It’s a problem that every novice moviemaker faces when he or she thinks of entering a film festival: With only a single, cruddy camera, no means of editing and the bare minimum when it comes to both talent and location, how can I shoot to get the look I want? More importantly, how do I have any chance of going up against other movies if a festival only accepts perfectly polished, finely edited, big-budget masterpieces? For many, that is where the festival process ends, leaving moviemakers with the taste of failure in their mouths and great ideas wasted. But this no longer has to be the case.
With Pro8mm’s second Think Big, Shoot Small Film Festival Challenge, those who enter the festival are asked to do just that, defying its participants to shoot on a single roll with editing only allowed to be done in-camera. The irony of this is that with these technical limitations, Pro8mm has opened up a world of possibilities for beginner moviemakers looking to tell a great story. The true challenge is in coming up with an interesting story and then being innovative enough to shoot it creatively with only the essentials: A camera and some film. While it is a difficult task—a task that many big-budget directors would not be able to accomplish if you asked them to try—it is one that can be taken up by even the least experienced moviemaker, proving that no matter your monetary restrictions, a good idea goes a long way.
MM caught up with Rhonda Vigeant, one of the people in charge of the challenge, and discussed the reason behind creating the festival, what its esteemed panel of judges is looking for in a winning movie and what it is that makes the festival stand out amongst others.
Douglas Polisin (MM): How did the idea for Think Big, Shoot Small come about?
Rhonda Vigeant (RV): The idea for Think Big, Shoot Small grew out of wanting to find the least expensive and creative way for our clients to test various Pro8mm film stocks and Super8 cameras. We thought it would be much more fun to have a festival where you would shoot a creative project with one roll rather than shooting test charts on a wall. Not only does it establish the aesthetic of using film, but also defines the work flow of shooting on film and screening on digital. Now that HD is becoming the dominant display format, we have adapted the concept of the original Think Big, Shoot Small to include High Definition Display. By getting filmmakers to see the result of film on Blu-ray, they will get a chance to experience the next generation work flow.
The first Think Big, Shoot Small festival in 2007 was only offered in standard definition. There were about 30 entries spanning several generations, from college students to retirees, four countries and fantastic finished entries as diverse as the filmmakers themselves.
MM: What are the most important things the judges are looking for in the entries?
RV: Originality (score from one to 10). A high score would be given for a film that is truly original with lots of creative touches, including the use of special effects, costumes, the richness and originality of the story idea and/or other filmmaking techniques.
Technical Expertise (score from one to 10). A high score would be given to the film that has good composition and exposure with few technical errors. It should have good color quality, sharpness and titles at the beginning and ending of the film. If the film is animation or claymation, a high score needs to have the above as well as smooth transitions and timing. It should look like a movie not a slide show.
Artistic Merit (score from one to 10). A high score would be given for a film that is rich in complexity and dramatic impact. Does this film move you? Does the film elicit an emotional response whether it be tears or laughter? Does the film draw you in? Does the film appeal to you and touch you in ways that other films just don’t?
MM: What do you see as the advantages to shooting with 8mm compared with other kinds of film?
RV: Super8 is the most affordable of the film formats. Most people have access to cameras very cheaply from a relative’s closet, eBay, thrift stores or yard sales. For a very small investment of $108.00, you can try the same filmmaking principles used in Hollywood, and in the larger formats, on a tiny budget (that is, film stock, processing and scanning on a million dollar state-of-the-art industry scanning machine that does native HD transfers). The Super8 film is cartridge-loaded and easy to pop in the camera. Filmmaking doesn’t get much cheaper than that! By entering Think Big, Shoot Small in HD you can experience the workflow in creating a creative project, in High Definition, with minimal cost. We hope that once people see their work on Blu-ray it will inspire them to continue working this way for both production and archiving. There is still nothing comparable to the look and feel of film, and many filmmakers just assume that they cannot afford it, or that it is too difficult a craft. Many filmmakers see digital as inexpensive because you can shoot volumes of it for little cost, but you do not need volumes to tell a great story. In fact you can do so in two and a half minutes, the length of a Super8 roll. Since Super8 was originally designed as a consumer product, compared to 16mm or 35mm, you do not need formal film education to work with it. Super8 is much more about creative instinct rather than technical understanding of how to work film equipment. You could give a Super8 camera to a five year old and they could shoot something. The intriguing thing about Think Big, Shoot Small is to see where that creative ingenuity lies. Film should not be something to be feared or intimidated by based on cost or technical skills. Super8 opens up these paths to the craft of film beautifully.
MM: Why do you want editing only to be done in-camera?
RV: One of the fundamental differences between shooting film and digital is because the cost of the film material. With film, you must plan out or storyboard what you are going to shoot before you shoot it. With digital you tend to shoot everything and then try to figure out which shots you are going to use in editing. Since this festival is about film, we wanted it to be like a real film shoot. First of all, it puts all the entries on a level playing field. It’s about what you can create, not what computer programs can do. We want to strip away all the ancillaries and give people a chance to get back to the grassroots of just shooting film. When silent films ruled, they were great! There is a magic that happens between people in a screening when a film is silent and they are able to communicate with each other while watching it—commenting and participating in the screening, not just watching the films. Because of the sense of community we are trying to create among the filmmakers, the silent showing opens up dialogue across age, lifestyle and gender among the very diverse population of participants. A film festival done this way has to be aesthetically pleasing and captivating on its own before you add the window dressing of sound or special effects.
MM: You say that people are allowed to enter as many times as possible; this isn’t all too common for festivals to do. What do you hope to see from those contestants who submit multiple entries?
RV: There are two reasons for this. First, people have a lot of ideas regarding what they may think is a worthy project. Since this festival is “all inclusive” in terms of the materials and the entry fee, every contestant makes the same investment to participate. We thought, why should we limit a person from entering twice (though no one in the 2007 festival actually did this) if they have more than one idea? It increases their chance of winning one of the prizes. Secondly, they may get back their Blu-ray disc and decide that they can do better, or discover that their camera had technical problems that they were not aware of. This allows them to give it another try before the deadline. If they think they can do better, why not let a contestant try again if it will help them to improve their skills as a filmmaker?
MM: In addition to a Blu-ray copy of their movie and a chance to be on Pro8mm’s promotional DVD, what else do you hope that contestants walk away with?
RV: There is a huge sense of camaraderie among the Super8 community. Each contestant in 2007 brought their friends, family or crew with them to the screening and party. It was wonderful to see gray-haired men engaged in technical conversation with tattooed, pierced, pink-haired generation X’ers. You can’t put a price tag on that. The feedback we got was fantastic. Not only is the festival a really great opportunity to try something new in film but a chance to be part of something bigger than a 50-foot roll. It is common for independent filmmakers to feel isolated in a little bubble. Because the “assignment,” if you will, was the same for every filmmaker, and there is a fixed cost, there is an immediate connectivity in the group. We hope contestants will gain insight about the creative process. The prizes are great too! Even the raffle winners can (and have) produce their next project on what they may win as a contestant.
For more information, visit www.pro8mm.com.
James Barfield won Think Big, Shoot Small for his claymation entry, Clay Date. His prize was a Max 8 Classic Professional Camera.