2013 was certainly a rough year for the IFP Phoenix Filmmaker Challenges. With the departure of past film challenge director Keegan Ead following the 2013 Beat The Clock Challenge, IFP Phoenix began the search for a replacement, while IFP Phoenix Co-Program directors Aaron Kes and TJ Houle filled in for the remaining Mystery Box Challenge. After scouring through scores of applicants, local filmmaker and film student J. Andy Moreno was selected as the new IFP Phoenix Film Challenge Director. The 2014 IFP Breakout Film Challenge will be the first IFP event under the new direction of Moreno. I recently spoke with Moreno about what he hopes to accomplish as the new IFP Phoenix Film Challenge director, his background in film and what changes he has in mind for the IFP Phoenix Filmmaker Challenges.
What is your background in film?
I actually didn’t start getting into film until much later in life. I never grew up saying I wanted to be a filmmaker. I wanted to be a cartoonist, a musician, radio broadcaster and even a writer. But it was film, I realized, that let me incorporate everything I loved: writing, drawing, creating music and having a voice and platform to share it with an audience. I started making films about 3 years ago when I started my degree program in digital cinematography. Since then, I have not only caught the bug, but I now own my own small production company with a goal of producing a couple features and a web series over the next five years. My inspirations include Roger Deakins, Gordon Willis, Conrad Hall, Steven Spielberg, Michael Mann and Robert Rodriguez.
What changes do you have in store for the IFP? What new film challenges will you create, if any?
This is a good question and one that we have kicked around a little bit in the last few weeks. We know that there are probably some opportunities to create some unique challenge formats and we are going to spend some time following the Breakout Challenge this January to really start and define what those would look like. Me personally? I would love to one day see a short-doc challenge that would allow documentarians to showcase concepts or projects they are pursuing, or even challenges that are inspired by songs or “ripped from the headlines” news stories. Each idea though, comes with its challenges and unique nuances that have to be vetted and analyzed. But one thing is for sure – the challenges will continue to evolve and we will be working hard to establish those details as we move forward. Something I would love to do with these challenges is to record interviews with the directors for the website and get them not only more facetime with their film but also give them a chance to discuss their filmmaking process.
What will your focus be as the new film challenge director?
I know that organizationally, the IFP is seeking to bolster its educational arm and I plan to support that in any way I can. I have a passion for instruction and facilitation with a background in technical training and management so I think that one of my focuses will be to engage filmmakers through novice to advanced tutorials on everything from lighting to set design to screenwriting and cinematography. While I don’t claim to be an expert in all of these, it will allow us to work with local artists who are and give them a chance to share their ideas. Of course, generating membership and enhancing the presence of the IFP in the arts and pop culture community will continue to be a present and sustaining message, but I do like the idea of getting more interactive with the filmmakers even between challenges.
What kind of films do you want to see AZ filmmakers make (for film challenges and beyond)?
I am a big believer in balance. I believe there is a place for all types of films from comedies, action, drama, suspense, doc’s, etc. But the kind of films I think that Arizona filmmakers are always aspiring to create are cross-marketable productions that can speak to the larger filmmaking community across the country and internationally. I think that we have seen a significant up-tick in the quality of films being made by the filmmakers engaged in the film challenges and throughout the community and it should get even better. But I do think that if we start incorporating skilled writers into our story lines we can see an even better result as a community as they are critical in the indie filmmaking process. I would always try and find someone who is a great storyteller to work on any film – it just adds so much to the process.
What are some elements you consider essential for a good film challenge submission?
I know that me personally, when I would submit or consider ideas for a film project, I consider first if it is marketable. Is this something that could at least get people to watch the first 30 seconds let alone pay a VOD fee to view it? I might not always be right, but I at least try and strive for that. I have never made a film for fun. I have written stories for fun, drawn up synopses for fun, but when I strike the lights and pop the lens cap off the camera it has to only be because I am there for a purpose. That to me is the key. Its still fun, but its so much more enjoyable when you realize you have a message to send and a great plan of action to make it come to life. I think that if there is anything that I would love to continue to see from these challenges are people coming out of these challenges and asking for honest, critical feedback on their projects. I think that many filmmakers are dying to have just that and we are looking at how we can promote this aspect in the challenges. I think it’s a great chance to showcase our talented filmmaking community.