mentor Zac Adams
is a busy guy, to say the least. His production company, Skydive Films
in Nashville, TN, maintains a constant slate of projects ranging from music videos to commercial work to short films. But beyond that, Zac has been building a well-deserved reputation for making documentary films of substance that get people’s attention. His recent documentary Hunger In America
won a Mid-South Emmy award, while his follow-up Autism In America
(narrated by Grey’s Anatomy
star Chandra Wilson) is slated for release in a matter of weeks—and another documentary about post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) is slated for production soon, with narration by Billy Bob Thornton!
Through all of this, Zac is happy to pass his skills and business know-how with Film Connection apprentices, involving them heavily in this various projects. In the interview below, Zac shares more about what’s on his plate and how his apprentices are involved, and also offers some key insights about balancing the demands of the business of film with producing work that has meaning and social benefit. Enjoy!
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RRFC: So what have you been up to lately?
Well, working on a few different projects right now. We’re finishing the Autism in America
film, that comes out in about six, seven weeks—we just had a screen of it at the Mossy Creek Documentary Film Festival last Wednesday, actually. It’s a ninety minute feature film. It really talks about, not just autism awareness, but the misconceptions theme, the whole acceptance issue, and it turned out well. We interviewed lots of different families and talked about how they cope and what challenges they have.
RRFC: What do you think is the biggest misconception with autism?
That everyone is like Rain Man
. That everyone is this savant, and you drop a box of toothpicks and within two seconds he could tell you how many are on the floor. It’s interesting—we actually interviewed the real life Rain Man
, Joe [Sullivan]… there are two or three people that were the inspiration, I think Joe was the only one living…He’s about, yeah early 50s, maybe mid-50s now, and his mom is in it. She’s 91, she’s like a pioneer for autism and autism awareness, so it’s good to have them in the film as well…One of the reasons we’re making this film is to educate people and show them it exists and talk about the different misconceptions, and the fact that it’s now one in every 53 babies that are born, I believe, have some sort of autism, but there’s so many different spectrums.
RRFC: You won an Emmy for Hunger in America, correct?
Yeah, we won a Mid-South Emmy back in late January…We have a couple of different distributors—one’s in San Francisco, and other one’s out in Los Angeles. So they’re taking it to schools and libraries and showing all over the place. Food banks have been picking it up. And hopefully it’ll be on some sort of TV in the fall.
RRFC: What was the inspiration behind Hunger in America, and what made you want to do a documentary on it?
Well, I think the fact that no one was talking about it. I knew a little bit of it because my dad’s on the board of a non-profit called Feed America First. [I] was talking to those guys and went to their website and saw some of these stats, and almost didn’t believe them at first, that this is happening in the world’s richest country. And then did some more research, and found out that it is. But it’s a different type of hunger. It’s not what you see in Ethiopia. It’s not where people are starving on the streets, their stomachs are puffed out. It’s almost like a secret epidemic.
RRFC: When you are thinking about making a documentary, do you make something that’s important to you, or do you try to stay with what the current market trends are?
A little bit of both. There’s a reason it’s called film business. If it wasn’t a business, it would just be a very expensive and time-consuming hobby…Unless you’re so independently wealthy that you can just make it for yourself or whatever, you have to have some target audience. You have to have a business plan. You have to say, “Who wants to see this and why? What’s the market? What’s the audience?” Otherwise who’s going to put money into your film?…But then with these topics, I go into a project where a lot of times I don’t know much about the subject, but as a filmmaker, I learn. So I learned a lot about the hunger crisis while making the film. I knew very little about autism except what I saw in Rain Man.
You know what I mean?
RRFC: What other projects do you have coming up?
Our new film’s called Iron Will.
It’s [a documentary] about PTSD—it’s on my website. I’ve got my two apprentices working on that. They also worked Autism in America,
Jamie Reed and Matthew Gibson. Matthew’s brand new—Jamie’s been with me since early September, late August…We’ll be spending the next year filming that and post production, and I’m a producer and writer on that. I’m not the director—I didn’t want to direct that one because my editor, one of my main editors named Sergio, he has bad PTSD, but he’s a brilliant filmmaker. This is like his directorial debut for a feature film, so I wanted him to do that….We’ve already filmed five interviews. Jamie Reed was a part of that. He did sound on all five interviews, so he’ll have an IMDB credit.
RRFC: Has it been nice having your apprentices with you?
Yeah it has…they’re both aspiring filmmakers, so what we do is bring them on set, teach them about lighting, cinematography. They both have done sound. I actually had them both film some B-roll for Autism in America
and it made the cut, which is cool. They also assisted with some of the editing, because I said if you’re going to be directing your own films, whether it’s documentary, feature, narrator, [it] doesn’t matter, you’re gonna work really close with the editor. So I bring them in and we watch it, what works and what doesn’t work. And it helps me a lot too, because I’ve seen the darn thing eight billion times, [and] so has my editor, so it’s good to bring in people that haven’t seen it, and get their honest feedback.
RRFC: So how do you balance all this out? Making projects and also being a mentor as well?
Well, I think being busy helps you as a mentor, because you’re always looking for extra help… I mean Jamie’s resume is gonna be pretty big when he’s done in a few months, because he’s done everything from music videos to corporate, to feature documentaries…We start them off low on the totem pole—you don’t start off filming day one. They start off watching, and [we tell them], “Hey, go see how they do lights. I’m gonna show you how to turn the lights on and off”…just real basic stuff starting up, and then they can prove to me that they can grow and move up, then we give them more responsibility for each project.
RRFC: That’s awesome. You’ve got some really cool stuff going on.
Well, we try. You’re only as good as your last project. You can never be content, because you don’t know when the phone’s gonna start ringing. I still tell the guys, “You have to have a business attitude.”
That’s why I give them assignments, as well: “Okay, I want to have you make a two-minute documentary. I’m gonna have you do your own music video. I’m gonna have you do wedding or corporate project, so when you graduate, these are things you can do to make money as you’re trying to raise money for [your] 100 million dollar narrative film. Because otherwise, you’re still gonna be working wherever you were, nine-to-five when you bought this equipment, and [you] need to be using it to make money.”