July 28, 2007

The Rise of Shawn Downs

BY CYNDI GREENING, ARIZONA, USA – Shawn Downs, the gaffer and sometimes cinematographer on the FilmZambia projects, is completing his thesis film at the LA Film School. You can view the trailer for THE HUNTER on YouTube. It is visually compelling, a nice piece of filmmaking. Often, beginning filmmakers think the dialog is the most important part and spend all of their time shooting actors talking. ShawnHunter.jpg(Hence the horrifying descriptor, a Talking Heads Movie. Woe the director who makes a talking heads movie.) Shawn was never confused about the fact that filmmaking was telling stories with pictures and that it is different from, well, audio books or radio. Shawn's moving pictures are moving. I like the rack shot with the arrow (a tad faster would be swell but perhaps he'll speed that up in post). The choreography of the fight sequences looks very Wong Kar Wai-ish. Lyrical. And, I do love the sound effects. That chilling sound of the blade being pulled from the scabbord is chilling at the end. Okay, I am not keen on the opening graphic and hope that doesn't make it to the final but, heck, if I had a bunch of money, I'd be having him direct something for me. Wouldn't you?

Congratulations to Shawn. Since we returned from Africa, it has been an intense year for him. He has dedicated himself to filmmaking and, like several of the other Zambia crew members, he has taken the necessary steps to make his life line up around his goals. Of course, I think the goal of visual storyelling is a noble one. Gifted filmmakers give viewers access to people and places they might never see, propel them to have thoughts about relationships or quests they might never have had, perhaps even to relax and be entertained after a gruelling week. Shawn is beginning his quest and he's making a strong first step.

October 04, 2006

I Am Ready

ShawnHS.jpgBY SHAWN DOWNS, HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA, USA - A few months ago I was given the opportunity to join the crew of BAD TIMING. At first I was hesitant to go to another country. It was such a large decision to make in a short period of time, especially when I just graduated high school and I was preparing to begin film school in two months. But, ultimately the decision was an easy one. I realize that few opportunities open in the film business. When you are given a chance to work on a feature film, you take it. You cannot be afraid to take on a project because you think it may be too big for you. You must rise to every challenge. You cannot fear failure.

Upon my arrival in Zambia I began to understand the importance of this experience. I am only 19 years old, and have never been abroad. The weeks I am in Zambia, I find myself thinking differently. People close to me told me that this experience in Africa will change my perspective on life. I now understand what they meant by that. I am so excited because now I see the changes in my writing and my ability to think of creative ideas and develop my scripts.

When it came time to shoot I was not quite sure what to expect of myself. I produced a few shorts in high school and had done extensive research on cinematography and editing over the last few years but had never been put in a situation where I had to perform on the set of a feature film. I had no doubt in my mind that I woud give my best work. As a gaffer I ran into problems the first day on set when our crew realized that the bulbs were the wrong voltage. We were still using American bulbs. This error was rather embarrassing. However, we learned from this mistake and corrected the problem. I began to understand why there is such a large importance on pre-production in the film business.

I felt very comfortable working with the crew. It is certainly true that a film crew becomes like a family by the time the movie is finished. The collaboration between everyone pushed the film through its toughest trials. Everyone respected each other and their skills. Everyone accepted criticism and improved upon it. I always hear that many low budget films go unfinished. It is remarkable that we flew to another country, one that has no film industry, and worked together to complete our film.

It has been a month since I returned from Zambia. Now I am in Hollywood studying directing and screenwriting. I still find myself listening to Zambian music and looking through pictures from the production. I feel so fortunate to be this young, and already have participated greatly in a field that I always dreamt of working in all my life. I feel now that I am ready to take on this business. I am ready to do great things.

September 08, 2006

Production Crew Slideshow


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August 19, 2006

Our Life at Kwazulu Kraal

BY SHAWN DOWNS, LUSAKA, ZAMBIA - I'm positive that everyone will inform you of the progress of the film, but I want to breifly bring you into our lives apart from the film. At the time I first joined this project, I had imagined that we would be staying in a hut somewhere and sleeping completely wrapped in mosquito nets. Upon arrival I was very surprised to see how fortunate we were to be staying in such a fine place. The Kwazulu Kraal Resort it is called. Each room has two beds, a kitchen, bathroom, shower, and anything you would find back at the States. It is excellent in that it contains everything anyone would need and boasts its Zambian culture.

water_heater.jpgThe first few days my roommates (Carlos Espinosa, Mike Montesa) woke up to take freezing showers. So cold was the water that we had difficulty in breathing while showering. Screams were heard every morning as we dashed in and out from under the water. On the third morning I felt rather stupid when I discovered a switch near the ceiling in the hallway; directly under it were the words "Hot Water".

The mosquitos are seen from time to time at the resort but in my room we have DOOM. Carlos and I discovered this at the supermarket. It is a device that when it is plugged into the wall it releases fumes that repel mosquitos. I am fairly positive it doesn't work, but Carlos and I still believe. And justifiably, we have not been bit. Mike isn't a believer. He has been bit.

Lately a few have been saying their own versions of "You know you are in Zambia when...". The other night I learned that "you know you are in Zambia when you think you are about to eat mashed potatoes but you are actually in for quite a surprise". The other night I became really excited when I thought I was piling mashed potatoes onto my plate. With no warning I found with the first bite that it was NSHIMA -- a boiled corn meal that Zambians eat twice a day. It is an acquired taste.

Despite the little negatives of every day life, the country of Zambia has shown to be a very beautiful place with very generous people. You will not find many Zambians without a smile on their face. I am so grateful for everything Zambia has done for our crew to make our stay as comfortable as possible. We are so excited to be shooting this film so people can see the beauty of Zambia and all it has to offer.

August 01, 2006

Film Zambia Crew


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July 21, 2006

My Vision

shawn4.jpg BY SHAWN DOWNS, PHOENIX, AZ, USA - The art of storytelling has been exercised since the beginning of humankind. In ancient times, it was a tradition of many tribes and peoples to communicate stories orally that were to be passed on for generations. These stories contained a meaning or moral that was significant to its culture. Furthermore, these stories consisted of the only understood history of its peoples as there was no written records or documentation.

About a century ago, the development of technology altered the method of storytelling so that it could be preserved through literature and motion pictures. In the United States, no one can deny the appreciation of this new method of storytelling. Recently, the film industry alone has produced revenues of approximately forty-five billion. Movie and television industries contribute sixteen billion to the State of California's economy, employing 164,000 and indirectly employing another 184,000. The film industry is a powerful industry that in time can produce large revenues and employ thousands.

For decades major studios have controlled the film industry and, by extension, the kinds of stories that are told in American. In recent years, technology has again changed the way stories are told. Recently independent filmmakers and film companies have been emerging. It is time for new stories to be heard. This technological evolution will allow a story that delves into an unfamiliar culture to be told. It will be told by an unlikely bunch. We are all hoping that the story will be so beautiful that a new industry will arise. An industry that will tell Zambian stories for years to come.

June 26, 2006

The Zambian Way



This Saturday was an emotional event for the film crew. Jabbes' son Kondwani, passed away last week. The film crew and the Zambian community came to offer their sympathy and support Jabbes. This is also the day of opportunity for the crew to witness and participate in the Zambian culture. For the first time, the crew got their first taste of Zambian food and I could see from their reaction that they liked it very much. Our new friends also shared us some stories about their beautiful homeland and just by listening from their stories, it makes us excited to be there right away. We can't wait to get there.

Here are some of the photos from the gathering this weekend.



FilmZambia_photos.jpgTo see all the photos, click the Camera icon.

June 24, 2006

Who We Are

BY THE AFRICAN VOICE DOCUMENTARY FILM CREW, MESA, AZ, USA - The last week, we worked on a short video to give people a sense of who we are and why we're doing what we're doing. Three of the editors put together versions of varying length.

WhoWeAreSm.jpg SHAWN DOWNS put together the Who We Are in Two Minutes movie. Shawn recently graduated from Arcadia High School and will be going to the LA Film School upon his return from Zambia. Shawn is an excellent cinematographer, gaffer and all-round crew member. Shawn had a short film in the PHOENIX FILM FESTIVAL 2006. I'd count on seeing great things from him in the future.

WhoWeAreMed.jpg LINDSEY BLACK crafted the Who We Are in Five Minutes. Lindsey graduated from Mesa Community College. She has made numerous short films and is looking to build a career in the independent film industry. Lindsey enjoys acting, editing and producing. Already a Sundance veteran, Lindsey is looking forward the 2007 festival. She learned a great deal about networking at the last festival from actor, Adam Scarimbolo.

WhoWeAreLong.jpg MICHAEL MONTESA completed the Who We Are in 17 Minutes. Another Sundance veteran with a commitment to work in the independent film world, Mike is a respiratory therapist by vocation and photographer/cinematographer by avocation. Mike has won several awards at the annual Mesa Community College Art Show. In addition to being a great on-set photographer, Mike loves designing movie poster and DVD case covers. His designs are terrific.

May 22, 2006

Shawn Downs - Cinematographer

shawn.jpgBY SHAWN DOWNS, PHOENIX, USA - When I was offered a possible position on this project, it was first described to me as an "opportunity of a lifetime". With my passion being filmmaking, I know that this is a remarkable opportunity to mature as a filmmaker. I have been fortunate in my four years of high school to have a connection with Mesa Community College. That connection has allowed me to be involved in this production. I can only hope that my contributions will exceed the expectations of the producer, director, crew, and myself.

I can't help feeling like the outsider in this project. It appears that everyone involved has been classmates at MCC. Nevertheless, after only a handful of meetings with the crew, I have become familiar with everyone and understand how devoted they are to the project. Days ago I met the director and writer of BAD TIMING, Jabbes. It was comforting to see his passion for his film, Zambia, and his appreciation for everyone involved. I am certain that in my time spent in Zambia, I will not only gain experience in film but develop close friendships with everyone.