Interview with Louie Psihoyos

Teague and I met Louie Psihoyos, director of The Cove, at AFI SILVERDOCS.  Psihoyos talked about how he made The Cove, which documents his team’s mission to expose the destruction of ocean wildlife in a secret cove in Japan.  We really enjoyed his stories about getting footage using both high and low tech spy tools – many of which are featured in the film.  We asked Louie Psihoyos about the role of the web in distributing his film, and about how he ended up making a documentary that feels more like a thriller.  Take a look at our interview below!

Still Indie Interviews Louie Psihoyos from Anna Pinkert on Vimeo.

Ella Es El Matador – Women v. Machismo in the Bull Ring

This week, many of our posts will feature films and seminars from AFI SILVERDOCS, an 8-day documentary film festival that takes place in Silver Spring, MD.  We have an upcoming interview clip with Louie Psihoyos, director of The Cove, and a lot more to say about the future of public media.  But for now I want to direct your attention to one of the best films I saw last week:  Ella Es El Matador (She is the Matador).

Gemma Cubero del Barrio and Celeste Carrasco follow two women in their quest to succeed in the machismo world of Spanish bullfighting.  The film itself is beautiful – watching it, I had an incredible sense of the two women not only as devoted athletes and trailblazers, but also as people who are passionate about an art that is significant in Spanish culture.

Maripaz Vega, Celeste Carrasco, Eva Florencia and Gemma Cubero del Barrio.  Photo by Anna Pinkert

Maripaz Vega, Celeste Carrasco, Eva Florencia and Gemma Cubero del Barrio. Photo by Anna Pinkert

Both filmmakers and both of the women bullfighters were on hand at the screening I attended.  The filmmakers said that this movie took 9 years to make.  Initially, they conceived of it as a piece on the history of women bullfighters, but when they met Eva Florencia and Maripaz Vega, they decided to make them the center of the story.  On their part, Eva Florencia and Maripaz Vega said that they loved watching the film, and were proud to be a part of it.  Vega, who is an established matador, hoped that the film would improve the situation for women bullfighters in Spain, but that they have a long way to go.

One of the many things I learned at SILVERDOCS is the value of a good relationship with your subjects.  At a screening of Salesman, legendary director Albert Maysles updated us on the status of his four Bible salesmen subjects, 40 years after the film’s debut.  Being warm, generous, and kind to the people in your film has a better chance of yielding the intimate stories that you want to tell as a filmmaker.

Ella Es El Matador will premiere on PBS on Sept 1 as a part of POV.

Interview with Amanda Hirsch

This is the third and final interview in our series talking with filmmakers who led teams in 48HFP-DC 2009. In our first two interviews we talked with Jasmine Bulin, a first time participant and Ishu Krishna, a long-time veteran. Today we bring you an interview with Amanda Hirsch of CreativeDC, who entered her team for the second time this year.

Amanda Hirsch, 48HFP-DC Team Leader

Amanda Hirsch, 48HFP-DC Team Leader

Still Indie: Amanda, how did you get involved in the 48 Hour Film Project?

Amanda Hirsch: I perform with Washington Improv Theater (WIT), and they’ve been participating in the 48 hour film project for years. The WIT community has gotten so big, though, that it doesn’t make sense for everyone to work on one film anymore, so last year, a bunch of us decided to give it a go on our own, and we had a blast, so we did it again this year.

SI: What genre were you hoping for and which one did your team draw?

AH: We were hoping for anything but “mockumentary”, and we drew “mockumentary” 🙂 As improvisors we just thought that was low hanging fruit (we play with that style of storytelling a lot on stage), and wanted to challenge ourselves to stretch a bit more. So we put it back and ended up with “surprise ending,” which was the only other genre we really didn’t want — so it goes.

SI: What story did you tell?

AH: “Happy Hour” is about a lonely, lonely guy who so longs for friendship that he convinces himself he’s friends with complete strangers, creating elaborate back-stories in his head. The “surprise” is that for the whole movie, you think these people are really his friends, and then you realize they don’t know him from Adam. We tried to play with tone to underscore the element of surprise — you think it’s an upbeat episode of Friends, and then it gets really depressing and creepy really fast (we hope).

Production Still from "Happy Hour"

Production Still from "Happy Hour"

SI: What was the biggest challenge your team faced?

AH: It’s hard to assess how effective a surprise ending is when you’ve been so close to writing, shooting and editing the “surprise.” When we watched the first rough cut, our hearts sank – the surprise didn’t have any impact. We realized it was because there wasn’t enough of a tonal shift, so we redid the voiceover. When we watched again, we all had this moment of, “Ohh, wow, that was CREEPY.” So we were pretty sure it worked. But I’ve seen it 15 or 20 times now and I just have no idea if it works or not – I can’t tell! I need some distance.

SI: What was the best moment of the weekend?

AH: There were a lot of them – having everyone get really excited and on the same page about the story on Friday night was really cool. Then getting to see our editor, Jon Reiling, work his magic – seeing how he wove in b-roll and music to really bring the story to life on-screen. And he and our other director of photography, Bryce Whittaker, got some really cool shots looking in through the window of the bar where we shot, which were pivotal to conveying this notion of a stranger looking in on something he doesn’t have, and coveting it.

SI: Will you be participating again next year?

AH: Abso-fucking-lutely!

That’s the spirit! Thanks for taking time to answer our questions Amanda and keep up the great work!  If you still think DC is just a mainstream city, stop by Amanda’s site at CreativeDC.org and find out what you’ve been missing.  If you missed our first two segments this weekend, check out Jasmine’s perspective as a first-time participant and our interview with 48HFP veteran Ishu Krishna. If you’ve got questions for Amanda’s team, leave them in the comments section below.

Steadicam for Indies

Steadicam Operator

Photo by Reinis Traidas

B&H has an video interview with the inventor of the Steadicam, Garrett Brown. The Steadicam, for those who don’t know, is a stabilizing mount for a camera that isolates the camera’s movement from the camera operator’s movement. On terrain that is too rough, or other situations where a track and dolly are not practical, Steadicam allows smooth, moving shots.

Interestingly, Brown focused specifically on the drive to bring the Steadicam to smaller scale productions:

“The things that the Hollywood guys with their $50,000 rigs have, someone wants with a little HDV camera,” says Brown. “It’s our job not only to supply the gear, but also to help educate people to use it with the same degree of freedom and panache that the big boys have.

Brown’s mission to bring the Steadicam to the masses fits within the general trend of democratization of technology and it is particularly exciting, if not altogether unexpected, that stabilized camera mounts are becoming more widely available. Guerrilla filmmakers in particular may find great value in being able to get stable, smooth shots without the burden and setup of a dolly.