I pay attention to the constantly evolving, ever changing Columbus film scene. I have read recently several people’s points of view of what they think is going on, and most of them seemed uninformed as to what is actually happening and what people are making TODAY, as opposed to 2-3 years ago. In my opinion, you need to see more than just a trailer from 2007 to make any real judgment of where we are at as a community. I make this state of the union as an observer, not a president or leader. I am not a leader and do not seek to be one.
I respect all forms of filmmaking, whether it’s commercial production, art films, drama, comedy, sci fi, action, horror, whatever. Everyone has the right to create whatever they want and do it however they want. I may not like it, but I respect their right to do what they feel like doing. I’m not in a position to dictate what anyone else should make, as I’m not that arrogant to think I know what is best for anyone other than me.
With the 2nd annual 48 HOUR FILM PROJECT, we saw a very high increase in quality films. Last year’s 2008 had about 4-5 exceptional films, and this year there were 9-10, and not everyone who participated last year did a movie this time. Between the initial screening and the BEST OF COLUMBUS, awards show, more of the movies showed that Columbus is getting better quality and seeing these movies on the big screen simply showed that off. Even the least polished movies of 2009 were better than the same level of 2008.
Several new players have entered the field in the last two years. With RAVE, VITAL FILMWORKS, and a few others moving to town and creating commercial and film work, a pretty high bar has been set. People working in broadcast and production like John Jackson, Tim Baldwin, and Bryan Michael Block all entering the fray of indie filmmaking, we’re seeing even more high quality work like AIDAN 5 hit the web and festivals.
We’re seeing a lot more crossover from the professional film & video realm into indie filmmaking with Greg Sabo/Sabostudios and Scott Handel/Ohio HD Video getting more involved in the guerilla filmmakers, offering discounts or special indie packages. DP’s like Al Laus and Alex Esber doing indie films when they work on such high end projects demonstrates the lines blurring from professional to indie.
From the nearly 10 year old guard we are seeing dramatically increased quality too. John Whitney’s MEASURED SACRIFICE helped define what is possible with the 35mm film adaptors (D.P. Gil Whitney) and a somewhat unique storytelling. Anyone claiming John makes typical Hollywood fare simply isn’t watching the movies, but making assumptions. You actually have to see the movies to judge without being ignorant. Louie Cowan has made TWO DOORS DOWN, a web series sitcom.
With cinematographers like Gil Whitney, TJ Hellmuth, Mike McNeese, and Howard Newstate demonstrating the shallow Depth of Field in their work, using either higher end cameras or the 35mm adaptors, we are seeing a much more cinematic style permeate Ohio filmmaking.
In terms of HORROR, a genre with legs still, Bo Buckley & Fearmaker Studios have returned to Columbus. Their latest movies look to be of a very high quality and shot with significant budgets and done professionally. Cut Throat Entertainment had a very successful premiere this week at Studio 35 for their HORROR short film. Not necessarily HORROR, but William Lee, by far and away the longest running Columbus filmmaker, continues to make William Lee features, and has been getting distribution and TV deals cut for his movies. No one can deny the perseverance and never ending dedication William Lee has for his craft.
Matt Meindl, Sean McHenry, Jennifer Deafenbaugh, and Sam Javor have spun off a pop-art scene almost of their own. Mixing experimental filmmaking with sometimes pop aesthetics, these guys are working their own magic in their own way.
Ohio State’s REEL BUCKEYE group seems to have gone somewhat dormant without the strong leadership of someone like Amira Soloman, but several students in the Film Studies program continue to make movies. Some of the former Reel Buckeye students, now graduates, continue to work in film and video making movies of their own, like Ruth Lang.
Columbus State and other schools have multimedia programs and are getting into film & video production classes. More and more people are finding their outlet for creation in the moving picture and sound via basic classes at their school.
The Columbus International Film Festival has taken an interesting turn. They are one of the oldest film festivals in the country, but only this past year have they started to really reach out to the local filmmaking community. With lower submission fees and more unique programming, they are evolving.
If this year’s Cowtown Film Series, I am bias here, indicates the direction of Columbus Film, then I couldn’t be happier. Over 2 and a half hours of new short films, none of which were from the local 48 Hour Film Projects, and demonstrated a variety of styles and genres. From subject matter including a Holocaust documentary to science fiction to relationships to intense dramas, we had some of the best films I’ve ever seen Ohio produce. For the few that cast stones that Columbus filmmakers don’t make movies about anything important, I can only think they are sadly misinformed or just not going to see the movies being made. Not a single generic horror movie in the line up this year. Columbus has already begun to branch out into new areas and tackle more important subjects, and they are doing it well. Anyone watching would see this.
There are pockets of the Do-It-Yourself filmmakers still out there, unconnected to others, that get seen or bump into each other on the web. YouTube often directs me to the work of other filmmakers who happen to be in our area. As is always the case, there is a lot of untapped potential or undirected, growing talent. Whether by choice or a lack of knowledge of the groups that exists to unite filmmakers, they are still out there, doing what they do, at various levels of skills and talent.
INDIECLUB COLUMBUS has changed management. From the well intentioned J. Michael Lewis, INDIECLUB is now in the hands of Max Groah and Bryan Arnold. Still meeting once a month at the Landmark Gateway theater where they screen movies, finished or not, and discussions and occasional guest speakers, INDIECLUB continues to offer an outlet and meeting place. In 2010, I’d like to see the group cater to a more educational, yet informal, format. Things like test screenings of shorts and features, demos of high end cameras and software are what INDIECLUB can excel at. It can still draw in the professionals, but cater to the beginners and hobbyists.
MOFA, the Mid Ohio Filmmakers Association has been a breath of fresh air. Its function has been mostly to provide a social outlet for people interested in filmmaking in Central Ohio. As with any organization, it cannot go without its controversies and opinions. From whatever bar they choose to meet at to how the group doesn’t do enough to create opportunities for actors, I don’t think any of that matters. MOFA’s primary function is to facilitate a social gathering for the purposes of networking for film professionals. I don’t care if we meet in a gay strip club, as long as there are film people present, I’ll most likely go and it makes no significant difference as to location.
As with MOFA, and the film community as a whole, there are criticisms as to the state of the union of filmmaking in our city. I can only give the same opinion every time. The film community is what you make out of it. If you don’t like it, work to make a change, either within the systems there or on your own. Don’t like MOFA or the way it’s run? Make your own group. Don’t like the movies being made here? Then make your own better movies.
Jeremy Henthorn has taken over as the Director of the Ohio Film Office after graduating from USC for screenwriting. Gail Mezey has still valiantly ran the Columbus Film Commission, securing work for local craftspeople with little or no financial help from the city or state. A film commission’s purpose is NOT to assist local filmmakers, but to bring in outside productions to the city or state. Anyone expecting something else is uneducated as to the purpose of these offices.
If the film commissions bring in more paid work, we can train and have more full time craftspeople for our homegrown shoots. We can have actors who work on larger scale productions and learn set etiquette, raising the overall bar of professionalism brought to more sets. That’s one of the misconceptions of the newbies and the ignorant. The work done at MILLS JAMES as compared to LUCASFILM is 98% the same. One has a name, the other is local. Other than George Lucas, they do almost identical work with the same hardware and software. Similarly, a local commercial shoot is virtually identical to feature film and sitcom work in LA. For the craftspeople like gaffers, grips, hair and makeup, etc. there is no difference in their job except geography. To disrespect local professionals is nothing short of ignorance because these people have never set foot on any real set here or in LA to know the subtle differences.
If we are to make the film community “better”, whatever that really means, what I think we need is to keep improving on our own movies. I personally don’t thrive or improve with a sense of competition, but others do. I can’t say that competition is bad in general, only it’s not productive to myself. For other people, competition makes them excel to much greater heights, so more power to them. Whatever makes you do better, do it.
I like strength in numbers. As an example, I think you get more people to a screening if several filmmakers share their audiences and movies. The cast and crew of 3 movies sharing a venue, and their friends and families create potentially new fans for movies they otherwise might not have seen. By drawing in the general public, we can legitimize our movement to have Columbus filmmaking taken seriously, as a real industry, not a bunch of hobbyists with camcorders.
There is the attitude of some that their way of helping the community as a whole is to be the first one to truly succeed and pave the way. There is NOTHING wrong with that attitude. I may not agree with it, but it is not morally or ethically bad either. This doesn’t hurt anyone. Everyone has their own path to success, and if they want to go at it alone, then I wish them Godspeed, my friends. We are brothers and sisters on a similar journey and I cannot behoove them finding their own way.
The reality is that we are all still somewhat competitors. We are vying for the same market share of precious few investor prospects, screen time, and to be the first break out filmmakers to find the success of the Hollywood industry. Even with the most civil of friendships, every director wants to be the first one to get to the goal line and we are not always thinking the best thoughts for someone else’s success because somehow that will take away from our own, which is rubbish. If my worst enemy gets a 3 picture deal or gets into Sundance before I do, I will be elated because I can use that as examples to how a Columbus Filmmaker CAN succeed, and I will parlay their successes into my own. I have no ill will at anyone else because a win for one, is a win for all to me.
Overall, most filmmakers put the rivalries and pettiness aside and work together to make the community as a whole better. As anything in life, a film community is what YOU make of it. You can bitch and moan or you can actively work to make it better.
I see where we are now and where we were 10 years ago, and I can say that the future of Columbus film looks brighter than it ever has. If you actually look at what’s going on, what people are making now, and how we’re now being viewed by the press and public, you can clearly see a much better stasis than ever before.
I’ve never been this proud or happy with Columbus Film. I salute one and all for their efforts. May we all find the success and artistic satisfaction we all deserve.
People have the right to oppose my optimistic point of view on the state of Columbus filmmaking, but some out there have not been to screenings and are speaking about the state of affairs without actually knowing what they are. Similarly, people criticize the groups without actually attending them, and these people should simply be ignored because they are ignorant, speaking out of turn without any facts.
Also, there are many individuals not mentioned specifically in this, but are not any less worthy of mention. This was more of a stream of consciousness. Producers like Phil Garrett, Dino Tripodis, Mike McGraner, Gil Whitney, Victor Matkovitch, Mike McNeese, Michael Evanichko, Scott Spears, and so many others (apparently most of them named Mike) I’d be writing a phone book. My apologies to anyone who feels left out, but we are all in this together.
Peace my brothers and sisters.
Peter John Ross