Archive for 2009

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The Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program today announced the recipients of its Fall 2009 Grants. Among them are two Cinereach grantees, both selected to receive support for the Production/Post category:

Jennifer Arnold
A Small Act / U.S.A.
A young Kenyan’s life is changed dramatically when his education is sponsored by a Swedish stranger.

Elizabeth Mandel and Beth Davenport
Rose and Nangabire / U.S.A.
Rose Mapendo lost her family and home to the ethnic violence that engulfed the Democratic Republic of Congo, yet she emerged from the suffering advocating peace and reconciliation. But after helping numerous survivors to recover and rebuild their lives, there is one person Rose must still teach to forgive – her daughter Nangabire.

Additionally, the first three recipients of the Sundance Reach Fund were announced. This new category is part of the Cinereach Project at the Sundance Institute. The Sundance Reach Fund provides emergency discretionary grants and support for risk-taking features and documentaries that evoke global cultural exchange and social impact. The recipients are:

Michael Brown
25 to Life / U.S.A.
After 25 years of secrecy, William Brawner is finally ready to tell the world that he’s HIV-Positive.

Josh Fox
Gasland / U.S.A.
The largest domestic natural gas drilling boom in history has swept across the United States, which uses a Halliburton-developed drilling technology called “fracking.” But is fracking safe? When filmmaker Josh Fox is asked to lease his land for drilling, he embarks on a cross-country odyssey uncovering a trail of secrets, lies and contamination.

Blair Doroshwalther
The Fire This Time / U.S.A.
Seven young African American lesbians were attacked in the West Village of NYC in 2006. They defended themselves and were sent to prison.

Read about all 23 projects selected to receive Sundance Documentary Program support here.

Info courtesy of:
Stephanie Barnwell
Manager of Programming & Special Guests
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival

Full Frame is accepting applications for the Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grant through Friday, February 5th.

Given in memory of filmmaker Garrett Scott (Cul De Sac: A Suburban War Story, Occupation: Dreamland), the grant funds first time documentary makers for travel and accommodations at the festival, where grant recipients will be given access to films, participate in master classes and be mentored by experienced filmmakers and industry members.

For more information and complete guidelines, click here.

The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival takes place April 8-11, 2010.

A post by Courtney Hope

A post by Courtney Hope

1,000 emails, 2,000 phone calls, 3,000 and 4,000 script revisions later, I was finally shooting Wild Birds. I had made it to set the first day, for the most part unscathed. How did I get there and how did I avoid the many catastrophes I had envisioned on the way? By organizing and planning and scheduling and reviewing everything until my production team and I were sick. But I think (and keep your fingers crossed) that it paid off. Below is a list of things I was glad I’d taken care of in pre-production:

1. Receipts. Don’t keep receipts until there’s downtime on Day 1. Start that spreadsheet with the first penny spent in development or pre-production. Having the cash in order means rentals, pay checks, petty cash, etc. is ready and accounted for. The goal is to not go broke and overdraft and rack up tons of credit due to a miscalculation or lost receipt. If you’ve planned out the shoot financially from the very start and have that master plan to go back to and adjust when you receive donations or add new expenses, there’s one less thing to lose sleep over. Sometimes it helps to see where you’re spending money when you want to cut costs too. For example: If the dinner at the production meeting cost $50 more than you wanted to spend, you know to have the next meeting/rehearsal at a coffee shop or maybe your apartment to avoid that extra expense.

2. Locking things down. Make sure everyone showing up to set is on the same page. Everyone should have the locked copy of the script and know when and where call is. It seems basic, but it’s easy to lose track of crew when there are vendors to barter with, things to pick up, things to drop off, things to buy, people to talk to, email, call…. If you have a good AD, everyone will know what’s happening, when and where, which will save you about 800 calls, texts, emails, gchats… from your crew. And it will save you a few bucks too, since you won’t have to pay for a cab for the lead actress who showed up at the wrong location across town…

Courtney watches the monitor with key crew on the "Wild Birds" set

Courtney watches the monitor with crew on the "Wild Birds" set

3. Love your crew. Which brings me to the next point: respect your crew members. You hired them for a reason. Hopefully it was because you trust them to do their jobs. Let them do their thing so you can do yours. Micromanaging will only annoy them. And you don’t want to annoy them because a. they are largely responsible for helping you make your film a reality and b. you’ll probably want to work with them again, and c. you don’t have time – you’ll be too busy directing a film! And if you hire a good producer UPM and AD, there will always be someone to listen if there are problems or complaints and craft, meals and coffee (hopefully all free – see previous blog) are plentiful and show up on time, which will help keep everyone happy.

4. Safety. And speaking of headaches, try to remember to keep a First Aid kit on set and some Emergen-c… If you’ve hired a crew who knows what they’re doing (see 3) and don’t feed them things they’re deathly allergic to (see 8 below) and you rehearsed with your actors, including stunts and other dangerous blocking (6 below) and you location/tech scout to make sure you won’t blow the place up or fall victim to a natural disaster, you should be okay. But, it’s better safe than sorry, right? Someone will probably at least need a band-aid at some point.

5. Post Production Plan. Have a plan for post before the shoot. Maybe sure your DP and editor have a conversation. Same for the sound designer and sound mixer, sound mixer and editor, you and the editor, you and the sound mixer…. It takes so long just to get to the point where you’re on set and shoot that people often forget about what comes after. Don’t end up with footage you can’t sync! A ten minute dialogue will make sure production flows right into post, seamlessly.

"Beth" and "April" in character on the set of Wild Birds

Actors in character on the set of "Wild Birds"

6. Rehearsals. While production is super important, so are your actors. They are your film – or at least what relates the audience to your film. Take time to meet with them, rehearse with them, and explain the shoot to them. I was working with child actors, so it was especially important to make sure they were comfortable with each other, me, my DP and my stunt coordinator, as well as the script, before showing up to set. I lucked out here and had some really amazing actresses, so there were no issues in the talent department. But no matter how “cool” an actor says they are with “going with the flow,” it’s probably always best to make sure you’re on the same page and that you respect them and their time (just as you should your crew’s – by being organized and ready to go at call time on day 1!).

7. Paper Work. Print out your paper work before you get to location. Make lots of image release forms. Make all cast, crew, friends and family sign them! You want to put those photos everywhere to publicize your film. But you don’t want someone to sue you because you captured them mid-blink. Own everything you shoot: still or moving! You never know what you’ll end up needing and tracking people down months later is never fun for anyone. Oh, and make sure you have someone taking stills on set, other than the boom op with her iPhone… I promise you’ll want those photos. Make sure you have the proper SAG forms, insurance papers, permits… You don’t want to risk being shut down or scramble last minute for insurance papers so you can take your equipment out of the rental house. Save yourself the time, money and very large headache by having everything ready to go, and by having copies, and by maybe making sure a few people have copies.

8. And repeat. Go through everything, AGAIN. Does everyone who needs directions have them? Are those directions correct? Whose phone will be the “contact number” on set? Who’s allergic to what and who’s a vegetarian/vegan/pescetarian/freegan… Knowing all these things and having little lists or charts will help keep things running smoothly. If the talent has the wrong address or you find out that half your crew is allergic to the peanuts in the Thai lunch after it’s delivered, you’re going to have a huge headache. So plan ahead and check everything at least twice.

9. Filing Cabinet. Keep your set paperwork (including those image release forms) neat and tidy and completed in some sort of file or drawer where you won’t forget it. Same goes for those receipts listed in 1. For receipts, it’s easiest to tape them to paper (maybe organize them by department) and make photo copies to put in a binder or file so you can more easily find the exact one you need later. Still keep the originals in an envelope though, in case you need to make returns or use a warranty on something you purchased. Don’t forget to print copies of checks cashed and deposits too. And make sure you highlight or mark-up or write somewhere which receipts are paid or owed and to whom. Keeping that updated and accurate will help ensure you pay people on time (see 3) and will help with that spreadsheet you made (see 1). Hopefully you’ll have only spent petty cash on set, so you shouldn’t owe too many people money – other than yourself of course…

10. Expect Anything. These steps all sound like the ranting of someone with severe OCD (and maybe that’s all they really are) but there will always be a problem with every shoot, no matter what. That’s a guarantee. If you have everything you can control organized and in order, you’ll be able to deal with the snafus you do run into without disrupting the production too much. Don’t risk worrying about the little things when there could be big things you’ll need to focus on – like performance and sound and camera and the guy riding a snowmobile through your shot and………….

Courtney directs an actor on the "Wild Birds" set as stunt coordinator stands by

Courtney directs an actor on the "Wild Birds" set as stunt coordinator stands by

I tried to follow my own advice as best I could and I believe it paid off (fingers crossed). The shoot went smoothly, with very few bumps along the way. Because I forced my production team into ultra-organizational mode before the shoot, I was able to focus on directing and let my awesome producer, UPM and AD handle the little problems we encountered (without me even knowing about them until we wrapped!). We also lucked out on the weather! But that I couldn’t really control (though I did have some rain locations, just in case…)

More about physical production once I’ve seen the footage with my editor… In the meantime, visit the Wild Birds web site  to read more about the production. More stills from set coming soon (and all with image release forms!)…

RFF 2010 Fellow Courtney Hope (mentored by Jeremy Kipp Walker) recently graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a degree in Film & Television. While a student at NYU, she wrote and directed several short films. Hope’s thesis film Sex & German Grammar, which was awarded the prize for Best Cinematography at NYU’s Fusion Film Festival, also screened at the Southside Film Festival and the Palm Springs Shortfest. Hope has also shown films at the London Super Short Film Festival and the Reed Media Festival, and took home a prize at the 2007 Southside Image Over Words competition. Hope recently completed her first independent short, Another First.

A Small Act

A Small Act

A huge congratulations to Cinereach grant recipient A Small Act, a documentary film by Jennifer Arnold and Patti Lee! The film will have its World premiere at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival in January.

Cinereach has been notified that Reach Fellowship 2009 alumnus Dena Greenbaum received the Morris Fierberg Student Film Award for her RFF short film Blues, the story of two boys, one African American and one Jewish, growing up in Crown Heights and bonding over their love of music. Congratulations Dena! We look forward to your next project.

Learn more about the award, which comes with a $1,000 grant, here.

Dena Greenbaum at Cinereach HQ by Andrea Fischman (

Dena Greenbaum in October '08 (photo by Andrea Fischman)

A post by Gabriel Long
A post by Gabriel Long

A few weekends ago I filmed my Reach Film Fellowship film, Brothers, over two days at my family’s summer cabin in Eastern Pennsylvania. Before getting into the details of how it went and what lessons I learned, I have to acknowledge the amazing patience and dedication of my cast and crew. Every person on set was very professional and focused on the goal of making the best movie possible. I can take a little bit of credit for assembling a team of people who I thought would work well together, but in reality, I also got lucky. Without further ado, a few lessons from the field:

Location Selection

Visually, my family’s cabin was the perfect setting for my film. I needed a rural setting to fit the story, and it had to be a place where I could construct a sense of claustrophobia indoors balanced with a sense of freedom outdoors.

There were clear disadvantages to using this location. We were shooting in November and the cabin has no insulation or running water in the winter.  Furthermore, shooting so far from the city meant that we needed to organize transportation, lodging, and plenty of food for everyone, and there woulnd’t be a chance to get pickups if anything went wrong.

Gabriel Long's "Brothers" is set in rural Pennsylvalnia

The wooded setting of Gabriel Long's "Brothers" at dusk

Ultimately, though, the positives outweighed the negatives and we were very happy with the choice we made. Because the place belongs to my family, the price was right (free!), and I was able to give my production designer Yvette Granata and art director Brittin Richter a great deal of freedom. When we needed to cover up the outside of the screened-in porch with plastic to keep the set pieces from getting rained on, for example, I knew it was fine to use tacks to hold up the plastic and didn’t have to worry that we were making little holes in the outside of someone else’s house.

Storyboarding Helps (for me, anyway).

I’ve heard a lot of advice on both sides about storyboarding. Some people seem to think it’s the only way to plan a film and other people think it’s a total waste of time. I’m not sure why it’s a contentious topic, but I can say that storyboarding was tremendously helpful to me. The little pictures I draw would probably horrify a real storyboard artist, but I drew out every shot in the movie, and it helped me communicate exactly what I was imagining for the framing of each shot.

Every time we were switching setups, the easiest way for me to communicate with my cinematographer, Ben Conley, was with my storyboards. Rather than going through a long descriptive list, (“Well the frame’s around here, maybe use a 50mm lens, get a piece of that actor’s shoulder, probably eye level…” etc.), I could just show him the image and immediately he’d know what I wanted. From that initial frame we’d shift the camera to create the best shot we could, but it gave us a great starting point. Similarly, when I was scheduling before-hand with my AD and we were deciding which shots were must-haves, it was a lot easier to look at my little pictures than to explain the function of each shot.

Organization and Scheduling

Our schedule was admittedly a little nuts. We were shooting a 9-page script in two days with no extra days for pickups. Everything was shot in one location with only three actors, which kept the scope relatively manageable, but 4.5 pages per day is an ambitious goal regardless.

In advance of the shoot, I worked with Ben and my AD Nicole Karczewski to map out our shooting schedule as carefully as possible. Guiding all our decisions was the fact that I wanted to shoot in sequence. I felt it would help my two main actors, both of whom were young boys, understand the overall arc of the film as we progressed. We were able to schedule our shoot in order with the exception of one scene that comes towards the end of the film but had to be captured during our first and only night shoot on day 1.

A page of the "Brothers" shot list

A page of the "Brothers" shot list

For a script breakdown, I shot-listed and storyboarded (as mentioned above) the film with Ben, and noted on the script how I would cover each scene. It was a very low-budget system of organization, but it was simple, straightforward, and free. On a larger-scale movie it wouldn’t have been sufficient, but it worked well for the needs of this project. We also had the luxury of knowing that unlike on a large-scale shoot, communicating critical schedule information to cast and crew and coralling everyone was going to be simple. We were all staying together (in two nearby cabins that are winterized), eating meals together, and traveling to and from set together.

As we finalized our schedule, we kept in mind that we’d have to make changes to it on-the-fly when challenges arose. We identified which scenes would be the most challenging to capture well – especially those containing shots of complex actions and scenes that were dialogue-heavy. We built in extra time for those and also decided on streamlined approaches for achieving them.

This planning proved infinitely useful on set. For example, in one shot, one of the characters is swinging a baseball bat and accidentally breaks a painting. This was complicated from both a staging and prop perspective and I wanted to make sure that the effect of the moment was sufficiently dramatic. I had anticipated that getting the glass on the painting to shatter properly might be challenging, and it was. My actor is only 10 and the bat was a bit big for him, so he had trouble hitting the painting hard enough to really shatter the glass. Fortunately I had a backup plan. I covered the scene in a medium shot to capture the actor’s action up until the moment the bat hits the painting, but to capture the impact, I had the AD swing the bat and covered it with a close-up of the painting. This produced the dramatic effect I was looking for and we didn’t lose time having our actor keep repeating the action to get it just right.

There was no comparable back-up plan for the dialogue-heavy scenes. I simply had to get the right performances out of the actors. However, because Nicole and I were clear about where we needed to be in our schedule at any given point during the day, and Ben and I had discussed how we were covering each scene and why, if we started to run late I would know it right away and could start figuring out which shots to cut or combine. On the afternoon of the last day we were running behind, and I had planned to cover the aftermath of the painting breaking with three shots: a wide two-shot and close-ups of each actor. I discussed the remainging shots with Ben and Nicole, and we decided we could afford to cut one of the close-ups and get what we needed from the wide and the second close-up. I got what I needed from those two shots, and we were able to save 15 minutes by eliminating the third set-up.

Feeding People Well

Because of how much we were shooting and the small size of the crew, I was asking a lot of everyone in terms of endurance. The shoot was especially difficult because we were staying at the location, so no one got to go home at the end of day. I got a local chef to cater our meals and provide snacks and he did a really terrific job. The food was excellent and it made an enormous difference in terms of keeping people upbeat and energized.

Including Others in Decision-Making

As a director, it’s easy to make all the decisions yourself. It’s important to have a firm hand, and if you’re telling people exactly what you want, chances are they will give it to you. The risk is that if you give off the impression that you’re not interested in considering other viewpoints, then no one will offer any, and you will miss out on potentially great advice.

Gabriel Long and Gaffer Jesse Skough tweak their lighting setup on the set of "Brothers"

Gabriel Long and Gaffer Jesse Skough tweak their lighting setup

On the first day of shooting I was having trouble getting the performance I wanted from one of the actors. I really wanted him to portray a strong sense of fear throughout a particular interaction with the actor playing his brother. While we were changing setups from a wide shot to a close-up, my cinematographer quietly suggested that maybe I should try taking the place of the brother, off camera, and reading the brother’s lines. It was a great piece of advice. Reading with the actor gave me a much more direct connection with him and allowed the two of us to work together toward the performance I was looking for.

The Director Pitches In

On a low-budget project, the director is really the sole leader on set. He or she is often the writer, almost always a producer, and has the most to gain from the success of the project. A good producer or AD can help keep things moving, but in my experience the efficiency of a crew is directly related to how hard the director is working. Chances are that most people on set are getting paid little or nothing and many are probably helping out as a favor to the director, so it’s critical that he or she maintain a high level of energy and be willing to help out with whatever needs to be done. This may very well include PA-type work such as carrying set pieces or setting out food. If the director demonstrates a willingness to do whatever it takes to keep the production on schedule, the rest of the crew will generally follow that lead regardless of their experience level or how much they are getting paid. Conversely, a director who thinks it’s below him or her to act like a PA when that’s what’s needed on set is unlikely to have a dedicated and hard-working crew.

RFF 2010 Fellow Gabriel Long (mentored by Laurie Collyer) has done extensive work in both narrative and documentary film. Two of his documentary projects were nationally broadcast by Current TV. Swimming New York City documents a swimming race around Governor’s Island, and The Art of Sticks offers a portrait of outdoor sculptor Patrick Doherty. He has also completed seven narrative short films, most recently Adán, which follows a schoolteacher as he travels from his home in Ecuador to New York City, trying to find a friend in the wake of a school shooting. Long recently moved to New York City where he works as an assistant director, editor, and writer. Check out the film’s blog, and stay updated on the film on Facebook, and Twitter!

October Country8

October Country

A huge congratulations to Cinereach grant recipient October Country, a documentary by Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher. The film is a nominee for Best Documentary in the upcoming Spirit Awards!

Below we’ve posted an announcement from DocuClub about their November session. Cinereach’s Grants Manager, Adella Ladjevardi, will guest moderate.

From DocuClub:

Once again, we are thrilled to partner with Tribeca All Access for our November DocuClub. The screening will take place on Wednesday, November 18, 7 p.m., at the Tribeca Cinemas, located at 54 Varick Street (corner of Laight, on block below Canal). You can take the 1, A, C, E, trains to Canal Street.

We will screen a rough cut of BEIJING TAXI by Miao Wang. The feature-length documentary vividly portrays the ancient capital of China going through a profound transformational arch. Through a humanistic lens, the intimate lives of three taxi drivers thread through the morphing city of Beijing confronted with modern issues and changing values. Though each faced with their own struggles with modernity, the three characters radiate a warm sense of humanity. With stunning imagery of Beijing combined with a contemporary score rich in atmosphere, the audience experiences a visceral sense of the common citizens’ persistent attempts to grasp the elusive. Its society is living through enormous contradictions adjusting to a new capitalist system from a Communist-ruled and educated society. BEIJING TAXI uses the Olympic games as the backdrop for the film. The Olympics is the biggest metaphor and China’s coming-out party to mark this era of China in transition. Candid and perceptive in its filming approach and highly cinematic and moody in style, BEIJING TAXI takes us on a lyrical journey into fragments of a society riding the bumpy roads to modernization. Though the destination is unknown, they continue to forge ahead.

Born and raised in Beijing, Director Miao Wang immigrated to the United States in 1990. Her first documentary, YELLOW OX MOUNTAIN, has screened at over twenty festivals, received a Best Short Film Award and a broadcast on WNET Thirteen. Wang has worked as an assistant at Maysles Films, and has edited documentaries for PBS and programs for National Geographic. For BEIJING TAXI, Wang has received grants from the Sundance Documentary Fund, the Jerome Foundation, and the New York State Council for the Arts. She has participated in the IFP Filmmaker’s Lab, Tribeca All Access, and Independent Film Week and currently splits her time between New York and Beijing. BEIJING TAXI is her first feature-length documentary.

Producer Ivana Stolkiner was born in Argentina, and moved to New York in 1998. After graduating with honors from Hunter College’s film program in 2004, Stolkiner assisted the producers of Kartemquin Films in several award-winning documentaries–MAPPING STEM CELL RESEARCH: TERRA INCOGNITA, MILKING THE RHINO and IN THE FAMILY, among others. She has assisted Engel Entertainment in films for the Discovery Channel and National Geographic, and has also served as an associate producer at Pacific Street for the documentaries IN DEBT WE TRUST and BEYOND WISE GUYS.

Editor Sikay Tang received her film training with Spike Lee’s production of JUNGLE FEVER (1991) and MALCOM X (1992). A year later, during the making of her first video, Tang began her interest in film editing. Her editing credits include the documentaries CHISHOLM 72: UNBOUGHT AND UNBOSSED (2004) by Shola Lunch, and THE GOOD SOLDIER (2009) by Michael Uys and and Lexy Lovell. Tang works as a film and video editor and lives in New York City.

Our moderator will be Adella Ladjevardi, Grants Manager at Cinereach, a not-for-profit organization that facilitates the creation of films that “challenge, excite, innovate, offer new perspectives and inspire action.” Most recently, she was the Associate Producer for 2009’S MY NEIGHBOR, MY KILLER, a documentary feature by Emmy-award winner Anne Aghion. Ladjevardi was also Associate Producer for the four-hour cut of acclaimed filmmaker Jennifer Fox’s 2008 documentary mini-series FLYING: CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN, broadcast on the BBC and SBS; and served as the Distribution and Outreach Manager for the educational and non-theatrical markets for FLYING’s six-hour version. Prior to working with Fox, Adella worked for three years in marketing and publicity at documentary film distributor Icarus Films. She was also Associate Producer of Tanaz Eshaghian’s 2002 short doc I CALL MYSELF PERSIAN: IRANIANS IN AMERICA, broadcast on PBS and screened at MoMA’s Documentary Fortnight. Ladjevardi received a BFA in photography from the Rhode Island School of Desig

Admission is free for current DocuClub members and $6 for non-members.

If you plan to attend, please RSVP to [email protected]

Membership is an annual $50 and it includes free admission to all DocuClub events. It takes five minutes to join online at

About DocuClub
DocuClub is Arts Engine’s monthly film screening series of works-in-progress documentaries. For more info, please go to:

The Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP), the nation’s oldest and largest organization of independent filmmakers, has teamed up with The Fledgling Fund to award the first Outreach and Engagement Grant for Social Issue Documentaries to The Way We Get By. The $10,000 grant was made possible through the generous support of The Fledgling Fund.

The award was given to support a discreet part of the film’s larger outreach and engagement plan -specifically, to support three community screenings around military bases that have had the highest casualties and rate of suicides, PTSD cases, and domestic violence. These three community screenings will also highlight the companion web-based Returning Home Project, as well as inform and educate audiences relevant to the film. The film will be broadcast on P.O.V. tonight. Click here for the broadcast schedule.

IFP grants are open to projects selected to participate in its other programs, Independent Film Week or Independent Filmmaker Labs. In order to be eligible for the Outreach and Engagement Grant for Social Issue Documentaries, filmmakers first apply for the Spotlight on Documentaries program, and upon being accepted, were notified of their eligibility. Sign up for IFP’s newsletter here to stay on top of all opportunities and deadlines.

For more information on the other grant finalists or on IFP, click here.


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