Monday, June 1, 2009

In Review: LDSFF '09 Part 6: Most of the Rest of The Presenters

That's a subtitle that's packed to the edges with vague meaning, I know, but I'm trying to prevent this from going on too much longer.

While there is one presentation that I'd like to focus on individually, I think I'm going to try to cover the others all at once. This is for two reasons. First, I don't want this series to take all the way until next year's festival to finish, and I still have some actual films to review. Second, several of the remaining presentations can be summarized with brevity, even by me.

Lets get started.

Seth Packard and Ben Lakey

For those of you who don't know, Seth Packard is the writer/director/star of Hottieboombalottie, a film about a teenager with (from what I've seen) self-image issues, raging hormones, and a number of other problems, which at the time of this presentation was gaining popularity in the festival circuit. I've most recently seen Packard give one of the few decent performances in Chris Heimerdinger's Passage to Zarahemla. His role, while minor, stole the show, in my opinion. Ben Lakey played almost as big a role in Hottieboombalottie's creation as Packard did.

Their presentation consisted of clips from the film coupled with advice for filmmakers trying to be successful - which is probably all of us. While I have little love for the film itself, much of their experience seemed useful to me. I'll repeat some of it here:

Packard is primarily an actor (and a talented one), and this film was an attempt at promoting his acting career by providing himself a starring role. This focus would have made it easy for him to surround himself with others who could do most of the other work, but this is not Packard's philosophy. Instead, he began with the assumption that the best way to make a successful movie was to know everything about what it takes to do so, which seems both reasonable and obvious. However, many people seem to think that having the idea for a movie is enough. Once the right idea comes along, everything else falls into place. Packard would argue that this just isn't so.

While his career focus didn't remove him from interest in the other aspects of filmmaking, it did make him an actor's director. Packard would give input on each performance, but allow his actors to make the final decisions. Every movement was designed to add meaning to the film. A lot of stupid things happen in the script, but Packard and Lakey emphasized that actors can't interpret their own roles as stupid or their performances will be phony. They have to believe that their characters really would act in the way that the script is telling them to, even if it is outrageous. The director can have influence in this regard.

As Lakey observed, most filmmakers have three goals: to make it cheap, make it fast, and make it quality. Only two of these can be accomplished, he argues, and on Hottieboombalottie, the standard sacrificed was speed. Packard's approach relied heavily on storyboarding, which took four months compared to the six it took to write the script. Shooting took 18 days. Much of the funding came from family members, and Lakey says they were careful not to pretend to know more than they did.

In order to save money, rehearsals were held while the crew was setting each scene, and only Utah actors were cast.

A few other points of advice:

- Plan really well and it works.

- A realistic post budget is important.

- Keep a low-stress environment: no yelling.

Nelson Says

As I mentioned in my post on that subject, Maclain Nelson is the Executive Producer and star of Dragon Hunter, and also appeared in other films at the festival, such as The Sinking of Santa Isabel, Father in Israel, and Dianatha's Crossing. For those who don't know what exactly an Executive Producer does, Nelson says that it's like being in charge of sales. He puts the money together.

Nelson graduated from BYU in 2003 and began, like Packard, as an actor. Nelson believes that filmmaking is about networking. After a failed audition for the LDS adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, he asked to be a volunteer gopher. Over the course of the production one thing led to another and he ended up as Assistant Director. He accomplished this by being the type of person who says "yes" to every problem and works hard to do it.

In Nelson's mind, there's no difference between an independent filmmaker and an entrepreneur. He says you should realize what you're good at and find other people to do the other things. A good film needs talent at artistic, technical, and business levels. He also says you should make your own films your way, rather than imitating someone else's style.

When forecasting the success of your film, Nelson says you should pick others in the same genre that have been huge successes, failures, and moderate performers, and average them. Then be honest with yourself and others about the risk involved. Your pitch should send the message, "Film is risky. We'll put money in the right places, manage costs better, and bring more money in."

Because he believes that the hardest part of making a film is making the money, Nelson gave the following points of advice/insight/encouragement on the process:
  • Make a list of anyone you can think of who might be interested in investing in your film.
  • Have a solid business plan.
  • Start an LLC for your film.
  • Keep meetings with potential investors to 15 minutes.
  • People are interested in film investing, so they will meet with you.
  • Keep your contacts
  • Sell investment units - don't try to get all the money from one place.
  • Most investors will buy one unit even if it's a little higher. They don't like partial units or multiple units as much.
  • If you don't have a big name actor, keep you budget under $500K unless it's a genre piece.
  • Big actors will work for less money if they like the script and if you can be flexible with scheduling (this was how Dragon Hunter got Issac Singleton - not a huge name but a recognizable face).
  • You only need one name actor, and with a $500K budget you can get it.
  • Make a list of the actors you want and start contacting them in order of preference.
  • Give them a week to respond before moving down the list.
  • Start small.
  • For musical (and other talent) find people who are hungry. Local/smaller bands are eager to get their music in a film and won't want outrageous sums of money for it.
  • Get an IMDb Pro account

For foreign distribution, Nelson suggests a Park City company called Kowan.

A few things to look forward to from Nelson's company: a sequel to Dragon Hunter called Dragon Hunter: Legend of the Hidden City, a vampire movie, a western, a musical. Not much more info on any of them than that.

If you're looking to get a script produced, Nelson accepts submissions at maclainnelson[at]hotmail[dot]com.


Because they don't really have much to do with the purpose of this blog, I won't be in-depth about these, but there were a couple of technical presentations about the RED camera and Visual Effects. The first was by Alan Williams and Zach Helton. Williams is a Digital Intermediate Producer at Universal Post & Cosmic Pictures. Helton is from Digital Cinema Tech.

This presentation was interesting, but from a state-of-the-art perspective. One comment the presenters made that is worth mentioning was regarding the importance of storytelling. They see actors and directors as necessary evils in the telling of a story - an interesting point of view. The presenters also reiterated Ben Lakey's comment about quality, price, and speed, and how a film can only have two of them in its favor.

Other that that, I'll only say that if anyone reading this is considering using the RED camera in a film, either of the gentlemen listed above can help you procure one and they would be happy to assist in your post production as well.

The VFX presentation was given by the good folks at Bluefire Studios, who did a number of effects shots for The Errand of Angels. They gave suggestions for setting up effects shots with the goal of lowering post production costs.

S.A.G. U.F.C.

This presentation was by Anne Seward Hansen from the Screen Actor's Guild and Marshall Moore of the Utah Film Commission. They spoke about producing films in Utah - specifically how the UFC's rebate program (at the time it was 15% of every dollar spent) helps bring productions to the state.

Again, because it's not as much to this forum's purposes, I'll just give a couple of bullet points.
  • It's in the state's best interests to have lots of productions and big productions.
  • Yay Utah! stats: Utah was 4th in the nation for production last year, the film industry created 994 jobs in Utah in fiscal 2008 and generated $36 mil. in revenues.
  • The minimum you have to spend to get a UFC rebate is $1 mil., but that will be lowered soon.
  • Utah is the only state in which a union film and a non-union film can be shot side-by-side without restriction.
  • Rebate is changing from 15% to 20%.
  • The $500K cap on the rebate is being removed and it will now be structured as a tax refund instead of a cash rebate.
  • 35 of the 38 submitted films have been approved - those that weren't were so trashy they didn't fit the state's values.
  • Ratings are not discussed in the approval process.
  • It may be possible to package several low-budget films from a single funding source in order to meet the minimum spend.

Last One I Promise - The LDS Film Forum

This would normally merit a post of its own, but I snuck out partway through to go to a different presentation, so I only have a little bit to report on.

This years forum was moderated by Gideon Burton and included presentations from Cathy Cowley and Katherine Morris. No doubt I'll do no justice to their thoughts and preparation by summarizing what little I heard.

Cowley's and Burton's comments can probably best be encapsulated in the questions they asked, which may merit further discussion here, but which I can't begin to answer without waxing long-winded and boring. Cowley contemplated the formal presentation of our identity (as in a eulogy) through film and asked, "Who do we want to think we are and try to become?"

Burton extrapolated with this query, "What aspect of our identity must be present in a film to call it LDS?"

Morris spoke about Paradox a-la-Terryl Givens. She claimed that Film offers a good medium to explore the disintegration of sacred space that Givens discusses in his works. This concept is basically that rather than separating everyday pursuits from spiritual reality, Mormonism eliminates the difference. Morris further said that because we think of film as a secular medium, sacred things portrayed thereon can be hard to receive.

It was at this point that I left the room, so I'm sorry to cut this off when it's finally getting interesting. Perhaps I can return to the subject in more depth later. What's left is a discussion of the presentation by Rick Stevenson, a non-LDS independent filmmaker, and reviews of several films. For now (assuming anyone has actually finished this post - thanks, if you have) I'll leave you to ponder.


Th. said...


Now that you're finally through, what will be next?

Adam K. K. Figueira said...

I have a few films to review, and some topics to explore, such as what makes a film powerful and to what extent "power" is a relevant criterion for LDS film. I also am interested in getting back to the implications of LDS doctrines on filmmaking.

Adam K. K. Figueira said...

Hopefully it will be getting more interesting soon.

Th. said...



No pressure.

Michaela Stephens said...

I think that the question of what makes something LDS cinema is a very important one to ask. (It's also very similar to a question that I explored in an independent research class on Mormon literature.)

Here's the factors that I came up with that make something "Mormon literature". They would probably translate very well to LDS cinema.

Firstly, “Mormon fiction” is usually written by a Mormon writer specifically for a Mormon readership. Mormon culture has its own jargon and phraseology for its institutions and beliefs, even the ones that are shared by other Christian denominations. If there was no explanation of unique Mormon terminology or beliefs and no attempt to convince the reader of the validity of the underlying assumptions inherent in those beliefs, then the work could be considered as written specifically for a Mormon audience. Explanation of doctrine and principles can be included in dialogue if it is directly related to the concerns of the characters.

Secondly, Mormon fiction has at least one major Mormon character or an equivalent. Mormon audiences hunger for a character they can identify with morally and ideologically, and Mormon characters are the most likely to satisfy that craving. The Mormon character then becomes a way for the Mormon audience to explore a plethora of situations vicariously and learn about choices in a sort of sandbox.

Thirdly, Mormon fiction incorporates gospel principles and practices into the plot as characters are shown to follow them or rebel against them. Characters pray, receive personal revelation, talk about the gospel, talk about the scriptures, give priesthood blessings, woo with the goal of eternal marriage in the temple, go to church, and live as Mormons do in real life. Secularism is usually not present except for in the story antagonists.

Lastly, in the end, the law of the harvest is followed; characters reap a reward according to their works—good for good and evil for evil—in the form of realistic consequences. (The consequences need not be immediate, but they must be there.) These factors are essential for fiction to be “good Mormon” fiction.

If you are interested in reading my final paper for this class which examines a number of fictional works by LDS authors in light of the above factors, drop by my blog and post your email address in one of the comments (Don't worry, I'll remove it..)

Thanks for your thoughtful posts!