Presenting filmmaker Tom Stagg, a Fusion Doc Challenge Competitor

May 12, 2015

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

This was my first Doc Challenge. I really enjoyed the production phase. I liked the time-based pressure to collaborate and tell a story. Everyone, from location owners, to musicians, to interview subjects, seemed to be extra willing participants once they understood our objectives and the nature of our mission.

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 broke down our possibilities and let the theme decide our course of action. We were apprehensive about tackling a controversial subject but the theme “I have a bad feeling about this,” kind of made it our duty.

What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

I started as a production assistant at PBS in Alaska, where I dove into research and apprenticing with other producers on long-form documentaries and weekly programs. I love the instant gratification of composing scenes, recording them and having them “in the can.”

Still from Tom Stagg's "GMOtional"

Still from Tom Stagg’s “GMOtional”

What is your favorite part about the short film form?

I guess my favorite thing about short film is the story arc. I think that in general, features are too long and for me, that third act just gets unbearable in these formulaic films.

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

Our interview subjects were hugely supportive. They knew that they would be juxtaposed with people offering different opinions, and they still trusted us enough to participate. Our crew was indispensable, we all volunteered five solid days to the project and made it a labor of love.

What resources do you use as a filmmaker? Music, locations, props, editing, crew, etc.

For this film, we used all local resources. One of Missoula’s best bands let us use one of their tracks, and two extremely talented musicians worked together to score the rest of the film. The annual corn maze was up in West Missoula so we incorporated that imagery into our story. Our team was made up of friends from the Media Arts Program at The University of Montana. Our interview subjects were either targeted as qualified prospects in the planning phase, or referred to us by the community as having relevant views on our topic.

What is your next project?

I have a new job as Creative Director for an ad agency, and they keep me really busy. I am focusing on that work now, but I am always interested in collaborating on other projects!

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

I am mostly motivated by praise and compliments, the potential to use new gadgets and the prospect of extended leave or even exotic travel. Money helps too!

I think the business of film is going to continue diverging, with increasingly focus-grouped, huge budget pictures (heavily animated situations featuring only the most highly celebrated talent) and increasingly beautiful no-budget films, featuring imminently worthy but heretofore unknown actors. It’s a lot to look forward to!

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

My work has been influenced mostly by my collaborators, people who tell me better ways to do things and people who ask me for help. It seems like I learn something new from everyone I work with on film projects.

What advice would you give new filmmakers?

Stick to your story, but leave yourself the freedom to change everything in post.

View Tom Stagg’s film “GMOtional” competing in the Fusion Doc Challenge, and follow his career on 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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