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March 16, 2008

All About Timing

BY PAMELA JO BOWMAN, MESA, ARIZONA — I have tried, unsuccessfully, to get the feature film’s name, BAD TIMING changed to something else … anything else. I have been overruled. From the very beginning of pre-production, this film has lived up to its name. There should be a documentary about how much bad timing we endured, oh wait there is!

We officially sent off the application for a MAJOR film festival this week. We both sat down and answered the questions. There was a heated discussion on the film synopsis, another heated discussion about how many actors to list, even a heated discussion on how to ship it overseas. However, the MOST a heated discussion about the title!

hungryHippo.jpgIt feels wonderful to send this movie to Cannes for consideration. We are really pleased with how it turned out. We are happy with the performances of the cast and the excellent work of the crew. We are proud to have produced the first full-length, dramatic narrative feature film based on an award-winning stage play by a Zambian, directed by a Zambian and acted by an all-Zambian cast. It turned out amazingly well for a first production. The passion and commitment of everyone involved is evident in the quality of the final film. I believe it reflects their culture and they will be excited to see it. We know there are 11 million people who will want to see this film! It is THEIR story, their voice, their culture. That is pretty amazing.

So now if I could just get that name changed! Would love some persuasive assistance on this one and perhaps a suggestion or two. I’m all about recognizing the problem, but more committed to solving it. New name, how about HEART OF AFRICA? I like it, but it has been vetoed by the powers that be. Oh, I see it now. Here comes another heated discussion!

September 18, 2007

Load o' Poo

BY CYNDI GREENING, ARIZONA, USA — I've been getting such a load of poo lately for being slow about blogging. As you can imagine, I have had a lot of things going on. I can hear Pamela Jo already. "Oh come on, I know how much time you spend lolly-gagging." I was talking with my sister, Sandy, over the weekend and I was telling her how the whole hearing thing was really wearing on me. The pressure was becoming overwhelming. Sandy said she could tell it was wearing because of how my blogging had been. I was blogging less frequently and there just weren't as many amusing entries. I didn't know it was that transparent. I'd been trying to only write when I was feeling happy and positive. Apparently, my standards had fallen ... my idea of happy and positive just wasn't.

I feel like I've really rounded a corner now. The hearing is done. (All four agonizing days of it.) I know I've done all I could do. I gave it my best effort. Now, it's time to move on. Move forward.

Ironically, some really wonderful things have been happening. GREENing Productions has produced several new projects in the past few months. GL_DD_cover.jpgMy business partner, Pamela Jo (who is always complaining that I don't do enough), and I, have completed a wonderful two-part Art Instructional DVD. This was a project that I conceived over twenty years ago! I had said to my friend, Regina, "Wouldn't it be great if someone had recorded Socrates giving a lecture or, perhaps, Plato, discussing the Republic?" I wanted to do a series capturing gifted instructors sharing their knowledge and their skill. Gingher instructed, we used two cameras to shoot, Pamela edited, I prepped the DVD and did cover design for a wonderful six-part series on Charcoal Drawing. I've always felt like what we did (we fine and occupational art faculty) was really remarkable and that it was unfortunate that only people living in the Phoenix metro area were able to benefit from our efforts.

So, in 2005, when Thompson Publishing approached me about doing a DVD series, I was really excited. But, the amount of work and low, low, low, bargain basement royalties (8%) just didn't make it all that appealing to do more titles for them. On top of that, I was much more accustomed to a lecture structure with hands-on participation. So, the Cool School Interactus series just didn't quite cut it for me. So, we did our own series. And, I must admit, it turned out pretty dang sweet! There are a few other folks who are hoping to continue the series and we're excited to bring it to market. Next, we've got watercolor, portrait drawing and portrait painting coming out. It's all too exciting.

On top of that, we've got a documentary project that's just show up. It's about the Navajo Nation. I'm sure you're getting the awesome visuals in your head already. Canyon de Chelly. Hogans on the plateau. Sunrise. Sunset. The timeless passage of life in the remote desert. I'm really excited about this project and I'm learning NOT to say anything too early because it's really in the nascent stage. Until we get a bit more committed to film, I'll have to keep it under my hat.

DannyDVD.jpgWhile we've been working on the new series, Jeniece has been working on editing the concert that Danny did for the Zambian National Arts Council last September. The final piece was about 40 minutes long. She also edited the FilmZambia Film Shoot that was held at the Le Triumph Dolphin Restaurant on 31 August. She did a really nice job with it. In addition to the two concert pieces, we were able to add his scene from the film AND the performance by his guitarist on set. The only thing left to do is the Color Correction and the Audio Mixing. Then I get to commit them to DVD. I've already finished the cover design.

August 08, 2007

Genocide or Suicide

BY PAMELA JO BOWMAN, MESA ARIZONA - One of our goals with the Zambia project was to create the possibility of the film industry in Zambia. Upon our return those in the “business” remarked to us how ambitious our goal really was. Of course, in retrospect, our naivete allowed us to believe in our goal and us.

chop.jpgWe have been back for over a year. Since then three more films have been made in Zambia. People write to us asking for our advice for future projects. Others have asked us to sign on as producers for their African projects. So we continue to have a personal and professional interest in the region.

Those who follow global news are well aware of the continued upheaval in the African Nations. It is my opinion that many are using the differences that exist within Africa to divide and conquer. They continue to be successful as more refugees flee to “safe” country's or die at the hands of their fellow countrymen. As refugees flood the economy of these countries it creates more tension and more division. shake.jpgEventually “safe” countries start to drown as more people saturate the countries ability to sustain themselves and the process repeats itself.

Our goal was to unify, educate and promote business within Africa by Africans. We met many who were willing, able and anxious for any opportunity. My advice to the friends I made there is to be careful with who you shake hands. Realize that many who are investing in your country are not investing in your people.

July 28, 2007

Good to Hear from You Zambia

BY CYNDI GREENING, ARIZONA, USA — Santosh! So awesome to hear from you!! Please post the address for the Triumph Dolphin Restaurant on this site or email it to me so I can send you a copy of the segment we recorded with Danny at your wonderful restaurant.

It was August 8, last year, when we came to Zambia. As we approach the one-year anniversary of our journey (can you believe it has already been a year?!), I am surprised at how often I think of all of you! Perhaps it is because I have spent the last year looking at everyone's faces while we've been editing! I would love for you to have a copy of the segment we recorded (so you can show all of your guests while they're doing karaoke). Please let everyone know they can look at the movie trailer to get a sense of how it's coming along.

I would appreciate it if ALL members of the cast would email me at their earliest convenience so I can be everyone has been paid. We've been told all but four (4) have been compensated so I need confirmation from everyone. I need to find the missing four.

I'm looking forward to returning to Zambia to see everyone!

June 20, 2007

FUNDING IS NOT FUN

BY PAMELA JO BOWMAN, ARIZONA, USA — There are many lessons I have learned and some I continue to learn from my experience working on the FilmZambia project. The number one lesson? Always use Other People's Money (OPM), preferably a studio's money or a distributor's money. What I am still trying to learn is how to get that money.

Of course there are a few exceptions that encourage filmmakers to believe they will be a member of a rare and elite club. The successful self-financed film members include Morgan Spurlock (SUPERSIZE ME), Kevin Smith (CLERKS), cyndiStripes.jpg and Robert Townsend (HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE). These exceptions tease and titillate filmmakers. The truth is, is every filmmaker believes in "his or her story."

Their story, their cinematography, their editing, their actors. They believe every element will help produce a successful piece of art. With that belief, they are bound and determined to get the money from whomever they talk to including their families, their friends and even ... themselves! There are THOUSANDS of filmmakers who follow that film-financing path into a very dark tunnel. If a distributor or producer gets behind your film, chances are that they see an opportunity for financial success. The problem? First-time filmmakers can be quite naive. They are in it for the art. Yes, they want to make their movie, and they want to earn enough money to buy ... more equipment to make another movie. Eventually they begin to understand that there is a business involved in the art of filmmaking and everyone has to eat food, sleep in a safe place, and buy and use TIDE.

It is hard to accept the experience and decision of the money people when they say "no" to your brilliant story. In our case, it was even more difficult. We were students. It's impossible to get distributors to fund educational projects ahead of time. They want to see the finished product to know if the story hangs together because, well, let's be honest, it's students learning by doing. They're cautious about giving money to that sort of thing. Especially if it is the very first of "that sort of thing."

So, how did Cyndi end up in the rabbit hole that she did? Did she not preach and teach all of her students to avoid this very hole? This is what she said, "Surely I know the rule about OPM. If there's anyone who knows this rule, it is me. When I told my filmmaking nephew that I was well over $80,000 on these two films and was probably going to go over $100,000 by the time they were done, I thought he was going to have a stroke. 'Are you out of your mind?' Jason gasped. 'You used your money? Is that why you sold your house?' he asked." Didn't really answer the question did it? To be honest, it was a bit complicated. Hey Cyn! This would make a great movie!

Well, there's nothing like being called on the carpet by someone half your age. And, if Cyndi wasn't feeling embarrassed before Jason started lecturing her, she surely got there after I put together this little piece.

Cyndi's Houses (quicktime)
Cyndi's Houses (swf)

Don't shoot the messenger! She sat and watched this and started to laugh. She actually has gotten to the point of being amused by her exuberance for the film. I mean to shout, "What are her alternatives?!!" Believe me she has shed plenty of tears. She cries like a giraffe. There is no sound! How very odd. In the middle of the day, I will turn to her work station and find tears rolling down those cheeks! Her motto now is, "If you decide it's a good idea to go to Africa to make two films (and encourage 18 faculty and students to come with you for the learning experience of a lifetime), make sure the OPM you get is waaaaay more than a small educational grant that only covers the flight for about a third of the crew. Unless you don't care if anyone ever actually sees the films that you made.."

If there is anyone who wants to invest in two middle-aged women with bright ideas, tons of ambition and enough energy to get the job done, well get in line or get out of our way. We are comin' through. Thought I might try a unique approach to funding. Is it working for you?

November 12, 2006

Keeping the Fire Burning (Part Two)

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By Cyndi Greening. Phoenix, Arizona USA -- More from the Film Zambia crew members as they discuss their experiences shooting the first dramatic narrative feature film in Lusaka and Livingstone. Recorded around a campfire in Mesa, Arizona, the informal conversation offers insight into the thoughts of the crew now that they've returned to the U.S. In Part Two, publicist and line producer M.K. Racine talks about the growth she experienced. Associate Producer Pamela Bowman discusses the difficulties with locations, coordinating the actors, communication, craft services and keeping Cyndi on the set. Each crew member is asked if he/she would go to Zambia again and what advice they'd offer to others. An entertaining and informative podcast.

Show Details

Podcast recorded in Phoenix, Arizona, USA on Tuesday, November 7, 2006
FilmZambia Campfire Podcast, Part Two
Direct download link above. (Right-click or Control-click to download)
Personal Weblog
Email

Keeping the Fire Burning (Part One)

By Cyndi Greening. Phoenix, Arizona USA -- Film Zambia crew members discuss their experiences shooting the first dramatic narrative feature film in Lusaka and Livingstone. In Part One, Unit Photographer Mike Montesa talks about preparing for the shoot, how many images he captured each day and how he logged them each evening. Make-Up Artist Jeniece Toranzo talks about how she originally thought she would be an editor and ended up taking on new positions to serve the film. Documentary Cinematographer and Editor Robby Brown talks about his memories of Zambian children and the special challenges he faced. Feature Cinematographer Carlos Espinosa reveals the difficulty he had shooting in a nation were someone else was accountable for locations and props. 1st Assistant Director Nick Marshall talks about how he communicated with and coordinated all of the members of the team and the challenge he faced keeping production moving.

Show Details

Podcast recorded in Phoenix, Arizona, USA on Tuesday, November 7, 2006
FilmZambia Campfire Podcast, Part One
Direct download link above. (Right-click or Control-click to download)
Personal Weblog
Email

October 03, 2006

Galen Yeo Comes Through!

movingVisuals.jpgBY CYNDI GREENING, PHOENIX, USA – Great news today! The folks at Moving Visuals have located TWO CAMERAS that will be donated to the National Arts Council for use by Zambian filmmakers, artists and students. When the FilmZambia crew left, we donated a dolly, steadicam, light set, gel set and sandbags to the Council. With the addition of the cameras from Moving Visuals, we're hoping to encourage the growth of independent film in the country.

It's been four weeks since we returned from our Zambian film shoot. Since then, we've been working on editing BOTH the documentary and the feature. We made our own little KRAALETTE (a smaller version of the Kwazulu Kraal in a hotel in Tempe ... we've rented adjoining suites so we can work from 8 a.m. until 2 a.m. every day. A few of us sleep here to protect the equipment. There's something familiar and comforting about continuing to work together.

For a while, there were challenges editing the feature. We were feeling frustrated because we'd worked so hard to get it done. Then, we started working on the documentary and we got very inspired again because we were reliving all we'd been through together. I now understand why people who work on film crews together get so close and keep working together over time. You really come to know who you can trust, who will watch your back and who will come through at the end of the day. I think with us being half way around the world, we became especially close because we knew we only had each other. I'd love to go back to Zambia and make another film. I think it would be so different this time because we are so different now. We'll have to see what the future will bring.

September 02, 2006

Celebrating the Conclusion

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BY CYNDI GREENING, LUSAKA, ZAMBIA – I am happy to report that we have finished filming BAD T!MING! One of the last scenes we did was the concert scene with Zambian singer/songwriter Danny. There's a jubilant scene at the end of the film that Unit Photographer Mike Montesa captured beautifully. The cast and crew were happy to bring the house down afterwards because we were finally done, done, done.

Now the post production work begins. Everyone keeps asking us when they'll see the film. We explain that the editing will be taking us at least a couple of months. Then there's the sound mixing and all that sort of post "sweetening." We tell them it will probably be January. They look sad. I hope they'll be happy when they finally see it.

August 26, 2006

Powerful Performances from Zambian Actresses

Mutinta_slapping_chilufya.jpgBY CYNDI GREENING, LUSAKA, ZAMBIA – We're at the end of week two and we've had some wonderful performances turned in this week. We've had some logistical nightmares and challenges getting all of the cast together but, in the end, when we're rolling, we're getting some terrific performances!! This photo was taken on the set during one of the key transformation scenes for all of the main characters.

Kudos to Mike Montesa for capturing this photo of the confrontation between Mutinta and Chilufya. The photo reveals the power of the performance and the scene.

In response to what Sotiris wrote about the history of film in Zambia ... I'm going to have Jabbes respond to this because he understands it a lot better than I do. Jabbes said those other films were made by other countries (Britain) and they didn't star Zambians nor have a Zambian director nor were they written by a Zambian. Whatever has been attempted and/or completed before doesn't really affect what we're trying to do. We're simply doing the best we can to support the Voice of this African Nation. So, we head into the last week in high spirits and with high hopes for something that will really be something that Zambians love ... their own story, told by their own people.

August 08, 2006

Why Film in Zambia?

whyZambia.jpgBY CYNDI GREENING, PRODUCER — When you think about how complicated it is to take 14 students and 4 faculty members to another continent to shoot a film, you might wonder why we made that choice. Here's a short piece on why we think it's important to shoot BAD T!MING and VOICE OF AN AFRICAN NATION in Zambia.

Film in Zambia (lg)

Film in Zambia (sm)

How Jabbes Came to Mesa Community College

JMatMCC.jpgBY CYNDI GREENING, PRODUCER — Sometimes, it's amazing to realize how serendipitously this all came together. How did Jabbes come to Mesa Community College? Why did MCC sponsor such a project in Zambia? This piece might clear it up.

Jabbes at MCC (lg)

Jabbes at MCC (sm)

August 07, 2006

The Inspiration for the FilmZambia Projects

inspiration.jpgBY CYNDI GREENING, PRODUCER — We leave for Zambia tomorrow. Principal photography begins on BAD T!MING on Monday, August 14. The following video will help you to understand what inspired these projects.

The Inspiration (lg)

The Inspiration (sm)

August 06, 2006

Just Another Sundance Weekend

BY CYNDI GREENING, SUNDANCE INSTITUTE, USA — After an amazing Friday at the Sundance Independent Producers Conference, I was hoping they could keep it as interesting on Saturday because I had noticed that the day began with Film Distribution. Distribution is the thing that I was MOST interested in and found most mystifying. With the two films that we're making in Zambia (the feature AND documentary), I really wanted to know how the distribution thing worked.

marcushu2.jpgI had already noticed that Marcus Hu and Mark Urman were on the panel. I knew these guys would be great because I'd heard them at Sundance before. I'd been tracking Marcus Hu for years because I loved the sort of films he released at STRAND.   (The Zambia films are a more difficult fit for him but I was anxious to hear what he had to say anyway.) The new folks on the panel (new to me) were Sony Classics Michael Barker, Fox Searchlight's Matthew Greenfield, Picturehouse's Bob Berney and Stratosphere's Paul Cohen. Agents on the panel Cassian Elwes and Kevin Iwashina. Barbara Boyle was the only female.

Every person on the panel was freaking brilliant. Seriously, these are some of the brightest bulbs on the planet. Distributing a film is a complicated puzzle, a Gordian knot that cannot be easily severed. The people who dwell on the question of how to distribute a film (remember, we discovered earlier that EVERY film is different so there is no single answer) are bright, bright, bright people.

In a classical advertising model, AWARENESS is the cornerstone of marketing. If the client is unaware of your product, they cannot buy it. So, a theatrical release of your film is often the platform that creates the awareness of your film. This often leads to a more lucrative DVD and cable deal. In the "old days" (the last three to five years), selling to foreign markets was the traditional path to generating initial funding and a completion bond. According to the panel, the foreign markets are not as easy because they got too much mediocre product and they've become more sophisticated buyers.

In the Finance Panel, there was a lot of discussion about how to MODEL a film. Basically, it's looking at the elements of the film (genre, talent, etc.) and determining what the VALUE is of that film. When the value is determined, the key is to budget the film BELOW the value of the MODEL. This difference creates the profit for your investors. The distributors are the folks who help you to generate that value with theatrical, foreign, DVD and ancillary sales. So, just like in the publishing world, finding a distributor who has marketed similar product in the past is a good starting point.

One of their key recommendations: Attend the American Film Market in LA or NY to find out what sells. (Or Cannes or Toronto.)

Later in the day, there was a dialog on LOW or NO-BUDGET FILMMAKING. Two of my favorites on the panel were Gary Winick and Ram Bergman. These are the gurus of low budget filmmaking. Bergman made BRICK for $400,000 and Winick's Indigent makes all films for $200,000 or less. The crew gets $100 per day and profit participation.

According to Gary, "Movies about people that deal with emotions can always be made for $200,000 or less." According to Ram, "You need to honestly assess the value of your movie in the market and make it for less!"

markurman2.jpgAs usual, some of the most profound words of advice came from Mark Urman (THINKfilm). "In the end, it is irrelevant what it cost. My only concern is whether I respond to the material and what do I think it can make in the market. Most independent films lack the polish, visual diversity and visual sheen to be successful in the marketplace. The shots must be alive and we must respond to the characters."

August 04, 2006

TGIF at Sundance

BY CYNDI GREENING, SUNDANCE INSTITUTE, USA — sundanceCanyon.jpgThe schedule at the Sundance Independent Producers Conference is intense! We're booked from 8:00 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. We can hike down the canyon, catch a shuttle or take the rental car (guess what I chose) to start the day with a communal breakfast. Everyone is excited. There is a networking frenzy in the air. It's early in the weekend so the industry professionals can move through the crowd with relative anonymity. We are wearing our "FilmZambia" t-shirts. It's effective. We are noticed. It also doesn't hurt that Jabbes is one of very few black faces in the room. We stand out.

The first panel is on documentary and feature Film Production. Our panel consists of Danielle Renfrew, Ron Yerxa, Ross Katz, Cathy Schulman, Cara Mertes, Sheila Nevins, Gary Winick, Diane Weyermann, Ram Bergman and Sunmin Park. One of the things I like best is that they do NOT take the time to introduce the panelists. Moderator Cara Mertes tells us that we're professionals now. We were given a book of bios. Surely, we prepared by reading them, she says. No reason to duplicate the effort. Fortunately, I had a lot of time on Thursday and have thoroughly read it all. I am ready to hear what they have to say.

There is a lot of discussion about the changing market, changing platforms, changing audiences AND the fear that is moving through the industry because people are having a hard time finding something that works reliably. I find myself wishing I had taped the sessions because I want to take down nearly every word they say. The content is so rich. The icons of filmmaking say things that are incredibly profound. It seems to me that many members of the audience don't really hear what they're saying. For example, documentary producer Sheila Nevins says, "I trust people to say the true lines of their lives and that's what makes documentary so powerful." Ron Yerxa says that he loves contradiction in story and in life. What people say they're about versus what they do is at the heart of a good story. Gary Winick of Indigent says, "It's simply having something to say AND knowing how to say it well." Sunmin Park talk of the "knot in her throat" caused by contemplating "honorable warriors." Nearly all of them talk about the importance of having a good story. The panel inspires and challenges me.

cathyschulman.jpgIn the short session afterwards, I have the chance to tell Barbara Boyle, Cathy Schulman and Ricky Strauss about the FilmZambia projects. I talk about the documentary and the feature. It turns out that Cathy Schulman is considering a project in Africa. I'm thinking her connection to Don Cheadle (after CRASH) may be continuing. Ricky and Cathy have sweet smiles and kind demeanors. Barbara is sharp as a tack and quite an education snob. I think she would look down her nose at Mesa Community College. They seem very excited about and interested in the project. Jabbes is sitting beside me so he talks about BAD T!MING (the feature). I'm happy.

rickystrauss2.jpgIn the afternoon, we have the Film Financing Panel. In this panel, I think I'll find out all of the things I've done wrong in mounting this production. Again, I hear things that I think are incredibly deep and profound. I feel like I'm being given the keys. (I hope I have enough time to write about this before I go to Zambia.) Among the many things I learn, we are told that the BIGGEST CHALLENGE in filmmaking is that EVERY FILM IS UNIQUE. Financing and distribution are totally dependent on the story, the cast, the perceived audience and the P&A. The particpants in the IFP ask a variety of questions about how to find funding and they are told over and over again, "Depends on the film." It's absolutely liberating! There is no "right" answer. You just do what it takes to get it done. At different times, the panelists laugh derisively and tell us that they make lots of mistakes and, at the end of the day, do what it takes to make the things they love. Don't get me wrong, they say financing is tough. Prices are high, profits are low. The talk about the financing for Maria Maggenti's PUCCINI FOR BEGINNERS.

In the next breakout session, I again visit with Ricky Strauss. (I'm afraid he'll think I'm stalking him.) Roseanne Korenberg and Micah Green are also in our mini-group. Ricky is still great ... engaging and supportive. He talks about how he thanks God every day that he gets to do what he does. He clearly loves his work. I think Micah Green is a razor-sharp genius. He's a packaging agent at CAA and he is clearly one smart cookie.

We have dinner and spend the evening at a documentary panel. It feels a bit familiar after the morning production panel. Maybe I'm just tired. It's been a long day.

August 03, 2006

BAD T!MING Cast Announced

BY CYNDI GREENING, PHOENIX, USA — We're about one week from landing in Zambia to begin the filming of BAD T!MING. I'm pleased to announce that the major roles have been cast! Within the next few days, images of all the actors will be posted.

LeeNonde.jpgCHIKU will be played by Lee Nonde. Lee is one of the lead actors in the Kabanana "soap opera" on the national television station, ZNBC. Well known in Zambia, Lee has the charisma to capture the goodness of Chiku and, at the same time, show the terrible pressure and conflict he faces by his enemies.

MUTINTA will be played by Annie Katamanda Musukwa. Annie had the role of Mutinta in the original stage play by Samuel Kasankha. As the bride of Chiku who must share the public humiliation with her husband, Annie will also be able to show the strength of character that imbues Mutinta. She is one of the leading actresses on Zambian Radio Drama and Sewero programs on ZNBC.

HON. HACHINDUMBA-NDUMBA will be played by Jacob Chirwa. Jacob has a degree in Drama from the University of Zambia and is featured in the Kabanana soap, as well. A well-connected, powerful and wealthy politician, Hachi is the father to Mutinta. A talented and versatile actor, Jacob will bring excitement and energy to the role. Jacob is also the Deputy Director of the National Arts Council.

MAINZA HACHINDUMBA-NDUMBA will be played by Gertrude Nkonde Kasankha. One of the founding members of Zambian Radio Drama and Sewero, Gertrude is reprising the role of Mrs. Hachindumba-ndumba from the stage play. The mother of Mutinta, Mainza is supportive of her daughter's plight and suffers a mother's anguish. It's an excellent role that will be well captured by Gertrude.

pelikan.jpgDON PELIKAN will be played by Augustine Lungu. A tremendously gifted actor, Augustine is one of the most sought after actors/comedian/producers in Zambia. The powerful and well-connected businessman, Don Pelikan is a neighbor to Chiku and father of young Rose. As you can see from this photo, Augustine can summon that dominance when needed! For those of you who read this blog regularly, you may recall the wedding photo of Augustine and his lovely bride in early July. We saw his sweeter side in that image.

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ROSE PELIKAN will be played by young Mirriam Zulu. As a young character, it's only logical that Rose would be played by a young actress. One of the newer faces to the Zambian stage, Mirriam has won the plum role of the conflicted, troubled teen daughter of Don Pelikan.

KAPAMBA KATWISHI will be played by Henry B. J. Phiri. A talented stand-up comedian and lead actor on Kabanana Soap, Henry is reprising his role of the fun-loving and loyal friend of Chiku. He will bring humor and heart to the film.

SAMPINGILA will be played by Joemwa Mtsinje Mwale. A celebrated actor, comedian and writer like Augustine, Joemwa has written many of the Zambian Radio Dramas and Sewero plays. He is credited as having played a major role in shaping the dramatic career of Jabbes Mvula. We are excited that he will now be able to share in Jabbes' latest project.

SULLYNA TEMBO will be played by Kamwengo Vunda Lungu. In the role as Chiku's assistant at CHILDREN'S PARADISE, Sullyna carries the heart and devotion of many Zambians toward the orphaned children. Kamwengo has played roles of mother and guardian in building her acting career.

DANNY will be played by Danny Siulapwa. We are so pleased and proud to announce that Zambian songwriter, singer and performer Danny will appear as himself in BAD T!MING. In addition to writing songs for the film, Danny will perform in the film.

Sundance Independent Producers Conference Begins

BY CYNDI GREENING, SUNDANCE INSTITUTE, USA — We arrived at the Sundance Institute at 11:04 a.m. Registration began at 11:00 a.m., so I was fearful that one of the small group sessions that I wanted would already be filled. We went inside to find hardly anyone in the Creekside room. Apparently, the IPC is NOT like the Sundance Film Festival. You don't have to arrive everywhere an hour early to ensure your place. I got all of the small groups I wanted. Cathy Schulman. Ricky Strauss and Micah Green. Marcus Hu, Kevin Iwashina and Mark Urman. It looked like it was going to be a very informative weekend.

It took about 15 minutes to register. It was 11:30 a.m. We were told we couldn't check into our houses until about 2pm. The first gathering was scheduled for 5:00 p.m. We had a whole lot time on our hands. So, we sat on the picnic tables behind Creekside and read all of our many handouts. There was a bound book of participants and panelists. There was an enormous reference package and another small set of addresses and contacts. We enjoyed the strong wireless signal (although the firewall made it impossible to get my school email).

sundanceScreeningRoom.jpg We watched all of the folks arriving. While I'm a relatively social creature, I don't enjoy these forced networking experiences. I end up thinking about what I should be working on, what I might be able to blog about or what I should be doing for the film project. The one thing I know I don't want to do is "crawl up some industry professional's hinder" in the hopes of making a deal. It leaves me feeling too crappy for words. So, I dive into reading my materials and hope they talk with Jabbes or Alec. They tell us we can go to our accommodations and I am relieved to go elsewhere until dinner.

At five, the Sundance Screening Room (pictured above) is full of participants, panelists and film pundits. Geoffrey Gilmore tells us that we should spend the weekend talking to these incredible industry professionals. He tells us that some will be wonderful and some will be jerks. Welcome to the real world. "If you're too afraid to walk up to someone and ask for a meeting, you don't deserve to call yourself a producer," he says. They turn us lose for dinner and and networking.

rosskatzjpg.jpgI meet a fellow that I will come to love over the course of the weekend. He turns out to be the nicest fellow! He was one of the people I really wanted to meet. He produced IN THE BEDROOM and LOST IN TRANSLATION. His first film (as a member of the crew) was RESERVOIR DOGS. We're in the beverage line together and we introduce ourselves. I tell him that he was one of the people I was looking forward to meeting. He asks about our project. I tell him about the FilmZambia projects and he gets so enthusiastic and excited, he pulls Geoffrey Gilmore over to our group to tell him about it. He tells us a funny story about his mother at the screening of IN THE BEDROOM. I just love this guy. Ross Katz tells us to come to his screening of MARIE ANTOINETTE on Saturday. We tell him we wouldn't miss it.

sheila_nevins.jpgThen, there is a screening of BAGDAD, E.R. and a Work-In-Progress screening of HIROSHIMA/NAGASAKI. Both were produced by the Grande Dame of Documentary, Sheila Nevins of HBO. I'd heard her name many times before. Prior to the screening, I bumped into Sheila and her HBO cohort, Sara Bernstein. Alec and Jabbes had already spoken with them and told them about the Zambia projects. She said they sounded really interesting. If I'd had my wits about me, I might have asked her if HBO would be interested in the doc but it's hard to be witty in the bathroom. Sheila favored cargo pants in shades of yellow, tan and khaki. She has this great mane of hair and easy laugh that is totally disarming. I was completely captivated by her.

August 01, 2006

Leaning on Each Other

dynamicDuo.jpgBY CYNDI GREENING, PRODUCER, PHOENIX, USA — We leave for Zambia in one week (almost to the minute, in fact, since I'm typing this at 8:45 pm) and I can hardly believe it! I think we're all in a weird conumdrum . In the early months, there were days that it never seemed like it would never leave. Now, time is rushing so fast, we're wondering where the time went!!!

Tomorrow, Alec, Jabbes and I leave for Sundance for the Independent Producers Conference. When we found out in early June, it seemed a century away. On top of that, it delayed our departure for Zambia. NOW, I think it was a REAL GIFT to be selected for the conference just because of all the things we'll learn but, even more importantly, it was a major blessing to have four days to get away before we start shooting. It has forced us to finish everything up and it will allow us to recharge ourselves. Jabbes and I need the break and I am quite certain much of the crew needs some "down time" prior to leaving!

I have to give a lot of recognition to the storyboarders. JACOB FELIX and ERIC AGUIRRE have done an incredible job. They have been working with Jabbes non-stop since Monday. They were both there when I left tonight. HEATH McKINNEY has been terrific, too. He was also there when I left. All four of them look bleary-eyed and beat. Fortunately, MARIO CARBAJAL came in the last two days to lend a hand. A very detailed illustrator, Mario was great at rendering a number of pivotal scenes. Even better, he was a fresh set of hands to help visualize the film. It's really helping the rest of the crew be more successful. I know both Jabbes and I are really grateful for their hours and hours of hard work!

Life is a million details, now, competing for our attention. We keep leaning on each other and hoping we'll handle enough of them to make the film a success!

July 29, 2006

M'dala from Zambia

seriousJabbesSm.jpgBY CYNDI GREENING, PRODUCER, PHOENIX, USA — In Zambia, "M'dala" translates as "Big Man." In the original draft of the script, several street kids called the main character, Chiku, "big man, big man" as they begged for money. Jabbes explained that is was a phrase in Zambia to connote respect. I've taken to calling Jabbes "M'dala" lately.

It's not that I'm trying to turn him into an egomanical director (always a catastrophe if your director gets too big for his britches). It's a title that captures the change I have seen in him the last several months.

Jabbes and I began working on this film together in January. In the beginning, it was just the two of us pushing, pushing, pushing to get this film made. He told me the fictional story of Chiku and the true stories of Zambian culture and custom. The more I heard, the more I was excited to get a Zambian story onto the screen. In those conversations, he shared his dreams for his country. He had a powerful desire to provide more education for filmmakers. He had hope for greater economic freedom and opportunity for all Zambians.

One of the things I admired most was his honesty about the challenges his country faced. He didn't paint a rosy picture of Zambia as some sort of "Eden in Africa" nor did he paint his country black like it was "Hell on Earth". He talked openly about AIDs, poverty, unemployment, corruption and refugees. Like the U.S., Zambia has challenges. He also talked about family bonds, communal gatherings and so much dancing. (Listening to Jabbes, I swear Zambians must be dancing all of the time!) Also, like the U.S., Zambia had wonderful gifts to share with the world.

The more we talked, the more I could see his profound commitment to his nation. I admired and respected that. I became more committed to providing what I could to make the film a success AND to supporting the other economic and educational goals. Though he tries to play humble, I can tell you that Jabbes is becoming quite the M'dala these days. For BAD T!MING to be successful, Jabbes had to become something "bigger" than he had known himself to be in the past. He had to be willing to grow and take on new responsibility.

I see the same thing happening with the MCC student crew. Whether they're going to Zambia or supporting the effort from the U.S., they are having to EXPAND and grow beyond who they have known themselves to be in the past. We (the students, faculty and I) are helping with the FIRST feature film in Zambia. Jabbes is a first-time director. Many of the actors will be first-time actors. For much of the crew, this is their first film. Today I was thinking that all innovators, inventors, pioneers and explorers had to take the risk to do something they had never done in order to accomplish something revolutionary. Our modest, merry little band of students and faculty may qualify for the title of M'dala, too.

July 27, 2006

Five Most Critical Things To Know

Shooting the first feature film in Zambia is one of the most exciting — and challenging — things I've ever taken on. Filmmakers know there are a thousand different things that need to be handled before a film can be shot; that's why pre-production is as long (or, in our case, longer) than the actual production. There are, however, several critical things that I learned doing a film outside the U.S.

  1. Names Must Be Exact: Since 9/11, things related to travel have become much more rigid. We were told that the names on the plane tickets had to match the passports EXACTLY. I was very careful about sending the exact names but THREE of the tickets were not identical. The one without the middle name and the one with the hyphenated last name will probably be okay (I love reassurances that contain the word "probably") but the one with the wrong first name is sure to create a problem. Whose name is wrong? The lead cinematographer. I shudder to think at the impact that would have on the film. Murphy's Law. We've got ten days to sort that out.
  2. CARNET or Customs Form Must Be Completed: Taking film equipment across international borders requires that you complete a Carnet (pronounced CAR-NAY). Or, for prosumer equipment, a US Customs form 4457. This form is to prove you own the equipment when you leave the country. The only trick is that you need to go to a US Customs office with your gear.
  3. Immunizations Must Be Taken EARLY Enough: The entire crew is going to need immunizations. Depending on where you're going, they may need a wicked pile o' shots. Most of us ended up with five or six plus pills. Cost to each person, around $325. Depending on which malaria pills that were prescribed, there was another $40 to $240 per person. (Ironically, Zambia does NOT require that you have any immunizations to enter the country. It's the recommendation of our physicians that motivated us to get them.) So, that's a total of $500 per person PLUS the $3000 flight. Ouch.
  4. Many Visas Must Be Managed: There are THREE Visas to worry about when filming out of the country. The first (and most critical Visa) is the one to enter the country. Frighteningly, I had to send all of our passports to the Embassy for the multiple entry visas. After all the other costs, the $100 fee seemed reasonable. It was the sending of the passports that makes me want to blow a lung. The second "visa" is the equipment waiver that we needed to secure from Zambia. There is an import fee to bring equipment in because the government doesn't want visitors hauling in a pile of equipment and selling it for an exhorbitant fee without paying import taxes. Of course, we're bringing all of our equipment back but approval is required prior. The final "visa" is for getting money while in the country. Researching credit cards, conversion rates and bank fees, we discovered there is a horribly wide range of penalties one can pay when getting money. It's important to check with your bank before you go.
  5. It's Really, Really, Really Hard to do Pre-Production: Being half-way around the world makes it really challenging to mount a production. Initial efforts to locate actors, locations, sets, props, costumes and such have to be negotiated with great difficulty. There is a NINE HOUR time difference between Arizona and Zambia, so Jabbes and I are doing most of our telephone calls between midnight and three A.M. Calls are expensive. I had to send six faxes to Zambia and it cost over $140 to get them there. Even silly things like sending copies of the press coverage and the press kit took near Herculean effort. I wanted to get funding for award-winning cinematographer Nancy Schreiber and documentary filmmaker David Mallin to join the crew but the distance made the cost so prohibitive. No wonder everyone wants to shoot on sets in L.A. or Vancouver. Everything is so close by. We have the added challenge that there is little film industry in Zambia so we have to bring everything with us.

The good news ... if we can make this happen in Zambia, the next film should be a breeze.

July 25, 2006

Sundance Submission Deadline Challenges Us

To be honest, I am a bit upset about the deadlines this year. The early submission deadline will pass while we're still in Zambia filming. We return to the U.S. on September 4, 2006. The LATE deadline is a scant three weeks later. We're going to have to work like crazy to get the films ready. I was so hoping that BAD T!MING (the first Zambian dramatic narrative) and the documentary VOICE OF AN AFRICAN NATION would debut at Sundance but it's going to be dang tough to hit that date.

The Sundance website lists the requirements and deadlines for the upcoming festival. Films should be submitted to Sundance on a single DVD, packaged in an industry-standard, 5 1/4" x 7 1/2" plastic DVD case (the same type that most retail DVDs are packaged in). DVDs must be compatible with standard set-top DVD players -- do NOT simply burn a quicktime or AVI file to a disc as data. Make sure that your disc plays in a standard DVD player before you mail it in! They don't want fancy artwork -- and absolutely NO paper label on your disc!

EARLY SUBMISSION DEADLINE:

U.S. & International Short Films
Friday, August 18th, 2006
($25 Entry Fee)

U.S. & International Feature Films & Documentaries
Friday, August 18th, 2006
($35 Entry Fee)

OFFICIAL SUBMISSION DEADLINE:

U.S. & International Short Films
Friday, September 1st, 2006
($35 Entry Fee)

U.S. & International Feature Films & Documentaries
Monday, September 11th, 2006
($50 Entry Fee)

LATE SUBMISSION DEADLINE:

U.S. & International Short Films
Friday, September 15th, 2006

($60 Total Entry Fee)

U.S. & International Feature Films & Documentaries
Monday, September 25th, 2006
($75 Total Entry Fee)

July 21, 2006

FilmDailies on Nollywood

BY CYNDI GREENING, PHOENIX, USA - FilmDailies posted a piece on Filmmaking in Nigeria. Thanks to CNN, we now know that Nigeria’s blossoming film industry is number 3. That’s third place after Hollywood and Bollywood.

"The efforts of early Nigerian filmmakers were frustrated by the high cost of film production. Nollywood, however, is a video movie industry. Nigerians call them home videos. All Nollywood movies are produced using digital video technology. Television broadcasting in Nigeria began in the 1960s and received much government support in its early years. By the mid-1980s every state had its own broadcasting station. Law limited foreign television content so producers in Lagos began televising local popular theater productions. Many of these were circulated on video as well, and a small scale informal video movie trade developed.

A report on CNN featured a production which had all the features of a low/no-budget production: a video camera and NO lights in sight. The scenes were shot in the blistering hot Nigerian sun! They could have used a reflector to soften the light but they probably wanted that gritty look - it looked like a gangster movie.

They are buying Sony FX1 and Panasonic HVX200 by the dozen. They are shooting a movie a week - they need to shoot 20-30 setups a DAY!"

Thanks to the folks at FilmDailies for this report ... they're on my new "must read" list.
For more information:
http://www.nollywood.com
http://www.nollywood.net
http://worldfilm.about.com/od/africa/

July 18, 2006

CRITICISM

"In the face of criticism, we can become bitter or better, upset or understanding, hostile or humble." — These were the words of one William Arthur Word.

BY JABBES MVULA — Most people hate criticism, I don't like it either, though depending on the approach, I may take it or just ignore it. However, little did I know that during the process of developing the script, I would go through a stage at which my script would be criticised and torn apart. This is a very important part of script development in the business of writing either film or book.

JabbesCyndi.jpgThe last two weeks have been so hectic for Cyndi and I. After I finished writing the script at the end of April, I gave it to my Executive Producer (who is also my Professor in Digital Filmmaking) Cyndi Greening, to proofread it. It took her almost the whole month of May to write her detailed comments on the strengths and weaknesses of the script. She gave me her comments, together with a 19 page layout of how I could improve my script. Her comments were very good and enriching to me, but I suddenly developed fears that the guide would make my script sound American.

This is one of the times that I gave Cyndi a plus in the way she played her game as Executive Producer. She came back to me with a different approach. For a period of two weeks straight, the two of us met from morning till late to discuss the script in depth. Her role - criticising the script word for word and sentence for sentence. I had to justify why I put "that" and not "this". Sometimes we differed, sometimes we agreed, but at the end of the day, we made sure that the Zambian voice of the original script that I wrote was maintained, while at the same time making it professionally accepted.

I learned that sometimes, when you realize that criticism can be good, it can make you a better person and it can make your work better. For two weeks straight, I went to bed at 03:00 AM and was up at 06:00 AM waiting for Cyndi to pick me up. I only slept for 3 hours a day, not so healthy, but it was worth it. Am so happy with the script, but guess what, I still have a lot to do before we can start filming.

In the face of positive criticism, we have produced a better script, and I feel so humbled.

COOPERATION

BY CYNDI GREENING — Filmmaking is such an odd art form. Fine artists in many fields create their work and refine it—alone—and then present it to the world. Paintings, drawings, sculpture. They spring more often from the mind of a single person. Critics may comment on the work but the artist can simply say, "This is the way I have created it."

In order to make a successful film, it is vital that the filmmakers face mounds of criticism long before the critics ever see the finished film. Filmmaking demands that a group of artists come together and bring every skill they have to bear on the creation of a magical tale woven out of everyone's imagination. This can be the missing element in independent filmmaking.

I've been going to the Sundance Film Festival since 1996 and I have seen over a thousand independent films. Some of those films are wonderful and amazing. There are some, on occasion, that needed more criticism. Some films have the same writer, producer, and director which makes for a singular, independent vision. But, sometimes, those stories are weaker because they wander all over and are too "loose" to sustain the story for the viewer. They did not benefit from enough criticism and cooperation.

I have to give Jabbes a lot of credit for the way he has handled the development and production of BAD T!MING, thus far. Like me, his goal has always been to serve two masters in the making of this film. One commitment is to make the best film possible. Equally important is the commitment to accurately reveal contemporary Zambian culture. Both commitments must be manifested by the script. Based on the stage play by Samuel Kasankha, the story of Chiku and Mutinta needed to be adapted for film. It had to be developed for the camera and the visual shorthand that comes from filmmaking. As Jabbes worked the many drafts of the script, the story kept getting stronger and clearer. The dramatic throughline for Chiku strengthened and the opposition of the villains (major and minor) clarified.

It would have been interesting to see us working on it. (Ask Pam, she had the dubious distinction of being able to watch us for a couple of hours.) I'd say, "I don't get this part. It doesn't work for me. I don't think this character would do this."

Jabbes would scowl at me as he considered what I said. Sometimes he'd explain why he thought it should go that way. Sometimes, the explanations were very long. Sometimes, he'd say, "You're right, Mum. What about this ..." Sometimes, it would really be a cultural thing. I recall one scene with Mutinta and her mother when I said that I thought the mother would speak a certain way. "In Zambia, Mum, never. Never would a parent say that to a child. Never."

The real gift of this experience (and, as a producer, I must say, if only all writer/directors were like Jabbes, the world of filmmaking would be a joy!) is that the goal for both of us was always the strongest, most compelling Zambian tale.

Now, we count on all of the other members of the team to use their skills to make this script leap off the page and into the hearts and minds of viewers around the world.

July 14, 2006

Sony HD from Z to A

Like many traditional photographers who made the transition to digital, Arizona Republic photographer Dave Seibert migrated from 35mm film to digital stills and is now moving into motion digital. A few nights ago, Dave brought out his digital video tool, the Sony HVR-A1U. A phenomenally compact camera (only 1.5 lbs), it very much resembles its big brother, the much bulkier HVR-Z1U. At MCC, we have the Z1U and it's a great HD camera with native 16:9, Carl Zeiss lens and terrific fidelity in tough light situations.

SonyHVRs.jpg


I love the camera and it is what we're using for the Zambian feature BAD T!MING because of the superior quality. In spite of that, I was quite impressed with Dave's little wonder. It had TWO high-quality XLR sound inputs, 3CCD CMOS Sensor, Carl Zeiss lens, HD with a 2.97 megapixel resolution. The only disappointment is that it can't do 16:9 native, only 4:3. Still, to be able to capture images of that quality from such a tiny camera was very appealing ... especially if one were to be carrying that camera around for hours, as often happens in documentary filmmaking.

I think of how great it would be to have a few of those to train with and leave behind in Zambia. That would really help build the film industry and encourage production.

July 07, 2006

The Nation that Knows Storytelling

The ARIZONA REPUBLIC article on the Zambian film projects was published in the Mesa edition on Friday. We've been told it's going to run in the Sunday edition (in the Valley and State edition). Reporter Josh Kelley did a really nice story that is being well received in Arizona and Zambia.

On Sunday, Frackson's sister is returning home to Zambia. She agreed to take some things back for us. She's taking the Colin Boyd interview on THE BIG PICTURE to ZNBC so they can share our efforts with citizens in the Lusaka viewing area. She also took a big stack of our printed Press Kits to distribute in Lusaka. We topped off the box with several copies of the ARIZONA REPUBLIC that will be given to the Ministers and other government officials.

Jabbes and I have been polishing up the script so it can be sent to the Zambian actors and given to the crew this week. On Saturday, we're going to have another crew work day. We're going to have Zambians standing in for the actors so the crew can light dark fleshtones. We're exactly one month away. I'm getting anxious to go now. I've even started thinking about future projects.

ManWhoKnew.jpgSince I started on this project, a lot people around me have been learning quite a bit about Zambia. Some of it is through my research but some of self-motivated. My friend, Margaret, has been reading Zambian folk tales. She was telling me about THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. It's about a new mother who goes into the field with her infant son. The child is visited and comforted by an eagle. When the father finds out, he can't believe what his wife is telling him. Tragedy is the result of his unwillingness to believe. I find myself thinking of this story and wondering if there's a way to film these folk tales. Jabbes is always saying that Zambians use parables and wise sayings to teach their children. I find them fascinating. For instance, in THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, initially the mother does not talk of the eagle visit because "some things are so wonderful, they are to be enjoyed privately." In the over-connected, digitally-linked U.S., the idea of holding things privately is a powerful thought.

This is one of the goals of the Zambian Innovative Project ... to bring technology to the story-telling Zambian culture and allow them to share their art and culture with the rest of the world.

July 06, 2006

We've Been Chosen by Sundance!

I am very, very excited to report that the Zambian film projects have been selected for the Sundance Independent Producer's Conference. That means Zambia will be making its maiden appearance at the prestigious Sundance Institute through the country’s upcoming production BAD TIMING, which was picked from the hundreds of productions that applied for participation at the conference. Film Executive Producer Cyndi Greening (me!), Zambian Director/Co-Producer Jabbes Mvula and Editor Alec Hart will represent the film and the nation.

ipcheader.gifThe Independent Producers Conference is held every August and is structured to provide participants with opportunities to explore the issues of independent producing and to apply them to their own projects. The goal of the conference is to support filmmakers in finding resources to develop their films and to enhance their options for production and distribution. The conference brings together emerging producers, executives of production companies and distributors to discuss the challenges and possibilities for bringing these new film projects to the global marketplace.

This is the 21st annual conference and it will be held from 03-06 August at the Sundance Resort in Utah, United States of America. Among the producers and distributors expected to attend this year’s conference are Michael Barker of Sony Pictures Classics, Sara Bernstein of HBO Documentary Films, Ricky Strauss and Diane Weyermann both of Participant Productions, Marcus Hu of Strand Releasing and Mark Urman of THINKfilm. The agents scheduled to attend include Cassian Elwes of William Morris, Micah Green of Creative Artists and Jeremy Barber of United Talent.

It is the connection with these established members of the industry that is most vital for the participants. The wisdom, guidance and experience of these veterans assist emerging filmmakers in making better production and distribution decisions that ensure greater long-term success for their current and future films. “To have this sort of support as we establish the film industry in Zambia is a great blessing,” said Director Jabbes Mvula. “Through Sundance, the voice of our people can be heard by the world and our stories may have a global market. The success of BAD T!MING can create future opportunities for many Zambians.”

June 27, 2006

Bridging the Cultural Divide

BY CYNDI GREENING, PRODUCER, PHOENIX, USA - As a professor in a Fine Art program, we are deeply committed to guiding students in developing an original point of view and creating unique work. We want the students to share their individual truth with the viewer. The more profound and personal that truth, the more accessible it is to the viewer ... and the more powerfully it touches him/her. It's a delicate task.

It was with this belief system that I approached the Zambia projects. One of my primary goals in producing the first Zambian feature film was to bring the Zambian voice and stories of the Zambian culture to the world. Using the play of Samuel Kasankha, the direction and screenwriting ability of Jabbes Mvula and the music of Danny ensures that the film BAD TIMING has the potential of being an amazing film for Zambia.

vicfallsbridge.jpgThe recent death of Jabbes' son, Kondwani, reminded me that there are often surprises that show up in the making of original work. I am reminded that there will undoubtedly be many more surprises in the making of this film. Why? Because this is a Zambian tale, acted by Zambians, written and directed by a Zambian. It is outside of my experience so many of the things that happen do not match my U.S. frame of reference.

It was surprising for me to hear that Jabbes could not openly claim his son until he had taken care of things properly with the elders. In most of the U.S., this wouldn't have been that big of a deal. It would have been an "oops" ... like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Oops. Oh well. Things happen. It was an accident. In the U.S., sometimes people get married. Sometimes they don't. It's just different here.

I'm anticipating that this sort of thing is going to happen a lot during the filming process. I've already had a few of those experiences. Early in the production process, I called and emailed a few people in Zambia and discovered that my typical way of communicating was often misunderstood or too abrupt. I had to change my communication style.

This should be very good for the documentary, VOICE OF AN AFRICAN NATION, however. Navigating this gaping cultural divide between Arizona and Zambia will make for good drama. I don't think we have any idea how many of these moments are going to occur.

As an Art Professor, my commitment is to support Jabbes in helping the world to see the true Zambia and understand his culture. It promises to be enlightening for all of us.

June 23, 2006

Zambian Singer/Songwriter DANNY to Provide Music

dannys.jpg

DANNY, the Zambian singer/songwriter, whose song KAYA was the longest running #1 single in Zambian History (15 weeks) has expressed an interest in doing the music for the film, BAD TIMING A quiet and humble young man with a serious attitude to his work and career, Danny has established himself as one of the leading young musicians in Zambia. In addition to being very talented and disciplined, Danny is not afraid to touch on serious topics such as homosexuality, AIDS, infidelity.

Born and raised in Lusaka, Danny Siulapwa is the last born in a family of six. He studied for a diploma in Electrical Engineering but he had discovered his musical ability at Church and developed his talent while at Secondary School.

In April 2005, Danny released his fourth album KAYA to much critical acclaim. Danny’s high profile and huge fanbase across south central Africa (including Malawi and Zimbabwe) helped consolidate his position as Zambia’s leading artist. Listen to KAYA by Danny and BUY THE ALBUM!

June 20, 2006

Jabbes and Cyndi Interviewed on THE BIG PICTURE

colinboyd.jpg

THE BIG PICTURE with COLIN BOYD on FREE FM101.5

Podcast on Sunday, June 18, 2006
Recorded in Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Show Details


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By Cyndi Greening. Phoenix, Arizona USA (indieWIRE) -- Film critic Colin Boyd interviews Jabbes Mvula and Cynthia Greening about filmmaking in Zambia. Greening will produce and Mvula will direct BAD TIMING, the first dramatic narrative feature film to be shot in Zambia. Simultaneously, they will produce VOICE OF AN AFRICAN NATION, a documentary about the making of that feature and the establishment of the film industry in Zambia.

BAD T!MING is the story of Chiku, a respected Zambian social activist who is invited to lead the U.N. Task Force to investigate and improve the future of the African Child. As the head of Children’s Paradise, an organization that cares for orphans in the Zambian capital of Lusaka, Chiku is well suited for the task. Chiku is respected by his peers and loved by the many children in his care. During this period, Chiku is also preparing for his wedding. The son of a Ngoni chief, he is to marry Mutinta, the daughter of a Tonga leader. First, Chiku must visit the bride’s village located near Victoria Falls to make the marriage arrangements with her father. Shortly before he marries, Chiku is seduced by a seemingly innocent neighborhood girl. When the police come to arrest Chiku at his wedding, his bride is horrified to discover that the young woman has accused her new husband of rape. Wanting to avoid a life sentence in prison, Chiku begins an epic struggle to restore himself personally and professionally. A tale of failure, corruption, forgiveness and redemption, BAD T!MING reveals the rich culture and social interactions of contemporary Zambians, set against the rich backdrop of Zambian countryside.

The documentary, VOICE OF AN AFRICAN NATION, will explore the educational and creative journey of Jabbes Mvula from Zambian National Broadcast to Arizona, and it will reveal the cultural exchange that occurs between Americans and Zambians. The film crew is comprised of students and faculty from MCC, where Mvula studied filmmaking. The documentary follows them from their relatively affluent, predominantly white community to this economically challenged nation in Africa. It will explain the efforts of Greening and MCC faculty to provide digital filmmaking training and technology to Zambian producers, directors and teachers.

Mesa Community College, located in Mesa, Arizona, has granted the Media Arts faculty the use of their high-definition cameras, lens packages, production lighting kits, audio production equipment and state-of-the-art editing equipment for the production of Mvula’s film and Greening’s documentary. By making these two compelling and exciting high-definition films, Mvula and Greening intend to accomplish several goals. They hope to bring the stories and the voice of a previously unrepresented African nation to the global cinema. They are committed that their efforts support the growth of film industry in Zambia. Through the films, they intend to reveal the beauty of Zambian regions for potential tourists, visitors and investors. With such a varied landscape and rich culture to offer international and native filmmakers, this joint venture promises growth and expansion for all parties involved.

June 12, 2006

Producer's Dilemna

The last few days, I've been marveling at how challenging it can be to produce a film. It’s a long and complicated process to be sure.

It all starts so innocently. Jabbes came to me right after the 2006 Sundance Film Festival and asked me to Exec Produce his film. I asked him what that meant. “If you could just get a couple of 3CCD cameras, I can return to Zambia this summer and shoot the first feature film in my country. I’m working from a play by a famous Zambian playwright.”

Thinking it will be awfully hard to do it by himself, I say, “Maybe I could come with you and help out. Maybe Jeanette (the other faculty member) would come, too. And, maybe a couple of students.” I think this is a good solution. Christy Beckman reminds me that Innovative Project Grants are due soon. So I decide to write a grant that allows me to take four students and two faculty members to Zambia to help Jabbes make his film.

Why four students and two faculty members? There is a limit to how much you can ask for, so I decide to figure out what I could get for that top amount. Four and two. Not a large crew but better than just handing him two cameras and sending him alone. I start to get supportive emails from citizens in Zambia. We hear the film projects have been presented to the Vice President of the nation.

So, then, I decide it would be better if we had a bit bigger crew. More hands for better lighting, more hands for better sound management. On top of that, it would make the documentary even better to have more students in Zambia. It would create more points of conflict and more drama.

Then, opportunities for education appear. The University of Lusaka and the Evelyn Hone Technical College might like to partner with Mesa Community College to create an ongoing educational exchange. More money, more flights. More interesting documentary footage, more connection.

So, that’s what I think of producing. Whatever you get in terms of money, actors, educators and equipment, you always find that you need and want more. That’s the producing game. More, more, more, more, more.

June 11, 2006

Sundance Producers Conference

BY CYNDI GREENING, PHOENIX, AZ, USA — We got the news yesterday via email! I thought the announcement was going to be made on the 10th so I was surprised when it was there. The acceptance letter. I've applied for the conference before AND the workshops but was never selected. Of course, I think this project is by far and away the best project I proposed to them. It has the most potential to make a difference in the world of independent cinema. It was surprisingly short and direct.

Cyndi Greening and Jabbes Mvula
BAD TIMING, First Zambian Feature Film

Dear Cyndi and Jabbes,
Congratulations! You have been selected as participants for the Sundance Institute's 21st Annual Independent Producers Conference! The Conference will be held at the Sundance Village in Utah from August 3 – 6, 2006. We look forward to meeting you soon!

I called Jabbes in Michigan today. He'd gone up there to relax a bit. Like me, he was feeling a bit stressed out and exhausted from the process of getting this film together. He was beside himself with joy. Our goal of launching the film industry in his country and making a powerful feature film that achieves international distribution seems so much closer now. We'll be getting support and guidance from distributors and financiers of independent film. It's really great to be part of all this.

June 05, 2006

The Clock is Ticking

jabbesSuave.jpgBY CYNDI GREENING, LOS ANGELES, CA, USA - Jabbes and I leave for Lusaka three weeks from today. I feel the pressure of the clock now. We've been breaking down the script, prepping the equipment, trying to anticipate anything and everything we're going to run into over there.

I stopped in Los Angeles over the weekend to visit with another friend who is working on a documentary using the Panasonic P2. His footage was awesome! He's been working diligently on his documentary and he's an amazing one-man crew. He showed us how he loads up his camera with Sennheiser boom and wireless microphones and puts spare digital storage in the pack. He's been in quite a few risky situations but he keeps on shooting.

We're a small crew on the two Zambian films but clearly great footage and diligence can create a great product. I realize that one of the big assets we have is Jabbes. He knows the best actors in Zambia, the best playwrights and crew from Zambian National Broadcaster. We have a number of assets in country that will really support getting great projects done. He's been a producer for 16 years; he's got connections and awareness of how to make this happen when we get there. I'm anxious to get going now.

May 30, 2006

I WANT TO MAKE A MOVIE

ColinCyndiJabbes.jpg
BY DIRECTOR JABBES MVULA, MESA, ARIZONA, USA - The first time I posted on this blog, I promised to write about how this project started but I haven’t been able to do that due to pressure lately. We are just about to get rolling and there are just hundreds of things that Cyndi and I have to take care of in just one month. I will still keep my promise and write about how the idea came to be and possibly even write about my background. I promise to write a whole boring story about my life, my struggles with my dreams and ambitions, my successes and of course my failures.

This time around I thought of writing about something on professional lines, my experiences about filmmaking so far. I was talking to a friend from Zambia, Henry Sakala. He is one of my friends in this business that have maintained very close contact. I was trying to find out about the latest developments in the industry back home. Henry is one of Zambia’s greatest Actors, and I think playwright Samuel Kasankha’s favourite. He is also an upcoming writer having penned one award-winning play. Recently, he wrote and produced a film entitled SILENT VOICES. I called him to get a feeling of what it was like making a movie.

I will summarize his experiences in brief. Henry wrote a first draft script, found a low-end mini DV camcorder, put a cast together, shot the film, did straight editing, and ... he had his film. It was simple, very basic filmmaking. Because of its simplicity, people don’t seem to have any confidence in it. No investor wants to help market it, and he was only able to screen it at the Lusaka Play House where only a handful people came to watch it. Henry put a lot of effort into this production, but people just don’t seem to appreciate it. And yet, when Henry runs a stage play, it’s been a sell-out.

Henry may be in this sad situation, but probably the worst situation is that of another very good friend and one of Zambia’s great comedians, Shingonga. The guy is good at his art, and he also put together what he calls a “film”— which he shot on lowest end VHS. The only people that have watched his production are the actors and his wife. He is the Writer, Director, Producer, Actor, and Editor of the film. My heart bleeds.

I have been analyzing these sad situations and I think I have learned that making a movie is not as simple as people imagine. If it were that simple, then almost everyone with a script would be a “Filmmaker”. Working with Cyndi Greening on this movie has taught me a lot of things on filmmaking.

One of the most important things in making a film is having a good script. I have never written a script before, though I have produced over 1000 scripts for Radio Drama and about 15 or so for Television. How do I know these numbers? Simple mathematics. I worked for Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation for 15 years, and for about 10 years, I produced two plays every week for Radio, one in English and one in Chinyanja. That is about 104 Radio plays every year for about 10 years. I worked with Zambia’s prolific writers like Samuel Kasankha, Francis Magiya Manda, Joemwa Mtsinje Mwale and Nick Venter Shamilimo.

When I started writing the script, adapting it from stage to screenplay, Cyndi gave me screenwriting software that helped me a lot. I wonder what it would be to write a script without the software. I wrote each page about 4 to 5 times just to come up with the first working draft. Every time I wrote about 5 pages, I would take them to her for analysis, and she would make her comments, advising me where it was weak. She maintained that she wanted it to be a Zambia story, and so she never made any corrections or changes, only offered suggestions. She would only point at the weak points and ask me what I was trying to put in the movie, who were these characters and what was I trying to tell in this part of the story. I worked for some months to come up with the first draft.

When I had finished my first draft, one day she brought to class a lot of films and let the class watch the first ten minutes of every film. She also taught us to watch the first ten minutes of a film with volume turned off. A good film has very little talking with so much fast action in the opening minutes, while a bad film has everyone talking with very little action in the opening minutes. After watching the films, Cyndi and Bob Lewis (the other teacher who also a Regional Manager for Apple Corporation) led the class into analyzing the films. I just felt like they were all critiquing my script 'coz it had a lot of talking in the opening minutes.

After class, she told me to cut my first 10 pages into 5 pages, and I should describe my main characters using actions. I said to myself “If this is what it means to make a movie, then it is not fun." One of the things I have known with low-cost films is that the first 5 minutes do not inspire people to continue watching, and I realized that Cyndi wanted me to turn my script around so as to inspire my audience.

After putting in all this work, I thought I have done the best, and I gave her my FINAL script. I had a shock when she told me that she is breaking it down using the latest script software, and then she would make her comments so that I can produce my FINAL script. After that, I would then work with the people doing the storyboards.

After talking to Henry, I wondered if he or Shingonga had access to this kind of guidance. I haven’t even begun to write about the kind of filmmaking equipment that we will be using or the award-winning editors that I will work with to do post-production on the film.

Am not better than these two guys, but I have just been privileged to work with a professional person on this dream I have that started from the simple sentence “I want to make a movie." Now am getting to understand what it really means to make a movie, I hope to use my experiences and observations to inspire and motivate others in Zambia and around the world. I know that there are a lot of people out there who are saying “I WANT TO MAKE A MOVIE."

Producer's Note: Jabbes asked me to find a photograph of the two of us together to post with this entry. I have over 500 production stills that Mike Montesa has shot so far and this is the ONLY photograph I could find of the two of us together. Apparently, there is so much going on, we're never in the same place at the same time.

This photograph was taken in the early morning at the recording of Colin Boyd's The Big Picture for FM101.5. Set to air in mid-June, Colin interviewed us about the making of the two Zambian films. Neither Jabbes nor I had had more than three hours of sleep. Thank goodness Colin did a great interview and got us talking up a storm!

Links Bar Added to Blog

BY CYNDI GREENING, PHOENIX, ARIZONA, USA - If you look to the lower right side of this blog, you will see that we have added a links section to make it easier to get to sites and blogs of importance. Email me other links of importance and we'll get them up, too.

May 29, 2006

Keeping The Momentum Going

BY CYNDI GREENING, PHOENIX, USA - It's Memorial Day weekend in the U.S. That's a national holiday. While many people are at the beach with friends or having a cookout, I'm at the keyboard, working to keep the momentum going. On my personal blog, I wrote about how producing requires that one serve the needs of so many groups. As we approach the departure date, the amount of work to do just seems to grow exponentially.

When I am working on film projects, I tend to think of them like children. BAD TIMING was "born" (to me) in January, when Jabbes came to see me after I returned from the Sundance Film Festival. I agreed to take on "raising" this project. For the first several months, it was just the two of us. We discussed the script, logistics, possible futures for this little Zambian baby.

We drew in the initial crew. Mike, Carlos and Lindsey came on board to help with the filming of the backstory for the documentary (VOICE OF AN AFRICAN NATION) about the making of the film. We captured Jabbes' early thoughts on the film and his goals for it when it "matured" into the first Zambian feature film. We had already seen his digital story, My Journey: From Zambia to Arizona and Back Again in which we learned about the tragic loss of his son and how that propelled him to do the film and help establish the film industry in his name.

Now, we're in the "teen" years with the film and it is having some growing pains. Teenagers, you may recall, want to be totally independent. They think they can do everything on their own and they are often running about with their peers. As the parent of a teenager, I have found that teenagers need more attention and more effort than younger children. Likewise, BAD TIMING needs a lot of attention right now and sometimes it's a bit unruly. It's getting bigger and harder to handle. It can get into all sorts of things it never used to be able to get into ... it was just too small. Now, as the public profile of the film gets larger in the United States and in Zambia, there are things that change daily ... more opportunities, challenges, responsibilities and tasks to manage.

While I tend to think more money would make it easier (bigger crew, more equipment, easier to buy things, maybe hire some of the other tasks out), the truth is that this is "our baby" and we're trying to grow it up "right" ... according to what we believe it should be in the world. We want it to contribute to Zambia, to be a great film that is entertaining and enriching, to help people see they might want to visit Zambia and film there.

Principal photography begins July 3rd in Lusaka, Zambia. At that point, we will grow BAD TIMING into the film it is going to be in the world. It is the point at which the film stands on its own and greets the world as the thing it is. We're doing everything we can to make it a success. I hope it makes us proud.