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About Jenna Cato Bass

I'm a director, writer, photographer, aspiring explorer and retired magician living in Cape Town, South Africa

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Prep...

Posted December 17, 2009

So more and more festival politics - I never expected to be in this situation. In fact, I'm still don't believe I'm in this situation. But hopefully it'll be sorted out soon and I can go back to stressing in peace about normal things. Like Q&As - actually quite looking forward to that - it'll be my first one since film school. Ha ha....*nervous laugh*...

But what is craziest is the amount of paperwork, documentation, publicity materials and correspondence that have to be kept up with and completed in what seems a drastically diminishing time frame. I now understand why films have publicists et al. Those guys earn their keep. Because as it is I'm doing it all myself. Spent some time with Jacques this afternoon choosing the clips for our clip reel to send to the Sundance publicity dept. Harder than it looks. But it luckily reminded me of the fact that we don't actually have a trailer. It seems Jacques won't have time to do one - he's working on a documentary at the moment - so hello, Final Cut, my old friend, get ready for some trailer makin. So I thought that before I set off on this task, I'd ask Jacques, the editing sensei, for some advice. And I transcribed the pearls of wisdom for the edification of others - see below:

Jacques's Top 8 Suggestions for Cutting a Trailer for The Tunnel:

1. "Work through it systematically."

2. "It's actually a very easy trailer to cut. Because we have so much voice over." 

3. "Basically I think, begin with the voice over. Obviously."

4. "Sum up the fact that it's a coming of age story. Because I think the film is quite traditionally structured and you can construct the trailer like that. Because it really does feel like a feature film. I was describing it to an editor and they were like, "wow so this is a short film?" and I was like, 'Ja, it's 25min'."

5. "Emphasize the supernatural element. Ja."

6. "And really, I mean, just find one song, don't use more than one song."

7. "There really are so many good shots. Because our film rocks. And we cover such an emotional spectrum that there's a lot to choose from." 

8. "I can't see how you can botch it up, really." 

A digression: I got the best birthday presents ever. The reasons I say this is because three of them consist of some amazing film books which I thought I'd share here - 

You and Me and Memento and Fargo by JJ Murphy - on the anatomy of American Indie scriptwriting - wow! Who knew such a book existed. (Thanks David!)

Projections - a collection of interviews with European filmmakers. Many awesome European filmmakers. (Thanks Jacques!)

A massive Taschen boxset of 101 amazing films which is probably the most heavy thing I own. Such lush, beautiful and inspiring pictures (Thanks Carla, Mika, Lynn & Kim!)

Tired now - I'm starting to get 'email browser eye' - the symptoms of which are an annoying and constant twitch in one's left eye. bye bye.  

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Secrets

Posted December 11, 2009

So, I'm in this strange position now where I have quite a lot to say but I'm not really allowed to say it. It's annoying when this happens if you're in the film industry, because if you can't tell people about your career developments, when they happen, you look like a bum. But I guess it's all worth it and sensible in the long run. 

It being Friday and the week winding down time, I'm trying to make sense of it all. On the money side, things look bleak. It looks like I'm back to the 'spending every cent I own as well as much of my parents' money' option. The guys at work have offered to set up 'Help Send Jenna to Sundance Fund'. But really, I can't. I feel like I'm holding out for something, but sooner or later I'm going to have to bite the bullet and accept that when I come back I will be flat broke. Maybe it will be spiritually uplifting. But I doubt it. 

But people have so far been very kind. The Sundance accommodation people have definitely eased the horror of how expensive it is to stay in Park City. As well as Jacques, Laura and Katherine  for sharing said accommodation and coming half way across the globe to be the support team. Also, Erika, a designer (met her through Daniel - more on all that later when things are less secret) who is helping with the promo material as I decided that the times of doing my own design is over. So ja. It could be worse.   

And dang, I'm excited. 

So I've been speaking to quite a lot of people about festivals and have come to realize that for those of us early on in our careers, festival protocol and just general awareness is not high. I guess I've been lucky to have had the experience I've had so far, I think it's definitely helped. But so I thought I'd make a little list of helpful resources - if you're in any way a festival veteran, this'll all be very old news, but if you're about to tackle the festival circuit for the first time with your film, I would really recommend checking these out:

BERLINALE TALENT CAMPUS: Not a ticket for your film to screen at the festival, but invaluable experience at a major festival that, if you get in, will really help prepare you in future. There are also campuses (campi.... no.) in South America and South Africa. 

FILM FESTIVAL SECRETS: Online book. Awesome - didn't know they made free niche web resources this good. 

FILM FESTIVAL SECRETS (BLOG): Brilliant blog (related to above book)

ALL THESE WONDERFUL THINGS: If you're in documentaries, go here. 

FESTIVAL DO'S AND DONT'S: Cool article over at Moviemaker.com by Paul Osborne, one of the makers of Official Rejection

ADVICE ON CREATING A WEBSITE FOR YOUR FILM: An open letter from Jette Kernion

And if you're like me and are worrying about the who/what/where of festival premieres, check out this article, also on the indispensible Film Festival Secrets blog. 

Lastly, and if you are going to Sundance, you've probably already this grrrrreat blog post (not sure who it's by). This is all assuming you're like me and whenever you do anything you research it to hell first (except when you don't. And then you wish you had) - so assuming you are, then enjoy. But, having said all this, the most important thing, I'm quickly coming to realise, is just relaxing and not giving a damn. So there. 

And finally (which is different to 'lastly' obviously) two directors whom I wish would/could make more films: Tim Blake Nelson (who was the feature in the first article I ever read about Sundance) Todd Field (who I'm trying to forgive for taking Blood Meridian from me. That was MY adaptation!)

nighty night. 

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Woe

Posted December 07, 2009

It's 12.20 and I'm crying in the kitchen. All my plans for getting funding towards attending Sundance have fallen through. As it stands, I can't get a cent. 

It never ends. 

Trying now to rationally scheme and plan, and hear myself think above the din of my own internal monologue, which right now contains enough cursing to supply a sailor's bachelor party. It's coming down to this: Will I be reduced to borrowing another massive chunk of money from my parents (who at this rate probably feel like the world bank. Except without the money) or do i spend every last penny of the money have accumulated over the last decade. And then still have to take a loan from my parents. Oh hell.

Am trying to focus: There will be Fassbinder prints showing in Berlin (Hannah Schygulla is getting a life time achievement award).  Sundance will be Sundance. Really, money is the small thing here. Right? OK... OK... back to work. 

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What Exactly Is Going On Here?

Posted December 04, 2009

 

Now see my problem is I had a whole blog post worked out: I was going to describe in witty, self-deprecating irony, the agony of waiting, how one pushes this aside and gets on with things. How one's life goes on. The blog would start "Summertime is a good time for riding a motorcycle. It is good for eating peaches. It is good for forgetting..." But LUCKILY for you, you don't have to read this blog. Because I am no longer waiting. The train has arrived. 
So. I'd told myself - if The Tunnel does indeed get into one of my top festivals, I will scream. When I get the email, I will shriek my lungs out. It will be a good release, and I'll feel I have earned it. It had actually crossed my mind what filmmaking is like - say it takes you 10 months from writing the first draft of your script to shooting it. Say it takes another few months after that to edit. Add on some more to get it out there and distribute. So maybe a year and a half, say (and it usually takes much much longer than that). Making a film is like screaming at the top of your voice, solid, no breaths, for every second of that year and a half. That's what it's been like. So I figured one more scream wouldn't hurt. The thing is, when word finally came, I couldn't scream. This was partly because word came via a phone call from Kisha, and partly because I was at work at the DVD store. We got into Sundance. The 80s comedies that I had carefully been reshelving in their own little section (which will be demolished by patrons come the weekend) drop to the floor. We got into Sundance. NO WAY. Kisha explained that we were in the Spotlight section - in many ways preferable to being in Competition, as we'd have our own feature slot. To be honest, at that point I was only really thinking one thing. We got into Sundance. We spoke for about 30 minutes, me in a kind of blank daze, hopefully not sounding like an idiot as I tried to express my gratitude and appreciation to Kisha for getting us there. And then my boss's wife saw me on the phone and I almost got fired. So that put a dampener on things, especially as I'd been slowly working my way into the boss's good books, him allowing me to recommend the dvds he buys for the store (hence the recent acquisitions of Diner, The Grey Zone and Killer of Sheep). But as I walked home, head hung low after the talking to, I remembered: We got into Sundance. Nothing else really matters. 
I went home and reopened my copy of Down and Dirty Pictures, which I had discarded half way in a fit of sour grapes after not making it into the Sundance Lab earlier this year. That seems a long long time ago. 
And then the next bomb dropped: We got into XXXX (I can't say yet! wait for the press release!). If you asked me whether I thought we'd get into Sundance and XXXX, I would have said something disparaging, employed an avoidance tactic and gone home and cried. But we did it. No jokes, as I said to someone. Ha ha! It's real. In fact, we were also accepted into another big festival - it took most of the week of my agonizing before I could come to terms we would have to choose, festivals being as they are about premieres. I understand. So we'll be screening at Sundance and XXXX - pretty much my top 2 dream magic festivals. 
Is this real?
Driving in a car, on the way to pick strawberries with Bevan, who's getting married tomorrow. My eyes are closed and I'm thinking about Sundance (I don't know about Berlin yet). I'm thinking about how I'll approach it, what is the strategy, realising all the work that must be done, the travel plans I need to work out. My mind wanders an drifts  into the future, it's still so hazy I can't picture these things happening. We're heading for a fog bank, infinity is ahead. I open my eyes and am blinded by the sun, which blazes across the Stellenbosch fields. I need to finish my scripts, like now. I need to finish my scripts to take with, and I know this is very important. In fact, why am I here? I should be writing right now. Never mind that your friends only get married once (or at least, one hopes they do). Where's my laptop? Yes, I need to get writing - and in that regard things have been going quite well. On the '5.6 Seconds' side, Nikhil put me in touch with a German producer/director friend of his who he thought may like the script. I went to the meeting not expecting too much - I've had so many similar meetings with producers who patronise me and which amount to nothing. So I decided to take a chill pill and just 'slide'. It went well - Daniel really got the script and ended by saying he felt responsible in getting it made. Well, wow. So far he has been true to his word - he's helped me reassemble our proposal in meticulous detail and has already got a soupcon of interest from a German production company (I always knew I was destined for German co-production). Well, wow. So that's going. And then with 'Tok Tokkie' I have managed to come up with a kick ass outline, the creation of which was the most fun I've had in ages - you know when the ideas just explode all over the place and you can run around like a kid with a recently busted pinata at a lonely birthday party, picking up all the sweeties for yourself. Wow, that was a sad metaphor. Anyway, so I think it's very promising. I like it. Also begun preliminary work with Martin, an actor friend of mine, on a true life rock n roll road trip movie - Martin's understandably doing his head in with the paucity of roles in Cape Town, so we thought he should write a film for himself, Matt Damon-style. Turned our the story he wanted to do was one I'd had my eye on for a few years. So that is great and maybe some more on that later on. 
A funny Werner Herzog story: I was at work at the video store, behind the counter (probably surreptitiously on gmail checking whether any festivals had replied yet). Jan-Hendrik comes in to talk. He brings up the cover box for 'Encounters at the End of the World' and asks if I've seen it and if it's good. I quickly realize that this could turn into an hour long discussion, or rather monologue on my part, so I tell him the only way I can do the film justice is by telling him how it begins. I promptly launch into the narration with which Herzog begins the film. About the fluffy penguins. In full faux-Bavarian accent. It goes on for a couple of minutes. And when I finish, the whole store is silent. Everyone is frozen and staring at me, waiting for me to shut up so I can book out their movies. I clear my throat: "Ah, can I help anyone?" Ah, what fun. 
I was reading over some of the past blogs I'd written, from before the shoot. Just thinking back to then gives me a pain in my heart, probably where my stress valve is. Oh how it seems like a long and terrible time away. Picking the post out of the letterbox I had a flashback to a few months ago when for weeks on end I'd just get bills in the post, bills for way more money than I had, all of which were due, ah, the week before. Whew. the horror the horror (I bet that's what Francis was thinking when he directed Marlon in that scene. Bills and invoices. No, I lie, I'm sure that's not what he was thinking. but you never know). But now, as my mom says, all news seems to come by email.   She's right. I've been glued to my laptop pretty much for the last 72 hours, keeping up with a steady stream of emails and correspondance with festivals, crew, travel agents, post houses, friends and enemies. It's got to the point that when anyone comes back home (and there I am, bent and stooped over the computer, taking up the whole lounge) they ask, "So, what's new?" 
OK, so a side note as I start winding down for the evening: I don't know about you, but I've been watching some great movies recently - taking advantage of my free movie privileges at my DVD store - Diner, Somerstown, The Proposition, The Killers, Roshamon, Year of the Dragon, The Crying Game, then also some great anime - Paprika (whose soundrack alone made me consider moving to Japan) and Tekkon Kinkreet which literally blew my mind all over the carpet - Scanners-style. Am on a major anime spree at the moment, as well as a Mickey Rourke spree (ah, Rumble Fish)... so... so... many.... movies...that are.... good... yawn.... time to attempt sleep. yes.  
AH! What a wasted effort - I can't sleep these days, there's too much to think about. The second I try clear my head I start thinking about the clever business card I want to design which folds up like a puzzle, or where I'll stay in Park City (hopefully someplace with Katherine, Jacques and Laura - which would be total fun in the sun in the least entourage-like way possible), or how I'm going to get over my inherent awkwardness and actually talk to people, or whether I'll slip on the snow, or what shoes I should take or whether I might be able to apologize to Paul Dano for making a spectacle of myself in front of the theatre after the 'Seagull', all things which have nothing to do with filmmaking ironically. Funny that. I suppose the key is to remember why we'll be there. But still. No way. No way. No way. So way. 
Speak soon. 
ANNEJ

 

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