Behind the Lens

With some producers that inspire us.

Whether it’s a dad preparing to take a family video or a big-shot Hollywood producer, helming the next blockbuster, both are essentially doing the same thing: working out the little (or big!) problems in their creative endeavor to get their projects done. Let’s take a look at some producers in differing stages of their careers. One is just starting out, the next has built a strong, profitable business and the third has already produced one feature film and is working to produce even more. Their stories can help all of us be better producers ourselves.

Up and Coming-Hodges Usry

From Augusta, Georgia, 19 year-old Hodges Usry took 2nd place in the 2006 Videomaker/Sony Short Video Contest. His production, Rozwell is a haunting review of one man’s history and the man’s disturbing reaction to it.

“My Ultimate goal is to be a feature film director or cinematographer” Usry said. “I’m studying film at the Savannah College of Design and I would really like to go the narrative route as a filmmaker.” As part of his schoolwork, the sophomore has created film noir projects and shot a 16mm film production that was a “mood piece”. But college wasn’t his first production. He has already produced several long videos using “Guerilla video” tactics. “We shot all of these with virtually no money at all” he said. “All of the actors worked for free and I got most of them from Internet ads.” In fact, the lead actor for Rozwell was selected just this way, but unknowingly lived just block away from Usry’s house!

His biggest challenge? “I found the planning part the most surprising. Trying to get everyone at the same place at the same time was really tough. People have work and school and other commitments and getting everyone on the same page took some hard work.” He uses Sony Vegas to edit his projects and loves it. “I won it as my prize for the Videomaker contest and I don’t want to edit with anything else. It’s really cool”.

He has advice for those who are just starting out: “Don’t be afraid of failure. Shoot anything and everything that comes to mind. Video is cheap and you can always shoot it again. Besides, once you get to editing your project, that ‘throwaway” take just might be the thing you need.”

His Own Boss-John Paluzzi

In business for himself since 1999, John Paluzzi is the owner and only employee of Full Circle Productions in Fort Myers, FL. “I started out as a master control operator at our local TV station, running commercials and bugging the news department to let me shoot video for them”. He was soon a full-time news videographer, but got the itch to move out on his own. He left local TV to work for a local production company, but struck out on his own the next year. “I started out with only a Jimmy Jib and no camera, but soon the requests for shooting video kept coming in and I was losing money as others were taking these jobs.”

No fool, Paluzzi soon bought a second hand Betacam and the business grew steadily from there. It didn’t take long for him to realize that his business was just that, a business. “Understanding things like tax laws, insurance, licenses and trademarks was a real education for me. I already knew editing software but had to learn other software too, for tasks like accounting, inventory and correspondence”.

He doesn’t assume the traditional role of producer, but hires freelancers to work at these positions. “I’m kind of a silent executive producer. Although I’m ultimately responsible for the outcome of the production, I hire experienced freelancers to work as the day-to-day producer, soundman and general-purpose grip”.

Paluzzi advises finding a group of people with varied talents and skills and to keep using those folks to maintain and even build a solid business. “I hire and re-hire the same people as I can trust them to help me produce video for clients. It’s because of our history and knowledge of each other that allows all of us to produce the highest results possible”.

And what are those results? Repeat customers. Paluzzi stresses taking care of repeat customers as they provide his business with a steady stream of predictable jobs while he adds new clients to an already impressive list that includes America’s Most Wanted, Court TV and National Geographic Television. The key to his success is constant communication between himself, the client and his freelance employees. “I’m always asking about what the clients need, what they expect from the production, and the crew and I are always trading ideas to make the production the highest quality we can. It’s important to know that everyone has good ideas and to listen to them.”

Eventually, Paluzzi would like to add some permanent employees to Full Circle Productions, but, for now, he’s happy as a one-man band. “I might add some people later when I get too old to carry all of this gear around, but for now I’m having too much fun.”

Hitting the Big Time-Peter John Ross

Peter John Ross got the filmmaking bug late in life. “I was actually working as a stockbroker in 2000 when I decided to write screenplays. Nobody was really interested, though.” Despite a few nibbles, Ross couldn’t find a buyer for his work. That’s when he met one of his idols, director Richard Linklater (School of Rock, Slackers, Dazed and Confused) who told him if he couldn’t get his movies made, he should do it himself. “I went from wanting to be a filmmaker to actually making movies within 2 weeks of that January night. Now I am a full time filmmaker because of meeting Rick and the things he said to me, one on one.” It started with short films and that was it, “I was on fire”, says Ross.

In 2006, Ross released his first feature film, Horrors of War to very strong reviews. In just seven short years, he had a lifetime’s worth of filmmaking lessons. His advice? “Practice! Go to film school if you can afford it, but make movies. Always be making movies. Watch what you make with a critical eye and listen to the honest input of others. Make room for everyone to contribute to the story.”

Ross advises knowing your strengths and limitations. “I’m a much better director than I am a writer,” he says. “I can tweak a scene with bits of dialog, but writing is not where my greatest strength is and it’s important that I find others that excel in the area where I’m not as strong as the production deserves”.
He also stresses the visual quality of filmmaking- let the images tell the story, not the actor’s spoken words. “There’s no need to show a dream sequence ten minutes long, then have the actor go tell someone every detail about the dream. The audience has already experienced it- why tell them about it all over again? The actor’s emotional reaction to the dream gets the point across”. Ross says film is a “show me medium, not a tell me medium,” and that well crafted images carry far more impact than a scene bogged down in tedious dialog, “First time screenwriters have their characters talk way too much. They could replace so much of that long dialog with a brief visual. It’s just not necessary”.

Finally, like John Paluzzi, Ross stresses the business side of the industry. “I’m a vagabond when it comes to projects. I follow the money in order to do the filmwork.” Currently, Ross edits both his and others’ projects, creates visual effects and directs as much as possible in order to chase his dream of full time directing. The payoff isn’t always money, however. “There’s nothing like sitting in the back of the theater sharing with an audience your vision and your work and getting the emotional response you hoped for…nothing like it in the world…”

Randy Hansen is a television news chief photographer and makes mini-documentaries everyday for broadcast at 6 and 11.

Sidebar: Learn from the Pros,see the Up and Commers

Looking for examples of
creative video and film beyond YouTube?
Try the following links and search for the inspiration that just might send you to Hollywood someday:

Sundance Film Festival

www.festival.sundance.org.

Tribeca film festival

www.tribecafilmfestival.org.

Cannes film festival

www.festival-cannes.fr.

List of other festivals

www.filmfestivals.com.

Independent film tips

www.karmacritic.com.

There’s a whole world
of resources, people and information in the World Wide Web available for aspiring producers, all you have to do is look for it.

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