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Guest Commentary by Jennifer Fischer
| Thursday, Dec 29, 2011

One of the best things about starting and running the Santa Clarita Valley Film Festival is being inspired by other independent filmmakers’ stories and dedication.

So, as we head into a new year when many of us will be setting resolutions and goals, I want to not only celebrate the works of independent artists as we will be doing at the 7th Annual SCV Film Festival January 5th-8th, but I also want to highlight the independent spirit and dedication of filmmakers who make a lot from a little. One such example can be found in the film, “The Mustard Stain.”

“The Mustard Stain” (www.themustardstain.com) was a popular film at last year’s festival, and we were pleased to find out after it was accepted that the brothers who co-directed and co-produced the film, Alex and Sam Tello, were from Santa Clarita. Through the film’s sustained success on the film festival circuit, most recently with the NorCalFilmFest, The Mustard Stain has been shown on ComCast and KAZV-TV with a potential of 1.5 million viewers in the Bay Area and Central Coast.

Professional, clever, funny and made with basically no budget, “The Mustard Stain” was Alex and Sam’s first film. I had an opportunity recently to speak with Alex about the experience. Not only was it their first film, but neither he or his brother attended film school. They are self-taught filmmakers, who focused on learning by doing. Alex had a background as an actor and a sound engineer, so he had some experience with the filmmaking process. Like many other independent filmmakers, though, the filmmaking process itself was his film school.

“Making ‘The Mustard Stain’ was a great way to learn and to hone our skills as filmmakers,” Alex explained. “One of the specific things I learned is that I don’t want to act and direct myself in a film again. It’s a real challenge.” Working on a film with such a limited budget also meant Alex and Sam had to play many roles – producing, directing, acting, craft services, casting, editing, etc., etc. However, by doing so much, they learned a great deal about the filmmaking process and discovered their respective strengths.

Alex’s biggest message to other independent and aspiring filmmakers is to just get out there and do it. “But, once you do it,” Alex warns, “you need to promote your film. Of course, film festivals are a great way to do that, especially smaller film festivals. Many of them are focused on quality and not just star power. It’s also important to promote yourself online.”

Alex has used Facebook, Youtube and a film website to promote The Mustard Stain and has gotten good local press coverage and attention for the film. Alex’s message to filmmakers: “Have a website and get your film out there so that people can see it. Plus, short films are always great for a reel to get other filmmaking work and to get funding for future projects.” Alex also learned that Netflix will consider distributing short films if they are packaged together as at least five short films on one disc, so that is something he is working toward with his next short, What Am I Gonna Tell Maggie? which is currently in post-production.

In addition to another short live action film, Alex is also working on a feature-length documentary about animal sanctuaries. The project will likely take him around the world and will be an eye opener, as well as an educational tool that teachers can use to help students learn about animal care and conservation. Alex’s first small film is blossoming into much more, making his story truly inspirational – and it all started with “The Mustard Stain.”

So, I must ask, in the new year what will be your mustard stain? Whatever it is, be inspired, take risks and do it. I promise that it will be a great learning process and, probably, fun as well. Viva Independent Artists in 2012.

 

Jennifer Fischer is the co-founder of the Santa Clarita Valley Film Festival.

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