Filming the film center III: 10 years through sound…

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The Echo Park Film Center didn’t nearly happen.  But when Paulo Davanzo’s parents died, it seemed the best way to pay homage and keep alive their memory.

“My parents were activists and they passed away very early on in my life. I started this in memory of my parents. I found combining the things I loved activism, education and film making the best way to continue their legacy of giving,” says Paulo.

 

“I love Echo Park, “says Paulo. “As a child I was driving around here with my mum and I said to her, ‘oh look, there’s a lake.”

As a filmmaker and teacher Paulo has a close insight into the unique social culture of Echo Park. That’s why he doesn’t like being commended on the work the center does with youth at risk. “Every child, every young person is at risk,” he says. “ Youth at risk is a basterdised term. There was a time when school wasn’t on everyone’s agenda here but since then through the years the demographics have changed and now most are on support programs, go to school and some even finish college.”

This isn’t just about learning how to make a film. “We believe in the joy of the motion picture,” explains Paulo. “Not Hollywood narrative. anything but that.” Documentaries from the world over are shown as are the films made by the students. “The idea is to spark discussion, have a good time and maybe be inspired to use film as a medium of change,” says Paulo.

“The center is for everyone. Any one who wants to come in is very welcome,” Paulo. ” We have something for everyone. Its a mixed universe out here.” (Photo credits: Echo Park Film Center)

Funding is always an issue through there is a diverse pool of fund providers now. “We have started paying our teachers now. I too pay myself pennies for every hour,” says Paulo. Bur for the teachers, money is the last reason to join. Eve La Fontaine says, her greatest moment are the film retrospectives her class holds at the end of every session.

For more information visit the Film Center .

 
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Filming the Film Centre II:10 years and going strong

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When we reached the film center, I had my story down pat. My batteries were charged and ready. My questions were done. I could almost hear the answers already in my head. And that’s when I also heard a small voice telling me that a mistake that had nearly blown one assignment was about to happen again. This wasn’t a print story. It was a video story. Once that was clear a lot of things fell in naturally. With our instructor Jim, assuring and reassuring everyone that everything was going great, I started. Holding the camera (straight) is always an experience. One that I was about to savor. Suddenly all those rules made sense. The two thirds rule, the pan shot, handles and keeping the camera for a few seconds more on every frame didn’t seem so strange any more. The story was supposed to focus on the change the films have made. Paulo, the director of the center, had lost to say about that as well. Travels in South Dakota, the 24 year old who 10 years ago would have joined a gang but instead today holds retrospectives of his films and finally the young people who teach at the center and one day hopefully will take over.

While his words were wonderful, I had no visuals to match them. So the story center had to be something else. That’s when discussions with Professor Doug saved the day. “What you have is good,” he said. “But why should I care?” Powerful characters tell a good video story and here the center was a character. So juxtaposing the kind of films it makes and the kind of city LA is gave me my first lead.

The treatment changed with the way the story developed. While earlier my opening shots were to detail the center how I had to set context of the city. My time to do is short so I used a cliche: the ever popular opening shot of the Hollywood sign. Then I use still photos to establish the center.

This led to the fact that now the center was 10 and I close with the change the films made. Suddenly video doesn’t seem so scary anymore.

Filming the Film Centre

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As film centres go, the Echo Park Film Centre would be easy to dismiss as one among the herd. But there are two very distinguishing factors that make up its character: one the work it does with youth at risk and two the film education it seeks to provide that crosses boundaries and goes into various states of across the US giving the whole idea a very national character. The centre turns 10 this year. So it’s been a decade of travelling, teaching, learning and filming. Decades are turning points. Where does the centre go from here?

What is the story? As a film education and appreciation (it exhibits documentaries and films from the world over) centre where is it going in the next decade?

It has a nondescript appearance. The shop front is bang on main street so no arching doorways, no driveways to give the opening shots appeal and depth. But visual treasures lie in the store. The old cameras, the walls done up with posters and colourful cuttings make great atmosphere so letting the camera work within the store with a few opening shots to establish context should work.

Much of the story will focus on its directors   Paulo and the volunteers who come in every Thursday and Friday. If the youth filmmakers are willing to share their stories then that can be used as voice over’s without showing their actual faces or revealing identity. The bus the team uses to travel all over the United States can be  a character by itself.

The camera can be a roving one but will be mounted on the tripod to have steady shots. It doesn’t have to focus on any one person through opening shots can feature on Paulo the director. For Paulo its will be fun to know what motivates him to carry? There isn’t much money in taking free classes for seniors and young people and showcasing films. How does he manage to balance his accounts? What’s been his greatest moment till date?

The volunteers (who are, as Paulo says, the soul of the centre) will have good sound bytes. Many of them are from the youth at risk population the centre works with. They train and then come back to volunteer. Films keep them away from gangs, drugs and violence. After their program is over how does it feel to mentor other young people? Do they see themselves in their new students?

We are going at a time when classes will be on. The b roll can include sessions from the classes, the instructors and the new folks learning to film. In fact the training session is by itself a good story to explore for our 3 minute video. The sounds will be of the interviewees, the sounds of equipment being used, the instructors and the comments and questions the class being instructed throws up. The story starts with Paulo’s motivation and ends with where he sees the centre going in the future. There doesn’t have to be a definite time span: just a general take on future plans.

Our area is Echo Park and my wonderful team with its dynamic advisor decided to film very eclectic aspects. That’s why we found a pinball playing centre, a psychic office and the film club. By itself the film club is an obvious and rather unsubtle issue to choose. But it turns 10 and that’s not been covered. Using that as a peg we can take off on various issues that haven’t been touched upon in detail before.

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 LA Story Project

Echoing unique trends

The Echo Park Film Centre (EPFC) does everything a local film centre possibly can do and then some more. It trains interested folk to shoot movies, discover the joys of motion picture in their own creations as well as open up meaningful dialogue about cinema through the different films and documentaries they regularly screen. But this isn’t why this non-profit media arts organization is so popular. Their free filmmaking classes for teens and especially what is termed ‘youth at risk’ are a great introduction to a very powerful medium that enables and encourages many young people to creatively self express.

Travelling wide

But like the best cinema, the volunteer run EPFC isn’t bound just within Echo Park. Its Filmmobile (a 1997 Bluebird redone to clean energy technology standards) is an eco-friendly cinema and film school on wheels that takes ideas of cinema out of the Echo Park to states like Texas and Colorado to spread the message of reel, roll and riotous fun. And that’s not all. Its touring film festival, aimed at underserved communities, showcasing local established and emerging filmmakers is an eagerly awaited annual event. The idea is to “truly reflect the many voices and visions that make up the fabric of contemporary American life”. This year for the EPFC is a special one. This is the year they turn 10.

Why Echo?

While choosing to work on this idea was an easy one, this isn’t the usual ‘doing good’ story with a social angle that readers usually like. As a community film centre the role of the EPFC, though an important one, is relatively what most centres of its kind do.

It’s the free program for young people and its touring Film Company that draws and holds attention. How are the young people chosen? Do they come from local areas only or are walks-ins with no school affiliation encouraged?  What will give this a unique angle will be documenting those young people who came back to the centre to volunteer after their training was over.

 The idea that a bus can double up as a film screening studio (screenings are usually done using solar power and a small generator) as well as a school to take cinema across the country gives it a national character.

The characters here are many and include the seniors, the teens, the trainers and in fact the films themselves that are screened.

For director, Paolo Davanzo, it’s the idea of creating a “venue free of pretension” that’s the main motivation. Not for him are big words like ‘empowerment’. Together with friends, Ken Fountain and Joe Hilsenrad, he set up the EPFC as a clear “alternative to the Hollywood model of success”.

It might be situated in LA and working within the Echo Park community but truly on its own it works to create a national cinema consciousness while keeping alive a very important social component in their training classes for young people.

 For more info: http://echoparkfilmcenter.org/index.html http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofG4pfqP0NY

 

Scripts, Scores and Scandals!

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Library Audio Slide show

What do you think would be the tagline if the Cinematic Arts Library at USC ever decided to advertise itself?  A haven for film buffs, doesn’t matter which era, this is one library that has no staid halls of serious readers peering between stacks of books. This is the address where the party to celebrate the celluloid is always on.

What does it mean for team Steve Hanson and his merry band of men and women to be amidst some of cinema’s greatest moments on a daily basis? In conversation with Team Cinema.

Are you allowed to have favorites among the various treasures you have?

Which piece or item here would you protect with your life?

Dresses, swords and guns: Do you guys play dress up when no one is looking?

Tell us about the most scandalous item on your library stock here.

Who are the most famous people who have frequented these halls? What’s the most bizarre question you have ever been asked about them?

Describe this place in 3 words. Describe what it means to you in 3 words.

So many precious scripts, photos and posters: what kind of adventures have you had acquiring them?

This is the age of new technology. What changes have been introduced and how are you coping with it?

Your most memorable moment as librarian here till date.

Budgets everywhere—how are you holding up?

What has been the nicest thing someone has ever said to about this library?

The Photo sequencing

  The opening shot of the doors marking the entrance to the library would be my establishing shot. It’s an opening to treasures that most of us would have otherwise seen only in museums.

 

 

 The picture of the hall with the cheery posters captures the essence of the collections. The posters might be from another time but they don’t seem outdated. Is that the power of cinema or the charisma of the performers? Most of the notices are films many of us have grown up with. A nice bit of happy nostalgia!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The photo of young Frank Sinatra is a must. Its details like what misdeneanour was Sinatra arrested for in the early 1920’s that make this whole idea of a film librarry so interesting.

Down but certainly not out.

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In 2006, then secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, in an interview to Reader’s Digest, had said that the most amazing political transformations would happen in the next few years in the Middle East. Political predictions didn’t include the speed at which the change would come.

Slide show that worked

There was a time when Egypt was synonymous with the pyramids but the incidents of Tahir Square changed that forever. Hosni Mubarak is now on trial and while that doesn’t generate the kind of frenzy that the protests leading to his ouster did, it still was front-page news for many media globally.

The MSNBC.COM (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4999736/) had a slideshow combining visuals from the Egyptian state television via AP. Some of the photos were common to most media. But what made this work standout from news presented elsewhere was its combination of photos, their sequencing and the text.

The opening shot was one that went viral this morning showing a caged Mubarak arriving on a hospital bed to court. This was followed by a shot of a single man’s reaction highlighted in a sea of blurred protestors outside the courtroom in Cairo. The slides were a mix of general scenes from inside the courtroom and the ongoing protests outside.   The text on the side doesn’t interfere nor distract from the visuals. They are there for those interested in minutiae.  An eclectic mix of the various shades to the event, the slideshows main appeal lay in its use of stark individual reactions juxtaposed with general scenes. They built up effectively to the highly charged emotional atmosphere.

The eye was given a break from having to scan many details to focussing on one powerful visual (like slide No2 or slide no 8). Besides underlining the general mood brought out by the photos of the protestors, they help transitioning to the next slide keeping alive a sense of anticipation.

The entire presentation was uncluttered with no advertisements and no Facebook or Twitter sharing buttons jostling for space. One email link was provided at the top bar of the slide. The close-ups captured the eye expressions of the people and the police and therefore the slides (loading fast and moving well), helped the viewer share a sense of energy with the images.

 A female protestor carrying Hosni’s photo (Slide 6) wasn’t immediately followed by pro-Hosni crowds. That came at No: 11 and lent a balance to whole presentation of what could be this year’s most sensational trial unless Gaddafi was found talking his evening constitutional in a garden in Kolkata. The weakest (when contrasted with the energy of the preceding slides) photos of Hosni’s sons leaving the court are placed right towards the very end (Slides 9 and 10). But the show doesn’t end on a weak note. A young protestor being forcibly detained by the police leaves viewers with a reminder about the repressiveness of the toppled regime: a compelling polar to the opening image of an obviously ill and caged Hosni.  

The New York Times also had a slideshow accompanying the article “Mubarak Trial Rivets Egyptians” (http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2011/08/03/world/middleeast/20110804EGYPT-9.html). While its photos weren’t similar to the ones used on MSNBC.COM, it’s more general approach with nearly not as much attention detail like the MSNBC’s visuals didn’t grab attention and hold it. In some visuals (like slide 8) the close-ups too didn’t capture the sense of urgency surrounding the issue.

What didn’t work?

Quite simply the full story or the video story of the same trial (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43998161/ns/world_news-mideast_n_africa/). The video took 28 seconds to start. The opening shots document the channel’s first move to Egypt to cover the protests. The reporter anchoring the sequences, talks about the issue while his voice floats up from the ground as well. Trite comments, “What does all this mean?” with the reporter taking up most of the frame does nothing for the story.

While the camera does pan to capture footage of the protests, its movements are jerky and cuts too often and too abruptly, making scene changes sudden and uncomfortable. This isn’t live television here. These are file shots taken in February. Careful editing would have helped prevent the jump cuts. Pan shots are essential to give a sense of the action but here the camera moves too fast, capturing no detail and therefore the scenes don’t have a sense of being a part of the Egyptian protests. Very frankly? They could have been anywhere.

The video did have some very gripping interviews like the man shot in the leg or the women whose son was skilled. But the moments aren’t dwelt upon long enough to create an impact. Most great news videos have subjects shedding light on issues instead of the reporter’s or anchor’s voice. Its characters that tell a good video story.

The interviewees here were dynamic but the focus seems to be to move onto the next subject fast. The ending was trite thus making viewers wonder if more interviews could have been incorporated.

The anchor intruded into the screen too much and too often, his presence often overshadowing the protestors. What should have been or rather would have worked just as well as a voice over is instead a reporter waving hand nearly in our faces. We back away in fear right out of the page and into other news site more subtle in its approach and where the Egyptians are the focus instead of the journalist.