*Note: this is a film in Slamdance. I decided to focus on Sundance initially as I am only one blogger and can't handle covering both festivals, but I received the answers to my questions for this film and said, why not post them? Filmmakers, if you ever want to discuss your experience making your film in this blog. Just reach out! I'll do my best to accommodate. I'm actually looking to expand this blog and will think about adding a filmmakers section where we can all tell our behind-the-scenes stories. Filmmaking is a journey for all of us.
Tell us about your film. What inspired you to make it?THE FIRST SEASON tells the story of Paul and Phyllis van Amburgh who, believing that a small, family farm is the best place to raise their children, take their life savings and buy a defunct dairy. With three children and a fourth on the way they fight to defy the odds and become full time farmers.
The film is told in an intimate cinema-verite, fly-on-the-wall style. I've always loved that kind of filmmaking; the very nature of the style forces the filmmaker to simplify. It's the complete antithesis to making a dramatic film which involves hundreds of people and truckloads of equipment.
In our case, I shot and recorded sound; there was no one else on location. In this kind of filmmaking, I think that the filmmaker needs to disappear, both on-location during the shoot and as a stylistic voice in the finished film. When a cinema-verite film works, the story unfolds as if one is sitting in the same room as the characters. It's just like a dramatic feature film, only it's real.
I've known Paul and Phyllis Van Amburgh for a long time and when I heard that they were buying a farm, I thought it would make an interesting film. Paul and Phyllis are both extraordinary people and what they were attempting to do had a built-in conflict. The structure was also there, one year divided by the seasons which would become visual markers for the various acts in the story.
How long did it take you to make your film? Five years. I lived with the farm family and filmed for the first 6 months of their starting the dairy. Then, over the course of the next 3 years, I did follow-up visits, shooting additional material, landscapes and interviews. When I felt that there was nothing else to shoot, we started post-production which took another year to complete.
How did you finance your film?The film is self-financed. Since I was doing all of the work, and filming on HD video, the shooting of the film was very inexpensive.
What was the most challenging part of the filmmaking process and how did you overcome it?Believe it or not, I think the most difficult part of the film was finding the stamina to keep going for so long.
I love character driven stories as opposed to plot driven. By their very nature, character driven films are made up of details that unfold as the story progresses. In the case of THE FIRST SEASON, those details are the small, day to day stories that define the lives of the Van Amburgh family. It's not a film about a big dramatic event, but a very intense, dramatic story about a day to day struggle. Filming that day to day struggle, I was never sure if we had a film. It wasn't until we started editing, did I really understand what the film could be.
Now, I'll admit that, shooting for five years and not knowing if there was a film in the material sounds like a crazy way of working. But once I made the commitment to the Van Amburgh family, I couldn't not make the film. I was going to find a way to make it work.
Tell us about your experience getting into Slamdance. Are there any pointers for filmmakers for getting accepted?I was surprised, I had applied to a number of festivals and had prepared myself for the rejection, knowing that it was going to be a year-long (or longer) process where we would be accepted at some festivals but turned down by most. One morning, while walking my daughter to school, my phone rang and I got the news. I really didn't believe it so I waited until LA opened and called the Slamdance office to see if it was really true.
As far as advice? I think the most important traits a filmmaker needs are tenacity and perseverance. Make every film as if it was the only film you will ever make and then be prepared to hang in for the long term to make sure it gets the best chance of being seen by its audience.