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Interview with Nelson Carvajal of Cinefile.com

November 24, 2011 | By | 1 Comment

Part of “Best of Chicago DIY Film Magazine,” originally posted March 16, 2011.

Nelson Carvajal of Free Cinema Now, and Cinefile.com recently agreed to an interview with Chicago DIY Film.

Nelson Carvajal

DIY Film: Nelson, you are a Production Coordinator, Producer, Content Engineer, Writer, Digital Filmmaker, Content Creator, and Camera Operator; of all these things, if you could pick a career in just one, which one would you pick and why?

Nelson Carvajal: I think the question is kind of misleading on the surface. In today’s new media indie moviemaking landscape, anyone who seriously aims to stick around the business needs to wear a lot of hats. It’s funny, really. For the longest time, aspiring filmmakers went to film schools with these romantic notions of one day donning a scarf and a suit coat while sitting on a director’s chair. Times have proven though that novice or ‘”indie” moviemaking requires much more bravado and risk these days. One of the key roles that any new artist on the scene needs to master is the self-promoter, marketer, or brand ambassador. In other words, indie filmmakers need to put as much work into framing their public visibility—through online tools such as social media—as they did during the principal photography on their project. It’s both a chaotic and liberating time for the working independents.

DIY Film: What would be a close second choice?

NC: But if I had to choose a specific title from the list above, I’d have to go with content creator. The reason is because the title “digital filmmaker” has always troubled me. To me it’s a stasis between creative fundamentals. The fact is: Film is dead. I don’t mean the art form, but the practical physical medium. As indie content creators, we all need to see the limitations of shooting on film: outside of it being ridiculously expensive, the gear for shooting on 35mm is cumbersome and the language of physical film needs to be foiled. Things happen in cycles, you see. It’s great to think that an unaltered film print of “The Magnificent Ambersons” exists somewhere in South America but isn’t also exciting to know that an unearthed auteur has a riveting digital short sitting in his or her video iPod? In fact, I’m sick of video or digital formats falling into an inferior connotation when it comes to moviemaking. As independents, our world of production has seen the format shift from a physical videocassette to an unphysical, viral digital product. We shouldn’t see shooting digitally as a handicap or as a setback. It should be viewed as an exciting challenge. Just because a film you make may only be watched on iPads doesn’t mean that the value of your content has lowered. It just calls for a new language of our cinema. If we know our movies are being watched on mobile phones, then we need to tell our story in a different visual style. So instead of Malick-like vistas, we’d use extreme close-ups, a more phonetic soundtrack and so on. It’s all part of this new cinema that’s emerging. So for me, the role as content creator is a much more applicable term for our new media era. Some filmmakers are getting real innovative with how they tell their stories, through transmedia, blogs, gaming devices, guerilla marketing campaigns and interactive DIY cinema screenings. This really is the best time to be an independent content creator. Share your story—in whatever capacity you can!

DIY Film: Can you describe projects you are currently working on?

NC: An ongoing project that I’ve been deeply involved with is the launch of an intuitive platform that aims to promote and cultivate a new breed of new media moviemakers. Cinefile.com, not to be confused with the art cinema listing service cine-file.info, was founded by Michael Liuzza and its mission statement rings true for me: “To connect, promote and grow a new media industry into a new motion picture market.” Just last November titan indie producer Ted Hope (“American Splendor,” “21 Grams”) featured the Cinefile platform in a post on his Truly Free Film site. I hope for Cinefile.com to function as both a content curator for independent new cinema as well as an online resource for artists to share and promote their work.

Added, I recently launched a blog called FREE CINEMA NOW, which aims to add supplemental dialogue for the changing and often bewildering landscape that we indie artists find ourselves trying to navigate. The title FREE CINEMA NOW refers to my desire to liberate my peers of their archaic indie value system. Opportunity is everywhere. There’s no reason to hop on a Greyhound bus to Hollywood for a career as a production assistant, when you can produce and distribute micro-budget projects yourself anywhere in the country.

As a digital filmmaker, I’ve made some experimental shorts and continue in the development of some long format projects. Still, I find myself making these polarizing shorts because I’m drawn to the counter narrative format. The Internet is full of so much content—much of it quite awful—that I feel a personal affection for radical filmmaking. Of course, if someone were to come to me and say, “Hey Nelson, here’s a truck full of money and I want you to make a straightforward narrative,” I’d of course say, “Yes.” I just would put my own spin on that traditional project. The important thing is to—and I tell this to everyone I meet—always be creating. It doesn’t matter if it’s a two-sentence blog post or a 300-page screenplay. Just create. Because only after we create are we able to share our work, to share our story. As human beings, we are primarily storytellers. From nomads around a campfire to cinephiles in a dark art house auditorium, we are unique in that we can share our ideas, fears, prejudices, worries, hopes and joys with others.


DIY Film: What motivates you to have a blog/film website right now?

NC: The biggest reason that I’ve found the Internet to be more of a filmmaking instrument in recent years is because of the heartbreak caused by my generation of colleagues. After I graduated from college in 2007 and moved back to Chicago, I was floored with how many of my peers were dead set on carving out a lower etching for themselves on the Tinseltown totem pole; it seemed that most individuals my age put more effort into nabbing whatever position in whatever big movie that was coming to town as opposed to using their time and energy into branding themselves as valuable entities. It was at this moment where I saw a gaping hole for opportunity and exposure: web 2.0 giving birth to filmmaking 2.0, granting indie artists with a microphone of amazing reach.

The idea that a short film can garner a worldwide audience from a laptop is incredible. The idea that complete strangers are willing to crowdfund an idea for a documentary from a guy in his garage in Vermont is incredible. In fact, everything that is happening on the indie frontier is incredible. I recognized that I needed to have a voice in this emerging movement. Why? As much as these technological advancements are beneficial, they can also be exploited by the majors or by the wrong entities. I would hate to say that we lost the fight for being truly independent and I didn’t even give it a go myself. People forget that social media, blogging and podcasting have officially made us all publishers in the media field. We don’t nail our indie movie manifesto to a theatre door—we tweet it.

Nelson Carvajal

DIY Film: Filmmaking is extremely difficult, especially in the indie or DIY arenas. Could you describe what has been the most unexpected thing to happen to you while planning, making or distributing a film? Or what has been the most surprising thing?

NC: The most surprising aspect to independent moviemaking for me has been in the audience engagement through social media. I mean after a group of people like one thing you’ve produced or wrote or photographed or drawn, their enthusiasm for your growing body of work is infectious—and inspiring. Today’s DIY moviemaking is sparking a new type of canon in cinema: a screen story that is largely dependent on the audience’s interaction. I’m not talking about a fan writing a review of your movie either. I mean from the concept of a film through its exhibition, we’re seeing DIY filmmakers shape their work around their audience, around their online presence. Movies have gone from the “sender-receiver” model to the “sender-receiver-sender” model.

DIY Film: Could you describe what has been the most difficult obstacle you have had to overcome while making a film?

NC: My automatic answer for this would of course be the financing of a film. Yet, I’m finding myself more impartial to the dollar signs these days. If I want to tell a story or a share my view on something and have no money for high-end resources, I’ll still manage to deliver my project. Whether it’s filming something on my phone or recording audio on a tape recorder and displaying still photos in the back of a café, the power of the content will always triumph. It’s not about how pretty your work is, it’s about how true it is to what you’re trying to express.

DIY Film: Give us your view of the Chicago independent filmmaking scene.

NC: I think the Chicago independent filmmaking scene is one of the most fertile indie grounds in the country. The problem is, I don’t think filmmakers in Chicago realize this. There are too many sewing circles of filmmakers who are content with mingling among the same ten faces, month in and month out. A lot of great work is being produced everyday, but there is no tangible sense of a movement. I think a lot of this problem has to do with that internal yearning to be an overnight major player. So we have lots of small groups full of cinephiles and creators who don’t cross promote and therefore gain no traction as a whole. We need to lower our fences from each other. Why do you think Hollywood thrives? Talent works with production houses that work with major studios that work with distributors who work with exhibitors and on and on. The key is collaboration. Screenings at the Nightingale or limited runs at the Music Box shouldn’t feel elite. The cinema is a currency that should be afforded by all. Know someone with a projector? Host your own DIY cinema. Chicago can be a major force to really shake some bushes and contrast the highbrow sneers on both coasts of this country.

The advent of pro-sumer cameras coupled with the emergence of online venues for exhibition have made the democratization of film a very palpable cultural phenomenon. Now we need a democratization of the hearts and minds among the independents. In short, don’t shield. Share.

Check out Carvajal’s official site, his blog and follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (1)

  1. Good stuff, Nelson. Movies have gone from the “sender-receiver” model to the “sender-receiver-sender” model. True, dat. Gonna take some getting used to. The need to continuously self-brand to build an audience is exhausting and time consuming, but probably a neccessary evil. You could build an industry around that.

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