In anticipation of the upcoming SXSW Film Festival, which runs from March 11-19 in Austin, Texas, Indiewire asked this year's directors: "What shot, scene, or visual element from your film are you most proud of and how did you get it?" Their answers are textbook examples of how independent and documentary filmmakers rely on ingenuity, talent, planning and luck to get their shot.
Matt Johnson, "Operation Avalanche": We did a single-take three-minute car chase sequence that our whole team is really proud of. It was another situation of having no money but wanting to do something impossible, and the solution was just going out and doing it. The actors and camera are doing their own stunts (Andy Appelle shoots the entire sequence from inside the car being chased) and we just kept going until we got it right.
When we first brought this sequence to stunt coordinators, they all said, "You'll never be able to do this for this budget. Cut this sequence into normal coverage." And I'm happy we stood up to them. People outside your team will encourage you to maintain the status quo because it means they don't have to work any harder. Defy that.
Kate Trumbull-LaValle, "Ovarian Psycos": Our rad DP Michael Raines was a rollerblader as a teenager. Some of the most beautiful shots of the Ovas on their night rides were captured because he was "blading" right alongside them. He was able to skate forward and backwards, and that vantage point was wonderfully intimate.
Ti West, "In a Valley of Violence": There is one shot of Ethan Hawke's character standing on a cliff at dusk while his dog leads his horse by its reins across the foreground. It is probably the most incredible thing I have ever photographed. It was just after sunset with this beautiful purple light, way out in the middle of nowhere. Plus, we shot on glorious 35mm.
William A. Kirkley, "Orange Sunshine": In our opening sequence, John Griggs has just taken LSD for the first time. He’s running home and he feels "divinity" running through his body. I knew I wanted him to be running down the middle of the street, we’re tracking alongside him, and slowly his feet start to lift off the ground and he begins floating above the road as he runs. Our team built a rig in the back of a truck that had a pole secured to the top of the pickup, sticking about six feet out on the side. We had our actor, Gaudrey Puéchavy, holding on to a pole secured to a truck and he ran as we filmed a side profile of his feet. When the moment was right, he would lift himself up, essentially doing a running pull-up. The shot of Johnny running was the last shot of the night and we were running out of time to get it. Incredibly all came together very fluidly and safely and I’m really happy with how the scene turned out.
Joel Potrykus, "The Alchemist Cookbook": My DP, Adam J. Minnick, and I wanted the look of a dead forest and to amp up the hints of gold. We nailed that. We got dangerous a couple of times with fire and chemicals. That's the best kind of filmmaking.
Alex Taylor, "Spaceship": We were shooting at a military base when one of the actors told me he studied ballet, so we spontaneously filmed him dancing on the tank in slo mo. He did all these pirouettes and amazing jumps. It's totally spontaneous and so beautiful. It was only later in the edit where we realized when the scene should come and what it might mean.
Todd Bieber, "Thank You, Del: The Story of the Del Close Marathon": I am most proud of the behind the scenes footage of famous comedians just being people. I think this is a rare glimpse into seeing little personal moments and opinions from some people you might only see in very conventional television settings.
Sudhanshu Saria, "Loev": There is a hiking sequence in the film where the characters are lost in nature. The team went on almost 30 hikes, driving out to locations more than six to eight hours away to find something that felt right for the film. It ended up being the most challenging day of shoot for the cast and crew but that sequence really opens up the film and gives it a spiritual lift.
Mark Cousins, "I am Belfast": The salt hill scene. Whilst walking by the Belfast docks I came across a startling hill of salt which looked like an iceberg. My producers got permission to film it. The sun came out, and a lake of saltwater reflected the hill. The location would give us two sequences in the film, but we only had an hour, so Chris Doyle and I each filmed with our cameras, and we used almost all the shots.
Christopher LaMarca, "Boone": There are two scenes in the film that take place in complete darkness other than the occasional use of a flashlight. Often times the farmers worked before sunrise, or well after sunset, and they would navigate this night work using their ears more than their eyes. At first I found myself being frustrated by the lack of available light. Lighting the scene was out of the question because the whole point of the scene was to show people navigating their work in total darkness. I realized the most potent way to capture this was to lean into the soundscape more than the available light and to illustrate the experience of being submersed in darkness.