What We Can Learn From P*Star

When I say “rapper”, what do you think of? Probably not a preteen girl spittin’ rhymes about how she isn’t ready for a boyfriend yet. This documentary might change that.

PStar (Photo Credit: ewphoto on Flickr)

PStar (Credit: ewphoto on Flickr)

P*Star Rising is a documentary by Gabriel Noble that follows the growth (literally) of a 9-year-old female rapper from Harlem named Priscilla Diaz, stage name: P*Star.  While I don’t know if I would have picked a name for a 9-year-old that produces google searches about the adult entertainment industry, I was instantly won over by this little girl’s wittiness and extremely apparent charisma.  The film recently premiered at Tribeca Film Festival.  Check out the trailer.

We can all learn a few things from P*Star, the artist, and Priscilla Diaz, the girl.

Connections make you or break you. P*Star wasn’t born rapping (although that would be pretty sick).  She didn’t get signed by a record label because of her musical genius.  She got signed because her father, an ex-rapper from the 80s, knew the right people.

While most of us aren’t lucky enough to be born into families with connections in the field of our choice, we can use social media to forge connections with people that will help advance our career.  Start seeking out people on Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter that will provide you with an outlet for your work.  Maybe it is a museum curator, or a record producer, or an employer.  Join the communities that these people are part of and start a conversation.  Make a connection by asking questions or establish yourself as competent by answering other people’s questions.  The questions can lead to an email, the email to an interview or audition.  Most successes don’t come from luck; they come from someone saying “Hey, I know this great person you should hear about.”

You can’t do it alone. There are going to be hard times.  Really hard times.  I don’t care how strong you are, you can’t believe that you are going to make it without some support system.  Whether it is monetary or emotional support, you need someone that will always be stable, because there will be times when everything else is not.

Have an interesting story. The thing I like most about P*Star is that she has a story.  She grew up in poverty with a heroine-addicted mother and cocaine-selling father.  Her father cleaned up his act and took her in, teaching her how to rap.  She had her first gig when she was 6, was signed to a record contract at 10, and now has a leading role on PBS’s revival of The Electric CompanyFind some things, or a series of things that make people go, “Cool!

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.

Happy Earth Day 2009

In honor of Earth Day, we’d like to point you to a couple of our previous articles about green film.  If you know of other resources for decreasing your environmental impact as a filmmaker, let us know in the comments.

Green Film

Image from Cayusa

Image from Cayusa

Slow Food, Slow Film?
Media-making requires a lot of resources.  What can you can do to reduce your impact?
ABC’s Earth 2100: You, too, can be Al Gore!
ABC News asks you to submit videos about what our planet could look like over the next hundred years if we don’t act now to save it.
Chris Carter’s Green Set for X Files Sequel
A concrete example of how a major film production reduced its impact on the environment.

More Earth Day Resources

For a great collection of Earth Day related videos, head over to the Earth Day collection at the brand new PBS Video Portal.

Funding an Independent Film

How do you get the money to make a film about dying languages?
How would you convince funders to back your film when it doesn’t have a clear audience?

The Linguists Theatrical Poster

The Linguists Theatrical Poster

The Linguists

Last October, the Independent published an article about funding independent films and examined Ironbound Films‘ documentary, The Linguists, as one case study.

The film’s creator, Seth Kramer, upon facing resistance from foundations and grants, self-funded a $10,000 expedition to Siberia with scientists David Harrison and Gregory Anderson, to film the first 20% of the film. With a reel to show, they were able to attract an additional $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to finish the film.

Success?

The Linguists recently aired on PBS after showing at Sundance last year. A DVD is available directly from Ironbound Films, and the film has been well reviewed by Vanity Fair, the Washington Post, the LA Times and even Noam Chomsky.

The Independent’s article also includes case studies of two lower budget films, the $60,000 USC student short, The Abattoir, and the $100,000 feature A Good Day To Be Black and Sexy.

Ask Terry Lickona Your Burning Questions

PBS Engage is inviting users to ask questions of Terry Lickona, renowned producer of the long running music program Austin City Limits, Monday at 4pm. Lickona will answer user submitted questions in an hour-long chat from SXSW.

PBS Banner at SXSW 2009 by fragility_v2

PBS Banner at SXSW 2009.
Photo by fragility_v2

Submit questions by 4pm or join the discussion live. If you are in Austin for SXSW, you can stop by the PBS events in person. Tell them Teague sent you.