Today marks the opening of the fourth annual Oak Cliff Film Festival, or as I like to call it, Dallas’s best kept secret. This fest is like no other, an intimate punk rock celebration of cinema that stands as the perfect reflection of its fathers.
This week, I sat down with one of the festival’s founding partners – Dallas filmmaker Jason Reimer – to talk crowdfunding, cultural shifts, and why you should take care of your people.
Reimer is not just a filmmaker but one of Dallas’ greatest advocates for film, with a deep understanding of industry politics. He is a musician, a collaborator, and just generally a helluva guy. Check out the music videos and video art below to see some of his early work. Happy #ThrowBackThursday, y’all!
DFLY: So I know you told me one of the first things you made was the Mind Spiders video for “Wait For Us” – was this the first thing you directed?
JR: It’s not the first thing I directed, but it’s the first thing I shared and said I directed this. We started doing things before that but I kind of tucked them away. You know, when you’re practicing and trying things, you’re going to fail a lot first. And being a musician and used to being on stage a lot, I was okay with that. I just wanted to make sure that whatever we directed was linear, that we could defend it. So that was the first thing we said we did. And then a bunch more music videos after that. Then in the middle of last year we shot the first narrative thing, The Object.
DFLY: So The Object was the first narrative film you made that had a budget, an audience, some real preparation, et al?
JR: That I wrote, yeah – the first real thing. Because all the video art stuff I did in transition from music to film wasn’t really written, it was just visual tricks that I would write music for. And we did a live show, interactive video. I was doing multi-media stuff in my early thirties – stuff that doesn’t translate well to just being online. It was more you had to be there, in a way.
DFLY: So do you think that to be successful without agents or festivals, you need to make things that can distinguish themselves online? It’s DIY like zine culture now.
JR: These days I would probably say yeah… Everyone everyone everyone can make content. It spirals off when people want to cover that content and are attracted to certain sections of that content. So it creates a million subgenres. At any give time, you can’t just say “drama” anymore; there are a million different kinds of drama. The same way saying “rock music” means a thousand different things. So I think there’s a comparison to be made. But more than that, look at how it petered out at the end of that big wave of MP3 culture. It still went back to people being gate-keepers of what was heard. There’s such a wave of stuff; it’s an exciting time but also, it’s still the wild west. You still have to have a good story. And the end of the day that’s the first thing that matters.
DFLY: Let’s talk about The Object and how you used structure to break convention.
JR: A lot of people are doing something interesting with time right now. That’s the vibe. They’re playing with time, they’re playing with the way the plot line might be constructed. People are constantly ripping it apart and trying to see if they can reinvent the wheel. You can argue if that’s successful or not. The Object was weird – I kind of learned to do that same thing. I took what I considered to be traditional plot points and traditional tropes and said, well what if I manipulate all of them to the point where you think you’re seeing something you’ve seen before. You know, Oh I’ve seen the white protagonist guy and his problems, so I purposefully thought, let’s do that exact thing and then take that huge trope that’s been used a million times and dismantle it piece by piece so by the time we really get to know the alpha male, he’s a mess. Pretty simple, we wanted to do that.
DFLY: Can you tell me a little bit about your collaboration with FD Magazine on Figurehead?
JR: FD saw and really liked the Sarah Jaffe video and that got them interested in me. We were still working on The Object so they hadn’t seen it at that point. I kind of waited to show them… because it is kind of weird. I mean if they had seen that first, I think they would have been worried.
DFLY: I want to hear about the process of creating The Object, since it was really your first time at that level. How was that road paved?
JR: First thing was the crew, which was essential. If there’s any one tidbit of advice, it’s this: Try to find the people that you vibe with the most and then work with them, a lot. Don’t keep changing it out if it’s working. Find your tribe. It’s like a band, you know – you get together with people you vibe with and make a ton of music.
DFLY: It is a muscle.
JR: The thing is, when you make a budget and then you get to location and you’ve got a time limit, the amount of stress is so high that you can’t be worried about, I can’t believe that guy just looked at me like that, and all these weird things that go on in humans’ brains. You don’t have time for that anymore, because there’s money involved.
DFLY: I feel like directing is so self-conscious anyway. I can show up the most prepared person on set and still worry that my people won’t be satisfied with the end product and that it’ll be my fault. I’ve been hearing lately a lot of talk, we should hire this guy because he’s got this camera, or whatever. What’s your take on equipment versus people? What’s more valuable?
JR: [breathes deeply] Yeah, but if the guy with the free camera is a pain in the ass to work with then who cares? I mean, you’ll be miserable [jumble of anguished sounds]. I don’t care about gear compared to people. I’d much rather work with people I like being around. You’re going to spend sometimes fifteen, sixteen hours with these people on set. I can’t imagine doing that with people I don’t like, I mean that would just be miserable. The gear thing, especially for people where that’s their profession – DPs and whatnot – it’s an obsession. And I think, for a director, learn as much of it as you possibly can, because it cuts down on the amount you’re impressed by things like that. Don’t let gear sway your gut. People are way more important – is the short answer to that for me.
DFLY: What have you learned on these later projects about how to run a set, how to take care of your people on set?
JR: I’ve cheated a little bit because Kristen, my wife, is my foil. She’s skilled in lots of things. I have a whole bunch of things to worry about, and her main skill as a producer is to make sure everyone’s cool. We used to have a joke, back in the music studio days, you have to have someone to tend to the vibe, to make sure no one’s freakin’ out.
DFLY: I love that.
JR: If you sit down with a group of people that wanna work with you, the money will become less and less interesting to them when the project becomes more interesting, and you’ve taken care of them. They’ll be working with you not just because you’re paying them to, but because they want to. And I have found that being a PA first and all those things on the way up were extremely helpful in those moments when someone’s having a meltdown.
DFLY: Yeah, it’s great insight.
Note: We had a great conversation about the difficulties of funding creative projects. This is what I will give you, because it’s the best way I’ve ever heard this put:
JR: Raising money for a project is such an art form in itself because you’re really, really a salesman. And you’re a salesman for something that is not physically there. I can’t show you a widget and say, look how awesome this widget is and then you say yes or no. I have to sell you on something that’s ethereal and maybe confusing.
DFLY: It’s apparent to me that you want to put a lot of money on the screen, but I know people are so important to you in the filmmaking process. How do you balance this?
JR: The reason your money shows on the screen is because you hired the right people.
DFLY: So before we sign off, I wanna talk a little bit about the Texas Theater and the origins of the amazing Oak Cliff Film Festival. How would you pitch the theater and what it means to the community if you had to do it in ten lines?
JR: I could probably do it in less. It’s really just an arthouse theater. We meant it as an arthouse theater. It had been that before and in a very preservationist way we just said, hey – let’s do that again. The best advice I got about it, from one of my old bosses was, “Let the community make it.” Like, you build the thing and then get out of the way. Let it be whatever the community is attracted to it for.
DFLY: And the festival?
JR: There was talk about doing a fest from the beginning. The year we started, there were a lot of festivals announced regionally. There’s festivals everywhere now. They’re just everywhere. So I was like, if we’re gonna do one, we have to make sure that we know why we’re doing it. I wanted to make sure we’re doing one for a genuine reason or skip it, you know, there’s enough film festivals. Ours is really about the neighborhood and being who we are. It takes a lot of guts to go raise money, get people together, make a thing, it’s very hard. And to show it to people, it’s a very personal thing. There’s a certain bravery to that. That’s why a lot of the festival’s copy says something like, “brave filmmaking.”
There you have it, people. Brave filmmaking, brave festival. Find the 2015 Oak Cliff Film Festival schedule at http://www.oakclifffilmfestival.com and for pete’s sake, spend more time at the Texas Theater, y’all!
Rachel Wilson, 2015.