Tuesday, March 12, 2013


As mentioned previously, an eclectic assortment of short films and music videos have been selected for screening at the upcoming Sun Valley Film Festival (March 14-17, 2013). The 20 short films and 15 music videos were selected based on their focus on story, no matter the medium. These additional films and videos will complement the outstanding lineup of 33 feature films to be presented throughout the festival weekend. Of the selected short films, five are world premieres and one is a North American premiere. Idaho is well represented in the film and music video selection as 8 of the shorts were filmed in Idaho, and 9 of the music videos were made by Idaho filmmakers. Here's a sampling of the Idaho output.


Exit Wound (Director: Hunter Holcombe)—Sgt. Chess Johnson was shot through his eye while fighting in Iraq, and told he was no longer fit to serve. After struggling with alcoholism, drug dependency, PTSD and traumatic brain injury, he is invited to a unique program in Sun Valley, Idaho helping treat veterans and their spouses. The goal: to channel their addiction to adrenaline through outlets like skiing and paragliding. Exit Wound is a 26-minute documentary film about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It follows Chess, a veteran of the war in Iraq, from his hometown in Washington State to a camp in the mountains of Sun Valley, Idaho, as he learns to cope with PTSD. Programs like Higher Grounds in Sun Valley are helping veterans learn to deal with the mental and physical problems that arise when soldiers return from war. Official site. IMDb. Facebook. Vimeo.

Holcombe is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley's documentary program, with a master's degree from the journalism school. He's lived in the Bay Area for the last 12 years, working mainly as a magazine editor and writer. During a year in Buenos Aires, he had a chance to work with a producer of a short project, and immediately fell in love with shooting and producing video. He went straight to Berkeley, where—under the expert guidance of Jon Else and Spencer Nakasako—he learned how to make films, Exit Wound being the result. Holcombe launched a Kickstarter campaign in July 2012 that proved unsuccessful; however, the film was accepted into Chicago's United Film Festival in September 2012 and now returns to SVFF.

Magpie (Writer / Director: Joel Wayne; Producer: Troy Custer)—Morris is a middle-aged, recently-divorced man recovering from pica, an addictive disorder characterized by an appetite for inorganic food, like chalk, metal, or detergent. When Morris' son, Peter, checks himself out of a sober living facility, Morris spends the day searching for him and finds himself relapsing in the process. IMDb. World Premiere. I've recently interviewed Joel Wayne for The Evening Class.

STZ (Director / Producer / Editor: Kirsten Strough)—"Is one night of passion worth roaming the earth as an undead monster?" At their freshman orientation, students are shown a PSA warning against more than just the dangers of drugs and alcohol, but also against the recent breakout of STZ: Sexually Transmitted Zombies.

Kirsten Strough began experimenting with video production as a sophomore at Fruitland High School, which had a good broadcasting program, so she was lucky to have access to equipment and learn from talented people. During her senior year, she was accepted into several colleges and offered good scholarships, but decided to go with Boise State University where she was offered a full ride as a Legacy Scholar through the Alumni Association. With some decent experience under her belt (for her age) and a peaked interest in the field, she decided to study Mass Communication / Journalism at BSU. The Communication Department had several media production and theory classes. By the time she graduated, they had a Cinema and Digital Media Studies certificate which she received along with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Mass Communication / Journalism and a minor in Political Science. She now works for the Bureau of Reclamation as a Visual Information Specialist shooting and editing photos and videos for the public, technical reports, archival purposes, etc.

STZ was written by her cousin Betty Kim Ryan, a screenwriter in Seattle, and her screenwriting partner, David R. Larson. Strough had half-jokingly suggested to them that they should write her a script and they decided to write something that would be feasible to make on a college campus that would appeal to a collegiate age range. Strough absolutely loved the script from day one and decided to make it happen, even though she's not actually a huge genre fan. She finds horror movies generally far too gratuitous and tends to gravitate toward more dramatic films, but enjoys a good suspense film from time to time.

Being a shorts filmmaker in Idaho has been somewhat difficult for her. In one respect, Boise's small filmmaking community is composed of individuals who are generally good about give and take and working on each others' projects. But the barter system can only get you so far, Strough admits, and good luck with trying to make a living as a filmmaker in Idaho! Though she concedes it's not impossible. It's just difficult to find funding and people who have the time to work on her projects. Nearly every Idaho filmmaker she knows has a day job. It is what it is. Notwithstanding, she would love to pursue a career in filmmaking, especially as a producer or an assistant director. But for now, she's enjoying her job with the Federal Government, which is allowing her to pay off the student loans she acquired from a semester studying abroad.

The Yellow Wallpaper (Director: Jesse Cordtz; Executive Producer: Jane Merrow)—The Yellow Wallpaper takes place in the old nursery of a dilapidated Victorian home. The woman, played by Jane Merrow, is nervous and high strung, therefore her husband, a doctor, has confined her to this nursery to help cure her disposition. This however has the opposite effect as her neurosis begins to take over and the wallpaper in the room begins to come to life. After its World Premiere at SVFF, The Yellow Wallpaper will screen on PBS and then be made available online. Official site. IMDb.

Mandrake Estate (Director / Writer / Producer: Zach Voss)—Mandrake Estate is the most prestigious golf course within 35 miles, according to its loyal groundskeeper, Brooks Llyodman. But the staff and members become divided over budget decisions, risking the peaceful nature of Mandrake across all 18 holes, and beyond. World Premiere.

Voss and his film Mandrake Estate were the recipients of an Idaho Film Office film grant in 2012. My interview with him is included within my initial survey of Idaho film production, published in Fusion magazine.

Morning Mic (Director / Writer / Producer / DP: Andrew Crawford)—A popular radio DJ struggles to find meaning in life. IMDb. World Premiere.

The Seed (Director / Co-Writer / Editor: Christian Lybrook; Producer / Co-Writer: Chris Brock)—When a curious seed arrives in an unmarked envelope, it leads a broken man on a journey to uncover its meaning. IMDb. World Premiere.

For a more detailed overview of The Seed, visit my interview with Lybrook published on Fandor's Keyframe where both his shorts The Seed and last year's SVFF entry Crawlspace (2011) will be streaming concurrent with the festival.


"Benchwarmers" by Finn Riggins (Director / Animator: Jason Sievers)—Jason Sievers's Vimeo page (which includes SVFF entry "Benchwarmers") offers several of his other music videos as well. Sievers's background is as a graphic designer and—aside from a couple of photography classes and a video production course at BSU—he's had no real background in film; but, he's always loved animation and realized about 13 years ago that he could make rudimentary animations with his Mac, his webcam and inexpensive software. As cheap digital camera technology evolved, he quickly moved away from webcam projects to a DSLR. Although he concedes his video skills are limited by equipment, he recently provided video backgrounds for an Opera Idaho production that he shot using GoPro cameras and video applications on his iPod Touch.

Aside from his early stop-motion experiments and a couple of commercial projects, nearly all his work in animation has been in the form of music videos. Music is a major passion in his life and he's a huge fan and supporter of Boise music and has several musician friends. Motivated to make music videos is a great way for him to explore different animation techniques and media. Whether he's initiated a project or been invited by a band, knowing there is a potential audience helps him accomplish the work. As animation is time-consuming, especially when working solo, a 3-4 minute song can take up to a couple months to complete and a few of his videos have taken considerably longer. As a father with a full time job in advertising it takes Sievers a lot of late nights and weekends to get things done, but—because it's something he genuinely loves—he's enjoyed collaborating with amazing artists who are grateful and appreciative of his work. There's no question that the internet has advanced video as an important tool for bands to gain exposure and his own work has been furthered through association. Although many music videos boast big budgets, all too often they're negligible. Sievers operates under the premise that—if people can spend half a million dollars on a video that ends up being devoid of artistry or meaning—then, conversely, someone working without any budget but with a great love for the music—can turn an interesting idea into something beautiful and meaningful.

Although some of his work was shown at a Portland music video festival, being accepted into SVFF means he'll actually get to attend. Sievers doesn't have specific expectations associated with having "Benchwarmers" screen at SVFF, but is thrilled for the exposure and is grateful SVFF has seen fit to include a program of music videos, granting them credence as an art form. He's happy to be representing Boise alongside fellow Boise artist Tyler Williams. As for the pros and cons of being an imagemaker in Boise, Sievers appreciates the city's small but vibrant art community and how artists from different disciplines support each other. The downside is the lack of exposure outside of Boise and the state. On the whole, however, he loves living in Idaho and raising his family here and has confidence his work will continue to grow and evolve and, hopefully, receive some attention along the way regardless of location. He understands the allure of big cities for young artists, but claims Boise is enough of a city for him and his artistry.

“Benchwarmers” by Finn Riggins (10+1 pt. 3, fall 2011) from Jason Sievers on Vimeo.

"Done To My Love" & "East Coast Dying" by Gayze Director: Tyler T. Williams

Gayze - "Done To My Love" & "East Coast Dying" from Tyler T. Williams on Vimeo.

"You Are Minez" by Jean Sebastien Audet Director: Tyler T. Williams

YOU ARE MINEZ from Tyler T. Williams on Vimeo.

Tyler T. Williams grew up on a ranch outside Santa Barbara, California and early on developed a love for the outdoors. Then he became obsessed with skateboarding and would film his friends shredding the streets around town after school and on weekends. After capturing a week's worth of footage, he would edit day and night until he thought he had a perfect little film, which meant a lot of trial and error.

When asked how he interacted with musicians to develop a concept for a music video, he responded that typically he's approached by an artist with a specific track in mind, which he listens to for hours until an idea pops into his head. "I usually go by what sort of feeling the song makes me feel and then create characters for these feelings," he explained. "The atmosphere is then built around them." Sometimes the musicians will have a certain direction they want to go, but can't really put a finger on an actual visual that will translate correctly.

Visually, I find Williams's music videos interesting for their desaturated color pallette, even as in each video he retains some colorful element as a counterpoint: the green car in one, the blue shirt in the other, the yellow jumpsuit in the third. He couldn't quite articulate what informs that visual choice other than to say he likes "the stark contrast between these props and their characters."

I wondered why his concepts were so violent? Williams qualified that it wasn't the violence that fascinates him, but the moment his characters are driven to violence and the thoughts that might be going through their heads. It's nearly unfathomable, yet such moments of violence happen every day.

As for coordinating the visual rhythm of his editing with the rhythm of the music, he admitted the process usually involves "millions of hours" tweaking the edit repeatedly each day. One week he'll like his edit and the following week he'll hate it. So he'll cut it again and again until it reaches a point where he's finally okay with it. Sometimes he'll already have editing concepts in his mind before he's shot any footage and—once he sees what he's shot—is forced to go in a totally different direction.

Given all its beautiful locations, Williams finds Idaho absolutely fabulous. Thirty minutes outside of Boise and he's in a killer location, which is great for guerrilla filmmaking. The down side of being a short form filmmaker in Idaho is he hardly ever has a budget for a music video and/or trying to coordinate a proper crew is tough. He has DoP friends who live in LA that he'd love to work with in Idaho, but—without a budget—it's hard to get them North. Further, the lack of camera rental shops in Boise make securing equipment tough. "So I guess that it's not that Idaho is necessarily bad for filmmaking; it's just that all of the people I'd like to collaborate with live out of state." He loves making music videos even though there's no return financially. They're like building blocks for him in learning how to tell stories. Eventually, he'd like to try to tell stories through feature films.

"Breakers" by Local Natives Director: Jaffe Zinn

Local Natives - Breakers (Official Music Video) from PIASGermany on Vimeo.

"DUHNK" by Owlright Director: Owlright

"GreyHound" by Jonathan Warren and the Billy Goats Director: James Hansen Producers: James Hansen, Ben Molyneux

"When Frida Became" by Project 213 Directors: Stephanie Michelle Lokelani, Gene EilebrechtCombining masked dance, animation, and an impassioned title song, "When Frida Became" harkens to Frida Kahlo's redemption from pain through art.


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