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Gavin's Underground

Tower Theater's Open Screen Night Winners: September 2010

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2010-10-19 -

Last month after a brief hiatus for the summer, the Salt Lake Film Society held the third (Arty winning) Open Screen Night at the Tower Theater for 2010. A good number of entries came out this time to a packed crowd, you could definitely tell people had been hard at work over the summer. Your usual mix of material could be seen, upstart directors, college projects, random entries from 48 Hour, and groups looking to make a name for themselves locally. After all the films were play at the votes were tallied we came out with three very different winners. Chris Adler took home the Critic's Choice Award for his project "Reco", P.M. Baird was picked by the crowd for the Audience Choice Award for his film "The Future-er", and Lee Gardner was picked by the Society as the SLFS Choice Award winner for his project "Simple Inquisition". I got a chance to chat with all three winners about their careers so far, the films they made and their take on winning, plus their thoughts on localized cinema.

Chris Adler
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http://www.recinema.com/

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

Chris: I’m probably the most generic demographic of filmmaker there is. I’m a computer programmer (nerd) who’s trying to make the full time transition into film but I have to pay the bills with a full-ti
me job I don’t really want to do. I’ve always been fascinated with the process of filmmaking. When I was younger my oldest brother shot some really cheesy movies on 8mm. but I thought what he did was pretty awesome. So I started out by shooting some videos with my kids and some of the neighbors. Those gave me a chance to learn the basics of filmmaking in a fun non-threatening way. They weren’t the run of the mill home video that goes straight from the camera to a VHS tape. These were loading with effects really cheesy soundtracks. They always seemed to end up with the kids being cast into corny adult roles.
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Gavin: What films and directors would you say had a big influence on you?

Chris: Well, if I’ve seen your film, then you’ve influenced me in some way—good or bad. I think everything we take in becomes part of our individual thought process and is ultimately the basis for forming the way we see and shape and express things. As far as analysis goes, I’m fascinated with Stanley Kubrick’s work. There’s always something behind the scenes in play that you aren’t consciously aware of, but it’s there and begging to be discovered. I think the most effective filmmakers are compelled to share their views and opinions on issues we face as a society, but the smart ones hide it deep in the story and leave it up to you to discover. And hopefully never in an obvious way. John Hughes is another writer/director who really had things worked out. Everything he did during the eighties had an impact on me in some way.

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

Chris: I didn’t, but I think it would have been a blast. I think film school can be a great networking tool for a filmmaker, but it’s so much cheaper to pick up practical experience on a set. There are always local productions going on that drool over free labor. I’m totally jealous of places like East Hollywood High and wish I had the chance to experience a program like that when I was in high school.
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Gavin: Do you prefer working as an independent filmmaker, or rather work with a group and form a production?

Chris: In my opinion you have to be able to do both. I think coming up with a cohesive and effective story isn’t a democratic process. So in the development phase you really need a strong single voice driving the process to get the story down on paper. At that point, you’re a fool if you don’t surround yourself with people smarter than you to make everything else happen. I think directors that keep their ideas close to their vest and are so fixated on getting exactly what they see in their minds eye onto the monitor are really missing out. I’m part of a local filmmaking group called ReCinema that subscribes to that belief. Filmmaking is a collaborative process, and the more you can improve your movie during the most cost effective phases the better. Pixar is our inspiration as a model that works for animation. We’re trying to make that model work for live action as well.

Gavin: When did you get involved with ReCinema and how has it been for you working in that collective?

Chris: ReCinema was hatched by Clayton Farr and Kyle Mallory (one of the founders of the MPAU). Once they came up with some general ideas of what they thought they’d like to experiment with, they began looking for people to join the “brain trust”. So a few local writers and myself thought we’d give it a try. ReCinema is definitely an experiment that will improve with age. The fundamental question we ask during nearly all of the phases of filmmaking is “is this process really the best way to get this task done?” Just because a studio or a dozen books tell you that one particular way to do something is better than another doesn’t necessarily make it so. That’s one of the things that attracted me to ReCinema—the fact that I love to challenge and question nearly everything I observe. Ultimately a lot of the processes we ended up using to produce "Reco" turned out to be tried and true processes that nearly all other filmmakers use, but not necessarily in the same order they use them.
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Gavin: How did the concept for “Reco” come about?

Chris: That’s an interesting question. Originally I kind of stole the idea from another one that was floating around the ReCinema group. That story was about a woman living an isolated life out in the wilderness when all of a sudden a stranger winds up on her porch. The guy’s almost dead. She nurses him back to health and during that process discovers he’s the man who’s responsible for the death of her husband. What does she do? I liked some of those elements, but somehow in my mind I ended up changing the situation to exploring what would happen if an independent teenager confronted her mother about abandoning her as a young child. That story probably happens in real life daily in the modern world, but that would have been too easy and boring of a story to tell, so I placed it in the mid to late eighteen hundreds to add some texture to the story. So, in place of riding a subway to her birth mother’s house in an apartment in Queens, Annie rides her horse “Reco” on a day’s journey to confront her mother in a one room log house in a beautiful meadow. The essence of both stories is the same. The story is about what the mother and daughter experience and how they react, not where they experience it and how they got there. That’s just eye candy.

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

Chris: Casting was a blast! We saw a really great pool of talent from the local area and had a hard time choosing our final actors. Ultimately we ended up with some great actors who really took their roles further than expected. For locations, we spent a lot of time and had to scout numerous places to find what we needed. We shot all of the interior house shots and barn shots at “This Is The Place Heritage Park”. We were able to shoot the house with very little set dressing and that really save us a ton of money and effort. We ended up having to build a set for the loft scene since we couldn’t find anything appropriate that we could light and shoot. Nearly all of the exterior scenes were shot high in a mountain meadow in Spanish Fork on a massive horse ranch.
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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?

Chris: Shooting was a blast! It was a really aggressive project because of the budget and the number of locations and logistics of a few company moves. The only reason we actually made our schedule was that we had an talented pool of professionals making the magic happen. Everyone was organized and really great to work with. We didn’t really run into any big “situations” that we couldn’t work through fairly easily. "Reco" was a four day shoot, though we could have used five or six easily. Editing took around three weeks.

Gavin: Were there any difficulties that came up along the way or was it all pretty smooth?

Chris: Well, "Reco" had every element that smart people caution filmmakers to avoid in a film: children, animals, effect shots, and a period setting! On top of that, one full day consisted of exterior shots in a meadow down in Spanish Fork canyon so we were very dependent on good weather. That day included some aerial shots captured with a large radio controlled helicopter following our riding double running away on horseback. We lucked out that the weather held out as long as it did for those shots, but then it turned ugly and we lost a lot of time. We actually got to a point where we decided to grab some great rain shots and sent our riding double out in a torrential downpour to ride around the meadows. Some of that footage is gorgeous and a few of the shots made it into the final cut. Angel (the horse) was a civilian, not a “Hollywood horse”, but she did a great job. The only problem we had with her was after the storm a horsefly kept biting her in the middle of nearly every take. We ended up having to scramble to get some pick up shots later on and in another area that had fewer flies.
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Gavin: Did you show the film to anyone prior to the event, and what did they think of the film when it was finished?

Chris: Actually we did some “test screenings” to select people as we tried variations of the edit. Some of the elements we thought would play well and be obvious to a viewer didn’t translate as well as we hoped for, so we had to make some adjustments. Overall we received great usable feedback and responses from everyone and have come up with a final cut we’re all proud of.

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

Chris: One of the members of ReCinema actually knew about it and we saw it as a great opportunity to screen the story and gather some crowd feedback. If you can play well at “Open Screen Night”, you’re off to a good start!
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Gavin: What was it like seeing it there and hearing the audience reaction?

Chris: Actually it was really good seeing it in that venue. One of the things we paid attention to is how it will be presented to the audience. We’ve seen "Reco" projected on a digital cinema system with the state of the art projectors and sound systems, and seeing it in a more traditional venue like the Tower Theater was great. The audience during Open Screen Night is honest and doesn’t hold anything back, which is great feedback you don’t usually get when screening a movie.

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

Chris: It was great. This was the first feedback we received from a real critic so it was a real shot in the arm. Hopefully the festivals we’ve entered will be as kind.
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Gavin: Going local, what’s your opinion of the local film scene, both good and bad?

Chris: Well, I think Utah is a great place for filmmakers. We have great settings and stunning locations to shoot in and there are plenty of people to crew up a film. "Reco" had a decent budget for a short, so maybe we had it easier than some shorts find great crew, but I’ve worked on some local shorts that were no budget and still had competent crew on set with professional equipment. I really have nothing bad to say about the film scene at all from my perspective. Now, I’m sure if I was an actor I’d be telling a different story.

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

Chris: Incentives can always be improved, which would help. I think we have the facilities to support pretty much anything that shoots here. We have the scenery and locations. I think we need more of the local small filmmakers to think bigger and step up and get real funding for their projects, add some recognizable talent to their films, and shoot them in Utah! We shouldn’t sit around and wait for a studio film to come. Studio films go wherever the money and logistics of the project drive them and I don’t think we can really control that. It’s depressing that the great local actors we have usually end up migrating to California so they can work. It would be nice if we could keep them here.
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Gavin: Are there any local directors you feel are at the top of their game?

Chris: Good question. I haven’t really been exposed to a lot of the local directors so I can’t really comment. I’m sure there are.

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?

Chris: I’m really excited about a thriller/horror story at the moment and hopefully if you ask me in a year what I’m working on it will be in the middle of shooting that.
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Gavin: Is there anything you’d like to promote or plug?

Chris: Well, if course I hope everyone gets a chance to see "Reco". And keep your eyes on ReCinema. There are several projects in the pipeline there that are quite tasty.


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


P.M.:
I’ve wanted to make movies since I was a kid. I was raised by artists and always had an appreciation for art in whatever form. Like a lot of people, film had a big emotional impact on me - from skateboarding around with a broomstick after I first saw “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” to having a suddenly passionate interest in my Scottish heritage after “Braveheart.” When a movie is really good, you can just feel it. So Film quickly became, in my view, the highest art form. So I wanted to do that.

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

P.M.: Paul Thomas Anderson is the best that has ever been, as far as I’m concerned. He hasn’t made anything that was less than amazing. Jean Luc Godard is maybe the most important. And of course: Kubrick, Malick, Scorsese, Soderbergh, The Coens, Kurasawa, Tarantino, Hawks ("Rio Bravo" is one of the best of all time), Bergman, etc, etc, etc. This could go on forever. Corman, Wes Anderson, Erroll Morris, Speilberg, Coppola (Francis and Sophia), Spike Jonze, David O’Russell. A movie that is not very well known that is one of my most recent favorites is “Ballast,” a gorgeous, sad little movie that was top to bottom independent. I can't forget Orson, although the way he handled his career might have more of an influence on me than just his filmmaking.
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Gavin: Did you seek out any college for film, and if so, what was that experience like for you?

P.M.: Someone said “Film is the last oral tradition,” so I studied that way. You can see everything, hear everything; it’s all there for you to absorb. I’ve just tried to be as "absorbent" as possible. You can learn tricks from almost any movie, then when you start to actually make movies you learn a lot real quickly. I recently watched Tom Ford’s "A Single Man," which was just okay for the most part, but the cinematography was amazing! It probably didn’t hurt that it was shot on the same discontinued stock that my favorite movie of all time, “Magnolia” was shot on. They did this trick with the color, that I’ve never seen before and it was one of the best tricks I’ve seen in a long time. With digital going places that film isn’t capable of, there is plenty of room for new ways and methods. Everything has not been done before; we just have to figure out how to do them. The Canon series are the new Arriflex. They’re the game changer. It’s time for the next level.

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

P.M.: I've been mainly a painter and photographer up until now. So It was only recently, when I started making movies, that I’ve had to rely on others to produce work. It has it’s ups and downs but for the most part I’ve made some really good connections. It’s a real honor to have people commit to something voluntarily. Also it’s nice that most of them have a great amount of patience and understanding. I’m learning, so I’m making mistakes, doing re-shoots, etc., and it’s real nice to have people's understanding. I think the goal of any filmmaker is to make good enough work independently and then get a chance or two at final cut on larger projects. I can’t really see myself not being in charge of something I’ve written and intend to direct. I’ve got some other projects that I’m going to be working on that I won’t be at the head of. So I’ve got to continue to get better at working "from the neck down," as a filmmaker friend of mine says.
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Gavin: How did the concept for “The Future-er” come about?

P.M.: When I sit on my couch and watch a movie on the TV there is this reflection in my computer monitor of my bedroom door and I’ve always thought it would be super scary if I looked over and saw some silhouette standing there. The funny thing is, that shot turned out to be super hard to shoot, so it ended up not being in the movie. Then I just had to fill in the blanks. Also, I was having trouble finding actors for my other scripts so I decided I would just put myself in it. I just wanted to make something.

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

P.M.: I had some pre-production help and did some shoots with a few friends on set. Then I would see that work and figure out what didn’t work and re-shoot it. So there are actually only two brief handheld shots in the final film that I didn’t shoot. It was the middle of summer and it had to be shot at night, which wasn’t until like 9:30PM, so it was hard for people to be available. I ended up shooting pretty much the whole thing by myself. I would shoot and then re-shoot and that went on for maybe a month. Then I spent a good month or so editing. So it was pretty relaxed on set. I only blew up at myself a couple of times. My wrath was mostly suffered by inanimate objects on this picture.
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Gavin: Did you show the film to anyone prior to the event, and what did they think of the film when it was finished?

P.M.: Yeah, I showed it to the people who attempted to help me out and to my family. It was well received across the board. It was also nice to see that those people who had read the script still gave the responses I was hoping for, despite that they knew the story and all the particular moments beforehand.

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

P.M.: I know all the kids who started it up, and I had been to a few of the previous ones. It’s a good thing, as Martha Stewart would say.
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Gavin: What was it like seeing it there and hearing the audience reaction?

P.M.: It was a strange experience. They showed it last and it was a pretty long program, so there was a lot of anticipation for me. Then it finally came on. I’ve watched the movie probably fifty-sixty times or more, what with editing it and showing it to people. But when it came on the big screen it was like everything sped up and it was only on for like three minutes. It’s an eight and a half minute movie. The response was everything I had hoped for, though.

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

P.M.: I didn’t know there was an Audience Choice Award, so I’m really happy about getting that one. If I had a choice that’s the one I’d choose. You have to do the work for yourself and then hope that others will get it. I couldn’t be more pleased with the award. Hugs and kisses and thanks to everyone who voted for it and me.
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Gavin: Going local, what’s your opinion of the local film scene, both good and bad?

P.M.: I can’t speak too much on that. I don’t belong to any groups or even roam in any circles. I know there are a handful of old-schoolers and a handful of kids doing some work. There are the church movies. They're really the only ones that get any type of distribution, and I don’t have much interest in church movies, so I don’t see a great deal of local stuff. Then there is the fact that we’re still just Hollywood’s bitch.

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

P.M.: I think the people that are here doing good work just need to start getting recognized. Even though I haven’t seen much of the film that is being done locally, I know people are doing it. There are a lot of people doing different and good work here. I think Salt Lake should be a more significant spot on the map.
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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?

P.M.: I’ve been shooting my next picture for the past month and a half or so. It’s beautiful so far. It’s an homage to Jen Luc Godard called “Some Time With Her.” It’s been a learning process. I know what I want and my visions are really clear. I just have to figure out how to be more efficient and clean in getting them. I’m wearing a lot of hats and kind of just getting by as far as equipment goes. I also have no money to speak of. Luckily, as I mentioned before, I have a handful of patient dedicated people who are really making it happen. Then I’m going to start on a project with a friend of mine, Brian, who has been one of my head guys on this production. I’m also cutting a feature movie for Tobijah Tyler. He’s been in the business a long time and this is his directorial debut project, which he has also written, starred in, and done the music for.

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

P.M.:“The Future-er," of course, which I think I’m just going to put up on the internets. My next picture, “Some Time With Her.” Tobijah’s picture, called “Slice To Life.” Hopefully you’ll be able to see that some time next year. He’s hustling trying to get the money to finish it right. Brian’s picture, which I’ll be producing, has the working title of “A Million Seconds A Minute." Lastly I'd like to thank everyone who has helped me out and continues to help me out. It means the world to me.


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

Lee: I was born in Provo, but at a young age my family moved to Sacramento, California. I lived there until the summer of 2000 when we moved back so my wife could be closer to her family. My father was an independent filmmaker, which had a lot of influence on me. I often helped on the sets of his film projects where I could. I watched my father struggle to get his films made and distributed but when they didn't move forward, I gave up on the idea of filmmaking for myself. I thought, what chance do I have when someone so talented is having such a hard time in the business? So I put it the dream aside to pursue a career in computers. For years I kept saying that I could do better than a lot of films I was seeing and it was time to put my money where my mouth was. So I bought a Prosumer camera (DVX100), borrowed a microphone and went to work writing and shooting some short films. I had so much fun that after I finished my first short film that I knew I would have to work to change careers to filmmaking. It was a humbling experience to see I was falling short in so many aspects of the filmmaking process. I gained a deep respect for those who make films and do it successfully. I wanted to be better and so I bought a bunch of books and started working on every aspect that I could. Comparing and analyzing what I created to help target areas I could improve. The end goal for me is to make feature films. I love movies. I love how they transport me to a place for an hour or two and take me on so many journeys that take me inside myself and to other worlds. I hope to be able to do the same for others.
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Gavin: What films and directors would you say had a big influence on you?

Lee: There’s so many but I would say my favorites are Ridely Scott, Michael Mann and John Hughes. They have made so many films that have enjoyed and that have greatly affected me.

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

Lee: I didn't but I wish I had. One of the biggest things I feel I missed out on by not attending a film school was the networking. For me, it's been hard to find technical people, who are at a similar level of experience and who have a thirst for making films, at least for low to no budget films. My training comes from the small library of books I have purchased over the years, watching every behind the scenes I could get my hands on, the lectures from Fox Search Lab and watching and analyzing movies made by masters of the craft. It also comes from doing. You can read books, watch movies and listen to the professionals tell you how to it but you will never learn more than if you go out and try for yourself.
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Gavin: Do you prefer working as an independent filmmaker, or rather work with a group and form a production?

Lee: I don't think I have a preference. I love working with people and I love collaborating on every aspect of filmmaking.

Gavin: How did the concept for “Simple Inquisition” come about?

Lee: I was looking for a short film to make while I was writing a web series and a writer friend of mine, Joseph Puente, gave me this script. He had been playing with the script for a few years but for some of the experiences that he pulled from, for the story, was from over sixteen years ago.
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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?

Lee: I try to always create an environment where creativity can thrive. We have a good time making films but generally the mood matches the feeling of the scene being shot. The principle photography was in one eight hour shoot with a few short nights of pickup shots. The editing was approximately fourteen hours with a few more spent on the sound mix.

Gavin: Were there any difficulties that came up along the way or was it all pretty smooth?

Lee: There was a fair amount of pre-production that went into it. We transformed a normal office into something that could pass as the office of as something a religious adviser would have. We made stained glass windows on Plexiglass that we were able to overlay on the normal windows that added a lot to the look of the film. I also made a statue out of a clay that required being baked. It was the first time I had used the material to make it and I ended up burning it, which made it a little tougher to paint later but it still turned out alright.
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Gavin: Did you show the film to anyone prior to the event, and what did they think of the film when it was finished?

Lee: I have groups of different people that I show cuts to. Filming and editing your own projects can make it difficult to validate pacing when you are so close to a project. They thought the film had a good impact and was thought provoking.

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

Lee: A friend told me about it and I figured it would be a fun chance to see the short on a big screen and get it in front of an audience.
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Gavin: What was it like seeing it there and hearing the audience reaction?

Lee: It’s always interesting to see the audience’s reaction. For me it’s a big part of why I make films. I definitely got some reactions that were different from what I expected.

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

Lee: It’s always nice to get recognition for the efforts we put into our films and especially from the SLFS.
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Gavin: Going local, what’s your opinion of the local film scene, both good and bad?

Lee: I think there’s a lot of great talent here, in front of and behind the camera. I see a lot of nice looking films out there but I feel that a large percentage of the films I see come out of Utah are, unfortunately, lacking in story. Which for me is the most important aspect of filmmaking. The prettiest looking film is for not, if the story is lacking and nothing can make up for it.

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?

Lee: I am currently in post on a comedy short film. I hope to have it done soon. I am working on Web series and hope to start shooting before the end of the year. I am planning to shoot my first feature next October.
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Gavin: Is there anything you’d like to promote or plug?

Lee: You can watch this film at Vimeo.


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