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With consumer-grade electronics having come so far, it seems that any kid with a knit hat and a digital-video camera can make a Blair Witch Project. But what of the professional cinematic class—that is, the behind-the-scenes broadcast technicians who bring us nightly news and cable documentaries? Made zombielike by hours of recording static head-shot interviews with policymakers, they, too, have something to add to the no-budget horror-flick genre: a craving—not for brains, but for creative freedom.
Having the technical ability and equipment handy is a great motivator, explains Logan Circle–based freelance broadcast sound tech Marianna LaFollette, producer of I’m Here, a cringifying Sixth Sense–twisted short that recently opened the New York Horror Fest.
“Rather than just talk about it, you can do it,” she says. “Just pick up a camera and go.”
The film was originally a project with local freelance cameraman and director Brad Ulery—who’s currently covering the Bush campaign for the U.S.-funded Alhurra network—and a team of other seasoned techies for 2003’s 48 Hour Film Project.
The sound man on I’m Here works at the White House and was “just so excited to be able to do something creative,” says LaFollette, that he “was showing it everywhere. When I was working at CNN, I had a lot of people coming up to me: ‘Oh, yeah, Marianna, I saw your short at the White House.’”
Though the film gained a bit of a local cult following through such impromptu screenings, LaFollette, who just turned 38, was too busy with her day jobs to “even think about sending it out to festivals.” This year, she decided to make an effort to shop it around, and it was shown at the New York fest to a great audience response.
Unfortunately, LaFollette’s crew will have to take her word for that. [“They] haven’t been able to join me, because who can take off for these festivals?” she laments.
“I’m home four hours a week,” confirms director Ulery, 35, by phone after returning to his Alexandria home from covering the electoral battle in Wisconsin. “To be honest, I don’t know what she’s doing with [the film]. But that’s part of not being in a big corporation, I suppose.” He adds that LaFollette has been “really good at promoting” their effort.
Indeed, LaFollette has found a way to combine straight-world job hunting and horror-fest promotion of the project. “For my career, I use these Internet agencies to try to find work, and at the same time I can also do my creative side and find festivals that I can send the shorts to,” she says.
The first 48 Hour Film Project in 2001 was LaFollette’s creative impetus. “I never thought of myself as a filmmaker,” she says. “I graduated from school with an English degree. It was all an accident, getting into the professional world doing sound-tech work.”
Since I’m Here was released, LaFollette has stayed involved with indie projects, recently creating a 10-minute short for the New York City Midnight Movie Making Madness Fest and currently working on a “contemporary medieval short” titled First Knight.
“One of the things I’ve always liked about contests is that it forces people to do it. Because otherwise, people just talk about ideas. And it just stays like that; it’s just all talk. So contests allow people opportunities, in all different facets, to create something.”
LaFollette is, however, big on talking up indie moviemaking to fellow crewpersons, many of whom are now crowding the market. The last 48 Hour Film Project had nearly 100 film teams, and the results were decidedly slick.
“It’s given them the passion to do these creative projects,” says LaFollette. “Which is the only reason why anybody is picking up a camera.”—Dave Nuttycombe