Bob Gillen on Storytelling

Month: November 2014

A Brazil Few People Know

“Most movies we present show a Brazil that few people know.”

Cecilia Queiroz

Cecilia Queiroz

Film festival curator and manager Cecilia Queiroz has exhibited more than 500 Brazilian films in global markets. Her responsibilities include organizing workshops, networking and pitching with professionals in the film industry at the festivals.

A country the size of Europe, Brazil has many cultural themes and story traditions that run through the films produced there. “We try,” says Queiroz, “to get out of the stereotype of mulatto, caipirinha drink, samba and soccer. Of course, many films have some of those elements, but the audience tends to be surprised. Our stories and documentaries unveil a modern, rural, technological, industrial, romantic, and humorous Brazil: five different countries in one Brazil. We aim to make our international audiences see Brazil with other eyes, stimulating their curiosity to consume our movies and purchase our products and services.

“We want to make BRAFFTv (an annual Brazilian film festival in Toronto) a window for our movies, music, crafts, for our natural and industrial wealth, and for the great opportunities for tourism, thus facilitating partnerships and business between countries.”

Queiroz says that comedy and drama are currently the most popular film genres in Brazil. Grants programs support the production of documentaries as well. “We present commercial and acclaimed films and directors, and also we open space for new talent. The domestic production in different genres and formats,” she says, “is growing every day and catches the attention of audiences.”

Director Marcelo Galvão and his film Buddies

Brazil’s film market has grown substantially in the last five or six years. “There are many financial incentives coming from tax waivers and grants in Brazil to produce films. With so much money available, the industry is growing and becoming specialized, generating income and both direct and indirect jobs.”

Productions and co-productions are encouraged by government agreements with different countries, says Queiroz. “However, the government does not invest in the distribution of these films at the same rate, which means that many of them do not reach the general public, ending up on the shelves of producers.”

Director Cao Hamburger and his film Xingu

“For twenty years production was almost nil; far from the 500 films (short and feature) annually produced today. In its annual report, Ancine – the regulator of cinema in Brazil – indicates that 127 features were screened in commercial movie theatres in Brazil in 2013, against 83 in 2012. Of these, not more than one third got over a thousand people, and more than two thirds did not reach 10,000 people. The 127 films released got from 100,000 to 499,000 spectators. Nine percent, or eleven films, had more than 500,000 people who bought tickets.

“From all the films produced, 20-30 % participated in festivals or entered the commercial TV and film circuit. Despite the mismatch between production and distribution,” Queiroz affirms, “our industry is hot and has real opportunities for the independent market.”

Suggested Films:

Here are several other filmmakers/films/actors Queiroz suggests are representative of the Brazilian film scene:

Director Vicente Amorim and his film Dirty Hearts

Director Renata Pinheiro and her Love, Plastic and Noise

The actor Selton Mello in The Clown


Want to view more Brazilian films? Take a look at


Expressions of Brazil

Film, Media & Social Engagement in Digital Age Conference 2013 (legendado português)

5º BRAFFTv – Brazilian Film and Television Festival of Toronto

PINK LATINO DIVERSITY 2013 – Opening Night!


Filming Downhill Skateboard Action

“For the action shots I would tie myself to a car with mountain climbing equipment, where I was, literally, one inch from the ground at 60 mph.”

Brazilian filmmaker Roberto Studart shot Curvas e Ladeiras, a skateboard adventure about four girls in breathtaking downhill action in the mountain towns of his country.

“I love the Curvas e Ladeiras project,” says Studart, “because it was shot in real underground conditions and the end result is so nice. Brazil is a huge country and we were all over the place. We had to carefully plan our logistics to overcome the really tight budget. The idea was to have four girls, sexy, fun, fearless, travelling around Brazil in search of downhill skate action.”

We Got Very Good Life Insurance

“So we got very good life insurance and picked small towns near mountains, where we could just block the streets ourselves with a team of PAs and no paperwork. At critical spots, we also had ambulances with paramedics on the set. After all, we are crazy, but very responsible.

“We basically worked with two Mark III cameras. For the action shots I would tie myself to a car with mountain climbing equipment, where I was, literally, one inch from the ground at 60 mph, while a professional skateboarder would operate the second camera, riding with the girls.”

I Was So Low…

“I knew I wanted to get as close as I could to the ground, because most of the material I had seen at the time, on this subject, was shot either on GoPros or from car mounts and cranes, and they were never that extreme. There were times I was so low, my hands actually hit the asphalt. But that was key to really show the intensity of our speed and create a vibrant piece of video.”

Storytelling Is Critical

Are there common storytelling threads in the widely diverse culture of Brazil? “This is a very difficult question,” says Studart, “and I’m not sure to be honest. We artists tend to fall in love unexpectedly, instead of thinking rationally, but, I guess, if you avoid boring minds and ‘Best Sellers’ you have a better chance of running into good stories.

“This may sound too romantic, but in Brazil, where films are still run by authors instead of executives, this is it. We fall in love, we raise the money and we shoot it. Of course we need distributors or TV networks to launch our products, but if your material is unique and you’re aggressive enough, you have a good chance of succeeding.

“Brazil is struggling to find its role in the world. Our democracy is just thirty years old. There are crucial social issues that need to be debated. At the same time we are so passionate, sexy, and we have a very good sense of humor, so, somehow, all these aspects are printed on our way of telling stories.”

Affordable Camera Technology

filmmaker roberto studart

Filmmaker Roberto Studart

“Another thing to add is that video making suddenly became so interesting after the improvement of affordable digital cameras. Now we can basically shoot anything and do it beautifully. It’s just a matter of finding something interesting, pointing our cameras to it and, suddenly, it’s happening. It’s pure creation. That being said, it’s no surprise how we’re blown away when finding amazing content on the web.”

Discovering Together

Studart attended film school in the United States. Did that give him any advantages? “I don’t really believe in ‘film education,’ says Studart. “I believe in meeting interesting people at film schools. That makes a lot of difference. You have to be in good schools to meet these people, to live this environment of experimenting together, discovering together.

“Plus, when you are a student, especially in the U.S., it seems that all the doors just open for you. I remember getting plenty of film stocks for free, color grading, locations, crew, everybody wants to help you with your little short films and that’s the best way to learn.”

Push Your Limits

downhill skate action

Downhill Skate Action

“In Brazil we have a totally different scenario. Resources are scarce, and with no money there’s no industry. You really need to push your limits and your creativity to counteract the lack of investments and get your work out there.

“From this December to March 2015 I’ll be shooting an eleven-episode TV series about three surfers who have pioneered paddle surfing in Jaws, Maui, Hawaii. Then I’ll shoot my first feature film based on a Chilean novel, for which I’ve bought the rights. The adapted story takes place in Brazil, though.

Studart believes the future of filmmaking in Brazil will be sunnier. “Investments and federal government support are growing, more schools are popping up, and we’re setting up co-production agreements with important countries. It’s a long process, but I feel we’re getting there.”


Producer Pony Gayle

Pony Gayle

The reality show OUTrageous is the brainchild of veteran producer/writer/filmmaker Pony Gayle. Gayle is developing the show as an interactive web series.

What kind of story is she hoping to tell with the project? “A real life story,” says Gayle. “This is a passion project for me. I feel it is important to showcase a series about great women who are part of the LGBTQ community. We are in a historical time with LGBTQ issues at the forefront of the civil rights struggle. Our show will show a slice of our personal investment in this civil rights movement from an everyday perspective.”

In structuring OUTrageous as an interactive web series, Gayle states, “I want to reach out to the community so they can tell us their stories. We are so lucky in Los Angeles, it’s very gay-friendly – which is not the case in many other states. There are still gay teens committing suicide because of their sexuality, and people getting gay bashed. If a teen in Texas, for instance, had a place to reach out to, it could help them not feel so alone and maybe save a life.

“We want to reach out to the straight community too – to help fight homophobia. There may be someone that has a gay family member and doesn’t understand, but watching the cast and being able to interact, and ask questions, could be life changing.”

Gayle says that community is a central theme for the series. “Living in such an exciting time for LGBTQ rights,” she says, “it is important to remember what is important, that we are all people just who want to connect.”





Pony Gayle and Martha Sanchez

Pony Gayle and Media Consultant Martha Sanchez

The five cast members, all real-life women in the LGBTQ community, “will not only be discussing hot topics with each other but also with the audience via social media. Audience members will be able to share their submissions with our cast as well as have live interactive Skype/podcast sessions with the ladies.

OUTrageous cast and producer


“Each episode will highlight current community issues, as well as these women’s personal experiences. Furthermore, these women will come together to talk about issues that they encounter in their day-to-day lives and within the community.”

“In casting the show,” Gayle says, “I wanted women that felt comfortable in front of the camera, were interesting and diverse. At some point we hope to work more people into the cast, such as a transgender and possibly a gay-friendly straight girl. I want the LGBTQ community to feel represented. That’s why we will have guests during discussions, friends and family of cast, to hopefully help do that.”

Gayle wants the behind-the-camera production values of OUTrageous to be strong. “We are trying to raise money with our Indiegogo campaign to ensure a

production crew

Production crew

quality show. We have a great team of experienced people lined up to work on the show. I have worked in the industry for nineteen years, and know a lot of great production and post people, and keep meeting more. But we need to be able to pay them.”

Follow the progress of OUTrageous on the Indiegogo site.

Photo credits: Qumaru Nisa

Catalyst to Collaboration

Action camera operator and DP Lawrence Ribeiro joins us again (See his original interview) with comments on the importance of observing and appreciating viewpoints in camera work.

“Viewpoints, in my eyes, are the catalyst to collaboration. Create!”

“Some years ago,” says Ribeiro, “the combination of doing search and rescue, heli-logging and studying Native American mythology/tracking gave me the eyes to see and feel the land. The wind, clouds, leaves’ colors, soil texture/impact, sound of the birds…all tell a story. They are much more accurate than most modern devices, as nature has been around a lot a longer. The ability to observe is almost gone.”

action shot behind motorcycle

Action shot

setting up an action shot

Setting up an action shot

shooting a scene on a cliff face

Shooting on a cliff face






“Back in the day the director would tell the DP to go to the museum to study a specific piece and spend hours looking at it. Studying the source of light, the quality of it, the mood, etc. And that in turn would get into the movie, eventually.”

Degas painting


Pollock painting


Modigliani painting







“So does that mean the piece’s overall mood,” asks Ribeiro, “could be the point of the view of the artist who created the piece? … Or it could be the director’s point view, because after all it was he or she that told the DP to look at the piece? What about the DP’s work, as he transferred that mood onto a new medium with HIS choices and viewpoints?”

action camera operator

Action camera operator

These quotes are taken from Ribeiro’s thoughts on viewpoints and collaboration on his blog. See Ribeiro’s film reel and read his entire commentary on his site.


Writing Lean

Recently YA author Maggie Stiefvater (@mstiefvater) tweeted: Every time you skim a novel, a kitten dies in a paragraph you skipped over. Do you want kittens to die? No. No one does. READ ALL THE WORDS.

author maggie stiefvater

YA Author Maggie Stiefvater


I confess I let some kittens die (figuratively) last month. A couple of novels I read had what I considered to be too much exposition.

Skimming became a knee-jerk reaction. I’m not a skimmer, but there are moments when it’s a matter of skim or drop the book.

For an author to avoid filler, Elmore Leonard suggests, in his Ten Rules of Writing: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” Good advice.

elmore leonard

Photo Credit:


Screenwriters Adriane Coros and Jim Landis recommend: “Writing lean pushes you to really understand exactly what you are trying to say in each and every scene, each and every line, and to know your characters thoroughly.”

writing lean

Writing lean


A comment made by playwright Raegan Payne may help you pare your story down to a leaner core. In talking about the art of writing for the stage, Payne says: “I like being forced to tell a story with just dialogue and almost no resources. It’s a poor man’s art form.”


theater seats













To adapt a phrase: keep on keepin’ lean.




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