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Vancouver International Film Festival 2010 Interview – "For Once In My Life" director Jim Bigham

For Once In My Life - At VIFF 2010
by Jason Whyte

The following is a reposting of an interview with director Jim Bigham at this year's South By Southwest Film Festival. "For Once In My Life" is currently screening at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

“For Once In My Life” is entertainment and inspiration, laced together with an amazing soundtrack. The film is about a unique group of musicians, who have become a much-loved performance band in Miami, Florida. As audiences witness these musicians' personal stories, “For Once In My Life” will encourage them to look at other peoples' situations from different perspectives, viewing life as being the glass half full, never half empty.” Director Jim Bigham on the film “For Once In My Life” which screens at this year’s VIFF.

Is this your first film in SxSW? Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to be in Austin for the screenings?

Yes, this is the first time I have had a film at SXSW, and I'll be there for all of the “For Once in My Life” screenings. The band will attend the first screening, and we're really looking forward to that in particular. I've had experiences at other festivals with the film “Sweet Land”, which I produced with Ali Selim and Alan Cumming. It was well received in the festival circuit and eventually won a Spirit Award.

Could you give me a little look into your background (your own personal biography, if you will), and what led you to the desire to want to make film?

I've always loved photography, the visual arts and music, so I have been somewhat destined to follow this path. I could never see myself getting a desk job, like a banker. My training came from the London Film School, studying with a range of really knowledgeable professionals from the British film industry. From that experience, I think of myself as a hands-on filmmaker. I enjoy almost all aspects of the filmmaking process. Luckily, I've been fortunate, and have worked with some incredible director talents in both the commercial industry and some large-budget films, such as “Great Expectations”, “Bad Boys” and “Body Heat”, to name a few. I've been able to experience working with people with big-budget productions, as well as those on shoestring budgets, who are able to make both scenarios work. I am absolutely still learning and very much appreciate the advances in technology. They create many opportunities and keep me on my toes.

Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …” Finish this sentence, please!

I think that part of me wanted to be a filmmaker so I wouldn't have to grow up. As life forced things like adulthood on me, I've made certain choices, and can say that I'd like to be the type of filmmaker whose films inform, inspire and entertain. If I can get that right, then also make a little profit, I'm on track.

How did this whole project come together?

Mark Moormann, our co-director, asked me to check out a band that was working and playing music in a back room, in our local Goodwill's manufacturing plant. My wife and I went down to hear them play. After meeting the band and its director, Javier Pena, I was totally sucked in. The music blew me away. Everybody just gives so much. They've taught me so much, it's been a pleasure getting to know them and capture their great attitudes.

What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it the script, principal photography or post-production stage?

We wanted the film to be honest, not forced, and we wanted it to be entertaining and enlightening. Figuring out how to make the story engaging, while delivering a message, was difficult. So much of the film was made in the edit room. This is where the pacing was determined, and what elements went where, finding the balance of telling the main story and back stories, and then making the picture whole and enjoyable.

Please tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

Shooting and lighting in a manufacturing plant, and recording sound in a band practice room has its challenges. Most important: with our subjects, we knew we would never get a second take. Early on we decided to keep photography very straight forward, with very much a cinéma vérité style. It is a story about the band and its members. Our job was to reveal them as naturally as possible. The camera needed to follow, not dictate the action.

Talk a bit about the experiences (festival or non-festival) that you have had with this particular film. Have you had any interesting audience stories or questions that have arisen at screenings? If this is your first screening premiere, what do you hope to expect at the screenings of the film?

SxSW is our premiere screening in a public setting. So far, the biggest moment we've had was the day that we showed the film to the band members and their families. I stood in the back of the room watching their every move and reactions. It was amazing; they got the subtitles, they laughed and there were tears. In the end, we got their complete approval. Their approval represents the most important audience award of all for us. We had their confidence and approval to tell the world their stories.

Who would you say is “the audience” for this film? Do you want to reach everyone possible or any particular type of filmgoer?

The goal has always been to entertain, inspire, and inform a universal audience. People with disabilities are the largest minority in the United States. When we consider this group, with their families, we should have a good-sized audience of interested participants to play to. A range of other people have been supportive as well, from faith-based organizations, to other groups of people who have faced discrimination, such as the LGBT community. Our goal is to capture that unexpected viewer, to control their attention and change attitudes.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc)? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this project in particular?

The great American documentarian D.A. Pennebaker and company. I've had the opportunity to work with D.A. and his wife. I love their approach and technique. They were always in the back of my head while we were making this film.

How far do you think you would want to go in this industry? Do you see yourself working on larger stories for a larger budget under the studio system, or do you feel that you would like to continue down the independent film path?

As long as I can get away with it, I would like to continue to move back and forth between the studio and independent worlds. Certainly, I like to have the independence to do what I want to do. Yet, it really is nice to be involved in bigger projects, with larger scopes and resources.

If you weren’t in this profession, what other line of work do think you would be involved with?

I love boats, the sea, nature, history and culture, so my target is pretty broad. What I would hope is that it would require knowing some form of craft.

Please tell me some filmmakers, actors or other talent that you would love to work with, even if money was no object.

I have a couple of fiction and non-fiction projects with my writer/director friend, Ali Selim, which I really hope can be made. Each project is very much in balance between their budgetary requirements and their commercial potential. Each has a strong human-driven story that will play to broad audiences.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

It's everything. So many great pictures don't get recognized and so much useless film does. Without a question, you need to consider media response and how to make it work for you before you shoot frame one.

If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?

The private screening room in the White House.

What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?

Well, I might take the same approach as I would if I were going to convince my daughter not to eat junk food. I would tell them to watch this and you'll feel better afterward.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking during or conversing/texting on their cell phone while you’re watching a movie (if at your own screening or another movie you attend)?

Enjoy the film and the moment—the world outside will wait.

What do you love the most about this business of making movies?

It is the endless opportunity to have wonderful life experiences. My gauge or theory is, if you are on a set and within a couple hours something amazing has not happened, you are doing something wrong.

No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there, curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?

Make a film that's full of heart and a message. It's a tough business to make a buck in, so you should love what you create and usually the audience will follow. Do it for the pleasure of telling a story—not for the money. I've tried both! Also, leave enough money for marketing and distribution.

And finally…what is your all time favourite motion picture, and why?

“For Once In My Life”! It is the best movie I'm selling this week.

Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 10/08/10 11:31:21
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