Friday, April 22, 2011

Production Design Meeting

Thursday night was another great night of inspiring talks from women in film doing what they love. Be sorry if you missed it. (I’m sorry if you did.) The best thing about these meetings is always the candidness of our special guests’ stories. Costume Designer Amy Maner and Set Decorator Jeanette Scott weren’t any different. They didn’t just list all of the technical aspects of their jobs, but rather, they infused their dialogues with colorful anecdotes ranging from a phone call with Dennis Quaid to “that one time” after a 22-hour straight shift ended in an abandoned, gasless, car on the side of the road.
While both Scott and Maner talked about the technical sides of their jobs, there’s no question that they love what they do. Scott gushed that one of the greatest benefits of being a Set Decorator is the prep work involving meeting people and immersing yourself in their culture. Whether it be talking with some fishermen who make old wooden boats or having dinner with some town locals as you research the set location, the prep work that a Set Decorator gets to conduct is a highlight of the job and an integral aspect, too. Scott notes that the number one rule to remember when doing your research and creating a set is to ask yourself, is this in service to the story being told? She says that while it can be tempting to choose things you really love or things that “look cool,” ultimately, everything has to be authentic and integral to developing the story. (When you see “The Tree of Life” in theaters next month, take note of the minimally decorated—and authentic-looking—50s style living room. Know that that’s how Scott the job.) Less is sometimes more.
Not necessarily for Maner, though, who likes to juggle an array of jobs. Whether it be costume designing, supervising, buying, directing or acting, Maner keeps herself busy by switching it up a bit on the work front and always staying plugged in to various projects. She encouraged students to do the same, agreeing with Scott that first step is getting your foot in the door and the easiest way to do that is to intern. Interning, says Maner, is a great way to make connections and stay plugged in. On that note, Maner that if you want to work for her, you have to know C Plot Pro, a software program that breaks down a script scene by scene and is something she refers to as "the Bible" for Costume Designers. Keeping up with scenes and sizes, budget and time frame, and keeping actors happy and corresponding with the art directors and the film’s director can be exhausting, but Maner’s passion and energy for her job seem to make it look relatively breezy. Geographically speaking, she’s also in a good place that enables her to do it.
Something both ladies agreed on was the benefit of living in Austin as a film devotee. As opposed to LA, for example, “Austin is nurturing…it’s really a town that is in love with film,” said Scott. Maner agreed, saying it is “an honor” to live here. Hear that, Hollywood? You’ve got some competition.
The thing that really struck me (for the 1040th time and may or may not have gotten me a little misty-eyed as senior on the verge of graduation) was toward the end of the meeting when both guests were encouraging all of us to find our passion, and “do something that makes [us] smile.” If these two ladies aren’t living out the adage of doing something you love and never working a day in your life, then I don’t know who is. On the note of being passionate about your work, Scott shared a story that a professor had told her daughter: this professor mused that so many people say certain fields are too competitive and odds are slim that you’ll be that one successful person in your field…but why not you? If you have that passion and you work hard, why can’t you be the person that is crazy successful in your chosen field?
So find your bliss, the thing (or things) that make(s) you smile, work hard, stay plugged in, and go be crazy successful, y’all. Why not you?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Meeting, Reading, Workshopping

This past Thursday night was script review/screening night over at Reel Women Students meeting headquarters. It was my understanding that we were lacking a few attendants due to Elizabeth Avellán speaking on campus, which, according to another RWS member, was fantastic. But back to the meeting…

In a nutshell, here’s what you missed: attempted robbery, hanky panky, murder, a missing person, relationship woes, racial issues and a dog dying. This was all in the two scripts we reviewed, of course.

The first script, by Kirsten Frazee, was a feature-length script (we only read a bit of the first part) entitled, “Killer Kate.” It was a stylized, Film Noir-type “erotic thriller.” “There is some profanity, so if any of y’all are offended…,” said Kirsten. “Oh, I’m offended if there’s not,” countered another member. So we all agreed that we were all adults that could handle the material, and we were assigned roles for the read-through. 

Aside from One Act Play back in my younger years (i.e. high school), I have never actually participated in a read-through, for sure, never for a film. Despite my hacking cough, brought on by what I assume to be allergies, I had fun playing an old man who owned a convenient store and called other characters, “kid.” (The cough helped me get into character for the old man.)
After we all finished, the floor was opened to give feedback. Kat Candler, our fearless faculty leader, encouraged Kirsten to put some fresh spins on her story. To give her story a good arch, she said Kirsten should know her characters through and through by making pages and pages of character bios. “It’s not about what you do—it’s why you’re doing it,” Carlyn Hudson said, regarding characters’ actions. Finally, Kat told Kirsten to do her homework. “The best writers spend so much time researching,” said Kat. 

The second read-through was for a short script by Sarah Gonzalez with the working title, “Saturday Afternoon.” This script was a drama that tackled heavy issues like race and death. My character here was Amy, and I killed a dog. (On accident, I assure you.) 

As a group, we talked about what was working in the script and what was confusing. We made some suggestions for tweaking the story a bit and even changing the dog’s name. Kat referenced the simplistic beauty of the script for “The Kids Are All Right” where the characters get in, establish conflict, and get out. She also noted the consistency of the film’s theme. (Note to self: re-watch “The Kids Are All Right.”) Her big challenge for Sarah was to narrow down her focus/conflict and cut out four pages. 

Overall, it seemed that both women walked away with some excellent constructive feedback. I walked away coughing, thinking of beloved pets lost, the satisfaction of participating in my first official read-through and an itch to Netflix “The Kids Are All Right.” I’d call the meeting a success…
Next up: Production Design Meeting with special guests and info. on Summer Production Camp, 4/21

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Machetes, Mariachis & Spy Kids: Elizabeth Avellán Speaks at UT

After an evening with Elizabeth Avellán, there was an air of hope whistling through the rafters of the film industry. To be in the presence of such a successful woman in film, was truly the best way to celebrate culture, humanity and the love of cinema! The Benson Latin American Collection's 9th annual ¡A Viva Voz! also featured an art showcase with items from various productions that were filmed at Troublemaker Studios, items from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema and Cine las Americas. To top off a fabulous night, guests were provided with delicious refreshments from El Meson. It was a fabulous night!

Avellán was introduced by Dr. Charles Ramirez-Berg, a favorite among the students in the School of Communications at the University of Texas. Ramirez-Berg took a few minutes to emphasize the importance of Avellán’s work and her approach to film making. Filmmaking is an intricate mesh of creativity and business, this is not an easy task to balance. Film costs are high, money and time are precious resources, and the mix of these pressures sometimes triggers fears and ignites explosive tempers. He then talked about his experience on her film sets, saying that “There is so much difference on her sets when compared to other sets; people were working hard, happy and content, and there were no shouting matches. He said that working with Avellán was very organic. Most importantly, he said that “In a business with a bottom line, Avellán treats people with respect, diligence, successfully combining professionalism with humanity.” These aspects of working in the film industry are often overlooked, and Avellán’s work is a new corner stone in a world of business that is dominated by men.

Avellán spoke of other experiences of discrimination that were directed towards her from male co-workers, but in the end she utilized these instances to create a better mode of production.
She said that being a producer is like being a mom.” A producer has to contend with 150 people who have relationships, children, careers, and various other problems. These situations may not be important to the film, but they affect the labor produced by each employee and these problems need to be solved with care. There will always be bad apples in the working world, but Avellán suggested that filmmakers find good people who have values similar to their own, treat them right and they may turn out to be life long allies.


The over all message received was just a lovely reminder of the golden rule, treat people the way you wish to be treated. Avellán has contributed so much to the film industry and she is a shining example of how hard work and perseverance really do pay off. Her attitude, work ethic, and dedication set a beautiful example for women and men alike. It is so good to know that people like her are leading the way to a new future in film! was touched by such a loving introduction, talked with the crowd of her experiences. Her family was raised in the film industry. moved to the United States from Venezuela. She worked hard to learn English, finished high school, and was even accepted to Rice University at 16. As a young adult, she encountered

Monday, April 4, 2011

Mark Your Calendars: Upcoming Meetings

This week (4/7):

This Thursday is screening/workshop night. We will be showing two short films and reading two short scripts. These meetings are about sharing and giving caring feedback to fellow filmmakers in our warm, friendly atmosphere. It’s got good energy, people. (And might I add, it’s free entertainment…) Take a break from your studying and come celebrate the fact that, come Thursday, there are only four weeks and one day of classes left.

Not next week, but NEXT next week (4/21):

It’s our Art Department/Production Design meeting with special guests Jeanette Scott and Amy Maner. We’re lucky to have these gals! If you haven’t been to one of our meetings featuring guest speakers, you’re missing out, kids. They’ve got stories that you won’t find in textbooks and invaluable first-person advice. (We will also be celebrating the fact that there are only TWO weeks and one day of classes left.)

Jeanette Scott is pretty much the go-to Set Decorator on the big films that come to town “and then some,” as Kat Candler says. Her resume includes “Cedar Rapids,” “Grindhouse,” “Sin City” (also served as Art Director), “Man of the House,” “Spy Kids,” “Double Jeopardy,” “Selena” and most recently, “The Tree of Life,” starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. Scott, a UT psychology grad, has been decorating sets for about 30 years.

Amy Maner wears many hats: actress, writer, director, producer and costumer. She has served as Costume Supervisor on notable feature films such as “8 Seconds,” “Miss Congeniality,” “Stop Loss,” “Push,” “Spy Kids,” “Shorts,” “The Ringer,” and “Fireflies in the Garden.” “Her Lubbock Lights,” Maner’s documentary on her hometown’s rich music heritage, premiered at SXSW in 2003 and has played festivals all over the world, collecting accolades along the way. Currently, Maner is in pre-production as Associate Producer on “The Broken,” slated for release in 2012.

Also, at this meeting we will be discussing more details concerning our Summer Production Camp. Mark your calendars; it’s going to be a good one!