2017 Filmmaker interviews

As the festival approaches, we're getting more and more excited to introduce all of the creative minds behind the films. We were able to reach out to a few of the featured filmmakers, all of which are attending the festival, to get a deeper look into their background, artistic style, and love of film.

Joshua Courtade, The Joy | Film Block C

Joshua Courtade, The Joy | Film Block C

Joshua Courtade
Producer, Writer, and Director of The Joy
Film Block C 3:30pm - 4:45pm
Purchase tickets here

Q: Being from GR, what is one thing you admire about the Grand Rapids film community?

A: I love how supportive the Grand Rapids film community is. People really want to see each other succeed here. There are some great people in L.A. or anywhere else that films are being made, but there's something very comfortable about the midwestern values and work ethic in Grand Rapids.

Q: You’ve had a lot of experience writing, directing, and producing… what is your favorite role and why?

A: I tend to think of myself as a writer-director more than a producer. For me, it's difficult to separate the writing and directing. I love working with actors and being on set, but in order to get there, an effective script has to exist. My brain is definitely wired for the creative side more than the business side. The entire process is challenging, and sometimes it all falls apart, but even the worst day on set is better than a great day just about anywhere else.

Q: What went into the making of The Joy and what do you hope the audience gets out of it?

A: The Joy is a bit of an anomaly in my filmography. The last few years, I've been working on features, shorts, and series with crews of twenty to thirty people. For The Joy, probably seventy percent of the movie was shot exclusively by me. I acted, directed, ran the camera, dressed the set, and did anything else that needed doing. I had some supporting actors for a few scenes, and for one of the shoot days I had two other crew members helping out with lighting and camera, but otherwise, it was all me. That's a pretty nutty way to make a movie, but honestly, it was kind of refreshing. I guess I hope that the audience can see something of themselves in the story. One comment I've gotten pretty consistently at film festivals is that people can relate to the character. Sometimes it's nice to know that we're not alone in our neuroses and that it's okay to laugh about them.

Learn more about The Joy here.

Nathan Roels, Renardo | Film Block D 

Nathan Roels, Renardo | Film Block D 

Nathan Roels
Director of Renardo
Film Block D 5pm - 6:45pm
Purchase tickets here

Q: I see this is your first time with the GRFF. What are you most excited about

A: I have never actually attended the festival, so I am really excited just to see the turnout and all the other films that are part of the program this year. I was actually a part of the 36-Hour Challenge by GRFF in January, and I thought it was really an awesome experience to see all the videos that groups were able to create in such a short period of time. It will be really great to see what work people were able to create over longer periods of time for this festival, especially of those who are from Grand Rapids.

Q: Can you give a little background of your documentary short… what inspirations drew you to the creation? What is your ultimate aim?

A: Our documentary is of Renardo Bowles, a man from Detroit who committed murder and received a life sentence, but was able to see the fault in his ways and turn his life around, seeking and finding redemption in really powerful ways. I heard Renardo's story from Warden DeWayne Burton of Handlon Correctional Facility, as I was looking to do a story on an inmate in that prison. We ended up not being able to get clearance to film that inmate, but Warden Burton had met Renardo earlier, and I was really drawn to the redemption and reconciliation in Renardo's story, especially since that is a huge part of my Christian faith. Our aim was to give hope to others by telling Renardo's story of redemption, and to allow people to understand that somebody can make a terrible mistake, but truly change their ways. Forgiveness is powerful, and I feel that as a society, we need to be willing to give people chances even after making mistakes, and to forgive when possible. As a Christian I see that we are all sinners, and that although it can be the most difficult thing to do, we need to have more grace with people who have messed up and to not define people by their mistakes.

Q: What advice would you give to fellow student filmmakers?

A: I think in general, student filmmakers don't spend enough time in pre-production, but that the more time spent in pre-production, the better production and post-production will go. Spending a lot of time in pre-production can be hard with such strict deadlines for many student films trying to fit films into one semester, but it's really important and often underestimated. I would also say that if it's better to film off-campus if possible, as I see many student films filmed in dorms, which tends to lower the production value significantly. Lastly, for directors and crew members in leadership roles, I would say to be kind to the crew who are underclassmen or in lower positions on set, like PAs, and to use those opportunities to mentor and help develop skills for those students as well.

Michael McCallum, Buffalo | Film Block 2C

Michael McCallum, Buffalo | Film Block 2C

Michael McCallum
Director of Buffalo
Film Block 2C 3:15pm - 4:45pm
Purchase tickets here

Q: Obviously you’re no stranger to the Grand Rapids Film Festival. Can you share your favorite part of the event?

A: My favorite part of the GRFF is meeting new creative people and re-connecting with old friends and bridging the gap between the two. Seeing wonderfully creative & though-provoking films doesn't hurt either.

Q: Tell me more about the father-son dynamic in this film. Do you work together often? What are some benefits of having close family alongside you in this business?

A: My Father, William C. McCallum, is not only my Dad, but my best friend as well. He's also my greatest collaborator. We've worked often together since 2006. He was a co-star in previous films, Fairview St., Handlebar and Waiter From Hell. Buffalo was the film that I knew he was ready to be the lead in. We wrote the film together and also produced it together. Working with him are some of the best times of my life. We communicate better on set than in real life some times and his ability to just "live in the moment" on camera is second to none that I've worked with. Not only as a director, but co-star as well. He has a presence in his stillness and a quality in his eyes that shows a life well-lived and a soul well-traveled. The films wouldn't have done as well as they statewide, nationally or internationally if it's wasn't for those two things that he and he alone brings to the table. It's also pleasant to have someone on set that you completely trust and will give you a true response without any sort of ulterior motive.

Q: What is some advice you would give to up and coming filmmakers on starting/spreading their personal projects?

A: I get asked this a lot. It's a reasonable question to ask. It's a tough answer though.  Personally, I feel you need to figure out what you want and what you want to get out of doing this sort of work. That's first. Then I would pursue a project that you can pour yourself into. Don't worry about what others think is a "good idea". Go with your gut. Take your time casting it. Stay true to the story and tone of the piece and don't let anyone get in your way. Don't use limits on money, time or resources to be excuses. Power through them. They are issues that will always be there and won't go anywhere no matter how much success you obtain. Be thankful and appreciative of everyone's time and especially of your actors. Take care of them and protect them, but don't coddle them. Challenge yourself and allow the work to lead you. Never stop and if you do, get the f*** out of the way for the folks that giving up isn't an option. 
Visit Rebel Pictures for more info on Michael's projects. 

Mark Marchillo , Director (right) and  Micah Brandt , Producer (left), Breaking Legs | Film Block 2D

Mark Marchillo, Director (right) and
Micah Brandt, Producer (left), Breaking Legs | Film Block 2D

Mark Marchillo, Director (right) and
Micah Brandt, Producer (left) of Breaking Legs
Film Block 2D 5pm-6:45pm
Purchase tickets here

Q: What drove you into the filmmaking Business?

A:  (Micah Brandt) I first got my foot in the door over 15 years ago in 2001 when I went to Italy in order to document the Journey of “Pepe", a 91-year old grandfather, and his grandson as they travelled back to the small village in Sicily where he grew up before immigrating to New York. Shortly after returning to UCONN I partnered up with a fellow film enthusiast and we started the UCONN Film Organization (UFO) where we made short films every semester with the financial support of the Student Government (since we were recognized as an official University Club). This organic and self-taught process of filmmaking drove me to apply to film school and later study film at the Masters Level at an Art School in San Francisco. During my studies I landed several freelances positions producing music videos, short films, and PSA's. After film school, in 2010, I landed my first producing job at $200/week for a feature film about homelessness in Los Angeles. Since then I have produced and managed over a dozen feature films.

Q: Breaking Legs brings light to several problems that teens face… What inspired this direction and what do you hope the audience will get out of it?

A: (Mark Marchillo) I grew up and went to high school in a small town, but I think the problems teenagers face are universal. There's always bullying, there are always problems at home. I like to make movies about young people and what their lives are like. And as much as I love working in the musical and teen genres, I like to show kids as they are, instead of putting the "Disney spin" on things and making life seem all sparkles and cherries on top. Not to say Breaking Legs is dark - it isn't. It's fun and doesn't take itself too seriously. But kids are mean. Grownups suck. Families are difficult. And popularity's a bitch. At least, that was my experience growing up. But, what I hope that people get from the movie is that, although there are these obstacles in all of our lives, if we keep fighting, keep dreaming and let it flow, we can get to where we set our sights on.

More information on their film can be found at here.


Sam Smartt of Shipping Home with Chris Zaluski | Film Block F

Sam Smartt of Shipping Home with Chris Zaluski | Film Block F

Sam Smartt
Director of Shipping Home with Chris Zaluski (Honest Eye Productions)
Film Block F 8:45pm - 10:15pm
Purchase tickets here

Q: What brought you into the world of documentary filmmaking?

A: I took a documentary production class in college and had a really good experience even though I didn't think I would.  I had always preferred fiction film, but as a student having little large-scale production experience and having to work with amateur actors, I found that documentary actually offered a more accessible path to becoming a compelling storyteller.  The authenticity that is available to you when you're telling someone else's real story is hard to achieve in the world of fiction filmmaking until you get to a much higher level (if at all!).  After college I had the opportunity to edit a micro-budget feature doc with a local journalist in NC, which ended up screening at a couple of film festivals.  That was where I really got my feet wet.  After that I went back to school to get my MFA in Documentary Filmmaking at Wake Forest, which is where I met Chris.

Q: Tell me a little bit about yourselves… How did you two meet, seeing that you're from different areas of the United States, and what drove you to work together?

A: We met at graduate school at Wake Forest and decided to be partners on our thesis film, Wagonmasters.  We found we worked well together and just naturally continued to collaborate on projects after we graduated.  I moved to Michigan to take a job teaching at Calvin, and Chris stayed in North Carolina, but we've continued to work remotely together.  Shipping Home is probably the most intensive long-distance collaboration we've worked on.  He shot the entire film (I haven't even met the main characters), and I managed the post process.  Overall a very rewarding experience.

Learn more about Shipping Home here. 

John Otterbacher, Officially Limited | Film Block E

John Otterbacher, Officially Limited | Film Block E

John Otterbacher
Director of Officially Limited
Film Block E 8:45pm - 10:15pm
Purchase tickets here

Q: I believe this is your first major directing role, what were some highs and lows of this experience?

A: I normally produce or shoot with most of my directing experience coming from the corporate world so this was new in terms of my directing a project this large and material that was so deep.  The lows were definitely around wearing many hats at the same time. I traveled quite a bit to get to the different events and screenings around the country and I was often, producing, directing, shooting and doing sound by myself with multiple cameras......I don't recommend this and mistakes were made along the way which were pretty frustrating to realize after the fact.  

In some ways though it was also a lot of fun, especially coming from projects with large crews where my role was much more specific. It was definitely good to flex those muscles.  Editing was also a huge challenge and continued to be because when you are working on a documentary, editing is also the writing stage in a way.  It is difficult to say the least.  There was a bright moment though when I started working with a former student, Jon Gollner, as the editor. He has really helped me navigate the material and between his help and the help of the advisers in my MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts the film was able to reach the state it is in now at this festival.

Q: “Everything is influenced by something else” is a bold quote in the Officially Limited trailer. Can you talk about your influences for this film and, in turn, your interest in pop art?

A: I think most art is referencing something else, whether directly or indirectly.  The fact is that we cannot escape what we have seen or consumed in the art and media and that those experiences inform our own work.  This happens in film, music,  writing, painting and every other art form.  Whether you are more closely or intentionally drawing reference from something specific or a larger body or group of work, it is influencing you.  Like Andy Warhol, many of these artists are being very open about what inspires them which is the whole idea of pop art.....art that draws influence from popular culture.

Q: Given your teaching background, you’ve been around many young filmmakers… What is some advice you often give to the younger generations about the filmmaking process and business?

A: Do what you love.....if you don't love making movies then you should do something else because there are plenty of easier ways to make money.  Be patient and don't give up, it's a rough industry and very complex art form.....it's going to take you some time before you are established as an artist, working professional or both and that is totally normal.  I see a lot of young people quit or change paths because it "wasn't working" for them and those of us who stick it out are the ones who make progress.  It never as easy or fast as we would like it but it can happen if you keep at it.

Learn more about Officially Limited here.