Posts Tagged ‘Jeremy Kipp Walker’

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 post by Courtney Hope

A post by Courtney Hope

My father is the king of coupons. If there’s a deal, he’s there. If there’s a sale, a sample, a miniature bottle of shampoo left unattended on a cart in a hotel, he is thrilled. So, being my father’s daughter, I too am tickled pink at the thought of discounts and free stuff. And the best way to obtain these wonderful free things? Well, make a movie, of course.

As someone with years of practice convincing people to hand over their goods, I thought I’d share some tips for how to get your artistic little hands on as many free things as possible. So, from the girl who learned from the very best:

1. Have something tangible. Print some postcards, or fancy looking business cards or make a prospectus (remember, you can acquire some of these things for free too). Having something to show for your project means a. it’s real, b. you’re serious, and c. they can’t forget about you.

2. Pick targets wisely. Do a little research and find out who donates to other films, arts organizations, groups related to the topic of your film, etc. Or find out if your parents/rich uncle/roommate’s cousin/lead actress knows the guy who owns (fill in the blank). And go to places you frequent, places you make the products you LOVE. It’s easier to ask for something when you can faun all over it. Businesses want to keep their most loyal fans the happiest, so keep that in mind. And another word of advice: try to avoid giant corporations because they already give a percentage of their profits to someone else. And you’re an indie filmmaker, so find other indie people to help you out. They will understand what you’re trying to do and are more likely to be supportive because of it. If you’re filming in a location outside of New York City or LA, find places that are local and proud of it. If you sell your film as something good for the community, they’re more likely to get onboard with free things and word of mouth. So, once you have your list of places to hit up…

3. Pick your times wisely. You’re going to want to speak with the manager or owner. If you waste your pitch on the hostess, you’ll feel foolish when she tells you she’s “going to find the manager,” but really you hear her laughing about you to her friend in the kitchen. So, figure out when the person in charge will be in. What time is that? Probably before the “dinner rush.” That being said, don’t prance yourself into a restaurant at 8:30pm on Saturday night and expect anyone to listen to you. If the place looks crazy busy, go back another time. Same for if the place is empty. You don’t want to ask for free things when the place isn’t making any cash. And it’s more awkward to walk out with a rejection when you’re the only one there too.

4. Know what you want and what they get in exchange. If you want a meal for fifteen people Friday afternoon, tell them (but make sure you’re asking for things at least three weeks in advance!). If they ask how they can help and you don’t have an answer, a. you look pretty lame, b. they’re quickly losing interest, and c. you feel like a fool. Start your pitch telling them you’re looking for donations, but give them the chance to ask what exactly that means. This engages them in a conversation. Much easier to trap them this way. But also know what they’re getting in return. Credit on your awesome film that will be distributed to millions of people the world over and your crew will just LOVE their product and buy it all the time. And you LOVE their product and will continue to be a diehard fan, especially if they give you boxes of their treats for nothing. And you’ll add their company’s name to your website. It’s a win-win! You feed/house/dress/impress your crew and they have a new marketing outlet that costs them next-to-nothing.

5. Practice your pitch. Even if you’re only practicing with yourself in the mirror or to your goldfish, it’s good to be prepared. It’s scary to ask a stranger for a hand out (remember asking the scary neighbors on the corner with the big German Sheppard to buy cookies and popcorn for Boy/Girl Scouts?) Just remember, you don’t have a huge organization behind you this time, so you really have to sell yourself and your film. Now, once your pitch is perfected, you’re good to go.

6. Dress the part. It’s okay to look like a bum on set, but no one’s going to want to hand over free things to you if you don’t look professional. Their donation is an investment. They are marketing their product through your film, both in your credits and on set to your crew. If you haven’t showered, they won’t expect that you’re going anywhere with your film or career and they’ll assume your crewmembers probably smell too.

7. Remember the name of the person you spoke with. Write it down when you leave. Even if the manager/owner wasn’t in, know who talked to you. This way, you can call/email the person in charge and say, “Yes, I spoke with Emily at your (insert store name) on Sunday and she told me I should contact you about…” It makes it more personal, proves you actually went to the store and you can make it sound like you and Emily are best buds. And why wouldn’t you want to donate to your best worker’s filmmaker friend. It’s just a couple baked goods, right? (wink wink).

8. Don’t be shocked by rejection. Have something to say if they tell you “no.” Don’t cry, don’t pout, don’t tell them to go to hell. Just tell them very nicely that you understand, and it’s no big deal. Then ask if you could just put some postcards out on the counter. Most likely, they’ll let you lay out some postcards. You get some free advertising space and it won’t be so awkward leaving, because you still got something out of it. And, you can always boycott them for the rest of your life, too… (just kidding… or am I?)

9. Follow up. Even if the person you spoke with told you that the whole premise of your film sucks, email them anyway. Thank them for taking the time to meet with you. You can always hit them up again next year when you make a film, or send them a nice little update when your film wins the Academy Award. (Remember, living well is the best revenge.) If the person did offer you something, thank them in the email/phone call and reiterate what you think the agreement was. It’s important you’re both on the same page so a. they don’t think you’re ungrateful and b. you can plan accordingly. Give them a date that you’re going to call/email them again to check in. If you don’t remind them about the meal they’re donating, don’t expect it ready when your PA shows up in a month and a half. Show some respect – they’ve got more to worry about than your movie (I know, it’s shocking) and while they’re happy to help, they’ll appreciate a reminder and think you’re uber-professional.

10. Give them the credit they deserve. If someone donates to your film, whether it’s cash or props or locations or food, etc. send a thank you note. Try to plan ahead and have some thank you notes on set so your cast and crew can all sign it. Not only does it make you look really thoughtful, but it’s more likely to end up on the wall of the restaurant/café/main lobby, etc. This means more free publicity for your film! Then make sure to email an update about the film during post-production. People who don’t work in film don’t understand how fricken long post can be. They’ll assume you forgot about them and tear down your awesome thank you note and light it on fire. Well, maybe nothing that extreme, but you’ll look rude. Remember, they helped make your film possible; the least you can do is keep them in the loop. Let them know when the film will be ready. Then invite them to the premiere, screening at your mom’s place or send them a DVD. Everyone loves seeing their name in the credits. And if your film – I’m sorry, WHEN you’re film plays in festivals or finds a distributor, let them know. Remember, they want people to see their logo or name. If your film plays to sold out audiences the world over, they’re not only happy for you, but they a. now have some bragging rights and will tell their friends (who might just buy a DVD!) and b. they know they’re getting free advertising. This way, when you make your next film, they might give you five cases of soda instead of two.

By following the ten steps/rules above, I have acquired donated things for my film Wild Birds from: Comfort Suites, Pop Chips, A-Treat Beverages, Wild Flower Café, XL Graphics, Boylan’s Bottling, Company, Chipotle, Hub Wilson Photography, Yocco’s, Cold Stone, The Goosey Gander Restaurant, Civic Theatre of Allentown, Sal’s Pizzeria, Foo Joy and Gallery Bar. You can visit the “Thank You Page” on the Wild Birds site with links to these awesome people’s websites.

These methods are tried and true and the above donations not only make my film possible, but they also make my father, the Coupon King, proud. Remember, the best things in life are free!

RFF 2010 Fellow Courtney Hope 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 post by Courtney Hope

A post by Courtney Hope

Here I stand outside a building in the West Village, staring at a door without a knob. I look up at the building. How am I supposed to get in? Fortunately, someone’s leaving the building as I stand looking perplexedly at the door.

“First time here?” he asks.


The Man holds the door open and I slowly step into the building. Now what? The Man holding the door notices my confusion – or awkwardness – and asks whom I’m there to see, as if I’d just stepped into a doctor’s office.

“Jeremy.” Should I give his last names too? Who is this guy anyway?

“He’s upstairs.”

I don’t see any stairs. What a strange place I’ve just walked into. Must be some sort of trap.

“The stairs. They’re through there. Just go straight back and they’re on your right.” This guy must think I’m an idiot

“Thanks.” I follow the stranger’s directions and walk down a hall covered in movie posters. Aha! Stairs! I climb the staircase until I reach an open door. Is this it? I step through, my boots stomping into the room. No one. Great. It was a trap. Where am I? I peak around the corner and see a woman. She, like everyone else apparently, can tell I have no idea what I’m doing or where I am.

“Hi. Who are you looking for?”

“Jeremy?” Ugh. I should just go home.

“Oh.” She gestures to a half-wall from which Jeremy pops up. We shake hands.

“Yeah, I didn’t even hear you come in.”

Great, now he thinks I’m some creep who slithered into the building.

“Well, you have a very confusing entrance…” Oh boy. Why am I so awkward?

I follow Jeremy into what looks like a living room in the office and sit. Maybe I should have brought coffee so I’d have something to do or hold or just to give the general sense of importance. Too late. No coffee. No prop. Just me in this chair with a copy of my script, which I pull out of my bag only to find the edges have begun to curl. Great.

“First of all, congratulations on the grant. It’s really a great program.”

“Thank you,” I try to muster my confidence.

“So, tell me about your film.”

Oh no. Pitching. That’s the worst.

“Well, my film is about two little girls who run away into the woods from an abusive home to be wild.” I wonder if it sounds convincing anymore. I must have said this exact sentence about a thousand times by now.

Jeremy asks where the story came from, how I envision the film looking, and some basic production questions. The standard questions, for which I have my well rehearsed answers.

“So tell me about the gun in your script.”

“Oh, well, what about it exactly…” Uh oh.

“Why is it there?” Never a good sign.

I explain that the gun is an extension of the father, that it represents that you can never really escape your upbringing, but it’s how you use what you’ve lived through that tells who you are, blah blahblah.

“It seems that you don’t really need it.”

Um… What? That’s what the whole movie’s about… I’m not really sure how to respond to this.

Jeremy explains that he could show me at least 40 student films with a gun. Ouch. Well, this isn’t a student film, so… Then he asks me again what the film is about.

“Two little girls who run away into the woods from an abusive home to be wild.” Same thing I said before.

“If that’s what the film is about, then you need to focus on that. The gun’s kind of distracting.”

“Oh. I guess…” I am thoroughly impressed. This guy’s good.

“Maybe they take something else from their dad that they can fight over, but there are other ways to show their relationship, I think.”

Jeremy gives me some suggestions about what other props might come from the sort of home the girls come from that are a bit more neutral than a gun. He casually mentions that raining night exteriors are probably also unnecessary. This also being a large part of the draft, it takes a minute to digest all this.

To make an already long story short, Jeremy wanted me to rewrite most of the script, but without losing what the film was really about. And he understood the film as a story about sisters who are pushed to do something drastic. So, as I left the office (much easier to exit than enter), I wasn’t sure how I really felt about this Jeremy character. I agreed that the film needed some simplification, but his suggestions seemed a bit extreme.

While thinking about the notes Jeremy gave me, I started scratching some notes on my crinkled copy of the script. After replacing the gun with a lighter, transforming the father into a mother, and turning night into day, I realized that maybe he had a point. The film is character driven, and inherently dramatic without all the extras I’d written in.

The most important thing I took away from my meeting with Jeremy wasn’t anything he said, or even how to open a door without a knob, but rather, I realized that the only way to make a film is to surround yourself with people who really care about it enough to tell you when it sucks. When Jeremy forced me rethink my script, I realized that the notes from my producer and editor and production designer all were crucial to making the film. If others aren’t invested in the script, no one will invest in the finished film either. One of the most important things for any filmmaker to do is to listen, take advice, and adjust the script instead of simply explaining away the problems that exist. There’s no such thing as a finished script until it’s picture locked.

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, was awarded the prize for Best Cinematography at NYU’s Fusion Film Festival and 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. Courtney’s RFF Film, Wild Birds, is about two young sisters who enter the woods determined to be “wild.” As the story unfolds, we begin to understand what they are running from, and see the power dynamic between them shift as the younger sister develops second thoughts about their plans.


»  Do this now.


Paola Mendoza, Brendon McQueen, Danielle Russell, and Jeremy Kipp Walker at Reach Out 2009

Paola Mendoza, Brendon McQueen, Danielle Russell, and Jeremy Kipp Walker at Reach Out 2009

Cinereach and The Reach Film Fellowship afford the emerging filmmaker more than an opportunity: they provide a setting where curiosity is nurtured and where asking questions is what it’s all about. Being awarded the Reach Out Award (along with Danielle Russell) has made all the difference in creating opportunities for my film. Following the fellowship I have received great feedback on of my work, notable press, and the potential to start producing more films. I urge  young filmmakers with a passion for a particular idea to apply – doing so only increases your chances of having your cinematic voice heard! Take advantage of this now, and fulfill your filmmaking dreams today, period. Thanks guys!

SUGAR , from the writing/directing team behind HALF NELSON, was produced by our RFF Mentor/Advisor Jeremy Kipp Walker. It opens this weekend in New York City and Los Angeles, so if you have a chance, please check it out and spread the word.  For tickets click here, or to read the NYT review, click here.

Last week’s rough cut screening and workshop was a useful and very productive experience.

My film, Skip Rocks, had enormously positive feedback at the preview — with many notable industry folks providing not only praise, but incredibly insightful comments on how to better our films for our audience.

Apart from the great individual comments, Ingrid Kopp from Shooting People and Leah Sapin and Felix Endara from Arts Engine provided useful information on audience building and outreach.

Later, we were lucky enough to sit down with Josh Blum from Washington Square films who shared his knowledge of the changing industry and, along with Jeremy Kipp Walker and Paola Mendoza, provided what can only be called a passionate purview on film and filmmaking. I will never forget having had the opportunity to sit at a table full of such creative, caring, and excited people talking film.

Reva also spent a few hours with me after the workshop going over some of the comments I received and suggesting how I might implement them. We are very grateful for the thoughtfulness and energy Cinereach has put into our films.

Many thanks to the other attendees, your time and consideration are invaluable. Thanks to everyone involved!!


Dena directs her actors

Dena directs her actors

After weeks of hard work and planning Dena Greenbaum finally got to call “Action!” on the set of her short film “BLUES” on Saturday morning, November 15th.  What had led up to that moment amounted to countless hours of preparation including script writing, script revisions, auditions, rehearsals, location scouting, budgeting, and scheduling…  LOTS of scheduling. 


With only four days to shoot and several large scenes taking place outdoors, Dena’s film required a bit of luck from Mother Nature during the early winter month of November – a time of year that can bring a tumultuous forecast along with limited daylight.  

Dena's actors perform a scene

Dena's actors perform a scene

Luckily for the cast and crew of “Blues”, Dena was all over it.  She came up with multiple shooting scenarios which took into account rain, complicated actors’ schedules and limited availability to her interior shooting locations.  When Friday and Saturday of her first shooting weekend brought rain, Dena called an audible and brought her team out to Long Island in order to shoot indoors. 

When Sunday cleared, it was back to Brooklyn to tackle the exterior scenes while the skies were sunny.  That’s where I joined Dena and her team on Sunday, November 16th to observe her shoot. The rain had passed but it had left cold temperatures in its wake.  What I found on set was a committed team of young filmmakers working together in balanced unison.  Despite the stress of fading daylight, the overall vibe was laidback, methodical and efficient.  Dena and her team started each set-up with several rehearsals, careful not to expose any precious film stock until all the kinks of each scene had been properly worked out.  I was impressed by the great attitude everyone shared both in front of and behind the camera. Everyone was working together – lending a hand to move equipment, helping to pack or unpack the trucks, and chipping in however needed.  There were very few complaints about the cold temperatures and everyone remained focused despite very long hours and a few company moves.  I very much look forward to working with Dena during the post-production stages of her project.  So far things are off to a great start!

Jeremy Kipp Walker is a producer/director and partner at Journeyman Pictures.  He recently produced “Cold Souls” (Sundance 2009), starring Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn and Emily Watson, as well as Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden’s baseball odyssey “Sugar” (Sony Pictures Classics).  He produced “The Passage” (ThinkFilm), the Oscar nominated “Maria Full of Grace,” and co-produced Oscar nominated “Half Nelson” (ThinkFilm) among other prestigious projects. Walker is the director of acclaimed short films “Super Powers” and “Goodnight Bill”, which won top prizes at the Tribeca Film Festival and many others. “Super Powers” was among the inaugural films to launch YouTube’s premium channel garnering nearly 1,000,000 hits in its first week.

My approach to film is that of an educator, focusing on issues often overlooked or underexposed. My goal is to educate through film and visual media. The 2008 Reach Fellowship with Cinereach has opened many doors for me so far. In addition to being paired with a great mentor, Mrs. Renee Bishop (a Savannah based Emmy winning writer/producer), I have also had the opportunity to attend several workshops that will enhance my production skills, as I embark on my first major short film, Bridging the Gap.

Danielle Russell, Day 1

Danielle Russell, Day 1

At one of last Monday’s workshops, I met Edet Belzberg, known for the Academy Award nominated documentary Children Underground.  Her advice on documentary story development was especially instructive. When she shared what it’s like for her to embark on a new project, it helped me deal with the fear factor that comes to a fledgling filmmaker producing a documentary. Her enthusiasm inspired me to dive in and accept the challenge, reassuring me that even an experienced documentary filmmakers starts out not knowing what she will get in the field.

Afia Nathaniel helped me start to think of potential visual themes that could lend meaning to my documentary, but encouraged me to be prepared to capture things I’m not anticipating and to see themes grow organically as the project progresses. In fleshing out my story with her, I was already able to see some themes emerging. In Bridging the Gap I will compare the private world of the previous generation who is secretive about their past – especially with regard to the Civil Rights Movement – to that of their children (myself included) in whom their parents to not confide or pass on stories of their defining years. When the family gathers, the younger generation congregates in a separate room, one with white walls like a clean slate. The older generation sequesters in a more densely decorated family room where the decor is in more colorful tones. This is a visual theme that will give my film meaning I didn’t even anticipate. 

Ellen Kuras was extremely helpful also, as she gave me some insight into the DP’s creative thinking. From the producer’s perspective, the DP seems like a film genius that simply just knows what to do with the camera to get a pretty picture. However, after talking to Kuras I now understand the DP’s process better. She opened with discussing the importance of great on-set chemistry and how it can enhance the quality of the overall production. I can only hope to meet, like she has, a group of people I can trust and work with consistently throughout my career.

Another highlight was meeting Paola Mendoza. This was the most interactive workshop and I was surprised to learn how seemingly simple games and group activities can do so much to build trust and communication for a director and her actors or subjects.         

Attending these workshops definitely made me understand how much of a collaborative effort film should be, despite the industry’s competitive undercurrent. Now I see how important it is to have an all inclusive creative team and have people around you who are just as enthused about your project as you are. Though I could not run out and write a book about it all, I feel I am more than equipped to face the challenge ahead of me; especially since I now have peole like Susan Leber and Jeremy Kipp Walker to contact for advice.

Danielle Russell was born and raised in Atlanta, GA. An alumna of Atlanta Metropolitan College, she has an AA in Art and an AS in Teacher Education. Her passion for film started with an idea for  a documentary which led to her enrollment in the Savannah College of Art and Design; where she is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Film, specializing in screenwriting. 

As a shy child, I was always looking for ways to break out of my shell, so I bought a video camera with some of the money I got from my Bat Mitzvah.  With my video camera, I was able to share visually what I had trouble communicating verbally.  As a twelve year old, this included making music videos of Britney Spears’ songs and capturing moments of me falling off chairs, but as my life progressed I knew I wanted to take filmmaking more seriously and learn all there is to know about it. 

Dena Greenbaum at Cinereach HQ by Andrea Fischman (

Dena Greenbaum at Cinereach HQ by Andrea Fischman

It is truly an honor to be a 2009 Reach Film Fellow.  This past Monday and Tuesday were the kick-off of the program and consisted of a series of meetings and workshops to get us started in the program.

I have gained an invaluable amount of knowledge from my experience so far.  Each advisor had insightful things to share.  Susan Leber explained how important it is for a filmmaker to understand her strengths and weaknesses and build teams that compliment those well.  Jeremy Kipp Walker explained that our short films will be our calling card in the future.  I’m extremely privileged to also have Jeremy as a mentor and very excited to work with him. 

Even though my project, Blues, is a narrative short, when Edet Belzberg spoke about the emotional trajectories in documentaries it gave me new insight about storytelling that I can apply to Blues, like focusing on a character’s connections to his or her world and the other characters in it.  Furthermore,

I will never forget sitting across from Ellen Kuras at dinner and listening to her greatest advice to us, which is, in short, “don’t be a jerk.” Her thoughts on camera coverage, point of view, and blocking helped me a great deal and I now feel equipped to think more dynamically about how my actors will move through space in my film.  I will ask myself questions like Who are we watching?  What is the point of view of the character? Another important thing she explained is that every shot has a beginning, middle, and end, so each shot has a meaning.    

Paola Mendoza conducted an incredible directing the actor workshop.  I am especially thankful that she shared her experience working with child actors in her film Entre Nos (now in post production) with me because it will help me with Blues. I plan to incorporate the improvisation exercises she shared with us in my project.  Finally, Afia Nathaniel discussed the structure and content of our screenplays – challenging us to hone in on what our characters want and making important choices regarding where we enter a character’s story.

I am more excited about “Blues” now following Monday and Tuesday’s workshops and can’t wait for what else is to come!      

Dena Greenbaum is from Woodmere, New York and is currently a junior at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts majoring in Film and Television production with a double minor in Producing and Pre-Business. Her Reach Fellowship Film, Blues, a narrative short, goes into production in November. She will collaborate with Mentor Jeremy Kipp Walker (Half Nelson, Sugar, Maria Full of Grace).


    • 2014
    • 2013
    • 2012
    • 2011
    • 2010
    • 2009
    • 2008
    • 2007