When you're working on a limited budget, you've got to get creative. When you're an independent filmmaker, you're almost certainly working on a limited budget, and you'd better make resourcefulness your forte.
Independent filmmaker Canaan Brumley relied on his sly inventiveness to make his first feature film, "Ears, open. Eyeballs, click."
The documentary takes a look at Marine recruits enduring the grueling process of boot camp. The Marine Corps Recruit Depot and Camp Pendleton provided Brumley with natural movie sets, and the Marine Corps provided the cast.
"Documentaries don't cost as much money to produce," explained Brumley. "The great thing about the recruit depot is I never had to deal with hiring extras, because I had hundreds of them. I didn't have to deal with a costume designer because they already had their uniforms, and catering was already taken care of, the actors were already taken care of. And it looked like a gigantic movie set to me."
The filmmaker wasn't having much luck getting access to shoot the film going through the proper channels. He spent six months just trying to secure an interview with someone on base to propose his film. Then he got a "desperate" -- and resourceful -- idea. He looked up the base's commanding general in the phone book.
"Miraculously, he was in the phonebook, and I called," Brumley said. "His wife answered and I pitched to her this idea for about five minutes. Twenty-four hours went by, and the base green-lighted the project.
"It's amazing how films get made. They always say it's usually one lucky thing that happens and then a series of lucky things start to happen after that. Without that phone call, this would have never happened."
The film, completed early this year, will have its San Diego premiere next Friday as part of the San Diego Film Festival.
The five-day event that begins Wednesday comprises more than 75 full-length feature, documentary and short films. The festival also hosts Q&A sessions with filmmakers, industry workshops, panel discussions, nightly parties and an awards ceremony.
Now in its fourth year, the San Diego Film Festival has been named to Film Festival Today's Top 10 Film Festival Vacation Destinations and four top-10 honors in The Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide. Despite the kudos, the festival is still a baby among film festivals.
"Sometimes it takes a festival a few years to find out exactly what its niche is, what your audience prefers to see," said Robin Laatz, founder and executive director of the San Diego Film Festival. "So we're still working that out. Social activism has been a big theme, a recurrent theme, and audiences seem excited about that. It's a theme that will play out much more in year five."
The festival doesn't have the recognition that some of its older, more established counterparts enjoy. But that can also be an advantage for hometown filmmakers.
"The benefit for me is I get to bring film home to where I live now," Brumley said. "I get to let everyone in all the bases locally, from Miramar to MCRD to Camp Pendleton, know about the film."
"People have been dying to see it for two years," he said. "This has been a two-year project that's had its twists and turns, and a lack of financial support to get it made. I've had a lot of supporters, but to bring it home and let them see it -- it's just going to be a very humbling experience for me."
The local filmmaker hails from Houston and came to San Diego by way of the Navy, in the four years following high school. He is also a civilian barber at Camp Pendleton.
"I tell my closest friends that this was a form of therapy for me," said Brumley about the film. "I didn't have to go see a psychoanalyst; I could just go make a movie on it and deal with all my neuroses through the film."
"Ears, open. Eyeballs, click." follows in the cinema verite style -- which literally means "film truth." There is no narrator and no interviews. It is the most unbiased type of documentary.
"It's not a political film at all," Brumley said. "I'm not interested in choosing a side whatsoever. Essentially I let you choose for yourself."
But that doesn't mean the film isn't subjective. After all, Brumley had to make decisions every step of the way -- about how to compose an image, how the scenes were shot, how to condense 12 weeks of training into 95 minutes of film, what music and filmic techniques to use.
"I tried to pull off a documentary film to make it feel like fiction," he said. "It's cinema verite but it's kind of the opposite of cinema verite because you can't help but notice all the cinematic elements that make it feel like fiction."
Brumley attended film school at San Diego State University and credits the school with allowing him to "run wild" with his ideas, without a lot of external influences. San Diego, with a growing film community but still in the shadow of Hollywood, allows the filmmaker to "feel much more independent than in L.A."
Brumley, who has screened "Ears, open. Eyeballs, click." at various festivals in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Marseilles, France, said the best film festivals put filmmakers in contact with people who can help them get their films made. Increasingly, the San Diego Film Festival offers filmmakers meaningful networking opportunities, while giving audiences a chance to see new films and rub elbows with celebrities.
"Our main goal has been to bring quality programming to San Diego, and our close proximity to Los Angeles helps bring down people in the industry and the national press," said Laatz.
This year, panels and workshops include topics on screenplay writing, how to market your project, an insider's look into the industry, how to make a short film and more.
"The festival is more than just movies -- it's also film projects, panels, workshops, nightly networking receptions," Laatz said. "The festival is not just for industry people, and it's not just for artsy film lovers. ...We've got something for everyone."