Digital Production Buzz
January 29, 2015
[Transcripts provided by Take 1 Transcription]
(Click here to listen to this show.)
Gesine Thomson, Filmmaker/Futurist/Visionary Architect, GTbyDesign
Grant Burton, Producer & Digital Analyst, Royal Australian Air Force
Adrian Belic, Director, Wadi Rum Films
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Voiceover: From the media capital of the world in Los Angeles, California, The Digital Production Buzz goes live now.
Larry Jordan: Welcome to The Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast for creative content producers covering media production, post production, marketing and distribution around the world. My name is Larry Jordan; our co-host, Mr. Mike Horton, has the night off.
Larry Jordan: Gesine Thomson is a futurist. She’s also a film maker and an internationally recognized architect specializing in large scale community planning. Tonight, she joins us in the studio to talk about the power of media and how it can change cultures.
Larry Jordan: Then, we travel to Australia to visit with Grant Burton, a producer and digital analyst for the Royal Australian Air Force. Grant has recently completed courses with a leading cinematographer and shares what he’s learned with us tonight.
Larry Jordan: Adrian Belic and his brother Roko were nominated for an Academy Award for their first film, ‘Genghis Blues’. Since then, they’ve created two more very successful films, including the international hit ‘Happy’. Adrian joins us tonight to discuss the power of media to alter culture. He’ll also talk about the Sundance Film Festival and independent distribution.
Larry Jordan: Just a reminder that we’re offering text transcripts for each show, courtesy of Take 1 Transcription. Now you can quickly scan or print the contents of each show, as well as listen to it. Transcripts are located on each show page. You can learn more at take1.tv and thanks, Take 1, for making it possible.
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Larry Jordan: You know, it’s interesting, we are here and officially opening our brand new studios. It’s a chance to showcase some of what we can do with technology today and I want to give you a chance, if you take a wide shot and just show you what the studio looks like, it’s specifically designed for live podcasts live webinars, live events and live newscasts and The Buzz is going to be bringing you a wide variety of brand new shows now that we’ve got our studio finally built and online, a situation we thought would take a lot less time than it did, but there are a lot of wires connected into a lot of places to get all this stuff to work.
Larry Jordan: Mike Horton himself has got the night off, he’s doing a user group meeting and will be joining us again next week. For now, though, we are going to… this is just so cool because here we are, surrounded by all this wonderful gear and Gesine Thomson is going to be our first live guest here in the studio and we’re going to be sharing with her a lot of discussion in terms of the impact that media has in terms of what it does to our culture, how it can change society and whether or not we should use media to make those changes or simply reflect the changes that are going on.
Larry Jordan: The Buzz is committed to providing you with in depth news on the industry, as well as in depth information on the latest in technology and the latest in film making. The whole idea is to provide a forum and a facility which allows you to, well, to stay in touch and keep up to date and keep your skills sharp. That’s what The Buzz is all about.
Larry Jordan: We’re going to be back with Gesine Thomson right after this.
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Larry Jordan: Gesine Thomson is an internationally recognized architect, specializing in large scale community planning, design and sustainable commercial growth. She’s worked on projects in the United States, Africa, China and many other countries around the globe. She lectures extensively on design, large scale community planning and the creative process. She’s also a film maker, a director with an eye toward the future. We’re talking with her today about the power of media and how it can change cultures. Welcome, Gesine, good to have you with us.
Gesine Thomson: Thank you, Larry. I guess three is a charm because twice on radio, today in person and actually meeting you for the first time, so in person and…
Larry Jordan: Oh, you are so kind.
Gesine Thomson: …I’m really glad what I see.
Larry Jordan: Now that we see you, I’d have you back on video much sooner than we did; and this is our premiere first broadcast and you’re on it and are our first guest. I am so delighted.
Gesine Thomson: Me too.
Larry Jordan: I was just thinking, you’ve got a widely varied background. Where did you start first? Was it in film or architecture?
Gesine Thomson: In architecture.
Larry Jordan: Doing what?
Gesine Thomson: Well, I grew up in a family, I’m the fifth generation architect in my family, first woman, and I didn’t know I was an apprentice with my father when I was eight years old because I loved going to the projects with him, and so when I started studying, I actually had a lead on everybody else because I kind of knew what was going on and I’ve loved it. Really, really loved it and why I started to also involve film into my process of architecture is because, in large scale architectural work, you deal with government officials and with decision makers who necessarily have no idea how to read plans, but they will not say that they don’t.
Gesine Thomson: Looking into a media that would give us the possibility to show what we’re trying to do, especially since we’re influencing communities on a very large scale sometimes, because city planning is big time, it was very necessary that they understood what we were committing to, so I started film making as well.
Larry Jordan: What is it about architecture that appeals to you? Is it sitting in a room designing, drawing the lines and figuring out where stuff goes? Or is it working with the politics and the government officials to make it possible? Or is it on site, watching the idea that you had in your head become reality?
Gesine Thomson: That’s a powerful thing, to actually have a creation that you thought up and then see it emerge and become a reality, but that’s not really why I love it so much. I love it because I love people, and I love nature and through architecture you can really serve very well people. Actually architecture and film making aren’t that far apart, because everything is creating out of light and shadows and what fascinates me is creating space, either interior space – look, you have a fantastic studio here that’s brand new and it’s the space that makes and influences everything that gets done here, if you want it or not, because it is the height, the depth, the proportion and responsible architects can really use that very well.
Gesine Thomson: For instance, I can say that you influence the world being of people in what kind of circumstances you put them within the city design or in their building design. There’s a reason why city structures that are iconic have the size they have, either in height or in width, because it has impact on the human being, including in hospitals or prisons. You will absolutely design the rooms in order to keep the people calmer. You really have influence. In restaurant design, for instance, you can design in a way that you have an impact of how often the table changes. That’s the power of design. I do feel that the media and architecture have great impact on the social condition.
Larry Jordan: Now, why do you think that?
Gesine Thomson: Because both are highly responsible, I think, and it’s a matter of which choice you make. Let’s say in architecture you can make the choice to become a developer’s architect or an architect who serves the people. It’s a whole different story.
Larry Jordan: How are they different?
Gesine Thomson: An architect who is a developer’s architect will always push the limits by putting more units and lesser environmental recreation, all of these kinds of things, because they cost money. A socially responsible architect will not do that. He will fight every step for larger parts, for everything that gives a possibility for anybody in the space to actually thrive and it will also keep the criminal situation down.
Gesine Thomson: You really have an enormous impact. Colors, sound. For instance, good design in airports, when it’s really well done, people who are hearing or seeing impaired have the possibility to find their way because of how the rooms are structured, the ceiling heights, what it bounces off etcetera. That’s good architecture. In media, I think you have a choice too. You either make projects that have a very positive influence, and I like to say positive situations with not so well done projects that have been chosen in countries.
Gesine Thomson: Look, I work all over the world. I work on four continents in all kinds of cultures and I take that very seriously. It’s a high responsibility. I love it, though, because it is an adventure, it’s an exploration at all times and when people ask me what I do, I’m an explorer. That’s what I do; and then I bring that to the table in the design that the government and decision makers can allow to happen, including the iconic structures that we are known for, that we tailor make out of the roots of a country. I like traditions and all the different ways you experience with the skin and with your smell and with everything. Anyway, I’m very excited about what I do.
Larry Jordan: Let’s just back up a step. I can understand being excited about creating sustainable communities and designing a community where lots of people can live and feel safe and feel like this is home. But I’m having a hard time tying out your comments about media, so let’s just think about this for a second because there are multiple different roles that media can pay. It could be a news report, it could be a feature film, it could be a documentary. When you’re saying media, what are you referring to?
Gesine Thomson: Every media, because media to me is storytelling and you know what? Everybody has to make a choice of what kind of a storyteller he is.
Larry Jordan: Oh yes, but wait now, you can’t say that. No, no, no, because think about the stories that your family likes hearing the most. It’s not the stories of, “Gosh, I woke up this morning, I had a great breakfast, I had a good nap.” Those stories are dull and boring and nobody wants to hear them. They want to hear stories about where you missed the flight or you’re being chased by wild boars on the continent of Africa. They want to hear where life is in jeopardy. They don’t want to live that situation, they just want to hear about the situation. Good stories have got drama.
Gesine Thomson: Oh, I’m not saying drama. You know, life is drama from morning to evening and you need to have courage to actually get through the day. Everybody has to have courage to get out of bed, you know? That’s not the case. Let me give you some examples.
Larry Jordan: Go ahead.
Gesine Thomson: I like to start with very positive examples. The positive examples are, for instance, there has been a movement started by a man called Michael Flatley. He was known only in one way and that was he had the fastest feet on Earth to dance with and that was Irish dance, ok? He wanted to really influence the world in making that dance popular. What did he do? He went to Ireland, back from the United States, and actually won the Eurovision with ‘Riverdance’ that he helped create with a composer together.
Gesine Thomson: Out of ‘Riverdance’ came ‘Lord of the Dance’, ‘Feet of Flame’, all kinds of things, but you know what really happened? Millions and millions of girls in the age bracket six to 16 started dancing Irish dance. It flooded the world and I think it made puberty much easier for lots of parents and girls. But it was somebody who knew he could do something well and he just loved his Irish heritage and he brought it positively around the world.
Gesine Thomson: There’s another example, and that is the brothers Roko and Adrian Belic. They made one movie that had real impact in the world and continues to do so. It is called ‘Happy’, in search of what makes people happy around the world. This film has become very popular and you know what it resulted in? In a very positive thing – in Happy Day, a global happy day. I mean, that’s what I call good media.
Larry Jordan: Well, we’re going to be talking with Adrian Belic a little later in this show, so I want to find out from him whether he planned it that way or whether it just happened. But with your films, when you’re creating a film, are you trying to document one of your big projects or are you trying to do more than that?
Gesine Thomson: Actually, it’s really interesting. It started in presenting the way people would live in the areas that we are designing, but then I got hooked on film making and you know how that goes. So all of a sudden there’s a little story here, you try hard to make some vignettes and because I travel all over the world I had access to some camera teams and then I got really fascinated in telling, again, stories that are impacting cultures or came out of culture. I started to actually meet people who were so interesting that I couldn’t not stop to talk to them and then I became very ambitious and I’ve started to do a feature film, which will be called ‘Dare to Dream’.
Larry Jordan: So you’ve given up on architecture? No more buildings?
Gesine Thomson: No. Not at all. I have a full fledged, I do everything. No. You know what? Once you’re creative and you have, I don’t know, I have a lot to do, I love to do things and try them out. I need a challenge. That’s what it is. But, Larry, let me also tell you what I see when media is not used well.
Larry Jordan: Ok, give me an example.
Gesine Thomson: I have projects in Bhutan. The King of Bhutan and Rinpoche are clients and so I go to Bhutan quite a bit. Bhutan is a strictly Buddhist country dedicated to happiness. The World Bank came in and decided to offer Bhutan to build a road that they really needed and wasn’t there, and we’re talking the Himalayas, big time stuff. I think they have six of the highest mountains in the world in their country. They needed a road from one end to the other and the World Bank said, “Yes, we’re going to build it for you, on two conditions. You need a democratic election system; but secondly, you need to allow media to come into the country, speak, television,” which the King had decided not to have in there.
Gesine Thomson: He decided it was really good for his people to have a better way of access from one end of the country to the other – 600,000 people live there, happy people. Really, I am stunned, they really are pursuing happiness. So the road gets built and also electric wires were laid at the same time. I came back to the country. It is amazing how it has changed because television has gone into the main areas, not into the mountain regions, but to Thimphu, which is the main city. You know what I see? I see people that have started to be unhappy, young people who have no idea what they want to do and, thirdly, it’s the first time criminality has come into the country.
Gesine Thomson: I’d like to give a second example, Point Hope. My feature film brought me to Alaska because part of the movie is shot there. We went to Point Hope, which is really next to Santa Claus practically, you know, just totally up in the North and the mayor was helping us with the situation. We had discussions with him about how this impacted the Inuits, his people, and he said, “Media is ruining our people. They are starting to be really unhappy about the way they live. They’re used to living in one woman situations. They want to go away. It’s very different.” Again, he said they never had criminality there and now they do.
Larry Jordan: But does that mean that all we should do is talk about that which is cheerful and happy and ignore sad news?
Gesine Thomson: No.
Larry Jordan: What should we do?
Gesine Thomson: It’s life, but I think it’s different if you’re hyping it and if it’s always done with, “ah, this” and “it’s the biggest snowstorm ever”, rather than saying “be prepared”. It’s a different story and that, I wonder. I think the tone makes the music.
Larry Jordan: So have a tone of what?
Gesine Thomson: Positivity. I think that’s what it is, to always see that the glass is half full. Instead, it’s not, it’s half empty.
Larry Jordan: But if we do that, are people going to watch? People watch train wrecks, they don’t watch happy news.
Gesine Thomson: Well, I have to say that if you go to Europe, people really watch a lot of educational movies and you know what? They know where Dallas is, in which state, and they know where Maine is and they know that Anchorage is the main place in Alaska. It is not necessarily the case if I have a project in Montana and I ask them, “Where is so and so” and they say, “In Canada.”
Larry Jordan: I understand. Where can we go on the web to keep track of you? What’s your website?
Gesine Thomson: It is gtbydesign.com.
Larry Jordan: And Gesine Thomson is the gtbydesign.com. Gesine, thanks for joining us today.
Gesine Thomson: Thank you, Larry. I am so thrilled to be the first on your show and I wish you all the best for the future.
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Larry Jordan: Grant Burton has been creating training videos for the Royal Australian Air Force for almost 20 years, where he’s now a producer and a digital analyst. He began as a member of the RAAF and now works for the military as a civilian. Hello, Grant, welcome.
Grant Burton: Good afternoon or good evening or good morning, wherever you happen to be.
Larry Jordan: It’s hard to tell, Grant. I give up on trying to figure out what the time is. How are you this fine day and how is Australia treating you?
Grant Burton: Oh, jolly good. I’ve been absolutely flat out with a lot of work lately, but there’s never enough time for training… Despite working flat out over Christmas, I decided to enroll myself to do summer film school. It’s been 30 years since I went to film school, so I figured it might have been time that perhaps I learnt from people far more professional than myself and see what I’ve been missing.
Larry Jordan: Before you talk about the film school, tell us what got you involved in training in the first place?
Grant Burton: Very early on, when I started my career when I was in the Air Force, I originally just did things like promo videos, air show videos and pretty things for public relations. But quickly it established itself that video training was an easy and quick way to communicate complex ideas and complex types of training in a visual medium without having to resort to all sorts of computer graphics and things like that, and I started out very early doing that and then, of course, it went on from aircraft and then it seemed to expand itself into all sorts of stuff, from scenario based learning to workplace occupational health and safety, you name it. It’s an A to Z type of training now, but it originally started out with aircraft and now it’s everything.
Larry Jordan: You’ve been doing training for 20 years, give or take a little bit. From a training point of view, not from a technology point of view, has training changed over that time?
Grant Burton: Yes, absolutely. We’ve gone from what we probably would have known when we went to school, it was known as chalk and talk, although I don’t think chalk actually exists any more. I’m not sure, it probably does, but anyway I guess it’s four colors of the whiteboard these days. But we’ve gone from that and I think we all remember sitting in schools, probably being bored by 16 millimeter film being shown when the teacher used to fall asleep and the students used to do the same, to now where it’s a lot more interactive.
Grant Burton: I’ll give you an example, the way a lot of training that we deliver now, students actually make their own training. Say students are told to go and make a video and they go, “Well, how do I make a video?” Now, ten years ago if you asked this question, you’d go, “What equipment do I need?” Basically, everyone carries the equipment in our pocket these days, believe it or not, to actually shoot, edit and upload video. Most Smartphones, any type of brand, can actually do that, so students are encouraged to make a topic – here’s the topic, form teams, do this – and this is even what we were doing at film school, even if we didn’t have advanced equipment. Here’s the topic, here’s the script, here’s the treatment, go ahead and I need this by nine o’clock tomorrow. So at 2am you’re still editing on whatever equipment you’ve got and whatever, but it was a way of collaboratively approaching it and coming up with ideas and why did you shoot it this way?
Grant Burton: It can be done the same for scenario based learning. If you want to enforce the rules of some sort of policy or something, make a two minute video on how this is important and then you come back with six different ideas and it’s a great way of students learning with each other and also learning the technology at the same time, regardless of whether it’s in film making or not. You’re teaching the teachers of tomorrow how to use the technology of today to deliver interactive or video based training, so it works in a sort of 360 circle in that respect.
Larry Jordan: Well, now we can shift forward, because you decided to go to film school. Tell me who the instructor was and what did they cover?
Grant Burton: We did have a number of different instructors. The main one I had for the first week I was there, it was a guy called John Brawley. He may not be known that much to American audiences, but he’s very much known to Australian audiences. He’s been doing cinematography now for over 20 years, a lot of Australian TV drama. I think he has actually done some American stuff as well, but he’s done a lot of feature stuff too. A very gifted, I would put it, man to instruct us not just in the art of cinematography, but the way a medium production budget television program would be done.
Grant Burton: That was completely enlightening for someone who’s been pretty much a solo or small team producer for the last 30 odd years. I had a concept in my mind and we all see credits on television and go, “Oh, I wonder what a grip does. I wonder what that does. I wonder what best boy actually is.” I totally know now what those people really do and the interaction and the hierarchical arrangement of that is fascinating.
Grant Burton: We did participate with real people, producing a little two or three minute script which took us two days, with those people, with grips, with lighting teams, with sound teams. I even learnt what a focus puller does. I had no idea until I went that there’s actually someone dedicated just to pull focus. Amazing. I never knew that. You might say, “How did he not know that?” Well, I do now.
Larry Jordan: As you think about it, aside from discovering all the different people and all the different jobs that are necessary to make a film, from a training and from your job point of view, what’s a key takeaway? What did you learn?
Grant Burton: I think we all know there’s more than one way to achieve a goal and I think that was the big takeaway. The first week I did cinematography, the next week it was low budget film making and the last week I did – I did three weeks of it – was documentary and interviewer film making, which I originally thought I wasn’t going to find that fascinating but I found that deeply fascinating, the way a documentary film producer produces these things with passion and no money. It’s quite amazing.
Grant Burton: All the documentary film makers said, “If you’re coming in to documentary film making for money, you’re in the wrong job because you won’t,” but it’s a level of passion and that’s what I took away. It’s passionate people. While one cinematographer would say, “This is the way I would do this scene and this is how I’d convey this mood and this is what cinema space is,” and learning all the rules that I’d long forgotten about – screen space and screen presence and motivation behind the camera.
Grant Burton: So many topics in there, I couldn’t possibly go through them in this interview, but the biggest thing I took away, especially when you solo like myself, or even work in small teams, you become very insular. We’re creatures of habit as humans, we like patterns, we like habit and we fall into that, even in this industry, and you can’t because the industry changes so much, but artistic and creative natures that we all are, especially in this industry, it’s an artistic talent that you must have, it has to keep evolving and not just because technology keeps evolving, but in order to stay fresh, to stay current, to stay valid, and especially people who are out looking for contracts on a weekly basis, monthly basis, they’ve got to keep those skills current, fresh and innovative otherwise you just don’t get hired.
Grant Burton: The training takeaway for me was that there are so many different ideas out there, that unless you collaborate physically – you can do a lot on the internet and I know we’ve all done online training – but actually being in a room with other people and discussing ideas in an open, free, non-judgmental environment without bosses looking over and saying, “This is the template I want you to produce things in,” not having any of that, just free and creative expression of not just ideas but how to produce an end result, you take away from it and go, ”Oh right. I’ve never actually thought about lighting a scene this way or having this approach to this particular training problem or this particular type of technology could be used if you don’t have this,” coming up with all sorts of alternatives.
Grant Burton: Unless you go looking for that on the internet, and how do you know what to look for if you don’t know what you’re looking for sort of thing, it’s one of those, but if you’re in a group of people who are all very creative, passionate and enthusiastic artists – and I use that word quite seriously, they are artists and I guess I am too – it just leads to so much exchange of ideas that you just go, “Wow, these are things I hadn’t thought of.”
Larry Jordan: Keep going, we’re listening.
Grant Burton: It’s ok. That’s… why I think anyone who thinks that…
Larry Jordan: It sounds, however, like the class was really helpful in terms of discovering what you needed to know that was new and helped you to focus on the skills that you can use to create new training that models modern production techniques. True?
Grant Burton: Absolutely, yes. That’s it in a nutshell, yes.
Larry Jordan: Grant, do you have a website that people can look at some of the stuff you’re creating?
Grant Burton: Unfortunately no, most of my stuff has… but they can always contact me by email. My email is granthburton…
Larry Jordan: And Grant Burton is a producer and digital analyst for the Royal Australian Air Force. Grant, thanks for joining us today. Take care.
Grant Burton: All right, thank you.
Larry Jordan: Bye bye.
Grant Burton: Bye bye.
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Larry Jordan: The first film that Adrian Belic and his brother Roko created after college was the Academy Award nominated ‘Genghis Blues’. His follow-up films were the multi-award winning ‘Beyond the Call’ and the international success, ‘Happy’. This week, we’ve been looking at the impact of media and I’m interested in getting his perspective on the role his media plays in society. Hello, Adrian, welcome.
Adrian Belic: Larry, good to be with you. Thank you.
Larry Jordan: You know, I was just reflecting, the first time you and I talked was four years ago, almost exactly to this day, when you were just getting ready to release ‘Genghis Blues’, and now look at you, you are world famous and people mob you whenever you give presentations. Congratulations on a wonderful career.
Adrian Belic: Ah, you’re very kind. My brother and I worked very hard with it and we worked with great people like yourself and Cirina, your producer, and it’s a great ride. We’re honored to be part of it.
Larry Jordan: I want to talk about your film, ‘Happy’, in just a bit but you were also at Sundance recently. What were the highlights that you discovered there?
Adrian Belic: I’m actually still at Sundance and one of the reasons why my voice is so scratchy, I lost it a couple of days ago with so many fascinating conversations that go on here. Sundance has been amazing again. I’ve also been hanging out at the Slam Dance Film Festival, which is the renegade festival to Sundance that happens here at Park City at the same time. I’m a documentary guy. I love fiction films but there’s nothing like documentaries to capture my heart and inspire me and there have been some absolutely stunning documentaries.
Adrian Belic: Literally, I’ve been reading some of the reviews from the people who’ve come back to Hollywood, New York and London and gone back home to parts of Utah and, again, I think it’s the documentary that has taken the lion’s share of the buzz and are the talked about films. How many films, I can’t even tell you how many I’ve seen, but some that have stood out to me have been from really unique films like ‘The Russian Woodpecker’, from an extraordinary Ukrainian artist, to ‘Pervert Park’ – these two first time film makers, they read an article in Scandinavia about a small little place in Florida and were compelled to make a documentary. It took them four years to make it, ‘How To Change The World’. An amazing documentary about the founding of Greenpeace, but it’s also a cautionary tale of what can happen when you dream big and actually succeed.
Adrian Belic: And then films like, “Cartel Land’, just a contemporary film about what’s going on in the borders of the United States and Mexico, done in a cinematic way so it goes beyond journalism to where it’s really about a human story and you actually empathize with both sides of the story. It goes beyond black and white, right or wrong, into the heart of what it is to be a human and try to make it on this planet. Extremely inspiring weekend again in Park City.
Larry Jordan: I was just thinking, you’ve spent all this time at Sundance and watched all these films. What’s the value to film makers in attending an event like Sundance if they don’t have a film in competition?
Adrian Belic: It’s amazing. Every year, there are a few places in the world that I make it to, no matter what’s going on in my life. One of them is the Sundance and the reason is because it’s such an incredible gathering of extraordinary people in a very small place. Everybody is far outside of their normal hustle and bustle comfort zone in most of the big cities around the world and you just get to sit down and speak with people and listen to them and be inspired by them.
Adrian Belic: Yes, there’s all the hype about how there’s list only parties and things like that. The great thing about the little city of Park City up here in the mountains above Salt Lake City is that it’s a small ski town, you walk down the street and you bump into people. You bump into people sitting waiting for the buses or in the coffee lines or things like that, or in the lines waiting for the movies, because pretty much every movie is sold out and you’re waiting in line. It’s just this really friendly atmosphere where you can just turn to the person next to you and go, “Hey, how you doing? What are you here for?” and you start sharing stories about films or lives or passions or one’s endeavor and it’s just an extremely inspiring place to be every year, for however long, a few days, a week, ten days.
Larry Jordan: Is it exciting because it’s the films that you’re watching and the ideas that are in the film? Or is it exciting because of the people that you’re meeting?
Adrian Belic: It’s both, that’s what makes film festivals still such an amazing place to be to watch film. These days, with video on demand and streaming, you can literally be anywhere on the planet that you can get an internet connection, you can see pretty much anything you want at any time. But still we’re humans, we want face to face connection, we want to know about the creative experience and meet the people behind the creations, and so coming to a festival like Sundance, where pretty much every single film has at least one or two people involved in the film there that you can speak with, you can hear about their struggles, their successes, the lessons they’ve learned.
Adrian Belic: So it’s both the films and the film makers; and then also speaking with the fans. People come from all around the world here, so the discussions after the films are fascinating. You don’t just get an LA perspective or a Chicago president or a Fresno perspective, you get a London perspective, you get a Buenos Aires perspective, South African perspective, Chinese perspective. It’s just such a great place to share and learn and create and become inspired.
Larry Jordan: Well, Grant Burton, who was in the segment before, is on our live chat and he writes that face to face meetings between creative minds can’t be beat, and it sounds like you would agree.
Adrian Belic: I completely agree. These days, technology’s incredible. Look, you and I speaking right now and your audience listening, I’m in part of Utah, strolling through the treasure mountain in the hotel looking for a quiet spot, frankly, and you’re there broadcasting around the world and there he is in Australia communicating with you. It’s incredible, and Skyping and all that stuff.
Adrian Belic: But when it comes to the creative process, there are certain nuances, certain unspoken things that we communicate that technology can not yet convey and nothing beats looking someone in the eye, catching their small facial expressions, or there’s a vibe or a scent they’re putting off, things like that give you more of an insight of what they’re thinking, what their desires are, what their fears are, what their hopes are and it enables one to create things beyond painting by numbers, but really about the passion and the heart of trying to convey a story, trying to connect people, trying to make people feel something.
Larry Jordan: In our first segment, Gesine Thomson was talking about the film that you created, called ‘Happy’. Before we talk about its role in society, which she and I spent time talking about, tell us first what the film is.
Adrian Belic: ‘Happy’ is a simple film that my brother and I made with great support from our dear friend Tom Shadyac. The idea was what makes people happy? What we did is we went around the world and we interviewed most of the leading scientists in the field of positive psychology and what fascinated us in the research of this kind of stuff is a part of it has moved away from the social sciences.
Adrian Belic: This kind of happiness, positive psychology should always be in the realm of social sciences – psychology, sociology, things like that. What fascinated us is that over the past decade, and even before but it’s really accelerated in the past decade, hard scientists coming to the field of positive psychology. So neurology, brain chemistry, chemicals in your blood, and we’re able to test these things in empirical ways and re-test them through scientific methods to discover what the different things that we do or think about in our daily lives are that affect our happiness and what the bio feedback signals are of that kind of state of mind.
Adrian Belic: My brother and I, we really don’t do issue related films, we don’t really do talking heads, we do character driven films. So we went around the world to six of the seven continents and looked at happiness from different cultural angles and we rolled the science and the practice of happiness together in this film called ‘Happy’.
Larry Jordan: Why did you decide to make the film?
Adrian Belic: It was sort of a collaborative idea. Our dear friend Tom Shadyac, my brother was talking with him one day. Tom Shadyac is a very big Hollywood director and producer of big Hollywood films, all the Jim Carrey films and ‘Nutty Professor’, ‘Ace Ventura’ and ‘Bruce Almighty’ and he grew up fairly humble, made it to the absolute pinnacle of the A list of Hollywood directors, had all the money in the world, had all the influence, had all the power, hung out with all the top people who should be happy.
Adrian Belic: Our society says the more money you make, the more powerful you are, the more influential you are, the more known you are, the more happy you’ll be. Literally, he looked around and he was living in this giant mansion, looked around and the happiest people he was with were his gardener and his maid, who smiled at him every day, genuinely asked him how he was feeling and genuinely shared how happy they were about their life. …but this doesn’t make any sense, and my brother was talking with him and we started talking about happiness. He said, “Look, I do fiction sometimes, I don’t do documentaries. We need to put this kind of information out in the world,” because we talked about things that we’d read and the way we live our life. He said, “Look, you guys make this film, I’ll help you with it and let’s put something better into the world,” and that’s how ‘Happy’ happened.
Adrian Belic: Well, that and, like, four and a half years of hard work. It was by no means an overnight success, but yes it was just a conversation, a couple of looks into each other’s eyes, some pondering, brainstorming sessions and we started on the path and it’s four and a half years of effort and there’s ‘Happy’ and it’s now gone around the world, we created a World Happy Day three years ago on February 11th and on that day we screen ‘Happy’ in over 500 cities in over 60 countries on all seven continents. Why did we do that?
Adrian Belic: One, because we had an idea; two, because we worked our asses off; and three, because a lot of people from around the world wanted to be part of this. We didn’t pay anybody. We said, “Hey, we’re doing this thing. Would you be interested?” And, frankly, there were a bunch of people who said, “No, I’m too busy, I don’t have the time, I don’t get it,” whatever. Part of being successful is the numbers game. There were enough people, “Hey, do you want to be part of this? We want you to be part of it,” and they said yes and we were able to create World Happy Day.
Adrian Belic: Screening this film has kind of taken an air of its own. I think we’re in subtitled now in somewhere over 20 or 25 different languages. We only subtitled it, I think, in 11 or so and the rest was just crowd sourced. People saw the film in whatever language it was subtitled in and said, “Hey, I want to have the people in my country be able to enjoy this film,” so they just crowd sourced the subtitling of it.
Larry Jordan: Do you sit and think about the impact your film is going to have when you’re getting ready to design it? Or do you look for a story? What’s driving you when you create a title? I mean, I’m looking at ‘Genghis Blues’ and ‘Beyond the Call’ as well as ‘Happy’, and each one of those have had a significant impact on society. Is this something that’s even in the back of your mind as you’re putting a film together?
Adrian Belic: Just you saying that, I get chills because when my brother and I make our films, we believe in them, we do see a vision for them, but you never know and so what we try and do is we do what we can do and what we can do well, and that is be authentic, be sincere, be true to the story, be true to the characters, be true to our vision, be clever, be smart, bring talented people around us who help and consult you on the film, help with our editing and things like that, and we do have a vision.
Adrian Belic: I talk to some film makers, I’m like, “Oh, this was such a good idea,” and I just ask them, just matter of fact, “Where do you think this film could go?” and they’re like, ”Oh, I don’t know, I haven’t even…” and they have no vision for it. Yes, every time we make a film, no matter how obscure it is, like ‘Genghis Blues’… a blind blues guy. We always have something of the heart, something in our spirit that we’re like, “I think this can go global.” I don’t know how it’s going to go in terms of the entire journey, but I know how it’s going to go in the next two stages, because those are within our control.
Adrian Belic: We can shoot it, we can edit it, then we can try and get it to the most prestigious festival we can, then we can try and get a coalition around to support it, then we can get some press, then we can bring in different organizations to where the film could be of service and slowly but surely the film begins to grow and begins to go around the world. It’s one of the fundamental things we think about. We never think about what someone can do for the film, we’re always thinking how can our film be of service to you?
Adrian Belic: If you’re a festival, to a school, to a company, to a community, how can this film help you, how can this film be of service to you? I think that has helped the trajectory of our films in terms of breadth and scope of where our films have gone in the world. It’s always how can, what we do… do and it’s served us. Well, that and a lot of help from a lot of people.
Larry Jordan: I was just reflecting, all three of your films have been successful and that means that you have got a pretty good handle on the whole idea of self distribution. What are some of the secrets that you use to get your films heard and seen and then successfully distributed?
Adrian Belic: I just ran upstairs to get out of the noise of the… in here from a panel… that knows all about this and there are some amazing film makers. Some of the things we do, my parents are from Communist Europe, a tiny little country, we grew up totally alone in this big country of America, just a little tiny… family so we always had to reach out to other people to get an ice hockey team together, help us climb trees or whatever we wanted to do, and so one of the core things we do is we always reach out to organizations that we think could resonate, enjoy, that this film could be of service.
Adrian Belic: What that does is, by engaging the head of outreach or the head of community service or whatever it is, or the head of an organization, by getting them involved in the film, that momentum cascades throughout that organization. That’s one thing, we leverage our communications with people. Another thing, what I said… what can someone do for the film but how can the film be of service to somebody else?
Adrian Belic: One of the key things, we have fun with our distributions. We think up all kinds of goofy ideas. We have no fear of failure. We come up with some crazy slogan or poster or jingle on the radio of something and it falls flat, we apologize, we say, “Ladies and gentlemen, please tell us what we can do,” and people want to be part of these things. We’re lucky, we make films, films are cool, they’re sexy, people want to be part of the movies. Hollywood has done all the heavy lifting for us for over a century now, making films cool.
Adrian Belic: People want to be part of it, so what we do is we try and figure out ways that people can engage and be part of the film. Everyone that has ever tweeted about our films or spoken about our films or had a screening at their house, we say thank you and welcome to the team, we appreciate it. It’s a lot of grass roots engagement. People say, “Oh, you just e-blast people.” You can’t e-blast people, everyone’s doing that these days. You have to connect with them, you have to find out what they want to do, what their desires and aspirations are and figure out how our films can be of service to that, and we do that across all platforms in all ways, face to face and global.
Adrian Belic: But I think those kinds of philosophies and the way we approach distributing our films has served them well because we do it in service of other people. Those are the fundamentals, those are the behind the scenes secrets of how we approached that. The rest are details, whether it’s Twitter that we use or Facebook or whatever, those are the details. We move with the times; we’ve been doing this 15 years.
Larry Jordan: It sounds to me that your real goal is to find a community that resonates with that film and then just keep growing that community of friends who then service a megaphone to help tell the world that your film exists. It’s all about setting up a connection with potential audience attendees. Is that true?
Adrian Belic: Completely, completely, and the thing is… if we’re screening our film in Jackson, Mississippi, we get some lucky break and someone screens our film in Jackson, Mississippi and we happen to be there or talking to the audience over Skype, at some point there we say, “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been such a great time being in Jackson, Mississippi. While we’re also in Mississippi, can we screen it in the South? We love the South,” and people just raise their hands and say, “Oh, you should screen in… Alabama,” “Oh, you should screen in this town, that town.”
Adrian Belic: We’re like, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’d love to screen there. Who do we talk to?” “Oh, my uncle, he owns a theater and my auntie, she’s a publisher for a small newspaper, she’d love to write an article.” “I’m just a dumb boy from Chicago, I know nothing about the South. Tell me who in the South would like to see this film,” and people just want to be part of it and they share this information and then they are part of it. We’re like, “How about you and I have that screening in Mobile, Alabama?” They’re like, “Me! Me, I can do that.” Like, “Yes you can, I want you to come up on stage and tell us why you like this film.” Get people involved and have fun with it.
Larry Jordan: Adrian, slow down. It’s terrible to talk to somebody who’s not at all enthusiastic about their projects. Where can people go on the web to learn more about you and your films?
Adrian Belic: Probably the best website is our main film website, and I’ll say it now – it’s old and it’s dilapidated. If anyone wants to help us make it better, we’d love to talk to you. It’s www.wadirum.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s www.wadirum.com and Adrian Belic and his brother Roko are film makers. Adrian, thanks for joining us today.
Adrian Belic: Larry, thanks so much.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye bye.
Larry Jordan: One of the cool things that we’ve got going on with our new studio is the ability to involve you in our presentations, which is what I want to talk about a little bit with you now. We are going to be posting video as well as audio, so for those of you who have been listening to The Buzz for years on audio, you can now have the choice of listening to it in audio, because we’re going to be continuing that, both the live audio stream and a live video stream, as well as posting the audio to iTunes and posting the video to a brand new channel which will show up next week, which is the Digital Production Buzz on YouTube.
Larry Jordan: Here on YouTube, you’ll be able to see not only the entire show, but you’ll be able to watch individual interviews. Our thinking is that some people enjoy listening, because they’re exercising, they’re walking around, and other people would prefer to actually look at the guests we’re interviewing. So we’re going to be doing more and more video work, inviting people like Gesine into the studio to be able to chat with them face to face, so you get a chance to not only hear what they have to say but see them as well. This idea of expanding is going to continue as we roll out some new products as part of The Buzz, which will be coming a little bit later in the next several months.
Larry Jordan: Also, The Buzz is going to be taking its video cameras to NAB and we’re going to be broadcasting audio and video from NAB, which is going to be a change from the last six years of coverage. Video becomes a really important component of what we’re going to be doing for you in 2015 and I’m always interested in your comments.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank our guests today: Gesine Thomson, film maker, futurist and visionary architect; Grant Burton, producer and digital analyst for the Royal Australian Air Force; and Adrian Belic, Academy Award nominated independent film maker.
Larry Jordan: There’s lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website at digitalproductionbuzz.com. You can also talk with us on Twitter, @DPBuZZ, and Facebook, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. We’ve got brand new theme music which we’re all excited about, we premiered it this evening. It’s composed by Nathan Doogie Turner – I’m delighted to have him give a hand at making us sound more up to date. Additional music provided by Smartsound.com; text transcripts provided by Take 1 Transcription.
Larry Jordan: Our producer is Cirina Catania, our engineering team is led by Meagan Paulos, includes Alexia Chalida, Ed Goyler and Brianna Murphy. On behalf of Mike Horton, my name is Larry Jordan and thanks for listening to The Buzz.
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