The University of Central Florida’s M.F.A. Entrepreneurial Digital Cinema program requires its students to not only create a feature-length film, but also to raise the $50,000 in order to make it. That seems like quite an intimidating task, especially in this economy, but students’ UCF films have met with success. For Dino Gallina, the economic crisis hit right in the middle of fund-raising for his UCF final project, Red Tide. But this moviemaker didn’t let that get in the way. After a lot of hard work, some interscholastic collaboration and a chunk out of his own bank account, Gallina was able to shoot his project.
Under Long Shot Pictures, the production group co-founded by Dino Gallina and James Q. Mitchell, Red Tide is now in post-production. MovieMaker got to talk with Gallina about his experience in the UCF program and his final project, Red Tide.
Eliza Chute (MM): The UCF program is the first in the U.S. to require their students to raise $50,000 to create a feature-length film. Do you think other film programs should follow suit?
Dino Gallina (DG): I don’t know. I guess in my heart I would say yes. I don’t really know the details or the politics involved in the education systems public or private—I’m not sure how many films and graduates schools could turnover—but if we’re speaking strictly academic, I think it’s a beautiful concept.
MM: When you first enrolled in the University of Central Florida M.F.A. graduate program in Entrepreneurial Digital Cinema, how did you feel about the fact that would were going to have to raise money and create a feature-length film?
DG: When you start, you have a lot of things going on, you’re happy you just got accepted into the program. Our first two years in the program were mainly academic and conceptual work; the film seems so far distant in the future. To tell the truth, I didn’t focus on the former, it was all about making the film. I finished my bachelor’s degree and was looking for work. I guess I thought it would be easier to raise money and make a film with a university backing me, rather then be some kid with a piece of paper asking for $50,000 to make this drug film with nobodies. As the time line drifts by, you start to realize how difficult it’s going be—if possible at all.
MM: Raising $50,000 seems like a daunting task—especially in today’s economy. What fund-raising strategies/methods worked for you and what didn’t? What do you think you would have done differently if the economy had been better?
DG: Well, the economy wasn’t bad when we started. We started to see the signs along with everyone else. Three of my peers had shot their films the previous year. I think they had better luck with investors then us. Regardless, I know it couldn’t have been easy. We all explored every legal way to raise money possible, and maybe some illegal. But no one was coming up with any tangibles. Of course, in the back of your mind in you think mortgages, family, friends and credit cards, because that’s what you read in interviews.
Well, I don’t own a home, so the first thought was out. I think I was one of the lucky ones who got an early commitment from an investor. Funny enough, that investor ended up becoming my partner; his father became an investor. Once the recession hit, raising any financial leads got tough and all outside sources dried up quick. We looked into grants, but nothing seemed to fit. We created a Website and promoted [our movie] virally at festivals and people seemed responsive. But again, no commitment. I don’t know if a different economy would have been different, I’ve never had to raise this much money before.
But I will say I don’t think it was all bad. We ended up getting a better crew because of it. I know that sounds horrible, like we were taking advantage of people when they were down, but typically my crew would have probably been booked for some commercial shoot that I could not compete against in terms of day rate. In the end, I had to grovel with family and leverage some student loans and put a chunk on my credit card. However, we ended up coming in ahead of schedule and, in turn, under budget, so the damage wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. Had the economy been better, I would have hoped to avoid taking out the loan, but we probably wouldn’t have strategized any differently. I mean we really didn’t have a “poor economy” plan, so that’s why we had to fill in the gaps with personal funds.
MM: What do you think this unique program has taught you about moviemaking? What type of moviemaker do you think this program benefits most?
DG: Overwhelmingly this program has taught that cinema is unique among the arts because of its steep financial barrier to entry. Simply put, it’s expensive. The art of cinema in some way should include the science of business. [Indie producer] Christine Vachon once told us while visiting that our budget is our aesthetic. This statement really stuck with me. I think her statement explains the inherent connection between the two perfectly and simply. In the independent world of filmmaking, the same person commonly deals with these two aspects simultaneously, so I think people interested in independent filmmaking would benefit greatly from this program.
MM: Your film, Red Tide, marks the first time that Valencia Community College, Full Sail University and UCF students have worked together to create a feature. What made you want to reach out to students from other schools?
DG: … and just like that we discover the “poor economy” strategy. It was as natural as it was necessary. Stephen Schlow, the Film Department head, and Jesse Wolfe, my faculty advisor at UCF were instrumental in helping shape and incubate the idea and plan. Ralph Clemente at VCC has established a very impressive program that served us during production by supplying our full grip/electric package and camera packages. In addition, Clemente offered us a seasoned, well-trained crew. Full Sail University and David Franko greeted us with open arms and offered us use of their premier back lot, sound facilities and student body. Full Sail University will continue to be instrumental during the remainder of post. So after the plugs and to answer your question, we wanted to get the best and have them do what they do best.
MM: What hopes do you have for your thesis film Red Tide?
DG: Did somebody say Oscar? No, really we would be happy paying our investors back, and making enough to make the next one. But when it really comes down to it, we really hope people can see this film. It carries a universal and important message that the world needs to see.
MM: What do you think you would have done differently, if anything, if you had an unlimited budget?
DG: If I had an unlimited budget I would have scheduled more days. Not that we needed them, but in retrospect I would have taken my time a bit more. Sometimes we were so focused on budget and schedule, to avoid tragedy, that we may have rushed when we didn’t need to. Really, I wouldn’t change much; the project was tailored for the budget and so the budget has become part of what it is. I would have paid everyone a lot more though.
MM: What do you intend on doing after you graduate?
DG: We are going to travel to festivals with the film and do the market circuit. Hopefully we can raise money for the next one. I’ll also continue to lecture on the media arts during the incubation periods of future projects. Short films and music videos are fun to do, so who knows? We shall have to wait and see.
For more information on Red Tide visit www.dinojgallina.com.
For more information on the University of Central Florida’s Film & Digital Media program visit www.film.ucf.edu.