hub

Posted By on March 15, 2016, 9:14 AM

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If you're a filmmaker in Utah, having access to the resources needed can often become a pain.  If you're a college student, you might have temporary access to what you need, but often the talent producing new material are those with a dream and limited funding, and those individuals need support any way they can to help create their dream. Which is what makes Avrec Art House a very cool business, as their downtown art hub gives filmmakers the ability to come together to plan, brainstorm, collaborate and ultimately help those creating anything related to film carry through the entire process. Today we chat with the married founders of the company, Dallin and Jacquelyn Cerva, about the company and the community it's serving, along with photos we took of their downtown location.

Dallin & Jacquelyn Cerva
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Gavin: Hey guys, first off, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

 My name is Dallin Cerva, I am a writer, director and producer. I am the co-founder and creative director of Avrec Art House.

Jacquelyn: I'm Jacquelyn Cerva, I'm an entrepreneur, producer and the co-founder of Avrec Art House.

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When did you each first take an interest in film, and what were your biggest influences?

Movies have always been influential in my life. It wasn't until later in my life that I even thought about doing it as a career, but I was always really into movies. I remember really getting into kung fu and martial arts movies as a kid. There was a sort of Mom and Pop video shop near where I grew up in Midvale and I would rent all sorts of old and low budget kung fu films. I liked one of them so much—it was called Seven Lucky Ninja Kids—I showed it to one of my friends and they looked at me like I was crazy and said, "This is old!" I hadn't really seen that as an issue. It's still a crazy and great film today!

Jacquelyn: I've always loved watching film, even from a young age. I'm an emotionally based person, and film "speaks" to me more than any other medium. It's a very special & powerful art form.

Did either of you seek out film studies in college or attend film school, or were you primarily self-taught?

 I studied film at BYU. It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to do. I'd always planned on being an illustrator. I loved to draw, but once I started doing it in college, it just felt wrong. I took a lot of time off of school and eventually wound up deciding on film.

Jacquelyn: I guess I'm in the self-taught category, with a lot of help from Dallin and our filmmaker friends. According to Dallin, me being OCD is my best quality as a producer.

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When did the two of you first meet and eventually get married?

Jacquelyn and I met in our junior year of high school; we both went to Hillcrest and graduated in 2005. When we first met, we liked each other, but things were rocky. We finally started dating for real after our freshmen years of college, in 2006. We got married in 2009.

Jacquelyn: We're coming up on seven years of marriage, and I'd definitely say the Lab is our first child.

How did the idea to start your own production company come about?

When I started film school, the Canon 5D Mark II had just become a huge thing; all of a sudden you could make something that looked good enough to screen in a movie theater, and it only cost $3,000 (at that time). At BYU, film equipment was kind of pain to get hold of. The school had equipment, but one had to jump through a lot of hoops to get approved to use it. One day, Jacquelyn surprised me by coming home with the 5D Mark II as a gift for me. The catch was that we would have to start making things and finding ways to pay for it. That was when the idea of our own business began.

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How did you come across the location on 300 East, and what was it like converting it into the kind of space you needed?

Jacquelyn followed City Home Collective on social media and really liked them. She's always been a fan of open houses for businesses and homes. When we starting thinking about looking for space, City Home was who we reached out to. Our current spot was one they had info on for a while, but it was old & ugly and needed tons of work. When we first visited, I was far from impressed, but Jacquelyn saw potential and had a good feeling about it. It was a good price for such a great location. We worked our butts off and went into debt, but I think it turned out looking pretty good.

Jacquelyn: This building was definitely not what I originally envisioned, but like Dallin said, once we toured it I couldn't get it out of my mind. In the end, the huge windows and giant trees in front won me over, and we took on the fixer upper! Paul at City Home Collective was awesome. We love our space.

What was it like gathering up all the equipment and supplied you needed to make the space sustainable for anyone to come in and use the facility?

We already owned a good amount of equipment from the films we had made. We mostly needed furniture, which we have been collecting bit by bit. Most of the furniture in the space right now are items from our house. We found renters for our house and moved into a tiny apartment, so we didn't have space for it anyway. We are always in the process of finding more furniture and equipment.

Jacquelyn: Ha ha, pretty much everything we own is here in the space. We've also gotten donations of equipment and books from filmmakers and other organizations. My favorite piece of furniture in the space is the giant bar table we have on loan from The Utah Film Commission. They had it built for their lounge at the Sundance Film Festival, and we get to hold on to it until next year when they need it again. Virginia Pearce and everyone at UFC have been super supportive of the Lab.

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For those who may not understand the concept of the business, what roles do you and the space play in helping filmmakers create new works?

This is a massive question. I could write a series of essays on it. To try and sum it all up, Utah filmmakers need to become more collaborative and less competitive. I believe that community and shared experience is the only thing that guarantees long-term success for a group of people. Avrec Art House focuses on bringing people together to promote conversation and the sharing of knowledge and ideas. We believe that by bringing filmmakers together, providing them the resources they need to make their projects, and connecting them to other organizations that want to help, great things are going to happen. We need better films being made in Utah. There are a lot of great ideas that never go anywhere, and there's an unfortunately large number of bad ideas that get made into bad movies. We need to balance it out and get more variety in genres and types of content being made.

Jacquelyn: Yeah, follow us on social media, spend 2-3 minutes on our website and you'll get a good idea of what's currently offered as far as resources. Dallin and I are always here to answer questions.

How did you go about building the staff you currently have and who are you currently working with?

We knew that we needed a few key elements, but we also knew that as a start up we couldn't pay anyone. Our first line of attack was targeting filmmakers who have experienced success and who still live locally. We went to them and sold them on the idea, then offered them a free membership as long as they provided leadership in the groups and workshops that we were building. We currently have a workshop for directors led by director Kohl Glass, a workshop for documentary filmmakers led by documentarian Tyler Measom, two groups of screenwriters led by screenwriter Davey Morrison-Dillard and myself, and a group of film actors led by local talent and casting director Yolanda Stange. Aside from that, we brought on Arthur Van Wagenen to aid in legal forums for filmmakers, and DIT and tech specialist Derek Reinhardt to ensure that our network is always running and that we're up to date on tech standards.

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What was it like when you first opened, and what was the reaction like from the local film community?

Before we opened our doors, we spent a year meeting with as many local film organizations as would meet with us. We told them our ideas and everyone was really into it. When we finally opened our doors, we invited everyone we had previously met with to a lunch/open house. The overwhelming response was that most were impressed we actually did it, we actually did something! Again, there are a lot of great ideas that never go anywhere. We didn't want to fall into the category, and we proved that we're crazy enough to go for it.

Jacquelyn: We're definitely crazy. The filmmaking community has been great so far, we're excited to see what happens as we grow and get our marketing campaigns launched.

Who are some of the people you've worked with to date and the films you've helped produce and distribute?

We've only been open for four months, so much of what's been brought to us is still in the pre-production or conceptualization phase. However, the first project that we really got involved with is a web series called Adam & Eve. It's written and directed by Avrec Art House Members, Davey and Bianca Morrison-Dillard. They'd been working on getting this project going for a while, but it never actually got off the ground. They had great scripts and great actors attached, we really didn't need to get involved creatively, but they still didn't know what they were going to do with it, and they still lacked a few elements to get production going. We basically stepped in to fill the gaps: helped them establish a business plan, helped as producers, production assistants and craft, and did a lot of market research to provide them potential distribution options. People come to us every week with new ideas and things they want to get going. If they're willing to put in the work to make something great, and become Avrec Art House Members, then we're willing to help wherever we can. Business plans, market strategies, distribution avenues, legal security, these are all topics that are extensively important to the survival of a film—they often aren't focused on in film school, and much of it remains a mystery to filmmakers. It's really, really hard to make something really great, and having the business aspects worked out can make life so much easier.

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What made you decide to start up a membership plan, and how does it work for those with small budgets trying to put a film together for nothing?

Jacquelyn has worked on the business side of the gym industry for the last seven years. She's seen how a large number of people willing to pay a small monthly fee can afford a lot of high-value tools that are otherwise unaffordable. Film is the most expensive art form ever created, and the most innovative young minds are people who have little to no money at all. If they're willing to work to make something great and invest in themselves a little, we can help them meet people and find the tools they need.

How has it been working with The Davey Foundation to continue their work as an organization?

The Davey Foundation has been great. Betsy has always been so nice to us; she was someone we reached out to fairly early on. When she told me that their grants hadn't received many submissions from Utah locals, I was shocked and saddened. Ever since then, I've been hellbent on spreading the word and encouraging locals to check them out.

Jacquelyn: Their grant applications are currently open, and we've teamed up with them for the Local Utah grant. They really care about local filmmakers and that's something we need to support so that it continues. You can check out their website for more info on the grants and apply.

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For those looking to work with you, what do they need to have with them before coming to the table?

People wanting to get involved with Avrec Art House simply need to be willing to invest in themselves. It costs $50 a month to be a member with us; what you get in exchange is worth far more. If someone is going to spend the money to invest in themselves, they also aught to spend the time to make sure they are making the best possible work they can. If they've got a script, they should join writers groups and talk to other screenwriters to get quality feedback and be willing to revise it a thousand times if necessary. We really want to encourage our members to create the best content possible, make mistakes, be brave, and to always do more. Making great film is hard, but for those of us that have fallen into this career, we know there's nothing more satisfying.

Where do you hope to take the business down the road and what impact are you hoping to have on the film community?

Our long term goal is to keep building membership, take over more of our building as we offer more amenities, and work with the city and supporters of the arts to provide more money to quality film projects. We would love to be funding and producing two or three feature length movies a year.

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What can we expect from both of you and Avrec Art House over the rest of 2016?

For us, 2016 is all about finishing up phase one. We want to get the rest of our upstairs space finished and workable, we have a number of big events coming up, including the first ever Utah Film Grad Showcase, which is a showcase of two to three films made by seniors from each of the surrounding film schools, with a Q&A and meet and greet afterward. We've teamed up with the Salt Lake Film Society and the Utah Film Commission to make this happen—it's going down on April 25 at 7 p.m. and is free to the public. We have so many things in the works right now. The end of 2016 is going to be a completely different ball game.  

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