This week on Frame of Mind, watch a stunning documentary from the perspective of the San Marcos River!
- Tune in to KERA TV on Thursday at 10 PM to catch this week’s episode!
I spoke with Paul Collins, one of the directors of Yakona, while he was in the airport waiting to come back to Texas from the BLUE Ocean Film Festival.
On the idea behind this film:
I came to Texas State University in San Marcos in 1999 for my undergrad. I was an Arts student and during that time I got to know the community and the river really well. One thing that attracted me to the river was that I grew up in Canada, surrounded by nature and streams and rivers, and that was my childhood. So when I got to San Marcos, the river really reminded me a lot of growing up and being around nature. It was a sort of escape for me – going to the river. I spent a lot of time going to the river and snorkeling a lot. What really blew me away was how clear the water was and how many amazing things I was seeing.
I was wondering if everyone knew how cool it was down there – there were people who knew about it, but there were very few people who actually took the time to snorkel and discover the things in that river. In the process, I started to meet people who shared similar kinds of interests and were inspired by the river in the same way. At that time, I met Anlo [Sepulveda], the other director, and we both worked in the media services area of the University. He and I shared that same kind of appreciation and inspiration of the river. My background is more photography, and he’s been making films a little bit longer than I have. We shared the same vision of making a film about the river in an experimental way that would let the river speak for itself. This was actually 10-11 years ago – we had a sort of dream that we thought would be cool, but we didn’t have the money to buy an HD camera, especially because at that time, camera’s were extremely expensive.
Now going back to 4 years ago, the ability with the new Canon DSLR technology made it affordable for us to actually take a nice camera into the water. In that time, I had already graduated, and I was actually working full time at the University, so I had a little more money to spend than the average college student. I could afford to buy something on my credit card and slowly pay it off – so that’s exactly what I did. I bought an underwater case and a camera and I started to go to the river everyday after work and on the weekends to capture what I had been seeing there for 10 years. I showed Anlo and told him that I thought we could do it. He checked it out and also got really inspired.
On the process of creating this film:
So in October of 2010, we decided to make this film. We brainstormed everyday at lunch about how we were going to tell the story without narration. We found a lot of collaborators in the community that were going to help us with underwater photography and producing and stuff like that. Anlo and I did the majority of the photography, underwater and topside, but there are other people who helped us along the way. We needed more people to cover the bigger events, so there were other photographers involved in the project, but Anlo and I were the main photographers involved. At that time, we had started getting this project rolling. What really gave us the boost was the Austin Film Society grant. We had applied for this grant in 2011 and they accepted our proposal and gave us a small bit of funding that was enough to bring the project up with some momentum, and help us pay for some new hardware for the camera equipment and production. A year later, we won another grant for them too. So we got two grants from the Austin Film Society that really helped us, and propelled us forward in the making of this project. So I have a lot of great things to say about the Austin Film Society, or Texas in general. They’re a great organization – Holly Herrick is an [associate] artistic director there who mentored us and helped us along the way so that we could actually finish this film.
We worked for the next two years in production and underwater photography – capturing every event in and around the water, collaborating with producers and actors. A good friend of mine, Jillian Anne Hall, who used to work for Austin Film Society, brought in a lot of people who helped us from Austin, including Geoff Marslett, a producer, Justin Sherburn, the composer who just won an award at the BLUE Ocean Film Festival for best use of music.
Our editor, Tim Tsai, is an Asian American filmmaker who we met through Geoff Marslett. He’s a great guy and really did a great job editing this film. This project started humble with some passion, and it really inspired a lot of people to come on board.
At that point, we had finished all the production – we had some amazing reenactment scenes that we had filmed out in Gonzales, Texas. The only thing that we were missing was the expensive post production, which was quoted for $50,000. That’s when we got two local producers in San Marcos, Kevin Huffaker and Clint McCrocklin, who headed our IndieGoGo fundraising campaign. We raised a little over $50,000 through that campaign which gave us enough money to finish the post production just in time to submit for SXSW in the fall.
Another producer that came in, Samuel Trin, was more of an associate producer during production, but once we got into post production he became the executive producer because he donated a lot of time and investment into the film. He’s the one who gave us the resources to tour the film in LA and Hollywood, so he’s really been an angel investor for us to help us make sure that this film gets as far as it can.
On the activism behind this film:
I wouldn’t say that this is an activist film, but I would say that the people that have helped us make it sacrificed their time in an activist kind of way, in terms of they were really inspired by the river and really wanted to help the river. It wasn’t that we were trying to create an environmental activism film, but the people behind it, they used that energy to commit their time and resources into creating this film. So the activism part of the film to me, is behind the scenes.
On developing the music and sound:
Justin Hennard was our sound designer. He has the same first name as our composer, they’re both Justins. Hennard has worked on a lot of big films in Austin. He did an incredible job – he had to recreate a lot of the natural sounds because filming along San Marcos River is so noisy, you can’t get any isolation for field recording. He did an amazing job recreating a lot of sound that we captured. The sound design was excellent – most people can’t even tell that it’s not the natural sound in the film.
When we worked with Justin, the composer, Anlo and I had made a rough cut with rough tracks of different things that we found and that we liked. We wanted Justin to not recreate what we found, but be influenced by the tone and the mood of what we were looking for. Justin took on everything else and did an amazing job in less than 6 months. I’m so glad that he won an award this past weekend. We worked closely with him and our sound designer.
On the biggest challenge:
Any artist who has an ambitious vision or project that includes a lot of people and resources, the challenge is the perseverance and the diligence and the sticking to the project. There were so many times that the project would start to slow down and when there wasn’t any momentum and you felt like it would never end. And there were times when we didn’t know how to move onto the next step. Little things like press or winning a grant would give us more momentum to get up and keep going. The challenges for me were maintaining that momentum, sticking to the vision, and finishing strong. And at this point, it has been the most valuable lesson of my life, because I realized that patience, hard work, and perseverance pay off.
Also, trying to work with limited resources was very challenging. I can’t tell you how many times we needed thousands of dollars in a couple of days and no one had any money, but we managed to find the money somehow.
Having the strength to be an independent filmmaker without a lot of backing, it’s a challenge – you don’t know if it’s going to pay off or even if you’re going to be able to finish it. You just hope and believe that your dream can become a reality. We accepted these challenges, and now when we look back, we want to do it again.
On the Indie filmmaking scene in Texas:
The Austin Film Society definitely gives the Indie filmmaking scene in Texas a big boost. They don’t pick favorites or anything like that, they support new people who have great ideas and strong visions. I think the independent film community in Texas is very strong and I think the Austin Film Society is the core of that. I recommend anyone who wants to become a filmmaker in Texas, the first thing they should do is become a member of the Austin Film Society.
On his favorite Texas filmmaker:
It’s funny because I’ve been meeting a lot of people who make films on a personal level, so they’re my friends too. Richard Linklater, to me, is one of the godfathers of Texas film. He’s very humble and inspiring – I would even say that he’s my favorite. A lot of the reasons why I like certain filmmakers is not only their work, but also their attitude and their commitment to being humble and helping others and making sure that they’re not using all of their resources for themselves.
On the future of this film:
Things are starting to settle down as we’re coming to the end of the project. Some amazing things are happening, like the live score in Austin, being on KERA and PBS is something that we’re also really excited about. We’re also looking at getting a distribution deal, which I can’t talk much about, but it looks like we’re going to be distributing in the early part of the new year, which is really exciting. We have a lot more exciting things happening, including at the Texas Wild Rice Festival, which I can’t talk too much about, but that’s going to be our second screening in San Marcos, which we’re going to do by the river, but we’re going to do it a little differently, so I’m looking forward to that. For me, the community and the people that helped make this project is an amazing blessing – we were all really inspired to make this beautiful work of art for the river. Anlo and my original vision was the beginning and backbone, but everyone who came onto the project added their nuance to the project and it is what it is now. It couldn’t have been this great without everybody, so I’m really happy with how it turned out.
You can find more information about Yakona: Water Rising on the film’s website!