ALTERNATE ROUTES: Mutually Assured Creation through Film Collectives

Marty Lang is a screenwriter, filmmaker, journalist and educator. His feature writing/directing debut, RISING STAR, won Best Premiere at the 2012 Seattle True Independent Film Festival, and was acquired for worldwide distribution by Content Film in 2013. His producing credits include the 2016 Independent Spirit Award-nominated OUT OF MY HAND, and BEING MICHAEL MADSEN, starring Michael Madsen, Virginia Madsen and Daryl Hannah. Twitter: @marty_lang.

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Marty Lang sheds light on how some filmmakers have developed a team-oriented approach to creating films. While these teams have different structures and focal points, they share one thing: They're groups of creative people working together to make new work. And they're called collectives. | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting

Writing a script is hard. We all know that. Making a film is harder. In either case, the more help and moral support you can get, the better. I talked a little bit about this in my first column, but there’s an interesting new way of securing support for your creative endeavors. Some filmmakers have developed a team-oriented approach to creating films. While these teams have different structures and focal points, they share one thing: They’re groups of creative people working together to make new work. And they’re called collectives.

In its simplest form, a collective could be a small group of filmmakers, helping make each other’s films. That pretty much describes BorderLine Films, a New York City based production company collective comprised of writer/directors Sean Durkin, Antonio Campos and Josh Mond. Whenever one directs a film, the other two produce. When they first started, if one of them needed time to write a script, the other two would make commercials and music videos, and they would split the money three ways.

To say they’ve done well is an understatement. Campos directed his feature debut Afterschool in 2008, and the film premiered at Cannes. Then Durkin directed his first feature, Martha Marcy May Marlene, which won the Dramatic Directing Award at Sundance in 2011, and made Elizabeth Olsen a star. Mond rounded out the group with his directorial debut, James White, a Sundance 2015 premiere. Durkin is now prepping Janis, a biopic about musician Janis Joplin starring Michelle Williams, for a shoot early next year.

poster-c94d4929-71e3-4207-9d78-a7f484cc94f3But BorderLine’s structure isn’t the only successful one in the feature film world. Court 13, a New Orleans-based collective, calls themselves a “band of filmmakers, artists, musicians, and frontiersmen devoted to creating adventurous art.” In addition to films, they also create music videos and art installations. But it was their first feature film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, that got the world’s attention. The mythic drama grossed over $12 million in theaters, and was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, in 2013. Despite the film’s success, however, Beasts director Benh Zeitlin isn’t quick to pigeonhole Court 13.

“A lot of people have seen Beasts of the Southern Wild, and they sort of think of us as filmmakers, but we’re really a completely different organism all together,” Zeitlin said. “We’re this huge collective of artists that are down here in New Orleans, and we’ve built things in a very different way. Everything is very collaborative.”

Script EXTRA: Read advice on collaborating with friends here.

This collaborative production spirit translates flawlessly to non-fiction filmmaking, too. After meeting at Sundance 2016, doc makers Darcy McKinnon and Elaine McMillion Sheldon created the All Y’all Southern Documentary Collective, a group of filmmakers, photographers and media creators who live, work and create in the South. They support and cultivate media about their communities that complicates Southern identity and grapples with their communities’ political and cultural heritage. Their members have had work screen at Sundance, South by Southwest and Tribeca, and they work for publishers and broadcasters like TIME Magazine and the Washington Post. They had their first collective retreat at this year’s New Orleans Film Festival, and they’re building digital and physical spaces to promote documentary work in the South.

1_borscht_logo_bigSome collectives don’t focus on a particular type of filmmaking, but rather generate art with a hyperlocal focus. In Miami, the Borscht Corp. is, in their own words, “an open-source collaborative dedicated to telling Miami stories. We believe in interdisciplinary collaboration. We believe in regional filmmaking. We believe in Miami.” They’ve made over 60 short films, music videos and special projects, including work from directors Amy Seimetz and Barry Jenkins. And they also host the biannual Borscht Film Festival, where you can not only see their films, but also attend events like bike crawls, pool parties, spaceship launches and laser light shows. (They’ve even showed a crowd-sourced remake of Scarface.) They’ve become known as a regional filmmaking powerhouse; for five straight years, a Borscht short film has played at Sundance.

Not all collectives need to be production-centered, though. Despite having a roster of Sundance, SXSW and Slamdance veterans, the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective doesn’t create work through official collective events. Their interaction comes in weekly peer workshops, where filmmakers present their work, and engage with other members about ideas and issues related to the work. They interface with film festivals, museums, galleries and theaters throughout New York City to show the best of the collective’s work, and they also invite guest filmmakers and industry professionals as speakers.

And some collectives find their focus in film education and filmmaker development. San Francisco’s Scary Cow collective, which calls itself a “film incubator,” boasts a whopping 289 active filmmakers, and 373 films made! They have a writer’s group, pitch meetings for new projects every two months, and an average of 30 films in production at any one time. They screen their films at the Castro Theatre, and they give out $10,000 at every screening to audience favorites so filmmakers can continue to make new work. They even have a store where they sell DVDs and BluRays of their work – and, just as importantly, hats with scary cows on them.

As you can see, collectives come in all shapes and sizes, but no matter how they’re put together, great things can happen when people team up with the goal of creating and showing films. Consider joining one – or start your own! Collectives prove that in filmmaking, the whole can truly be greater than the sum of its parts.

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