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SxSW 2017 Interview: 44 PAGES director Tony Shaff

44 Pages - At SxSW EDU 2017!
by Jason Whyte

"Remember the magazine Highlights for Children? Well, it still exists as the most popular children's magazine in the world and kids love it. I was a Highlights reader as a kid, and after decades of having never picked up an issue, I saw the magazine re-emerge as the kids in my life reached the age where Highlights began showing up in their homes. Seeing them drop their iPads and enthusiastically pick up a magazine, devouring it from cover to cover, made me question what it is about Highlights that still draws kids? As I peeled back layer after layer of the Highlights story, I became more and more interested. 44 PAGES is about the company and the creation of their 70th anniversary issue from the first editorial meeting to its arrival in homes. I think you'd be surprised about the history, mission and process that goes into creating this american cultural phenomenon." Director Tony Shaff on 44 PAGES which screens as part of the SxSW EDU series at the 2017 South By Southwest Conference.

Congratulations on your film playing at SxSW as part of the SxSW EDU program!

We are honored to be world premiering at SXSWedu and are looking forward to sharing the film with an audience for the very first time.

So how did you get into this business? Talk to me a bit about how you got your start and what you have worked on in the past.

When I was a kid, Universal Studios announced that they were building their Studio Theme Park in Orlando, FL. I got super excited and thought maybe one day I will direct a movie there. I started making small videos that became more and more elaborate as I had access to equipment and editing facilities. I went to North Carolina School of the Arts and majored in Film Directing. Once I graduated, I amassed a series of very odd jobs in LA and eventually moved to New York where I found my niche in nonfiction. I started working in docu-reality television as a producer and then directed my first documentary feature HOTLINE which premiered at Hot Docs in 2014.

With wanting to do 44 PAGES as a film, how did you put it together?

Once I knew I wanted to make this film, I made a cold call to Highlights and I was connected to the editor in chief Christine French Cully. A week later, I received an email rejecting my proposal. But after some convincing and sweet talking, I was invited to smalltown Honesdale, Pennsylvania and two years later, I have this film to premiere.

So with that initial rejection but pushing forward, what kept you going through the whole process?

I think the main thing that keep me going while working on a film is just trying to remain curious. There is something thrilling about discovering untold stories or meeting unique people.

So then what was your biggest challenge with 44 PAGES then?

Going into filming, we were aware that there would be no villains or looming disasters so this creative challenge forced me as a director to find the narrative arc.

I am about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie and how that came together.

I have been working with my cinematographer John Campbell on TV shows for several years, and when I starting to think about who would have the creative eye and commitment to a long term project like a feature documentary, I thought of John. We shot on Canon DSLR, shooting mostly handheld verite style but also had more formal interview setups as well. I think John's consideration and respect for our subjects also played a big part in the creation of the film outside of the photography and image.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Austin?

SXSW is world famous for their indie loving audiences so I am really looking forward to showing the film here. 44 PAGES will premiere in Austin, then shortly after at other film festivals across the USA. Our goal is to reach the widest audience possible and to stay informed on when 44 PAGES is coming to a town near you, sign up on our website at!

What would you say to someone who was being disruptive during a screening, even if it was your own movie?

I stand with the legendary Austinite Tim League.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

For documentarians and filmmakers in general I think it is so important to find a project you are passionate about and then just be relentlessly persistent in finding the way to get the film made. Even if the perfect idea and a pile of money is handed to you to make your film, it will still take your commitment and drive to see it to the end.

What is your favorite aspect of attending film festivals?

At festivals I love watching short film blocks, especially ones that mix genre and medium. A great collection of shorts can take me on lots of small brain adventures and I especially like going into shorts not knowing anything about what I am about to watch.

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview as part of our coverage of SxSW 2017. To see the entire series click on the Live Report sidebar on your right. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2017 SXSW in Austin, Texas taking place March 10-18. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 03/08/17 11:37:47
last updated: 03/09/17 01:32:59
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