My name is Alex Trudeau Viriato and for the next six weeks I’ll be writing about my experiences on directing and editing my first documentary film, “Fixation”. In addition, I will be writing about my transition from student to professional. The blogs will focus on preproduction, production and postproduction. I’m going to share my knowledge on what can be done with a short film that doesn’t necessarily make it into major festivals but also gets recognition and a large following. Lastly, I will be writing about what to expect when filming a documentary and how to prepare for such a large amount of footage in postproduction.
When I made the decision that I was going to pursue a career in film editing, I had no idea what my future would entail. I only knew that I had a strong passion and drive to work on films, and that I wasn’t getting any younger.
In film school, the idea of creating a thesis that could possibly determine your worth in the industry was very intimidating. Would I even be the one to direct or edit the thesis? If so, would it just end up being viewed by my family members? On the other hand, could it have the potential to win awards, bringing attention to all of the members that helped to complete the project? I soon found out that with any of these questions or outcomes, none of them were going to guarantee my success or failure. Success comes from personal effort, how much work you put forth and how the project makes you feel once it is completed. Though my project has brought some mild success, I still had questions about the overall value of my film. Through all of the screenings and festivals, I had one question that was lingering: If the film gets a standing ovation and/or a constant applause once it has been screened, is it still considered a “success” if you don’t make any money or see any future jobs from it?
During my time at the L.A. Film School, I made the decision to be the one to direct a film, while at the same time taking on the role of editor. In a way I wanted to make sure I had control over what I was going to be editing for the next 5 month. The idea for “Fixation” came early on for me while I was in film school. Originally “Fixation” was minimally developed as small weekend project that I could do on the side. Growing up, I lived in the Bay Area and worked a bicycle shop for many years. Throughout my time at the shop, I noticed a lot of negative connotation towards fixed gear cycling, some of which I admittedly believed to be true. Associate producer Curtis Newton and myself talked about making a short, single weekend, small film on fixed gear in Los Angeles, entailing the key points and factors about a few fixed gear riders. Once I realized how much time and effort it was going to take: finding cyclists, locations, film, and not to mention the time it would take to edit the project, I decided that the best option would be to make this film my thesis. I also realized that I wasn’t going to limit myself to working on the project solely while I was in school. Why not expand the time frame and create something larger than the suggested 10 minutes? I further expanded the idea, deciding to cover 3 major cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose. Lastly, instead of choosing to spend time on one specific individual, I decided to explore various people throughout the fixed gear community, to find out why and how it all came together.
To make a film you need money, obviously some film require more than others. The money that was used on production was donated to us on Indiegogo.com. My family, crew members families, friends as well as people that I didn’t know, but who had heard about a film on cycling and wanted to help get it made also donated. Crew members also worked for free, giving up their time to see that the film was made to the best of their abilities. Some even chipped in from their own pocket, on any last minute necessities. The remaining funds came from my own personal account. No matter how good the idea of Fixation was, without the crew members willing to work with me, there would have been no film. If this industry is “all about who you know” you better have the right personality and friendships to back up your “great” ideas, especially starting off.
I originally wanted to cover all single-speed cycling, not just fixed gears, but freewheel as well. Once we got into post-production I began to realize that the material on freewheels wasn’t nearly as interesting, and the cyclists involved weren’t half as passionate. So, I decided to eliminate the sections that were specific to freewheels and focus on the fixed gear cyclists. In the past, I’ve heard the quote that, “films are made in post production”; now, I can’t say that is true for all films, but it was definitely true for “Fixation.” We shot hours and hours of great footage, and when I watched it in the editing bay I no longer saw a place for some of it in the film. The editor of a documentary can tell so many different stories and manipulate the intended objective of the film. I felt as the director and editor I really wanted it to play out as the interviewees intended, no manipulation or misrepresentation. If I was truly to explore fixed gear cycling, I wanted to let the cyclist tell the story. The idea of having multiple stories guide you through the film was frowned upon by professors, they seemed to think that documentaries needed to have a “main character”. In my film I didn’t want to follow one person, I wanted to know why they all rode. I felt while doing that I could also make a documentary that was cinematic and focus on the cyclists themselves and what made them so passionate about this particular style of riding. I knew that the general population had a stereotype of young punk kids that road fixed gears, riding dangerously through red lights. I made it a point of finding riders with different types of lifestyles: fathers, teenagers, event promoters, businessmen, Olympic athletes and professional cyclists.
The cyclist in the film were all so easy to work with, just a great group of guys that were willing to give up their Saturday or Sunday for a filmmaker that they had never met (except Nick Hart, we are friends and former coworkers). I put out the word on forums and social media that I needed cyclists for a documentary. People like Ryan Ressurreccion, Sean Martin and Marc Marino just stepped forward and knew they could bring their own perspective to the film, same thing with the other cyclist and the bike shops included in the film.
My crew was selected from the months of work I had done with fellow students of the L.A. Film School, all except the executive producer who was my roommate at the time, Dustin Bramell. Having someone around like Dustin was always helpful to make me think of the bigger picture, or expand ideas that were not specific to being a student. You’re not going to be a student forever, why make a film that is limited to student constraints? Instead, take advantage of the fact that you are learning and mistakes are much more understandable and acceptable in this stage of filmmaking. Take chances, ask for favors, take advantage of what the film industry offers students. I had a close group that I worked with on 2 school projects already and I knew I wanted my core group to stay the same. My right hand man through the project was the director of photography Justin Gamboa. We shared a strong passion for detail and hard work, which made for a perfect combination on location scouts and during filming. Choosing my line producer was fairly simple as she was the most passionate producer in our course - Kelsie Bieser. Both associate producers, Jason Peel and Curtis Newton were giving that title because of their ability to multi task in many different fields.
In Part 2, I’ll cover what happened in production and what you can expect when starting a film as a student and then continue post production past graduation. I will also go into detail on how we were able to film cyclists in the city and how we dealt with permits and locations with the limited budget we had. Please feel free to leave comments and ask questions on the crew, cyclist or film.
PS: Continue on to Part 2 - From Student to Professional
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