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FLEFF Intern Voices

The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view

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Posted by Kimberly Capehart at 4:24PM
Many guests line up in Park 220 for the much-awaited How to Get Your Break discussion.

Blog posting by Kimberly Capehart, Documentary Studies and Production '16, FLEFF Intern, Cherry Hill, New Jersey 

I'm sitting in at what is arguably the most exciting FLEFF event: FLEFF Lab Friday!

Directors, producers, distributors, and scholars have been sitting in Park 220 all day long, speaking with students and amongst themselves about a wide variety of topics.

Right now, Yong Ki Jeong (film director, Couples, Once Upon a Time) and translator, Changhee Chun (Cinema, Ithaca College), Peter Miller (film director, AKA Doc Pommus), Carlos Gutierrez (Cinema Tropical), Bo Wang, (director, China Concerto), Kevin Lee, (dGenerate Films), Dominica Dipio (film director and film scholar), and Vanessa Domico (Outcast Films) are sitting together at the front of the room, waiting to share their secrets of the industry and answer questions.

Moderator Steve Gordon (TVR, Ithaca College) has each guest introduce himself or herself by sharing his or her own personal story. Their backgrounds are all extremely different; some guests started in film, others started with Physics degrees, and still others began their careers as activists.

What did they do to end up where they are? What advice do they have to offer to other people looking to pursue similar careers?

Here are some quotes from the conversation:


Kevin Lee: "Whatever you do, do with a real sense of purpose. Don't do anything because you feel trapped or pressured into it."

Vanessa Domico: "I couldn't agree with Kevin more. Do what you're passionate about. This sounds like a cliche, but I really mean it: embrace the moment. You need to keep your eyes open to see all the opportunities."


Peter Miller: "I had many breaks along the way. I basically apprenticed for a very long time with a lot of different people. Now I make my own films, but working with people who have done this for a while, who really know what they're doing, is so important. It's something I really think we have to do to learn how to tell the stories we want to tell."


Kevin Lee: "A lot of students in the past have been really surprised that I had a day job for about ten years that was completely unrelated to film. If you're planning on going to Los Angeles or New York, looking for your big break, don't expect that things will just fall into place. You need to hustle and work hard."

"Pursue your passion any way you can and stay open to different things. Sometimes things just organically crystalize into opportunities that you never expected. Your life and your career are things that happen when you're busy working on other things." 


The group discusses the power of social media, with Lee and Dipio referencing the Kony 2012 video as an example of a film that gained support through outlets like YouTube and Facebook.

Yong Ki Jeong:"Social networking allows films to reach larger, international audiences. Korean filmmakers get more support for international works than they do for domestic works."

Discussing activism, and film's ability to introduce activist notions in the minds of viewers, as well as playing off of Jeong's mentioning of Seoul, South Korea, Miller offers: "Go into a co-production with your soul, do something that means a lot to you." 

Peter Miller: "It's especially important, since you're young and trying to change the world, to get inside yourself and realize what you're trying to do. Just because you're trying to make money, doesn't mean you should do something. The world needs your talent to make things better."


Vanessa Domico: "Know yourself and know your strengths and weaknesses. It's good to work with collaborators. A lot of the time you're going to have to assemble a team of people to work with who can fill in your gaps." 


The panel is open to questions!

Q: Are there any outlets that are especially supportive of independent films?

Peter Miller: "There are some organizations that give money out to independent films, but the budgets are growing smaller and smaller. Sometimes individual people give money. When asking for money, you need to know two things:

1. Learn to write well. Being able to write about and explain your film is as important as your film itself.

2. Have a sample of your film to show."

Vanessa Domico: "There's also programs like Kickstarter and Indiegogo"

Carlos Gutierrez: "That's an open issue. Sometimes individual fundraising sites like that take away from a larger discussion of independent distribution and production. I think that we need to come together as a community of independent filmmakers to find more sources of funding."

The conversation continues about various sources of funding and questions about receiving and asking for grants. It opens up to a conversation about the need for a close film community with which to collaborate and on which to depend.


Q: If you have something you're very passionate about, but don't think that anyone would be interested in, do you still make it?

Kevin Lee: "That question is different in regards to Chinese film. In China, a lot of things can get banned or removed from the internet, but a lot of Chinese filmmakers are very persistent. Audience is very important, so filmmakers aren't making films just for themselves, they're making films on social issues that they want other people to see. 

Carlos Gutierrez: "Thinking about the audience can be tricky, because you're just projecting your own ideas on how the audience will react. I think it's more about the relevance of the film: social and economical relevance is most important."

Dominica Dipio: "Personally, a lot of the filmmakers in my country are independent and self-motivated, and a lot of things that motivate them are relevant social issues and the potential for change. So when I feel passionately about something, I am the first judge of its relevance. But sometimes it turns out to be what people want to hear and what they would like to reflect on."


Q: Do you think having a graduate education is beneficial or necessary in establishing yourself in a film-related career?

Peter Miller: "If you want to teach, you probably need an advanced degree. Teaching is one way that people subsidize their filmmaking habits."

Kevin Lee: "I'm pursuing a higher degree because I'm based in Chicago, and a lot of the community there is academia-based. That's just me, though. Sometimes you can learn more from collaboration or apprenticeship than you can learn in school." 

The conversation ends with the discussion of a need for a film community. Use FLEFF as your opportunity to start establishing YOUR own community of filmmakers, audience members, and professionals! 

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