EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling directors who have films screening at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival.
Screening in the World Documentary Feature Competition, first-time director Omar Broadway collaborated with director Douglas Tirola on the “outside” to create “An Omar Broadway Film.” The film documents Broadway’s life as an inmate inside Newark’s high-security Northern State Prison. Broadway had secretly got a hold of a video camera in 2004 and began to film his experiences, before joining forces with Tirola to bring the footage into a film. indieWIRE spoke to Tirola about his experiences and hopes for its screening at Tribeca.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking?
My attraction to filmmaking comes from two experiences, the first is the intimate view i had of the filmmaking process from my first jobs on movies right as a PA and Locations Assistant. The second is my love of going to the movies which began as a young child. I did not grow up thinking about being a filmmaker as an occupation but I always loved going to the movies. My mom has told me a story about my amazement as a child when i realized you were allowed to go to more than one movie in a day. When I was in college, majoring in poetry, I was able to take a film class where the professor offered everyone one day of work as an intern on his new film. Even though most of that day was spent cleaning out of an abandoned fish market in Hells Kitchen – I loved it. Soon I was lucky enough to be offered a job on that movie. I have worked in film ever since.
I was attracted to the diversity of personalities that work on a movie. The idea that everyone seemed to come together to accomplish this one goal of making a film. How serious everyone took their individual task, everyone seemed to be making the movie for the most knowledgeable and cynical movie-goer. The idea that everything was a challenge and not a problem. This movie attitude that anything is possible, every task can and will be completed, that together we will find a solution to every challenge we encounter and filmmaking presents many challenges. I also liked the idea that every movie you work on came with an all access pass to a different world. Being a filmmaker allows us to enter worlds and meet people in a way few are lucky to do.
What was the inspiration for this film?
Our movie deals with issues and situations that most people already have pre-existing views, my inspiration was to challenge those views and of course pursue the goal of telling a story we have not seen told before. I believe the inspiration of my co-director, which i also share, was not so much to expose life inside prison but to present it from an inmate’s point of view. His inspiration was also to make an independent movie and sell it.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film…
Four of us started making this movie including Omar, and by the time we finished four more had joined our core crew. My approach is to solicit ideas and challenge my own ideas regarding the film as much as possible, hopefully without ruining our work relationships. I believe this leads us to the best ideas as well as leads us to new approaches and ideas that end up in the final cut of the film. Some of us on the crew think more about the audience, some more politically, some with a great knowledge of documentaries and others more as a basic movie-goer who might not often seek an independent film on a Friday night. Everyone who worked on the movie added something special to it, creating a process that allows those special contributions to be presented to me as the director and eventually make it into the film was and is my approach. There is a sports cliche about getting the best athletes on the field. My approach was to surround myself with talented hard working people.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
The biggest challenge is the fact that our co-director is serving time in prison which means communicating with him less than one would hope and also learning to speak in a semi-paranoid code about many topics.
Our filmmaking process began when our co-director’s mom gave us footage that he shot inside prison. However as we continued shooting and editing she would show up with more footage. It soon became clear that as her trust deepened she was sharing more of his footage with us. This was a challenge because we were always wondering what we didn’t have, was there something out there that could make our movie better that we had not been given. A week before we hoped to finish our rough cut the last tape appeared. Footage on that final tape became our movie’s first scene.
I think the final big challenge was coming up with a structure for the movie. While the film is a documentary i believe it plays in a classic narrative three act structure. The few people who have seen the film in advance of the festival have expressed that they could see it being adapted into a script. The key part of this structure was finding a balance between what we called “inside” footage shot by omar inside prison and “outside” footage we shot that was shot on the streets and with experts. Showing enough but not so much of the inside footage so that an audience doesn’t become numb to what they are seeing was our first big challenge. The decisions we made of when the inside footage would play and how it would be continually introduced throughout the movie was a challenge and probably one of the keys to why the movie seems to work.
What are your goals for the Tribeca Film Festival?
I have three very specific goals:
1) Find a partner/distributor for our movie who will help the movie reach all it’s potential audiences.
2) Provide a celebratory atmosphere for the mother and family of the movie’s co-director who will not be here in person because he is currently in prison.
3) Find the time to see a bunch of other good movies playing at the festival.