In an effort to change things, the Utah Film Network launched in 2012, giving those with films, Web series or any other filmed media an outlet to have their material seen by an audience from the comfort of their own homes. Since its inception a year and a half ago, the website has worked with local film festivals, helped show off Kickstarter campaigns, previewed trailers and helped influence new films to be born through connections. Today, I chat with our old friend Brandon Young about the website and the work they're doing for the film community.
Gavin: Hey, Brandon. First off, how have things been since we last chatted?
Brandon: Things have been good. Busy, but good. Been working on a few films, lots of scripts and setting up the Utah Film Network.
Gavin: Shortly after our interview, Solar Shock closed down. What happened with the company?
Brandon: Solar Shock closed up in 2011 because at that point we all, for the lack of a better term, started evolving. We all started having different ideas, not necessarily with the company, but within ourselves and the types of projects and material we wanted to do. It was a very hard decision to make, and I'm happy that everyone involved is still working on film and pursuing what they love. In a way, we all became comfortable and that became problematic and creatively stifling to some. Justin Beecher, for example, is working on dream projects of his that he's been talking about for years at Solar Shock and I'm excited to see him roll on those projects.
Gavin: Between then and what we're talking about today, what have you been doing in the film community?
Brandon: I partially pulled myself out of it to avoid the unnecessary elements to the community, but I still remain interested in the community as a whole. I've been working on a variety of my own projects, although I'm limiting myself with the amount of projects I do. The last film I did was last October for Demon Chaser, which was 8/25/78, which I'm exceptionally proud of, and The Jar about a year before that. I've also been working alongside Matt O'Connor, doing what I can to help him on his projects. Then, of course, working and setting up Utah Film Network to make it easier for people to find and watch local, indie films that are being made stunningly around us.
Gavin: How did the idea come about to start up a website dedicated to Utah films?
Brandon: There are numerous things that went into it. About two years ago, a friend of mine and I were talking about a way to collect the films that are being made in Utah. We would go to film festivals and random film meet-ups and it was astonishing to us how many people in our community do not really watch or pay attention to other films and filmmakers. I've had actors in complete shock that I mention a film they were in and they couldn't believe that I had seen it. So, there was that. Around this time, as well, Warren Workman's "Filmed In Utah" was planning the first annual FIU awards, and the overall consensus initially was that no one had really seen any of the films to gain nominations, let alone the awards. That really pushed the idea for me to start programming the site, collecting as much of the films around the Internet as I could find and post them so people could see what everyone else was doing. Finally, and what really pushed the idea home for me, was not in the filmmaker but in the audience. As a filmmaker myself, I've had great experiences of showing some of my films to an audience that wasn't immersed in the film community and have gained some wonderful feedback, as others I'm sure have experienced. The problem with this is, when we make a film for the 48 Hour Film Project, or Demon Chaser, or have a limited screening somewhere in the state, I've noticed that a vast majority, if not all of those in attendance, are other filmmakers and actors. I don't see anybody else at the screenings or at events, and I find that troubling because other filmmakers are not necessarily the audience. So, I wanted to create something that would not fully be about the filmmaker but about the audience. Also, crowd funding played a part because there have been plenty of times where I hear after the fact that a film or filmmaker had used Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, and whether they succeeded or not in those campaigns, I wish I had heard about them earlier because I would have donated. Just like YouTube, Facebook is great and all, but a lot can be lost in the feed.
Gavin: What made you decide to go the “network” route rather than just posting what came along from people?
Brandon: The term "network" came about, in essence, to act as a channel on television. Like NBC, ABC, FOX, and CBS, I wanted UFN to fit within that mold and be a network to a variety of Utah produced content. The site, in part, is based on that. In the network, each production company is their own "channel" and they provide the content within that. Furthermore, I am polishing and ironing out the kinks with iOS/Android apps and will launch those sometime after the release of iOS 7 and will also be working on an app for the Apple TV, so then the network aspect will start to make a little more sense.
Gavin: What was it like setting the site up and getting a library started?
Brandon: Difficult. UFN kind of got lost within myself over the years. It launched as a beta last year and it was completely different. I realized a few months after that that what it had become at that point was not what I wanted it to be in the long run, so I abandoned that and really started pushing for the films. There have been about four different versions that we never launched, which was just me trying to find what worked and what didn't and which had the best functionality. The old site was also very Web 1.0 and that had to be fixed, as well. Beyond that, setting up the library was harder than it needed to be, which emphasized my reasons for doing UFN in the first place. Yes, YouTube and Vimeo are wonderful platforms and are great sites, but trying to find anything on it can be more troubling, especially for filmmakers. Searching for films was quite difficult due to variances in the video metadata. Again, it made me realize that having a hub for Utah's films was needed. Since its launch, I've had a few other locations contact me about adding different locations to it, some states and some international. We'll see what happens there.
Gavin: How did you go about finding content beyond your own creations after it was set up?
Brandon: I started with the production companies that I knew had content. A lot of them are films I really enjoy so I knew they were available online. A lot of my favorites are not yet available online but I'm looking and waiting. I went to their sites, their YouTube or Vimeo and started programming. Again, most of the material that's posted are films that I have seen or was very familiar with so I knew where to go.
Gavin: What were some early reactions from filmmakers when they started using the site?
Brandon: Locally, I received quite a bit of positive feedback. I've heard comments on both the functionality of the site, that it was easy to navigate, and also heard from others that they were thrilled that someone would dedicate their time into creating something like this for the film community and that it should be taken advantage of.
Gavin: How did you go about incorporating local film festivals, and what were their thoughts on having those films showcased beyond the fest?
Brandon: Those that I've talked to like the exposure of it. A big positive for festivals and production companies is we use their own videos, so they get the exposure and the views without taking anything away from them.
Gavin: What are some of the TV/Web series that you've brought on board, and how have people taken to them now that they've started being prominently featured?
Brandon: This was an area of Utah that I was most surprised with. I was aware of a few Web series' and have done one of my own, but I was stunned to learn just how many productions there were. I particularly like Crash Pad and that was the series that made me realize that I should include a Web series section. Marty Hicks was a fantastic help in finding the other series and I stumbled onto a few new favorites. I had no idea about a show that I ended up enjoying called The Importance Of Being Mike. We also have some that were made a few years back, like Raising Kayn, The Game Plan and Hagnet, and have newer shows like Day Zero and Live For Music. The diversity with each show is great. Our Web series section is the most viewed section on the site so there is some interest there.
Gavin: Part of your website also helps people with Kickstarter to seek public funding. How do you decide whom to promote, and do you work with other campaigns that aren't Kickstarter based?
Brandon: Anything that is based in Utah and that I can find will be posted. I don't have a criteria for whom to promote or not. If I find it, I'll throw it up. Crowd-funding projects can change daily, which makes it difficult to always stay on top of what's new. I'll also promote on Twitter as the campaigns are launched and towards the end of its campaign. I've been pushing That Awkward Moment, Point B and Zebra lately, so it's really just a matter of what's out there.
Gavin: Now that the network is set up, are there plans in the works to start creating original content, or will you mainly rely on others to produce shows?
Brandon: I honestly have no idea what's in store with that. I've considered doing a film festival but that's certainly a long way off. As far as original content is concerned, at least for now it's going to be focused on what Utah is doing. There are some extremely talented people here, and with the amount of films that are being produced locally there should be plenty of new material.
Gavin: What kind of a presence are you hoping to start having at local film fests? And are there any you'll be working with as they're happening?
Brandon: I'd love to work with all of them locally. Honestly, I've been very pleased with everything Brian Higgins has done with the 48 Hour Film Project and Demon Chaser. He's a man full of great festival ideas and I would certainly like to see him move forward with them and help him out with whatever I can, but I also know my own strengths and weaknesses and that is an area that I feel I'd be terrible at. I will be looking at Salt Lake Comic Con for next year and seeing what can be done there, either just having a booth or something else, but they already have some good, talented people working on the film fest; better people than me, for sure. I will look for opportunities in the future.
Gavin: Going local, what’s your current opinion of the Utah film scene, both good and bad?
Brandon: There is good and bad with it, but the only thing I can really say about it is that it's strong. It's very active and a lot larger than most people would realize. Back in the Solar Shock days, we were based up in Ogden, and at that time there was nothing going on up there. Then, we started branching down to Salt Lake, and we realized just how big it was and that was only the surface. Aside from that, the quality of material that gets produced year after year increases, which encourages others to be competitive and to bring up their own quality. The bad of the community isn't really all that different from other businesses or communities. Yes, there are a few bad fish in the pond, but that will happen anywhere, and the most you can hope is that during bad situations people learn from them.
Gavin: What steps do you believe we still need to take to make the scene prominent?
Brandon: There are countless things we as a community can do to strengthen the film scene, but I truly feel that the biggest flaw in our community that needs more attention and focus is in promotion of the film scene. As I stated earlier, the people who attend film screenings are the filmmakers themselves. I attended a festival screening once where one film had a massive crowd of all those who worked on it. The film ended, and the crowd left as another film was starting to play. That was very disheartening to me. We need to promote us in a way that we can get regular movie-goers into theaters that are playing Utah material, and we, as active members of the film community, need to go out and support film screenings as often as we can. I'm not talking self-promotional elements here, I'm talking about promoting the film community as a whole and getting people to theaters and to small screening venues.
Gavin: Are there any local directors who you believe people should be checking out?
Brandon: There are so many filmmakers I respect and admire and a lot of them are already going places. I like the works done by Matt O'Connor, and not just because I've worked with him, but I truly feel he is one talented guy. I'm also keeping a close eye on Zak Phillipy, who won Best Director at this years 48 Hour and he's around 16 years old. That kid is following his passion and I completely respect him for that. I'm also a pretty big fan of the works done by Stephen Simmons of Night Of Productions.
Gavin: What's your take on the work organizations like Utah Film Center and Salt Lake Film Society are doing to promote local film?
Brandon: I love it. I love everything that they're doing and I wish I could do more to help them. What I really like about them is not just in their promotion of Utah but of the indie-film scene in general. Being able to see films that would not normally screen here in Utah is great for film-goers and helps the indie-film market considerably.
Gavin: Do you believe the bigger fests help or hinder local filmmakers from achieving success?
Brandon: I don't think it hinders filmmakers at all. The bigger festivals are a different animal than the smaller ones, but each offer its own merits and purposes. We should be attending all festivals that we can -- we're fortunate to have several in our backyards -- and be taking notes and learning from each film.
Gavin: What can we expect from both you and the network over the rest of the year?
Brandon: UFN will be adding a few new sections in the near future that will help promote the films of Utah in a different way, and, of course there will be mobile apps coming out this fall. I am starting production on a horror film in the next couple of weeks and will be considering doing Demon Chaser again this year. I'm thinking this might mark my last year doing short films altogether and focusing on doing more features.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Brandon: Just follow us on Twitter, check out our website and be sure to watch all the exciting works that Utah's filmmakers have been working on. If you'd like to submit anything, be it either a film, trailer or a crowd fund campaign, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll get it up. Oh, and go to the Salt Lake Comic Con. Should be a lot of fun!
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