Shooting in Madison

Sabbatical is the second film I've made in Madison -- a city with an active film consumption culture, but not much going on in the way of production. Madison's film community is anchored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Department of Communication Arts, where I am a film production instructor and PhD student. UW Comm Arts is the home of esteemed scholars David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, a world-class faculty, and bright graduate students, as well as the top-notch UW Cinematheque and the Wisconsin Film Festival (both programmed by Jim Healy and Mike King). The affiliated Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research (WCFTR) is stationed nearby, housing archival documents, prints, and other treasures from RKO, Warner Bros., Emile de Antonio, Shirley Clarke, and Edith Head (among others). Just last week, Indiewire covered the launch of the Media History Digital Library's Lantern search engine -- a project spearheaded by Comm Arts' Eric Hoyt and bolstered by the work of several of my grad student colleagues. People are watching films, thinking about films, talking about films, and writing about films all the time. Unfortunately, not many are making them.

There are several reasons for this: (1) Chicago, Minneapolis and Milwaukee are larger regional draws, (2) Wisconsin has had horrible/non-existent tax incentives for years, rendering it unable to compete with Michigan and Illinois, (3) because Madison is a college town, young people tend to cycle through and leave, and (4) as a result of all of this, there is very little filmmaking infrastructure. However, there are a ton of folks who are excited about the prospect of Madison filmmaking. It was our task to marshal these wonderful individuals and their resources in order to get this film made. Their generosity proved to be abundant.

Support started in Comm Arts. The vast majority of our equipment was taken from the well-stocked arsenal of the UW Instructional Media Center. Locations and vehicles were provided by faculty members and fellow grad students. Financial support (via IndieGoGo) and social media outreach (via Facebook) from members of the department were incredible. Throughout the entire pre-production and production process, we received constant encouragement and enthusiasm from so many individuals. Making Sabbatical strengthened my ambition to combine academic and artistic energies in my future work and work environments; I've never felt so firmly part of a community.

Outside the department, a bevy of kind Madisonians allowed us to shoot at their places of business at no charge and with no interference. We found that there was a general openness to our production -- numerous proprietors specifically noted their desire to support the arts and facilitate local creative work. This is an attitude that seems to have been (at least partially) developed by Madison's aforementioned film culture -- particularly the Wisconsin Film Festival and Cinematheque. The obvious lesson is that where there's strong film culture, there are opportunities for independent film production.

The most valuable local asset, however, was our young, talented crew. The vast majority of crew members on Sabbatical are products of the Comm Arts program -- either former or current students -- whom I have taught in various film production courses. Equipped with the proper training and steeped in the filmmaking lessons of excellent instructors such as J.J. Murphy, Erik Gunneson and Stew Fyfe, our crew was enthusiastic and marvelous. Sabbatical would not be the same film without them. 

Despite all of this, Sabbatical might be the last film I make in Madison. I plan to shoot my next project back home in Kentucky (hopefully within the next year or two); and, in about three years, I'll be leaving Madison, doctorate in-hand, in search of a university job. I will always bring my future work to Madison for the WFF, and I'm proud to have contributed two films to the Wisconsin cinema catalog, alongside Stroszek, The Straight Story, and American Movie. I had a blast.