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WEEKLY NEWSLETTER May 8, 2017 by L. Swift and Jeff McQ


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Film Connection student Ananth Agastya pursues
a childhood passion

  
If you spend a few minutes talking with Film Connection student Ananth Agastya, you’ll soon see that his love of film is cut from a deep, rich tapestry—partly because of his background, and partly because of how he noticed the effect film had on his culture growing up in Hyderabad, India.   “I grew up in India, and that gave me a lot of exposure to Indian films, from a lot of backgrounds,” he says. “What I mean by that is we have so many languages in India, and I come from a cosmopolitan city called Hyderabad that shows North-Indian films, South-Indian films, which come in different languages, and obviously our Hollywood flicks, the blockbusters…I would see the cultural differences in all of these movies, and it fascinated me that the same medium could portray so much with a two-hour dedicated time…A lot of my friends—we would have these discussions about what the movie brought to the table, in terms of culture and the social dialogue, how they would talk about topics that we are not supposed to talk about, sexuality, for example, or religious subjects that are very difficult to talk about, even at home, in some circles. Films did not shy away from that. That was the first time I said, ‘This is interesting, that films could do this.’”   Besides Hollywood and Bollywood, Ananth says Hyderabad is a hub for another branch of filmmaking: Tollywood. What’s the difference? Ananth says it comes down to language: Bollywood films are in Hindi, India’s primary language (especially in the northern states), while Tollywood films are in Telugu, the main language of Hyderabad and points south.   “[Tollywood] makes many movies,” he says. “So many movies. It’s really funny because Tollywood people get a kick out of North-Indian movies and also Hollywood and European movies. They sometimes remake them – with a regional twist –  like, six months after the original comes out, because they’ve got so much money to produce these films and because the audience has a huge appetite for a variety of stories.”   Emigrating to the United States after high school, Ananth says he took a film studies class in college, but got sidetracked for a while over his need to get a job and “put food on the table.” But his passion for film never left him and after marrying and having a child, Ananth says he came to a personal crossroads. “I told my wife, ‘I’ve had this at the back of my head for a long, long time, and I just want to go to film school. I want to explore. I want us to at least have a dialogue about how much it’s going to cost, you know, what kind of experience I can get.’”   Ananth’s research eventually landed him at the Film Connection, which he says he chose primarily for the hands-on experience. Film Connection mentor Deen Olatunji of Rehoboth Pictures in Dallas, TX, was willing to accommodate Ananth around his work schedule at a global technology firm. Soon after enrolling, experience became the operative word for Ananth, as he found himself immersed in the filmmaking process.   “The sense of trust [Deen] places in you—the way he lets you traverse through all the hurdles, hands-on, that kind of experience is immeasurable,” says Ananth. “He’s had me involved in all stages of production. In this one project that we just got done shooting, I did the script breakdown. I did location reports, gave him the schedule of everything that needs to be shot on a particular day, gave him the shot list, anything and everything that an AD needs to be doing. I did all of that, and he reviewed everything. I absorbed all of it…it was a great experience. I’m still learning something new every day.”   Ananth says he’s also formed a great rapport with his screenwriting mentor, the Oscar-winning producer/director Jana Sue Memel, whose credits include So I Married an Axe Murder and Disney Channel’s Going to the Mat. “She is amazing,” he says. “She must have been my mother in a previous life or something, because the second I started BS-ing her, she would say, ‘Stop. You don’t know what you’re talking about because you haven’t done the research on it. You can’t just pull that on me.’… She knows how to make a story click, and she asked me so many good questions about why I’m trying to do this. When I’m trying to write my screenplay, she asked me, ‘Why is this guy acting this way? Why is she acting this way? How did your character grow up? Be truthful to your characters.’”   Speaking of screenplays…it seems even here in America, the culture plays a role in Ananth’s approach to film, especially concerning social issues. “I finished a draft [of a script] before the election, 2016, and it had to do with an immigrant single father,” he says. “After the election, that took a whole new meaning…Now it’s an immigrant single father who is about to lose his immigration status…I don’t think it’s possible for any of this to exist in a vacuum. They always have a social significance.”   A dependable member of Deen’s team, Ananth even joins Deen on meetings, with potential clients and other producers: “I’m actually going out with Deen…to meet with a potential financer for the feature-length film,” says Ananth. “He’s got some ideas, and he wants to be able to fund us.” (The project has just been funded!)   Ananth is keeping it in perspective, seeing everything as a learning experience with the strong potential of becoming more in the months to come.   “What I want out of this is a chance to get my film financed and produced by someone who recognizes the value in my screenplay,” he says, “somebody who shares some of this experience and maybe develop a relationship with that person and work on a project.”   
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RC grad Paul Ramirez launches Precision-Tune
Radio Podcast!

  
Paul Ramirez

Paul Ramirez

In true music entrepreneurial fashion, Recording Connection grad Paul Ramirez has formed his own niche, and done so in a way that helps his own local music scene. Paul recently put his audio skills to work by launching a new podcast, Precision-Tune Radio!   While having someone shoot video for the show, Paul interviews his musical guests himself, then gives each guest the chance to perform. Paul puts his audio skills to use by recording, editing and mixing all the audio himself. He sees the podcast as a way to encourage up-and-coming talent and build community while introducing his listeners to great artists and great, new music. He says, “I interview these artists, they give advice to other artists that want to try to make it, and share their stories and they could showcase their music.”  
Malik "The Freq" Moore

Malik “The Freq” Moore

Since launching the podcast, Paul has already attracted some attention, including some fairly notable guests who have agreed to come on—most notably, Malik Moore, better known by his stage moniker “FreQ”!   “He was a guitarist and vocalist for The Lions, which is a supergroup from LA for reggae,” says Paul. “He was working with artists like Lee Scratch Perry, Big Daddy Kane, and that group just consisted of other professionals that worked for artists like Beyoncé, and they played for Cee-Lo Green, and they were just really around the big artists. So it was pretty cool.”  
Ras Jahge of Uproot

Ras Jahge of Uproot

With the podcast, Paul uses a relaxed interview style, hoping not just to expose his listeners to great new music, but also to show the human side of the artists he features. “Each artist that I interview, it’s different,” he says. “They’re all coming from different places…I just want everybody to be themselves. If you listen to the podcast you see who the artist is, you see their personal side, their real side.”   While Paul is happy in the niche he’s made for himself, he sees it as only one aspect of his career. His advice for others? “Honestly, I feel like you just have to go all in with what you want,” he says. “Just follow with what makes you happiest. Right now, I’m extremely happy with what I’m doing but I want more. There’s a lot more that I want to do.”   
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Film Connection mentor Zac Adams Helps
his Apprentices Build their Reels

  
Zac Adams (on right) with Mike Stryker on the set of Sweet Tooth

Zac Adams (on right) with Mike Stryker on the set of Sweet Tooth

Film Connection mentor Zac Adams (Skydive Films, Nashville, TN) is known for involving his apprentices on his major film projects to help them gain experience and build their reels. Two of his recent documentaries, the Emmy-winning Hunger in America and Autism in America, both include credits by Film Connection apprentices and are now available to view on Amazon Prime. A third apprentice-assisted documentary, Iron Will, is currently making the film festival rounds and recently won the Audience Award at the Twin Cities Film Festival.   But in the case of his current apprentices, Caleb Dixon and Brandon Russell, Zac seems to have turned the experience knob up a notch or two. When we caught up with Zac a few weeks ago, the shooting schedule sounded so full that we felt lucky to have a few minutes to talk at all. Apparently, Zac is bent on getting the guys as much experience as possible before they graduate in a matter of weeks.   “Tomorrow we’re doing the EPK [electronic press kit] for a local artist here in Nashville named Morgan Clark,” he says. “They’re both going to be filming and codirecting. It’s really a project for them that I kind of helped set up because I want them to graduate with good stuff for their reel. They’re both aspiring cinematographers and editors and producers/writer-directors.”   And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  
Caleb Dixon, Morgan Clark, Brandon Russell

Caleb Dixon, Morgan Clark, Brandon Russell

“I also make them do their own projects on the side in addition to the assignments and all the stuff they’re working on with me,” says Zac. “One of them just finished a documentary he directed, and then we’ve got two music videos that both of them will be directing before they graduate… I’m trying to get them on as many sets [as possible,] and probably 90% of the time I’m able to be with them on set watching them and giving them notes and things like that.”   Zac also goes the extra length to enable his students to take the reins for themselves—even to the point of naming Brandon as the producer on the Morgan Clark EPK project! The good news is, Brandon is rising to the occasion.   “I’m making him do everything,” says Zac. “He’s got a few people helping him, he got the location, he got with the artist…Brandon is the main producer. I said, ‘You’ve been learning from me for seven, eight months. It’s your turn now.’ I’m not doing anything. So he got everything together, and he did a great job.”  
Morgan Clark, Brandon Russell, Caleb Dixon

Morgan Clark, Brandon Russell, Caleb Dixon

Zac says he’s effectively paired the apprentices in a way that they help each other on their respective projects. For Caleb’s upcoming music video shoot, he says Brandon will play a supportive role while Zac himself stays around, but without getting directly involved unless necessary.   “I’ll be kind of helping them crew, but I’m not going to be directing,” he says. “Caleb’s going to be directing and filming, and Brandon’s also going to be filming. Then when Brandon shoots they kind of reverse roles.”   While the schedule seems frenetic, Zac’s apprentices know what they’re signing up for, because he tells them what to expect right at the jump.   “I just tell them up front. If I meet them and think they don’t have the right work ethic, we’re just wasting everyone’s time,” he says. “It’s very polite, but you’ve just got to be blunt. This is one of the most competitive fields in the world…100% is not good enough. You’ve got to go above and beyond. If you call time is 7:00 a.m., you get there at 6:30.”   The hard work pays off, though. When Zac’s apprentices graduate, their reels aren’t just stuffed with great content—those who have the work ethic often find ongoing work with him after graduation.   “My old apprentice Corey Pitts, we actually pay him to work after he graduated,” says Zac. “We did a video for the band Kansas back in October, and I hired him for that. He did really well in the program, so now that he’s done he’s doing freelance, and I hire him when I can.”   What can apprentices do to get Zac’s attention? For him, it’s simple.   “You know, if you see something needs to be done, you don’t ask, you do it,” he says. “That’s how you start to think, ‘Hmm, this guy’s going above and beyond. Once he graduates, I’ll hire him.’”   
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A Day in the Life of Our Students

  
Film Connection student Juan Armijos, actor Mickey Gooch Jr. and mentor filmmaker Rob Weston on the set of Madness in the Method

Film Connection student Juan Armijos, actor Mickey Gooch Jr. and mentor filmmaker Rob Weston on the set of Madness in the Method

Film Connection student Juan Armijos (Los Angeles, CA) is racking up his film cred on the set of Madness in the Method with mentor, filmmaker Rob Weston, actor Mickey Gooch Jr. (pictured), actor/director Jason Mewes, and others including Kevin Smith, Stan Lee, Danny Trejo and Gina Carano. Talk about connecting!    Film Connection student Christine Tsuzaki (Honolulu, HI), who apprentices with Bill Maheras at Sight & Sound Studios, recently got first-hand training in color-correction while on set for a recent commercial production.  
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