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More is Better for Group 101

More is Better for Group 101

Articles - Features

LEFT TO RIGHT: Los Angeles Group 101 members
Jeff Consiglio, Rachel Tejada, Maureen Timpa Hendricks, Aaron
Hendricks and Dina Mande.

The vow was simple enough: make
one film a month for six consecutive months. Three years later that
vow, voiced by five moviemakers weary of slaving in industry jobs,
has turned out more than 1,000 films produced by four waves of auteurs
bent on making better films—and more of them.


“We had to ask ourselves, ‘Why do we bust our
asses staying up all night for industry projects, but not our own?'”
says Maureen Timpa Hendricks, 30, a freelance producer and co-founder
of Los Angeles-based Group 101 Films. “One of us was talking about
maybe taking more classes. But we didn’t need more classes or more
skills—we needed an assignment. We needed a deadline.”


The collective has a right to call itself “the most
productive team of filmmakers anywhere.” Franchised clones of Group
101 now operate in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Orlando, Prague,
Tokyo and Copenhagen, with Dallas, Grand Rapids and Seattle groups
coming soon.


The fourth wave of 65 Los Angeles moviemakers currently
meets monthly, split into 10 cells grouped by zip code. Each moviemaker
shows up with one film each month. The evening is closed to outsiders,
helping give moviemakers what organizers call “the freedom to suck.”


Each group begins with a specific theme, which is
chosen by consensus. “Dirty,” “deep secret” and “nudity” are a few
of the topics covered. A public screening is held at the conclusion
of each wave. Nearly all members shoot on Mini DV; many use Final
Cut Pro to edit their work.


The quick deadline and collective feedback, say members,
liberates and empowers their creative process, often burdened with
perfectionism and procrastination. Co-founder Jeff Consiglio says
the group helped him strip away the mystique of moviemaking. “Back
in 1996, I made a 20-minute, 35mm film—an attempt to turn myself
into a filmmaker,” says Consiglio, 42, a freelance editor. “It cost
$50,000 and put me in debt. Group 101 destroyed the preciousness
you tend to hold around a personal project. Members spend about
$20 to $60 to make their films. And if it sucks, well, it’s 30 days
out of their lives.”

Maureen Timpa Hendricks’ Alarm
Aaron Hendricks’ Urban Legends
Dina Mande’s A Dog Story

Jeff Consiglio’s Blind

Crank out 1,000 films in under three years and you’re
bound to attract attention. IFILM showcases the group’s films on
its Website. Two months ago, American Movie Classics was frantically
searching for horror shorts to air between features during its annual
Monsterfest Week telecast. AMC learned of Group 101, which swung
into action, and in 30 days shipped scores of submissions. Chosen
films will earn filmmakers $1,000 per 50- to 80-second film.


Dave Skaff launched a San Francisco Group 101 chapter
in January, producing nine moviemakers and nine films. “San Francisco
has a great independent film community with great independent film
houses,” says Skaff, who works as a freelance producer, director
and writer. “We plan to approach them in the future for screenings.”


Many 101 chapters are franchised, and pay a $250
fee to use the LA group’s extensive organizational and Website materials
(how groups operate, themes, producing, crew, equipment, shooting,
etc.).


Serena Schonbrun discovered Group 101 on the Internet
and clicked on the link, “Want to start a chapter in your own town?”
She began with 10 Chicago moviemakers in March 2002, and soon launched
a Website, www.group312films.com.
“We’ve had two well-attended public screenings to date, and will
have a third in early October," says Schonbrun.


“I started the group because I lacked time,"
says Schonbrun. “I work at a time-consuming ad agency, and needed
another medium to express my ideas.” The chance to plumb the group
for cast and crew also appealed to her. “Filmmaking is a team-oriented
form of creative expression,” she says. “I like to call it ‘sport
art.’ Group 312 has helped me get to know all the other teams and
players in town.”


On a hot August evening, 10 Group 101 moviemakers
gathered in a Los Angeles loft to review their latest crop of films.
The rules are simple and direct: each film is shown; the moviemaker
tells what he or she liked, didn’t like and learned about creating
the piece; each member shares in a similar fashion. Miss a month
and you’re punished (methods are determined by group consensus).
Miss two months and you’re out.


Dedication runs high. On this night, two members away
on trips sent in films, one via e-mail. And one discussed her film
with the group via speakerphone. Michael Medaglia is on his second
Group 101 wave. “It’s wonderful to meet others as insane and dedicated
as you are,” says Medaglia, 27, who works as an Internet programmer.
“Before you know it, you’ve made six films. Right off, I learned
that you need a clear idea of what’s going to work in 30 days. You
can’t make the 20-minute narrative epic. I ditched a lot of ideas.”


Some members’ shorts are featured on the group’s
Website, www.group101films.com, a one-stop shop for swapping tips,
equipment, apartments to film in and the most visited link: actors,
paired with headshots and links to films they’ve appeared in.


The chance to have the same people review one’s work
month after month is a revelation to many members, says Hendricks:
“People start calling you on your crutches—’You always end your
film this way and it’s become a cheap dodge. Why don’t you try something
else?'”


The chance to experiment and try concepts he otherwise
wouldn’t touch lured Medaglia back for a second round. “I had this
great idea of an underwater shark attack that starts out with lots
of gnashing teeth, but you discover it’s a Halloween apple bobbing
contest,” he says. “I thought shooting underwater couldn’t be that
different from land.


“I was in a Jacuzzi, breathing through a tube,
a clothespin on my nose, bottles full of sand strapped to my swimming
trunks to weigh me down. You’re moving, the camera’s moving, the
props are moving, the actors are moving—everything’s moving. The
lens was fogging up and I had one finger on the casing which had
sprung a leak. If I had eight arms, it would have worked better.”


At the meeting, Medaglia walked to the DV player
to show his project. Aaron Hendricks, husband of Maureen Hendricks
and the meeting’s mentor, looked up from his notes and laughed:
“This better be good.” MM

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