Show & Tell

The Austin Music Network's Student Filmmakers Showcase is Austin's newest outlet for emerging auteurs

(l-r) AMN Student Filmmakers Showcase producers Christine Darby,  Juan Garcia, Joanna Ebizie, and Danielle Maddox
(l-r) AMN Student Filmmakers Showcase producers Christine Darby, Juan Garcia, Joanna Ebizie, and Danielle Maddox (Photo By John Anderson)

If you haven't been in film school lately, the phrase "student film" is likely to conjure images of poorly lit, grainy, incomprehensible shorts featuring sex, death, or a hellishly grating obscurantist combination of the two that would give a freebasing Buñuel a run for his surrealist cash flow. The case against student films being unleashed on an unsuspecting public was made ages ago when some poor sap, after witnessing his umpteenth loop of a "death and the maiden" homage, plunged knitting needles into his eyes to blot out the chance of ever having to endure such horrors again. No, wait – that was my student film. Whatever. You get my point.

Things have changed, however – radically so. Chief among these changes is the emergence of the digital filmmaking revolution, which now allows first-year film students in the University of Texas film program and elsewhere to whip up entirely tolerable (and even, dare we say it, enjoyable) approximations of short, linear narrative filmmaking minus all the, um, crap. It might not have saved countless lives, but we can guarantee you that professors the world over are sleeping better.

Which brings us to one of the age-old problems still facing undergrad filmmakers: how and where to get their precious initial offerings screened outside of year-end campus festivals and their significant others' VCRs.

Enter former University Filmmakers Alliance President Juan Garcia and his Austin Music Network's Student Filmmakers Showcase, a recently created forum for doing just that, which since its initial foray into the student film field this past February has begun to build a viewership composed of not just student filmmakers admiring each other's work while working off the weekend's hangover, but also regular AMN viewers who stumble upon the show in what may well be the most perfect time slot ever devised for such a program: Sunday evenings at 8pm, slotted between the Austin Film Festival's collection of their own shorts programming and the Center for Young Cinema's terrific Oh No show, which is sort of like finding your prime-time offering wedged between Friends and Ren & Stimpy. Timing is everything, as always.

Garcia, a recent graduate of UT's Radio-Television-Film program, is enthusiastic about his creation, which brings together student films from, well, technically, anywhere, although he's the first to say that so far 99% of the shorts programmed have come from the bottomless pit of nascent talent that is UT's undergrad film program.

"I created the show with [AMN head] Louis Meyers," Garcia says of the initial proposal. "I had been speaking to AMN about developing another program back in the fall of 2003, but eventually ended up moving that program over to PBS. In the meantime I got to know Louis, who had been saying that he'd really like to do more film – he had a block of time on the station that he wanted to use to program film into. And so we got together on this, and in literally four months' time we went from development to getting the show on the air in the beginning of February this year."

Executive producer Garcia works with a three-person core of assistants – executive assistant Danielle Maddox and producers Joanna Ebizie and Christine Darby, who help shoot, edit, and bring the weekly half-hour show to air – as well as seven other interns drawn from the UT film department, but it's Garcia who scours online and real-world film festivals for shorts to screen. The results have been downright impressive, so much so that this Saturday, May 1, at 2pm, AMN SFS will tape its first awards show, at Jakarta Jack's Cafe (501-B E. Sixth), screening the first-, second-, and third-place winners from last week's Top 10 showcase season finale as selected by a panel of judges. (Fair warning: This writer is one of those judges.)

Good stuff, to be sure, but don't take our word for it. Filmmaker Scott Rice, whose short "Perils in Nude Modeling" won Best College Short at HBO's U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, notes that "having my work seen by a wide audience is very valuable to me. Not only is it exposure, it simply feels good. Sort of justifies all the long, hard hours spent working on the piece." He adds, "I think it'll raise the bar."

Ditto that for director Lauren-Elaine Edleson, whose film "Guilt-Ridden" is, according to Garcia, a fan favorite. "I think AMN SFS is tremendously beneficial to the Austin filmmaking community. Not only does it offer exposure to directors, it also offers experience ... to actors, crews, and writers ... and gives students a great listing on their résumé."

Edleson has a point that Garcia echoes: "I wanted to make sure that from the students' perspective – especially those who are interning on the program – that they walk away with an entire season of something that looks, in my opinion, like something that was done by professionals. In a lot of ways doing the show is a way to educate these people on some of the aspects of the film industry that aren't usually covered in undergrad film courses, things having to do with the business aspects of filmmaking. Film courses tend to emphasize the technical aspects of making movies – everyone learns that in school – but when it comes to learning the nuts and bolts that come with creating a weekly show like this, experience can be the best way to learn that.

"It's kind of helped us build networking skills," adds Ebizie, "and business skills, explaining contracts to somebody or writing one up. Again, that's not something that's generally emphasized in film school."

So what does Garcia and the AMN SFS crew look for in a submission? To judge from last Sunday evening's airing of their Top 10, it never hurts to be professional, in the sense that if you've shot a comedy, somebody somewhere had better be laughing.

"I'm really just looking for a solid piece," explains Garcia. "I feel weird putting myself on any kind of pedestal, but honestly I try to look for something that in my eyes is sharp, something that the filmmaker has obviously put a lot of time in on. We haven't had an exuberant amount of entries yet, but we have had a number of films that I've turned away, and those have been ones that have had extremely low quality sound or a storyline that you just can't follow or films that are too long.

"And then on top of that, it's anything that's made with students, by students, or for students, which means that it can be anyone that's an undergrad in school or a high schooler or someone who is a former student who did a film while they were in school. I really try to be generous with what we're trying to do. And from a realistic standpoint, this season we're just trying to spread the word and trying to get ourselves out there and noticed."

Which is more important than you might think, seeing as how this summer Garcia and company plan on hammering out a syndication deal to take the program national. With a 90% saturation in Austin homes (and 30% in neighboring San Antonio), the Austin Music Network might yet have to change its name to the Austin Music & Film Network, which would likely suit the crew over at AMN SFS just fine.

Garcia: "Film festivals are great, but the problem is that you can't really program just for student films. And that's the big thing: Student films today are much better than they were five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago. I feel like what I'm doing with AMN SFS is opening up this little film festival in your home. For a student film festival, professionals in the industry wouldn't necessarily leave their own home, or leave their own couch. But here in Austin you don't have to, and that's really the point." end story


Short film submissions should be under 15 minutes in length, on NTSC mini DV, VHS, or VCD, and sent with full contact info to Austin Music Network, ATTN: AMN SFS/Juan Garcia, 4209 Airport, Austin, TX 78722. AMN SFS is online at www.austinmusicnetwork.org/sfs.

The Austin Music Network's Student Filmmakers Showcase will screen the top three winners of their Top 10 season finale competition this Saturday, May 1, 2pm, at Jakarta Jack's Cafe, 501-B E. Sixth (above Coyote Ugly). The filmmakers will be in attendance for commentary and a post-screening Q&A. It's also a fundraiser with a $5 suggested donation.

AMN SFS' Top 10 films/filmmakers:

THE BOTANIST; D: Joshua Jaedicke

ENGINEERING DIVERSITY; D: Juan Diaz

GUILT-RIDDEN; D: Lauren-Elaine Edleson

I VELI DI KULALA; D: Andrew Logan

LAYING THE FOUNDATION; D: Aaron Castillo

PERILS IN NUDE MODELING; D: Scott Rice

RIE, LLORA (LAUGH, CRY); D: Anna Maldonado

S.O. (SECURITY OFFICER); D: Everett Aponte

STICKY BUSINESS; D: Alan Aryanpur

TOWARD THE NEAR; D: Austen Menges

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin Music Network 'Student Filmmakers Showcase', Austin Music Network Student Filmmakers Showcase, Juan Garcia, Lewis Meyers, Danielle Maddox, Joanna Ebizie, Christine Darby, Scott Rice, Anna Maldonado

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