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.