- “…focus on doing what makes you happy, tell the stories that interest you, and you will find a path that will lead you where you want to be.”
Think about the moment you first thought “Oh, I should totally make a film about ‘this, that, and so-and-so.” That feeling you had to share a story created a particular spark. Bernard Mann felt this creative spark with his own father as the subject matter. Bernard’s documentary “A Rich Man” shares wisdom through experienced views from his father, Rich Mann. Bernard, who graduated from NYU with a TV/Film degree, gravitates towards filming nature, documenting events, and is an instructor teaching video editing software. With Bernard’s film experience, he displays his father, an inspirational man in his 90s, teaching lessons about life through sailing and photography.
Finding a subject matter to put your talents to use can be a painful or riveting thing. Sometimes the subject comes to you and has been with you the whole time. It could be a blessing or a controversy feeling when the subject matter is very close to you. Some would see a red flag filming family or friends; this could be a sensitive journey. Bernard has much respect for his father and organized this production within that form. Planning an effective schedule for a project is thoughtful and thorough.
Q: What was the production schedule like?
BN: The project took a year and half, starting in March 2014. A fellow filmmaker, Matt Shannon, and I began by discussing what the project would look like, and how we would conduct the interviews. The subject is about my dad, Rich Mann, who is in his 90’s. But I didn’t want it to focus on old age, which to my Dad might make him feel old, or that his story was only special due to his longevity. I felt my dad had a lot of insight about life, and that his years allowed him to develop this philosophy. I felt that is what the film should be about. Matt felt that Rich was an extraordinary example of making life what you want, and enjoying it how your want, even in your later years. So with that in mind, we set out to document his life.
Matt took most of the interviews and I was responsible for the lighting, camera and sound, although Matt helped out on that too. A special part of the film where there we used a Go Pro and wireless mic on board the sailboat, where Rich is teaching sailing, that was managed by Matt, and that turned out really well. No crew was on board for that part. We finished principle photography by August, and worked on editing. We ended up with a rough cut by Oct/Nov. I felt it needed more focus and transitions, so we took some time off, and got busy with the holidays and other work. In March/April, I looked at it again, and brought on Kersten Chalk to help mold it. She came in as a producer and post-production supervisor, with ideas on how to transition smoothly the film from the several parts that existed. Also, she brought perspective, from her wisdom and past making documentaries herself in Connecticut. As far as any other production, there was a pick up shot that Matt made sure we got in May, for when Rich’s “Fiery Sunset” shot was installed in White Center bus terminal. I had to work, but he went down with Rich and filmed that. It appears in the film at the perfect time Rich talks about it. My dad won a contest for the installation, and was selected as one of the photographers to have his art displayed around the city. So that is what the installation at White Center was about.
We were shooting for the Local Sightings June 15th deadline, so we turned in our rough cut with the intention of polishing off the sound and doing color correction. Ed Hartman came on for the score, and a sound mixer/engineer to lay in foley/mix the audio. We got word that it was going to be accepted into Local Sightings, and we were all really happy about that. That festival means a lot to me since it is hosted by Northwest Film Forum, which I love. I have made a lot of film connections through the forum, including meeting Matt and Kersten, so I really feel it is unsung hero in Seattle, and deserves mention. Everyone in the film community should be a member. Also Local Sightings really tries to showcase local voices, which I feel is really important to the arts community. It’s like having a Capitol Hill Block Party for filmmakers. Getting back to the film, “A Rich Man” premiered at Local Sightings Sept 26th, 2015.
It’s important to know the functions of your film to see what plan is going to work best within the budget, crew members, distribution, how to market it, etc. We can’t cater the same to all our projects; they’re like our babies and each one has it’s own personality. With all the different kinds of marketing plans out there it’s okay to be sensitive with how you want you film presented.
Q: What was your budget like for the film? Where did most of the funds go?
BN: The budget was typical for an indie documentary – little to no funds. I didn’t consider a kickstarter because I had access to the locations, talent and equipment I would need to shoot. Most of the budget went into post, especially the score and sound mixing. I had all the equipment needed, so we didn’t need to spend a lot on that. That said, I think it is always a good idea to consider some kind of crowd-funding or effort to help bring awareness of the film in the early stages, as people can follow along, and the momentum can build up to the completion of the film. I will be considering this going forward. I also recommend a publicist if you can manage it.
Q: Did you hire a publicist?
BN: I’ve learned that it is very helpful to have a publicist/social media person to get your film marketing attention. One year ago we had a publicist to help my dad with a photo exhibit, and it really got the word out with some online press for him. So I reached out to her again (Ryan Davis at Smarthouse Creative) to help with this film, and since it related to my dad, who she worked with before, I think it made it easier for her to help share the word. My dad will also have a photo exhibit around the same time as the film, so it will be exciting to have the people that see the film come to the photo exhibit. It will be in association with PhotoCenter NW (http://pcnw.org/), plus another exhibit at A/NT gallery (Art/No Terminal, on Westlake Ave) (http://www.antgallery.org/)
Q: What was the distribution process for your film?
BN: This film was a labor of love, and I didn’t know when it would be completed. So I was late in starting a social media presence. It’s a good learning lesson, because now that it is done, it’s a lot of catch up work. I also plan to submitting to more film festivals.
Q: What would you have done differently in distributing and marketing the film?
BN: I would have started a Facebook page/social media presence for it a year ago, while making the film, to build the audience slowly. It’s hard to find time to manage all the different things we are doing in our lives, including other emails and Facebook pages and twitter accounts etc, to put a lot of time last minute into the distribution of a film. So it’s important to set up all the social media and marketing angles in advance, so you can marshall the army when it is that go time for your film.
We realize now, it’s hard to generate the buzz in a short amount of time. But recently we have started to use Facebook, and other sites to share the movie.
It really is amazing, the things we learn over time through generations of people and connecting that with modern technology. Things that we would have never heard of is now available to us in seconds through Internet. As filmmakers we need take advantage of this creative reference. Using the Internet as a tool to see what’s out there and also putting your project out there is special because it is at your command. We can also see all the different kinds of events and festivals that we can investigate to see what works best with our film.
Q: What advice would you give about the film industry?
BN: When I first started in the industry, after film school at NYU, I always wanted to be a part of something else. I forwent focusing on what was of interest to me, and looked to follow others and hope to ride their coattails. I would say now, focus on doing what makes you happy, tell the stories that interest you, and you will find a path that will lead you where you want to be. Also, when I was starting, you had to shoot on film, and there was no Internet. Now you can make a film with high quality images, even on an iPhone, and people all around the world can see it, if they can get you to find it. I just watched this amazing 10 minute documentary from England about beetles and the New Forest of England. I heard about it through Facebook, and this never would have happened a few years ago. Second, I can take my NYU thesis film, “Empty Boxes” from 20 plus years ago, and put it on Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/118847132) and a whole new audience can view it. I shot it on 3/4 inch tape back then, and even though it had an award notable story, it couldn’t be shared in film festivals because it wasn’t shot on film. I think that the digital age has really democratized the world for more voice to come out. I think in the end this is better for everyone, even though the downside has been more filmmaking of varying quality.
Q: Congrats on your film being shown in Local Sightings – why do you think it is important to be involved with film festivals?
BN: The film festival community is important, because it puts you with other people that really appreciate film. Also, you can have interactive contact with your audience and other filmmakers. It allows a venue for people to see your film as opposed to just on a phone or laptop screen. It brings back the movie days for the techno culture to appreciate. The default is the Internet, where people watch with small screens by themselves, so as a filmmaker, you can’t experience in real time their reactions to your film or get their take on it afterwards. At a film festival, I can see the reactions, and have a chance to meet with them after they just watched it. When I go to a film festival, I realize that I am seeing people sharing a lot of independent voices, and that is really important to me and those who have films showing. It really brings together a lot creative minds as well. And by sharing my movie with my followers, it also brings attention to other filmmakers that will have their films to view. In my opinion, the Local Sightings is a must-attend film festival for Seattle cinephile residents and those from the Pacific Northwest as well. The programming really reflects the conscience of the area.
Filming a subject that you know really well and that knows you really well can create little surprises you didn’t see until you looked at it in a different form. Don’t let predictably drag your creative output down. Being respectful of the subject’s privacy and still maintaining full creative power is a balancing act. It’s important to know how you and the subject feel about the film before, during, and after shooting. Think about how this film will affect you and others over time. Think about the relationship you had and will have with your subject. Consider these details with an open mind while always being true to the flow of the story during all stages of production.
Q: What was it like filming your father?
BN: It was an interesting experience, I have to say. He is a card, and when he’s living life off camera, he likes to say he should write down his life story, that it would make a great read. And that was one of the inspirations on my part to go ahead with making the film. If he wasn’t into it, I would have not green-lit it. So I felt I should be part of the making the film, but also have someone else to collaborate with. Matt was into the idea of making the film and so we teamed up. In talking about the film, I suggested he ask the questions – he had the outsider perspective. During shooting, Matt would ask questions, but my dad still would talk to me or the camera. He was just in his element, with the attention focused on him. He wasn’t the perfect talent, the type that would only at the interviewer, so it was a very realistic documentary of his thoughts. We would ask questions, and he would talk about what he wanted, touching on our question but going in the direction he was more interested in. He had a lot to say, especially when we were out sailing with him. He waxed poetically about his younger life, and about what makes him happier than anything else. You’ll see that in the film. Also, filming on the water was the most fun challenge, as we had to be safe on Lake Union with us in a sailboat and with all other crafts shifting and moving; all the while keeping the camera and other crew-related working pieces well in place. But my dad was a pro out there. He is, as they say, an ‘old salt’. Then we also filmed at Photographic Center Northwest. He has been a longtime volunteer there, and has printed his big canvas panoramas in their digital printing lab. When we shot there, he worked on one of his photos. PCNW was very cooperative, and it’s a great place to do your photography in general. Juan Aguilera, head of the digital printing lab, was key there. He is a printing guru, and helped us get my dad’s print out, while we filmed my dad talking about photography, and his early years with Ansel Adams. My dad was printing a large panorama.
Q: Did your relationship with your family change throughout production? What are your thoughts on filming someone so close to you?
BN: For the most part, my family was excited and supportive of the production. It was only when I started to have edited cuts to share with my Dad for feedback, or my sister Michele, that there were some questions and rethinking of what it meant to have a film about a close family member made. I can tell you, it’s one thing to talk about making film about a family member like your dad, but totally different when it is in the finishing stages and the film exists. The reason is because the film represents a reflection or mirror of what and who my Dad is, and whether or not that really truly is him in reality. Or is it really an abstraction of him? The movie format cannot capture him in real life, alive form, (which us as filmmakers realize) but it can make a memory of life. But for the family, like my dad and sister and others who aren’t filmmakers, its nebulous what a film means to real life when it is about something so close to us and who we are. So it’s hard now to think about how I present the film. Such as when I want to show the film to people – I am proud of the film, for the fact it’s a finished film that I made it. And that it is about my dad who I love. But also, I want my dad to have his privacy and feel like a human being not pried upon. Especially now in the prime of his life. We both have questions about how much he would like to have his life peered in on. So does this film advance the story of the narrative he wanted to tell, or is it an unwanted visitor? I’m not sure yet, but I hope not, and I will know more after more people see it. For that, I am also thankful for the Local Sightings as it provides a place for the film to be seen by the public.
What I would tell others when considering making a film about a family member, is to know why you are making it, and stay true to that. There are so many detours along the way, and maybe you might not even finish the movie. And also, ask what will the film will mean to you in the years to come? If you are sure of the answer, then go ahead..
To watch the trailer about the film, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-K68vYYl6E
To see the film, “A Rich Man”, go to: https://vimeo.com/bmannphoto/richman
For more information about Rich Mann’s photography, go to: facebook.com/allthingsphotographique
Link for Local Sightings 2015 – http://localsightings.nwfilmforum.org/