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Grantee PJ Raval’s Before You Know It opens today in New York at the Quad Cinema. We asked him to share how he got to this day with a guest post on our blog. Find the film near you here

A guest post by PJ Raval

Who says gay seniors can’t be hip and sexy?!

Well…most people actually. And when you tell someone you’ve made a documentary about gay seniors and the aging community, you’d be surprised how many folks like to tell you — though they personally believe that gay seniors certainly should be an amazing and engaging topic — they believe that OTHER PEOPLE believe that gay seniors ARE NOT a “hip and sexy” topic. Somehow “hip and sexy” has become the film watching qualifier for what most people are expected to like, sometimes replaced by the all encompassing “entertaining,” or for documentaries, a “hot topic.”

So when embarking on the distribution of our film Before You Know It (spoiler alert, it’s a documentary about gay seniors!) this was a big barrier to striking a deal with a major distributor. But even without one in our corner, we still believed these stories would resonate with a general audience (as well as “niche” audiences) and we were confident there were theater goers waiting to walk in someone else’s shoes, learn something new about the world, and maybe themselves. But without a major theatrical distributor how could we reach them?

Thankfully, we are living in the era of “creative distribution,” and filmmakers are fully embracing any and every opportunity available to get a film out to audiences. The tools are in place to bypass traditional distributors altogether, by crowdfunding distribution campaigns on Kickstarter or Indiegogo, using online distribution platforms like Vimeo or VHX, and offering theatrical screenings on demand via Gathr or Tugg (just to name a few). In some cases these filmmaker driven options may actually serve a film better – after all, no one will get your film out there the way you would want it done, right? You’ve lived with this film for so long, know it inside and out, and know exactly who your audience is. Who better to steer the course?

As you might have guessed, distribution is a very hard, expensive, and all consuming road. Even as I type this I’m tweeting about our release in NYC, trying to upload our latest trailer to several websites (thank you iTunes!), and replying to various text messages and email from my producing team. Distribution is an unruly full-time job, and by that I mean it functions on a 24/7 clock and there’s no breaks and certainly no paid over time.

Whether or not you get that golden ticket from a traditional distributor, if you want your film to get seen, it’s imperative that you understand the commitment you’ll need to make during distribution. So from someone who is in the thick of it all right now (Before You Know It releases in select theaters starting today, May 30th!), I have a few words of advice for my fellow filmmakers:

1) Embrace “Creative Distribution.” I recently attended a conversation with media maverick and “dealmaker” John Sloss at the Sundance Artist Services workshop (you can read my post about it here), where Sloss argued perhaps traditional distribution models are no longer needed nor preferred. With resources like #ArtistServices, filmmakers finally have the means to get their films directly out to audiences and cut out the “middle man.” The popular model of carving out rights to multiple distributors also allows filmmakers to work with each distributor within that distributor’s expertise. We too are embracing this model for Before You Know It and have broken our rights down into: theatrical, theatrical on demand, educational, broadcast, home video and digital video/on demand. Just make sure you’re aware of each deal’s requirements as holdbacks may interfere (i.e. find a great lawyer for contract review!)

05 Ty and SAGE_WEB

2) You don’t need MOST PEOPLE, you need your “core audience.” Hopefully you’ve done the work of spreading the word near and far and have started that Facebook page, passed around email newsletter sign-up sheets during your early screenings, and completed a crowd funding campaign not only to raise much needed funds but also to help create your fan base. Fans! These people are invaluable because they are part of your marketing team. With every “like,” “share,” and re-tweet they are getting the word out for you. If you have a crowd funding campaign they may also be a major funder. And now with theatrical on demand models they can be your bookers, too! It is imperative that you not only find and identify these people, but involve them in the distribution process as well. Talk to everyone. I can’t tell you how many times someone has asked me about my film and unbeknownst to me they gave me a suggestion, tip, or even a contact for someone who also helped me greatly. Answer every question and respond to every email. I also very much believe in scheduling formal consultations as well as taking friends out to lunch to “pick their brains.” Knowledge is key here and gathering information and ideas from anyone is to your advantage.

3) Be your biggest fan. If I had stopped working on this film the moment anyone in the film industry expressed doubt or disinterest, this film would have been dead in the water at the idea phase. If you don’t find your film amazing how can you expect anyone else to? People love to tell you what they think about your film (good or bad) and of course everyone is entitled to their opinion. But don’t let the bad comments discourage you. Have faith in your vision. Of course constructive criticism can always be helpful if it’s just that, constructive.

06 Dennis camera_WEB

4) It takes more than a village, it take a great dedicated producing team. I can’t imagine (nor do I want to) what this experience would be like if I didn’t have my amazing producer, Sara Giustini, and co-producer, Annie Bush, working tirelessly on getting our film out there. There’s not enough time, energy or sanity for one person to distribute a film solo, so surround yourself with talented, smart, hard working people who believe in the project just as much as you do. The last thing you want are producers who jump ship the moment it feels overwhelming, because it’s always overwhelming. Find cohorts who are fearless, inventive and have a strong vision of their own because what they bring to the table will be invaluable. Also I cannot tell you enough the importance of interns. Thank you interns! Along with good producers usually come great interns who get the work done.

5) Keep your goal in mind, or more importantly, what exactly is your goal? Not every film has the same goal and therefore not every film has the same distribution strategy. It’s crucial that you and your producing team figure out what’s important for you and the film early in the process. Is your goal to reach the largest audience? Get the film into theaters? Hit international markets? Though different opportunities arise for each film, lack of time and money is constant for all, so keeping your main goal at the front of your mind helps you make the best possible choices for allocating resources. It’s easy to get sidetracked and it’s easy to doubt yourself, but if you keep your goal in mind hopefully all your choices will make perfect sense to you. For Before You Know It our goal is to reach the largest amount of viewers possible through traditionally booked theatrical engagements in major markets (The Film Collaborative) as well as theatrical on demand and community screenings (Gathr) to cater to cities with underserved LGBTQ populations. In order to raise the funds to do this, we launched a 30-day Kickstarter campaign (a necessary step to reach our ultimate goal).

6) Hire a good publicist. A very good friend of mine early on told me great publicity goes a long way. Getting the word out is key, so why not work with someone who knows this territory? A good publicist will not only know how to speak about the subject of your film, they’ll also know how to make it a news worthy story and who will be interested in that story. Hopefully you’ve budgeted for them because they don’t always come cheap, but they are worth every penny.

7) Make work mobile; embrace technology. I can’t imagine distributing a film and not owning a smart phone. It’s worth getting that laptop, iPhone or tablet to help you get the work done on the go. I suddenly love plane trips with Wi-Fi because I see it as an opportunity to get through some email. Stuck in line at the grocery store? Might as well use the time to re-tweet or share a post about your upcoming release. There’s never enough lead up time for a release so every moment becomes useful.

8) Embrace social media and an online presence. A friend recently told me they were committing social media suicide and deleting themselves from Facebook and the like. Since then they’ve missed many events, to say the least. Whether or not you enjoy social media, the rest of the world embraces it so it’s to your advantage to embrace it too. And social media sites can be incredibly effective. With one tweet you can reach thousands of people in a short amount of time (hashtag activist anyone?). Just because you have a Facebook account doesn’t mean you’re required to post funny cat photos (though it’s a nice break for everyone if you’re only posting about your film!). But the right post at the right moment can get the word out about a screening. And the right “boosted” post can reach even more folks, so make sure to include Facebook ads in your marketing budget as well. And if you’re not using social media but wish to launch a crowd funding campaign, then I wish you the best luck because you’ll need it!

9) Calling people actually works. Sometimes cold calling is much more effective than an unsolicited email that might get glossed over or end up in someone’s spam box. Many filmmakers who self-book limited theatrical engagements can attest to this. In an email over-loaded world, human conversation can be much appreciated and sometimes it’s simply easier to convey your passion for the film through a conversation where you can also answer any questions.

04 Dennis and PJ_WEB

10) Follow up. In this industry most of us follow the rule if you don’t hear back you can take that as an answer, but the reality is most people are just as busy as you are and need a reminder. Following up can help bump you up in priority or in some cases show the other person your confidence and continued interest.

This list could go on and on and I’m sure another filmmaker’s list will be completely different, but these 10 simple points have gotten me further than I could have ever imagined. On the day of our theatrical release I’m feeling great and more importantly we’re reaching our goal of bringing an unheard story to audiences in theaters alongside X-Men and Maleficent. Maybe gay seniors are hip and sexy after all.

View the trailer for Before You Know It here.

To request a screening in your city, click here.

 

PJ_HeadshotAbout PJ Raval    Named one of Out Magazine’s “Out 100 2010” and Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 new faces of independent film 2006,” PJ Raval is an award-winning filmmaker whose credits include Trinidad (Winner, Best Documentary Cleveland International Film Festival 2009, Showtime, LOGO), the Christeene video collection (SXSW), and Before You Know It his latest documentary following the lives of three gay senior men (SXSW world premiere). Slant Magazine hailed Before You Know It as an “…exemplary example of a documentary that successfully puts human faces on wider issues, eschewing polemics in favor of the personal.” indieWIRE described the film as “…a crucial new edition to the LGBT doc canon.” Raval is also currently developing a feature fiction narrative with acclaimed screenwriter and playwright Prince Gomolvilas and recently directed a segment called “Rantings” as part of the 2011 remake of Richard Linklater’s indie classic Slacker. Also an award-winning cinematographer, Raval’s work has earned him awards such as the ASC Charles B. Lang Jr. Heritage Award as well as the Haskell Wexler Award for Best Cinematography. PJ has been featured in American Cinematographer and shot the 2009 Academy Award nominated and 2008 Sundance Film Festival Documentary Grand Jury Award Winner Trouble the Water produced/directed by Fahrenheit 9/11 producers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal. In his spare time PJ likes to try and take small naps and pretend he knows ballet.

If you’re attending any of these festivals this spring, here are some Cinereach supported films to keep an eye on.

 

These festivals wrapped earlier this month:
E-Team

True/False Film Fest in Columbia, MO (2/27 – 3/2)

» E-Team by Katy Chevigny & Ross Kauffman

» The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga by Jessica Oreck – World Premiere

» Rich Hill by Tracy Droz Tragos & Andrew Droz Palermo

 

The Great Invisible

SXSW in Austin, TX (3/7 – 3/16)

» Evolution of a Criminal by Darius Clark Monroe – World Premiere

» The Great Invisible by Margaret Brown – World Premiere, Documentary Grand Jury Award Winner

And these are happening now or coming up soon:
The Vanquishing of the
Witch Baba Yaga

New Directors New Films in New York, NY (3/19 – 3/30)

» The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga by Jessica Oreck

 

Marmato

Cleveland International Film Festival (3/19 – 3/30)

» Before You Know It by PJ Raval 

» Bluebird by Lance Edmands

» The Kill Team by Dan Krauss

» Marmato by Mark Grieco 

» Rich Hill by Tracy Droz Tragos & Andrew Droz Palermo

» War Story by Mark Jackson 

» Watchers of the Sky by Edet Belzberg

Evolution of a Criminal

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, NC (4/3 – 4/6)

» E-Team by Katy Chevigny & Ross Kauffman

» Evolution of a Criminal by Darius Clark Monroe

» The Great Invisible by Margaret Brown

» The Hand That Feeds by Rachel Lears & Robin Blotnick – World Premiere

» Rich Hill by Tracy Droz Tragos & Andrew Droz Palermo

Gabriel

Tribeca Film Festival in New York, NY (4/16 – 4/27)

» Gabriel by Lou Howe – World Premiere

» Garnet’s Gold by Ed Perkins – World Premiere

» Point and Shoot by Marshall Curry – World Premiere

» Zero Motivation by Talya Lavie – World Premiere

Bugarach

HotDocs in Toronto, CA (4/24 – 5/4)

» Bugarach by Ventura Durall, Sergi Cameron & Salvador Sunyer

» E-Team by Katy Chevigny & Ross Kauffman

» The Great Invisible by Margaret Brown

» Point and Shoot by Marshall Curry

» Rich Hill by Tracy Droz Tragos & Andrew Droz Palermo

» The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga by Jessica Oreck

» The Watchers of the Sky by Edet Belzberg

 

It Felt Like Your Cold Teenage Smiling Faces

What’s a quadruple feature audience appreciation gift-athon?

It’s when you tweet us (or post on our Facebook wall) a photo of all four ticket stubs after you see Teenage, The Cold Lands, It Felt Like Love and Hide Your Smiling Faces in theaters, and we send you personalized gifts from the filmmakers. Each gift is a one-of-a-kind surprise, and is prepared especially for you.

If you live in New York, be sure to catch these films during their opening week engagements:

March 14: TEENAGE at Landmark Sunshine and THE COLD LANDS at IFC Center*
March 21: IT FELT LIKE LOVE at IFC Center
March 28: HIDE YOUR SMILING FACES at Cinema Village

If you live elsewhere, find more screenings on each film’s web site:

TEENAGEFILM.COM
THECOLDLANDS.COM
ITFELTLIKELOVE.COM
HIDEYOURSMILINGFACES.COM

Why?
Indie releases unite! These four films are teaming up to inspire you to get out to the theater and support their openings, inspired by David Lowery’s August 2013 quadruple feature giveaway.

Rules:
- Photos must be submitted to Cinereach on Twitter or Facebook by April 31st, 2014.
- You must include at least two ticket stubs in your photo to enter. The more films you see, the more gifts you receive.
- The film title and date on your tickets must be visible in your photo.
- There is a limit of one photo submission per person.
- Filmmaker gifts are distributed on a first-come-first-served basis while supplies last.

Tweet any questions @cinereach.

*The Cold Lands has now left IFC, but more screenings will be posted here in the future.

March 14th is a landmark day for Cinereach. We’re launching two new films in our hometown of New York City, on the same day, within blocks of each other! Are we insane? You decide.

We hope you’ll join us for this double-feature weekend. If so, we’ll see you on our sprints between IFC Center, where Tom Gilroy’s The Cold Lands is playing, and Landmark Sunshine for Matt Wolf’s Teenage.

The Cold Lands   Teenage Poster

More on both films below.

TEENAGE

Teenage is a mesmerizing and unconventional documentary about the birth of youth culture. The film, being released by Oscilloscope Laboratories, is a living collage of rare archival material, filmed portraits, and voices lifted from early 20th Century diary entries. It depicts the struggle that erupted between adults and adolescents, between 1904 and 1945, to define the idea of youth that still pervades today.

Bradford Cox’s exhilarating soundtrack is on sale via iTunes.
Find the film here.

 

THE COLD LANDS

When his fiercely self-reliant mother dies unexpectedly, eleven year-old Atticus is wary of the authorities and flees deep into the forests of his Catskills home. His sheltered, off-the-grid childhood is over, and a new life on the move has begun. As Atticus wanders the woods in a daze, relying on whatever food and shelter he can find, the line between reality and fantasy begins to blur. When he encounters Carter, a scruffy, pot smoking drifter who lives out of his car and sells necklaces at music festivals, Atticus latches on. The two form a wary alliance, and as their dependence upon each other grows, neither is quite sure he is making the right decision.

Find the film here.

Cinereach is off to the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Here are some of our thoughts as we kick off this new year of film, and the projects we’ll be in Park City to celebrate.

Change can be scary. At times, the challenge to adapt can feel insurmountable. But change isn’t a new phenomenon for independent film. The Sundance Institute was founded, over 30 years ago, during a time when technology was evolving and new models for filmmaking were emerging. For Sundance, change meant opportunity, and building a community to harness new approaches unleashed a powerful wave of independent cinema. Then as now, change did not threaten independent film. Change defined it.

We also believe in another kind of change: the power of film to transform how audiences experience the world. Whether we’re exploring Syria with a team of daring human rights abuse investigators, or hijacking an oil tanker from a small boat off the coast of Somalia, films immerse us and move us in ways we can perceive right away, and ways we may never recognize.

Every film’s journey is full of unique challenges. Adaptability, determination, creativity, and above all, collaboration, are essential.  We salute the filmmaking teams and organizations behind these films. They have joined forces to make stories that complicate, resonate, and inspire. In short: vital stories, artfully told.

Drawing inspiration from what Sundance stands for, Cinereach is striving to make opportunity from the change around us. We’re embracing new strategies, re-imagining how we support filmmakers, finding new paths to audiences, and seeking new ways to collaborate with you. We’re excited for the year ahead and the change that will drive it.

ETeam

E-Team (U.S. Documentary Competition)

E-Team is driven by the high-stakes investigative work of four intrepid human rights workers, offering a rare look at their lives at home and dramatic work in the field.

Directors: Katy Chevigny & Ross Kauffman

Cinereach grantee

Screening Times

 

FishingWithoutNets

Fishing Without Nets (U.S. Dramatic Competition)

A story of pirates in Somalia told from the perspective of a struggling, young Somali fisherman.

Director: Cutter Hodierne

Cinereach Project at Sundance Institute grantee 

Screening Times

Marmato

Marmato (U.S. Documentary Competition)

Colombia is the center of the new global gold rush and Marmato, a historic mining town, is the new frontier. Filmed over the course of nearly 6 years, Marmato chronicles how the townspeople confront a Canadian mining company that wants the $20 billion in gold beneath their homes.

Director: Mark Grieco

Cinereach grantee

Screening Times

Wisconsin – birthplace of the Republican Party, government unions, “cheeseheads” and Paul Ryan – becomes a test market in the campaign to buy Democracy, and ground zero in the battle for the future of the GOP

 

RillHill
Rich Hill (U.S. Documentary Competition)

Look inside the homes and lives of small-town, rural America, where isolated kids confront heart-breaking choices, marginalized parents struggle to survive, and, despite it all, families cling to the promise of equal opportunity and a better life.

Directors: Tracy Droz Tragos & Andrew Droz Palermo

Cinereach Project at Sundance Institute grantee 

Screening Times

WarStory
War Story (NEXT)

A war photographer returning from the conflict in Libya where she was held captive retreats to a small town in Sicily.

Director: Mark Jackson

Cinereach grantee

Screening Times

 

 

WatchersOfTheSky
Watchers of the Sky (U.S. Documentary Competition)

Interweaving five stories of remarkable courage, Watchers of the Sky takes you on a journey from Nuremberg to Rwanda, from Darfur to Syria, and from apathy to action.

Director: Edet Belzberg

Cinereach grantee

Screening Times

 

 

Whiplash
Whiplash (U.S. Documentary Competition)

Under the direction of a ruthless instructor, a talented young drummer begins to pursue perfection at any cost, even his humanity. 

Director: Damien Chazelle

Cinereach Project at Sundance Institute grantee 

Screening Times

 

 

11/25/2013

»  Join Our Team!

Cinereach is looking for qualified candidates for the following position (click the job title for the description):

Outreach Manager

Application instructions are included with the job description. Please email [email protected] with any questions rather than commenting on this post.

If you’re making the documentary festival rounds this fall, we hope you’ll catch some Cinereach supported films to take your global travels even further:

********************

DOC NYC
November 14 – 21 in New York, NY

Cinereach Grantees Screening:
Citizen Koch
God Loves Uganda

God_Loves_Uganda_insert

Pictured: God Loves Uganda

 

CPH:DOX
November 7 – 17 in Copenhagen, Denmark

Cinereach Grantees Screening:
Cutie and the Boxer
Inside Out
Narco Cultura
Our Nixon

Cinereach Production Screening:
Teenage

Pictured: Narco Cultura

Pictured: Narco Cultura

 

IDFA
November 20 – December 1 in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Cinereach Grantees
Cutie and the Boxer
Evolution of a Criminal (Forum)
Narco Cultura
Powerless

Pictured: Powerless

Pictured: Powerless

In this guest post, Cinereach grantee Laurie Collyer puts her latest film, Sunlight Jr., into the context of her body of work, and shares how she crafts fictional stories inspired by real injustice.

Sunlight Jr. is available on iTunes and other VOD platforms now. It opens in theaters November 15th.

******

Sunlight in My Eyes
a guest post by Laurie Collyer

SUNLIGHT IN MY EYES 0

I read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickeled and Dimed somewhere around the time Sherrybaby was in distribution. It fired me up. A journalist went “undercover” as a minimum wage worker in America and discovered first-hand that you cannot live (and can barely survive) on a minimum wage income. Her stories reminded me of Tati from my film Nuyorican Dream. She worked in a Dunkin Donuts and lived in a motel. I got it. You can work full time and still be homeless.

I learned the term “working poor” and went on to read David K. Shipler’s The Working Poor: Invisible in America, as well as Dale Maharidge’s Someplace Like America. Dale and I made friends, drank some beer, talked about saving the world, drank more beer. Writers, filmmakers, social workers, journalists, doctors, poets, lawyers – can any of us save the world? I don’t know. I just wanted to call bullshit on the injustice of working for nothing. I started writing the script in 2009 thanks to Cinereach.

My first film was the documentary Nuyorican Dream which Ernest Hardy in the LA Weekly described as “a film about the construction of identity, public and private, and about how all our source material — family, sexuality, race, class, the government’s role in our private lives — can collapse on top of us. At its core it’s about how we respond to that collapse.” I could say the same for Sunlight Jr.

I was lucky to have the opportunity to direct Naomi Watts, Matt Dillon, Norman Reedus and Tess Harper in this film. To watch talent of this caliber descend into their roles with such all encompassing, fearless dedication was humbling and profound. Naomi plays Melissa, a convenience store worker in her late 30’s who’s been around the block a couple of times. At this point in life, she’s not looking for trouble. All she wants is to be a good worker, a good girlfriend, and maybe some day she’d like to go back to school and better herself.

SUNLIGHT IN MY EYES 1

Matt plays Melissa’s boyfriend Richie, a paraplegic with a heart of gold and a drinking problem. He’s magnetic and smart, but prefers to avoid reality instead of commit to some kind of self-improvement plan which may or may not lead to making a decent living anyway. Their only escape is the love they make.

SUNLIGHT IN MY EYES 2

Melissa’s mother Kathleen is played by Tess Harper. Her backstory is that she was a teenage mom who raised her children on a welfare check. She now raises foster children for a living. And like Richie, she drinks too damn much. It seems that no matter how far Melissa tries to go in life, she keeps finding the same people with the same problems.

SUNLIGHT IN MY EYES 3

Norman plays Melissa’s ex. The “bad guy” who, in the end, turns out to be the only one who can help Melissa. When I first started writing the script and pitched it to one of my friends the only characters were the hard luck couple living in the motel. This particular friend grew up in Florida and said, “listen, I know this girl and there’s always an ex lurking around. You have to write the ex.” She was right!

SUNLIGHT IN MY EYES 4

The whole script came alive with the introduction of Norman’s character, Justin. He is sprinkled throughout the film like a wonderful spice, but his role is pivotal. He loves Melissa but when he gets angry, he can’t help but hit her. It’s his sickness and, sadly, he’s not looking for a cure.

Florida is the state where drug dealers from all over the East Coast flocked for years to buy Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin in “pain clinics” you find all over the state. A pain clinic is where you get a medical doctor to write you a prescription for hundreds of painkillers at the point of entry. You basically walk in the door, complain of an injury, fork over the cash and they write you a scrip. I’m not sure if they’ve cracked down on these places yet, but when we were shooting there, they were everywhere. I gave that detail to Norman’s character. He sells blackmarket Oxy’s. And buys cheap real estate with his profit. It’s the American Dream.

Some people have asked, “where is the hope?” But in its essence Sunlight Jr. is a love story. And there is no greater hope than love. Love can exist anywhere and under any circumstance. It can grow even when everything around us falls apart. Love is hope and love is a miracle. That is also the story I wanted to tell.

Sunlight Jr. is my third film after Nuyorican Dream (2000) and Sherrybaby (2006). I see these as a kind of trilogy exploring the American Dream and its underside, the nightmare. I grew up protesting nukes and going to Dead shows, shaving my head and camping out with anarchists outside a cruise missile base. These films come from that place. That activist place. So now I’m talking to my friend’s uncle who founded this little operation known as Greenpeace. We’ll see where that leads…

Penny Lane and Brian L Frye’s Our Nixon, a Cinereach grantee film, opens this Friday at New York’s IFC Center, at Orange County, CA’s New Port Theater, and in select Canadian cities, before adding more locations in the coming weeks

For this guest post, the filmmakers took a break from discussing the film with the public to interview each other.

Producer/Director Penny Lane and Producer Brian L. Frye, photo by Les Stone

Producer/Director Penny Lane and Producer Brian L. Frye, photo by Les Stone

Penny asked Brian:

Penny Lane: When you look way back to when Bill Brand, the film professor at Hampshire College who preserved the Nixon Staff Super 8 films for the National Archives, first told you about the collection, what made you excited about the idea of making something with them?

Brian L. Frye : I’ve always been a fan of amateur films, but their anonymity often makes it difficult to shape them into a coherent whole. The rich context surrounding the Nixon Super-8 films suggested that they would be capable of telling a story, even before I had seen them or had any idea what kind of story they would be able to tell. Of course, the story of the Nixon administration has such an archetypal dramatic arc that it wasn’t hard to imagine some of what would emerge.

PL: Have any of the ideas you had back then remained in the project, or is Our Nixon just nothing like what you imagined?

BLF: I don’t think I ever had a fully formed idea of what the final film would look like, other than that it would be all archival. And it is! Initially, I did expect Our Nixon to be more minimal, in the tradition of avant-garde cinema, like my previous films Oona’s Veil, Across the Rappahannock, or A Reasonable Man. In other words, a movie that would show at art museums or microcinemas. But as soon as we launched our first Kickstarter project, it quickly became clear that Our Nixon had the potential to reach a much larger, general audience. However, in order to do so, it was going to need more context. We were going to have to figure out how to use the home movies to illuminate the story of the Nixon administration, rather than just as curious historical artifacts. I wanted the film to be good, and the initial cuts were far too opaque to be successful. While there was a certain pleasure in the purity of just using the Super 8 films and the secret White House tapes, it was ultimately unsatisfying, because the material had the potential to provide a much richer portrait of the Nixon White House. Still, I do think that impulse to keep Our Nixon as minimal as possible helped shape the final film, because we thought very carefully about what kinds of materials to incorporate, and avoided bringing in new elements unless there was a strong narrative reason to use them. I think my idea of what the film should be evolved along with the film itself, and I’m really happy with the results.

PL: There were some times throughout this process when we got some negative feedback. Sometimes it felt like a LOT of negative feedback. I always took that way harder than you did. Why were you so able to remain confident about the movie, even when others weren’t?

BLF: I didn’t think that most of the negative feedback was substantively very interesting, so it was easy for me to ignore. As you’ve said many times, the point of a test screening is to identify problems, not learn how to fix them. When people were confused, we added context. But when they insisted we make a more conventional film, I just ignored them. And when they complained that they couldn’t identify the filmmakers’ point of view, I knew we were doing something right. There’s nothing interesting about a pro-Nixon or anti-Nixon film. We tried to capture the experience of working for Nixon, in order to help people understand Nixon’s relationship to Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Chapin. People say you can learn a lot about a person by how they talk to a waiter. Maybe you can learn something about a president by how he interacts with his staff.

PL: What is your favorite reaction to the film that you’ve seen or heard or read so far?

BLF: I was really happy when Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporter who broke the Watergate story with Bob Woodward, complimented the film’s ability to humanize Haldeman. We struggled to convey a sense of his personality and motivations, and I’m glad we succeeded. My favorite comment about the film came from the SXSW usher who said, “It was so much better than I thought it would be!” Really, what more can you ask for?

H.R. "Bob" Haldeman from Super 8 Film Courtesy of Dipper Films.

H.R. “Bob” Haldeman from Super 8 film courtesy of Dipper Films.

PL: What advice would you give someone who is just about to make their first feature documentary?

BLF: Be ambitious and don’t compromise. A lot of people will push you to make your movie more conventional, more familiar. But that is boring and we can do better. Challenge yourself to challenge your audience. It’s easy to make movies that people already want to see, but it’s not very interesting. Make the movies that people don’t know they want yet. And train yourself to recognize bad advice. There’s no one way to make a movie. To borrow an old saw, there are two kinds of movies: good ones and the rest. There’s no way to guarantee you’ll make a good movie, but it’s easy to guarantee you won’t. When someone says you can’t do something in a movie, it usually means you’re on the right track.

Brian asked Penny:

BLF: When I first told you about the Nixon Staff Super-8 Collection, what made you interested in collaborating on a film? Did you see a connection to your previous films?

PL: Well, at first I thought you would do something with it, and I think I encouraged you. I was drawn in by the mystery; I really couldn’t imagine what those films looked like and I just wanted to see them. I don’t remember at what point we decided to do it together. I know that I felt we were a really good team and could work well together. You and I make such different films… yours more minimal and mysterious, mine more concerned with storytelling and clarity. But this project seemed like one where we could bring our different skills and sensibilities together. I did see some connections to my previous films, in that I’ve worked with a lot of found footage, but the whole thing felt very, very new, and it felt like an adventure. I had no idea where it would go.

BLF: What was your reaction when you saw the Super-8 films for the first time?

PL: At first, every single thing about them was fascinating. I couldn’t get enough of the long shots of Nixon supporters at rallies and things like that. I just had never seen anything like it; it showed a side of America in that era that most films set in that period don’t show. Without realizing it, I think I had always thought all of America was out burning their draft cards and growing out their hair. Looking at this footage made me realize in a very visceral way that most of America at that time was what we might now call Square America. That the counterculture was the minority of people.

A Choral Group on the 1972 Campaign Trail from Super 8 Film Courtesy of Dipper Films.

A Choral Group on the 1972 Campaign Trail from Super 8 film courtesy of Dipper Films.

But on a more “what was life like working for Nixon?” level, I also loved the motorcade footage, the pomp and circumstance of head of state welcoming ceremonies, and the travelogue footage of Iran, Guam, Russia and so on. Overall, there was a sense of joyfulness, playfulness and awe that I think we both really responded to.

Then it got kind of boring and tedious, because it really is a lot of repetition: Nixon gives a speech, Nixon gets off an airplane, Nixon gets on an airplane, staff stand around while something important is happening (but we don’t know what’s happening) off-camera. So there was this fascinating balance of feeling the awe of being present at these world-changing events and also experiencing the total boredom of being at work all the time.

BLF: What was it like working with Francisco Bello to edit the film?

PL: It was amazing!!! Of course I had never worked with an editor before, and I was scared. I was scared we would choose the wrong person who wouldn’t understand our vision, and it would turn into a disaster. We had been working on the film for over a year by the time we hired Francisco, so it took a little time to achieve the total mind-meld where he just instinctively knew what I was looking for. But the primary feeling I experienced the minute he entered the process was relief. I was relieved to see the film racing forward, whereas previously it had been only inching forward. I was relieved that Francisco was fast and professional and unbelievably smart and creative, and a lot of fun to be around, too. He brought so much to the film, and truly more than anyone else allowed us to make this film, and for that I am beyond grateful.

BLF: What were the biggest technical challenges in making the film?

PL: The biggest nightmare was going through the process of replacing every frame of the film, by eye, with the new 4K scans after we got to picture lock. It was a step in the online edit which was very unique to this film. (In general, our online edit was pretty intense and time consuming, because we were working with all these different formats.) It was such a nightmare that it is truly not worth going into. All I can say is thank God for Francisco and for our able assistant editors, Kat Hunt and Alison Kobayashi. It was weeks and weeks of just mind-meltingly complex stuff. To any editors out there rolling their eyes: no, trust me; what we had to do was insane!

BLF: How did making Our Nixon affect your approach to Nuts, your new film project?

PL: Well, first of all it gave me a lot more confidence that I could trust my own vision and not need other people’s approval and blessing quite so much. I guess a little bit of success should translate into some amount of self confidence, right? But also having gone through the process of putting together a feature-length film once has helped me make better choices about story structure and also workflow. Nuts is actually a much more ambitious film than Our Nixon in terms of all the different things I’m trying to do with it, but now I feel like I know enough to pull it off. But I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

For all upcoming screenings of Our Nixon, click here.

Director / Producer Penny Lane has been making award-winning documentaries and essay films since 2002. Her films have screened at Rotterdam, AFI FEST, The Media That Matters Film Festival, Rooftop Films, Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, MoMA’s Documentary Fortnight and many other venues. She has been awarded grants from Cinereach, TFI Documentary Fund, LEF Foundation, NYSCA, Experimental Television Center, IFP and the Puffin Foundation. Our Nixon is her first feature documentary, for which she was awarded several grants and a residency at Yaddo. She is a Creative Capital grantee and was named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” in 2012. Penny teaches video and media art at Colgate University. And yes, that is her real name.

Producer Brian L. Frye is a filmmaker, writer, and professor of law. His films explore relationships between history, society, and cinema through archival and amateur images. Brian’s films have been shown by The Whitney Museum, New York Film Festival, Pacific Film Archive, New York Underground Film Festival, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Warhol Museum, Media City and Images Festival. His films are in the permanent collection of The Whitney Museum. His writing on film has appeared in October, The New Republic, Film Comment and the Village Voice. A Professor of Law at the University of Kentucky, his legal scholarship concerns interactions between the law and the arts, focusing on issues relating to nonprofit organizations and intellectual property. Brian is a Creative Capital grantee and was named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” in 2012.

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