Contributors's blog

Advice for Aspiring Filmmakers from Elizabeth Avellan


Elizabeth AvellanBy Gabriela A. Treviño

On Sunday, July 22, the Austin Film Festival hosted "A Conversation in Film with Elizabeth Avellán: Producing your Independent Feature Film" at the Harry Ransom Center on UT's campus. The event drew a large crowd of students, aspiring film industry professionals and those curious-minded folk who yearned for some insight into what exactly a movie producer does. With experience in producing both independent and blockbuster films such as Sin City, Grindhouse and Predators, Elizabeth Avellán was able to share her experiences from working in the biz and offer her advice to the crowd with wit and honesty.

Just about everyone has an idea about what screenwriters, directors, and editors do ... but what about producers? The ever-elusive role of a producer is difficult to understand, and there are quite a few items on a producer's to-do list other than raising funds for a film. Everything from casting to scripts to locations and music -- that's what a producer has to think about. 

With a repertoire like Avellán's, it was surprising to hear her humbly state, "I'm still learning [the business] as we speak."

Cinema41's Last Hurrah Before Hiatus


By Brandon Martin

At first glance, the Salvage Vanguard Theater looks like it was either once a boutique storage company or Austin's most prestigious clown school. Currently, it serves as a center for the city's artists, audiences and arts organizations, and is the venue for Cinema41. This nonprofit organization screens independent films that have influenced film, but in their own time largely went unseen. July 19's movie, In the Soup, was the series' last screening before a hiatus.

Located on the east side on Manor Road, the theater is almost camouflaged by the residential neighborhood that surrounds it. Only a 10-minute drive from my apartment, it was just a skip away. And I overestimated how long it would take me to get there, so I had lots of time. But you couldn't miss it once you found it. I drove into the gravel parking lot taking my sweet time to park. I always feel strange about showing up too early. There's early, and then there's EARLY.

Walking into the lobby/semi-art gallery, a couple stood admiring the abstract paintings. I was in good company. I soon made my way to the makeshift bar, ordering a plastic cup of red wine for $4. I paid the full amount, feeling guilty at first paying so much for cheap red wine -- but after learning the screening was free, it was the least I could do. I entered the small screening room, a black box theatre with a projector screen set up at the front.

I made my way forward and sat in the first row. This was already an intimate setting; no reason not to embrace it. Before long, seats started to fill, and soon after, Cinema41 executive director and programmer Ryan Darbonne introduced the film. He started by acknowledging that the movie would be the last screening of the Cinema41 series -- perhaps for good? -- and followed up by giving some background information on director Alexandre Rockwell's film and its impact on the era of independent filmmaking of the early '90s. In the Soup won the grand jury prize at Sundance, beating out Reservoir Dogs and El Mariachi. I’d never seen In the Soup, so this was all sort of fascinating to find out.

'Kid-Thing' and 'Hellion' -- The Perfect Pair for Cinema East


By Tyler Draker

July 8 marked the third installment of this year’s Cinema East summer movie series. True to its reputation, it showed off two great films by local filmmakers.

Hellion is the short by Kat Candler that has been playing at many of the largest film festivals in the country, including Sundance and SXSW. I am currently a film student at The University of Texas and had Kat as a professor last year for the Advanced Narrative Production class. I’ve been trying to see Hellion since it was announced that it would be playing at Sundance. So, when I heard that it would be screening at Cinema East, I was set on going.

Hellion tells the story of three brothers who wreak havoc and the consequences when their father finds out. In the interest of not giving anything away, I’ll leave the rest of it a mystery and tell you to check it out the next chance you get. It’s very well acted and directed and overall it was really great to finally get to see it.

Kid-Thing by Nathan and David Zellner was the featured screening for the night, and it definitely didn't disappoint.

Kid-Thing also screened at Sundance and SXSW this past year, as well as several other festivals. The movie tells the story of a young girl, Annie (Sydney Aguirre), who is effectively on her own. Her father is pretty clueless and often a bad influence on her, holding all the authority over her that a little brother would have; that is to say, not much. This leaves Annie with complete freedom to do whatever morally questionable things she wants to, such as making prank calls or destroying a handicapped girl's birthday cake. Through her near constant solitary adventures in the woods, she discovers a woman (the late Susan Tyrrell) who has fallen into a well and become trapped. Annie refuses to get help for her or to help her get rescued but she visits almost daily to bring her sandwiches.

The story is slow and dark but it’s also captivating from beginning to end. It really makes the viewer work to keep up with the story and develop their own understanding of Annie. But, it’s worth it and the film is a must-see.

One of the great things about Cinema East is that they always manage to have somebody from the film, often directors and producers, there to answer questions and talk about the experience of making it. After both films had screened, they brought up Kat Candler and the Zellner brothers, along with several other people who were involved in various key positions, to do a quick Q&A. Some of the questions stumbled or left the filmmakers themselves wondering what was being asked. But for the most part they were all great questions from an audience that was engaged and wanted to know more about the filmmakers themselves and what inspired them to make the films that they did.

One question that got asked of both filmmakers was if they were like the main character or characters in their films when they were young. Neither Kat nor the Zellner Brothers based their characters off themselves but inspiration for certain aspects of them came from events that did happen in their lives. Kat’s character was loosely based on a family member setting fire to their grandfather’s Jeep. Parts of Annie’s character were based on David and Nathan Zellner’s childhood.  As they described it, they certainly had a happier childhood, also growing up on the outskirts of Austin, with much less mischief. But, the sense of constant exploration in the woods around their homes inspired much of Annie’s character. 

The event was fun from start to finish with two excellent movies. Even the weather decided to cooperate. It looked like it might rain at first, and most people brought umbrellas along just in case. But, as Hellion (the first of the two to screen) started, the rain stopped and instead a cool breeze came through.  It reminded me of why I love summer nights in Austin. Add to that a few friends, some blankets to lay out on (pro tip: bring pillows for when you inevitably lie down) and a BYOB policy and you have a recipe for an event that’s guaranteed to be a good time. There are a few Cinema East screenings left this summer at Yellow Jacket Stadium in east Austin (1156 Hargrave St.). Three dollars is all it takes to get in, and they’re all worth checking out!

Tyler Draker is an apprentice at the Austin Film Society.

Montopolis Scores 'Man with a Movie Camera'


By John Elder

I'll go ahead and say it: 3D movies are AWESOME. But what's next? What comes after 3D? Perhaps 4D? Maybe 3D plus smell?

After viewing Man with a Movie Camera this past week, I believe I have the answer. Visualize a film where not only the picture jumps out at you, but the music jumps out at you too. 3D music. I'm talking about taking a real band, putting them right there in the theater, and having them perform the soundtrack live as you sit back and enjoy the film. I'm thinking the future of film is at least 7D. That's right. 3D visuals plus 3D audio and add in 1D for great food and drink at The Alamo Drafthouse and we're talking about a full on 7D experience.

Now let's take a step back. Man with a Movie Camera was an awesome experience, but it was released 83 years ago in 1929, so it was not "real" 3D. This didn't matter, because, like I said, I was able to take in this classic flick while a live band performed an original score. Bravo to these musicians! All seemed to be Austin locals and very active in the music scene. The band was led by Justin Sherburn and consisted of a six-piece group called Montopolis.

This was a film about film, and that truly is multi-dimensional. I know, its probably not the first time you've seen or heard of a "film about film," and it certainly will not be the last time. That in itself says a lot about the influence of Man with a Movie Camera, because it is the grandaddy of all films about film. We nearly start and end in a movie theater. What could be more fitting? There is a brilliant sequence where blinking eyes and opening and closing shades are juxtaposed with the viewing of a rack focus and iris adjustment. It is clear the director means to show the camera as the human eye or vice versa.

'Klown' Filmmakers Sneak Their Outrageous Comedy in Austin


By Julian Singleton

A sold-out crowd snaked its way out into the parking lot of The Alamo Drafthouse, the line surrounded by innocent-looking pink posters advertising the "funniest movie of the year." Below the proclamation, an exhausted, bespectacled man wearing soiled briefs and a tank top. Excitement ran rampant for the advance screening of Danish export Klown (Klovn: The Movie), which only heightened as Alamo founder Tim League warned the audience that they would "see some things that night they could never unsee." Over the next hour and a half, League's words of warning proved themselves to be unforgettably truthful.

Klown features comedians Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen (two of the movie's writers) as themselves, two thirty-something best friends who plan a raunchy weekend getaway -- an escapade disguised to their wives as a relaxing canoe trip. After Frank's wife questions his fatherhood potential, however, Frank takes it upon himself to kidnap his introverted 12-year-old nephew Bo and take him along for the ride.

Without ruining some of the film's best jokes, much is made about the shortcomings everyone faces when seeking (and failing) to prove their masculinity -- from leaving a family member behind when escaping a burglary to accepting a flick on the nose when failing to read your book club's selection, and all the awkward threesomes in between.

Klown is based off a hit six-season TV show from its native Denmark, which as attracted such infamous talent as Lars Von Trier, who guest-directed an episode. The feature version first made its way stateside at last year's Fantastic Fest, where League bought the film for release via distribution arm Drafthouse Films. Later in the night, League hinted that the original series could be released in the United States, depending on the success of the film.

Alamo's Fitting Tribute for Susan Tyrrell


By Brandon Martin

The collage of photos of the late Susan Tyrrell (1942-2012) set up on an easel outside the entrance to the theater -- her distinct expression made more potent by a background of clustered house keys -- reminded the Alamo Drafthouse audience that this was more than a regular film screening. The mass of flowers and Tyrrell artifacts surrounding the podium inside made it very clear that this was going to be a fitting memorial for a woman who defied the traditional.

I wasn't familiar with the actress' body of work. I'd never even heard of Fat City before reading about her passing away in Austin last month. Going into the tribute, all I knew about the John Huston-directed film was that Tyrrell played a drunk. This is how a movie viewing should be experienced. You walk into a dark room knowing as little as possible. It's spontaneous, like falling in love, or dying in your sleep.

Fat City follows Billy Tully (Stacy Keach), a has-been boxer who inspires an amateur, Ernie Munger (a young Jeff Bridges), to pursue boxing. When Billy isn't doing day labor jobs picking crops, he's drinking. This is of course how he meets Tyrrell's character Oma, an eccentric alcoholic. We are introduced to her in true Tyrrell fashion. She sneaks into the scene almost unseen... until she opens her mouth, rambling about her boyfriend and why she can't get the bartender's attention. Someone get her a cream sherry!

Blue Starlite Brings Modern Comforts to the Drive-In Experience


Blue StarliteBy Sara Grauerholz

There are certain ingredients that make for the perfect Fourth of July: Eating barbecue, relaxing with friends and family by the pool, seeing fireworks and, yes, watching Independence Day. I was lucky enough that my Fourth of July included all of these things, and to cap things off, I was able to watch the movie at the Blue Starlite, an awesome urban boutique drive-in theater here in Austin.

The Blue Starlite is not new to Austin, having held an eastside location for two years, but the Fourth of July was the first screening in their new site at Austin Studios. Since I had never previously been to a drive-in, the entire concept excited me from the beginning. I had already heard fun stories from people who had attended the Blue Starlite specifically, as well as other drive-ins, so I was curious to check it out. After researching it online, it sounded like a great way to spend an evening, especially with such a great film choice for the holiday.

My guest and I pulled into the Austin Studios lot right as the sun was setting and were able to catch some fireworks going off in the distance. A few cars were already lined up in front of the screen. The crew members were showing folks to the best spots, and pointing out where restrooms and concessions were.

Austin-Shot 'Goliad Uprising' Packs the Spirit Theater


By Tyler Draker

On June 21, the Spirit Theater at the Bob Bullock State History Museum was nearly at capacity for a screening of Goliad Uprising, an independent film by director Paul Bright.

The event, like the film it was built around, was modest. Not much more than a simple sign on an A-frame stand greeted people and told them where to go. But, like the film, it did a good job of working with what it had. The facilities were nice and, perhaps most importantly, the atmosphere was very upbeat and friendly. There was a feeling in the air that these people loved what they were doing and loved working together.

Indeed, most of the people who were at the screening were involved in some capacity with making the movie. Roughly half of the 99 (yeah, 99) actors were in attendance, as well as several other key crew members. For many of them, this was the first time they were seeing the culmination of their efforts.

The results were good. But this isn't a movie review. It's a success story! Goliad Uprising got made, and that's no small feat in and of itself. I have first-hand knowledge only about trying to make short films, and I can imagine how much more numerous the challenges would be in trying to make a feature-length film. Bright even highlighted a few of these challenges in his acknowledgements at the end of the film. One challenge that he brought up was that most of the film's projected funding dried up very close to the beginning of production.

While that's certainly no small mountain to overcome, I think it is important to note that perhaps as recently as 10 years ago, this might have meant the film wouldn't have gotten made. Goliad Uprising certainly looks like it was made with either a tiny budget or no budget at all. But it hasn't been that long that such a thing was even possible. Filmmaking used to be much more expensive. The cost of film stock alone can often break the bank, not to mention the cost or rental fees of a film camera. Suddenly, with the release of HDSLR (5DmkII, etc.) cameras, it's possible to get a camera and lens for under $4,000 and shoot nearly indefinitely.

Music in Film in Music: A Night at Austin Studios


By Mario Hernandez

When used correctly, music can add emphasis and depth to a scene; it's a partnership that has endured since the earliest days of film. On Wednesday, June 27, the Austin Film Society and the Austin Music Foundation co-hosted an event on the intersection. The "Music in Film in Music" panel addressed the common question, "How do I get music in film?"

Held at SoundCheck Austin at Austin Studios in a room full of musicians and filmmakers, the experience launched with a panel discussion that included musician Adrian Quesada of Grupo Fantasma, filmmaker Andrew Shapter (who served as moderator and flawlessly kept the discussion active), music supervisor Dominique Preyer and sound supervisor/mixer Tom Hammond.

Once the discussion kicked off, the audience focused on absorbing the essential ingredients required in the creative process of incorporating music in film. Shapter presented the audience with an example of how costly and complicated licensing fees and publishers can be in order to allow usage of a song in a film.

Speaking from his experience with of his documentary film Before the Music Dies, which criticizes the American music industry, Shapter shared that the cost to make the film was around $125,000, while the licensing fees alone totaled $165,000. Granted, the documentary profiled A-list artists like Erykah Badu, Eric Clapton and the Dave Matthews Band, but the fact remains that for any independent filmmaker, the legal and financial obligation for copyrighted music is likely going to be much more than they can afford.

With that being said, a filmmaker never wants to write personal agreements between parties using paper and pencil, or worse, by taking someone’s word for it. This is dangerous, and as Preyer cautioned, all agreements must be documented contractually.

"It's kinda like paying taxes. You gotta be honest," Preyer advised the audience.

Catching the Bird Flu with 'Andrew Bird: Fever Year'


By Rachel Hudson

I have the Bird Flu. But rather than a cough, fever, sore throat and muscle aches, my symptoms include tapping feet, rhythmical swaying and a huge obnoxious grin. The onset was acute, and it came with my viewing of the Austin Film Festival screening of Andrew Bird: Fever Year at the Alamo Drafthouse on Monday, June 25. You see, it seems that Andrew Bird has a fever, and it’s catching.

Knowing practically nothing about the musician Andrew Bird, I can’t fathom what motivated me to go see a documentary about him at Alamo Drafthouse. Yet there I was, circling the block downtown looking for parking and having virtually no idea what to expect. I found my seat and sat through the ever-entertaining previews for the Drafthouse, then an employee came on stage and introduced the director of the film, Xan Aranda. She was quiet, sarcastic and hard to understand at times due to her knack for mumbling.

"There's a lot of music in this film, so hopefully you can stay awake for the Q&A afterwards," she said before the film began. That was the gist of her pre-movie ramble, and it was not encouraging. However, as the lights dimmed and, as promised, the film opened with Andrew Bird performing on stage, my doubts were immediately assuaged.

The 80-minute documentary is about Andrew Bird's most recent tour, and how he was sick the entire time. Literally, he had a fever and either sweats or chills nonstop for an entire year as he was touring. However, it was impossible to tell from his performances, which were beautiful and awe-inspiring.

In fact, Aranda was not lying when she said there was a lot of music in the movie -- Andrew Bird: Fever Year is practically all music. He was either performing on stage, in the recording studio, writing music on his farm, rehearsing with his band or simply playing and singing for the hell of it for the majority of the film, with some interviews spliced in about Bird's life, creative process, band mates, and other aspects of his tour. Honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way. As wonderful as it was to hear Bird talk about his life, and hear funny banter from his bandmates, the music is what captivated and enthralled me, and the interviews only added to the experience.

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