February 28, 2020

5,800 Miles to Slamdance: A First Time Filmmakers Adventure

Heading to Slamdance with your first feature is a dream, but winning an award? That's unexpected...

Sometimes the best story is right in front of you. All a filmmaker needs to do is stop to listen. 

Brian Morrison is a No Film School reader whose documentary recently won the audience award at Slamdance. He wrote in to the site to talk about what he learned from the blog, so we decided to share his story with all of our readers. 

Check out the trailer for this award-winning documentary, and then read Brian Morrison's own words detailing his journey of taking it to festivals all over. 

5,800 Miles to Slamdance: A First Time Filmmakers Adventure

I’ve been following No Film School for many years now. In my experience, I’ve found myself wanting much more interaction with my independent filmmaker peers and more specifically beginner, DIY filmmakers. NFS has been a tremendous resource for me and if I can pay that forward in any way… hell yeah!

I’m here in Park City, UT right now to promote and screen my first film project, the documentary feature, Bastards’ Road as part of the Slamdance Film Festival. It’s nuts out here! But very refreshing when you enter the Treasure Mountain Inn, the home base / Death Star for Slamdance. You get an immediate sense you’re around people that have a very genuine passion for film. They are all about supporting the filmmakers here.

Last week we were at the Santa Barbara International film festival where we won Best Documentary Film. 

Even though this is my first film, I’ve been grinding for almost 15 years around the Washington D.C. / Baltimore area shooting anything I can to learn, have fun and pay the bills to stay in the game. I’ve shot local, cheesy car commercials, training videos for wastewater plants, wedding videos, a DIY film noir thriller, music videos, corporate videos. I was never in just one thing. My first taste of documentary filmmaking was making a series of 2-4 minute videos for long-term care (Nursing homes / Assisted Living) advocacy group. Through all that I was still searching for something that I could throw myself completely into... I guess maybe I was looking to be inspired.

And then I learned about a Marine Veteran I went to high school with, but never knew personally. He was walking around the country by himself. From watching local TV features and reading newspaper articles that our mutual friends shared I learned a bit about his PTSD and his goal to advocate for veteran issues and awareness. I didn’t understand why somebody would be walking that far and for so long... he had already walked about 1,600 miles when I learned about him.

My wife knew Jon in high school and we discovered our friend and next-door neighbor Dave was one of his closest friends growing up. Dave put us in contact with each other... Jon at that point was walking through Slidell, Louisiana. I immediately liked him and we quickly took steps to organize a trip for me to follow him for a few days. 

Over the course of the last 8 months of Jon’s walk, I was able to make a handful of trips to capture pieces of his journey. He’d send me a GPS pin and I’d track him down in a rental car. I drove down these long state highways scanning the road until I saw that red Marine Corps flag flying off his backpack. He smelled really bad every time. I never got used to it. Neither did he. 

We became great friends. Most days, it was just him and me, but I was lucky enough to meet many guys Jon served with, as well as several Gold Star families of their fallen. It was eye-opening to see Jon’s transformation in their presence. He smiled brighter, laughed harder and cried less. It’s like they kept the best versions of themselves for each other. 

I learned their scars from war will never heal. They will never stop thinking about the ultimate sacrifice of their brothers. But together, those that survived reminded each other that it’s important that they are still here.

It's been nearly 4 years since I started working on Bastards’ Road. My experiences at Santa Barbara and Slamdance are a culmination of all the failures and successes along the way. It's been a joyous experience, but also deeply painful. But all the fellow filmmakers I’m meeting are reminding me that’s what filmmaking is… emotional rollercoasters you have to ride out. I heard someone say “There’s a lot of talented people out there. So often, the difference is how hard you push.”

I am grateful to No Film School for being a wonderful resource to filmmakers like me. I want to see organizations like this thrive because I believe in the power of film as the most powerful medium to connect to other human beings. Cheers and thanks!     

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2 Comments

For some, it’s a welcomed sight to see some of their favorite franchises brought back to life and reimagined from a whole new lens, while to others it’s a sorry sign for the future of original content.

March 2, 2020 at 12:26AM

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Sometimes the best story is right in front of you. All a filmmaker needs to do is stop to listen.

March 2, 2020 at 12:28AM

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