Posted on:February 21, 2013
Trayce Gardner / Founder and Director of Brooklyn Young Filmmakers Center (BYFC) interviewed by Sara DeRose, BAC's Marketing Director.
When was the organization founded and by whom?
Brooklyn Young Filmmakers Center (BYFC) was founded by me with input from Brooklyn Technical High School interns, in particular, Diane Henry, who was on our Board when we incorporated in 2003until 2008. Diane now runs her own business, Red Real Estate.
I was invited to Brooklyn Tech in 1999 by the head of Media Studies to give a presentation to her seniors. At the time, I was working as a PA on low budget film projects while developing my own projects to act in and direct. My previous career was in community work in Oakland, California at a rape crisis center as well as a shelter for battered women. I also started and ran a family violence prevention program for men and couples on court referral.
The Tech teacher invited me to take on interns to help make a film of the feature script I was developing at the time. She offered use of a small room off her main classroom as meeting space. At first I had no idea what I was doing with the interns. It was a total improvisation, and an exhilarating experience. It felt wonderful to be connected to a working class community, which I hadn’t really experienced up until then in New York. Suddenly what I wanted was to marry the lessons of my first career in social work with my love of filmmaking and my deep belief in the redemptive power of creative collaborations. And film is a collaboration of all the arts.
I have training in a family strategy therapy based on hypnosis using storytelling, which I wanted to infuse into the films I made. I started to think about how to infuse that strategic therapeutic thinking into the very process of teaching people how to work in film. This also led to working with adults, who are the backbone of any community young people live in – and working-class adults are being left out of New York City’s growth. So the “young” in our name became “young to filmmaking.”
For me, Brooklyn Young Filmmakers is not about providing one particular service, but about creating a new learning model for broad-based community education on the film industry that can be both a life skills boot camp for the individual and a tool for community bridging.
Where in Brooklyn are you located?
Brooklyn Young Filmmakers is in the “it” neighborhood of the moment: the Fort Greene / Clinton Hill area located at 143 Waverly Avenue, off Myrtle Avenue, inside the Trilok Arts Center.). A five minute walk to the north of BYFC is the fifty acre media campus being built by Steiner Studios, the new East Coast Hollywood; a fifteen minute walk to our south is the rapidly expanding Downtown Cultural District, anchored by BAM (now a bigger thing than Lincoln Center when you add in the Barclay Arena), and the third largest transportation hub in New York City.
The Myrtle Avenue area, where Brooklyn Young Filmmakers is located, contains Fort Greene public housing and the largest remaining concentration of working-class people in the neighborhood, and it isn’t getting any cultural and media money or attention. This is where we want to develop a People’s Hollywood district.
In my opinion, the leading force for cultural growth in our area is MARP (Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Partnership), which is dedicated to local business development and driving foot traffic. MARP has organized February’s BLACK ARTSTORY MONTH ON MYRTLE, which includes three BYFC events.
I also live in Fort Greene in the Downtown Cultural District. I am economically able to stay there only because I live in a rent stabilized apartment. When I moved to Fort Greene in 1998 it was following the artistic renaissance of the neighborhood led by artists like Spike Lee and Chris Rock. For me the Brooklyn Boehme has moved to Myrtle.
Who is your primary audience?
BYFC students have included high school and college young people, public housing residents, MTA workers, lawyers, self-starting filmmakers who own cameras and are trying to get beyond music videos, BCAT producers, actors, novelists, musicians, adults wanting to switch careers, film school graduates who ended up in other careers, senior citizens, and ESL students. We want to be the melting pot, where different people of different backgrounds, ages, and skill levels merge to network, collaborate, and teach each other. Our participants are primarily Black and Hispanic, and I would like to see more Whites and Asians utilize what we have to offer.
For years BYFC has offered classes and workshops at various locations in the community, where we could find space cheaply or as an in-kind donation. We started offering our MAKE A FILM Class Series at the New York City College of Technology’s Continuing Ed in 2007. But since we opened our public office this summer in Clinton Hill, our larger vision has come into focus and we are laying the groundwork to serve more specific audiences.
We want to help low/no budget filmmakers who have projects in development improve their storytelling abilities. They’re scrambling and taking risks to make their films – but often they are already framing their shots before they even have a solid script because they don’t have training in the basics of visual storytelling and scriptwriting. You can be an actor, or a MADE IN NY PA who has worked on many sets, but that doesn’t mean you can easily move into new roles as writers and directors and understand the invisible construction and techniques of those jobs.
We want to be able to help BYFC alumni from our MAKE A FILM Classes who are coming back to us to ask for last minute help on film projects they are producing.
And we aim to develop programming for families. Now that they can shoot a film on a phone camera and put it up on YouTube we want to help them get serious in how they develop their scripts and assign roles on their sets. I’m very excited about the concept of Family Filmmaking – what better way to bring family members together in a new and creative way. And adults who better understand filmmaking and that world can be more supportive if their children decide to develop film careers.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of running an arts organization in Brooklyn?
First we must acknowledge that there are two distinct art communities in Brooklyn. There is the art community that can build new buildings, attract big Manhattan artists, and support international artists. This is the art community that all the magazines and blogs are proclaiming as rival to Manhattan’s cultural dominance.
Then there is the art community that Brooklyn Young Filmmakers is a member of, which is disappearing from mainstream sight and concern (except for wonderful sources like the Brooklyn Arts Council). These are small neighborhood organizations struggling to pay rent that are run by working-class people who are struggling to pay their own rent (did I mention that BYFC is all volunteer?). We’re pressed to get social media savvy because we don’t exist anymore to anyone outside our community, including funders, if we don’t have an exciting, constantly updated online presence.
More foundations are making applications by invitation only or are currently limiting funding to organizations they have already worked with, or won’t fund beyond a few thousand dollars until you can show you can bring in twenty thousand from another source – the Catch-22. Government workforce development programs that place paid workers in nonprofit organizations (remember CETA?) are a thing of the past. Our immediate constituency is struggling to pay their own rent, so we can’t put significant fees on them.
Brooklyn Young Filmmakers, like many other small neighborhood organizations, has a long history of producing events with little or no funding. But in today’s unrelenting economic climate that can’t go on. Either we get bigger, or we go down.
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of running an arts organization in Brooklyn?
If you regard Art as Spirit, Art as Community, Art as Fresh Thought, Art as Incubation, Art as Storytelling, Brooklyn is the most exciting borough, the most exciting place on the planet to be. We still see life as a journey, and not a destination to be enshrined. Part of that is we have trees and neighbors we talk to. And there are still strong ethnic identities to be experienced and to learn from.
What do you see as the biggest issues facing the arts community today?
Once again, I speak from a small arts organization’s perspective – funding, space, and creating an online following.
When we get specific about low budget filmmakers, it’s how to share resources, crews, and have ongoing learning to continue evolving storytelling and technical abilities. Filmmaking is the most complicated and expensive of all the arts. It is also the most mysterious if you have never known anyone who has worked in the film/TV industry. Ask ordinary people to list the jobs in film and they always start out with the above-the-line ones (i.e. actor/director/writer/producer) and then they say cameraman and stop there. They don’t know the army of working class jobs in film (i.e. hair/makeup, wardrobe, set dresser, props master, script supervisor, sound engineer, craft services, grip, electrician, graphic artist, etc.). And in this neighborhood, most residents don’t know the film industry is rapidly expanding in our backyard at Steiner Studio.
Our concept for a People’s Hollywood revolves around creating a hub for low/no budget filmmakers by offering low cost professional workshops and consultations; crew and production assistant referral services; a directory of potential creative collaborators (including musicians, visual and graphic artists and online marketing specialists); assistance with casting calls; securing local locations, set, and prop materials; public screenings and discussions of their films; and networking events. Creating a hub for low/no budget film productions will in turn generate internships for teens and adults to give them a hands-on introduction to narrative film production and marketing.
Do you have any major events, projects or expansions on the horizon?
Although we’ve been developing our curriculum and training formats for years, everything we’re doing right now is a beginning. Brooklyn Young Filmmakers’ long term goal is to create a minor league of filmmaking that is an introductory teaching league, with different tiers of peer teachers who can help propel talented, committed students on to the professional leagues. It will also be a league where film professionals who work in low budget films can find new income sources as teachers and consultants.
One of our first major projects for a People’s Hollywood is to develop an online Crew Board, where if you are looking for a vetted PA or a competent 1st Assistant Director, you can look at our Board and find crew who are working at different levels, from unpaid for experience, to pay with lots of experience. We will have a photo essay PDF up for each person profiled. The basic structure for this is on our website on the OUR STARS page. We have already have a long list of people who would like to be showcased on the Board. We will be getting a full-time intern from the LEAPNOW program later this month that will be with BYFC for three months. One of Aaron’s major tasks will be preparing these crew profiles.
We have a Storyboard Artist Apprentice Project that is being overseen by David Cooney, a Storyboard Artist who has done lots of big budget features. Cole Wiley, whose screenplay AFTER THE STORM won Best Screenplay at the 2011 Urban World Film Festival, let us use it as a class exercise for this first group of apprentices to storyboard. The next step is to set the apprentices up with an individual low budget short film project for them to storyboard. Most low/no budget film productions don’t have storyboards, which could help them greatly be more organized in planning their shots and budget.
We are starting to reach out to businesses on Myrtle Avenue to find those willing to let low budget films shoot in their spaces in off hours. We want to create a directory of locations to help draw filmmakers here. Then we’d like to create a directory of local artists and musicians interested in having their work featured in low budget films.
I could go and on about our ideas. It’s not a matter of can we do them. We know we can. It’s a matter of whether or not we’ll get the funding needed. We’ll be selling t-shirts, tote bags, and magnets with some of the great artwork we’ve done over the years, mostly with the artist Chuck Frazier. And when we officially launch our new website we’ll be asking everyone to pledge to vote for us in the next Chase-Giving Campaign later this year. A thousand votes could win us $10,000!
“Faith is taking the first step – even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”- MLK Jr.