The Orange Story: Chicago Premiere by Hannah Kim

Join us Friday December 2nd for the Chicago premiere of The Orange Story at the Chicago Cultural Center! This FREE event will include a screening of The Orange Story along with other short films, and a post-screening discussion panel with the filmmakers and other special guests. This event is generously co-presented by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

The troubling story of Japanese American incarceration during WWII is an important but often glossed-over part of American history. Hidden Histories and the Power of Narrative Film commemorates and explores this complicated history through four short films, coupled with a post-screening discussion. These films are unique in their creative use of narrative techniques to bring audiences into the emotional core of powerful first-person stories. The screening will be followed by a discussion about Japanese American incarceration and how this history is still relevant today.

 

We are incredibly excited to share this story with the Chicago community. Admission is free with RSVP. More information available at https://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/orange_story.html

FORMIDABLE DREAMs EXPANDED CINEMA by Hannah Kim

October 21-22 7:30-10:30pm
Silent Funny, 4106 W Chicago Ave


Performances by: 
Elaine Lemieux (vocals and movement)
Hanna Brock (violin, vocals and movement)
Sara Zalek (vocals and movement and design)
Heather Marie Vernon (vocals and movement)
Jason Soliday (handmade instruments, sound and movement)
Jeff Schroeder (guitar and effects)

Costumes and Props by: Sky Cubacub (Rebirth Garments), Here Heather Vernon, Sara Zalek


Created by Sara Zalek and Eugene Sun Park, this event is an immersive experience of projections, live performance, and sound as we begin to edit the series of short films Formidable Dreams, about an androgynous trickster hero, often out of time, who travels through watery environments where present, sudden memory, and dream states co-mingle.


RSVP for entry

Newcity Announces This Year's Film 50 by Hannah Kim

Newcity’s fourth annual Film 50 list came out today, showcasing the top fifty Chicago filmmakers creating quality work that reflects and uplifts our community.  This year’s roster features six artists whose work has been produced or distributed by Full Spectrum Features. We are proud to have worked with so many powerful local voices including:

6. Jennifer Reeder, director of Signature Move; director of "Girls Love Horses" (featured in Chicagoland Shorts Vol. 2)

15. Fawzia Mirza, writer and lead actor of Signature Move; director of "The Queen of My Dreams" (featured in Chicagoland Shorts Vol. 1)

27. Jim Vendiola, director of “Violets” (featured in Chicagoland Shorts Vol. 2); curator of the upcoming Chicagoland Shorts Vol. 3

36. Lonnie Edwards, director of “Parietal Guidance” (featured in Chicagoland Shorts Vol. 2)

42. Chris Rejano, director of photography for Signature Move

47. John Wong, sound designer and mixer for The Orange Story and Signature Move

(Be sure to check out Lonnie Edwards’ featured cover story interview where he discusses “Parietal Guidance.” )

Full Spectrum Features is committed to supporting filmmaking that reflects the Chicago community. We're excited to see so many of our affiliated artists on this list, and we hope to continue collaborating with these artists who champion our city with their work.

THE ORANGE STORY RECEIVES $160,000 GRANT by Hannah Kim

Full Spectrum Features' latest project, THE ORANGE STORY, has been named one of 20 recipients for a Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant by the National Park Service.

Official NPS press release can be found here: http://www.nps.gov/jacs/downloads/2015PressReleaseGrantAwards.pdf

This tremendous award will support the production of a short narrative film, an accompanying educational website, as well as distribution and outreach. Join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on the latest developments as we move this production into full swing!

Indie Filmmaking: Everything Goes Wrong All The Time by Hannah Kim

Last year, I attended a panel on independent filmmaking at the Chicago International Film Festival. The panel consisted of producers and directors, including one first-time director who was busily touring the country with his first feature and winning awards at SXSW and other prestigious festivals. Unfortunately, I can't remember the director's name or the name of his film, but I do remember an important point he made about independent filmmaking: 

Everything goes wrong all the time.

Of course, this is a bit of an exaggeration. (Sometimes things actually go as planned.) But the general sentiment is 100% accurate. Independent filmmaking is an extremely messy process, one that involves all sorts of bootstrapping, jerry-rigging, "MacGyver-ing," and a lot of other creative problem-solving techniques. Sometimes luck is on your side. Often it is not.

I frequently compare the process of independent filmmaking to putting out fires. There's always a new fire to put out, and you never know where and when the next one will pop up. Unfortunately, a lot of the challenges and hurdles of independent filmmaking are largely out your control: inclement weather, a sick actor, stolen equipment, etc.

But you should never go into a production thinking that these sorts of problems won't happen. They will happen. In fact, bad stuff will happen seemingly all the time. Your lead actor will bail the week before principal photography. Your DP will start doing drugs on set. Your key location will fall through the night before. And so on. (Yes, all of these things have happened to me before.)

As a filmmaker, I want to be able to manage this chaos as much as possible. Or at least be prepared. The best way to learn how to do this, in my experience, is to do some serious debriefing after each shoot. It's easy to point the finger and blame other people for why this or that went wrong. In my mind, however, it's better to focus on what I can do differently as a producer/filmmaker the next time around so that the same sorts of problems are less likely to arise, and so that we're better prepared when they do arise.

In other words, I try to reflect on what went wrong and think about it in an a clinical manner. Blaming others is primarily about moral censure. Diagnosing a problem, in contrast, is about figuring out why something went wrong and making the necessary adjustments and corrections so that it doesn't happen again.

Often, the key to avoiding debilitating production problems is to plan for contingencies. Always have a Plan B and Plan C for every major aspect of your project. It's always better to over-prepare than to under-prepare. This doesn't mean you should hire 50 PA's when all you really need is 5. (That's just stupid.) Instead, over-preparing is a matter of making sure that you're never caught off-guard by a situation that deviates from your original plan. For instance, if your lead actor bails on you the week before the shoot, you should have several viable alternates if you've done a thorough casting process. But if you just asked your roommate to be the lead, well, you're going to be shit out of luck when he decides he's going on a road trip the week of your shoot.

Also, it's important to make sure you have the right people in the right positions. This sounds obvious, but it's often difficult to execute. On my previous project, for instance, one key member of our crew was extremely enthusiastic and wanted to take on a lot. But he was also very inexperienced and, quite simply, got way in over his head. It's easy to blame him for all the things he screwed up or failed to do. But, at the end of the day, the buck stops with me; I'm the one who hired him, and I'm the one who delegated responsibilities to him that he couldn't handle. Yes, he probably should have asked for help when he couldn't do what was asked of him. But it's ultimately my responsibility as the main producer/filmmaker behind the project to make sure the right people are in the right positions.

So on my next production, I'll aim to do a better job of assembling my team and of delegating responsibility. And if I'm successful in this, the next production will go better than the last one. 

When you have the right team in place, as well as a solid plan (and backup plans), you actually stand a fighting chance as an independent filmmaker. Everything may seem to go wrong all the time. But at least you'll be ready.

The Orange Story receives support of JACL Chicago Chapter by Hannah Kim

The producers of The Orange Story -- Jason Matsumoto and Eugene Park -- are pleased to announce that our film has recently received the support of JACL Chicago Chapter.

The Japanese American Citizens League is an historic Asian American civil rights organization, founded in 1929. The JACL monitors and responds to civil and human rights issues that affect all Americans, promoting positive social change, particularly in the Asian Pacific American community.

The JACL Chicago Chapter is one of the most active and vibrant chapters of this important national organization. The city of Chicago has played, and continues to play, an important role in Japanese American history, as the Windy City was one of the primary "resettlement" locations for former internees.

We are excited to have the JACL Chicago Chapter's support as we continue to develop The Orange Story, a narrative film that will depict one of the most harrowing moments of the unjust incarceration of Japanese Americans: the day of evacuation.

Please visit our project website to learn more about The Orange Story.

Queer Filmmakers Meetup w/ Reeling Film Festival by Hannah Kim

We're excited to announce the first ever Queer Filmmakers Meetup, hosted by Full Spectrum Features and Reeling: The Chicago LGBT International Film Festival. This regular meetup will be an open and supportive environment for queer filmmakers and supporters of queer cinema to share ideas, make friends, and build upon the amazing community that comes together once a year for Reeling.

First meetup is Oct. 23rd at The Brixton in Andersonville.

Visit the events page for more details.

Why Are You Making This Movie? by Hannah Kim

As a producer, I'm constantly on the lookout for potential collaborations with talented directors. Producing is a huge investment of time, money, and energy, so if I'm going to work with another filmmaker, it's important to me that we're on the same page. One of the first questions I ask a potential collaborator is this: Why do you want to make this movie?

Surprisingly, a lot of people cannot answer this question. And if they do have an answer, the response is often a jumble of statements that do not add up to a compelling reason. (Note: "I want to make a movie that's like a Wes Anderson film" is not a good reason.)

I ask the "why" question of filmmakers because I'm trying to discern what makes them tick. A person's response to the "why" question reveals a lot about who they are, what they value, and what compels them to make films. Most importantly, it reveals what compels them to make this film.

People make movies for a lot of different reasons. Some people want to become famous. Some people make movies because they have a deeply personal story they just need to tell before they die. Some people make movies in order to get rich.

I'm not here to pass judgement on the various sorts of motivations that people have for making movies. But as a producer, I do want to make sure that the people I collaborate with are motivated by the same sorts of things that motivate me. When this isn't the case, the project suffers because the main collaborators are moving in opposite directions. Or, at the very least, they're not moving in the same direction, and that's often enough to derail or seriously compromise a project.

For instance, if I want to make a movie to convey a message about an important social issue, and my collaborator wants to make the same movie because she thinks it's her ticket to fame and fortune, then we're in for some tough times. We're going to butt heads constantly because we're fundamentally not on the same page about what it is that we're doing.

Another question I ask potential collaborators is this: Why do you need to make this movie now? This question is less about motivations, and more about the bigger picture. I'm trying to determine whether the filmmaker has given any thought to:

  • where the film fits in the larger marketplace

  • how the film and its themes fit into, respond to, and/or reflect larger cultural and social trends

  • what role the film might play in the development of her career

  • how this particular film fits into the larger trajectory of her evolution as an artist

One final thought on all this: It's perfectly reasonable for a person to have multiple motivations for making a movie. You can, for instance, be motivated by both a social cause and a desire to make money. People are complicated, after all, and we are often motivated by seemingly contradictory and incompatible things.

What this means for a producer, then, is that there's no easy litmus test to see if a filmmaker is going to be a good fit for a collaboration. But it's definitely a red flag if the filmmaker doesn't have a clear explanation for why she wants to make this movie, and why she needs to make it now. And the greatest challenge, of course, is when you have to ask yourself these questions. Sometimes the results can be startling.

 

Your Movie Is Worth Nothing. Literally. by Hannah Kim

Over the past year, I've been attending as many film panels in the Chicago area as possible. These are not filmmaking workshops, per se, but business-oriented panels on everything from distribution to fundraising to legal issues facing the independent filmmaker. One of the common themes I've heard is this, summarized rather succinctly by a horror film director: "Content is worthless now; no one wants to pay anything to see your movie."

The first time I heard this message, I was angry, depressed, indignant... you name it. But after about the tenth time I heard this message, and from a wide range of sources, I started taking it more seriously.

Of course, the last thing a filmmaker wants to hear is that their movies are literally worthless. But the reality is that most consumers are just not willing to pay a lot to watch movies, especially online. Online distribution, however, is the reality for most independent filmmakers, since truly independent films rarely make it into theaters. And even if they do, they get a week-long run at a small art house theater that sells an average of like 10 seats per show. This is not a way to make a living. As one filmmaker said on a panel I attended recently, "For the indie filmmaker, a theatrical release is basically just advertising for your film."

So assuming your film doesn't win a big award at Sundance, and assuming you're not the one-in-a-million who gets picked up for a wide theatrical release, how are you supposed to make money from your film? Whether it's a short or a feature, narrative or doc, the answer I keep hearing is this: Merch.

That's right -- good ol' fashioned merchandise.

Your movie might not be worth anything, but if people like it and you can drive them to your website, you can maybe sell them some stuff. This includes T-shirts, posters, and coffee mugs, as well as DVDs with extra features, and, if you can, merch that is unique to your film -- e.g., the bloody knife from the final scene of your slasher flick.

To me, this is all very depressing. I didn't go into filmmaking just to end up hawking T-shirts and hats. Of course, musicians and bands have been doing this for years, and for some of them it actually makes what they do sort of financially viable. And that's the dream, right? Getting paid to do what you love. Maybe this is not exactly the dream independent filmmakers had in mind when they imagined "making it." But it's a version of success that I see more and more filmmakers embracing, because it actually pays the bills.

What about Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, etc.? I've been shocked at how many panelists spew vitriol when discussing these companies and the arrangements they make with indie filmmakers. The thing I hear often is, "Yes, you have to be on these platforms as a filmmaker, but you won't make any money. Figure something else out."

I don't claim to have figured it out myself, and what I'm hearing from the filmmakers a little further along in their careers can be discouraging. But I'm actually starting to feel somewhat optimistic, because I don't have to wait for some rich benefactor or Hollywood producer to wave his magic wand over my head. As an independent filmmaker, I can create my own career, even if it's one that is a hodgepodge of income from screenings, public lectures, YouTube hits, DVDs, and, yes, hats and T-shirts.

Why does it cost so much to make a short film? by Hannah Kim

A lot of people -- filmmakers and non-filmmakers alike -- have expressed interest in the budget of my latest short film Self-Deportation: The Untold Tale of a Marginal Woman. Last night, at a public screening at Columbia College, one person in the audience asked me flat-out, "What was your budget for this movie?"

My answer: $30,000.

I noted that this was an estimate, since the film is still being completed. (If you'd like to help us finish it, please hit us up on Indiegogo!) I added that this figure includes in-kind donations, such as services, equipment, and other valuable production assets. In other words, if I paid for labor and other expenses at fair market value, I'd have to spend roughly $30,000 to make this film.

So why does it cost so much to make a short film?

Well, consider this: Feature films cost millions of dollars, sometimes tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. This is for a product that's about 90 minutes long. Even for small indie films, the average budget is in the $1-3 mil range.

If you're trying to make a short film with similar production values to a very low-end indie feature, and assuming you pay about the same amount for things, that's about $11,000 per minute of screentime. So for a 20-minute short, that's like $220,000.

Considered in this light, $30,000 for a short film seems cheap, and the question really should be, "How did you make your short for so little?"

In any case, here's why a short film costs what it costs: It's expensive to hire cast and crew, it's expensive to rent equipment, and it's expensive to build sets. Add in casting and rehearsals, insurance, food, transportation, promotion, administrative costs, and so on, and it adds up quickly.

Simply put, a short film production (just like a feature film production) is a small- to mid-sized business. When you decide to make a short film, you are launching a small organization. It may be ephemeral, but it nonetheless requires all the bells and whistles of a properly functioning organization.

In some ways, a short film production is actually more difficult to run than a normal small business because it is so ephemeral. The clock is ticking once you're on set, and you and your crew had better figure out how to work together effectively and without too much delay. In this sense, a short film production is more like a pop-up business -- here today, gone tomorrow. There's little room for error, and sometimes you just have to throw money at a problem because it's the quickest way to fix it.

Unfortunately, short films usually don't make any money. They tend to be passion projects, and this is one reason why some actors and crew are willing to work for free or for very little. But, at the end of the day, even if you cut every corner -- feeding people PBnJ sandwiches and paying them $1/hour -- it still costs a lot of money to make a film, even a short one.

Indiegogo Campaign Launching Soon by Hannah Kim

In support of Self-Deportation -- especially our amazing cast and crew -- we'll be launching an Indiegogo campaign in early September. Stay tuned!

We've secured a host of amazing perks from quite a few local Chicago film and arts organizations, and are looking forward to sharing the bounty with all our supporters.

"Michael's Story" Wins Screenplay Competition at AAIFF '14 by Hannah Kim

My script, MICHAEL'S STORY, was selected as the winner of this year's screenplay competition at the Asian American International Film Festival in New York. Totally unexpected, but a very welcome surprise indeed!

The screenplay is an original work of fiction, but draws heavily upon actual events. In particular, the script is a reimagining of the infamous murder of Vincent Chin in 1982, and the subsequent miscarriage of justice.

I traveled to NY in July for AAIFF '14 and got to check out some of the great films. And, as the winner of the screenplay competition, I attended a live reading of Michael's Story, performed by a group of talented actors from NYC. Most importantly, I received some valuable script notes from the judges, which will be of great assistance to me in the rewriting process.

What's an Experimental Film? by Hannah Kim

Throughout the production process of Self-Deportation, I've often described the genre as experimental. Several people have asked me flat-out, "What's an 'experimental film'?" Others, through their various comments and questions, have revealed that they, too, do not really know what an experimental film is.

I'm not a film scholar or professor, so I'm probably not the best person to explain what an experimental film is. But my working definition may be helpful to others, so here it is. It's actually a quote from a film instructor I had a few years ago:

An experimental film is any film that experiments with some aspect of the filmmaking process -- e.g., editing of visuals and/or audio, filming techniques, and even the mode of presentation.

He added something else that I think is useful to bear in mind. Since experimental films are trying out something new and untested, they might fail. Experiments, by their very nature, are not guaranteed to succeed. As my instructor put it, a good experimental film can also be a very bad movie.

To help clarify what an experimental film is, it might also be helpful to say what an experimental film is not. An experimental film is not (just):

  • a film that is weird

  • a film that has very stylized editing

  • a film without a story

  • a film that is incoherent

  • a film that is fantastical or surreal

Of course, an experimental could be some or all of these things. There are certainly many incoherent experimental films! But the above characteristics alone do not make a film experimental. In other words, these characteristics are neither necessary nor sufficient for a film to qualify as experimental. There are many stylized, weird, incoherent films that are not experimental at all.

So, returning to Self-Deportation, I have vacillated between calling it an experimental film or just calling it bizarre/surrealist. These are not the same thing. Either way, one thing is clear as we work through the editing phase of this production -- the "story" of Self-Deportation is not going to be presented in a conventional manner, where narrative information is spoon-fed to the viewer. Whether this constitutes true experimentation still remains to be seen.