If you’re planning to spend your summer on set, here’s an opportunity you might not want to miss. Film Independent is now accepting submissions for the Arri Feature Film Grant. The award is an ARRI ALEXA package that will be loaned to a narrative feature film scheduled to shoot during July and August 2014. To be eligible, you must be a Film Independent Fellow, alumni of the Los Angeles Film Festival, or a Spirit Award nominee or winner. Go to the Arri grant page on filmindependent.org for complete eligibility details and to apply. The application deadline is May 12, 2014.
Last year’s winners, producer Katherine Fairfax Wright and writer/director Malik Vitthal took their film Imperial Dreamsthrough our Producing Lab, and it went on to win the Best of Next! at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. “There are new voices in cinema that should be heard. ARRI is very proud to help bring Malik Vitthal’s directorial debut to screen,” says Bill Russell, VP of ARRI Inc., Camera Products. “Imperial Dreams is a special story, and we are pleased to have played a part with our Alexa Grant package.”
Here, the filmmakers share their experience with the Alexa and tell us a bit about how Imperial Dreams got made.
Tell us about Imperial Dreams and why was it important to you to tell this story?
Imperial Dreams tells the story of a reformed gang member named Bambi who, after two years in jail, returns to his old stomping grounds in Watts, Los Angeles. He has educated himself while behind bars and is determined to turn his chronicles into legitimate, published writings. But upon his return, Bambi finds himself the sole caretaker of his four-year-old son. As he grapples to build a future and honor his commitment to his son, so begins a dangerous dance with the gangster life he has been so committed to escaping.
The film is inspired by the true events of a young man named Bobby Yay Yay Jones who witnessed his first murder at the age of five–that was his introduction to power. He went on to a childhood in and out of juvenile detention, but along the way realized that life had more to offer, and began to expand his worldview by reading great authors and putting his thoughts on paper. This film is about the moment when you realize that there’s another path…and then you realize that you have to figure out how to get on it. Imperial Dreams is about learning to muster the resolve to establish your own identity and your own sphere of love, safety, and compassion even when everything around you remains in chaos.
Where did you shoot?
We shot on location in Watts, mostly in the Imperial Courts Housing Projects where the film takes place. The residents of the community rallied in support of our film to help us keep the location after the housing authority pulled our permit. The residents stood up on our behalf because they believe that the film can have a positive impact for those involved in the film and in the story it tells.
What were the biggest challenges with making this film?
In terms of the shoot, navigating the terrain of the housing projects was one of our biggest challenges, especially because we had several large outdoor night sequences. It was difficult in terms of lighting and spatial logistics, but also because of the realities of the location. Many of the story’s most violent moments were mirrored in real life as were filming. Everyone was on high alert: the residents, the police and, of course, our cast and crew. Nevertheless, shooting on the Alexa allowed us to move more smoothly through setups because we could rely largely on available light. Using Super Speed prime lenses enabled us to maximize our ability to capture the authentic atmosphere of the story. So it ended up working out both budget-wise and story-wise.
Who is on your creative team and how did you all come to work together?
From the get-go, we wanted our story to be accessible to a variety of audiences. So we set out to bring together a wide-ranging (and as it turned out, international) group of storytellers who would examine the themes of the gangster story, each with their own lens. Ismet Prcic and I have known each other for years, and we co-wrote the script. Ismet is always searching for the truth in his work. He was a good fit for this story. Having grown up in Bosnia during the war, he knows first-hand about the burden of a gangster’s psyche from witnessing so many atrocities of war in his home country. Our Polish-born cinematographer Monika Lenczewska was essential because of the manner in which she respected the dark side of this world, while still highlighting the compassionate side of the father-son relationship that lies at the heart of the story. Everyone on our creative team found ownership in the project and brought something special to it, the whole cast and crew.
What was the visual look and feel you were trying to achieve with this film and why did you want to shoot with the Alexa?
While developing the look of the film, we were dedicated to finding a balance between the elegance of the main character Bambi’s vision of the world, and the grittiness of the world itself. It’s a chaotic, violent and impulsive world, but especially for the Bambi, one with palpable humanism lying beneath. The ARRI Alexa really helped us bring this idea to life.
The color rendition of the Alexa is extremely good, as is the latitude, which allows for a lot of detail in the highlights. This was important because we had a lot of sunny Los Angeles exteriors, and characters with a variety of skin tones. We also made use of the Alexa’s versatility in frame rates with occasional slow motion segments that help illustrate the psychology of fear at play in some of the more dramatic moments.
How have you built the support for this film and how did you put together your financing?
This project has been championed by several filmmaking organizations whose assistance was invaluable in bringing clarity to the story and our intentions in telling it, as well as in ensuring that the film come to fruition. The script went through the Sundance Screenwriting Lab and the Jerusalem International Film Lab, and once producer Katherine Fairfax Wright was on board, we went through the Film Independent Producing Lab. These incubators helped us develop the project, as well as its legitimacy, which enabled us to attract the attention of production companies. We joined forces with our producers Jonathan Schwartz and Andrea Sperling at Super Crispy, who also brought in the financing. Then we made a movie!