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Five Productions iW is Rooting For: “Urbanized,” “Mojang,” “Christopher Rush” and More

Five Productions iW is Rooting For: "Urbanized," "Mojang," "Christopher Rush" and More

This week, iW profiles the last film in the design trilogy from “Helvetica” and “Objectified” filmmaker Gary Hustwit. There’s also four doc projects from Kickstarter with films about computer game company Mojang, friendly fire, inspirational quadriplegic Christopher Rush and adoption. [Note: This is the column formerly known as In The Works.]


Gary Hustwit didn’t set out to make a trilogy of films about design, but Hustwit is wrapping up his wildly popular series with “Urbanized.”

“After ‘Helvetica’ was released, I was really thinking about design on all sorts of levels, talking to all sorts of designers,” said Hustwit. “I did so much traveling with ‘Helvetica’ and we showed ‘Objectified’ in 50-60 cities. I was looking at cities and looking at the differences and the ways people lived in the cities, probably unconsciously.”

City design will only become more and more important in coming years, he said. “If you look at the last 100 years, 10% of the world’s population was living in cities. There is 50% now; there will be 75% in 30 years. The rate of change has accelerated so quickly. I’m interested in the ideas of sustainability and economic shifts and how that effects cities.”

The film will cover city planning as well as urban design that is more organic or reactionary, spanning topics like informal housing, economic development, rapid growth, or shrinking of cities, mobility and transportation. Said Hustwit, “We tried to find projects in certain cities that told those stories. We’re making this composite city out of these little pieces of different cities. If we’re looking at a traffic situation in Bogota, that applies just as readily to New York or another city. It’s interesting to see how the information gets shared between cities.” Hustwit noted that in New York, “Our new bike lines came from Copenhagen; the express buses, from Bogota.”

Although Hustwit made all three films through crowdfunding, “Urbanized” is Hustwit’s first film produced during the Kickstarter generation. The popularity of “Helvetica” and “Objectified,” specifically digital sales, rentals, and streaming on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon, have allowed him to fund most of the first portion of “Urbanized.” The team has created a Kickstarter campaign for the last leg of production.

On fundraising, Hustwit noted, “That trend of connecting with the audience and have them facilitate the making of films whether they’re docs or narratives is only going to continue. It would be amazing to have an email list or a Twitter following of a couple million people so you could bypass any kind of studio system and just go direct. As much as filmmakers say they want to concentrate on the filmmaking, it’s all part of the process. It’s part of the filmmaking — writing grant proposals, networking, or going directly to the viewers, you’ve got to do it one way or the other. [Crowdfunding] seems to me to be the most efficient and organic way to do it.”

For more information and to support the film: Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $85,000 by the end of the campaign (March 23).

More Projects:

“Minecraft: The Story of Mojang”

An image from Paul Owens’s “Minecraft.” [Image courtesy of filmmaker.]

Logline: “Minecraft” documents the first year in the life of Mojang, a development studio built on the unprecedented success of a computer game that turned industry convention on its head and rewrote the rules for creating, releasing and playing games in the 21st century.

Production team: Director: Paul Owens; Producer: Paul Levering; Cinematographer: Asif Siddiky

About the film: “Ever since 2 Player Productions formed in 2005, we’ve wanted to make a documentary about video game development. After our first feature (chipmusic documentary “Reformat the Planet”) caught the attention of producers at Sony, we were given the opportunity to create behind-the-scenes content for two of their Playstation 3 titles, “inFamous” and “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception.” Although these pieces gave viewers a rare, more personal insight into that creative process, the scope was still too limited — too confined to one moment in the games’ lifespan. We wanted to really get into the meat of the subject and spend time with a team over a longer course of development. Like many, we became a bit obsessed with playing “Minecraft” last year after it was featured on the popular webcomic Penny Arcade. It’s an open-ended world-building and exploration game that gives you a pickax instead of a machine gun, forcing players to define their experience with only their imagination as a guide. By providing users with a creative outlet in such an unexpected place, the game’s appeal exploded across all demographics, spawning huge online communities and thousands of videos on YouTube where people could share their creations. Upon further investigation, the story behind the game and its creator, Markus “Notch” Persson, was just as remarkable. Between the impact the game has had (and continues to have) on players and the industry, the challenges they face in developing their follow up game, and the continuing evolution of Minecraft, there’s a lot of territory left to explore.” — 2 Player Productions

Current status: The film is currently in pre-production.

For more information and to support the film: Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $150,000 by the end of the campaign (March 26).

Head to page 2 for more projects…

“Before Us”

An image from Hedia Maron’s “Before Us.” [Image courtesy of filmmaker.]

Logline: “Before Us” is a compelling and fragile tale about the reach of family. This feature-length documentary is about discovering my two older sisters who were born on a California commune in the 60s and placed for adoption.

Production team: Director/Cinematographer/Editor: Hedia Maron; Additional Cinematographer: Christy Pessagno

About the film: “I was inspired to make this documentary after trying to write a narrative feature-length screenplay, I kept getting tripped up the by the drama in my own life. After speaking with a few people about the events surrounding the discovery of my two older sisters I didn’t even know existed, I decided I needed to explore this story first. This is a personal story, but one I hope translates to other people’s lives. The goal of my documentary is to facilitate conversation around a rarely discussed topic and to explore the intricacies of familial relationships. If I don’t tell this story, I fear I may never be able to tell another story. This documentary will be a catharsis for myself and the countless others who have dealt with adoption.” — Hedia Maron

Current status: “Before Us” is in the early stages of production. Maron is also searching for a producer.

For more information and to support the film: Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $12,000 by the end of the campaign (March 10).

“Go Far: The Christopher Rush Story”

Logline: A documentary about the life of Christopher Rush, who lived as a quadriplegic with muscular dystrophy yet defied the odds, overcame insurmountable obstacles and maintained an optimistic outlook on life.

Production team: Director/Producer/Editor: Zack Arnold

About the film: “I met Chris Rush my senior year at the University of Michigan. His aide wheeled him into class to a room full of stares and whispers. This was an intensive, hands-on film production course, so to everyone else, the thought of having someone handicapped in their group, much less a quadriplegic, was apparently unfathomable. I took it upon myself to approach Chris and ask if he’d like to join my group; I had no idea how much that simple gesture would change my life.

“Chris was born with a severe form of muscular dystrophy and was given a life expectancy of two years. When he lived past two, they said five. Then 12. When he graduated from high school, he was told he ‘shouldn’t worry about college.’ After he graduated from law school, I think his doctors got the point. Chris took every expectation and shattered it. He had every reason to be bitter and angry with the world, but despite living life as a quadriplegic, he was always optimistic, funny, endearing, loving, and kind. The way he lived his life inspired me to be a better person, and now it is my turn to repay the favor and allow his legacy to live on through this film.

“His short list of accomplishments includes: He was the national ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (Jerry’s Kids); he had a meeting with Ronald Reagan; he met countless celebrities; he threw out the first pitch at major league baseball games; he was an honorary NASA astronaut; he was the first quadriplegic to become a licensed scuba diver.

“But most importantly, he was a motivational speaker and advocate for the disabled, which led him to develop GO FAR (Goals, Obstacles, Focus, Act, Review), a program that used his experiences as a road map so others with seemingly insurmountable obstacles could achieve their goals. The first time I learned about GO FAR was during Chris’ funeral. He died of respiratory failure while studying for his bar exam just short of his 31st birthday. As a family member eulogized him and mentioned this program, I was struck with the inspiration to make a film about him. During my eulogy of Chris I promised his story would be told someday, and I stand by that promise.” — Zack Arnold

Current Status: The film is currently in pre-production.

For more information and to support the film: Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $10,000 by the end of the campaign (March 20).

“A Second Knock at the Door”

An image from Christopher Grimes’s “A Second Knock at the Door.” [Image provided by filmmaker.]

Logline: “A Second Knock at the Door” is a feature-length documentary on friendly fire. “A Second Knock at the Door” offers a rare glimpse into the sacrifice and courage of military families dealing with the terrible reality of friendly fire and struggling with their belief that the Army attempted to seemingly bury the incidents in the “Fog of War.”

Production Team: Director & Producer: Christopher Grimes; Cinematographer & Editor: Travis Edwards; Producers: Beth Leonard & Joe Reno; Narrator: Paul Binder; Original Music: Beth Moore

About the Film: “When the friendly fire incident of former NFL player Pat Tillman became public, I began to wonder how many other Pat Tillmans might be out there. While Tillman’s incident received a lot of attention in the press, I wanted to know the rest of the story. This documentary is based on the original research I conducted for my Masters’ thesis at Northwestern University and for which I received the Public Policy & Administration Distinguished Thesis Award (2008). My thesis ultimately concluded that the experience that the Tillman family endured with the Army was in fact not an anomaly, but generally how almost all the families of soldiers killed by friendly fire. In other words, it was not Tillman’s fame that caused the Army to withhold information from the family, but simply how friendly fire cases seemed to be handled.” — Christopher Grimes

Current Status: The film is currently in post-production.

For more information and to support the film: Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $6,300 by the end of the campaign (March 29).

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