Was this your first Doc Challenge? What has been your favorite part about Fusion Doc Challenge?
Yes, this was our first Doc Challenge, but Josh has been part of several 48 Hour Film Challenges. Our favorite part is joining a community of other like-minded filmmakers and discovering that we all have something compelling and creative to contribute.
How did you take the theme for the 2014 Doc Challenge “I have a bad feeling about this,” and use it in your film?
The overall tone and overarching theme of Level Up was deeply entrenched in a “very bad feeling” about the shocking Craigslist murder of Danny Zeitz. His death not only impacted his family, but an entire global community of major league gamers.
What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
Denice Evans: I am a writer and storyteller first and a filmmaker second. I spent years writing short stories, poetry and screenplays. When I realized that my screenplays may never come to life on the screen the way I had written them, I decided to learn how to make my own films. In my opinion there is no higher visual medium for telling an impactful story than documentary filmmaking. Once I made my first one I was hooked. It is in my blood now.
Josh Saideman: I started out as an illustrator. I always loved designing images that conveyed a powerful message. I soon found that telling stories by juxtaposing images was much more powerful. By putting shot one before shot two, makes the audience feel a third outcome. I was always inspired by images that are not only visually appealing, but more importantly, drive the story. I began by shooting skateboarding videos and music videos and later moved onto narrative and documentary films.
What is your favorite part about the short film form?
Denice Evans: Making short films is like writing poetry. You need to be concise, creative, and use “conceits” to get your point across with few words. I like the challenge of employing the “less is more” style.
Josh Saideman: My motto has always been, If a story can be told in seven minutes, then why drag it out into a two-hour film? My favorite part about the short film form is it really forces you to know the essence of your story. A good short film is simple and clear.
Who were the people that supported the making of this film?
We had a great team of local Atlanta crew members that we had worked with before. All of them are highly talented and typically highly paid as well. Josh and I were quite honored that they all agreed to volunteer their time. Of course, we couldn’t have done any of it without the full support of Danny Zeitz’s family. They were very gracious.
What resources do you use as a filmmaker?
We were honored to work with Nicholas Wheeler on the score. He is a great composer. For locations, we mainly shot at the Zeitz family’s home. We shot one scene in the parking lot of our drone operator’s studio. Josh edited the film on Adobe Premiere CC and our sound designer, Paul, mixed the film in Pro Tools. We were honored with a great crew. They were all freelancers that we work with on different productions throughout the year.
What is your next project?
Our next project is to expand Level Up into a feature documentary. We have an Indiegogo campaign running right now and high interest from investors. There is a lot more to the story when it comes to Craigslist crimes. We will be raising questions and doing in-depth research and development.
The independent film business is growing. What keeps you motivated? Where do you see the industry going in the future?
Denice Evans: My motivation to continue making films is definitely an internal one. I cannot, not make documentaries. To say I am a “social activist” would be an understatement. There are certain trigger points for me regarding social justice issues that call me to them. Ultimately, one of them will rear its head in a way that lets me know that this is the story I need to go after. Not sure if I am then compelled to tell it or if I am just compulsive about the need to set the record straight. But, there is always something driving me that is bigger than me.
Which filmmakers, artists or individuals have most influenced your work?
Denice Evans: Steven Soderbergh’s body of work. Michael Apted, Jane Campion and Alan Ball for television. Lucy Walker and Ondi Timoner are my current role-models and inspiration!
Josh Saideman: Roger Deakins is my favorite cinematographer. As far as documentary goes, I was honored to learn from Werner Herzog when I was in school and am a huge fan of his work!
What advice would you give new filmmakers?
Denice Evans :
1.) Always be collaborative and open to hearing ideas, but ultimately trust your inner-guidance when it comes to final creative decisions.
2.) Be original, but do not take credit for ideas that are not yours.
3.) No matter what your budget is always feed your crew well– not the cheap food either.
4.) Follow your filmmaking dreams by making films whenever and however you can.
5.) Keep your day job too. You’re going to need that money to invest in your dreams!
Josh Saideman: No matter what you are doing, always try to take something from it. Whether you’re the director on a film with no budget or a PA on a film with a huge budget, you’re going to make mistakes and you’re going to learn something no matter what!. Also, filmmaking is a collaborative process so treat everyone you work with, with respect! You never know who will be hiring you for the next job.
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