Kurt Kuenne joins BYOD to talk about Dear Zachary and shows clips of it to highlight the process of turning a letter to his lost friend’s son into a feature documentary that was a call to action. Kurt also talks about the process of creating his elegy to drive-in movies, Drive-In Movie Memories and speaks at length about his ideas and influences in filmmaking.
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BYOD is hosted by Ondi Timoner, director of “DIG!,” “JOIN US” and “WE LIVE IN PUBLIC,” and has the rare distinction of winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance twice. Each week the show explores a different documentary filmmaker or aspect of filmmaking, with special guests and a live Q&A– diving deep into creative process and the business realities of producing and distributing films. Ondi shares her insider views, opinions, and personal stories, welcoming audience participation. BYOD aims to entertain, inform, and elevate documentaries in general by bringing attention to films and film makers that deserve exposure.
Kurt Kuenne is an award-winning filmmaker and composer of both fiction and documentary films. He grew up in Silicon Valley, where at age 7, he met the late Dr. Andrew Bagby, the subject of Dear Zachary. He began making films as soon as he was old enough to pick up a camera; these early films, all of which featured Andrew, became a treasure trove for this documentary.
Kurt continued to hone his craft in college, graduating magna cum laude from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television in 1995, where he won the Harold Lloyd Scholarship in Film Editing, and studied Scoring for Motion Pictures & Television at the USC School of Music under the tutelage of classic film composers Buddy Baker and David Raksin.
In 1999, he completed his first feature film, the teen drama Scrapbook starring Eric Balfour, which garnered strong reviews, awards and landed him on Filmmaker magazine’s annual list of the top 25 new faces of independent cinema. He followed it with Drive-In Movie Memories (2001), a documentary chronicling the outdoor movie-going experience, which opened the 2001 Telluride Film Festival and went on to play more than 45 festivals before becoming a popular hit with PBS audiences in the United States.
In 2002, he won a Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences for his screenplay Mason Mule, while his screenplay Explode made the quarterfinals in the same year. He then directed an ongoing series of award-winning black & white short film comedies – Rent-A-Person (2004), Validation (2006), Slow (2007) and The Phone Book (2008) – which collectively played more than 120 festivals the world over and won more than 40 awards. The most popular film in the series,Validation, starring TJ Thyne of the hit TV show Bones, garnered more in prize money than the film’s production budget and went on to become a cult hit on YouTube, where it has remained one of the site’s top rated films of all time.
In 2008, he completed & released his 6 year passion project, the feature documentary Dear Zachary: a letter to a son about his father, which premiered to rave reviews and standing ovations at the Slamdance Film Festival in 2008 before going on to win multiple audience and juryawards at festivals the world over. The film was released theatrically and on DVD by Oscilloscope Laboratories and is in rotation on MSNBC. Dear Zachary was named one of the Top 5 Documentaries of 2008 by the National Board of Review, nominated for Best Documentary by both the Chicago Film Critics Association & the Online Film Critics Society (who also nominated Kurt for Breakthrough Filmmaker of 2008), placed on more than 40 critics’ lists of the Ten Best Films of 2008 and numerous “Best of the Decade” lists in late 2009. “Dear Zachary” inspired the creation of Bill C-464 in Canadian Parliament, which reformed Canada’s bail law and criminal code when it became law on December 15, 2010.
Kurt’s new feature film Shuffle, starring TJ Thyne of Validation, won 10 awards at 2 dozen film festivals the world over from 2011-2012, is now available in theatres from Gathr-Theatrical on DemandSM and on home video from Screen Media Films. Kurt recently adapted Frank Beddor’s New York Times bestseller The Looking Glass Wars into a musical for the stage and completed the short documentary The Legacy of Dear Zachary: A Journey to Change Law.
00:01 Welcome to BYOD.
00:17 Introducing Kurt Kuenne
02:24 A key influence on Kurt’s shooting, editing and cutting style.
05:44 Drive-In Movie Memories, Clip.
10:24 What Dear Zachary is about?
11:21 Dear Zachary, Clip: Film opening.
15:17 Getting the terrible news about Andrew and putting together the film.
18:52 Dear Zachary, Clip: Kurt and Andrew.
21:15 Learning more about Andrew and his strange girlfriend.
25:43 Dear Zachary, Clip: Evidence.
28:32 The events of the murder.
32:48 Dear Zachary, Clip: How Zachary came to be.
34:47 Showing the complete Andrew.
37:25 Andrew and his lover/murderer.
39:15 Dear Zachary, Clip: Andrew’s parents and the baby.
42:41 Using the recordings with a clear and loving bias.
44:47 Dear Zachary, Clip: Going to war.
48:18 Seeing the film in it’s entirety and the bonus footage.
51:47 Advice for filmmakers and who you should listen to.
53:37 Dear Zachary, Clip.