Making Films Is Not Like Jazz, Sports or Building Houses

CALVIN LEE REEDER – FILMMAKER

 

So Karen and David asked me if I wanted to write a little something for the website. 750 words,  it must be narrative and a not a PR piece. I’ve never read a PR piece before  so if this ends up being one I’ll just jump down the stairs or something.

 

Anyway, I guess I better stop counting words and say something here. There are a few topics they hoped I’d cover, I’ll start with “building your name and audience, etc”. I will do my best here to avoid a lame a musing on my own boring history, here goes.

If I have been successful at building a name or audience at all I would have to credit a lot of that to luck. I had been making films for a while with my good buddy Brady Hall. Together we made 2 features! in 2 1/2 years ! On 16mm!  they both suck, bad, and not that many people ever saw them.

It was shortly after that I took stock of the work we were making, I realized it only sucked because we were both only half way doing it the way we wanted. Although we were good friends we were actually kinda getting in each others way. Brady went on to make his movies, I went on to make mine, we helped each other where we could and still do.

I took a step back and decided that feature film making was just monkey business for a guy like me and I ought to be making short films, so I did. I found it incredibly freeing, I just got as weird and abstract as I always knew I was. People and festivals started to really respond to the work. I just dove deeper into it, it was fun. I made short called Little Farm, it was accepted into Sundance ’07. It played before a great feature at midnight called The Signal. The premiere was crazy, way bigger reaction than I’d hoped for. I made another short called The Rambler, even more deeply entrenched in my preoccupations, it also played Sundance this time in ’08. By now my films had played dozens of festivals and found an audience online, Little Farm had a ton of views and people were writing about it, not all of it was good either. I’d been asked a lot who my publicist was and at that point I’d never had one, people just wrote about my stuff. If I had to guess why, I’d say the work was distinct, not necessarily better than the films it would play with but perhaps more of a one of kind experience than some. I was also lucky. I made a film the following year called The Snake Mountain Colada, it was rejected from Sundance but played a bunch of great places anyway because the festival programmers knew me by now.

So I decided that feature filmmaking was something that I shouldn’t look at as monkey business anymore. I’d found my “voice” or whatever and felt confident I could deliver a feature in the style that I’d cultivated with my shorts. I did that, It’s called The Oregonian. It was a crazy experience making it. The budget was non existent but the people I was working with were all total ringers and dedicated to doing something crazy. So we made something crazy and got really lucky again when Trevor Groth called me and invited The Oregonian to premiere at Sundance at Midnight 2011.

So we got all our sh*t together and headed back to Utah, it had been a few years but the place didn’t change much. This time it was our turn to premiere a feature,we had to own it, for about 81 minutes anyway. Coincidentally one of my really good buddies, Nicholas McArthy, made the short “The Pact”  that played before us. I was and still am soo happy that happened. We did a little party across the street from the Egyptian and people kept asking me if I was nervous. My answer was always “No, I’ve done this before.” My shorts had played the exact same room and the audience loved it both times, I couldn’t see it happening any other way.

Anyways, party ended we trudged across the street. Took a bunch of pictures and crap then the movie played. It was amazing to see it there and just as it was all sinking in people started walking out , like 20 minutes in. It was a weird feeling for sure, I didn’t care if everybody liked it I knew it was a punk a movie. But the other films I’d seen there never had walk outs, not like that anyway. In reality we lost about 25 people out of 280 that night, not bad. The people that stayed, loved it, the Q&A was crazy, I felt like a space alien. They asked me questions as if they’d never seen one of me before. The reviews came out the next day, a mixture of raves and complete trashings, nothing in the middle. We’d made a polarizing film without really trying. I just stuck to what I’d learned and got people talking, it was great. We’ve had a lot of screenings since then and people have really responded to it. It does remain polarizing usually getting just as may negative reviews as positive ones, pretty much how I wanted to enter feature filmmaking in the first place. All my heroes have been surrealists and that’s a hard path for sure.

We did secure some distribution, though not through the usual channels. A company called Cinemad Presents has taken the film on for art house/microcinema distro and the Sundance Institute has picked it up for the main digital outlets like Netflix and all that. This brings me to the part where Karen and David asked me to talk about “crowdfunding,” I will never use that word again. We started a Kickstarter campaign to fill the gaps that a normal distributor might on their own. Posters, publicity, insurance blah blah blah. We went for a 30 day campaign and set a goal of $8,500 and as of the time I’m writing this we have one week to go. I’m pretty anxious to see if we’re gonna make it. One thing I found with our Kickstarter campaign is that it works pretty effectively as advertising. People seem to like the little video we made and the thing has really gotten out there. So if you’re thinking of setting up something like that I’d say do it, even if you don’t hit your mark it makes folks aware.

For me the most important thing is to get my films in front of as many eyes and ears as possible. I’ll play them pretty much anywhere as long as there is at least a couple people there to watch and talk. Even if they hate it they might blog it, people read blogs I guess. I don’t claim to be an authority on any of this stuff and I’d probably give horrible advice if you ever asked me for some.  All I know is once I started making films exactly the way I wanted people started responding.

 

CHECK OUT THE KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN
FOR THE OREGONIAN

A stark mix of under­ground shock hor­ror with exis­ten­tial­ist atmos­phere, Calvin Lee Reeder’s films, includ­ing his short films LITTLE FARM and THE RAMBLER, which screened at the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val in 2007 and 2008, respec­tively, put the art into lo-fi splat­ter pics. Reeder meshes thought and design with genre story lines like a Euro film­maker mak­ing 1970s drive-in films. Orig­i­nally from Port­land, Ore­gon, Reeder played exten­sively with the great art-punk bands Pop­u­lar Shapes and Intel­li­gence. THE OREGONIAN is his first fea­ture film.

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Via Indiewire – Sundance 2013: Anchor Bay Buys Calvin Lee Reeder’s ‘The Rambler’