Interview with Filmmaker: Beatriz Browne

Beatriz Browne is a NYC based Producer and Filmmaker specializing in short-form digital storytelling. Some of her work includes a Documentary series for Fatherly, “My Kid The”, and “Passing the Torch” with Hearst Media. She is also currently producing her new documentary film “The Monster of Carmine Street”, which is set to circulate festivals in early 2019. Her work has been recognized by major publications such as Good Morning America, Upworthy, Babble and Popsugar.

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What drew you into the world of filmmaking? What was your defining moment?

I’ve always resonated with being a storyteller and wanting to tell stories, but have also always considered myself a very visual person. I grew up around TV sets and commercial sets, so naturally I wanted to explore the field. But it wasn’t until I was about 10 years old and I watched Frank Darabont’s “The Green Mile” with my dad, that I realized there is so much beauty in storytelling. So since then, I’ve been following and learning about the industry as much as I could, and I think my defining moment was when I began working with documentary-style films during college. I fell in love with telling true stories and showing life as it is.

What do you look for when looking for a project?

There are two type of stories I normally look for in projects. One is involving a topic that I know nothing or very little about, because it gives me an opportunity to learn something new and provide a very unbiased perspective. The other will generally involve a topic that I am passionate about and feel a need to shine a light upon the story for social change. Sometimes the two will intertwine, and I always learn something new throughout my projects, but generally, eccentric characters, cultures and unique experiences attract me almost immediately.

What has been your favorite camera to use?

Sony FS7! While it isn’t the cheapest camera out there, I find it so extremely useful especially when doing a one-man show. Most of the time I prefer to focus on directing or really connecting with my audience, so I like using cameras that I know will capture something beautiful and I won’t have to worry about it too much. This isn’t to say I don’t appreciate cinematography, I 100% do! But it’s a super reliable camera with a great image and great dynamics.

For someone looking to start out what equipment do you suggest they invest in?

I would suggest investing in the very basics, nowadays you really don’t need much or anything fancy to make a film. A DSLR camera (Canon 7D or Sony A7II are my favorites), a tripod, a shotgun and a lavalier mic. Especially if you plan to begin as a one-man band, these are the most essential and portable equipment pieces that you can get.

What advice do you give inexperienced cinematographers who are looking to grow in their art?

Practice, practice, practice. Even if it means pulling out your phone on a daily basis and shooting things that are aesthetically pleasing to you, it will help you begin thinking of all aspects of cinematography. You will begin to understand how light works, depth of field, and compositions, to a point where you can then start incorporating personal preferences. There are so many great resources on YouTube and even great books on the basics of cinematography that I would encourage reading. There’s even a really cool program called Cinematography DB, where they provide courses and 3D simulations of an actual set where you can practice lighting and camera placements, etc.

What is a successful moment in your career so far?

I’m still trying to figure out what success means to me, because I’m seldom satisfied with my work. I always feel there is more I could do. But during my latest series “My Kid The”, I’ve had people come up to me and simply tell me that an episode has changed their perspective on something, or that it’s inspired them, or a simply thanked me for shining a light on a specific story. I’ve even had very non-emotional people be extremely vulnerable to me during a few of the episodes. That to me, would be my ideal definition of a successful moment in my career. It means my stories are capable of being life changing, and there isn’t anything more rewarding than that.

How does a typical day (for you) begin when you are in full swing production?

I normally wake up, have a heavy breakfast that I know will last me a while, and take 10 minutes to just try and be present (whether it’s by meditating or listening to music). I get very excited and sometimes overwhelmed, that to me it’s important to just become present in the moment. Once I do that I’ll then head to set (always with an iced coffee in hand) and go over my director/or producer clipboard, just to refresh my mind on what my day will be like. That clipboard will normally include my schedule for the day, the scenes that I will be shooting, interview questions, shot lists, and overall one-day treatments (I try to do one large treatment and then one smaller one per day of shoot).

What’s next for you?

I’m currently producing and directing a new Documentary, called “The Monster of Carmine Street” [working title], which is about an independent bookstore in New York City and its owner. The store is home to a cultural heritage and an eccentric community of artists and writers, and unfortunately may not be around for much longer due to high rent. Right now we are in production for the film, but it is set to be released in early 2019 and circulate several festivals then, so definitely stay tuned!

www.beatrizbrowne.com

Twitter: @brownebeatriz

Instagram: @biabrowne

The Director-Actor Relationship

When a crew has spent all day building, lighting and framing the world around them, one misstep from an actor can feel like the ultimate disappointment. If they’re unprepared, frazzled, or lost, a set’s collective frustration becomes palpable. Because truth be told, every ounce of preparation – every dime spent – all comes down to them. A shot can look gorgeous and sound incredible, but if your performer is visibly uncomfortable or off, your perfectly-lit, perfectly focused take goes in the garbage. Too many of those garbage takes, and you’ll watch helplessly as your story goes up in smoke.

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As a director, I hate it when I hear the very difficult job of acting being trashed, or made light of by other departments. Sure, actors get cushy trailers and later call times, but their work makes or breaks your project. Taking their role for granted, mistreating them, or failing to provide them with every possible opportunity to craft a high-quality performance is cutting yourself off at the knees. The Director-Actor Relationship is crucially important – and it begins with a director doing some serious listening.

Like many filmmakers, I began my career by putting friends in front of the lens. My early work was almost entirely cast with actors I knew from theatre school, workshops or just my social circle. Part of this was, of course, driven by necessity – at the time, every dollar of every ultramicrobudget went to camera & crafty. But a lucky side effect was a lot of built-in familiarity. Rapport and a common creative language was always pre-established. Because the actors and I could get on the same page in a quick conversation – even moments before calling action – I was free to spend more time wrestling with the technical elements of directing.

When I stepped outside of this cozy comfort zone and began working with actors who were new to me, I quickly learned that I’d need to find a way to form deep trust on the fly. There was trial and major error. There were line readings. There were days where I held back out of fear and effectively stunted a performance that would’ve shone with a gentle push. There were days where I jumped around like a Muppet doing a one woman show because I couldn’t verbalize blocking.

…it’s possible that I still do that.

My advice to all directors is to rehearse, minimally, if at all possible. It doesn’t ruin the magic. It builds collaborative pathways in a time & space where getting it ‘wrong’ is allowed. If rehearsals are not an option, I advocate for a sit-down with lead actors before shooting begins, to suss out each other’s styles of communication. I personally like to know which side of their face an actor favors, if they prefer physical or verbal direction, and where we have common ground, both as artists and ‘civilians.’

Most of all, I find it essential that every performer on my set understand that their total safety is my top priority. That ‘safety’ of course applies to stunts and physical challenges, but to me, it’s also a promise that the actor’s image and talents will be well-represented. This gives both sides of the table the freedom and permission to figure out the puzzle together.

In any of these pre-production scenarios, giving your actors tonal parameters & references is crucial. And that means more than just “this is a comedy!” vs. “this is a drama.” As actress Helen Highfield puts it, “It’ll be real confusing if [a director] thinks you’re making Barry and you think you’re making Brooklyn Nine Nine.” Both acting and directing require a person to make thousands of tiny, vital choices. If you’ve communicated the tone and framework of the ‘vision’ & fostered a safe environment for your actor, you will both make choices that serve the whole of the film.

Though I still cast friends as often as I can – and feel very fortunate to know a large pool of incredible actors – I’ve now grown to relish the opportunity to form new relationships & methods of communication with performers. When those rare moments of discomfort arrive, I try to bring it back to that established trust -reminding both of us that we are all there to make the same thing. That we’re just people, with the unique good fortune to play make believe for a living.

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Maggie F. Levin is a screenwriter & director with rock n’ roll roots.  Recently, Maggie worked as a director and staff writer on Season 2 of MISS 2059 (New Form Digital/go90). She is the director of THE FRIENDLESS FIVE (Fullscreen) and writer-director of the groundbreaking VR film VAIN: THIS PARTY SUCKS (Nashville Film Festival, VeerVR & more). Other directing credits include YouTube Multicultural’s REGISTER TO VOTE IN 1:34 campaign, FAE VR (STX Entertainment).

Photo Credit: Sela Shiloni

 

Jana Henry – Filmmaker in Pursuit: April Update

This month has been fast moving. I’m trying to figure out how we got to April so fast. I received feedback from a “Movie Mentor” as I like to call her. Mentors make the world go round. Never be too prideful or act like you know so much that you can’t ask for help. Filming will be starting in May. This is both nerve wrecking and exciting. The fear never goes away but when I see that I am achieving the goals I set out to achieve it keeps me going.

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Not only have I been editing my short film script but I’ve had the opportunity to once again write for Single and Anxious, Season 3. Single and Anxious is a Series created by Christina Faith, and is produced right here in the 215. Table readings have been going great. I can’t wait for the world to see what we’ve been working on. Faith has also been a great help and resource as I develop myself as a writer and now filmmaker.

Currently I’m in a season of life where I am busy, busy, busy. I was able to get away for a retreat recently where the theme of the retreat was “Focus”. Not just hot to focus, or blindly focusing but intentional focus. The retreat honestly helped me not to just look at how I live my life, but how and why do I create. I feel like I got a recharge I needed. Lastly, as you know I’m a reader, watcher, and listener. Currently I’m reading Called to Create. I’m watching Living Single reruns. I’m listening to the Business of Story podcast. In case you were you were wondering what’s feeding my storytelling lately.

Meet Jana.

In her early twenties Jana left her small city in Michigan and made Philadelphia her second home. She holds an Associate’s degree in communications as well as a Dual Bachelors from Temple University in African American Studies and Theater. “Temple not only helped me hone my skills as a writer but introduced me to the world of acting, a new way to tell stories.” Currently Jana is working on her MFA. 2018 she plans to self-publish her first book entitled “Fifty Miles to E” in and is currently working on her first film. A Historian once said “Stories happen to those who tell them”. Jana L. Henry is a writer, creative, storyteller. She is a woman with a story or two to tell.

Filmmakers in Pursuit: Jana Henry

In case you missed the memo, we are following women in film as they journey to pursue their specific filmmaking dreams for 2018. Each month they will document their progress as they leave their mark in filmmaking industry.

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Meet Jana.

In her early twenties Jana left her small city in Michigan and made Philadelphia her second home. She holds an Associate’s degree in communications as well as a Dual Bachelors from Temple University in African American Studies and Theater. “Temple not only helped me hone my skills as a writer but introduced me to the world of acting, a new way to tell stories.” Currently Jana is working on her MFA. 2018 she plans to self-publish her first book entitled “Fifty Miles to E” in and is currently working on her first film. A Historian once said “Stories happen to those who tell them”. Jana L. Henry is a writer, creative, storyteller. She is a woman with a story or two to tell.

Document February.

I learned two very important things this past month. The first thing is I don’t believe I have writers block. I do believe I have perfection poison sometimes. I will stray from completing a piece of writing because I’m scared it won’t be great enough. I will leave words completely alone if I fear the story is not being told well.

 

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I’m an avid reader, movie watcher, and rerun binger. I often find that because of this I let comparison sneak up. It stings me every time. My goal this year is to write, produce, and direct my first short film. I’m going to be honest when I set out with this as one of my goals for the year I thought to myself you’re out of your mind. Then it was a realization. Yes, I am out of my mind. I’m crazy enough to try.

The second thing has been more of a relearning. You have to sit with a text sometimes. Let it work on you. January has been a month of writing, reading, writing, trashing, reading. I know the character I want to introduce in my short film. I know the part of the story I want to tell. I just couldn’t really wrap my words around the world I wanted to put on screen. So, I picked up a book. This then lead me to pick up another book. Sometimes you have to search or do research for your inspiration. Find the thing that will give you the push you need to do what you need to do. I need to tell stories. I have enough script now for about three short films but only focusing on one. This is the beginning.

Connect with Jana.

Instagram 

Interview with Filmmaker: Fann Sanders

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What drew you into the world of filmmaking? Specifically  directing?

When I was a kid my mom got me involved in the arts by putting me in dance classes, music lessons, modeling and acting classes. I just loved creativity. Seeing characters live out stories in moving pictures always inspired me and though I didn’t know to call it filmmaking, I knew I wanted to be a part of telling these stories. So, honestly, I got into filmmaking in a roundabout way. Same with directing. In 2004 I joined a church and a couple years later I was leading the performing arts ministry. That’s when I began directing and it was both, trial and error and trial by fire!

How did you learn the craft of directing? What skills are needed to be a great director (in your opinion)?

I went to school for theater arts. Originally, I wanted to focus on the performance side as an actor, but I got the opportunity to work on the technical side and fell in love with it. By stage managing I was able to work closely with a lot of different directors and while I never thought that’s what I wanted to do, I would watch them – how they organized rehearsals, communicated with actors, collaborated with technical staff, their creative process, etc. By the time I began directing, the information I ingested surfaced and, I was a director. It was a very natural progression. As far as skills needed to be a great director, it depends on what type of director you are. Once that’s determined the biggest skill needed, in my opinion, is the ability to staff your need.

How are you putting yourself in position as a indie filmmaker to find project to work on? How are you putting your name out there?

Fortunately, I’ve had a great network of creative people who are supportive and enthusiastic about collaborating. So, within my creative community we’re either creating our own work or other people who become familiar with projects that I’m involved with will reach out to work together. I’ve also connected with people and found projects through a filmmaking group on meetup.com as well as acting classes, film events and even Facebook. I’m not great with self-promotion. Oddly enough, my name and work circulate through people that I’ve built relationships with; they’ll end up telling someone they know about what I do and I’ll end up getting a phone call or email so, it’s really organic.

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What do you look for when looking for a project?

One thing that’s important to me is, the purpose the story serves. How is the story being told? Is it being told with integrity? Is it honest, and did we care for the characters (are they dynamic and complex)? Those are questions that I ask when it comes to looking for projects because ultimately these questions determine, for me, the purpose of why this story is being told.

What project are you currently working on as a director?

Currently, I’m in preproduction planning for my first short film and script development for a series I created. The short film is projected to shoot this spring – send a prayer up for your girl! And, I’m hoping to shoot the series this summer.

You are an actress on a well known series Single and Anxious, How would you describe your process working with the actors when behind the camera?

I LOVE working with actors! My process begins with acknowledging that the actor’s work and contribution is valuable. I’m big on rehearsal, character development, scene work and the preparation it takes to tell the story as authentically as possible. I’m intentional about taking time to build a rapport and trust during preproduction because when production hits, it gets real and I need my actors to know that I love them, but we need to get these scenes right (lol)!

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One piece of advice do you have for women working to get started in the indie film industry (who may not have access to going to film school)?

There’s so much encouragement for women in film these days because we can (now) hop on social media or open a magazine and see a woman filmmaker. We can go to thecreativeoutsiders.com and be inspired by other dope women creating indie films – there are many more resources available today than there were just a few years ago. My advice would be to take advantage of the resources. Learn about other female filmmakers, support them, search for a filmmaker groups in your area, network, get on sets – just start working. As you work, create your own projects and collaborate with others, you’ll learn so much. You’ll become a filmmaker!

What are you reading right now to help your creativity? What are you watching?

I’ve recently been thumbing through a couple of books. For my acting chops I’m reading Respect For Acting by Uta Hagen. I’m reading Screenplay by Syd Field to help me work through my script. And to keep my heart and mind free so that I can be creative, I’m reading a devotional called Who I Am in Christ by Neil T. Anderson. In general, I like talent competition shows so, I’ve been watching The Four and The Rap Game. I’m also binging Living Single and the last film I watched on demand was a film called Unforgettable with Rosario Dawson and Katherine Heigl.

Tell us about Free Creative Productions?

Free Creative Productions is a production company that I started near the end of 2016. The company itself isn’t a production house (that’s not my ministry.) Since I tend to label myself a “creative collaborator”, working as a multi-hyphenate creative, I wanted a company to produce through. So, whether I come onto a project as a writer, producer, director, creative consultant, etc., it can all fall under Free Creative Productions. I’m also working to release some fresh company branding later this year so that’s something to look out for as well.

What’s next for you?

This year is big for me and I’m excited. In addition to the projects I mentioned I’m also assistant directing a short film which is currently in production, season 3 of Single and Anxious is in preproduction and slated to shoot this spring, I’m in my last semester at the Community College of Philadelphia for my A.A.S. in digital video production and once all of this wraps I plan to relocate to Atlanta, GA… again, pray for your girl!

How can we keep in touch with you?

https://www.instagram.com/fannsanders/

https://www.facebook.com/fann.sanders

YouTube/FannSanders

Interview with Filmmaker: Amber Sealey

Amber Sealey is an award-winning filmmaker and actor who was born in England and raised in New Mexico. Her most recent film, NO LIGHT AND NO LAND ANYWHERE, had its world premiere at the LA Film Festival where it won a Special Jury Award. Amber was selected for Film Independent’s Directing Lab and their Fast Track program with her feature script NEW MEXICAN RAIN. She directed Miranda July (ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW) for her scene in her short film, Somebody, and has worked for director Mike Mills (20TH CENTURY WOMEN) pre-directing his actors for commercials. Amber extensively shadowed director Jamie Babbit on Kay Cannon’s Netflix series “Girlboss,” and shadowed Jill Soloway and Marta Cunningham on Soloway’s Amazon series “Transparent.”

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You were noted of having the reputation as one of the most promising directors of female-driven stories working the U.S. today. That’s an awesome badge of honor to be given. How would you say you developed your craft as a director?

I came to filmmaking slowly. I started as an actor and a modern dancer, that led me to theatre, which led me to devised and experimental theatre, then to performance art, then to video art projects that involved live performance, and then finally into making a feature film. It was very organic and was a natural progression for me. I like to think of myself as always learning, each film, each job teaches me something new about myself and about the craft.

How has your skill evolved since you started directing?

I like to try new things, to challenge myself. I like to surround myself with people who I find smart and interesting, and we learn together. Each film is its own beast, and requires its own skill set in some ways. And that’s half the fun — the surprises, the unexpected moments and connections. You prepare, plan, prepare, plan, and then get to live in the moment. It’s a pretty fun mix of spontaneity and obsessive organization.

What would you tell someone who is a natural at directing but wants to take their natural ability up a notch? What are some suggestions to develop their skill if they can’t attend film school?

You know, everyone comes to this profession from such different places, I would never really presume to tell anyone else what to do or how to do it. Every path is just as valid as the next. What I would say is: if you love it, keep doing it. Stay focused on the craft, make that your reward and success. Stay away from outward markers of success or fame that can get in your head and cloud your own experience with your path. Just keep working, keep trying. There is no one way to do this.

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You had the opportunity to attend the Film Independent’s Directing Lab and their Fast Track program, what is one lesson you learned while attending that translated into a skill that you still use as a director?

I’m a big fan of Film Independent, they really support their fellows and welcome you into their family when you do their labs or screen at their festivals. They are a great group of people who genuinely love film and love supporting new voices. I can’t remember any specific skills that I picked up at either of those programs, but I remember having really enriching relationships with my classmates and with the mentors — relationships that continue still and became people that I have worked with and will work with in the future. It’s just a great, nurturing place to explore your craft.

Many women in film struggle with balance, how have you managed being a mother as well a filmmakers?

I don’t really think there is such a thing as balance, nothing is ever balanced. You just put your energy and focus on where it’s needed in the moment. You become good at blocking out everything else while you’re doing something. When I’m with my kids, I’m with my kids: I put away my phone, I try not to be on my computer unless I have to. But when I’m working it’s the same, I’m not thinking about my kids, I’m working. I don’t think of myself as a “working mother” or whatever the term is. I just think of myself as a person, a filmmaker, who also happens to have kids. But that thing about balance and “having it all” — no, that doesn’t exist, I don’t think.

 

Tell us about your feature NO LIGHT AND NO LAND ANYWHERE?

No Light & No Land Anywhere is coming out at the end of March, and I’m really proud of it. Gemma Brockis who stars in it is just amazing, and it’s her first film. It was made by a really cool group of people who all pitched in because they believed in the project, and I’m so excited for the world to see it soon. It’s a film about loss, and love, and family, and finding connections where you least expect them. There is a particular kind of loneliness that exists in LA, and we really explore that too. It’s raw, and intimate, and unflinching. But ultimately it’s about something very universal: family and loss.

You had a successful Indiegogo campaign why did you opt to seek financing through this avenue and what do you attribute to having a successful campaign?

We ran a crowd funder to help pay for some of our post production, and it was a ton of work, but totally worth it. What I like about crowdfunding is it enables you to really connect to your audience and create a swell of support around the film. It makes you feel less alone on a project. Our campaign was really a labor of love from everyone involved, I couldn’t have done it without my producers, Drea Clark and Alysa Nahmias, doing it with me. Having a successful campaign is all about preparation and being relentless. Let your ego go, and just keep going.

What is your suggestion for women who want the opportunity to direct more projects for hire whether it’s film or commercial?

Make your own stuff. If you don’t yet have the experience to get hired or have an agent, then just make your own things. However small. Stay creative. Write, journal, take photos. Do anything that keeps you connected to being an artist, just keep practicing and making.

 

What’s next for you?

I’ve got a super busy year ahead! No Light and No Land Anywhere comes out in a few months, so we are planning the release of that. Then I’m shooting a short film in the summer which is fun because I’ve only made features and never made a short. And then I’m working on another friend’s film that’s also shooting in the summer, which I can’t say anything about yet but it’s very exciting. Then I have the Creative Acting Class that I teach that is weekly, and regular coaching clients. Plus I have two other scripts in development and am trying to finish another feature script. So, it’s a lot, but having a lot to do is a good problem to have.

 

What are you watching right now and what are you reading?

Actually right now I’m re-reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamot, which I recommend to everyone creative. It’s a fabulous book, especially for anyone who writes or likes to explore their own creative process.

As for watching, it’s screener season so I’m watching all the screeners. It’s hard to watch them all in such a short time! I especially try to watch the small, indie films that no one has ever heard of. I find we all watch the ones we heard of, and we’ve only heard of them because they have bigger marketing budgets, so it creates a vicious cycle of the smaller films never getting a fair chance at awards. Often people vote without even having seen all the smaller, less-known films that are nominated, so of course they end up voting only for the bigger films that had marketing campaigns. So I try to watch the titles that are not familiar to me. It’s the same when I go to film festivals, I avoid the big films that have stars in them that everyone is going to see — why do that when you know they’ll get distribution and you’ll see them in the theaters in a month? I’d rather see the smaller, weirder films that might be much harder to catch later.

How can we keep up with you?

Film Website: www.nolightnoland.com
IG: @ambersealeyfilm