And the winner of the #tweetmydoc contest is… Osato Dixon aka @YourName_MyName on Twitter!
Yes, after announcing the contest at the beginning of the month, there was a flurry of great tweet pitches for documentaries, but Dixon, who is directing his first feature, called Your Name is My Name, hooked me with the following tweet:
I, for one, could not read that line without being interested in the project. I think its greatest power is that it simply distills a great idea for a documentary. I had already indicated my interest in his film with my initial post, but the tweet is so clear, compelling and inspiring that it demanded to be retold and examined.
Which is what I will do now!
But first, I want to thank everyone for submitting their tweets. There are so many great projects out there looking for cracks in the pavement — I wish you luck! And I also want to announce that I will be engaging in a tweet discussion with Dixon tomorrow, Thursday October 27, 2011, at 12 PM Eastern Time. Join the chat by following the hashtag #tweetmydoc. I hope everyone shares their tweet thoughts about docs, Dixon’s film, and the relevance of social media in getting a documentary completed.
But without further ado, let’s introduce you to Osato Dixon. He’s a 29-year-old African-American filmmaker who went through Columbia’s MFA program and who currently lives in New York City. He grew up in Baltimore, where his parents had emigrated from Nigeria. And, like the subjects of the film, he’s albino. I didn’t know any of this personal information when I picked him, but I think any marketer or publicist would immediately tune into the fact that here’s a filmmaker with an obvious personal stake in the subject of his film, which is always a good way to hook audiences. The thing about Dixon, however, is that he’s not entirely comfortable being part of the spotlight. That’s an issue that’ll be worth exploring in tomorrow’s Twitter chat.
Dixon has done work for National Geographic, The New York Times and ABCNews.com, and he was the cameraman on the 2009 Oscar-winning short, Music by Prudence, which is about Zimbabwean singer Prudence Mabhena, but is better known for its uncomfortable Oscar speech snafu. (Dixon declined to comment on that moment because of a legal case, although he did note that director Roger Ross Williams “has been very supportive of my work.”)
What’s your film about?
Your Name Is My Name is a feature documentary that explores the lives of albino children in Zimbabwe. The film takes place over one and a half years where [I immerse myself] in the tumultuous world of Zimbabwe, a country trying to force a regime change and crippled by poverty.
As the film unfolds, we see the lives of albinos and Zimbabweans as a whole mirrored through the lives of these children.
How’d you land on this subject?
I am an African-American Albino, so the issue of albinism is very close to me. While a graduate student at Columbia University’s MFA Film program I was then fortunate enough to receive a Fulbright Fellowship to film in Zimbabwe, a country with one of the highest incidences of albinism in the world. The Fulbright money paid for an initial short film, but I felt there was a more complete story to be told, so I worked in New York for a few months and financed a trip back to Zimbabwe to finish the film.
What’s the current status of your film?
We are currently surging towards completing a strong rough-cut of the film by the end of the year. We’ve edited about 3/4 of the film and just screened a work-in-progress that was about 50 minutes long.
Can you enumerate some of the greatest difficulties about getting the film closer to completion?
By far the biggest obstacle in completing the film is getting attention as a feature documentary. While we have received a great deal of support from our online presence (Follow the film at @YourName_MyName!), as well as from colleagues and friends of the film, we still struggle with financial support. We are a very small team, just myself and my editor/co-producer, and we have been working without any post-production funding for several months now. We have actually received comments from producers such as “people are tired of stories about Africa,” and despite obviously being exaggerated, these things are incredibly difficult to hear.
Additionally, a major difficulty has been to make sure we are pushing against the expectations as to what this documentary is. I think when people see the trailer or read about the film, they expect a film where the director goes to Africa and becomes the story himself, replete with narration of everything that’s happening to him. If we had made the film that way, we could have finished it in four months. But I’m very committed to the idea that I am just the facilitator in this story — I share a condition with the Zimbabweans I documented, but it is their story, and they will be the ones to tell it. That has made the film a great deal more complex editorially, but I believe we figured that out and audiences are going to be very surprised by the final film.
What are your hopes for the distribution and exhibition of the film?
A few months ago, our primary focus was just to get the film seen, in any form, at any length. But as we have developed the idea further and have seen the film expand on the screen, we have decided to commit to completing a feature-length documentary and believing that the quality of the finished film will speak for itself. We hope the film can be released theatrically but we are also confident that the film should and will receive a wide television release in the United States and internationally.
Why did you get on Twitter? (Since joining Twitter on September 20, 2011, @YourName_MyName has collected 12 followers to date and has tweeted 7 times.)
Twitter was something that I largely avoided until recently, when I began to recognize it’s potential for sharing and communicating with folks who you otherwise would have to put a lot of effort into getting their attention. This applies not only to producers and distributors, but also specifically allows you to communicate and share with other filmmakers who are probably facing 95 percent of the exact same challenges that we are dealing with. After ‘lurking’ for a bit and following people, I asked my editor to make an account and start posting some of our materials there. We simply typed in ‘documentary’ into the search and followed a lot of the suggestions therein — within a few days we were already writing applications for several new funding opportunities, as well as connecting with other documentarians who were working on projects we found interesting. For something with millions of users and thousands of tweets a minute, I am amazed at the power Twitter has to be so extremely focused if you choose to use it that way.
What do you hope to achieve for the film on Twitter?
Connecting with @povdocs is a great start for us, but one of the main things we want to do with Twitter is utilize the short-form nature of the tweets and combine it with a couple of short-form videos each week, probably 30 seconds to 2 minutes. These will be comprised of great moments that may or not end up being in the film — as anyone working on a film out there knows, you’re going to have to leave a heartbreaking amount of great material on the cutting-room floor. We can’t all be blessed to have mass-market DVD releases with hours of bonus material on them, but with Twitter and numerous free hosting services out there, we can just drop a link every couple days with new material. Hopefully this will serve a dual purpose of giving us a place to keep posting material as we finish the feature as well as keeping people interested and, hopefully, responding to the project with a quick tweet on what they find effective.
Are you a social media kind of guy? Is this a difficult medium for you to get into?
I’m actually not a social media person when it comes to myself, because I have a hard time with the idea of promoting me. But it makes a lot of sense to me when it comes to promoting what I’m working on. I am just on the cusp of the generation where social media became the status quo. I graduated college a short time before Facebook hit, and continued my graduate education with a lot of people still telling me that there was this specific way that films get made. Over the past couple years, I’ve come around to realize there’s no single way to get a film made, and the tools we have now are quite possibly more powerful than anything we’ve had before. Promoting your film on Twitter and Facebook, where it can be re-shared with a simple click, is incredibly valuable, but I had to get over the feeling that I was just shouting into the void. The fact is that a lot of people are paying attention and a lot of people aren’t, and you can’t worry about the people who aren’t.
For #tweetmydoc, you tweeted, Being black is not about skin color: four albinos turn fear & prejudice into hope & progress in Zimbabwe. Please tell me the history of that line. Is it the tagline for your film?
One of the things that we are actively working against is being seen as a straight “issues” documentary — something dry and storyless, just a list of problems that albinos in Zimbabwe face. The line “Being black is not about skin color,” spoken by one of the young albino men in the film, struck a chord with us as being very universal. We believe that our film is at its heart about the universal struggle to take the bad hand life has dealt you and turn it into progress and hope for yourself and those around you. We wanted a line that tells you exactly what the movie is about.
You tweeted about needing a producer. Did you get one yet? What are you looking for?
We are still looking for a producer — my editor and I are co-producing the film but we are looking for someone to guide us through the completion of the film as well as marketing and outreach.
And, everyone, get on Twitter tomorrow, Thursday, October, 27, 2011, at 12 PM Eastern (9 AM Pacific), to read and contribute to the discussion with Dixon. He’s got a ways to go for getting his film distributed — let’s see if we can get him a few steps closer.