What’s a more accurate term: passion project or obsession project? If you’re talking about Variable’s latest film, Rocket Wars, then obsession is definitely the right word to use. And not just for the filmmakers, but for the subjects of the film too.
From the outside, it’s not always clear what a producer does. Turns out it’s the same on the inside. “There’s no manual for it,” Nicole Irene Dyck told us, a prolific producer who, at the time of this interview, was working on no fewer than six films. “When people ask me what a producer does, I laugh and tell them, ‘Oh, everything’s my fault. That’s what I do.’” It’s an essential role. And as anyone who’s ever made a film knows, a good producer is the unsung hero behind every successful project, and the scapegoat for every failure. So it goes.
There are few people more experienced in cause-based storytelling than Ashley Gutierrez, creative director and founder of Cliff Co., an Impact Storytelling Agency. And that’s due to not only how long she’s worked on these types of projects, but also the specific projects on which she’s worked. Namely, Kony 2012 — arguably the most viral video of all time (at least according to TIME). If nothing else, the Kony film was a testament to the power of storytelling and the relevance of online films — particularly when it comes to causes.
It was tempting to open this interview with some sort of dog cliché about learning new tricks or letting them out or barking up the wrong tree. But the truth is, any cliché used in relation to Animal Studio’s web-series-turned-TV-show, Downward Dog, would be tone deaf. The show is the opposite of a cliché. It’s a fresh, dark, genuinely funny spin on what could easily have been a farce: a talking dog named Martin. “I got Samm [Hodges] involved, which is ironic because he thought it was the worst idea in the world,” writer/creator/director Michael Killen told us. “We landed on this very self-involved, Millennial-toned dog who’s looking back on his life and trying to decide whether or not he mattered. That gave it this dead serious tone, which is actually what makes it so funny.”
On December 7, 1972, floating 28,000 miles above the surface of the Earth, the crew of Apollo 17 snapped the photo that would become known as “Blue Marble.” This photograph — a simple shot of the Earth — would fundamentally change the way humans saw themselves and their place in the universe. That’s what going to space can do. And that’s what taking a picture can do: it can change things. The power and significance of both these endeavors is at the heart of the spectacular new short film, Others Will Follow, written, produced, and directed by Andrew Finch.
Documentary filmmaking takes a lot of grit, to say the least. The conditions can be anything but favorable, the stories you’re hunting for can feel just out of reach, and the characters can sometimes be at their breaking point. After two devastating hurricanes hit the island of Puerto Rico in 2017, knocking out their power grid, awareness around the island’s situation surged before steadily tapering off.
There are a lot of action-sports films out there. A lot. Maybe that’s because in extreme sports the drama is baked in. High stakes (failure, injury, death), conflict (man vs. nature, man vs. skate park, man vs. gravity), and dynamic characters (who does this stuff anyway?). But despite all of this, these films often lack the basic element for a lasting effect: relatability. They are awe-inspiring, yes, but don’t connect. Spellbinding, sure, but hard to remember. They are — not always, but often — lightning minus the thunder.
The first thing Jesse Edwards tells us when we sit down to talk is that he’s a little sleep deprived. He and his brother Joel, the creative duo behind the Emmy Award–winning production studio Evolve, just got back from a six-day shoot in Portugal, a shoot that involved capturing every sunset and every sunrise. “It was super fun,” Jesse says, describing multiple 30-plus hour days. “The whole crew was having the time of their lives.” It was our first glimpse at the MO that permeates everything Evolve does: enthusiasm, adrenaline, fun. They push their work to new, often dangerous extremes not because that’s what their company has become known for, but because that’s just who they are. They’re the type of guys who jump into glaciers. They get close-ups of lions.
The hardest part of making a film isn’t the grueling days, the logistical Rubik’s Cube, or the 10,000 problems that arise over the course of production. The very hardest part is getting started in the first place. How do you go from having an idea to doing something about it? And then how do you keep doing something about it? The great garbage heap of abandoned ideas is both deep and wide. We’ve all contributed to it. But at some point, if we’re ever going to make the film we want to make, then we’re going to have to actually make it.
The way people make films has changed a lot over the past few years. But the way people watch films has changed even more. Video on demand, mobile viewing, subscription services like Netflix and Amazon Prime — all of these things have fundamentally changed our relationship with movies. They’re less of an “event” now and more of a constant presence. Easy to access and just as easy to ignore. What does it mean for filmmakers when massive theatrical distribution is no longer the gold standard, but the goal is still the same: to get as many people as possible to see your film?