Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Another Reason To Give Thanks on Thanksgiving

             Two weeks ago I published a blog post in which I briefly explain the journey of Vicissitude on all three stages of production. On this one, I simply want to share what a great experience it was to finally screen the documentary to a group of people. The members of Club Rotario Juarez Ejecutivo were the lucky ones to see it for the first time. This Rotary Club branch from Ciudad Juarez gave me the opportunity to present my project the Friday after Thanksgiving at their weekly meeting. We met at Campestre Country Club where we had lunch together and listened to another presenter before they introduced me and played the documentary.

Community Service, Sierra Tarahumara

           After the screening, I conducted a Q&A session to answer some of the questions they had regarding the making of the project. I was also given feedback and constructive criticism, and there were nothing but positive comments. I heard things from how well the story was structured and edited, to how relevant the music sounded, to how properly the interviews were conducted. Some were curious about the overall budget, others wondered what inspired me to do it, and where I planned to take it next.

With Manuel Papadakis (Kickstarter Donor)

With Gilberto Nevarez (Club President) and Dr. Ramos (Executive Producer)

            After the screening, my editor made a couple of minimal changes as soon as I came back to Orlando from my trip to the border, and now we’re ready to start submitting it to different film festivals. I submitted for the first time to the Florida Film Festival a couple of days ago and I can’t wait to find out if we’ll be able to represent our crew and Ciudad Juarez at this prestigious festival. Also, I just finished a list with other potential festivals for me to submit the documentary to and start getting the story out there. It’s important for me that this documentary gets seen by as many people as possible because that is the main reason why I decided to take this challenge.

            I will keep posting updates on the progress and whenever I submit to other festivals or screen somewhere else. In the meantime, don’t forget to “Like Us” on Facebook and keep up on Twitter typing #vicissitudedocumentary. Once again, thanks to all of our donors, supporters, and anyone who was a part of this project.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Journey of "Vicissitude"

           Vicissitude is an independent documentary that takes the viewer on a journey with several people who have been innocent victims of the drug-related violence in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico Whether they were carjacked, had to shut down a business, or had a relative killed, the feature-length movie pays homage to the thousands of people who have lost their lives since 2008 by portraying a more personal side to the story.

           The purpose of the documentary is to show what people never really got to see on the news, and to give a voice to those who had to go through this experience of radical change. It also shows a progress, which is slow but certain, and the hopes that the city and its people have to once again be free of war.

           It is a project close to my heart since I’ve personally been a victim in one way or another and I lived in Ciudad Juarez for 16 years. The idea came to mind a couple of months after starting film school back in the summer of 2010. I had to write a short story for one of my classes and I thought, “Why not do something based on a case from the situation in Juarez?”

           As the months passed by, I put the script aside but the thought of doing a story about the violence would bother me every night. I knew I had to tell it some way. 

           In the summer of 2011, my best friend told me while having a conversation that she would love to visit Juarez. We had a break for Memorial Day coming up, so we planned a little trip to my hometown. An idea struck me that same night. I realized this could be the perfect opportunity to shoot a documentary. I had just taken two documentary classes, and the instructor, who is an Emmy award winner, had been a true inspiration. After giving it careful thought, I asked her if she wouldn’t mind to change our trip into a business trip. She was all for it.

           I did pre-production for approximately two months. This process consisted of crewing up, contacting potential interviewees, setting up a Kickstarter account to raise funds for the project, getting a hold of equipment, and many other things. I successfully raised a little over a thousand dollars, which I used to pay part of the plane tickets of the three people who came with me plus some other miscellaneous expenses.

           We shot the documentary during the four-day trip and it was nothing but a great learning experience as an aspiring filmmaker and as a person. Our biggest challenges had to do with time, but we managed to get things done.

           We came back with about 150 hours of footage from interviews, and that’s not counting B-Roll. The editing process was probably the most difficult but most rewarding. Having to balance school, work, and extracurricular activities, made it difficult for my first editor and me to get together. Luckily, I was blessed to bump into Mauricio Martinez one day at school, the guy who ended up becoming my editor and who is now a close friend. I happened to be wearing a soccer jersey from Mexico and he asked me where I was from. We had a short conversation before I needed to head back to class from break but we exchanged our contact information. We then took it online. It was here when I realized he speaks Spanish, is familiar with the subject, and one of his fortes is editing. As a result, he ended up editing the project and receiving a producer credit due to his contribution to the structure of the story and for recommending me an amazing recording arts student to compose the soundtrack.

           We finally finished the lengthy process on November 21st, a day before Thanksgiving. I am aware that this is only the beginning, since now I have to figure out ways to get people to watch it, submit it to different film festivals, and screen it wherever I can. My top priority right now is the Florida Film Festival, we have a deadline coming up soon.

           This experience has taught me managing skills more than anything, and it has broaden my network. I hope something good will come out of this story and I can’t thank enough the people who contributed to this project by either working on it, investing, participating, or sending the good vibes.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Is California For Me?


             Two million people in the United States work in the film and television industry in the United States. From make-up artists to costume designers, from writers to directors, from editors to actors, you name it. It is an industry that contributes more than $175 billion annually to the economy of the United States.
It’s also an industry that is related to small jobs that range from caterers, dry cleaners, or carpenters, making $37.4 billion in payments to 278,000 businesses around the country.

            When talking about the motion picture and television industry, one tends to automatically think about Hollywood, but truth is, it goes beyond that. Tax incentives in states such as Louisiana, Georgia, or South Carolina have caused a “state runaway,” taking productions to other states. This is bad for Los Angeles. It has lost more than 16,000 jobs in the past eight years. However, television production in the city of angels has increased thanks to cable stations doing original programming and reality shows; 75% of “Angelinos” working in the industry are involved in reality TV.

            Also, it is a highly competitive industry around the world, if not, the most competitive. Countries such as Canada, India, and Nigeria have been growing tremendously in the past years.

            As an aspiring filmmakers, it is an important question I ask myself everyday. Since I want to become a producer, most people who work in the industry tell me I should move to California because that’s where the production companies are. They tell me I need to start off as a producer’s assistant. But if I were to do set work, people say that Louisiana, Georgia, and New York are ideal places to live. I’m considering work, salary, cost of living, region, and many other things. It’s an exciting thing to think about, since I am expected to graduate in nine months and plan to move right away. When I make the final decision, I hope it’s the good one and that I followed my instinct.

J.J. Abrams’ Mystery Box


             “Why do I do any of what I do?” Asks Abrams to himself as he humorously kicks off his Ted Speech back in 2007. He says people are usually surprised at the mystery of his projects, including the whole purpose of the island of Lost, which happens to be my all-time favorite TV show. He credits his grandfather for inculcating imagination and creativity in him. 
As the speech goes on, he pulls out a box with a big question mark on it. He bought it decades ago at a magic store with his grandpa and hasn’t opened it; he wants to keep it as homage to him. “It represents infinite possibility, it represents hope, it represents potential,” he says after jokingly asking if he’s allowed to cry at Ted.

            I like his description of mystery, and how it can lead to imagination and infinite possibilities. This part of the speech makes me want to start creating something, whether it is a song, coming up with an idea for a short movie, or trying out a new workout exercise. It also takes me back to Lost and thinking of all the mystery involved in the show; it finally starts to make sense.

            I also find very interesting his talk about analyzing and thinking about the importance of investment in character and the meaning of stories when it comes to films. “E.T. is about divorce, a crooked family, and kid trying to find his way. Jaws is really about a guy who is sort of dealing with his place in the world, with his masculinity, with his family, how he's going to make it work in this new town..." His ability to dig to the root of stories is admirable and reminds one to think deeper when it comes to character and story development.

            “The creation of media is everywhere. I use to say in classes and lectures… Go write, do your thing, you don’t need permission to write; but now I can say, go make your movie. There’s nothing stopping you... No community is best served when only the elite have control." As a fanatic of objects and machines, he encourages aspiring filmmakers like myself to get out there and shoot. Indeed, there is nothing stopping us from getting out there and doing something. This quote will stick with me for a long time because it's true. It's amazing to think where technology will keep going to in the next decade and so.

            This man is a truly inspiring figure in the industry because of his hunger to ask questions, create, and yet leave something mysterious behind. Before this speech, I wasn’t that big of a fan of his, but now it makes me want to look at all of the work he has made and re-visit Lost. For six straight Christmases, this would be a gift from my mom. Each year we would sit down and watch that year's respective season with my cousins. Watching the last episode was a bit melancholic.

Monday, November 5, 2012

21st Century Gold Rush

             Start-Ups: SiliconValley premiered tonight on BravoTV. The reality show, which is executive produced by Mark Zuckerberg’s sister, Randi Zuckerberg, follows a group of six geeky, partiers in their late twenties as they try to make it big in Silicon Valley, the most technologically advanced place in the world. Companies such as Facebook and Google were founded here.

             Susan Levison, an executive producer of reality television once told me that the key ingredients to a successful reality show are strong characters and conflict. Based on this first episode, this show has proven to have both elements.

             Even though all six characters have very similar goals and work in the same industry realm, they are distinct and they all have different characteristics that will either make them likeable or unlikeable. First, we are introduced to siblings Ben and Hermione who are originally from the UK. They do business together and are trying to get an investor for their new app named “Ignite.” We then have Sarah, a blogger who reminded me of the “pretty mean girl of the club.” Her connections in Silicon Valley have made her very successful, and one should not be fooled only by her looks. Our fourth character is Kim, a tough-looking digital sales director who does online advertising. She is not afraid to express what she feels to her co-workers. Dwight is a determined software engineer who breathes, eats, and sleeps his work, so it’s not rare to see him turn into a party animal every now and then to release the stress. Last but not least, we have David, a software engineer who happens to be gay. Being bullied when he was younger led him to develop an app called “Gosponsors,” which helps you keep track of your goals.

             The episode keeps you interested. After we’re introduced to the characters, they all go to a Toga party at Ben and Hermione’s. It is here that we learn that Hermione and Sarah have a past. Their differences are causing tension not only between them two, but also between Ben, who happens to be interested in Sarah. The next day, the British duo deliver their first pitch to Dave McClure, a venture capitalist. They hope that he’ll invest on the “Ignite” app, only to find out that he wasn’t interested and that they had to face their first rejection.

             I can’t wait to see what will happen with Ben and Hermione as they keep  pitching, because I’m sure some arguments will come up between the two and some drama might ruin their partnership. I’m also looking forward to seeing more of Kim and David. I feel like they were not portrayed that much on this episode, but hopefully we can learn more about them and their intentions.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Queen Delivers


            The Queen of Versailles is an informative documentary about the rise and fall of the Siegel family. Clever and funny, director Lauren Greenfield successfully covers the human side of “the queen” and her self-made billionaire husband. The viewer embarks on a two-year journey with them as they face economic struggles that lead them to make lifestyle changes and make touch choices in both business and their personal lives.

            The documentary, which won the directing award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is appealing and relatable. People all over the world have been hit hard by the recession, and even though this family could be considered part of the “one percent,” the viewer learns how to feel empathy for them.

            I was impatient to see this documentary as soon as I saw the trailer for the first time on Apple Trailers. Luckily, the Orlando area is fortunate to have the Enzian Theater, a non-profit artsy theater that screens independent, foreign, and classic films, and is also host to the Florida Film Festival. A big smile covered my face as soon as I found out “The Queen” would be screened at the Enzian. It was so well received (The Siegels reside in Central Florida, so this must have been a factor) that the screening dates were extended and I was even unable to obtain tickets the first time I tried seeing it. When I was finally able to get a hold of a ticket, I had a great time and I dare to say this is one of the top three movies I’ve seen this year. The trailer only gives you so much. The documentary overall was different than what I expected and as I mentioned already, the fact that they cover a very personal side to the family makes it so much better. It almost makes me want to see a “Part II."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Different Kind of Competition Reality TV Show

A Different Kind of Competition Reality TV Show

            In a day and age when most competition reality TV shows are a plethora of singing races to find the newest “pop star,” I was ecstatic to learn about a new and fresh project, with not so new and fresh people, but anyway, that’s not the point.

            I read a few weeks ago while scrolling down the “news” section on the IMDb website that talent scout Simon Cowell and producer/recording artist will be collaborating on a new show. Instead of looking for aspiring singers, they will be seeking entrepreneurs and talented individuals with new technology ideas.

            “Singing and performance create a couple of jobs, but this will create lots. It’s about getting in touch with youth and giving them a platform to express themselves, whether that’s in science or mathematics,” said at a tech conference in London.
            From a producer (and even a viewer) stand point of view, it’s great that an effort is being made not just to create a new type of competition show, but to bring awareness in math and science to this country. It may not be a coincidence that this is taking place during a deciding time when the world has yet to see if President Barack Obama will be reelected.

            “We’re starting to see gains in math and science in some of the schools that are the toughest for kids,” said the President during the second Presidential debate two days ago. To narrow it down, the point I’m trying to make is that there is a possibility that pop culture is slowly starting to shift more towards a political and “down-to-earth” perspective. I mean, there are two other shows with similar concepts. There is Shark Tank which airs on ABC and an upcoming show starring Mark Zuckerberg's sister which will air on Bravo. 

            Many question if is adequate for this type of show, and I say yes. According to article written by Emi Kolawole for The Washington Post, The first song to ever be broadcast from Mars was composed by him, and has worked closely with Segway inventor and For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) founder Dean Kamen. He collaborated last year with Kamen to air the FIRST Robotics Competition on ABC.

            Titled X Factor for Tech, the new show may contribute to the growth of job creations if it is done right and meets its purpose. The big question is if viewers may be interested in watching unknown scientists, mathematicians, and engineers every week.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Domestic Milestone for Universal

         There are still three months left this year and four features yet to be released by Universal Pictures, and the company has already reached a milestone in the North American box office. Universal announced yesterday (September 25, 2012) that this has been the studio’s best year in its 100 year-long history, earning 1.128 billion dollars in the domestic box office, and surpassing the 1.127 billion mark set in 2008.

         Ted, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax were responsible for the studio’s huge success; however, there are four other films yet to be released later this year: Pitch Perfect, which opens next week on October 5th. The Man With the Iron Fists, set for a November 2nd release. This Is 40, opening December 21st. And the much anticipated, Oscar-buzz musical Les Misérables, expected to come out on Christmas day.

         I think it’s incredible to see how much the studio will earn by the time these four films are released. Les Misérables will definitely make more of an impact. The musical, directed by Academy Award winning director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and starring an amazing cast that includes Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, and Russell Crowe, has been highly anticipated by both critics and moviegoers alike. The trailer gave me goose bumps and I'm anxiously looking forward to it. An interesting fact I’d like to share before I get off topic, is that it’s a game-changer because the music was actually performed live instead of being recorded on a studio months prior to shooting. “It’s so much more powerful. You have complete freedom and control.” Amanda Seyfried said about singing while acting during an interview. Click on this link to view the featurette and learn more about the film.

         Some movies being distributed by the studio next year include The Fast and the Furious 6, Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón’s latest project since his Academy Award nominated film Children of Men (2006), and Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman. I am certain the studio will keep leaving a legacy and I am excited to watch more entertaining and memorable films for many years to come.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Fall of a 122 year-old Medium

Technology, according to the World English Dictionary, is the application of practical sciences to industry or commerce. Over the past decade, society has had to acclimate to many of the changes that technology has to offer. The film industry has had to adapt as well, and such changes have been received with mixed feelings.

Over the past decade, industry workers and viewers have seen the rise of digital over film increase at skyrocket levels. The 122 year-old medium of 35 mm film is on the verge of extinction in both the way films are made and projected.

Digital cameras are more portable, easier to obtain, and evolving so rapidly to the point that filmmakers who once swore never to switch or who campaign for the use and restoration of film are now transitioning.

Martin Scorsese released Hugo, his first 3D movie last year, and will no longer shoot film. “It is impossible to fight,” the Academy Award winning filmmaker says about shooting digital. His latest project, The Wolf of Wall Street, is currently in production and scheduled for a 2013 release. It is being shot digitally by Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, AMC. Another example is Toby Phillips, my boss, who is a director/DP. He is considering selling all of his film cameras and equipment because he hasn’t used them in years. He’s had to start reading manuals for the fist time in a very long time. Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s long-time editor says the shift to digital has been “very quick,” and it doesn’t take much to realize it. Movie theaters have spent large sums of money updating to digital projectors. Film projectors were in more than 99% of theaters as recently as 2004 and rose to 85% in 2009. It is expected that only 17% of movie theaters will screen in film by 2015 according to David Goldman whose article “Digital movie projectors end Hollywood’s film era” came out on CNN Money approximately ten months ago.

Personally, I prefer film for various reasons. First of all, the look is more natural and organic. I agree that in some cases, it is a wiser choice to shoot digital to fit the demands and overall look of a story, such as The Amazing Spider-Man, which was shot on the Red Epic. I’ve had the pleasure of working with film three times. Once as a 2nd A.C. and I absolutely love the process. It gives you more of an appreciation for the medium and it’s a shame that younger generations won’t even have the opportunity to work with it. (You can see the project here:  Also, digital is not necessarily cheaper. Many things are now being done in post, which ads time and money to the process. Another reality that is concerning is that the preservation of this art form is at stake, since digital is perishable unlike film. “If you don’t preserve these things every five years digitally, they’re going to vanish. And who’s going to have the money to do that?” says Schoonmaker.

There is an upcoming documentary that I am eager to see titled Side By Side. Produced by Keanu Reeves (The Matrix Trilogy), the documentary gathers many directors, which include Scorsese, Robert Rodriguez, David Fincher, James Cameron, among others, to discuss the process and workflow of both mediums and compare them.

It is interesting to see where technology will take the industry in years to come, and to see how the workflow will be affected, both positively and negatively.