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2009 Traverse City Film Festival Film School

A report by DAFT Board Member Andrea M. Beaudoin

“If you have a dream, make it happen…stick to it.”
-John Prusak

What does it take to get started in filmmaking? Lots.

And for just $3 many people learned bout the art of filmmaking at the first ever Traverse City Film Festival (TCFF) Film School. The Film School made its debut on July 29, 2009 and kicked off with a class on “Screenwriting." Other sessions throughout the five-day program included: Documentary 101, Women in Film, Making Shorts, and Very American Comedy.

Creating a film takes work.

Many elements go into making a film like scriptwriting, creating a budget, story boarding, finding locations, securing equipment and funding. Other tasks include selecting the cast and crew, securing locations and of course shooting and editing the film. One of the most important aspects is the people that are willing to help.

Writer/Director Mike Smith told a group at the Making Shorts class that even though a lot of resources are needed to make a film—there is help available. “There are a lot of resources out there for aspiring filmmakers, especially for students,” he said.
Organizations like Digital Arts Film & Television (DAFT) and The Art Place (TAP) are great resources and eager to help filmmakers—especially students.

TAP, based in Traverse City, has been offering area students workshops and networking opportunities since 2003. The Art Place was also instrumental in bringing the Film School and its guest speakers to the film festival this year.

Among those speakers was filmmaker and DAFT co-founder John Prusak. Founded in 1969, DAFT provides educational resources for students and teachers interested in filmmaking through workshops and scholarships. DAFT also organizes The Michigan Student Film & Video Festival, recognized by the American Film Institute (AFI) as the oldest of it's kind in the nation. “DAFT is a good resource for people getting started,” said Prusak. “DAFT can help in media education, mentoring programs, support for independent films and networking.”

The Making Shorts class at the Film School introduced several short films and the invaluable advice of many speakers. Featured filmmakers spoke about the hard work, skills, equipment and dedication needed to create such a project. For those interested in production, shorts are a good place to start. “There are so many outlets on the internet and the low cost makes shorts a good route to making films,” said Prusak.

A short film can be about anything, an idea, an emotion…anything you can imagine. Subjects are limitless. Like all projects a short must start with an idea. From that the filmmaker creates a script and begins to tell their story. “One common factor in good shorts is that it (the message) hits you,” Home Cooked Meal producer Sarah Klegman, said.

“A short is about one choice a character makes. Even the most mundane things that happen in everyday life can make for a great movie,” said Aaron Jaffe----Trim.
After your idea is born and a script created, there are still a lot of resources, hard work and people needed to see your idea come to life on the screen.

Help often comes from many sources; from companies that loan you production equipment; to restaurants that are willing to feed your crew. Klegman and Smith said the budget for their movie was projected to cost around $30,000, but thanks to the help of many people they spent around $4,000. The pair set out to make connections. They had all night planning sessions and worked hard. Most of all, the film was possible thanks to the volunteers who devoted their talent, time, labor and resources to the film.

Smith added that making a film requires teamwork and people who are excited and support the project. A good attitude, passion and networking are also important to success.
Make connections.

Many in The Biz will tell you that networking is critical to success. Volunteering for projects will get you experience. Meeting people in the industry is a great way to jumpstart your filmmaking career. Following through with your work and displaying a positive attitude will get you noticed. Talent helps, but will only take you so far. You must do the work to make your ideas happen.

A filmmaker must also find a little magic believing in their idea and working to make it real. There will always be challenges, and the chance of rejection. Anny Slater, an Australian filmmaker and speaker at the Film School talked about her movie, The Ball. “The film had its own consciousness,” she said. “I realized I was just a conduit for this thing that was born…it just wanted to live.”

Slater told the group there will always be challenges and roadblocks along the way. For her it was her own insecurity. A fear of rejection. She began filmmaking at an older age and was unsure about how she would be accepted. Slater came to realize, “Filmmaking is something that anyone can do regardless of age. “It’s never too late in life to pursue your dream of filmmaking.”

As her presence at the TCFF proves, Slater never gave up and instead found that the success of her first project, led to future successes. She took the risks she feared and found an old saying to be true, “with the greatest risks--come the greatest rewards”.

Chris Allen-Wickler told the audience, all you need is a camera to start making movies. She encouraged young students to go out and get started.

Writer/director of Trim, Aaron Jaffe, also had some valuable advice to share. “Once you find that idea and make it happen it’s important to get your work out there. Enter your work in festivals, because after you are accepted into one--more will follow.”

A Film School is in the works for the 2010 Traverse City Film Festival.

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