Your Heritage Matters - Preserving Home Movies by Kirsten L.

Image: Al Larvick Family Film Collection, 1956.

Image: Al Larvick Family Film Collection, 1956.

Our board chair, Rhonda Vigilant once said, "We should treat our home movies as we do our photographs and other family heirlooms." Homemade movies are just as important to hang onto as our other personal memorabilia. The histories and perspective they capture are as significant as our larger cinematic heritage.

Home Movie Day celebrations have taken off around the world thanks to the nonprofit, Center for Home Movies. More and more, people understand both their entertainment value and cultural and historical importance. Home movies are being repurposed to tell stories, to give context to life and times of our past, to add depth to understanding ourselves and our heritage. With all that in mind, if you own analog family or orphaned films and videos, why not bring get them conserved and bring them into the digital age.

Grant season is here:

The Al Larvick Fund offers one national grant in the spring and one state-based grant in the fall. Generously sponsored by The MediaPreserve, the Al Larvick North Dakota Grant seeks to conserve, digitally transfer and exhibit home and amateur movies which were recorded in North Dakota State. The grant is currently accepting applications with a deadline of October 31st, 2016.

How to Apply:

1). Review grant Guidelines, FAQs & the Application.

2). Take pictures of your films, videos & other related materials such as photographs, newspaper clippings, programs and other related ephemera.

3). Call or email the Fund with any questions.

4). Fill out & submit the online Application form by October 31st, 2016

Grant selections are made by the North Dakota Committee and the Board. Applicants are notified of award decisions sometime in December or January.

The fund is inspired by my grandfather, Al Larvick, who shot many home movies of his family and community in the state of North Dakota and eventually Oregon, between the years 1953 and 1980. Like most homemade movies, his 8mm films reflect a specific and unique time in our American culture and history. 

Conservation and transferred media supported through this grant are screened at local historical societies and other organizations in and outside of North Dakota in collaboration with their collection holders. In 2015 and ’16, ALCF held home movie events in Bismarck, Valley City and West Fargo, North Dakota. 2017 will bring ALCF to locations outside of North Dakota.

No connection to North Dakota? No problem. Stay-tuned for the Al Larvick National Grant, which will open for submissions Spring 2017.

Questions? Contact us at 646.797.3295 or email

Bring indie film history to the digital age by KirstenStudio

Working to ensure the availability of movies told from diverse perspectives, IndieCollect, a New York City nonprofit, has purchased a new 5k film scanner. The shiny red Kinetta (created by Jeff Kreines) will give film-based work a rebirth. While some venues still project film, they are few and far between, offering limited options for filmmakers with movies that remain on analog mediums.

Because preservation and access costs are on a steady rise, IndieCollect, seeks to offer filmmakers digital scanning services at nonprofit prices. This is potentially huge for the indie motion picture creator, many of whom have to practically beg, borrow, and beg again, just to get each film completed, much less worry about their long-term shelf life. The idea of financing the scanning of older work is usually put on a back burner indefinitely, even if makers realize the potential revenue opportunities. IndieCollect seeks to fill this gap in resources for its community, and to help make sure our shared American independent motion picture heritage is both saved and seen.

Making high-resolution scanning affordable not only benefits the filmmaker of course, but audiences too. With more indie films available on DVD, through streaming, or in theaters, cinephiles, as well as activists and educators will have access to important work. Some stories are only told through particular movies, by a range of storytellers whose voices don't generally make the mainstream media cut. Unfortunately, a lot of them fall out of circulation as our ever-changing technology moves at fast-forward speed. Many films continue to be incredibly relevant regardless of their copyright year, but only if they're out there and available.

Natural History (1986)
Natural History (1986)

The Kickstarter campaign will launch the scanning program with a collection of fiction shorts made under Apparatus Productions, an early '80s nonprofit founded by the dynamic duo of Chrstine Vachon and Todd Haynes, along with Barry Ellsworth. However, this is just the beginning. If this campaign is successful, on the slate are award-winning documentaries, and other works, most of which haven't seen the light of day in years.

Born digital movies are also at risk and IndieCollect is working to address preservation and access needs across all formats for any and all American independent motion pictures. A tall order, and the scanner is a significant step in that direction. As an archivist at IndieCollect, I can vouch first hand for the many lost treasures the organization continues to unearth, and the ways in which it is working to educate and support independent filmmakers so their work exists and is findable tomorrow. This is more than just a Kickstarter campaign. It may sound a little dramatic, but it really does represent part of a movement toward ensuring indie film's longevity and securing its rightful place in our cultural history.

To find out more about this organization, visit Please consider supporting what Indiewire says is, "... one of the most incredible Kickstarter campaigns we've ever seen."

Creative fundraising by KirstenStudio

Budget CUBudgets are rarely considered part of the artistic process of filmmaking, yet fundraising for independent work, in particular documentary, requires a profound amount of creativity. Whether we like it or not, it is a necessary skill set in order to survive as media makers and artists. One unfortunate aspect of talking money is our society's complex relationship with it, and many of us apply an on-guard or protective approach to the subject. As a result, open and frank sharing of information is lacking. I've attended my share of budgeting and fundraising panels through various local organizations, which have offered valuable information. More recently, GETTING REAL, the 2014 IDA conference presented some unusually honest dialog about funding sources and how filmmakers are actually financing their projects. It was validating in a lot of ways, and a bit sobering. I believe the conference helped open the doors to the money conversation. It's an issue that is only gaining importance, not only for filmmakers as individuals, but for the survival of the art form.

Lana Wilson's doc, AFTER TILLER

UnionDocs held an Art of Asking workshop this past weekend, hosted and organized by producer, Adella Ladjevardi. The two-day event included guest speakers Lana Wilson, Tracie Holder and Anna Rose Holmer. Participants were at various stages of production and the experience was rather conversational, which aided to a relaxed atmosphere. Discussion ranged from guest speaker project examples and case studies, to the review of budget templates (yes, you should pay yourself!), to how the grant selection process often works, as well as ways in which those individual supporters are cultivated.

Each attendee had the opportunity to show a piece of their work and/or talk about their project. Everyone received feedback and advise from Adella or one of the guest speakers. This was worth the price of admission and then some. It appeared to not only benefit each participant to hear seasoned professional's reaction to their work, but it offered a sampling of the other types of projects currently being produced. It's easy for filmmakers to work in a vacuum, especially while in the midst of a production, but I think it's really important to also be part of the collective. Workshops like Art of Asking support that.

Below are just a few of the many pointers mentioned by some of the speakers. These samples from the weekend might appear obvious, especially in the grant section, but as someone who reviews preservation applications (and as a preservationist, may I encourage everyone to add a "Preservation" category to your budget. Your docs deserve a long life!), you'd be surprised at how many overlook the basics. I know I have.



  • Carefully review the grant maker's mission, application, guidelines and previously funded work. Does your project fit? This saves both sides time and money.
  • If you call or email a question to the grant maker, make sure you're asking something that isn't already covered within their site, application or guidelines. Why begin a relationship by appearing as though you don't pay attention?
  • If you've already applied for a grant, but were turned down, evaluate whether to reapply. Look at what projects they funded the round you last applied for. Review their site and guidelines again. Did your project receive a flat, "Thanks but no thanks", or did you receive personalized encouragement to try for next time? If you do apply again, state the ways your project has strengthened, or made progress since the last submission.
  • If you're fortunate enough to receive an award, whether it's cash, in-kind support, a lab experience, or pitching forum, think of it as the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Keep in touch and express your gratitude.


  • An online campaign usually requires a producer/director to ask everyone they know for support, whether a colleague, family member, or friend. Most backers are people you already know. Statistically, a very small percentage comes from strangers browsing Kickstarter or the like.
  • Explore partnering with an organization early on. Offer incentives such as exclusive screenings for their members in exchange for assistance with spreading the word. Not every organization will do this, but it's worth an ask, because some will see the mutual benefit.
  • Not every film is a good fit for crowdfunding. Is your audience active online? Make a list of your contacts who communicate online and your social media followers. Look at your final number and also at how many of your followers are actively engaging with you and your project's posts.


  • Find potential individual supporters by researching what and who is doing work on the issues or themes that are being explored in your film. Reach out to this list.  Always be gracious and grateful, regardless of the response and use the phone, rather than email.

This workshop was pretty dense so the above is a fraction of what was covered, and certainly doesn't replace being there and engaging with one another. What struct me most about the two days was the honesty in the room, and that was refreshing. Most documentaries don't make money. Most nonfiction filmmakers have a day job and it's a tremendous uphill hike to acquire the funds to realize productions. That being said, I think the industry is examining this challenge and ways in which to support its community. I look forward to the 2016 IDA conference, and various other organizations, such as The D-Word who are galvanizing the indie doc world and strategically looking at long range plans for survival.

90to5 is back by KirstenStudio

It's already time again for the annual 90to5 Editing Challenge. Having been a juror for the last several years and again this year, I hope to encourage new and experienced editors to check it out. It not only provides a structure for a terrific exercise in editing, it's a lot of fun and there are some cool awards for the winners. 90to5 challenges participants to recut a feature length public domain film down to a 5 minute story without compromising its integrity or clarity. This is by no means an easy task, so I commend our 90to5 editors for putting in the time. I guarantee that whether you take home the top prize or not, the editorial process is an important one.

In previous posts about 90to5 over the years, I've waxed on about the art of editing and my early experiences in a contest called Trailer Park, so I'll refrain from repetition here, besides Larry Jordon articulates this much better.

Other great resources for editors are AOTG and Manhattan Edit Workshop. MEWSHOP has a YouTube channel with tons of short videos for editors, from technical and artistic how-to's, given by MEWSHOP instructors and guest editors who are at the top in their field. Check out what Larry Silk had to say about his work on PUMPING IRON.

In closing, I'd like to point out why I'm partial to the 90to5 challenge, and it's not just because they keep asking me to be a juror. This editing challenge is unique in a couple of ways. First and foremost is that it's open to anyone and everyone. Other contests are terrific, but not as inclusive. I've learned that gifted editors and other kinds of storytellers come from all sorts of backgrounds and disciplines. The second is that it's all online and attracts participants from around the world. Their forum allows contestants to yap about all things editing. This feature is underused, but I hope more folks will take advantage of it. The third is that 90to5  provides the editorial content by way of their resources page and at the same time gives fair warning about respecting copyright laws. Their blog and Facebook pages celebrate their participant's work and offer insightful tips and tricks for aspiring editors. It also reminds the rest of us who have been working in the business for awhile about why editing is so much fun.

JOHN HEMMER & THE SHOWGIRL'S trailer by KirstenStudio

Shameless self-promotion. This is the documentary project I'm in post-production on. To learn more about John Hemmer and those showgirls, please visit its page here.

John Hemmer & the Showgirls - 3 Minute Trailer from Kirsten Studio on Vimeo.

JOHN HEMMER & THE SHOWGIRLS is a web-based, character driven documentary experience in post-production.

The story chronicles the artistic life of singer/entertainer, John Hemmer, along with some of his community of fellow performers, many of who began their careers in the 1950’s and 1960’s, a heyday for supper clubs, cabaret and theater. To learn more visit:

Documentarians are ideal preservationists by KirstenStudio

Documentarians carry much responsibility as creators. They are often one or two person bands. As business managers, fundraisers, marketing gurus, adventurers and agents for change, they are not finished with the final cut of each film. On the contrary, they have just begun. They must know how to navigate film festivals and distribution. They must engage their works with communities and demonstrate impact. They are required to keep up with new technology and information with rapidly changing mediums and modernized platforms while continuing to garner audiences through traditional venues. In a world where it seems there are more non-fiction narratives out there than ever, there are also fewer storytellers making a full-time living as documentarians. That means that in addition to doing all this, many filmmakers are also performing side jobs, in and out of the field, in order to bring their stories to life. Of course if you are one of these people, I'm preaching to the choir. I bring this up because with all the above in mind, it is a lot to ask of independent filmmakers to become archivists of their own work over their lifetime. A task that requires, yet again, more funding, and yet again, more upkeep with the ever evolving (or devolving – your choice) technology that is involved in our industry. Not only that, but storytellers are being told to start this process now, if they haven’t already. Yes, it can feel overwhelming, but as is with the rest of our profession, it is challenging but achievable.

As someone who works in documentary, I have supported many struggling and talented filmmakers in a variety of roles, who churn out amazing stories through blood, sweat and tears. I too have toiled with some reward and disappointment with my own projects. With all the obsession, sacrifice and money that’s put into these productions, which can take years to make, would someone as smart and activist oriented as documentarians, allow their beautiful work to disappear over time?

LASMADREScroppedI ask only because I believe non-fiction filmmakers are the ideal (and necessary) candidates to become preservationists of their own work, as well as their community’s, because of their natural activist instincts (pictured left: Las Madres: The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, 1985, preserved by Women's Film Preservation Fund).

I propose to you documentary filmmakers out there to add "preservationist" to your portfolio of skills because:

• We can see from the beginning of the documentary form how historically and culturally relevant these works are too look back on decades later. In some cases these stories, points of view, insights and subjects otherwise may not have been captured.

• Your body of work over your lifetime will become your personal legacy as well as part of a collective documentary heritage of your generation, generations to come and society at large, but only if it’s around in the future.

• You are a non-corporate entity that tells stories often otherwise untold. Do you really want our moving image history to be all Disney and network, big business news?

• Your movies can generate income for years to come. There are limitless possibilities for continued distribution, but only if your master elements are alive and well, accessible and maintained (both your work and it’s playback equipment).

• That extra material on the cutting room floor, might be of additional historical and monetary value. Weren’t you just wondering how you’ll fund your next project? Your previous movie can be your future revenue in addition to your new production.

Behind the veilThere are many other reasons. These are just a few, but good to keep in mind because the hard work is ahead. If you agree but are unsure how to begin the process, you might start with these steps:

• Find out where your previous project’s original elements are. Don’t assume you know. Confirm this whether you recall that they are under your bed, in your mother’s closet, at an archive, or at your former business partner’s office.

• Examine those elements, whether analog or digital, they ALL need to be archived properly. Confirm what they are and what condition they are in.

• Talk to your resources (they exist! See bottom of this page for a short list, but there are more. Do your research). It is important for your elements to be properly stored and managed.

• Create a preservation plan just as you would create a production plan. Include funding sources just as you would when researching for your production and post production grants.

• When beginning a new production’s budget, include an archive line item. Don’t hate me. You’ll be thankful later. Do your research just like you would any other expense and add it in there. This will save time and money later.

• Get to know preservation best practices with the same vigor you put toward learning how to shoot, edit or strategize your outreach.

• Get to know and build a relationship with an archive. Find out if your alma mater has a media archive and library that accepts alumni work, have you screened your film at a museum that houses an archive? Consider your existing resources to start out with. If they can't be your archive, they might help you find one that will.

• Advocate for audiovisual preservation best practices to become part of the curriculum in film schools and addressed at film festivals, conferences and other industry events. Help makes this the norm, rather than an oddity.

Works are disintegrating in canisters, boxes, tape cases and on hard drives, as I write this blog. The sooner we get serious and active about this the better.

Okay, so that's quite a few actions steps. As someone who is ardent about preservation, and in particular about documentary, I can attest that it's similar to filmmaking- fascinating and frustrating. It can pay off, however, if you see it through. Logically, the more you understand it, the easier it becomes.

To begin, or continue this conversation, check out the International Documentary Association’s (IDA) and DOCNYC’s Documentary Preservation Summit, 3/31 – 4/1/15 at the IFC Center in New York. Here you can listen to panels, ask questions and contribute to an important discussion with your colleagues. The major players in the doc world will be there, from filmmakers (Barbara Kopple, Pennebaker, Sandra Shulberg) to organizations (The D-Word, those listed above and more.)

One characteristic that no one in documentary is short on is passion. Bring it all to the summit. (Pictured above: Behind the Veil, 1972, Preserved by WFPF).

Some resources: Al Larvick Conservation FundAssociation of Moving Image Archivists; Film Foundation; IndieCollect; Kickstarter Archives initiative; National Film Preservation Foundation; Women’s Film Preservation Fund.

Women Writing the Language of Cinema by KirstenStudio

A week into the Women's Film Preservation Fund's (WFPF)Carte Blanche series at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), brings to mind how much has been accomplished by the Fund, as well as us how much work there is yet to be done.  I've been on the WFPF committee for just around 5 years now and continue to be amazed by the women behind the Fund and all that's been achieved to save these works for future generations. And although WFPF screens most everything it has a hand in preserving, it is a rare opportunity to see so many of these films in an expansive series like this. As the title of the series, Carte Blanche: Women's Film Preservation Fund, Women Writing the Language of Cinema, suggests, the focus is on the women who have contributed to cinema's heritage, and given a strong female voice to its history. It is also WFPF's 20th anniversary celebration. (Promo Produced by Barbara Moss & cut by Suzanne Pancrazi)

With over 30 films already screened (most works preserved by WFPF) and another 5 days left in the series, almost every genre in film and many eras are represented, from silents, to animation, experimental, documentary, and even sex exploitation, the vast selections inhabit a most fascinating melting pot of creative vision. In my mind, what this series reinforces is how women have excelled in this craft, even if not always encouraged, and are natural storytellers.

Opening night brought Desperately Seeking Susan, a 1985 film by Susan Seidelman, (pictured here introducing her film) to a full house, despite the challenging weather. Shot in New York City, much of the crew, including Seidelman, were New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT) members (NYWIFT is the organization which co-founded WFPF in conjunction with MoMA in 1995).

Seidelman reminisced on her time directing Desperately Seeking Susan and named many soon-to-be well known actors featured in her film, including one or two that are now household names. She also spoke eloquently about film preservation and its importance. She referred to a print she owned of her indy, Smithereens, which unbeknownst to her was, as she put it, "pickled" from poor storage and from this experience advocated for filmmakers to be aware of the importance of preservation. Desperately Seeking Susan, however, was in great shape and its vibrant colors and great performances have stood the test of time, while the retro fashions and old school tracks were terrific fun.

Thursday's program, Orphan Preservation Stories, offered an interesting variety of works from 1916 to 2005. WFPF Co-Chair, Ina Archer presented, with Moving Image Archiving & Preservation (MIAP) Associate Professor/Director and Orphan Film Symposium leader, Dan Streible, (pictured) along with other presenters including, Kim Tarr, Madeline Schwartzman, Carmel Curtis, Julia Kim (pictured below), Candace Ming and Kara Van Malssen.

Excerpts from orphaned films My Lady of the Lilacs, Raisin' Cotton, Barnard College Film Collection, The Movie Queen film series: The Movie Queen and The Movie Queen of BelfastMona's Candle Light and the Helen Hill Home Movies were screened and discussed, as well as put into context for why these kinds of works are considered orphaned and why they are relevant. Orphans such as the well known Helen Hill Home Movies might be obvious choices for preservation in that Helen Hill was a significant voice in experimental film and community activism, but works such as The Movie Queen films might appear less so to some. The Movie Queen films were produced in small towns where the townspeople were the stars and the local businesses, the sponsors. They were often screened, unedited, for the communities where they were shot and acted as a big local event with ticket sales and sometimes accompanied by live entertainment. Although these are considered "amateur" productions, and may not appear important on the surface, they document cultural history and are really pretty delightful to watch. As Archer pointed out on Thursday, the Movie Queen film credits, running more than 10 minutes in length, included details from the extras, down to the model of the cars featured, seem to remind us all that literally everyone is important.

Thursday evening showcased surrealism in film with the beautiful, Homage to Magritte (1975) (pictured) by Anita Thacher and When Pigs Fly (1993) by Sara Driver. Both filmmakers were in attendance and Driver spoke about the ratio of German women filmmakers to American. Not so surprisingly, and unfortunately, the numbers were not in our favor.

Tonight's program will honor WFPF co-founder and filmmaker, Barbara Moss with a MoMA's Modern Mondays event. The screening of  the documentary,  A Crime To Fit The Punishment (1982) will be followed by a discussion with co-directors Barbara Moss and Stephen Mack, along with Narrator, Lee Grant and Associate Curator of MoMA Film, Anne Morra. The evening will celebrate Barbara and her accomplishments, but will also celebrate the Women's Film Preservation Fund's 20 years, and counting, of preserving women's legacy in cinema. Hope to see you there.

Pioneering Women by KirstenStudio

In spite of the drizzle and drop in temperature, the faithful turned out for The Real Indies: A Closer Look at Orphan Films program, which appropriately opened last night, on Halloween, with Spider Baby (1968), and began today's screenings with their Pioneering Women segment at 10AM this morning. Pioneering Women boasted a fascinating selection of films made by and about women, accompanied with presentation and discussion. asbgHeather Linville (Academy Film Archive) presented a beautiful series of clips made by the explorer Aloha Wanderwell Baker. The documentarian, known in her day as 'the world's most widely travelled girl' recorded her adventures by car, over four continents. The footage, shot primarily in the 1920's, is incredible and Wanderwell, apparently standing at around 6 feet in height, is a gorgeous fearless force, easily identifiable whenever she appears in her recordings. Linville saved some of the best for last, showing a short excerpt of her early travel footage accompanied by audio of Wanderwell from the 1990's, when she met with an archivist to watch 6 hours of her material together, recalling in great detail the circumstances of the reels. Linville wrapped up the presentation with clips of Wanderwell visiting with Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.

Susan Lazarus of Women's Film Preservation Fund, introduced the Newsreel collective production of Make Out (1970, 5 mins) conceived by Geri Ashur. The script was created from a consciousness raising group, where they talked about what it was like to make-out in a car, through a young woman's perspective. Make Out was preserved by a grant from the Women's Film Preservation Fund in 2011 with in-kind services provided by Cineric.

PioneeringWomenA panel of filmmakers and preservationists, moderated by Antonia Lant (NYU Cinema Studies), followed these first two presentations with a discussion around preservation of women's film work (seated left to right: Connie Field, Lisa Crafts, Antonia Lant, Susan Lazarus and Heather Linville). Lant brought up two main periods in film history where women had a strong hold in filmmaking - the silent era and the women's movement of the 60's and 70's. Crafts said that for independent animators and for other independent filmmakers, coincided this golden age of independent film and the women's movement. So there were hundreds and thousands of women making work. Whether that is part of the canon that's studied, Crafts thought that really depended on the individual who's teaching, but highlighted the importance of these types of films getting out to schools, so each generation can see that there were lots of strong, amazing and interesting women making work. Linville pointed out that from a preservation standpoint, these two heights for female filmmakers have their own difficulties with the elements in which they were shot on. In the silent era films were shot on nitrate film stock, which is highly flammable and in the 60's and 70's the material ended up being unstable and prone to quicker deterioration, whether it be color fading or audio deterioration from being recorded onto magnetic elements, or a variety of other issues. Linville added that with the silent era in particular, there are even fewer women's films to preserve today. That we've often hear statistics from this period in general, such as 80 to 85% of silent era films are already lost. Linville said she'd be curious to know what the percentage of that are films made women. To reiterate Crafts talking point about education, Lazarus said the reason the Women's Film Preservation Fund was founded in general was to show that women were involved in filmmaking from the beginning of the medium and  these works not only need to be preserved, but also shown and become part of a syllabus.

rosie-01The feature screened after this panel, also part of the Pioneering Women program was the Academy Film Archive preserved documentary, The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter (1980), by Connie Fields. The film was added to the National Film Registry in 1996. The film brings to life, the real stories behind Rosie the Riveter, told by the actual Rosie's selected from many interviews Connie Fields conducted in her research for the film, the documentary effectively juxtaposes these women's experiences against the propaganda archival material of the day. Available on DVD through Clarity Films.

The Real Indies: A Close Look at Orphan Films was co-presented by The Academy, New York University and The Orphan Film Symposium.

Reflections on Getting Real by KirstenStudio

About a week following the IDA Getting Real, Documentary Film Conference 2014, I find myself continuing to reflect on a fairly charged experience. From the first session GETTING REAL About the Doc Career, to the last I attended, From Distribution to Sustainability: Four Doc Filmmaker Case Studies, frank participation by both panelists and audience, was what made this conference a much needed call to action for filmmakers and the industry at large. IMG_3892Thom Powers moderated the doc careers panel and opened by saying that when his students ask about sustainable professional lives as documentary filmmakers, he tells them that if he asked 50 doc filmmakers how they make a living, there would be 50 different answers. That pretty much was right on the money, as all panelists (huge panel) make their careers sustainable by balancing media making with other related work, such as teaching, commercial, work-for-hire as DP or editor, advertising, research, etc. Most love what they do, both filmmaking and otherwise, but all talked about sacrifice. Whether it was juggling a personal life/family by only working at odd hours and living off less sleep (i.e. Nina Gilden Seavey, a terrific panelist at multiple sessions) or accepting that a project will take much longer since it's impossible to work on it full time, it was confirmed that the life of an independent filmmaker isn't easy. Granted that it never really was, but once upon a time existed a clearer and realistic career path that was much less complicated.

Panelist Tina DiFeliciantonio is part of the newly formed Independent Documentary Sustainability Task Force, which is gathering data for a quantitative analysis of the industry. The Task Force is looking at how the music industry adjusted to the drastic change in their industry. Maybe independent filmmakers can learn from what musicians have already dealt with. DiFeliciantonio boldly pointed out what she called the elephant in the room, and that is, we participate in our own exploitation by exploiting those who work for us. Hard to hear, and easier said than done in terms of fixing the issues, when budgets are beyond thin, but how can we create a living wage for ourselves when we're not paying one to our colleagues?

IMG_3896There was much talk in general about the economy being unsupportive of artists and that there will only be challenges ahead in this arena. The Esther Robinson lead sessions, Indie Doc Sustainability, Part 2: Reflections and Q&A, as well as her, Creative Money Balance: A Hands-on Workshop on Career Sustainability and Personal Finance, she spoke repeatedly about the "global economic contraction" and that we, as artists, like any other profession, should always be prepared for possible economic downturn. In the Hands-on workshop, Robinson talked about becoming solvent and how multiple revenue streams can lead to solvency and a sustainable career as an artist. She made her case by pointing out that having diverse income sources is more financially stable in many ways and if one is efficient with their time, it can be done without sacrificing a personal life.

She encouraged everyone to ask themselves, Is there something in my life I can monetize? and suggested to also ask trusted people in one's personal network. Ask them, What do you think I excel at? See what people say. Can you get paid for doing something you're good at and enjoy, in addition to filmmaking? Robinson used herself as an example. She makes films, but has a couple of other forms of revenue, one of which is ArtHome, a nonprofit founded by Robinson, which helps artists become financially stable through it's programs and workshops. She reminded her audience that no one is better suited for financial solvency than filmmakers, who make something out of nothing for a living. Quite honestly, I got a lot of this workshop. In a way, it gave me permission to accept other work without feeling like I'm comprimising, but it also left me asking those above questions about long-term planning and time efficiency. Other questions to ask yourself: How do I make a lifetime of work? Do I do less over time? How do I not just make this project, but the next and the next? What will that look like and how will I do it? Think about creating a plan and then actually create it and follow it using tangible steps. And the most important point Robinson made was that we're all trying to make an awesome life for ourselves. As she put it so well, "You want to be the hottest person at the nursing home, who is still working. That is the gold standard." Amen to that.

IMG_3913Money Talks (and Listens) brought together many funders to not only talk about their funding process, but also to listen. They wanted to know how they can better support the documentarian. There was acknowledgment of government funding from the arts dwindling rapidly and of course that isn't news, but the optimistic side of that is that new foundations have begun to fill the gap and although there aren't nearly enough funds to cover all the worthy projects, there are options out there. A new (and hopefully lasting) trend for funders is to build relationships with filmmakers they fund, for the long haul. Funders don't just think about funding one project for one filmmaker, one time, but look at how they can support them in developing and growing their career.

A lot of good points were brought up in this discussion. Many specific questions were raised about foundations that also act as producers on funded projects and the details of those agreements. Debra Zimmerman of Women Make Movies (a panelist) said she thought it would be helpful if filmmakers could see the agreements before actually applying for a grant. This spurred a worthy conversation about transparency and efficiency. Zimmerman suggested creating Best Practices for the ways funders are to be credited on films. And funders are already working on standardizing grant submission requirements. This would be huge for media makers. Can you imagine a world with less time spent on editing grant statements, budget templates and recutting trailers to bring the TRT up or down, and more time actually cutting what will be the finished product?

Following this session, it was announced that the panelists were conducting a post session meeting to discuss the points that were brought up by attendees.


Not surprisingly, distribution was a dominant subject at the conference as well. From Distribution to Sustainability: Four Documentary Filmmaker Case Studies brought together four filmmakers to discuss their success with audience building and distribution strategies. All panelists openly shared their approach to finding and connecting with their audiences (both what has worked for them and hasn't), as well as budgets and revenue from their films. Jon Betz, filmmaker and distributor (Collective Eye), has built a niche audience with subject matter (and of course quality, well told stories) and is now distributing like-minded films by other documentarians (multiple revenue streams, my friends). Due to his general theme of environmental documentaries, he is able to transition audiences from one film to the next. Other filmmakers talked about creating a brand for themselves too, so audiences follow them and not just one of their documentaries. Paco de Onis said he and his filmmaking partner, Pamela Yates, literally give away their films. Their number one goal is to get their stories out to communities. He also reminded everyone that organizations (nonprofits) are great ways to find audiences. There's that partnership word again, but it's true. Nonprofits are great to collaborate with. It can be a win-win for both parties.

I must also mention two keynote speakers who were vastly different, but equally as powerful. Joe Bini replaced Tabitha Jackson, who wasn't able to attend, but requested Bini to take her place. Bini couldn't fill her shoes of course, but he certainly made his own mark. As the editor of Grizzly Man, what would you expect? He was quirky, hysterical and smart and put together a lovely ode to cinema. After a long day of the hardships of documentary career longevity, digital distribution numbers and financial sustainability, Bini's keynote was a welcome respite that reminded each of us why we all love what we do, despite the struggles. Dawn Porter reminded everyone that if we don't continue the struggle, the predominant white corporate male driven media will be the only ones telling stories. Without us, there will be no diversity behind and in front of the camera. Without diversity, our stories might even lack proper fact checking and worse yet, empathy.

When I headed toward LAX last Friday morning, my mind swirled with all this information and then some. What I came away with from a surprisingly emotionally stirred event (some attendees got very heated, which only testifies to how urgent some of these issues are) that there is a real desire by filmmakers to come together to help one another collectively. A need for transparency, not just by funders and distributors, but filmmaker to filmmaker, in order to realistically examine our landscape and find opportunity. If the conference is any indication, the independent documentary filmmaking community may be rebuilding itself. There are efforts being made beyond the conference to collaborate, gather data and take action. What that action will be remains to be seen in some cases, but there was activism in the air and not just for individual's projects, but the energy of coming together as artists for the greater good of the whole - to ensure there is a future documentary community. As someone who has been in the business for only about a decade or so, in my brief time I have already noticed how the business has changed from a mentorship driven practice to a somewhat individualistic industry in a relatively short period. I have been challenged by this change myself. We have been economically forced to become one-woman (or man) bands a lot of the time, and that has placed many of us in vacuums. We need collaboration (and I'm not just talking about how to find a co-producer, but filmmaker to filmmaker collaboration), so we're able to create new revenue streams together, but also return to keeping the industry's circle of life in motion. To do this we'll need to support one another, paying your associate producers and assistant editors, teaching them and bringing the hard workers and the talented to the next level on the next project.

To continue this conversation or add to these reflections, please comment on this post. For further action and to check out what others are talking about, I highly recommend The D-Word forum. Doug Block and his cohorts live blogged from the 3 day event and The D-Word was a conference supporter. The conference was meant to start a dialogue and continue it, and it needs your voice to keep the momentum and create change. There is a lot of opportunity to be harnessed. Some efforts are already in progress. Don't miss out on shaping it and taking part.


Post brings the usual questions, and some new ones by KirstenStudio

John-Margo3It's that time in a production's life when primary photography has been completed and it's time to devote almost all one's hours toward the edit. Beginning post production is exciting, but also daunting. Hopefully footage has been brought into the project and logged, and interviews transcribed as the shoots have taken place. Hopefully the spreadsheets and budgets are updated, you've been reviewing footage as you've shot, and gotten into some cutting already. These are 'hopefully' scenarios, however, as more often than not (in my experience), these tasks are ideally done during the shooting phase, but sometimes they are just partially completed by the real edit time. In my case, most of the above is complete, but not all, and although I've watched the footage after each shoot, I now need to sit down and review everything again beforeJohn_Jane_TimesSquare digging in for the long editing haul. It can be tedious, but also exciting when gems you didn't realize (or remembered) existed in the footage materialize, even though you were there when it was recorded. Seemingly unimportant comments, behaviors or imagery can suddenly reveal themselves as insightful and telling. These are the essential moments for any sort of storytelling, big or small. After all, when it comes to most nonfiction narratives, post is when the story is crafted. Although this phase is my favorite, and I've been on enough productions now to know the nuts and bolts of how to tackle it, there are new questions on the horizon. For instance, once this story is complete, there are a number of traditional ways of getting it out into the world, but also a few new choices which are as confusing as they are thrilling to consider. New venues, new models, new avenues for impact - there are a lot of decisions to be made and each one seems to be on a case-by-case basis. What is one's story most suited for?

This particular project will be a short, but never-the-less, it required scanning many-a still images (over 1,000) and shooting many hours of happenings. In my case (any many other filmmakers) this is done in tandem with other documentary and commercial freelance jobs, and therefore takes twice as long to finish. The project has yet to go through various phases and versions with feedback, recuts and consultations. As the post production phase begins, thoughts about the end plan (and budget) continue to change and morph as I consider the footage I have and the story I believe will come of it.

LQ_Luncheon2014With the landscape of documentary distribution in such flux (more opportunity in many ways, yet more competition), who knows what distribution will look like next year, or even 6 to 8 months from now. Documentary storytellers are on the rise, but with the market saturated with content, how will smaller projects, such as this one, get seen? How will it be monetized and how will its lifespan be maximized? These are questions I'm still kicking around, even at this point in the production, and one that will of course inform the end cut.

The International Documentary Association will put on their annual conference in Los Angeles in a couple of weeks and will be addressing some of these questions for mid-career documentary media makers. The Documentary Film Conference 2014, Getting Real three day event boasts keynote speakers Morgan Spurlock, Tabitha Jackson, Cara Mertes, Dawn Porter and Lucy Walker (notice the ratio of women to men. Thank you, IDA!). Panels includes Getting Real About The Doc Career, Let's Make This Perfectly Clear (on digital distribution), When Impact Meets Distribution, Creative Money Balance: A Hands-on Workshop on Career Sustainability and Personal Finance, From Distribution to Sustainability: Four Doc Filmmaker Case Studies. Also included are forums, screenings and case studies. With the state of documentary growing in leaps and bounds, but documentary making as a viable, full time sustainable career at risk, the Getting Real 2014 should prove to be an informative one. See you there.

Documentary Fundamentals' Shooting & Directing by KirstenStudio

This spring the Brooklyn based resource for all things documentary, UnionDocs, offers its second round of Documentary Fundamentals. The six part series gives filmmakers a step-by step, how-to for tackling the art form. From practical application to creative, Fundamentals brings experts in the field into a conversational panel setting for a jam packed house. Last night's third installment, Documentary Shooting & Directing, was hosted by UnionDocs' partner AbelCine at its Greenwich St. studio. The three person panel consisted of Zachary Heinzerling (Cutie And The Boxer), Ross Kauffman (Born into Brothels) and Malika Zouhali-Worrall (Call Me Kuchu). Each presented clips and/or trailers of their work to illustrate various approaches to shooting and directing.

Cutie-+-the-Boxer_sized-620x348Zachary Heinzerling spoke about non-verbal storytelling, where the visuals tell audiences what is happening and not just the dialogue, or even instead of. His example from Cutie And The Boxer was a dinner scene, where the husband and wife's behavior during a meal reveals insights into their relationship as much as what they're talking about. This kind of relaxed intimacy is something earned, however. Each speaker addressed the importance of fostering trust between filmmaker and subject. Heinzerling's emphasized the idea of collaboration between himself and the people he's filming. He tries to spend a lot of time with his documentary characters in advance to bring an ease to his presence. Even then people are hyper aware of the camera at first, he said, and want to know what's going on. He makes it clear that he feels all aspects of their lives are of equal importance. This is something new to me as most of my experience is in post-production. I am green to shooting and directing and have recently discovered how much people skills it requires. I've found some subjects get caught up in wanting to know details, such as why something as mundane as making their bed or walking to work needs to be shot. I think that is about trust, and building it takes time and patience on the part of everyone involved. If the relationship isn't developed, the subject may never open up, forget about the camera's presence, or even believe that if it's being recorded, it could be relevant or imporant.

Ross Kauffman showed the opening sequence of Born into Brothels to illustrate that one doesn't always know how footage will be used while shooting it. When in the edit bay, Kauffman realized they didn't have footage that directly showed how children were exposed to sex on a daily basis in an unusual way by growing up in brothels. This was an important aspect of the story. To convey this Kauffman intercut extreme close ups of children's faces, with an emphasis on their eyes, with shots of the brothels. This opening sequence was never planned in advance. It only came out of discovering a hole in the storytelling, and then solving the problem by creating this artistic opening. It worked by using the up close and personal shots of the soulful and innocent eyes of children juxtaposed against their gritty environment. Heinzerling also touched on this when he said that he doesn't necessarily think about the point of the scene when shooting. The point will come after. One might have an outline of what will be shot that day, but there's really no telling what will happen since you're recording a version of reality.

Malika Zouhali-Worrall screened the trailer and a clip from Call Me Kuchu. A social-political film about the struggle for LGBT rights in Uganda. The subject is obviously a serious image001_4one to say the least, but Zouhali-Worrall discussed the importance of allowing for humor in the mix. Kauffman agreed and pointed out that humor helps humanize the subject. Zouhal-Warrall wanted to show how her character, even in the face of extreme adversity, was a person with a great sense of humor, able to relax and enjoy his friends and family. This builds a multi-dimensional human being.

A question was asked by an audience member toward the end of the evening, which I thought interesting. It was about whether to compensate the people you are filming. I honestly expected a flat 'no' across the board, but that wasn't the case. Heinzerling considers it on a case-by-case basis, but mentioned that since he perceives the filmmaking process a collaboration between makers and subjects, he might offer a percentage on the back end. Zouhali-Worrall agreed and said that sometimes documentary subjects are struggling to make ends meet as it is. In filming them you're taking up a considerable amount of their time. She sometimes includes honorariums as a way to compensate subjects, especially for the activism around a film.

All the speakers offered what type of camera and audio equipment they used. Most were shooting the project themselves and covered sound as well. Not only because it's more economical, but it seemed as though they preferred it that way, a one person crew can help make the atmosphere more intimate. Zouhali-Worall had a separate sound person, but that was the extent of the crew, other than some shared directing duties. For cameras D5 and D7, EX-1 and Sony F3 were mentioned. A variety of lavs, booms and mixers were talked about in brief too.


There was also a question regarding preparing for and shooting an interview based story, as opposed to observational projects. All agreed that the difference in approach is like night and day. I would have liked to learn more about this, but there wasn't time to address it in full. Kauffman talked about an interview shoot being more rigid. Lighting and set-up was more planned out and specific. Quietness is essential.  So far I have found interviewing to be a particular skill set that requires a lot of preparation and then being very careful during the interview to feel out the way a subject is responding. Pay attention to both body language and speech, then adjust accordingly if needed. I am still learning how to do this.

Documentary Fundamentals series passes are sold out but I believe there is still some room for individual panels. The next is on Sunday night at UnionDocs and will be on Editing Your Documentary.

Multi-platform Storytelling at Women Make Movies by KirstenStudio

There is still a level of uncertainty in regard to new media, but it seems more related to understanding the term, than anything else. One point many agree on, however, is that it's only going to continue to grow, and for media makers this means opportunity. For independent artists, it opens up possibilities at a time when theatrical venues for the non-blockbuster  (and even for mainstream films in some cases) are shrinking.IMG_2672 This past Wednesday night Women Make Movies, a nonprofit feminist media arts organization, hosted From Idea to Implementation: Multi-platform Storytelling with Theresa Loong. The workshop, led by Loong (multi-media artist, founder  of FORM360), explored examples of successful new media stories in both documentary and fiction, as well as new online platforms and resources.

The evening began with Loong asking her audience to introduce themselves and offer a brief description as to what brought them to the workshop. Most were there as documentary filmmakers and a few were in stages of a new media project. Some were just there to learn more about the subject. As one audience member said, ad agencies have been doing this for years. Independent filmmakers have caught on to the potential of multi-platform storytelling more recently.

Loong talked about how she approaches her projects. She collects artifacts, such as music, photos, diaries, finds the setting and the place, and then starts asking questions. She begins with a basic story idea and then looks at the cultural context. Henry Jenkins was brought up several times. Loong quotes him as saying that each medium makes its own unique contribution to the story. This felt like an important point. New media is not just an added venue for the same story put up on a theater screen or watch from Apple TV, but it offers specific ways to consume and interact with stories that are different than passive watching. It's smart to consider how each story might lend itself to these different arenas, such as whether the audience member will be their own character within the story, or what additional information would be interesting via Easter eggs.

A lot of time was spent on exploring examples. One was Walking Cinema, an interactive app available for purchase on iTunes that walks the user through a historical murder mystery. The participant interacts through by making choices on the information to explore, but also has the opportunity to physically go to some of the locations in Boston that had to do with the murder and/or characters within the story. This project received funding from National Endowment for the Humanities.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 4.51.33 PMFeed Me a Story is Loong's own project which works with youth and seniors to create a cross-generational experience through recipe sharing. The project invites site visitors to share their own family recipes and sense memories around food.

All these examples are impressive but how do the creators monetize their project and make a living? This question came up and Loong admitted that the jury is still out. A workshop goer shared that eventizing one's content is the way to bring in revenue, for instance, teaching or special events with partner organizations. The content itself may not generate monies, but how you communicate it can. Loong agreed and practices this in her work. My own outreach experience through the nonprofit world and documentary has taught me this as well, but building those partnerships and creating awareness around events is a full-time job. You also have to be patient. Building relationships can't happen overnight and it's done creatively as well. A collaboration has to be appealing for both parties and targeting the right partners is critical.

Resources were mentioned, for funding, support and services. A few of these are, Tribeca Film Institute, which offers a new media grant (submissions now open). Their festival brings (albeit kind of pricey, the program does look pretty amazing) Innovation WeekApril 21-26. Storycode, a community of cross-platform storytellers, conducts events and meet ups across the globe, Upcoming happenings in New York City include Inside David Cronenberg's Head with Lance Weiler on April 15th and Immigrant Nation and NannyVan Launch Party on April 24th. Rather than starting from scratch, there are existing online platform structures available too. Loong brought up Racontr, an interactive storytelling software. Beta sign up is available now. I explored the site a bit and thought their project examples impressive. There are other software platforms that have put their hat in the ring, but in my opinion they vary widely in terms of quality and usability for professional media makers.

Around the second half of the workshop, Loong took everyone through the practical process of preparing a proposal for these types of projects. Presenting to an investor or applying for a grant is not just about showing meaty scenes or an emotional extended trailer to accompany your written treatment and budget. One should be able to show and tell what the user experience will be, whether it's an immersive interactive documentary, such as Hollow, or a historical mystery app, like Walking Cinema. She encouraged creators to remember the four "D's" when thinking about a project. They are, 1). Discover (refine the idea) 2. Design (think about the interaction as well as the idea) 3. Development and 4. Deployment (think about rolling out in phases, especially for bigger projects). Mock-ups are important. Sketch it by hand if needed, but have a professional make it look, well... professional. Wireframes which show how the user will navigate the site, or the app, is essential too. Set up all aspects of the stage properly and research the kind of support needed for the platform. Staffing may include Producer, Director, Developer, Interactive Designer, Visual Developer, Advisors and others.

Overwhelmed yet? It's easy to be because even though commonalities exist between a traditional movie watching and multi-platform experience, such as story and quality, there is a lot to think about, plan for and implement. Just like any project, however, it's about one step at a time, while keeping in mind the end goal. New media and multi-platform storytelling are here to stay. There are a million ways to tell a story, and there are also a million ways to experience and interact with them.

Check out Women Make Movies' next workshop - a masterclass with filmmaker, Dawn Porter, Monday, April 14, 2014.

Documentary Fundraising Trailers by KirstenStudio

This past Wednesday night the New York Women in Film and Television (NYWIFT) hosted a to capacity panel, Bait Your Hook: Create Your Best Documentary Sample and Trailer. The evening boasted filmmakers and funders, moderated by Marcia Rock. Each panelist not only showed examples of their successfully funded trailers, and discussed what elements they felt were important, but also spent the last half of the night, evaluating audience member trailers. IMG_2646Filmmaker and The D-Word Founder, Doug Block began the event by speaking about his new film, 112 Weddings (Opening night at Full Frame this year will be shown to a sold out, 1,000 seat theater crowd!). Screening his 4 minute trailer, shown at the HotDocs 2012 pitching forum, Block addressed key elements contained in the piece that created a successful trailer. This particular example was shorter than what he would normally submit for funding, since the hot seat at HotDocs gives each pitch a very short amount of time. He normally considers a fundraising sample or trailer to be between 8 and 10 minutes in length. Block said the trailer should find a balance in showing and telling the viewer what the film is about without giving away too much. When beginning a fundraising trailer, Block said he takes a practical approach by not hiring an editor, who would take time and money to review all the footage. Instead he works on it himself since he is most familiar with what he has. This exercise also helps him find and refine the story, much as grant writing helps filmmakers clarify what their story is.

Editor and filmmaker, Sabrina Schmidt Gordon of Mrs. Goundo's Daughter, 2009, showed a promotional trailer from Documented, and talked about the importance of a viewer's experience of being invited to be a part of it, rather than hitting someone over the head with the social issue angle. If it's a social issue piece, the issue will come out organically in the story. Another great point, which I have found challenging, is that often filmmakers try to fit in too much in order to show funders all they have. Sometimes it's best to focus on a few moments that really matter than to try to squish in all the different kinds of footage or scenes that has been shot, even if all of it is awesome.

It's always nice to have someone on a panel like this who specializes in helping filmmakers with storytelling, whether it's a fundraising sample or a feature length rough cut. One of those experts is Fernanda Rossi, who has served as doctor on many a film. Rossi screened a trailer from How to Lose Your Virginity, 2013, by Therese Shechter. The trailer was used for two successful Kickstarter campaigns along with other uses. The event audience was asked to view the trailer and name the other important element it contained besides humor. The answer was contradiction. The trailer cleverly juxtaposed different opinions on the definition of virginity, which made for a funny, insightful and open ended debate, as each interviewee in the trailer had a different take on it. Rossi also said that every trailer should contain an outrageous statement, universalizing concept and two concepts that don't normally go together. She recommended to leave questions and create suspense. Don't offer closure or you'll have a completed short film, and don't forget to start with character. People relate to people, more than subjects.

IMG_2640Panelist Judith Helfand offered the benefit of perspective as a filmmaker (Blue Vinyl, Everything's Cool) and funder (Chicken & Egg Pictures). Helfand screened a Chicken & Egg grantee's trailer for Sepideh, 2013 and pointed out the feeling of it being like a mini movie, but not in a way that gave closure. The sample gives a sense of the struggle that is at the heart of the film. Within the trailer is a scene where the viewer experiences a moment. It isn't rushed, or ovelry slick or fast. Helfand says she's always looking for that extra little moment in a work. She also pointed out that it's a good idea to offer excerpts of scenes so one can get to know a character. Sepideh premiered at IDFA and Sundance and is now on iTunes.

Fresh from viewing over 40 trailers as a Jerome Foundation judge, Cynthia López of American Documentary, POV reminded her audience that there is no one way to do this, but there are certain things to consider. For instance, information is power. Give a piece of information that isn't commonly known. López sited Documented's trailer which included a factoid of the amount of U.S.  taxes illegal immigrants pay and contribute to the economy. She also reiterated the importance of subjects being universal and to refrain from telling the whole story in a trailer.

During the last portion of the evening, trailers from audience members (previously arranged) were shown for panelist feedback. There were several screened and a wide variety in subject, approach and level of development. For the most part, panelists were kind but forthright. The word that continued to return for several of the trailers, was "clarity". If it's not clear what the story is, then the trailer definitely needs more flushing out and maybe the story at large needs more development. Each submitted trailer had it's strengths and weaknesses. It was a terrific opportunity for filmmakers, even though it did require some courage to be opening judged. That is the business, however, so being willing to be subjected to public critique is a good thing.

This NYWIFT panel is part of a continued series. Other events will be on documentaries for television and engagement. Check out the event calendar here for more information.

Lessons in new media documentary by KirstenStudio

Hollow's Elaine McMillion and team talk participatory video, sound and visual design and more in this part II of two part Hallow: Our Lessons Learned, moderated by Opeyemi Olukemi of Tribeca Film Institute. (See Part I, Research, building audience, pre-production)

Back to Basics at AMIA by KirstenStudio

This past Tuesday the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) began their preliminary workshops as a precursor to the main annual conference event, which this year took place in historic Richmond, Virginia. I was only able to attend a couple of the workshops this year, but it was well worth the 7 hour train ride (got a lot of work done in transit) from Penn Station to Richmond's Main Street station. The A/V Tech Basics for Archivists event was led by Eric Wenocur of Lab Tech Systems. The four hour workshop broke down the types and purpose of what is now largely retro audio/video equipment. This instructional was intended for librarians, archivists, and other preservationists charged with conserving and/or preserving and duplicating their A/V elements.

IMG_0134As an editor, I was familiar with most of the equipment, or at the very least, I had seen it before. When I worked at a post house as an assistant editor, older decks existed for D-2 or D-3 tapes, but weren't used. In fact I can only remember one instance were we fired one up. The deck actually worked too. When I began post work, decks for formats such as DigiBeta tapes were still in more regular use, however, even DigiBeta is considered an old format these days. Who needs a tape anymore, right?

Well those involved in preservation do and it's formats like these that are deteriorating faster than film in many cases. This is why a/v equipment understanding is so important. Wenocur had sample equipment set up at the head of the class, as well as a handy camcorder to project close ups of the equipment onto the screen. It was a good overview of video equipment, but from my experience, the real test is practical application. What A/V Tech Basics for Archivists offered was a way to generally familiarize oneself with this equipment and it's various purposes, be it monitors, patch bays, connector cables or vectorscopes, it can all be overwhelming if it's new to you, but at least this offered a start.

In my opinion, some of the most valuable information offered was simple troubleshooting tips that might seem pretty obvious, and I can vouch for this, but often get overlooked.

  • Know how things are SUPPOSED to work.
  • Start with known good signals, paths and/or monitoring
  • Change one thing and observe that change before moving on to another
  • Swap things out, such as cable, equipment, software
  • Cut the problem in half
  • Go back to the manuals and hang out to them!

Another point that Wenocur brought up, which I think is one of the more urgent problems in need of solution is that this is old equipment and the number of technicians out there with expertise in servicing this gear is fast dwindling. Many are retired or have moved on to more contemporary skill sets and aren't actively working on this stuff anymore. The danger of this equipment becoming useless because no one can fix it is very real. That's why it's detrimental that new generations learn about this equipment sooner than later, but in reality it's not a growing career path to service retro equipment, just as the number of film projectionists are fading as DCPs take over cinemas.

Nevertheless, workshops like Wenocur's offers some expertise sharing and I wish the workshop attendees luck when they get back to their collections and start digitizing analogue style.

Although I was bummed not to have been able to make it for the 2 part workshop, Small Gauge Projection and the Art of Projector Maintenance and Repair, since workshops overlapped, I went with Back to Basics… What You Need to Know When Starting an AV Preservation Project.

Back to Basics brought terrific presenters in Rachael Stoeltje of Indiana University Libraries, Lee Price of Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts (CCAHA) and John Walko of Scene Savers.

IMG_2116Stoeltje began the conversation by talking about goals (Rachael mainly addressed film, while John Walko spoke more to video). She told her audience to think about their  final goal for a project or collection. Is it preservation, digitization or something else? Maybe it's just about trying to preserve what you have, so it might be best to do a film to film preservation, or maybe it's about accessibility and you want to stream your content so reformatting a collection it to small digital files such as MPEG4, would be best. Or should it be a 2k or 4k frame by frame scan because the final goal is theatrical screenings? One must consider the purpose in order to properly identify what work is needed. This informs what you will do with your materials and the costs involved.

Of course it is also essential to identify what you have. Whether the elements are nitrate, acetate or polyester film, most will require unique handling as well as storage. Knowing film gauge and type of print is important to deduce. Is it a release print, a negative, A/B rolls? Labs need to know this for budgeting and timeline, as each type of stock or print require various levels of labor. Running time should not be ignored. A 3 minute film versus a feature length film of 90 minutes can obviously make a difference in time and money.

Next on the list is to carefully evaluate condition of the elements. Is there biological, environmental or mechanical wear or damage? Shrinkage, mold, vinegar syndrome are all common, unfortunate conditions of poor stooge conditions and time. Being aware of these problems will provide an understanding of what needs to be quarantined (vinegar syndrome), or what requires scanners with sprocket less drives (reels with shrinkage).

And then there is storage, which people often sort of forget about but what's the point in doing all the evaluating, preserving, digitizing, etc, if the original and/or new elements are not properly cared for? 50 degrees with 30% humidity is a good environment for your average films. If nitrate, I believe conditions should be even cooler and for those poor fellows suffering from vinegar syndrome, freezer storage with air exchange is recommended.

Some of the other important points that were mentioned to consider are, available staff to do all this work, the future digital preservation needs, the file and codec types and the frequency those need to be converted into the latest technology, as well as the players one will view them with, among others.

Stoeltje sited great examples of the universities' preservation efforts by showing stills from projects such as the Peter Bogdanovich home movies, and John Ford home movies. These was funded based on Stoeltje's and the universities' hard work with applying the above practices, which won grants that save these films. Look to these for inspiration!

Lee Price spoke about funding opportunities. It always amazes me that there aren't more out there, but that being said, they do exist. He broke them down into the following categories:

  • Government funders
  • Private foundations
  • Corporate & businesses
  • Individuals
  • Special events
  • Internal sources

I was happy to see Women's Film Preservation Fund on the list of private foundations (full disclosure, I am a committee member of this fund) among the more obvious resources, such as National Film Preservation Foundation. 

IMG_0138Price also offered some research tips by suggesting the Foundation Center and Guidestar, both terrific resources and if you can visit Foundation Center in person, even better, as the staff there is incredibly helpful as well as their workshops, some of which are complimentary.

What funders ask themselves when reviewing applications is something to think about too and Price ran through a list of those questions from whether the proposed project is appropriate for their funding source, to whether the planning process makes sense. One more item I'd like to add is to really pay attention to what the funder's requirements are. If you don't have all the information a grant giver is requesting than offer a clear explanation as to why you are unable to provide it, or why you are delayed in providing it.

Other fundraising ideas that were suggested included the ever popular crowd funding (a full time, strategic and labor intense job in itself but has great potent ion when well orchestrated), blogathons (this was totally new to me - no doubt I'm the last to know - and found the idea pretty inspiring) and the good old website donation option (which still mostly requires a campaign of some sort and lots of social media hard work).

It seems that many are doing a combination of all of the above. There are few funders that will give one project everything it needs and many of the larger grant givers require matching grants, which for many are pretty out of reach. Funding in todays day and age, is a game of ingenuity.

John Walko, of Scene Savers, was the last speaker and an essential voice since video preservation has become more and more topical, as awareness builds. He offered interesting before and after split screen examples of everything from color correction to wet gate transfers with remarkable differences.

Walko also addressed preparing for a preservation project by collecting data such as formats and running time, but also some situations that are unique to video, such as situations when several programs exist on one tape. Consider whether those programs should be divided up into separate digital files when they are transferred to another format, or kept as one file. If one file contains separate programs, how is that metadata recorded? Also when considering digital files types, make sure they are compatible with the systems in place at their respectful institutions.

Of course video deterioration is a whole other ball game with its own problems that are different from film. Walko mentioned a few ugly sounding issue with video tape, such as sticky-shed syndrome, tape shell damage, video tape can mold too, or horizontal video tape tears (that's right, it tears the long way - yikes).

For video preservation projects, Walko offered some tips for project planning. He suggested to find out about access to the following:

  • Transfer equipment
  • Time base corrector
  • Waveform/ Vectorscopes
  • Broadcast quality decks
  • Calibrated monitors
  • Professional encoders

And when it comes time to decide on format, one should ask themselves the following:

  • Who will access this material? (An institution with high speed internet connections, or the general public with varying types of connections)
  • Anticipate the materials future use and needs

All this can feel overwhelming, that's why it's good to put together a realistic timeline, along with areas of cost, such as initial prep, shipping, digitization, storage and of course long-term management. It won't get done over night and it's ongoing. As archivists, librarians, preservationists, project managers, personal legacy holders, we all just have to take it one step at a time.

As you can tell by this extra long post, there was much information covered in the course of these 4 hour workshops and I didn't even come close to covering all of it. Just think if I would have attended the whole conference?!?

Please email with any additions or corrections to this post. I was taking notes very quickly.




NYFF Convergence on Documentary by KirstenStudio

This past weekend was the second year of Convergence, "... an ongoing initiative of the New York Film Festival focused on the intersection of technology and storytelling.", and the second year I've attended some of the panels, presentations and screenings. This time I just focused on Documentary specific events. Saturday I sat in on the Transmedia Storytelling and Documentary Film panel, which boasted Orlando Bagwell moderating a discussion with representatives from Harmony Institute, Call2Action, along with filmmakers who are all using transmedia to reach and interact with their audiences and even look at what it all means.

Each panelist had the opportunity to present examples of their works and walk through its developments and growths. Bagwell, a documentary filmmaker in his own right, and until just recently, of Ford Foundation's JustFilms, prompted discussion points.

ttwTia Lessin, Co-Producer/Director of Trouble the Water (2008) presented  various ways she and her film partner, Carl Dean, involved not only audiences beyond the viewing experience, but also the subjects of their film and their community.  In this story about failed government infrastructure and racism in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, told through the personal journeys of two residents, Lessin said they approached the transmedia aspect by building robust website. It ultimately became a go-to resource where visitors could share their story, along with the option to host a screening and access study guides. Other outreach arms included one of the main character's music, Kimberly Rivers Roberts, who performed along with screenings of Trouble the Water. What was probably most unique was the opportunity of being included in the HBO dramatic series Treme. Not only did protagonists Kimberly River Roberts and her husband, Scott Roberts appear in multiple episodes, but the documentary itself was mentioned and scenes from the film were shown when a Treme character watches it on his laptop. Lessin also discussed Citizen Koch (2013), a documentary on big money influence on elections, which ironically became a subject in itself on big money influence on public media. See related New York Times article here.

Filmmaker and journalist, Tom Jennings, presented his work through his independent film company, 2 Over 10, which mostly produces Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 2.53.57 PMworks for Frontline. Jennings laid out the various ways he's used transmedia to illustrate investigative storytelling. His examples were Frontline productions, which used video and graphics along with case documents, such as autopsy reports, in a visual compelling timeline on the website. Viewers have the option to just watch video, or to more deeply explore each case. Another example, which I too found equally as engaging (and I'm not a big investigative reporting consumer) was Jennings on camera, telling the story of David Coleman Headley, using graphics that resembled writing on a white board as he explained a case. The graphics were terrific and proved a creative and immersive approach to storytelling of this nature.

Founder and CEO of Call2Action, Charlotte Rademaekers presented next, covering what Call2Action offers, an online service whose "mission is to transform more viewers into doers for purpose-driven campaigns".  The Call2Action site explains what it does best and that is, "by leveraging video, action tools and social media, we remove barriers to participation so people can get inspired AND take action wherever Sparks are posted: on websites, in the Facebook newsfeed, in blog posts and ad spots, and now via mobile." Rademaeker noted that simple direct action options work best, but it depends on the campaign too. She did point out that in many cases bigger asks get bigger hits, so something like "Pledge", a simple and free action, might get fewer hits than something that requires a bigger commitment, such as "Host a Screening". In other words, people want to feel involved when they are touched by a story and are willing to take real action in the moment they feel most touched by something. Call2Action helps facilitate and make it easier for consumers to "do", rather than passively watch.

photo copy 2Debika Shome, Deputy Director at Harmony Institute talked impact and metrics, which makes my head spin, but that alone is just cause for the need of Harmony. Filmmakers working in the social issue realm know that being able to measure the effectiveness of a documentary has become more important in this sphere. Finding time to gather data, learn from the information and then figure out what to do with it seems like a full time job in itself, so Harmony is here to help.  What it does in a nutshell is track the impact of entertainment media on individuals and society. To put it in context to documentary films, Shome sited the example of Waiting for Superman (2010), a story about education reform, where they applied a variety of analysis to look at what viewers were taking away from watching the film. See the case study here.

The 90 to 5 Editing Challenge by KirstenStudio

Planet 9 From Outer Space (1959) Crafting a story is about making choices. What information is essential to the narrative, whether it be for artistic, practical, or emotional reasons, as a storyteller, one has to constantly make choices, cut by cut, frame by frame. Any choice has the potential to drastically change story direction.

With a feature length film, a filmmaker, and often a team of other crafts people, make those choices and hopefully it turns into a powerful and immersive 90 minute experience. Many many hours of footage is brought down to approximately 1.5 hours with much sweat and debate in order to arrive at something that a patron wants to watch, while maintaining a certain momentum and clarity. This speaks above all the position of Editor.

Screen Shot 2013-08-31 at 4.44.19 PMThe 90to5 Editing Challenge asks its editor and filmmaker audience to take a 90 minute film which exists in the public domain, and bring it down to 5 minutes, while staying loyal to the movie's original story. This is an excellent opportunity to refine one's cutting skill set, or for first timers, to take the plunge and try their hand at editing. For anyone with a passion for crafting visual storytelling this way, it can also be a heck of a lot of fun too. (Okay, full disclosure, I am thrilled to be on the jury panel for 90to5 this year, but I wouldn't be on it, if I didn't believe in its value.)

These type of exercises are great for sharpening one's abilities because they offer some structure within to work. One can practice editing all they want, but sometimes an assignment, and the promise of awesome prizes for the winners, are a great motivators.

Some years ago I entered a contest where the parameters were to choose between one of maybe four or five given films, cut a trailer for it, but switch the genre. Out of the list of films that were given, I chose the Sci-fi classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still, cut a trailer for it and switched the genre to Film Noir. I have to admit though, as a fairly inexperienced editor, I was at a loss. I sat at the editing station and stared at the footage and an empty timeline. I finally started to throw random bits into the sequence, just so I had something in there.  I finally got to a point where I had built up the tinniest of moments that seemed to have some potential, when a senior editor came to my rescue and offered mentorship. Without his time, encouragement and suggestions, I probably wouldn't have had an entry on submission day. That contest was exactly what I needed in order to get myself to the next level. Not to say I was a senior editor the next day, but I reflect on it as a major step in my understanding of editing and the power of choices to shape a story. Did I win a prize? Nope, but I did received an honorable mention and a much improved sense of storytelling. Here is my 2006 entry.

I encourage anyone interested in storytelling and editing to give the 90to5 Editing Challenge a try. Check out some entries for inspiration. After all, how can you resist a 5 minute version of Planet 9 From Outer Space? It's Planet 9 in a nutshell. If you ask me, repurposing public domain footage is a blast. The first submission deadline has already passed, but it's not too late to participate, but the sooner, the better. When you submit after September 15th, for the first time, your submission is final and can't be updated. So it's a good idea to submit early in order to be able to update. The idea being, your peers can comment on your submission and you will have the opportunity to take critiques into consideration and make changes. How cool is that? If that isn't enough incentive, check out the nifty awards for the winner's hard work. Happy Cutting!

The audio slip saga report by KirstenStudio

172146__his_girl_friday_lI had never encountered audio slipping before, but after experiencing it, and in turn, troubleshooting the issue, I understand that it isn't an uncommon problem in Final Cut Pro, which is what I edited this particular project on. Because of the frustration involved with resolving the issue, I thought I'd share the problem and the solution for this particular set of circumstances, in hopes that it might help others who come up against this kind of headache, as a result of similar project missteps.

First off, I was working in Final Cut Pro 7 with 8mm silent films that had been transferred to Apple ProRes 422, 1920 x 1080 files at 16.99 fps. I chose a sequence setting I thought closest to the video, which were the ProRes film transfers, mixed with still images that were hi-rez Tiff files (not over 3000 pixel aspect ratio, as learned from previous experience with the dreaded "General Error" nightmare). The audio consisted of music at 48kHz, 8-bit and narration from multiple sources, recorded on multiple devices. The variety of audio rates ranged from 48kHz to 44.1 to 16 and the file types were .MOV, .WAV and AIFF. Well, I threw those in there as though everyone was going to play nice, without a whisper of protest, and oddly enough, most everyone did.

However, I noticed that each time I exported my Apple ProRes sequence, I experienced drift in the first section of the export (approximately the first 7 minutes or so) and then audio and video would magically fall back into their intended places for the rest of the 38minute piece. When I would play the sequence inside Final Cut, it would play in sync. It seemed to be something happening during the export.

08As per usual when I can't troubleshoot on my own in short order, I started asking another editor friend or two, which eventually turned into relentless badgering but most had good humor about it. I also began an increasingly  frantic thread search on various forums. Although my fellow editors probably got a little sick of hearing my latest reports of sync failure, and slow decent into madness, I did end up with a few take-aways from both personal editor friends and nice colleagues that contribute to those forums. I found out that some people blame audio slipping on Final Cut and there were a few claims that ProRes can sometimes cause audio drift, but mostly everyone agreed that mixing multiple audio rates in the same timeline is just plain unwise. There were various offered solutions with many different circumstances and particulars, none of which matched mine exactly, but a few that were close. This is what I did ...

I tried different types of exports from Mpeg-4 to various .MOV files with different codecs, to Compressor exports and so on. No export would change the first 7minute out of sync problem. Additionally, I tried:

  • Exporting the audio in my sequence as an AIFF at 48kHz and then brought it back in FCP. replaced the previous audio in the timeline with the AIFF file.
  • Converted a few of the audio files through Quicktime Pro 7 to AIFF 48kHz individually and replaced the 16 and 44.1KHz files and exported sample sections to see if that made a difference. Nope.
  • Trashed the render files & preferences. Reopened the project and re-rendered.
  • Exported an XML and looked for clues of inconsistencies.
  • Duplicated the sequence and changed the compressor in Sequence Settings from Apple ProRes to Jpeg 2000 and another to Animation. This caused FCP to slow way down and in one instance crashed.
  • Media Managed the sequence and reopened it in the new media managed project.
  • Re-compressed the sequence through Media Manager, which resulted in a multitude of errors.

What I did discover after all this futzing, is that the audio slip was happening in the render, rather than the export, but how I finally found a solution was by way of Larry Jordan. I submitted my issue on his site for the bargain price of $45.00 and wrote of my woes. And seriously, it was a bargain. I only wish I had done it sooner. I would have saved a lot of time, however, I suppose troubleshooting is a great learning experience, plus it builds character if you don't implode. Anyway, Larry replied in a timely manner and after one or two exchanges, asked me about my sequence settings, which were HDV.

I had tried to find the closest sequence settings to what my video was and I thought HDV was the best match. In all my frantic emails to other editor compadres, I never mentioned the HDV setting, even though I had managed to name every other detail of the project. Larry suggested that I use something else that was close to the majority of my contents specs but to also convert all my audio files through Compressor to be 48kHz, 16-bit and rebuild at least those first 7 minutes of the project. It worked!

SANDRA DEEI created a new sequence, not using HDV, but an Apple ProRes 422 1920 X 1080p, 24fps. I then used compressor to convert all my audio elements in that first 7 minutes to 48kHz, 16-bit, AIFF stereo audio, then brought those audio files back into my new (non-HDV) sequence. Once I had my sequence rebuilt I rendered. Everything miraculously stayed in place, then I dared to export a Quicktime. Success again. After which I sent my timeline through Compressor to create Mpeg-2 DVD files. Beautiful.

Hope that is helpful to anyone who's experiencing similar problems. I read a lot of threads and it seems that audio slipping can happen in a multitude of circumstances, but this was mine. Best of luck.