The Director's Chair Issue #85 – April 25, 2008 (Cynthia Wade – 2008 Academy Award Winner)
THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR
Free Monthly Ezine for Film and Television Directors
April 25, 2008 Scene 9 – Take 4
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2. The Art and Craft of the Director Audio Seminar
3. Film Directing Tips and Resources Blog
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5. Subscriber Shameless Self-Promotion
6. Subscriber Links of Interest
7. FEATURE ARTICLE – “A Conversation with Cynthia Wade”
8. Write an Article for The Director’s Chair
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10. Filmmaking News, Websites, Articles and Events
11. The Director’s Chair Filmmakers Discussion Forum
12. Filmmaking Workshops
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Welcome to Issue #85 of The Director’s Chair (Apr. 25/08)
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2) SPECIAL FEATURE ARTICLE – This month’s Feature Article is
called “A Conversation with Cynthia Wade” by Stephanie
Riggs. With her short documentary film “Freeheld” winning
the 2008 Academy Award for Documentary Short, Cynthia Wade
has brought the hot-button topic of same-sex marriage
equality into everyday households. The film chronicles
Detective Lieutenant Laurel Hester’s struggle to transfer
her earned pension to her domestic partner, Stacie Andree,
after spending her own life protecting the rights of victims
and putting her life on the line. Via email, Cynthia shares
her experiences directing “Freeheld” as well as her insights
as a documentary filmmaker. (see below to read article…)
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– 10 Tips to Help Educate Yourself about Film Directing
– The Three Types of Film Director (Which one are you?)
– Three Famous Film Directors Speak Out
– 4 Steps to Creating Good Scene Transitions
– Envisioning Russia : A Century of Filmmaking
– Why Directors Must Understand Editing (Montage)
– Is There a Definition for “Making a Movie?”
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1) Daniel Avery – I am a Jack of All Trades guerrilla movie
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have worked in Radio and formatted two TV pilot scripts
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7. FEATURE ARTICLE – A Conversation with Cynthia Wade
“A Conversation with Cynthia Wade” by Stephanie Riggs
With her short documentary film “Freeheld” winning the 2008
Academy Award for Documentary Short, Cynthia Wade has
brought the hot-button topic of same-sex marriage equality
into everyday households. The film chronicles Detective
Lieutenant Laurel Hester’s struggle to transfer her earned
pension to her domestic partner, Stacie Andree, after
spending her own life protecting the rights of victims and
putting her life on the line. Via email, Cynthia shares her
experiences directing “Freeheld” as well as her insights as
a documentary filmmaker.
Q: How did you begin to get involved with the history of
Laurel and Stacie?
I read a newspaper article about Laurel Hester’s situation.
When I read that Hester’s domestic partner Stacie Andree, an
auto mechanic, could potentially lose their house without
Hester’s pension, I understood immediately the great risk
that they faced. I decided to attend a community meeting
where local activists were confronting the county officials,
who are called Freeholders. I brought two cameras, two
assistants and release forms. I didn’t know what would
happen. The dramatic meeting that unfolded in front of my
eyes was a staggering experience.
Q: Why did you decide to shoot this documentary?
As a filmmaker, I am attracted to tough stories about
controversial issues. The stories are usually told through
the eyes of strong female characters. Laurel Hester’s story
was compelling to me on many levels: she was a female police
detective in a male-dominated world; she had helped solve
many cases such as a double homicide; she was dying of
cancer; she was in love with Stacie and just wanted to pass
her pension to her. Time was running out. There was a
sense of urgency and purpose to the story.
Q: What steps did you take for financial backing?
Laurel’s health was declining so rapidly that there was no
time for fundraising while she was alive. I needed to be
with her as much as possible. I met Laurel on December 7,
2005 and she died on February 18, 2006, so I only had ten
weeks with her. This was a film that had to be pursued
without a clear funding path and no guarantee for release.
Q: What are the challenges and benefits of being a director
who is also the cinematographer?
The main benefit of being a cinematographer is that I don’t
have to raise immediate money to hire someone to shoot my
films – I can start shooting right away. This has
definitely allowed me to pursue stories and capture scenes
that otherwise I would have lost if I had needed to rely on
a crew. The main challenge to being both a director and a
cinematographer, however, is that it can be exhausting to
light, shoot, set up sound and direct simultaneously, and
also try to raise the money for additional crew members.
Q: What cameras did you use to shoot “Freeheld”?
I shot on a large-format DVCAM camera (Sony DSR 450, which
is a newer, more flexible version of the Sony DSR 570 – it
shoots true 16:9 and 24p as well as 4×3, 60i). Our back-up
cameras were the Sony DSR 300, the Panasonic 100A, and for
additional cutaways in the community meetings, the Sony PD
150. Because of the mix of formats, I decided to stick with
conventional 4×3. I gave Laurel and Stacie my favorite
littlest camera – a Sony PC 1, which is a little palmcorder
and easy to shoot video diary footage. I often give my
documentary subjects a small camera so that they can shoot
some of the film themselves; in this way, it becomes a
Q: You lived with them for eight weeks. How was that
Intense. Heartbreaking. Extremely moving. Upsetting.
Inspiring. I felt an enormous responsibility in telling
Q: What was your post-production process like for this film?
After Laurel died, I continued filming and began to look for
an editor. It took seven months to edit “Freeheld”. In
total, production was 13 months, which is very short for a
documentary. I worked with one main editor, David Teague,
but relied on additional editors for perspective and
feedback. Towards the end of post-production, I hired a
supervising editor (David Mehlman, who edited the 2006
Oscar-winning short film “The Moon and the Son”). It was
easy to lose perspective when working with the material, and
we struggled between how much this would be a personal love
story versus a political battle, so we needed many opinions.
There were lots of vigorous discussions in the editing room.
I also kept coming back to what Laurel would have wanted.
She died in February 2006, and we started editing in April
2006, so I was constantly asking myself, “Would Laurel be
happy with this?” That helped me as a guide.
Q: How was the majority of the $350,000 cost for this film
The majority was for editing costs. It really takes a long
time to make a story feel natural. In the end, with a good
film, the editing appears so simple, like “of course it
would be cut that way.” But for months there are false
starts and bad edits, and it feels awkward and clumsy. It’s
the time needed to edit that I find can be the most
expensive. My other major post-production costs were the
musical score, the musicians, our sound mix, an animated
map, the color correct, and later, I made three 35mm prints.
Q: What system did you edit “Freeheld” on?
We edited on Final Cut Pro to create a locked DVCAM master,
which we upconverted to HD at a post house. Later, we made
three 35mm prints from the HD master.
Q: Tell us about being accepted to Sundance.
It was a bit crazy – When the rough cut was accepted into
Sundance, which hadn’t happened before for me, I had no
money to finish it or get on a plane. I owed my editor and
sound mixers a lot of money. We decided that the best hope
for funds was to get the film out into the world and share
Laurel’s story with people. I got the commitment for my
first two major grants just weeks before the Sundance
premiere. At the 8:30am screening in Park City, there was a
funder in the audience and 48 hours later I got a text with
a significant commitment. From then on, I was able to raise
additional funds, pay back the production debt and then
raise the money for our Oscar qualifying run. So the gamble
Q: How did Oscar qualification limit, if at all, your
distribution options with the film?
The rules for qualifying the film for Oscar consideration
held us back from making traditional television deals in
2007. We needed to have a legitimate theatrical release
first, which we did by choosing cities where LGBT equality
is at stake so that we could use the screenings as a
teaching tool. We screened the film theatrically in eight
cities where there is an ongoing struggle for equality.
Q: How do you think Laurel would feel about the film being
nominated for the Academy Award for the best short
Making a feature length documentary would have been
difficult because I only had ten weeks with Laurel when she
was alive. I thought we could craft a strong short but then
I wondered what kind of impact it would have since short
documentaries traditionally don’t get wide release. So
qualifying Oscar consideration in the short documentary
category was a tactic in giving Laurel’s story — and the
plight of so many gay and lesbian couples in the U.S. who
are being denied their civil rights – a platform leading up
to a national election year. The Oscar run couldn’t be the
end goal – the outreach and impact needed to be the end
Q: What does winning an Academy Award mean for your future
as a filmmaker?
It was an incredible experience to go to the Academy Awards.
It was a bit like going to the moon – surreal and dreamlike
and also a little terrifying. It’s still a little too
early to tell how the Oscar will affect my future, but I
hope it will give me more freedom and access to make the
next independent film. I am actively researching topics now
and also directing commissioned projects.
Q: Do you have any advice on how to be successful reaching a
wider audience for other filmmakers with similar goals for
their issue-based films?
I think before you are even in production you need to think
about your target audience. Where do you want your film to
go? To whom do you want to speak? With “Freeheld”, I felt
that Laurel & Stacie’s relationship could potentially open
the hearts and minds of men and women who have never
considered the issue of Gay & Lesbian Equality. Laurel says
it best at the end of the film: “People like Stacie and I
are just average people. We’re just average people that have
a home and a couple of dogs and pay our taxes. And we just
wanted everything to be equal.”
I am always thinking about the release pattern for my films
from an early stage. Is the film best as a television
special? Is it a theatrical experience? Is it an
educational piece? Once that is determined, then many other
answers fall into place – the length of the film, where to
seek funding, the shooting and editing styles, and what kind
of shooting format to use.
Q: What do you find to be the most difficult part of being a
documentary filmmaker? The most exciting?
The most difficult part is the not knowing where things will
lead – not knowing where the story will take you, not
knowing how you will find the money, not knowing the
outcome. However, it’s the most exciting part as well. All
of it is like a treasure hunt. There’s something so
exciting about making something out of nothing. Yes, the
hunt for money can be demoralizing, and yes, it can take
years. But, to me, trying all these doors is like in Alice
in Wonderland. Eventually, one of those doors opens and you
slide down the rabbit hole. That’s really exciting to me —
I love that part. When a new film takes you by the
shoulders, looks you straight in eye and starts demanding
“You have to make me!” – Well, when that happens, you have
no choice. You are off and running!
“Freeheld” will be broadcast on Cinemax on June 4th, 2008 with
several re-broadcasts in the months leading to the
elections. The expanded DVD will be available Summer 2008.
More information about “Freeheld”, including local
screenings listings, is available at http://www.freeheld.com
Stephanie Riggs has directed and produced theatre and film
productions in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and
New York. Her producing credits range from television pilots
and independent films to the critically-acclaimed live
comedy show “The Ian Bagg Show”, which attracted guests such
as Chris Rock and Jim Gaffigan. As a director, Stephanie’s
theatre work has ranged from developing the work of emerging
playwrights at the Playwrights Center of San Francisco to
directing World Premieres of Academy-Award winning writers
Off-Off Broadway. The independent films she has directed,
including the sensational feature documentary “Some Assembly
Required” and narrative short “Bystander”, have won awards
and screened all over the world. As a freelance
entertainment consultant, she has developed content for
Disney Creative Entertainment, HBO, and Louie Anderson’s 33
Productions. Stephanie continues to consult multi-million
dollar entertainment ventures while directing a
feature-length documentary on an Arizona prison escape
through her production company, Sunchaser Entertainment.
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10. Filmmaking News, Websites, Articles and Events
1) Spike Lee is teaming up with Nokia to direct a movie
pieced together from user-generated cell phone video
footage. “You are seeing first hand the democratization of
film,” Lee said in a statement on Thursday. “Aspiring
filmmakers no longer have to go to film school to make great
work. With a simple mobile phone, almost anyone can now
become a filmmaker.”
2) Soundsnap – a new online resource for free sounds that
features over 30.000 royalty free, high quality sounds,
samples & loops, that are created by our users.
3) Festival Cine en Corto – We would like to invite you to
participate in our IV Tamaulipas International Short Film
Festival Cine en Corto ’08. This year we have more than
$6,000 Dolars in prizes. You can also win our innovator
prize NICE TRY, this award is for the short film who doesn’t
win but was close. http://www.cineencorto.com/
4) Free Teleseminar (21 Powerful Rewrite Strategies) – Some
rewrite strategies improve a script by 5%. Others can make
a 100% improvement. Writer/Producer Hal Croasmun presents
21 professional rewrite strategies his production company
uses before submitting scripts to Studios.
When – Sunday, April 27, 2008 at 11 AM Pacific time.
For info or to sign up, go to
5) THE ART OF PITCHING by Syd Field – Make no mistake;
pitching is an art. Every screenplay begins with an idea and
if you want to write a screenplay based on your idea, then
the chances are you’re going to have to pitch it to someone;
it could be a producer, a director, a production executive,
an agent or anyone in the business.
11. The Director’s Chair Filmmakers Discussion Forum
The Director’s Chair Filmmakers Discussion Forum.
Ask film directing questions, submit your website for
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making tips and special events or just keep in touch with
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Please visit this new forum now, sign up and take a look
12. FILMMAKING WORKSHOPS – Peter D. Marshall
I have worked in the Film and Television Industry for over
34 years – as a Film Director, Television Producer, First
Assistant Director and Series Creative Consultant. I’ve been
asked many times to share my Film and TV production
knowledge with others. As a result, I developed several
workshops that I have successfully presented over the past
To find out more about these workshops, just click on the
link below. If you are interested in any of these four
workshops for yourself or your organization, please contact
me to discuss how we can bring these workshops to you.
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15. COPYRIGHT INFORMATION
Copyright (c) 2000-2008
Peter D. Marshall
All Rights Reserved
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