Meet Erin Babbin & Michael Sullivan of “On The Real Film,” competing in Fusion Doc Challenge

May 10, 2015

Was this your first Doc Challenge? What has been your favorite part about Fusion Doc Challenge?

This was our first Doc Challenge and we have enjoyed the whole experience. Our favorite part has been meeting the other finalists in the challenge. We attended the screenings at Slamdance in February and Big Sky Doc Fest in March and got to know several of the other filmmakers there. It’s been really fun to talk to filmmakers from other communities, share ideas and learn from each other. This is a really talented group of artists and we look forward to keeping up with their work.

How did you take the theme for the 2014 Doc Challenge “I have a bad feeling about this,” and use it in your film?

We interpreted the theme as a general sense of foreshadowing and tried to keep that in mind during the edit. It can be a challenge, since you don’t want to give away too much early on in the film, but you want your viewer to be intrigued enough to stick around for the end.

What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

Erin feels like she was born into it. Her mom was a filmmaker and her grandmother was a photographer, so for her it felt really natural. Michael has always been interested in creating art and filmmaking was a gradual transition from his still photography and fine art practices.

Still from "Wake Up" a short film by Erin Babbin and Michael Sullivan

Still from “Wake Up,” a short film by Erin Babbin and Michael Sullivan

What is your favorite part about the short film form?

Short films are great because they force the filmmaker to tell their story in as few words as possible. When you break down all the parts of a story and try to fit it in seven minutes or less, you’re forced to make big decisions about what can stay and what has to be cut out for time. If the film is successful, you should be left with only the most important elements. With our film Wake Up in particular, we had dozens of hours of archival films and hundreds of archival photographs to choose from. Given the personal nature of the documentary and the amount of material, the decisions were difficult to say the least.

Who were the people that supported the making of this film?

The major access point of the film was the archive of films and photographs inherited by Erin. Wake Up could not have been made if it wasn’t for the work of Katy Maguire and Nancy Maguire (director Erin Babbin’s mother and grandmother, respectively). Also, Annie Jacobs provided moral and logistical support and the Bannock Boys provided a television set and good times.

What resources do you use as a filmmaker?

For Wake Up our main resource was the archive of films by Katy Maguire and photographs by Nancy Maguire. For music in the film we turned to our good friend and immensely talented musician Derek Baron. The majority of the film was shot in our studio, except for one scene filmed on the Chicago lakefront, all on Canon DSLRs. Wake Up was co-directed by Erin Babbin and Michael Sullivan, with writing and voice-over by Erin, and photography and editing by Michael.

What is your next project?

On The Real Film has a couple of big projects in the works, including a documentary on Project Onward in Chicago and a narrative film focusing on dreams, titled SOMNIA. We are also currently working on several short pieces including a couple of new music videos and art docs.

The independent film business is growing. What keeps you motivated? Where do you see the industry going in the future?

Our motivation is telling stories. We love working in documentary as a way of discovering and shedding light on stories, and it has allowed us to work with an amazing range of people. The independent film business allows a wider field of filmmakers to share their work with audiences, and we only see this improving thanks to social media and the support of web-based viewing platforms.

Which filmmakers, artists or individuals have most influenced your work?

Our major influences, in no particular order, are Werner Herzog, Assata Shakur, Harmony Korine, Ana Lily Amirpour, Gus Van Sant, Jenji Kohan, Frida Kahlo, Nina Simone, Jean Luc Godard, Jimi Hendrix, Louis Malle, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Xavier Dolan, Kartemquin Films, Lola Alvarez Bravo, Etta James, Odd Nerdrum, Jerry Uelsmann, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Mos Def, Sally Mann, Son House, John Steinbeck, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky and Kendrick Lamar (just to name a few).

What advice would you give new filmmakers?

We still consider ourselves young filmmakers, but if we had to give advice it would be – don’t wait until you have the best camera on the market or access to the best locations in town. Learn how to use the equipment you have, find your story, and make it happen. Don’t focus on whether people will love or hate your work, just make every piece better than your last.


View Erin Babbins’s and Michael Sullivan’s film “Wake Up” competing in the Fusion Doc Challenge, and follow their career’s with The Audience Awards.

The Audience Awards is film’s social network connecting audiences to films, filmmakers, film schools and film festivals. The Audience Awards hosts short film competitions where the audience chooses the best films.


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