Nine years before director Barry Jenkins became know for his Oscar-winning film “Moonlight” - shot and set in Miami-, he produced his first feature film “Medicine for Melancholy” with an estimated budget of $13,000.
It’s the kind of project ArtCenter/South Florida is aiming to foster. The Miami Beach-based nonprofit has launched a Cinematic Arts Residency that will award two Miami-Dade County filmmakers $50,000 each to produce a micro-budget feature.
“This program is geared toward the ‘in-betweener,’ the one which shows a bounty of promise and clever filmmaking,” says Miami filmmaker Jason Fitzroy Jeffers, who will lead the program.
The winning filmmakers, who will be announced in November, will also receive studio space, a one-week run at O Cinema and access to an international film network.
WLRN spoke with Jeffers, who’s also the director and co-founder of Third Horizon Film Festival, about the genesis of the residency and why filmmakers shouldn’t have to leave Miami.
WLRN: How will this residency bolster Miami's indie film community?
JASON FITZROY JEFFERS: The thinking behind this program is that we see a need to strengthen our local filmmaking ecosystem. We've had a great deal of success in the realm of short films. Several projects going to Sundance, Toronto International, and film festivals all over the world. But we haven't quite been able to crack the feature film space. We've seen in the last few years the amazing triumph of "Moonlight." But there's a big gulf between successful short films and a successful independent feature like "Moonlight."
We’re giving filmmakers an opportunity to conceptualize, create, produce, direct and premiere a feature film all in Miami without having to look beyond the city limits – which is a problem so many of our filmmakers run into. Even if you have a successful short film – you tour the world with it – you then come back home and the question is, "What's next?" Very often what you're told is, I have to go. You should go to Los Angeles. Or New York is calling. Or even Atlanta which has become a mecca for big-budget filmmaking over the last decade. Rarely is the answer that you should continue to work in Miami.
Why is it challenging to traverse the gulf between short films and features? In what way is that specific to filmmakers here in Miami?
In New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta, there are tax incentives for filmmakers to create work there. And a tremendous amount of infrastructure and funding sources. We simply don't have much of that here. So that makes these cities that much more alluring.
Programs such as this [residency] also creates a space where people can begin thinking differently about how they create films. Because there's a thinking that a feature film requires a massive budget in order to get made. If you're not shooting a film with superheroes, earthquakes, and volcanoes, there's some clever ways that you can go about it and tell some really lean and creative stories. A $50,000 budget requires you to get to the heart of your story.
What does it take to make a micro-budget feature?
You have to write to your budget. So maybe my script is leaning more heavily on characterization and character-to-character interactions. Maybe I don't have as many special effects at my disposal, for example, because I don't have the budget for that. How do I achieve that effect, that these special effects would have achieved in my film, through practical effects that don't involve a lab of a dozen computers processing the sight of a monster descending on a city or something like that?
The limitations imposed by a micro-budget feature film end up creating a degree of creative thought, plotting, characterization and production that can yield some fascinating results. Maybe when you have too much at your disposal, things become a little bit easier and you're not forced into the corner of genius.