A blue-collar family man breaks the promise he’d made years ago to never fight again. Now forty years old, with a wife and four children who need him, Joe Carman risks everything—his marriage, his family, his financial security—to go back into the fighting cage and come to terms with his past.
Greywater, has received a lot of industry attention in 2015, notably being supported by Sundance Institute. Congratulations! Tell us what it was like for you to receive the good news.
JU- Thank you! 2015 has been filled with many pleasant surprises and our team is very thankful for the support we’ve received thus far. Being supported by the Sundance Institute was obviously a big step forward for us, along with receiving the TFI/ESPN Prize, Points North Modulus Finishing Fund and Gabriel Figueroa Film Fund LaboDigital Post-Production Award. There’s so many people to thank individually. It’s encouraging to see that our story is connecting with people.
How were you first introduced to the subjects featured in your film? And what drew you to chronicle Joe Carman’s journey as a fighter and family man? You’ve also been following Clayton Hoy. Tell me about him and how you met.
JU- Back in August 2013, I first met Joe through a friend who was beginning to teach yoga at the United Fitness Center in Kent. My wife and I went to her class to support her and that’s when I met Joe. He was working out at the gym when we were introduced. He mentioned he was training to get back into competitive mixed martial arts (MMA) after taking a number of years off, saying he really needed it back in his life right now. He still had goals that he wanted to achieve as a fighter before he was done. I was intrigued by that, especially when he said he was almost 40 years old and feels he has only one more year left in him. The filmmaker in me couldn’t resist the temptation to follow him for his last year on the fight circuit. I mean, he just gave me a potential endpoint to his story! That’s a rare gift when creating a verite documentary film. But of course, it’s been over two years and I’m still filming :). Anyhow, after we met I went to yoga class and I was barely able to focus because all I could think about was making this film. I wanted to understand why someone would willingly put themselves in harm’s way. After all, it’s cage fighting! Joe has a loving wife and four daughters that adore him and he has a great job as a boilermaker working for the state of Washington. I was curious as to why he needed to fight. So the next day, I asked my friend for Joe’s contact info. And come to find out, he had done the same with her, asking to contact me. We connected from the get-go, which is always a good sign. He invited me to an upcoming local MMA event. Clayton Hoy was on the fight card. My wife and I sat two rows away from the cage. Everyone in the audience witnessed the wrath of Clayton that night. He completely destroyed his opponent in graphic form – to the point where people were shielding their eyes away from the ring. Joe pointed to Clayton saying that’s the guy he’s going to fight next. Our jaws dropped. I then reached out to Clayton and asked if I could film him as he trained for his upcoming fight against Joe. Both men have compelling stories to tell and I relate to them both, especially because we all have young children that we’re raising. I have lengthy discussions about fatherhood and legacy all the time with each of them, which are important themes in this film.
What are you thoughts about filming in Washington? The landscape, incentives, help from the film community, etc.?
JU- I love it here and hope to continue making more films in Washington state. I think the landscapes are stunning and the colors from each season are unique. I don’t see the Washington backdrop often enough in films. As far as the tax incentives go, we were too far along in our production schedule to explore state-funded incentive programs like Washington Filmworks. In order to qualify for that program, 85% of your team has to be Washington residents and the large majority of money spent needs to be in state. Essentially, we had already built our crew to complete the film which has shaped up to be a nation-wide team. Our two editors are in New York City, executive producer is in DC, composer is in Santa Monica and co-producer is in San Francisco. Our Bellevue-based crew is made up of producer, sound designer and myself.
What I have found to be an excellent resource for us on this project is the Greater Seattle area film community, notably the folks at SeaDoc and the Northwest Film Forum. There’s a wealth of experienced filmmakers here with great projects in the works. Scott Squire and Amy Benson recently completed their powerful and gorgeously-rendered documentary, Drawing the Tiger, which premiered at this past year’s Hot Docs in Toronto. And I attended my first DocForest event in 2015 where I had a chance to see what others around the area were working on. I was blown away by all the presentations and the event made me feel proud to call myself a Seattle filmmaker! Be sure to keep an eye out for Elisa Haradon’s Sweetheart Deal. It’ll knock you off your feet.
What would you say has been the most rewarding thing to come out though your production period?
JU- The relationships you create with the people you meet along the way is easily the most rewarding aspect of making films. My family and I have become good friends with the Carman and Hoy families. They’re really great people to be around and the shooting environment has always been relaxed. Even if I’m filming tension-filled moments, a strong sense of trust and gratitude exists between everyone. I’m so thankful that they’ve opened their lives up to me, allowing me to capture the good, bad and sometimes ugly. After all, this is real life we’re talking about. And they know that I will honor their trust by creating a truthful and empathetic telling of their stories.
You recently had a Work-In-Progress Screening at the NW Film Forum hosted by SeaDoc. Can you give us a recap on the event?
JU- The work-in-progress screening went really well! I went into the screening with a short list of questions that I had for the audience. Eli Kimaro, from SeaDoc, moderated the screening and she did a fantastic job of making sure all of our key questions were addressed. The audience, made up of a mixture of filmmakers and friends, helped clarify to us what needs to be communicated at the beginning of the film. As you probably already know, it’s critical to get the first 15 or so minutes of your film just right. It usually takes multiple test screenings with fresh audience members. Getting constant feedback on your work is so critical. In mid 2016, I hope to return for another WIP screening of our rough cut.
The 35-minute reel that you showed at the Work-In-Progress screening was very compelling. It’s beautifully shot and the footage is intimate and emotionally raw. A lot of the time it doesn’t even seem as if they know you are there with your camera. What’s your approach to capturing some of these moments?
JU- Going into the project, I was determined to shoot entirely in cinema verite. I wanted the film to be completely scene driven. Although, I did shoot sit-down interviews with a few of the fighters during the pre-production phase, the process was designed to get to know them. But when it came time to shoot the film, I had no plans to use any sit-down interviews, voiceover or narration to tell the story. It was an artistic and storytelling challenge that I gave myself upfront. I wanted to create a film that made the audience feel they were right there with the subjects, as if you were walking in their shoes.
When I would arrive to film each day, I would begin by putting lavalier microphones on everyone. As I did this, I would give them the only piece of direction I have ever given anyone on this film, and that’s to try their best to not look at the camera. I continued to say this for the first 2 or 3 months until they would stop me and say, “I know, I know, don’t look at the camera.” I’ve shot the film with a Red One MX and/or Red Epic MX camera which is quite a large camera system when mounted on your shoulder and I’m always shooting close to the action so it took some getting used to for everyone. At some point, I think they quit caring that I’m filming after already having been there for 3 or 4 hours.
How many hours of footage have you shot so far? Do you have more filming to do in 2016? And what is your production schedule?
JU- I’ve been filming for over two years and I’m very close to completing principle photography. I have 250 hours shot so far and plan to be closer to 300 hours by the time I’m done. There’s one last fight event that I need to capture happening in February. We will then be in post-production until the end of 2016 and we are aiming toward an early 2017 release.
Has the story transformed much since the time you began filming in late 2013? And if it has changed, how are you able to function with the ever-changing events?
JU- Embracing uncertainty is at the heart of nonfiction filmmaking. I feel there is such a thing as planning too much in verite documentary filmmaking. Over-planning can suck the life out of a moment and you can feel it on the day of the shoot and also in the editing room. For me, it’s about showing up as often as I can and when I show up, be present. Be in the moment. Allow anything and everything to happen naturally. And if nothing happens, so be it. It’s a numbers game – accumulate as many shoot days and hours of footage as possible. Whenever I show up and I’m totally in the moment, amazing and surprising things always seem to happen. Not to mention, it’s a lot less stressful to operate this way. It requires a lot of time and patience but it does create a space to capture surprising moments.
After a few weeks into a project, I have a general idea of what I think the tone of the film will be. I then try and let the themes reveal themselves naturally over time. And when I’ve gathered potential themes that I observe to be meaningful to my subjects and also meaningful to me as well, I’ll create a handful of what I call “thematic buckets” to try and fill ie: something to prove, self-healing, escapism, fatherhood, legacy, forgiveness, etc. And as I film, I’ll categorize the footage into these buckets. Whichever bucket fills up the quickest or I have an abundance of, then that’s probably a good indication of what the film wants to be.
While still in production, what marketing tools have you been utilizing?
JU- Our social media sites exist but at this phase, the main marketing tool I’ve utilized thus far has probably been my frequent flier miles! Attending industry events and sharing the film with others has paid off in many ways. The cool thing that I’ve found within the documentary community is everyone – from executive level down – not only loves film and appreciates the art of filmmaking but they’re also either filmmakers themselves or had been at one point in their careers. And the main topic of conversations always goes back to story.
What was it like attending Tribeca Film Fest, Camden Int. Film Fest, Los Cabos Int. Film Fest and IDFA with an in-production film? Any tips when attending big film festivals like those?
JU- As the recipient of the TFI/ESPN Prize for 2015, we were invited to TFI’s Market. It was exciting to finally share the project with industry folks. Up until this point, we had our heads down shooting the film and now we were pitching to funders, potential partners, festival programmers and distributors. One key meeting that we had was with the LaboDigital Post-Production team based out of Mexico City and they expressed a lot of interest in our film. So after TFI, we decided to keep in touch.
Our project was then selected for an all-inclusive week long trip to Camden, Maine to attend the TFI/Camden Retreat hosted by CNN Films. Before the retreat, I cut a 35-minute reel to share with the mentors. It was such an honor to receive helpful notes and words of support from veteran filmmakers that I’ve looked up to for years.
After the retreat, I pitched our film at the Points North Pitch Forum taking place during the Camden International Film Festival in September in front of a packed opera house of over 300 people. James and I stayed up all night working on what I was going to say in the allotted 7-minute presentation. I had 3 minutes dedicated to a pitch reel video and 4 minutes to describe the project. Our efforts paid off as we were selected as the winner of the pitch forum, receiving the Modulus Finishing Funds totaling $10,000 of in-kind services.
I couldn’t believe what was to come next. When I arrived home from Camden, I received a call from the Los Cabos International Film Festival and the LaboDigital teams that Greywater was selected as the single film to win the Gabriel Figueroa Film Fund of $56,000 of in-kind post-production services provided by LaboDigital in Mexico City. That amount will cover our final sound mix, color correction, DCP and a week-long trip to the Los Cabos International Film Festival. Looking back, if we would have chosen to not travel to NYC to attend the TFI Market back in April we would not have met the LaboDigital team in person and probably would not have ultimately been selected for this award.
In November, I traveled to Amsterdam to pitch the film at the IDFA Forum. At this point, I have had a chance to meet with many of the same industry folks a second and third time. This has proven to be very productive now that we’re at the stage of completing our budget.
If I could offer any tips to filmmakers looking to attend industry events such as these, I’d suggest setting up a couple meetings ahead of time with industry folks that you’d like to show your work to in person. It helps to have your work on a handheld device, tablet and/or laptop at all times with headphones that cover the full ears. You never know when you’ll need it. Also, have your 1-minute elevator pitch memorized, and make it compelling! It never fails – every new person you meet will ask you what your film is about.
And as far as any advice I can give when applying for grants, know that you have to have a strong 1-2 combo: your film in video form and written form. Create a solid 3-minute trailer/reel that communicates the story, describes the characters, tone and your vision of the film. In addition to that short video clip, it helps to have a reel that’s longer than that on hand. If you already have a 1+ hour rough cut, great. If you have a 20-30 minute reel, that’ll work, too. Next, your film must be equally strong on paper. It took us over 9 months of constant back and forth writing to get our film on paper to be of equal quality to our video clips. The last big advancement with our writing came when I brought on my close friend Ted Kosmatka, an award-winning novelist, to help me edit our existing writing. After a weekend made up of long Skype sessions where he and I simultaneously typed on the same Google Document, our writing improved ten-fold. There are people that write grants for a living that have solid technical writing skills and you can hire them, but what I felt we needed on our team was a badass novelist to make our grant applications poetic, emotional and powerful. Ted helped us do exactly that.
If your future self could send you a message right now, what do you think it’d be?
JU- Probably something as simple as just enjoying the day-to-day collaborative process of making films and to always be focused on the bigger picture, which is maintaining healthy relationships with everyone involved – especially when it comes to my family. By doing so, I believe it’s the formula for long-term success as a husband, father and filmmaker (ordered in priority). Through the years, I’ve learned to ask myself the fundamental question before I make any big decision: “Is this the right long-term decision to make?”
What advice would you give to a first-time filmmaker who is starting production on a feature-length documentary film?
JU- Tell stories that means something to you personally – something that you connect with on a deeply emotional level. A notable screenwriter once said he writes from his core wounds. I love that. I mean, it’s not exactly easy to do, but the more I’ve embraced telling personal stories in my work, the more I realize that so many others out there share the same vulnerabilities as I do. For instance, I often think about the legacy my father left unto me and now the legacy I am leaving with my own children. I want to make all the right decisions for them and I am absolutely scared to death that I’ll screw it all up! Legacy is definitely expressed throughout this film. I hope others out there will connect to Joe and Clayton’s stories in the same way that I have. Oh, last but not least, use Quickbooks!
What are you planning to do next?
JU- I have plans to continue making nonfiction and fiction feature films, believing the story should dictate the format. But I have a full year ahead of me of post-production on Greywater so I can’t get too ahead of myself planning the next big thing. Right now my priority is to make Greywater the absolute best film it can be. But I must admit, as I edit the film, I am discovering a timely and critical short documentary that needs to be made. It’s actually an extension of Greywater. I’d like to pursue that next. I’ll be sure to keep everyone at SeaDoc informed of that project as it progresses.
Thank you, Jeff, for sharing your film with us. On behalf of everyone at SeaDoc, we wish you a successful 2016 as you complete your film. Please feel free to share your social media links with us below.
JU- Thank you for giving me a chance to share this production update! You can find @greywaterfilm here: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Our website is: www.greywaterfilm.com. And if anyone has any further questions or would like to keep in touch, send me an email at email@example.com.