“Screw film!” announces Christopher Coppola. That's a bold statement for a man who has directed eight feature films. His brother is Nicolas Cage, one of the highest paid actors in the world. His uncle directed The Godfather. You'd think this guy would have celluloid in his veins. Make no mistake. He does. But Coppola is an idea man, a future thinker. Right now, he's got his eyes glued firmly on the future of film. And the future of film involves no film at all. It's all about entering the digital world. Computers and video cameras are poised to take over the film industry and wrest control from a scant few old-school film studios desperate to maintain their iron grip on America's movie industry.
“Mark my word: Film is dead,” Coppola continues, happy to expound on his sacrilegious rant. Decked out in his trademark biker gear, Coppola is Hollywood's bad boy--a label that the self-made Coppola is happy to remind people of. Frequently. The point is, however, that Coppola doesn't need Hollywood. And neither do you.
“The Hollywood route is myopic. It's dying. It's in need of fresh blood,” says Coppola. In his ongoing quest for fresh blood, Coppola has allied himself with Albuquerque's own Duke City Shootout, taking place July 22-30.
Every year, the Duke City Shootout chooses a handful of scripts submitted from around the country. The lucky few winners are flown to Albuquerque where they will be given budgets, high-definition cameras, lighting equipment, production crews, actors, professional mentors and a not-so-luxurious seven-day schedule in which to shoot and edit their short films on digital video.
In past years, the fest has been a humble, homegrown success. Participants have gone on to screen their work in film festivals as far away as Scotland and have picked up professional gigs working for such film biz luminaries as Spike Lee.
Although certain elements have remained the same over the years--the shotgun start on Saturday morning, the last-minute race from the editing suite to make it to the final screening on time--some things have changed for Albuquerque's digital filmmaking festival. When it began back in 2000, it was known as Flicks on 66. Shortly thereafter, it became DigiFest Southwest. Now, five years down the line, the newly rechristened Duke City Shootout is an up-and-coming player in New Mexico's burgeoning film industry.
“I think it was a necessary thing, to get some juice from the West Coast,” says Jim “Grubb” Graebner, Duke City's director and cofounder, in regards to his festival's new head cheerleader, Christopher Coppola. Coppola has actually been an eager part of the festival from the beginning. The film that won the very first festival had Coppola as a mentor. This year, Coppola's Los Angeles-based company, EARS XXI, has been handling much of the publicity for the festival and was instrumental in recruiting all manner of celebrity judges and mentors.
“The festival continues to grow in its New Mexico fashion,” says Graebner. “But the sudden infusion of Coppola and his pals has really raised the profile of the fest.”
Anthony DellaFlora, who helped cofound the festival back in 2000, estimates that, on an average year, the festival sees between 180 and 200 script hopefuls. “This year we got 400.” DellaFlora chalks that up to the festival's increased profile and the prospect of celebrity judges. “If a Spike Jonze or a Morgan Freeman is going to read the script, that's an exciting prospect for a writer.”
Whittling the 400-odd submissions down to seven films was the work of a lot of script readers and celebrity judges, including the likes of Peter Fonda, Morgan Freeman, Phillip Kaufman and Phyllis Diller. Now that the seven finalists have been chosen, each will be assigned a mentor such as Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary), Patricia Cardoso (Real Women Have Curves), Talia Shire (Rocky) or Christopher Coppola (Deadfall). On the final night of the festival, the completed movies will be premiered and the winner of the coveted “Palm de Grease” will be selected by the Shootout judges.
The final screening will be held this year at the Kiva Auditorium and is expected to draw the festival's biggest crowd ever. Last year, nearly 1,000 people--a mix of cast, crew and local film lovers--showed up. “We have to get bigger,” notes DellaFlora. “We have to have more tickets available every year. It's a good progression.” DellaFlora also points out that this year's screening/ceremony will be a more polished affair with professional lighting, live music and other exciting surprises. “I'm not gonna say it's going to be the Academy Awards, but it will be more produced,” promises DellaFlora.
The festival organizers aim to make this year's fest “less insider” and “more community.” Among Christopher Coppola's groundbreaking suggestions are two new competitive categories dubbed “Mobiflicks” and “The Kids Are Alright: Cell Phone Art.” The first category allows anyone with a digital camera to show up and compete for international distribution of a short film via cell phone technology. The two- to three-minute “Mobiflicks” will be based on a subject matter provided by the Shootout and must be completed in within the first four days of the festival. The winning piece will be shown on closing night, and the winning director will be awarded a PC and editing suite software as well as international distribution via global mobile content company Mobile Streams. The Cell Phone Art category is open to film buffs 17 years old and younger. It will recognize the best 21-second movie recorded on a cell phone camera. The winning young person will receive a $500 scholarship. For more information on these “open to the public” competitions, log on to www.dukecityshootout.com.
Graebner likes to call the festival a “documentary of the film business in New Mexico.” And right now the film business is booming, thanks largely to Governor Richardson pushing New Mexico as a destination for Hollywood. His administration recently pushed through legislation approving an additional 5 percent tax rebate for film companies working in state. Richardson and the State Film Office have also spearheaded a film training program, giving would-be film workers instruction on assorted “below the line” jobs such as camera operators, grips and production assistants. The state has purchased a great deal of equipment as well--cameras, tripods, dollies, etc.--all of which will be used to shoot the Duke City films. TVI students, many of them trained by Graebner and his Digital Filmmaking Institute classes, will form the core of the crews.
“We've got more people who want to work on crews than spaces,” says Graebner. “There are three movies shooting right now in Albuquerque. And we're still crewing up to capacity.”
There's even talk about adding films for next year's fest. “The long-term goal is to cultivate more above-the-line talent [such as writers, directors, producers],” says DellaFlora, who hopes to see even more local talent in next year's festival.
Of course, the very idea of shooting and editing a movie--even a short one--on film in only seven days is a preposterous one. Only through the power of digital video (or digital cell phones) could such a festival be possible.
“Digital filmmaking will democratize the industry,” says Graebner. The simple fact is video technology has made shooting films cheaper and easier than ever before. Cameras that used to cost tens of thousands of dollars and could only be operated by a handful of highly trained professionals are now in the hands of everyday consumers. While this new technology has been a boon to some big-time filmmakers (George Lucas, for example, shot his recent Star Wars films on digital video), it means that virtually anyone, anywhere, can make a movie. Even in Albuquerque. In only seven days.