Making a film in your hometown might be the rebirth to your filmmaking you didn’t know you were looking for. I recently had the opportunity to direct a film in my hometown of San Antonio, Texas, and it reignited my passion for what regional filmmaking brings to our culture and reciprocally to the artist.
I have long approached indie filmmaking from a ‘resources first’ approach: write around what you have. In taking stock of what I might have available to me to grow the next project, my eyes fell upon my hometown. A filmmaking colleague had access to a location and camera and some support for bringing a project to San Antonio. With that as our launchpad, we started to brainstorm story ideas that might be producible on a shoestring and take advantage of what we had in front of us. The writers I was working with had little experience with my hometown, so I collaborated by thinking about the people unique to my town. What was singular to San Antonio? Were they multi-generational or transplants? Were they diverse or homogeneous? Were they religious? How were they defined by the outside world? How would they define themselves? I approached the locations in a similar way. What did I love about my city and what locations expressed what I wanted to celebrate about it? What do the tourists miss? What places were underrepresented? And then, marrying the two, how could my city and its characters also express something about my perspective on the world, grown out of this place? Although I wasn’t the writer on the film, this process made the film personal for me and created something very special and SPECIFIC. The old saying, “In general is the enemy of art.” comes to mind. This process of being inspired by the place rather than it being a backdrop or arbitrary not only added production value, it made the characters and story standout because they are so specific and (hopefully) will ring authentic.
Approaching the film this way did several things for us practically as we built momentum for the production. It gave us a hometown advantage in our pitch as we tried to gather support from the local community because we could frame the film as a celebration of the city. We would be hiring local cast and crew in a marriage of the LA filmmaking community with the regional one. We would be using our large social media following to promote local businesses and artists, which would start a great word-of-mouth and audience building endeavor, a grassroots team of ambassadors for the film that would help grow that audience as we make our way toward completion. Audience building, and specifically target-audience building are critical to truly independent and sustainable filmmaking. Often tax incentives are touted as a reason to bring films outside of LA, but those are geared toward larger productions and in my opinion are approaching filmmaking from a different direction. Those larger budget films are not taking inspiration from the place, they are often adapting their project to the place in order to save money. Valid, but not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about something much more micro. Of course, taking our film home did save us money despite being too small to qualify for state and city incentives. People were so excited to be a part of what we were doing and their optimism and encouragement rained down on us in the form of waived fees, free locations, food, donated equipment, and a commitment to spread the word.
Supported by the inaugural experiment Hometown Heroes rally on the Seed & Spark crowdfunding platform, our project quickly became a reality. The momentum of the rally and its focus on gathering followers helped propel the project into the community in advance of our making the film. When we arrived on the scene to start locking up locations and cast, the Film Commission was aware of our project and there was a bit of buzz among local filmmakers. I can’t overstate the impact that has on the film’s momentum. Through my work with Seed & Spark and on the festival circuit around the country with my films, I’ve discovered there is a vibrant community in the independent film world right now that is supported all across the country, not just in LA and New York.
Regional filmmaking is inclusive and leans naturally toward telling stories that are underrepresented. In this time where our country has become incredibly divisive in its politics and culture, it’s my assertion that regional filmmaking offers us the opportunity to reveal that we are actually more similar than we are different. Through the act of making art with people in local communities we would otherwise not be exposed to, telling stories unique to its people, regional filmmaking can unify us.
As female filmmakers, we are fighting for inclusion and representation in front of and behind the camera and as such we are very familiar with how being underrepresented is reflected in our larger culture. We have the opportunity to reflect our experiences and the unique voices we hear by going to places off the beaten path and pointing a camera on them. Not all stories begin and end in Los Angeles and New York, though those cities are full of wonderful ideas and characters. If you are sitting in one of those cities, hungry for making a film, but feeling either uninspired or overwhelmed by lack of resources, consider a trip back home to the place that originally inspired your wanderlust. Stroll the familiar paths, eat the food, listen to the mariachis, take a good look around at the city and people who loved you and made you…start making some lists and maybe you’ll be back before you know it with a camera. The support you find may surprise you. If you are sitting at home, thinking that somehow moving to Hollywood is the answer, pick up a camera and make a love letter to your city first. Festival programmers and your audience are thirsty for that film.
You can follow the San Antonio film, Miles Underwater, on social media or http://www.milesunderwaterfilm.com