Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Interview: Filmmaker Jared Flesher

Filmmaker Jared Flesher was in New Hampshire last weekend at the SNOB Film Festival with his first film: The Farmer and the Horse. Jared made the movie with a limited budget and a Canon Vixia camera.

The documentary follows three young farmers who are just starting out and want to use horses rather than tractors. There's a lot more to it than that, because starting out farming - whether with horses or tractors - is not a simple proposition. In the course of the movie, you learn their motivations and see the struggles these people go through during one season. The movie also covers the history of farms and farm mechanization, as well as the decline of small farms in New Jersey.

Jared Flesher

How did you come to make the film?
My background's not in film, it's in print journalism. I write for newspapers, magazines and websites. I was working up in Boston, I had an internship and I started writing stories about sustainable energy, renewable energy, and they were getting a lot of attention. When I came back to Jersey, I decided I wanted to keep going along that vein, but to do something a little lower tech. So I found this farm In New Jersey called Howell Living History Farm, and you can intern there for three months. I was going to go there and blog about it, and it's still up, it's called The idea was I was going to live on this old time farm for three months and then move on to the next thing.

But I started meeting these farmers that were coming through that weren't just going there for the novelty thing, but they really wanted to learn to farm with horses, and then go off and hopefully start their own farm, so that kind of seemed like the ultimate energy/food story to me.

[...] And if just one or two people see the film and rethink farming, or maybe think about farming who weren't going to do it before, then I would think it would be worthwhile.

Was this your first film?
This was my first film, though in college I did take a documentary/film making class for one year, and the best thing the professor every did was; he didn't spend a lot of time teaching, he just said 'here's the equipment, go out and do it." And I made all of my mistakes - well, I made some mistakes in this film too - but I was able to make most of my mistakes in that practice film.

What did you shoot it with?
I shot it with a camera called a Canon Vixia, it's a $1,000 camera. It's high definition but affordable, and it was a pretty low-budget project. But I was really pleased that I could make a pretty good looking film for much less money than you would have even a few years ago.

I actually down-graded everything to Standard Definition for the DVD because it was a little bit cheaper and I wasn't working with a lot of money and I knew how to make a DVD. I didn't know how to make a Blu-ray. I'd never down it and would have had to buy some extra equipment, so maybe for the next one. If I need to, I can go back and recut it in High Definition.

What was the budget?
My production budget was about $5,000. I've probably put another $1,000 into marketing, another $1,000 into DVDs and another $1,000 into driving around. The huge expense of making a film is time, and I think that's why filmmakers go for grants and ask for money; what they're really asking for is time.

What did you edit it with?
I used a PC and I used Sony Vegas.  It isn't one of the most popular programs but the format I shot it on with the camera uses AVCHD, and it was brand new when I started using it, and it turned out that Sony Vegas could handle it better than the big, more expensive editing programs, and I just liked it. You know, most people if they have a Mac they'll use Final Cut Pro, or if they have a PC they'll use Adobe Premiere or Avid, but I had pretty good luck with the Sony program.

Did you have any other equipment while shooting, or just the camera?
I ended up getting a microphone that cost about $500. The hardest part of a low-budget film to make it stand up to a higher budget film I think is sound. I definitely recommend getting a good shotgun microphone and I got a converter that lets you plug a professional microphone into a consumer camera, a Beachtek audio adapter. I shot the whole film with a wide-angle lens - a screw-on adapter - because it made it seem a little more filmlike and a little less home-video like.

And it was just you?
It was just me. I didn't have the money to pay anybody.

How did you find the people in the film?
I had gotten to know my characters - or some of them - because I had spent three months at Howell Farm, one of the main locations. Tom, who was up in North Jersey when I started filming, he had come through Howell Farm, I met him there. Matt, who's one of the main characters came through Howell Farm. But Audrey, who turned out to be another main character of the film, I just met her one day at a plow competition. I just turned my camera on her and she turned out to be this really articulate spokesman.

How did you go about shooting the film?
During the farming season I tried to go to each farm at least once a week. I think most projects you'd wait until you have all your footage and then you sit down and you decide what the story is going to be. But I only had a pretty limited amount of time to do it, so I started editing the July segment by September because I knew I didn't have time at the end to go back and edit everything. This way I had at least made the skeleton for the film. This probably isn't the smartest way to do it, but it actually worked out for me.

I also spent a lot of time with the historical research [even though] it's only a small part of the film.

Did you originally intend to finish it at the end of the year?
When I did the first cut, I finished the film in December, and I started showing it to people, and people really liked it, but it also felt like it ended on a down note. Farming in the middle of winter, everything was dead. So coming back in the spring and everything is bright again, and the farmers had moved on to their next thing. Tom had started farming on his own farm, which I think was the most exciting thing, so it showed you where the farmers were going. I think it also ended on a more hopeful note.

Do you have any ideas for the next project?
I have a couple of ideas. When you make a film you have to live with it for a long time. You shoot it for a year and then you're editing it and marketing it, so I'm just kind of bouncing some ideas around at the moment. Mainly I'm spending most of my time marketing this film.

I have a couple of ideas for the next one, some of them are related to the environment, some of them aren't, but I'm not ready to talk about it yet.


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