Thursday, November 29, 2007

Champions of the People

I was working at the Santa Fe Film Festival last week.  There were lots of great documentaries up there, but my favorite was Super Amigos. It's about luchadores (Mexican wrestlers) who serve as social advocates in Mexico City.

There's Super Barrio who fights slum lords and gentrification, Ecologistica is the environmentalist, Super Animal who beats up matadors, Super Gay battles homophobia, and Fray Tormenta runs an orphanage.   Their costumes became a symbol for advocate groups to rally around.  Their wrestling antics attracted the media who, by videotaping the spectacles for the news, created more awareness of the social crisis at hand.  This further solidified the community.  

The best part is that all of the Super Amigos consider themselves real super heroes.  Not even the authorities know the real identities of the men behind the masks.  Super Barrio made an appearance at the festival's screening.  He remarked that he had some trouble getting through customs at the airport in his costume.  

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Media for Change Career Thus Far

My biggest challenge in starting this media for change career is sustaining myself. I mentioned before that I was working in commercial television, mostly Viacom, and I was turning out stuff like this:

(That guy who wins a bunch of money and gets flown to NYC is a silhouette of me)

Here's another of some footage that I shot at Coney Island:

They were fun to make in a high pressure kind of way and I got paid for working on them, but they are primarily advertisements dressed up in eye candy. I wanted to create videos with more substance so I worked on an a PBS American Masters on Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun. I also edited this for the United Nations High Commission for Refuges:

I believe they're speaking in Kirundi.

These are exactly the types of projects that I want to work on. The problem is that they usually have non-existent budgets and long lines of interns and volunteers eager to work for free so this has my pro bono side work. I want to make a career out of this kind of stuff, but I'm having trouble figuring out just how to do it full time with without a trust fund.

Last year, I came close to getting paid to do documentaries. I got a year long grant from AmeriCorps to be a disaster responder for the American Red Cross in Greater New York. It was an incredible experience. New York City gets on eight fires on average a day and the Red Cross goes to each of them to provide emergency shelter and financial aid. My primary role was to report to disasters, but along the way I got the Red Cross to buy a cheap 3CCD camera. I made a DVD based on interviews from an international symposium on terrorism. I also shot some footage while working on a flood relief job and created this documentary:

The Red Cross Nor'Easter movie was kind of a break through for me. I was working with a humanitarian organization, feeling like I was making a difference, and when I had a chance I would crack a few shots with my camera to illustrate the nature of the disaster and the importance of the work that we were doing.

I've decided to up the ante. I've applied to the Peace Corps. I was nominated for a Public Health program in Francophone, Sub-Saharan Africa. I was supposed to deploy in Septembe. It's practically December and I'm still in the US. The Peace Corps is a government organization under the ominous umbrella of the US Department of State. My application has been slowly moving through the bureaucracy for almost a year and a half now. At this point I think it's lost just about all momentum. It's gotten so bad that I wrote to my hometown, Congresswoman Heather Wilson NM-R. She's pretty conservative (Karl Rove pat Wilson commended for her gung-ho support for the Iraq War when he was recently interviewed by Charlie Rose), but I'm told that she's like the Godfather when it comes to constituent services.

I've been thinking about doing it since I got out of college. I decided at that point that it was the scariest thing I could possibly think of doing and so I decided to pursue it. Living and working in a developing country for two years and three months would give me insight into culture, life, and international issues in a way that being a tourist could not. However, keeping up with my video projects could potentially be difficult in a village without electricity. The Peace Corps are sending me out there to work on hygiene and HIV/AIDS awareness, not cameras and videotapes. In a situation like this where the location is remote and resources are limited, making movies will have to be an independent endeavor and it's going to take a lot of resourcefulness and ingenuity on my part.

That got me thinking. If I'm going to be on my own when it comes to filmmaking, why not be completely independent. For that I'm going to need a Plan B.
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Sunday, November 25, 2007

My Gear

In the past, I would take commercial production and post production jobs. It was a way for me to build upon the knowledge that I gathered in film school, but my real motive was to hustle for the equipment. I would work on a Nickelodeon job at the office until about 6:00 PM and then use the tape decks and computers for my own projects until 10 PM. That was exhausting so I'm very happy to have come to a point where I actually own a camera and a laptop with Final Cut. I'm still tinkering with some encoding issues, but I've been posting my work on YouTube and Google Video. So now I can work and distribute my stuff independently without really having to rely on the industry.

My next step is to get my camera and computer out into the field. They are light enough weight that I can potentially travel with them into remote places. Instead of tromping around in the jungle, mountains, desert, or savannah with the entourage of a film crew, I'll be able to travel by myself with a low profile. I'm hoping that this will make the films that I shoot more candid and personal.

However, if I'm going to go this route I'm going to have to invest in protection and power. Cameras and computers are fragile so I'm going to need a good case to keep them from getting beat up in the field. The case also has to be low profile. I don't want to draw attention that I'm travelling with thousands of dollars worth of valuables. There is a good chance that there won't be electricity where I end up so I've started doing some research into lightweight, portable solar panels that I would use to charge my batteries.
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Friday, November 23, 2007

The Purpose of this Blog

I'm a filmmaker who is interested in using media as a catalyst for social change. I've worked in commercial television and movies over the last five or six years. I've seen how successful the medium is when it is used to pursuade its audience through advertising. I've come to the conclusion that film and video are powerful tools. If they can guild Times Square or Hollywood in gold why can't the same techniques be used to help develop third world countries?

Recently video and editing equipment has become extraordinarily cheap. The Internet has taken off too and streaming videos on YouTube have become the norm. Filmmaking has moved out of the studio soundstages and into our neighborhoods. It is finally becoming accessible to the average man, woman, and child.

Before we had lavish, blockbuster spectacles that the audience could watch, but could not create. Now, we have home movies shot on camera phones that end up at the top of the news hour. Television and movies have become more than just entertainment and escapism they have become actively democratic. I'm using this blog to take notes on the emerging uses of media.

Filmmaking can break news, it can create cultural awareness, document a fading tradition, teach the audience a new craft, and it has begun to give the voiceless a voice. There is still a huge gap between the haves and have nots when it comes to getting access to equipment and how the finished product gets distributed. I want to use this blog to brainstorm on ways to bridge that divide.

Any feedback is greatly appreciated and, if you'd like, you can see some examples of my work here:
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