The journey continues in our weekly focus on films currently in the trenches of film production. This week, we focus on the latest film project from filmmaker Andrew James. Aiming to raise $6,500 through a Kickstarter campaign, James’s unique documentary project “Street Fighting Man” got our attention (one of its subjects is a vigilante ex-cop in Detroit and… that’s like a comic book come to life). James took some time to tackle Film Threat’s questions on the eve of the Michigan premiere of another of his films, “Cleanflix”…
You’re not new to the filmmaking scene, so please let us know: Who are you, what’s your background, what films have you already made?
My name is Andrew James and I have directed two feature films, the most recent being the documentary, “Cleanflix.” Before that, I wrote and directed a small fiction film called “Una Vida Mejor” which played a few festivals and won the special jury prize at Cinequest back in 2008. However, I am more interested in non-fiction and am planning on making documentaries as long as I can.
I started making films as a kid, but I really didn’t start getting serious about it until about 7 years ago, when I was a junior in college. At the time, I was planning on going to law school and had been prepping for the LSAT. Thankfully, I changed course and started making films again. I graduated with a degree in English but found time to make a few short films and take some film classes along the way. Shortly thereafter, I got involved with “Cleanflix,” a documentary about the rise and fall of the sanitized film movement in Utah. I directed the film with another local filmmaker, Joshua Ligairi. We worked on “Cleanflix” for three years and were really fortunate to premiere the film at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. Since then, “Cleanflix” has has screened at about 15 other film festivals and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, I am writing this from The Traverse City Film Festival where “Cleanflix” is about to have its Michigan premiere.
Tell me about “Street Fighting Man”? What is it about? My impression of the film is that you’ve managed to find a real-life Batman, and you’re doing a documentary about him?
“Street Fighting Man” is my new doc project and it will depict the day to day lives of several residents on Detroit’s East side. The film will have a community action bent as it hones in on the specific lives of four or five residents as they work to improve their community.
One of the main characters is a man who does in fact patrol streets and fight crime. His name is James Jackson and he’s a retired cop and a community leader. Public funding is virtually non-existent in the area and as a result, schools and police stations have been closing down,
including Jackson’s. These closures are an unfortunate byproduct of the slow decay of the auto industry and the recent downturn in the economy. And of course, it has led to all kinds of problems, including a drastic rise in crime. Jackson’s neighborhood is sort of an island oasis in an urban desert and the residents there are being threatened by an influx of drugs, gang activity, and violence.
So with the police station gone, Jackson has sort of become the local sheriff. He’s the eyes and ears of the community, and sometimes the muscle. The other subjects in the film will be working to improve the community through a variety of other ways, including gardening, education, and grassroots political action. Each character will bring a unique perspective to the story and provide different insights into the landscape, the problems, and the possible solutions.
My goal is to paint a multilayered mosaic of this fluctuating landscape using real people and real stories. Each character will inform the next, providing both interesting and challenging juxtaposition. This will help to clearly outline the problems, complicate the solutions, and strengthen the story. In essence, the film will be more truthful, more organic, and more real if the story is told by the subjects who are living it. The film will seamlessly weave from character to character as they make phone calls, attend meetings, spend time with their children, plant vegetables, cook, shop, work, participate in community activities, patrol streets, and debate the future of their neighborhoods with friends and loved ones. By telling the stories of several different people who share varying perspectives, “Street Fighting Man” will paint a complex portrait of a struggling community in transition.
Where did the idea for “Street Fighting Man” come from?
The idea for this film originally came from a great article in the Metro Times by John Carlisle, AKA Detroit Blogger John, called “Street Fightin’ Man.” He has graciously given us his permission to use the title of his article as the working title of our film. He’s a great writer and I encourage everyone to read his work over at www.detroitblog.org
When do you start filming?
We are hoping to shoot a little more footage this summer, but the bulk of the shoot will be next summer and we anticipate being in Detroit for about two months.
What type of camera are you shooting the film with, and why did you choose that camera?
We are shooting the film on the Canon 7D. It’s a DSLR camera that records to compact flash memory cards. We chose the camera because we are shooting a lot of footage at night and the 7D is great in low light. It also gives us a lot of flexibility when it comes to lenses and depth of field. We are really going for a cinematic feel, not only with the look, but with how we are approaching the subject.
“Street Fighting Man” will not contain titles, graphics, or traditional interviews. We will simply be observing our subjects as they live and work. Our goal is for none of the subjects in the film to break the 4th wall. This technique combined with the cinematic look of the photography should really help audiences get sucked into the world and forget that they are watching a documentary.
How do you intend to create a documentary that doesn’t include talking heads, titles, etc? Can you give an example of how this would work, or can you let us know what other documentaries, or TV programs, where something similar may’ve been done, for reference?
Yeah, good question. The film will simply observe the daily lives of the characters and because each subject will have a lot going on, the film will rely heavily on visual information. We are less interested in exploring why Detroit is suffering and more interested in showing the daily struggles of every day residents. As such, traditional interviews are not necessary. As we observe block club meetings, social gatherings and every day conversations, the subjects themselves will provide their own commentary on the issues.
This is a film about regular people who have decided to work for the betterment of their community and we believe that their actions will speak for themselves. Recently, there have been a few different films that have taken a similar approach. One that immediately comes to mind is “Last Train Home.” Another is “12th and Delaware.” Both of these films shy away from talking heads and focus more on observation and action. With “Street Fighting Man,” we hope to take this even further.
What problems/concerns do you already have or potentially foresee for the film?
At this point, our main concern is time. We need to be on top of the subject while it is still relevant and finish the project in a timely manner.
Why did you decide to crowdfund your film?
We decided that crowd funding would be a good way to produce the preview, not the entire film. We are simply hoping to raise enough money to cut a 15 minute preview to show funders and NPO’s.
Do you have other financial resources or investors in place beyond Kickstarter?
Several parties have expressed interest in funding the project, but we are still actively pursuing more options, as nothing is set in stone. We are still in the early stages of this process.
Why did you choose Kickstarter and not IndieGoGo or another crowdfunding solution?
We chose Kickstarter simply because it seems to be more appealing to donors. It’s user friendly, easy to navigate, and I think the fact that your goal has to be met in order to obtain the donations, makes the whole process much more incentivizing.
Where is the crowdfunded money going: production budget, travel expenses, post-production, etc?
The Kickstarter money will be used to make a second trip to Detroit this summer in order to get more footage for our 15 minute preview.
One of the coolest components of crowdfunding campaigns is the list of different incentives that the investors/donators get depending on their investment/donation. What are some of your incentives?
Yeah, I agree. I love the incentive aspect of this process. We are offering a variety of credits, DVD’s, a sneak peak at the preview when it is finished, and stills from the film.
If you do not hit your financial crowdfunding goal, what then? Do you still film the movie as planned?
Yes. Absolutely. Like I said, Kickstarter is just to get our preview finished. If we don’t hit our goal, we will probably set up an account through pay pal where our donors can still pledge the same amount and receive the same rewards.
In a perfect scenario, where are you and your film a year from today?
Wrapping up production and getting ready for post.
Why should someone give your production money?
People should donate to this film because it is a project that really has a chance to show something new to the American experience. Detroit is at a crossroads and it needs to be documented. We believe that “Street Fighting Man” will serve as an important historical record of this particularly volatile period in Detroit’s history, making this film significant from a cultural, political, and anthropological standpoint.
Additionally, it is our hope that the film will create greater awareness and put pressure on the local government to provide public services to its citizens. On top of all that, I think donors will feel like they are contributing to a unique and timely project that is being produced by truly independent filmmakers.
If you’d like to know more about “Street Fighting Man,” or we didn’t ask all the questions you’ve got, go ahead and comment below or head over to the “Street Fighting Man” Kickstarter page and comment there. Next week we’ll be back with a new project for you to check out but, until then, we hope you enjoyed this closer look at “Street Fighting Man.”
DISCLAIMER: Donating or investing in a film is always a risky endeavor, so it is important to keep that in mind before deciding to get financially involved with any film project. Film Threat, FilmThreat.com and our parent company, Hamster Stampede, LLC hold no liability or responsibility regarding any of the projects showcased on our site, their content or performance or the content or performance of any of the sites linked to in this article. Our involvement with the featured project is strictly what you see here: we find a work-in-progress project that sounds interesting to us, we ask all the questions we’d like to know the answers to and then we share that information with you, the audience. This should not be considered as personalized investment advice. What happens after you read this is your decision, and, again, before parting with any money for any film, think it through and BE CAREFUL.