2011 RFHFF Winner: James Cawley | Buzz Blog
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2011 RFHFF Winner: James Cawley



Over the past couple of years we've had a big increase of local film festivals, which for an area that hosts one of the biggest festivals every year, was sorely needed! The sad news that we learned of last week is that one of the more prominent festivals, the Tower Theater's Open Screen Night, has now been reduced down to only three festivals a year, limiting the amount of exposure localized filmmakers have to get their short films out. So its probably a good thing we have a high-profile replacement in February.


--- Last year the X96 morning show Radio From Hell started their own film fest, bringing in a large amount of submissions and a sellout crowd to the Tower. So with all the success brought on by the first, you had to know they'd return for another round in 2011. This year with more specifics to film content and a bigger field of filmmakers looking to impress, the second annual festival highlighted a massive array of talent who put together short films on the fly, most created over a weekend with little scripting and technical capabilities. In the end it was James Cawley with his film titled “X96” who took away the grand prize... a chance to see Barry Manilow. There was a trip to Las Vegas in there too. I got a chance to chat with Cawley about his film career and production company, making the film and winning, plus some thoughts on the local film scene in general.

James Cawley


Gavin: Hey James. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you got into filmmaking.

James: I first got interested in independent filmmaking in high school where I made my first few short films. I then went to college at Utah State University where I studied Multimedia Arts and Graphic Design which landed me my first career job as studio director at In The Dark Studios, based out of Logan, Utah. That was the point at which I felt I could start making films the way I wanted to, having access to the proper equipment and knowledge to really pull off a notable production. From there one thing lead to another and as my films started to win in some festivals, I was hooked.

Gavin: What first got you interested in movies, and what films and directors would you say had a big influence on you?

James: Music is what first got me interested in movies and the concept of filmmaking. I remember listening to music and thinking about what scenes would go along with it. One thing a lot of filmmakers overlook is sound design and soundtracks, a movies mood and impact are defined by the soundtrack. As far as movies and directors I would have to say I have been influenced by the works of Danny Boyle (“28 Days Later”, “Trainspotting” and “127 Hours”) as well as Quentin Tarantino for his style and twists on filmmaking. Directors such as those two have shown us that it doesn't matter if you have a million dollar budget, if you want to become a filmmaker the first step is always making a film.

Gavin: You studied Multimedia Development up at Utah State. What made you choose USU for your education, and what was their program like for you?

James: When I attended Utah State there was not a formal Multimedia Program, it was either you studied Art or Instructional Technology (as a graduate degree program). I spent the first year struggling with this as the art program (graphic design, 3D Design, etc) was only part of what I wanted to learn. Through talking with the different departments and working with the school they allowed me to take my own approach and create a custom schedule between the Instructional Design Department, Journalism Program, School of Business and Art Department. Doing this I was able to learn allot more, but since it was not a formal program there were allot of bumps along the way. I love Utah State University and I will always recommend it as a top choice for those looking for a great education.

Gavin: While you were honing your craft, did you find you prefer working alone on productions or as part of a team?

James: This is a great question. I have known allot of independent filmmakers that struggle with working as a team or limit themselves to the same group on every production. Working with others is VITAL to success in this industry, making a film is a team effort. I have worked with some very talented people over the years and could never imagine trying to take on film without them. In the same sense I always try to work with new people as they always bring new life, style, ideas and character to a production. I have met all of my closest friends through working on other directors projects as well as inviting new people on board with mine.

Gavin: How did the idea come about to start up your own production company, and what was it like putting Ridgeline Creative together?

James: I started Ridgeline Creative out of necessity as my client base expanded. I started doing corporate video work, film effects and editing freelance but as my client base increased I needed to purchase gear, studio space and pay others to assist with productions. From there Ridgeline Creative was born over night. Altogether it was not an easy road to get a production company off the ground but I would not change a thing if I had to do it over again.

Gavin: Since starting up you've put together several films, short features and even commercials. What's it like for you balancing between clients and you own projects? And who are some of the companies you've done spots for?

James: Balancing clients and personal work is always a tough thing to do. The hardest part is getting focused on a corporate website design or video when you have a fun and exciting project underway personally, its just learning to balance time and keep things moving. Over the last 4-5 years Ridgeline Creative has put together multiple projects ranging from the cover design of Success Magazine to feature film trailers. We have also worked on video projects with The Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Glenn Beck, Lowes Home Improvement, Verizon, Franklin Covey as well as numerous direct selling and local businesses world wide. More of our clients and the work can be seen on our website.

Gavin: Moving onto the festival, what made you decide to enter the Radio From Hell Film Festival this year?

James: I had heard about the festival months ago through other local filmmakers. This last year I started another company with two other partners called Upside360, a social networking software company, and between that and Ridgeline I was swamped and wasn't planning on being able to submit a film to the festival. We had a client cancellation the weekend before the festival closed submissions and I decided to try to make a film over that weekend. I called up my two great friends Marshall Lowry and Mark Pittman late on Friday afternoon and asked them if they were interested in making a film the next day. That night I came up with a storyline, costume and concept and we filmed that Saturday with just us three. Marshall played the main character, Mark was my PA and Script Supervisor and I directed and filmed the project. Twelve hours later we had it edited and ready to go.

Gavin: Where did the concept for the film come from? And had you decided on it before or after you heard the requirements?

James: I have always been a fan of post-apocalyptic films and wanted to go that direction. I had been listening to a song by composer/musician Greg Downs and the idea just came to me. I typed a quick script into my iPhone and that was about it.

Gavin: What was it like on set during filming? And how long did it take you to film and then edit it up?

James: We had a blast on set during production. We were there to have fun, learn and make the best movie possible in our limited two day timeframe. All of our shots went very smoothly and we ended up getting everything shot in only 3-4 hours. As soon as I got back to my home office I started editing and I had a finished product at about 3AM that next morning.

Gavin: Were there any difficulties that came up along the way or was it all pretty smooth?

James: Overall everything went really smooth. Marshall Lowry played the role perfectly, despite inhaling super glue fumes from the home-made costume for several hours. Mark Pittman kept us on track with the script and I knew exactly which shots we needed to complete the film. While on location I sent a Voice Over script to VO Artist Troy Kearley and gave our composer Randin Graves some direction on where to go with the custom music. Everyone was really on top of their game.

Gavin: Considering the amount of CGI material added to the piece, did that create issues in the way you had to film material, or was it simply a matter of working around what you shot?

James: I went into the shoot well prepared for what was going to happen in post production. I knew that I needed to include a lot of matte paintings, light effects and tracking effects so I shot everything on a tripod eliminating extra motion tracking work. When we first met up for the production we covered the issues we would be dealing with and I made sure everyone understood the process which was vital in keeping to our time frame.


Gavin: Did you show the film to anyone prior to the event, and what did they think of the film when it was finished?

James: The film was completed the day before the final submission date, so only the three of us that worked on the film had seen it.

Gavin: What was it like seeing it there and hearing the audience reaction?

James: Unfortunately I was not able to make it to the festival due to some business obligations. Mark Pittman accepted the awards on our teams behalf, he said it was a great turnout and the reaction was great.

Gavin: At the end you won the overall competition and grand prize. How did it feel winning and receiving that recognition for your work?

James: I was honored, it made all the hard work and tough time frame worth the efforts.

Gavin: What were your overall thoughts on the other submissions and the festival in general?

James: After the festival many of the other submissions were posted online where I was able to see them for the first time. There were a lot of other well respected directors and filmmakers that entered great short films. It was great to see so many creative local people come together for one event. Overall the submissions were very creative and most were done really well.

Gavin: Going local, what’s your opinion of the local film scene, both good and bad?

James: Overall I think we have a great community of local filmmakers. In general I would like to see more collaboration between filmmakers. As in any local scene you have a fair share of professionals as well as those that are only doing it for name recognition and Facebook photos. Its important to remember that a good project will help everyone out from an education and portfolio standpoint.

Gavin: Is there anything you think could be done to make it more prominent?

James: I think it would be great if there was a overall film organization for local filmmakers. Many local filmmakers have started groups and clubs, it would be good to have an overall network where we can educate, share and help on projects together.

Gavin: Are there any local directors or companies you feel are at the top of their game?

James: I have worked with allot of amazing people over the last year. One person that I really respect is local director Chase Weston. He has a passion for independent filmmaking and has directed some pretty impressive pieces. His post-apocalyptic film "A Taste Of Love" has done really well in festivals and has a great style to it. Randin Graves is another respected artist in the Utah film industry I would like to mention. Randin is a composer and is headed right to the top, with his talents and portfolio he is sure to be a famous composer very soon. I have worked with Randin on "X96" and my film "REUE" and I have been amazed by his abilities.

Gavin: Do you know what you’re doing for your next film, and what can we expect from you over the rest of the year?

James: Currently my World War II film "REUE" is in the festival circuit for 2011. I plan on making my first full feature film within the next year.

Gavin: Aside the obvious, is there anything you’d like to promote or plug?

James: In addition to our video services Ridgeline Creative provides free filmmaking tutorials on our website, as well as on our Facebook fanpage, and you can check out the film on YouTube.

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