Apr 26 2010

Jump at the Sun is online for free viewing

Please note this “event” has passed.

Gotta have your Zora?  Get her on the Online.  

Here are some links to catch the award-winning PBS’ American Masters film, produced and written by Kristy Andersen (yours truly):

California Newsreel, the film’s educational distributor, is offering a sneak preview for those schools who have dallied and still have some money in the coffers at the end of the school year to buy a copy.  Just follow the link.

Other fans have linked and are offering a chance to view on their pages:





Apr 16 2010

Sunscreen Film Festival

I attended the Sunscreen Film Festival workshop on Indie Film Producing and another on Master Screenwriting yesterday at St. Petersburg’s troubled BayWalk, where the storefronts are empty.  The availability of space is a fortunate coincidence for the workshops which are part of the festival.

As a festival, Sunscreen doesn’t shine so much from its selection of first-run nationally coveted festival films, though there are a few.  Rather it has excelled at keeping locals in the mix.

But it’s the workshops – geared exclusively for fiction narrative – that I found to be first-rate.

Classes are small, maybe 70 attendees, and the teaching moves at a quick clip, full of relevant and important information.  Having attended some similar workshops in major cities, I much preferred this more intimate setting – it was so intimate that Dean Batali, the workshop leader and Head Writer for That 70’s Show and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, apologized for slewing spittle on the front row.  I think he was kidding.

But this was not regurgitated information.  Class leaders are current and all knowing.   Indie producers Sean Covel and Doc Wyatt honed their skills on various films but their blockbuster was Napolean Dynamite, a classic example of a low-budget film ($500,000) that took naysayers by surprise.

At $35 for a day pass, you get the classes and the films, a very reasonable rate for the talent at hand.  And although there aren’t classes for nonfiction film, good writing and good production advice applies across genres.

Grab some spf15 and head on down to Baywalk – just steer clear of that front row.


Mar 31 2010

Filmmaker Zora: Early Films of Southern Culture

Zora Neale Hurston’s name is almost synonymous with the Harlem Renaissance.  Yet, she spent only a modest amount of her time in Harlem during the decade it flourished as an incubator for black arts in America, from 1920 until the stock market crashed in 1929, launching the Great Depression.

Zora arrived in New York in 1925 and in 1927 she was given a 16-mm camera and a car by her patron Charlotte Osgood Mason, and immediately headed south to Florida.  A majority of the footage from 1927 consists of children playing games.  Researcher Keith Bollum has identified the location as Loughman, Florida, the site of an immense central Florida lumber yard and sawmill, the same place where Zora gathered stories for her anthropological collection Mules and Men. Other footage appears to be Bartow where she documented a medical “root doctor” whom she also wrote about in Mules and Men. She side-tracked to Mobile Alabama, interviewing and filming Cudjo Lewis, the last living African to have made the Journey of the Middle Passage to America as a slave (on an illegal slave ship, as slave transport had been banned).  Unfortunately, the audio didn’t survive, and neither did footage of “the Zulu Crew” from New Orleans, nor dancers on a beach (a list Mason created describing Zora’s footage is in an archive at Howard University).  Because Zora’s interest was black folk culture, she shot footage at baseball bleechers in Florida, most likely one used by the Negro Leagues, and yet she filmed the average folks in the stands but not the players.

This early footage documented precisely the culture and people Zora wrote about in her books and was an important asset for my film, Jump at the Sun.


Mar 23 2010

Looking for a film distribution deal? Look to yourself.

I just read a reviewers comments about a local film festival in my area.  They particularly liked one of the films and suggested that it “deserved a distribution deal”.   But it is becoming increasingly hard for a film to find distribution, whether it’s broadcast, theatrical, or even home distribution.  Only 18 films at the 2008 Sundance festival found distribution deals.

But now distribution gurus are suggesting filmmakers do it themselves.

My film was picked up for broadcast distribution by PBS’ American Masters, and they wanted the privilege of premiering the film on television.  The broadcast disqualified my film from many festivals, where distribution deals are made, because many festivals won’t include films that are already broadcast.

But my film had broad interest from fans of the film and fans of Zora Neale Hurston, so I was able to find an educational distributor to sell the film to schools and libraries (California Newsreel).  I then decided to self-distribute the film to the home market, and undertook the expenses to create the master and DVD copies.  I sell it on Amazon, and I  book community screenings where I sell the DVDs.  While I might not have the potential to reach as broad an audience as a major distributor would, I’m able to keep a much greater percentage of sales than a distributor would allow.

So if your film does not get picked up for distribution, don’t despair.  Be creative and find a niche market.  Use your viral marketing skills to let people know about the film (Facebook and Twitter, for starters).  And good luck!


Feb 16 2010

Taking the first step to make a documentary

I hear occasionally from filmmakers who want to know how to make a documentary.  The first thing I tell them is that you have to have an idea.  And that’s where some of them get stumped.  What’s your passion, I ask them?  Many are new to this idea, that they can have a passion.  They have a degree, they have a camera, they have hope.  But alas, they are not inspired.  And I remember back when I was looking for my next project and I read Bob Hemenway’s wonderful book, Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography. Who was this brave woman, I wondered?  Where did she get that voice of hers, accusing her arrogant peers of being “malicious snots”, scaring her ex-husband by sprinkling voodoo dust around his home.  And I wondered, who did she think she was – and more importantly, how could I capture that courageous spirit on film and tape?  I puzzled by the very few holes in Bob’s story that left me with unanswered questions.  I knew I had to do my own research because unless I thoroughly understood Zora, I couldn’t write her story.  And so, with these loose ends in hand, I launched my film.

So you want to make a documentary film?  Then first, find your passion.  Read a book about where you live.  Research in the library.  Read the newspaper.  Watch TV and ask yourself what you’d like to see up there other than what’s there.  Then you can start your own documentary film.