That Time of the Month
Christian Remde is spanning the calendar year with his Twelve Films Project
Christian Remde is red in the face. And in the back of his neck, and probably his arms, too. It's two days after a grueling, whirlwind weekend shoot for the 48 Hour Film Project, and Remde overlooked one minor detail as he and his crew wrote, shot, and edited his entry for the competition: sunscreen. "I got a good base of sunburn in the morning, but really it was the afternoon that did it for me," he says wryly. "People probably thought I was pregnant, because I was glowing."
Such a rookie mistake, this lack of respect for the punishing Texas sun in the eternal stretch of hell from May to October, is unsurprising. Remde is, after all, one of Austin's most vilified type of citizen – a California transplant (by way of New York City, but still). But before we roll our collectively weird eyes and brush him off as just another one of those people, perhaps we should pause and hear what he has to say about us; not everyone thinks we're not as cool as we used to be, and Remde is a prime example.
Back in late 2010, Remde, who has logged nearly two decades as a freelance editor, motion graphics artist, and visual effects artist, bought himself a fancy new Canon EOS 7D camera but had no specific plans for its use. When drawing up his New Year's resolutions for 2011, he promised himself he would make a short film every month in the upcoming year. And with that, the Twelve Films Project was born.
"My goal [in making these films] this year," he explains, "is to try to teach myself a lot more, try to learn more about directing, writing, filmmaking, to push myself into areas that I hadn't done before like shooting in a studio, making documentaries. Just try to get as good as possible at everything." At the end of the year, Remde will have a professional reel, available for viewing online at www.12filmsproject.com, that demonstrates his abilities as a filmmaker, which he hopes will position him nicely to secure financing for a full-length feature.
Remde isn't a newcomer to filmmaking by any stretch, even though he has no formal training beyond high school. His work as an editor primed him to do what he always wanted to do – direct – and he was well-placed to do so. "I had always wanted to get into directing, and editing is sort of a great school for how to direct. As an editor, you see a lot of other directors' work. You get to learn from their mistakes and their triumphs," Remde explains. And, as a result, "you know what you need to make a scene – and the whole film – work."
With the benefit of his edit-bay education in hand, Remde made his directorial debut in 2006 with the pleasant, East Village-set short comedy "The Wine Bar," in which a well-meaning mook finds himself one of the points in a hilariously awkward love triangle. The film was well-received on the festival circuit, garnering audience favorite and best-of-fest awards in places like Washington, D.C.; Palm Springs, Calif.; and Omaha, Neb. "It was really a big deal for me and was really rewarding because I realized, hey, maybe I could do this," says Remde.
In 2008, he and his collaborators, Seth Fisher and Ryan Young, released "A Walk in the Park," a charming vignette about a frustrated corporate wannabe who befriends a zaftig black prostitute celebrating her last day trolling for dates in Central Park, as well as a hot dog vendor who could use some sound business advice. Despite its charm, the film was an official selection at the 2008 Hoboken International Film Festival but didn't go much further than that. (Both of these films can be found at www.christianremde.com.)Then Remde met the woman who is now his wife, got married, moved to Austin, and filmed "Sketch," a short about a young artist who's lost her hotline to the muses and a himbo model who wants to be famous, in a condo on East SixthStreet. The film is performing extremely well at festivals, including this spring's Hill Country Film Festival, but Remde found himself looking for ways to stretch himself professionally and slingshot himself out of an expensive rut.
"I was tired of making one film every year and spending a ton of money on it and hiring a crew for stuff that I sort of knew how to do," he says. "I'm not a shooter, and I wanted to get better at that. I just wanted to learn more about that side of [filmmaking], learn how to light, how to do sound, and to become a better writer, because ultimately the goal is to make a feature."
The best way to do that, Remde reckoned, was to teach himself how to make a film from top to bottom, and the vehicle for doing so was the Twelve Films Project. The first film, "Flying South," is a bit of a disaster, and Remde will tell you that himself. "I love the script, and I think the actors did a great job, but quite frankly, it's a mess. I was learning on-set, and the audio is terrible. But it's the perfect jumping-off point. The hope is that if someone were to sit down and watch all 12 [films], they would see the quality improving both technically and artistically."
February's film, "Thirty Years," is a little love letter to Remde's wife, Julie, a reference to one of those love-tinged passive-aggressive maneuvers endemic to marriage. It's a sweet enough trifle, if a bit heavy on the exposition, but Remde's aesthetic eye is impressive indeed. But come March, something magical happens. Austin starts to seep into the project, and we begin to see the city through Remde's lens.
As befits a short-film project based in the so-called live music capital of the world, the March film is a moody music video for a local band called Ghostward. "That was [Remde and Ghostward frontman Andrew Rosas] running around Downtown at 3 in the morning with a camera, the two of us and a camera finding available light and shooting," he laughs. "It was freezing cold, but fun." While the video showcases Remde's graphic arts and editing skills, it also reveals what "available light" looks like at 3am in Austin. There's Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop, the fairy-lit trees of the Downtown shopping districts, the desolate but clean sidewalks and streets.
In April, Austin and its unique landscape and landmarks take center stage with "360," a 90-second-long showcase of Remde's time-lapse photography and editing skills with the Pennybacker Bridge, one of his favorite Austin landmarks, as the centerpiece. The camera playfully explores the bridge from nearly every angle possible and at all hours while documenting the ebb and flow of human movement against the backdrop of lushly green Central Texas rockscapes. Seen through Remde's eyes, the bridge that many of us take for granted or haven't really thought that much about unlocks memories of the joy and awe that come with a leisurely drive around Loop 360.
From there, Remde derived inspiration from a different aspect of Austin's natural gifts: the city's teeming farmers' markets and the thriving locavore food movement. May's film, "Farm to Trailer," marked a turning point for the Twelve Films Project, and Remde, who possesses a screamingly dry wit, grows animated while talking about the film and its inception.
"That's another great thing about Austin, the amazing food scene. We go to the farmers' markets every weekend; we're foodies," he exclaims. "I really wanted to do a documentary. I had eaten at Odd Duck; we'd eaten at Barley Swine and loved it." Remde was particularly impressed by chef Bryce Gilmore's hyperlocal "put an egg on it!" ethos in running his acclaimed food trailer along with the recently opened brick-and-mortar restaurant, Barley Swine. Every ingredient he uses is local, all the way down to the olive oil and the rice. "While a lot of restaurants do that, it's so much harder to do that with a trailer because you literally have to shop weekly because you don't have the space to store it. You can't buy all of the squash at a farmers' market stall and then just keep it on ice for a while. And with the seasonality of things and the way the weather is kind of weird down here, the farmers struggle with things like late freezes. Farmers weren't showing up to the farmers' markets because they had nothing to sell. So, as someone who serves food, what do you do?"
Despite the fact that Gilmore had just been tapped as one of Food & Wine magazine's Best New Chefs of 2011, he still provided Remde with all the access he needed to film the documentary profile. Gilmore connected Remde with Kris Olson of Milagro Farms, the purveyor of many of Gilmore's ingredients. The documentary also features interviews with Kristi Willis, a local food blogger dedicated to sharing the pleasures of local eating (www.austinfarmtotable.com). "It was one of those magical experiences where everything went right. I put it out and it got this amazing response, and it was the first one of these 12 films that people actually watched," Remde laughs. "The popularity of this one made people go back to watch the previous ones, because the counters on those started going up a lot after that one. I got lots of positive comments and emails, which has been very rewarding. That was kind of the springboard for a lot of cool stuff."
Remde took the month of June "off" to work on upcoming short films for the project; the June film, the bizarre and goofy "Heist-Off," was his entry for the 48 Hour Film Project. July's film is another documentary, one that focuses on charcuterie and its local practitioners, albeit with an eye toward a feature-length project with a broader historical scope. "It's kind of a fringe artisanal thing, and if you look at the kind of people who are doing it, it's cool Harley-riding butchers who are really into charcuterie," he says. "In Europe, it's still unbelievably popular and respected, and over here, charcuterie is reduced to bologna and salami that you get at Subway. Why and how did that happen? Is that indicative of what America does to food in general?"
Remde's current charcuterie project, for the purposes of the short film context, focuses on Lawrence and Lee Ann Kocurek and how they and their dedicated team at Kocurek Family Charcuterie are working to recover European-style tradition and technique, with an emphasis on local ingredients. The Kocureks specialize in what mainstream bologna eaters might find repellent – blood sausages, pâtés, rillettes, and terrines. Remde has devoted considerable time and research to this film, from reading up on charcuterie (vis-à-vis Michael Ruhlman's definitive Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing) to attending and filming Larry Kocurek's sausage-making classes (the B-roll filmed there helps support Remde's portrayal of the Kocureks' mission to share their knowledge) to farm visits to extensive interviews with his subjects.
"I am honored he [is filming] us," says Chef Larry. "He is funny, puts us all at ease, surprisingly stays out of our way while filming, but still gets the shot. Ihope it brings to light that what I do for a living is also an art and that we are striving to be the best at it."
Remde, inspired by hours of unused footage with Olson as well as by his experiences working with Gilmore and the Kocureks, wants to stick with this fertile line of inquiry into Austin culture. His third documentary will focus on the resurgence of local farming. "All farms started out as local farms. Farming wasn't agribusiness; it was survival," he asserts. "It was how people lived. Then it became a business – factories and all of that. And because words like 'organic' and 'local' have become popular, small family farms have become this thing again. But the people who run them are businessmen, too. They're trying to keep it honest, and I totally respect that."
While Remde has no intentions of becoming the next Michael Pollan, he is deeply interested in pursuing and portraying those aspects of life in Austin he finds exciting. And while it may not be an overt goal of the Twelve Films Project, as part of this process, he has provided Austin with a fresh lens through which to view itself. In doing so, he has managed to take a project ripe with the potential for failure – imagine how red-faced he would be if the project had petered out after the first couple of months – and infuse it with a deeply local energy that can help carry the project through its second half and toward the December finish line. And while the game plan for the year's remaining films remains relatively loose and amorphous, Remde does have one idea for a film focused on another easily overlooked Austin landmark. But he's saving that one for the fall, "because it'll be shot outdoors. I don't need yet another sunburn."
We'll make a local out of him yet.