Austin Film Festival is excited to present Audience Award winner in the Texas Independence category, Flutter! We’ve invited writer/director Eric Hueber to be a guest blogger and answer some questions:
What are some advantages of shooting a film in a place like Austin or Texas in general?
Wow. I could go in a hundred directions with this answer. First off, Texas is my home. I love it here, not because of some inherited tribal pride but because people here value the storytelling arts. I know it sounds trite to say but Texans love a tall tale and a little gossip. We appreciate stories about people big and small. As a kid and a teenager I felt stuck here, but now that I’m an adult and have the ability to leave, I couldn’t make myself go. After I finished my first feature, The Austin-American Statesman asked me during an interview where I was planning to move—New York or LA? The answer caught me off guard. For years I had been writing scripts about Texans that take place in Texas. I have no desire to go to a larger city and spend an exponentially greater amount of money to make films about people and places I don’t relate to.
What I love about Austin is that we have a film community. Community is a beautiful word. People here invest their time and talents to help others realize their ideas. Of course, there is commerce in that exchange, but there is also a great sense of devotion. We root for each other. We assist one another. We talk about ideas and here—story is god. We service the story, each other’s stories, and we do it with reverence. When I go to LA, people don’t talk about stories, they talk about “property.” There is no word in the film lexicon that I hate more than property. You can’t treat people’s dreams as if they are chattel, unless you have lots of money and a disenfranchised group of people desperate to get inside the cabal. It’s become an industry of bean counters trying to figure out how they can purchase someone else’s ideas, franchise them, give someone else the credit, and adulterate them until they are as commercially exploitable as possible. Fine, we all know the problem. “Community” and the democratization of the filmmaking process is the solution, and Austin thrives because of it. That’s why we consistently get voted as the “film friendliest” city in America. Here…your film matters.
In building your crew, how much did you pull from the local film community?
My entire crew was from Austin, except for a couple freelancers (hired by our producers) that came over from Houston. We were leery of them at first but they became family in no time. Ha! Everyone in the crew was a good personal friend of mine, or a personal recommend from one. It really felt like a familial endeavor. Most of the crew had read the script and cared about the story. Because of that, they anticipated well and adapted easily to the circumstances we had and the issues that arose. We had flow. It was quite magical to share that experience with my friends.
Here in Austin there are talented crews hungry for work. People work best when they are appreciated. I have experienced this both above and below the line. I am a camera operator as well. I love helping other people realize their stories. It’s satisfying, especially when people treat you with respect and value your contribution. The crews here are generous. It’s not something to be taken advantage of, it’s something to foster with a spirit of inclusiveness and gratitude. Films are logistically a nightmare to execute. Herding a mass of people and getting them inspired to make that slow moving ship more efficient is an art. I find that crews here in Austin are often comprised of filmmakers themselves rather than just technicians. As such, they can sometimes better anticipate in the macro sense what needs to happen next on a production. They see their effort as part of a creative synthesis, not merely a job. This is invaluable.
How did you balance your vision with your budget? Did you write the film around resources you knew you had access to?
This is an interesting question. I had two other films that started to look like they might get traction and become legitimate productions, but funding failed to materialize for different reasons. So, my goal when I started writing Flutter was to write a script with no more than five actors and five locations. I wanted to write a script that I didn’t have to ask anybody for permission to shoot. Even then, I had a hard time keeping it within those parameters, but I started with actors and places that I knew I had access to and I wrote it around them. I tried to dream within those limits. I’m a fan of fantasy so budget constraints are a tough reality, but they can be a blessing as well. I see a lot of writers that try to create fantasy instead of magic realism. Life is pretty damn absurd. It’s amazing how surreal the juxtaposition of banal objects and circumstances can be when they are taken out of their expected context.
What’s the most important lesson about low-budget independent filmmaking that you learned from making Flutter?
The hardest lesson to accept is that however cheap you think your film is, forget it, it will cost three times as much.
Also, I already knew this because I have done short films that will never see the light of day but I was reminded how true it is—90% of filmmaking is casting. I am so proud of my cast. A talented cast makes you look good and they make your job easy. At the end of the day they are your story, end of story.
What advice would you give to aspiring Texas filmmakers who are trying to take that next step forward?
Don’t wait for things to be perfect. Perfect is the enemy of good. Learn to enjoy the process. Making a film is such a herculean effort spanning years from concept to completion and presentation that if you don’t become devoted to the process you will never get to enjoy the results. Besides, if you fantasize about how cool it will be to premiere your film to red carpet and accolades instead of what it means to be in a darkened room with fellow humans connecting via a common experience, then you are in it for the wrong reasons.
Whether you are a writer, a director, a producer or all three—be active and work on your craft. Workshop your ideas and let others critique you. Don’t insulate yourself. Listen when someone tells you what isn’t working. People are critical and when you send your babies out into the real world nobody cares about your production restraints and creative caveats. You won’t be able to give qualifiers. Your work has to stand on its own.
Be realistic about your resources and focus your creativity around it. You can make Avatar in your backyard with some blue face paint and a camcorder. Everything is relative. It’s just a matter of scale. That being said, you can’t make films in a vacuum so always seek out other filmmakers, technicians and talent so you can broaden that pool. More than anything, don’t be an ass. Network with a goal for finding real camaraderie, not just assets. Film is about people. We make films to touch people after all.
What part of Flutter are you most proud of?
It’s a general answer but I am most proud of the film’s integrity. Flutter is not perfect by any means, but it is sincere. Nobody will ever know the film that I had in my head. It’s not that film, but I am content with the film that is now collectively experienced. In some ways I even like the real version better. I can’t take credit for it but I am so proud of the performances by the actors. They made the material resonate. They were wonderful and I acknowledge them with absolute gratitude. Secondly, I have to applaud the crew whose work may be faceless but is ever-present. The cinematography, the art direction, the scoring and the soundtrack all work because they service the story in a way that I believe is honest. It was made with love and you can feel it.
Who do you look to for filmmaking inspiration?
A while back, I wrote down a list of the filmmakers that have inspired me and I realized that to some degree or another most are writer-directors. I’m a fan of the Coen Brothers, Rian Johnson, Christopher Nolan, Charlie Kaufman, Andrew Dominik, Nicolas Winding Refn, David Gordon Green, Jeff Nichols, PT Anderson, Jaco Van Dormael, Emir Kusturica, Iñárritu, Jodorowsky, Jarmusch, Lynch, Linklater, Malick, Carpenter, Cronenberg and Herzog, among many others. Interestingly, several of those filmmakers live here in Austin. What I think they all have in common is the ability to make films that are intensely personal, even indulgent, but that are so raw and emotionally available that they challenge an audience to accept them on their terms. I don’t watch films to confirm my biases and placate my assumptions. I like to be challenged and surprised by a film. To a degree, we watch films vicariously so I feel like it’s a duty to confront people’s behaviors and fears. Otherwise, we aren’t seeking a greater humanity, just another Roman Circus. However, I don’t have some illusion that I can make the world a better place as a filmmaker—just a little less lonely for someone. The films I like probably have more of a sense of spiritual absurdism. These filmmakers make films that make me excited about the human experience, films that show me how unique and beautiful and tragic and absurd it all is. Great cinema just makes me feel that I am not alone. And that’s why I want to be a filmmaker.
Tickets are still available for this screening. To purchase a ticket click here.