By Theresa Loong
My first documentary as a director, Every Day Is a Holiday, is on television right now. I feel a quiet sense of accomplishment. I’m happy, yet still apprehensive, because I know my journey is only beginning. The film still has to make its way into the world, and with the new world of distribution, there’s a long way to go. Here are my reflections on the process, including how I received support from organizations such as The FilmShop.
Filmmaking is a combination of being intensely personal and solitary, combined with moments of collaboration. I created a documentary about a WWII prisoner-of-war in Japan and how he felt that as a free man, Every Day Is a Holiday. It’s the title of the film and his personal mantra. I know this because the subject of the documentary is my father, and he used to tell me – and he still does, laughingly – that every day is a holiday.
I joined the FilmShop in the spring of 2010. In that serendipitous way that often delights me, I first heard about The FilmShop from member Lam Vo http://lamivo.com/ when we met in Hong Kong.
By the time I attended my first meeting in Brooklyn, I knew that I needed that extra push to complete the film. I already had a career in interactive media as a producer and content creator that has spanned over a decade. I had worked on a few other documentaries over the years; “Every Day Is a Holiday” was in rough cut stage.
And yet, I was a little stuck. How do I move the movie forward while balancing…life?
The FilmShop provided me with a community, where I could receive honest feedback, borrow equipment, celebrate success and commiserate over failures – er – setbacks.
People are motivated in our collective. I gravitated toward other documentary filmmakers, but was also able to stretch my narrative muscles by working with partners. I had been working with AMC Networks on interactive projects for Breaking Bad and some of its other titles, and plan to do more with narrative content in the future, so the mix of doc and narrative filmmakers is a good one.
In 2010 and 2011, I presented the rough cut and fine cut of my documentary during FilmShop meetings. I received clarification of what people liked and disliked about the film, and incorporated much of the comments into my final cut. I also received feedback on grant proposals and honed my producer skills and distribution strategy (well, I’m still working on them) through special presentations from guest speakers like Peter Broderick http://www.peterbroderick.com/ and D-Word founder Doug Block http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0088710/.
In TheFilmShop, we have goals that, every week, we state in front of the entire group. I didn’t always reach my personal goals, but one of them was to apply for a co-production agreement opportunity through ITVS – the Independent Television Service http://www.itvs.org/films/every-day-is-a-holiday.
I partnered with a public television affiliate, the wonderfully programmed Kentucky Educational Television (KET) http://www.ket.org. It was fun to share the good news with the collective when I received the funds.
Sometimes I have a hard time asking for help. One of the things I realized while making the film is that to complete the project, I needed more assistance. It arrived in a combination of ways:
My wonderful editor, Kristen Nutile http://softspokenfilms.com, encouraged me to find other people to help with researching, logging, editing, and creating transcripts. We scheduled a few extra shoots to fill in gaps in the story.
I hold weekly Skype meetings with Paris-based producer and director Edward (Ned) Gubbins: http://m.imdb.com/name/nm2412438/. Ned helped me outline and execute my crowdfunding campaign.
I dug deeper, emotionally, and reprioritized my goals. I like going out with friends, I like thinking about cleaning my room, I like going to industry events. While all these things are important, I had to cut back on some of the things I liked to do, and remember that the film was really, really important to me. So instead of talking about it, or thinking about it, I had to actually complete it. Breaking that process down into smaller, actionable steps really helped me.
I am, and continue to be, extremely grateful for everyone’s support.
Every Day Is a Holiday is on public television and is streaming online as part of a Social Screening series on Sunday, June 17 at 3pm EST. More information is at: