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It’s no secret that it isn’t easy to get a movie made these days. Sometimes, though, hard work and perseverance pay off, as in the case of One9 and Erik Parker. These two artists took their idea for a documentary about Nas and turned it into a reality. How did these first-time filmmakers go from a shared ambition to opening the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival with the world premiere of Nas: Time is Illmatic? Determination, passion, dedication and a little help from their friends, of course.
In this first installment of our four-part series on the making of Nas: Time Is Illmatic, One9 and Erik Parker talk about getting involved with Tribeca Film Institute and the Tribeca All Access program, the ways in which their storytelling process evolved, and the advice they’d share with other filmmakers looking for funding and support for their next feature.
Tribeca: What drew you to the Tribeca All Access (TAA) Program?
One9: During the process of working on the film, we were introduced to the TAA program by Martha Diaz, who is now our Associate Producer and head of our Community Outreach and Educational Curriculum. Through her, we met Tamir Muhammad who was running the TAA program at the time. What really drew us to the program was their accessibility to first time filmmakers who want to tell stories that connect the film community with the culture we grew up in.
Erik Parker: The program was something entirely new to us. As first-time filmmakers, we had no idea what to expect in terms of support from the film community and from an institution like TFI. In addition to Martha, there were several people who pointed us in TFI’s direction, including Orlando Bagwell, the then director of Ford Foundation's JustFilms. It was Orlando who impressed upon us the importance of a program like Tribeca All Access that would help us develop our story and make important connections in the film world. The experience proved invaluable.
Each film is unique in how its funding is pulled together, but there are some commonalities.
Tribeca: Why is it important for organizations like TFI to exist?
One9: An organization like TFI provides invaluable support to filmmakers who want to tell stories that shape and uplift their community. Through TFI, we were able to broaden our understanding of the film process—both in production and in post. We also were given opportunities on how to expand the reach of our film as well as expanding our vision to use film as a tool to enhance and promote culture.
EP: All filmmakers face the challenge of finding money. For first-time filmmakers, funding is not even the first hurdle, as One9 and I have learned. Even before the money comes, many artists become discouraged because they don't have the access to a brain trust or a community that will assist them with navigating the tricky terrain of filmmaking.
It’s key to get advice from experienced people in the field who can help you work smart as you move toward your goal. The money comes as a result of those meaningful relationships and the advice you get from those who have done it before you. TFI does that for filmmakers. Without their work, many important stories would never be told. An even larger segment of the world's experiences would be blocked out and we would not be able to gain access to those stories.
Tribeca: How did you approach potential investors for Nas: Time is Illmatic? What’s important to keep in mind as you foster these relationships?
EP: We went into the investment world in the dark and stumbled around at first. We filled out cold applications online for grants; we had meetings with potential backers. It was ultimately our work and passion that led us to our first major funding source.
We had cut a trailer from the footage that we shot with our own initial investment. A bunch of our friends had pulled together their own money to shoot interviews with people associated with Illmatic. We used mostly borrowed equipment and had only a few extra dollars for tapes (this was before the digital revolution). Once we had enough footage for a trailer, we made something we could use to show our vision. By chance, we got a meeting with Orlando Bagwell, who took an interest in our work. He became a mentor, and he unlocked many doors for us. After securing funds from JustFilms, we applied to and were accepted to Tribeca Film Institute's All Access program, where we cultivated many more relationships and learned of many more ways to find funding. Each film is unique in how its funding is pulled together, but there are some commonalities.
One9: As we began work on Nas: Time is Illmatic, we wanted to make sure we had complete creative control so that we could tell the story we wanted to tell. Both JustFilms and the Tribeca Film Institute gave us the freedom to develop our vision and all the resources necessary to complete the film.
An organization like TFI provides invaluable support to filmmakers who want to tell stories that shape and uplift their community.
Tribeca: How does your writing process carry over into the editing stage of filmmaking? Was it helpful to receive feedback throughout the post-production process?
EP: Though my title is writer, One9 and I both sketched out the story and we continued to develop it over time together. When it came to the editing process, we started, mostly, with paper edits. After that, we would put the actual content into sections according to the subject. It was easier to organize that way. The editing and the writing are the same at their core. Editing requires you to watch and feel the effects of actual images as opposed to conjuring up images in your mind while you are in the writing process.
One9: Erik and I went through various stages as we wrote and edited the film. Erik’s background in writing helped us to craft the story, and my background as an artist and editor helped shape our visual language. Together we used a variety of approaches to tell a raw, honest story. It was extremely helpful to get feedback from Tribeca on how to make the film better. Additionally, TFI gave us additional support to get a finishing editor with a reputable background so that we had a fresh pair of eyes to help streamline our story.
Tribeca: What advice would you give to fellow filmmakers applying for programs like TAA?
EP: I would advise all filmmakers to apply. Come in with an open mind and willingness to explore different points of view.
One9: I would suggest getting to know the backgrounds of the individuals from TAA. You should know what inspires them and what types of films move them. I would also recommend thinking beyond just your film. We live in a society where multi-platform media can speak to audiences on many levels. How can your film help shape and inspire community? More than anything, you need to be willing to sacrifice everything to see your vision through.
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