Thursday, October 18, 2012

Juli Jackson on "45RPM"

What was your filmmaking background before setting out to make 45RPM?

JULI: Around age 16, I started to realize I wanted to work with cameras and tell narrative stories. In my small town in Arkansas, my high school had a fairly well equipped AV department to create its own public access channel and though it was mostly documenting sporting events, I learned a lot there -- Enough to decide to move away for college and study film anyway.
I received my BFA in Film and Digital Video from University of the Arts in Philadelphia. The summer after I graduated in 2005, one of my professors, Steve Saylor, hired me to be Director of Photography for a micro-budget feature film he wrote and directed called Beat the Air. We shot over a long month in Philadelphia and I learned a great deal under fire. Almost all our crew were students or former students so I trained anyone I needed for whatever position we were lacking. With few resources, we jumped on the 24p bandwagon and made a feature with no money.

The biggest learning experience for me at that point was understanding that a feature film was really no different than making short films -- it is all of the same elements coming together -- it just takes longer. Right after we finished shooting, I moved with some college friends to Los Angeles with the attitude that I would start small and work my way up. I wanted the camera department to be my home. Three years later, I had worked dozens of industry jobs, some great, some terrible, some for free, some for good pay, but I didn’t like living in LA. and for the most part, I didn’t like the projects I was getting hired for.

When Saylor called me up and wanted to make another indie film in 2008, a dark comedy called God’s Country, Off Route 9 I jumped at the chance to get back to the east coast. That fall, I moved back to my hometown to save some money and low and behold a small but tight-knit film community had developed in Arkansas. So I stayed.

What was the genesis for the script and what was the writing process like?

JULI: The script started as a short film idea developed with a long time friend, Timothy Eubanks. Once we fleshed out some details and I started researching about Arkansas’s music history and finding ways to use those details to build this world, I started to see it as a feature.

Having avoided writing for years, it was difficult to force myself to get the ideas out and work with them. I wanted to just start making the thing with the images I had in my head. But I got attached to the characters and wanted it to be good. And I knew I wanted to shoot it as soon as I could manage it so I used a local screenwriting competition as a deadline for myself. I didn’t place at the competition but I got a lot of helpful feedback and made several more drafts. In fact, I was still rewriting up until production. There are still things I would change if I could but I think it was now or never for this story.

Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?

JULI: Originally I planned to make the film with no money at all; just shoot on my own little Sony EX-1 on weekends or whenever I could get friends to help for however long it took. But I found out that the Arkansas Arts Council was working with the non-profit organization the Ozark Foothills Film Fest to give three $30,000 grants to filmmakers in Arkansas.

The application process was thorough and I had to do a lot of developing and create a business plan with detailed budget, give a presentation to a group of judges, etc. But in the end, the panel loved my idea, it fit their requirements, and I was awarded one of the grants. That money was a jumping off point. It really got the ball rolling and other filmmakers interested in the project.

Although my budget exceeded that amount, and like any indie filmmaker I put myself into debit to finish my creation, the grant acted as the seed for the entire project. This fall, I hope to try my hand at crowd-funding through to raise some money for a festival run and successful self-marketing campaign. I know I have a lot of support out there through friends we have made during each stage of the project and I know we’ll be able to get 45RPM out there where it can be seen.

What camera did you use and what did you love and hate about it?

JULI: I was lucky because of the grant I had a little money, so I could hire a talented DP, Bryan Stafford, with his own Red One and I loved everything about that camera. Of course, I had never gotten to shoot a project of my own with a Red camera so I can’t say I had very many complaints.
Stafford and my gaffer Brent Bailey are very talented and honestly what got us through the tough days on set was looking at the monitor. We were able to get some really beautiful footage and everyone on the crew knew it. The camera work and lighting made us a family in some ways because all any of us had to do was look at the proof on the screen and know we were all helping to make good work.

How does your experience as a DP help you when you're directing?
JULI: In the beginning stages of the project, I didn’t actually want to direct. I just wanted to act as DP/camera operator. At some point, I thought I would do all three. I believe some filmmakers can do that and succeed but the bigger the project got, the less I could see myself handling all those elements well.

My directing experience was limited to a few short films but I made the leap anyway because I was ready to make a big project of my own. I hired an Arkansas based DP with an impressive reel and his own camera and I couldn’t have made a better decision.

My experience as a DP meant I gave as much time and creative control as I could to Stafford. I ended up having to wear even more hats than I anticipated with producing & art department but finding a DP I could trust was the backbone of the project.

Did the movie change much in the editing, and if so, how?

JULI: We are still in post-production, so the movie feels like it is changing all the time. But when I watch the newest cuts all the way through, beginning to end, I’m surprised to find the story I wanted to tell is still there. Details may have changed, scenes shortened, dialogued hacked to pieces, but at it’s core, it is the story I started writing two years ago.

What was your process for securing music (and rights) for the movie?

JULI: I took what I have to assume is a rather unusual and time-consuming approach to the film’s soundtrack. Because the story is about ‘lost music’ with themes of artists and how their work is perceived, I decided that all of the music should be from unsigned or small bands from Arkansas and a mix of both old garage rock and new garage rock.

This meant tracking down old bands and their music, asking permission to use their work, listening to a vast wave of new music and contacting those bands. It is a lot of phone calls and trying to get people interested in the project but it has been really rewarding as so many talented artists has come on board and said yes, including many of the 60s era artists who helped inspire the story idea.

What is your marketing plan for the movie and how have your results been so far?

JULI: My plan for marketing is trying 45RPM at as many different festivals and venues as I can. I just want to film to be seen. Unless a sweet distribution deal drops from the sky, I am planning, and looking forward to, self-distribution through our website. Not only will the DVD be available but also cool artwork from the movie, the soundtrack, and a limited edition 45 of the two original songs recorded for the film.

What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?

JULI: Smartest thing I did during production would be trusting my mother to come on board as a producer. She had no previous experience, but she is a great person that everyone loves to deal with. She knows how to get things done and she knows how to handle money. I would have been lost without her.

There were many dumb mistakes I made as a first time director, but the best I can come up with at the moment is not personally doubling checking that we were getting all our rental equipment for a particular day. In preproduction, we made arrangements for 50ft of dolly track for a big shoot day. It was a particular shot I was married to for the last scene of the film. The morning of the shoot, I arrive on set to find we only have 30ft. of track. And we are in the middle of nowhere Arkansas needing to shoot right away. I had to change the concept of the scene and I am still not happy with it. Double checking that all the ducks were in a row for a scene that was really important is a mistake I hope to avoid in the future.

What did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?

JULI: As I am still in the process of making 45RPM, I have to say I hope that what I take with me to the next project is all the great Arkansas crew members I found.

Friends from Los Angeles and Philadelphia ask me why I have stayed so long “back in Arkansas.” I say I never would have gotten the opportunity to create a feature at this point in my career living in the city and would have never known this talent existed if I hadn’t moved back to the area.
I’m convinced that filmmaking has become decentralized. Why go to L.A. and struggle to work your way up when you can network anywhere, find a group of people you trust, and make the projects you really believe in? This is what I want to continue doing.

45RPM - Teaser Trailer from Juli Jackson on Vimeo.

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