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Filmmaking 101

Screenwriter believes anyone can, many should

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Photographs by Courtesy Photo

Russell Sharman has taught anthropology, written books, written for film, made films and is now lecturing on film in the department of communication at the University of Arkansas. On Tuesday, he’ll spend the day mentoring high school filmmakers as part of the Fayetteville Film Fest.

Don’t wait around for permission.”

“Don’t be afraid to make your own stuff.”

“Don’t wait for somebody to tell you you’re good enough.”

Russell Sharman believes anyone can be a filmmaker — maybe not a great filmmaker, but a filmmaker nonetheless.

“The first few things you make are going to be bad,” he says. “Very few people come out of the gates who are geniuses. But if you give up, you’re selling yourself short, interrupting the process. You still need to be gifted. And a film shot on a $50,000 camera will look a lot better than one on an iPhone. But for the most part, the general ticket-buying audience can’t tell the difference.

FAQ

Fayetteville Film Fest

Student Showcase

WHEN — 4:30 p.m. Tuesday

WHERE — Fayetteville High School

COST — Free

INFO — fayettevillefilmfest.org

“Hollywood has zeroed in on movies with huge budgets and a lot of effects and not very much story. So there is a niche out there for storytellers — it’s just a matter of finding it.”

Telling those stories is the common denominator across Sharman’s wildly varied career. He entered college planning to be a filmmaker, ended up getting a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Oxford University, has taught anthropology, written books, written for film, made films and is now lecturing on film in the Department of Communication at the University of Arkansas. On Tuesday, he’ll spend the day mentoring high school filmmakers as part of the Fayetteville Film Fest.

“I’ve had a film in the festival pretty much every year” for the last four or five years, Sharman says, and “last year Morgan [Hicks] asked me if I’d be interested in being more involved. You could tell [FFF] had turned a real corner as far as quality of films and the branding change [from the Offshoot Film Fest]. I said yes.

“One of the things Morgan wanted me to focus on was the education component — not just for kids but different kinds of panels and workshops that would appeal to anyone,” he goes on. Tuesday’s student day will include a mini-film festival of works by high school filmmakers, along with workshops such as one by Dan Robinson on composing music for a film and Sharman’s on screenwriting. It’s an interactive effort, he says of his presentation: The students help create a film’s plot, deciding protagonist, antagonist, obstacles and so forth. “It’s what every screenwriter goes through,” he says.

Among the popular questions when Sharman talks about filmmaking is how one gets to be a screenwriter. He says the answer isn’t easy.

“It’s a funny thing about Hollywood: You can work for years for major studios, get flown out first-class, get car service, get paid well, but they have so many movies they’re spending money to develop but aren’t making,” he explains. What really got his foot in the proverbial door, he adds, is knowing someone who had an agent and needed a scriptwriter — and that friend got an agent because he had made a film.

“Which goes back to my first answer: Don’t wait around for permission,” he says.

But when “anybody can throw a film up on YouTube,” is there a role for film festivals, he muses, and his answer is adamantly yes.

“There’s so much content,” he says. “Film festivals are an important way to filter some of that content and get to the good stuff.”

That said, he’s also excited about how the Fayetteville Film Festival supports the “increase in local, Arkansas film production. Almost all of our feature films in this year’s festival are Arkansas productions, and they are in the fest because they are incredible films, not because they are local. We have a lot of very talented filmmakers in the state and the region. In fact, I plan to shoot my next feature film here in Northwest Arkansas next summer. It will be a drama, and a bit of a thriller, centered around the issue of undocumented immigration. I’m finishing up the script as we speak and looking forward to contributing to this exciting trend in local film production.”

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