BAMcinemaFest, New York’s preeminent showcase for new independent film, began its seventh year earlier this week with 35 titles, many of which have already screened on the festival circuit. From first-time directors to old pros, short documentary films to full-length features, the range of films represented highlights the diversity of talent in the current independent film scene.
The festival, running June 17-28 in Brooklyn, opened with the New York premiere of James Ponsoldt’s “The End of the Tour” and will close with the New York premiere of Sean Baker’s “Tangerine.”
Indiewire reached out to the filmmakers with movies screening at BAMcinemaFest 2015 and asked, “What was the biggest challenge in making your film and how did you overcome it?”
Below are their unedited responses:
“We had a big technical challenge and all of the footage was recorded in a strange unreadable format that made the post-production process a nightmare. Several computers exploded and crashed while trying to open the footage. I don’t know that we overcame the issue.” – Terence Nance (“Swimming in Your Skin Again”)
“The biggest challenge we faced was working with two stars who both had to take naps in the middle of the day. Zazie, who plays Jazzy, was 22 months at the time of filming, and Joe Franklin was probably around 163 years old. Other than that, it was a dream come true. Joe died shortly after we wrapped and we’re delighted that he had the opportunity to see the film before leaving us to host the great vaudeville show in heaven. We are pretty sure that his soul now inhabits Zazie, who has been wearing her hair in a perfectly sculpted combover ever since he passed.” – Andrew Lampert & Owen Kline (“Jazzy for Joe”)
“The biggest challenge was overcoming my own inexperience. I started filming this subject in 2005, and I quit a marketing job in 2008 to pursue the project full-time. After submitting four different cuts of the film to Sundance over the course of five years and being rejected every single time, I took a year off from the project and came back to it in the fall of 2013 with fresh eyes, which is helpful when you’re dealing with a 250 hour pile of amateur footage. The difference with this cut is I had a fully developed thesis of what I wanted to say with the footage before I made a single edit. I was no longer at its mercy.
Because of the limits of the footage and my own inexperience when I captured it, this film forced me to become a better storyteller in order to extract meaning from a giant pile of amateur chaos. That process took me almost six years and resulted in a 17-minute short documentary that almost no one will ever see, bringing new meaning to the phrase ‘pyrrhic victory.'” – Joe Callander (“Gary Has an AIDS Scare”)
“Anytime you decide to make a film the challenge of the whole thing is absolutely insurmountable – until – you pick a date, and say, ‘We are shooting HERE!’ Then it gets easier. Throughout all tests and trials within making ‘Jason and Shirley’ I kept reminding myself what Sun Ra used to say to his Arkestra: ‘Don’t play the notes, play the silence between the notes.’ That’s when it all came.” – Stephen Winter (“Jason and Shirley”)
“We created the film ‘Here Come the Videofreex’ out of an archive of videotapes from 40 years ago. Most of the tapes had not even been put in a tape machine in decades. Many were covered in mold and extremely deteriorated. We had no idea if the quality would be usable. Since the tapes weren’t well labeled, we didn’t know what we would find when we restored them. But we knew and loved the story of the Videofreex and what they had accomplished as a counterculture video collective and the creators of the first Pirate TV station, so we took a leap of faith that we would find enough interesting footage to make a film.”
“Once we began restoring the archive tape by tape, we were able to let the footage shape the story even more then we had expected. The archive revealed more than just the story of the Videofreex – it’s a window into a generation coming of age and a crucial turning point in the history of media.” – Jon Nealon and Jenny Raskin (“Here Come The Videofreex”)
“Shooting on Super 8, which not only carries all the attendant difficulties of filming on celluloid but adds the need for post-sync sound. But the headaches — logistical and financial — were entirely worth it for the gorgeously grainy finished product.” – C. Mason Wells (“JUDY, JUDY, JUDY”)
“Honestly, it’s always the money. But, per usual, the batshit crazy act of plowing ahead anyway makes the thing happen, but not without feeling the intense and overwhelming burden of trust from collaborators and loved ones, all believing it’ll come together but wishing it’d happen before the last minute. Through the help of many, many individuals, it came together – it always does, but it’s always hard.”– Stephen Cone (“Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party”)
“I work a full-time job in the film industry that I’m really passionate about, but that is very creatively demanding. I think of my personal film projects as a hobby. They’re not something that I’m doing towards a greater goal beyond staying creatively fulfilled and giving myself the chance to experiment and express myself.”
“So the biggest challenge with this one was not giving into the temptation to spend all of my free time watching HBOGo, and getting lost in the blackhole of the internet. To actually make time — a little bit every day (usually between the hours of 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.) — to work on this documentary, to stitch it together slowly and in tandem with everything else in my life. I find it challenging to treat my own filmmaking like a responsibility, but it totally has to be one if I’m going to make stuff that I’m proud of.” – Dan Schoenbrun (“The School is Watching”)
“The biggest challenge in making my film wasn’t faced by me, but my actors. It’s an extremely sexual film, and requiring them to put a lot of faith in what we were doing. Prior to the shoot, I had put together a fairly in-depth document showing what my intentions were, with reference imagery that allowed us to talk through how we were planning on shooting all of the nude scenes. Whether it was earned trust, or the delirium of the 110 degree heat we were shooting in, they certainly overcame any hesitation. The reason the film is so sensual and beautiful is because of them.” – Michael Mohan (“Pink Grapefruit”)
“Beyond the mind-altering amount of patience that many of us have to cultivate to get an indie movie made, I would say that my particular practical challenge had to do with space. I had to design the choreography of the characters mostly within a single location, and it took some trial and error to find the most effective use of my limited space. I studied some of my favorite films for inspiration, like Kurosawa’s ‘High and Low’ and Thomas Vinterberg’s ‘The Celebration,’ both of which use a potentially claustrophobic location to great effect. And I worked closely with the actors to find an arc to all of their movements within the story, striving to organize them in frames that remained vital and mysterious.” – Karyn Kusama (“The Invitation”)
“The biggest challenge was myself — getting in my own way, starting and stopping the creative process over the last five years. Trying to rise above the noise in my own head: ‘This is gonna suck…I should probably work on something else…nothing good ever happens…blame it on city hall, cynicism, blah blah blah. noise noise noise.’
I overcame it by having deadlines and blocking out the noise, little steps everyday…pushing through and chipping away and MOST Importantly, having an awesome team. Find the positive people in your life and pray they’ll be on your team. Filmmaking is a team sport, you can’t do it alone and you need to surround yourself with great people. I was lucky to have the best producers and collaborators.” – Bruce Smolanoff (“MUCK”)
“I thought it’d be exciting to make a movie that so clearly has no concern for making big sales or posting box office receipts. My hope was that would be plenty clear from the basic concept of the film and its title. And I thought it could be a welcome relief to screen something that’s not intended to be a stepping stone to anything. That’s been our biggest challenge and I’m not sure if we’ve overcome it yet.” – Todd Rohal (“Uncle Kent 2”)
“Something I’m just beginning to learn how to do is to simultaneously work from an intuitive place while being critical of my impulses and self-awareness — both of those sides of the brain are so necessary. I surrounded myself with great collaborators whose impulses and opinions I could constantly defer to.” – Jeremy Hersh (“Actresses”)
“How do you make a film about talking heads a cinematic experience? We took it as a challenge in our film about Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. As Vidal once said, ‘Two things you never say ‘No’ to are sex and appearing on television.’ Which meant that there was a vast cache of archival material for us to work with — from Vidal’s Italian mountaintops, to Buckley’s sailing expeditions — that were much more interesting than talking heads. The dramas and our characters were operatic, we just had to make them come alive.” – Morgan Neville/Robert Gordon (“Best of Enemies”)
“We had a modest budget so it was hard to compete with larger films for crew. That’s simply the nature of indies. And there were times I could not hold the production back in order to work with my primary team. So we had a few design teams for different units and we even had to have additional DPs for our LA and VFX units. But they were all quite in sync with each other and Richard Wong and Ming Kai Leung’s looks. d Dara Wishingrad and Aiyana Trotter collaborated really well on our set and prop design and art. And on the VFX side we worked with Jean Elston and a team of concept artists, VFX artists, modelers, and VFX supervisors to get the city scape the way we wanted. It was about not being possessive of our work. Instead we were all respectful and inclusive of the best ideas that surfaced from our expansive team.” – Jennifer Phang (“ADVANTAGEOUS”)
“The biggest challenge of making ‘Tangerine’ was trying to pull off a film that would have been budgeted in the millions of dollars 20 years ago… for a tiny fraction of that today. We overcame it with creative producing, wearing many hats and desperate moves like shooting on the iPhone. It wasn’t fun but we’re happy with the end result so I guess it was all means to an end.” – Sean Baker (“Tangerine”)
For previous “Filmmaker Surveys,” check out this one we did on the issue of censorship, this story on whether theatrical distribution is essential and this one we did on whether film school is necessary.
Indiewire is striving to spur discussion in the indie film community about a variety of timely issues. If you’ve got a topic you’d like us to feature, please let us know in the comments section below.