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Entries in Documentaries (20)

Saturday
Feb142015

What I Love About the WAMEGO Documentary Series

WAMEGO Film Director Steve Balderson's recent projects include "Farflung Star," "Culture Shock" and "Occupying Ed."Told in a trilogy, Steve Balderson’s WAMEGO documentaries uncover what it takes to make films outside of Hollywood. It showcases the real-life experiences of a film director who found success on his own terms, but not without dealing with various complications, naysayers and downright manipulative, egotistical people who believe that there is only one way to make a splash or be relevant (whatever that means) in show business.

Making his feature debut “Firecracker” -- complete with 35mm film cameras, elaborate set constructions, and tons of personnel -- quickly taught him how expensive and time consuming it is to try and emulate tinseltown’s method of producing, marketing and distributing movies. So when the time came to start new projects, he eventually took a different, simpler route to get his movies made and hasn’t looked back. While WAMEGO STRIKES BACK is my favorite among the three documentaries in this series, I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons from all of them.

The best part is that viewers don’t have to work in film or be in pursuit of careers in the entertainment industry to enjoy any of these movies. What I love most about WAMEGO documentaries are how they don’t put that glitzy, sugar-coated veil over life as a filmmaker nor do they present the movie industry as a doom and gloom, dog-eat-dog, swimming with sharks image to viewers. Its message encompasses both ends of the spectrum and various areas in between that have you saying “wait a minute…did that just happen?” – Oh, yes it did! Welcome to the independent film and what it’s really like behind the camera!

There is a moment in one of the docs when Balderson arrived at a film festival where organizers didn’t know the name of his movie, despite being on the schedule to screen in front of hundreds of people.

I also remember the time when craft services went AWOL in the middle of production, causing an unexpected change of plans on how (and what) his actors, sound guy and other people working on his film would be fed. Only he can tell you how that compares to the time when he found out the footage of scenes his cast and crew just finished filming was suddenly gone. In addition, there may be nothing like the time when prospective investors bailed on a film he was developing, without a word or so much as a heads up.

When the challenges of independent filmmaking aren’t rearing their ugly head, road trips with his cast and crew are among Balderson's ideas on how to spend your day off. It’s also common to see those who work on his films enjoying beers together, pool parties on set or attempting car repairs for a fellow member of his eclectic brigade. WAMEGO shows how making movies can be fun and productive, with Balderson fostering the kind of workplace environment you would have at a summer day camp for adults.

The events that transpire from one minute to the next in these documentaries can teach you about persistence, self-confidence, overcoming obstacles, speaking up (and standing up) for what matters to you and having the courage to buck trends even when other people are betting on you to fail.

In celebration of the 10-year anniversary of WAMEGO: Making Movies Anywhere, Steve Balderson decided to do a re-release of this award-winning documentary. WAMEGO is available on Vimeo to watch for free as well as WAMEGO STRIKES BACK (Part 2: Watch Here) and WAMEGO: Ultimatum (Part 3: Watch Here).

So, consider this my gift to you this weekend: Three movies I love watching. All Free for you to watch now, thanks to the passion and grit of a man from Kansas who the late Roger Ebert named as the best-kept secret in American independent cinema.”

Happy Valentine’s Day to all, and may YOU enjoy the people, places or things that make you smile this weekend!

Friday
Sep262014

Urbanworld’s Best Feature Documentary of 2014 is a ‘Lucky’ Win for Laura Checkoway 

Lucky Torres stars in "LUCKY" directed by Laura Checkoway.When the 18th Annual Urbanworld Film Festival, presented by BET Networks with founding sponsor HBO, announced the 2014 festival winners this week, I was glad to find out that “Lucky” directed by Laura Checkoway won an award for Best Feature Documentary.

Having recently sat in a packed theater watching “Lucky” amidst a bunch of strangers, I must say it is one of the most unforgettable films to come out of Urbanworld this year. Forget what you know about wearing your heart on your sleeve. This movie is about a woman who, after growing up in foster homes, wears her pain on her face and body.

The documentary serves up a clear reminder of the fact that regardless of our surroundings, we know very little about what the person next to us is going through. Life is a struggle – for some more-so than others, so it helps to keep that in mind when facing people or circumstances that make us uncomfortable. Chances are that many of us know nothing about what it’s like to live on the streets. Some of us are unfamiliar with the experiences of child abuse, rape or gang life. We do, however, know what it’s like to experience struggle, at least in one capacity or another.

(l-r): Fantasy with her children, director Laura Checkoway and Lucky's fiancé at the 2014 Urbanworld Film Festival.Checkoway, a career journalist who spent five years and her own money making “Lucky,” does a great job making this heart wrenching story relatable to the average viewer who may not know someone like Waleska Torres Ruiz – a Hispanic runaway from the Bronx, NY whose parents died when she was a child. A well-known figure in New York’s LGBT community, Ruiz was nicknamed Lucky after having survived being hit by a yellow cab when she was thirteen.

I honestly didn’t know what I was expecting when going in to watch this film but it certainly made me more aware of the hardships that children of the foster care system face when our country’s social services fail them. The long-term effects that these failures have on one person’s life have a trickle effect on those around him or her and that extends outward to our nation’s communities.

Despite not having any formal film training, Checkoway forged ahead, learning about the process as she embarked on what has become her first feature length documentary. Lucky for us, she came out of the corner swinging with a bold movie that could easily make some viewers want to look away and run back to their secure (and convenient) bubbles. No matter how hard you try, however, you can’t bear to turn from such an intimate view of one woman whose days are filled with the kind of uncertainties that most of us hope to never have to encounter. That’s just the thing about movies; when you’re in the theater and the lights go down, all you’re left with are the images on the screen.

Lucky Torres with her son in the documentary "LUCKY, directed by Laura Checkoway.Checkoway forces viewers to look beyond Lucky’s tattoos, stylish outfits and ever-changing hairstyles to understand the inner turmoil of the person underneath all that armor; a homeless mother who wants to provide a sense of stability for her son while working on her own personal growth, including self-love.

It’s raw and sometimes even wicked, but it’s real. This is somebody’s life and I wouldn’t be surprised that if, by watching it, you take a closer look at your own – particularly the areas that you take for granted, because I know they exist. We all have them.

“Lucky” is one of those movies that have you thinking “this person has it worse….so what’s MY excuse???” and you would be right. If there is one thing to learn from this movie, it’s to live out loud while remaining conscious of what, if anything, you want to leave behind. My congratulations go out to Laura Checkoway (and Lucky Torres) for winning Best Feature Documentary at the Urbanworld Film Festival 2014!

Wednesday
Apr162014

New Media - What YouTubers Can Teach Us about Getting Noticed #atozchallenge #IndieFilm

TIPSYBARTENDER host Skyy John partying with singer Jessica Tovar, Alphacat, King Bach and other YouTubers at Vidcon, an online video conference. It's so easy to produce content these days that I believe filmmakers can stand to learn a thing or two from YouTubers and other media makers (Vine stars, Netflix, etc.) who are building audiences, getting paid and gaining a high profile within the entertainment business.

In addition to fielding offers for production deals and landing representation at the top talent agencies, many of them have also expanded their brands into self-supporting business ventures, complete with merchandising and offline gigs. The fruits of their labor, however, didn’t just show up on their doorstep overnight. Online mediamakers are winning because they have something to show – today, right now. They are doing, not talking; Most importantly, they know how to use new media to their advantage – making changes and improving as they go while learning the ropes of whatever platform is working for them.

We still need not get it twisted -- the common perk of exposure that comes with utilizing online media could very well be the extent of a platform’s value in having an impact on one’s career. “More people view my art…my films and photos. That’s about it,” says Estevan Oriol, a notable photographer who also makes documentaries about subcultures in Los Angeles. When I welcomed this urban lifestyle entrepreneur to discuss some of the highlights of using new media, it became clear that YouTube is not attributed to his success as a director.

Lowrider scraping Photo by Estevan Oriol“Nobody’s ever said ‘Hey, I’ve seen your work on YouTube…would you be interested in doing this job for me?’ It depends on what kind of success you mean. Some people might think that having a million views on your YouTube channel is success. To some degree, it is, but to me success is a little bit more than that,” he says.

Oriol, who produces content for three shows on his "SANCTIONED TV" channel; including Skid Row Stories, Tattoo Stories and L.A. Woman, foresees having to find something else to do as his deal ends and YouTube, so far, hasn’t brought him any new clients. The uncertainty of cracking that online success code also hasn’t escaped Skyy John, host of the YouTube show "TIPSYBARTENDER." Having watched this Bahama-bred actor’s videos for some time, I was familiar with his channel long before even seeing him on the CBS show “COLD CASE.”

Despite having nearly 400,000 subscribers to "Tipsybartender" -- some of whom send gifts like high-end Tequila and a year’s supply of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and help him organize meet-ups in other countries, Skyy John doesn’t consider himself among the top media makers online. However, this former bartender who was once hospitalized following a machete accident while working on his show does find the medium to be beneficial for aspiring actors.

Skyy John's 'Rainbow Shots' episode with Emma is the most watched video on "TIPSYBARTENDER."A lot of people think that YouTube might hurt their acting career. I’ve been on YouTube for a while and when I began, most actors were under the assumption that YouTube is beneath them – but if you look at YouTube now, that’s where [casting directors, producers, studios, etc.] go to find talent.

For instance, King Bach is big on Vine; a lot of people do both. Vine and YouTube kinda go hand-in-hand. He created his whole thing online; the new Black chick on Saturday Night Live (Sasheer Zamata) was a YouTuber, so it's becoming that place to showcase your talent outside of the conventional methods.

Hollywood wouldn’t normally accept a dude like me [because of the way] I speak; I’m a naturalized American citizen but I wasn’t born here so I sound funny and that doesn’t always play well [in Hollywood]. Yeah, we have some dudes like Arnold Schwarzenegger [who make it big in the entertainment industry] but that’s rare.” – Skky John

Actor Robert Patrick ("TRUE BLOOD," "JUDGEMENT DAY" and "THE UNIT" | Photo by Estevan OriolEstevan Oriol agrees on the importance of artists being proactive in getting their work noticed. “Just put it out there on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and then you’ll get eyes on it, and then it’s up to the people and the work [to decide] whether anything comes out of it or not. There are people doing great art but they don’t have eyes on their work, so nothing comes out of it,” he says. Reinforcing Oriol’s advice, Skyy John lets it be known that showcasing your stuff on social media is not only vital to your chances of success but also hard work. In other words, just because you upload something doesn’t mean viewers or fans or money will come.

Showcase your stuff on social media; don’t think anything is beneath you and just keep working hard. You always gotta be on the grind 24/7 – being in entertainment is not like a nine-to-five job where you work a couple of hours and then go home; with us, you’re working around the clock,” says Skyy John.

New media has been good to many online personalities like Estevan Oriol and Skyy John because they are prolific -- always releasing new content, which is a huge factor in getting people to pay attention to one’s work. The formula is simple -- If I want to be a writer, I need to write often; If I want to be an illustrator, I need to practice drawing daily. My sketchbook should be active and if I want to make films, I need to be doing so on a consistent basis. The only way I see how to make filmmaking work for me is by following through on this very practice; using tools that can take me to the next level.

Do YOU think it's easier or harder to get Noticed, in this age of New Media?

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