Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Indie Filmmaker Interview, Scott Coblio

Scott, tell us about your background in filmmaking.

I was a film minor in college--we shot everything on 16mm film and edited it on a Moviola. The sound had to be recorded separately on a reel to reel tape machine called a Nagra and the two tracks unified later in editing. It was all very old school, but in hindsight I'm glad I learned that way. I love old movies and I felt a connection to them using their technology.

After college, around 1990, I bought a VHS movie camera--they cost about $1,000 then, so not many people had them. I started making what I called "Media Whore Movies"--basically short funny films starring me and my friends. Sometimes they would be parodies of popular movies that were out at the time. A lot of them were pure nonsense. I was very into Dadaism or absurdism then. I thought a movie with no plot and one joke played out incessantly was a hilarious idea. But there was really no place to show them. We use to sell compilations of them at Godiva's (vintage clothing shop on Monroe Ave) and I think we sold one at the Pyramid Art Auction one year. But it was not a really serious film making endeavor, it was more just a way to keep my creative juices flowing, and a fun way to spend weekends!

There was also no youtube then. All we had was Cable Access, which nobody wanted to watch or be seen on. Now everyone's a film maker. It's not quite so novel as it was then. The technology is cheap and kids are growing up with iMovie or whatever on their computer and it's nothing for them to make a movie just for fun. There's no heavy financial investment or technology to learn any more, which in a way is bad, because it means that you might have to weed through a lot of stuff to get to a movie that was made by someone with a serious interest in film making. The flipside, I guess, is that you can reach a much broader audience now. If my youtube video gets 6,000 hits for example, that probably beats the number of people who saw our Media Whore movies by quite a bit.

Eventually the group of friends I had been making movies with kind of dissipated and moved away to different places, and I got some work making training and instructional videos for banks and other businesses for extra money. It wasn't creative but at least I learned video editing technology, since the Media Whore stuff was all edited "in-camera". You just had to shoot them in order and rewind and re-film a take if something went wrong. So I was learning the ropes.

I got much more into my music and photography at this point. I found that I only loved film making when I had people around me that were fun to make movies with. It was really about the collaboration for me. I also found that I'm basically a storyteller who can work in different mediums. Some stories are film ideas, some are songs, and some are photographs. And it's okay to bop back and forth and tell stories in different mediums. It's just that collaboration is more important to some mediums than others. So I put film on the back burner until I was with people that made me want to make movies again.

In 1997, I moved from Rochester to L.A. and got a job as a video editor, which got me back into film, and I started to make little videos again. Then I decided to bite the bullet and make a "real" movie, and started my first feature "Murderess" in 2004 and finished in 2007. It was a historical murder mystery based on a true story that happened in 1931, and I shot it on mini DV, although I tried to give it a film-look to match the feel of a 1930's or 40's film noir. I very much wanted it to look NOT like a contemporary film.

What is it like trying to get films on the festival circuit?

Expensive! There's an entry fee for most of them, and it can add up--$25 here, $50 there, you can end up spending thousands just to enter festivals--maybe more than you spent on your film! I entered the festivals for about a year and then ran out of money. Also, as in any other field, there is a certain amount of nepotism going on--it helps to know people on the inside if you want your film get that extra consideration. Not that you can't enter "cold" and be accepted, but knowing people sure doesn't hurt!

"Murderess" eventually went on to win something--"Best Animated Feature" in the 2008 DIY (Do It Yourself) festival in Los Angeles, which was funny because it's really not an animated film. It's a live-action film using marionettes. But I'll take what I can get! Jack Garner (columnist for the Democrat & Chronicle) called my movie "by far the weirdest entry" when it showed in the ImageOut Festival at the Little and that amused me.

What's your take on the filmmaking community here in Rochester?

I wish it was more of a "scene"--that is, a kind of art fraternity where more film makers get involved in each other's projects. Like Salvador Dali and Louis Bunuel and the other surrealists of the avant-garde movement in the 1920's, or Pabst (Pandora's Box) and the Neo-Realists in Germany. Something where everybody gets involved in the same area of interest can be really exciting, more than just a bunch of isolated film makers all doing separate things. But I'm glad people are picking up cameras and shooting. The most important thing is to hold on to the importance of storytelling. It's vital on a basic human level. We need to tell stories and we need to hear them--in any medium. It's unifying and healing.

Any upcoming projects?

I'm writing a melodrama where every character looks like Joan Crawford. It's called Confessions of a Passion-Fruit Moose. I guess I'm back to Dadaism!

What's the most difficult part of being an indie filmmaker? The most rewarding?

The most difficult is money, or lack of it. The more money you have, the better equipment you can afford, the better costumes and sets you can create, the more people who's talent you can access. Obviously, when there's no budget, you have to make do and it can be frustrating making something out of nothing.

However, this also accounts for the most rewarding aspect. You really have to have a good story to make an arresting film with no budget. So you can't rely on bells and whistles--there has to be a good story--and there has to be heart--or it won't work.

I keep saying that now that everyone can make movies and everyone can afford the bells and whistles, the most radical thing anyone's going to be able to do is just tell a good, simple story. Maybe the technological boom--by creating so many filmmakers-- will ultimately signal a return to basic storytelling. The criteria will be, not who can make the fanciest movie, but who can tell the best story; which would be a good thing.

Thanks for sharing your insight, Scott! If you enjoyed our inaugural filmmaker interview, let us know. It's our goal to provide insight into all parts of the filmmaking process here on our blog!

You can reach Scott at:
Scott Coblio
7718 W. Norton Avenue, Apt. 18
W. Hollywood, CA 90046

323-252-6512 cell


  1. What a hopeful voice in independent filmmaking. Thank you, Scott, for your honest and upbeat evaluation of the industry today for emerging and aspiring filmmakers. I saw your trailer for "Murderess" on YouTube and just had to order it (on eBay, of all places). Looks like a lot of fun and done with a lot of passion.

    You better do that Joan Crawford movie you mentioned in your interview!

    Love from Palm Springs,

    Dolores Shamoco

  2. I've known Scott since childhood, and as a 22+ year veteran of professional theatre I can honestly say he is one of the most original, creative people I've ever known or worked with -- on every level. They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery; well, people not only try to steal his work, they've even tried to steal his personality -- unsuccessfully, I might add. I am glad to see him and his work finally getting the focus and respect they deserve. I am also a former Little Theatre patron. It's a perfect venue for indie movies. Will the Little be showing Scott's next movie, as well?

  3. Scott will have to keep us posted about his next film.