How many L.A. filmmakers dream of moving to Boise for their "big break" in the movie biz? After Napoleon Dynamite, there's got to be at least a few nutty directors and actors in Southern California who fit this description, but for the most part, the reverse is far more likely to be true. Yet, there is a surprising number of dedicated filmmakers working locally to produce quality films, even while remaining under the national radar. Idaho may hardly seem to be the happening place for film to the naked eye, but thanks to local organizations like Footprints Film Company, it's far less laughable to surmise great films can come out of our town and state.
Footprints Films is a sub-chapter S corporation that was founded 10 years ago by director Michael Martin and producer Samantha Wright to promote filmmaking in Idaho. Their vision is "to produce films in Boise that aren't being made here, because there's a lot of talent-both actors and technicians," says Martin. Compared to 10 years ago, "There are a lot more people in the business now and [Footprints] was set up primarily, instead of competing with those businesses, as a chance to do more of the narrative or dramatic storytelling which I think is the most important thing," he says.
Swayed by the storytelling as the most exciting element of the product, Martin is a recognized screenwriter as well as a director. His screenplay Deathwatch, a tale of family hatred, dysfunction and revenge, recently was a winner at the 2005 Key West Indie Fest and subsequently named one of the top 20 screenplays in the world. "That was pretty cool," he says. "I think the primary thing is that the audience enjoys the story. That's why you do it in the first place, to tell a story that people will enjoy watching."
Footprints' current project is a feature film called Circular Logic, a dramatic thriller about a woman kidnapped by "an ultra secret government agency," Martin says in a "quote, unquote" kind of way. The main character, Anne, is picked up by the mysterious Unit 7 and interrogated for answers to questions she doesn't know the answers to. With no clue as to who her captors are or why they're asking questions such as "what was on the disc" or "who did you meet with," Martin's explanation of the plot sounds eerily reminiscent of The Net. "If she doesn't answer the questions, it could," he whispers, before chuckling, "be fatal."
Circular Logic will be Footprints Films' fourth feature. The company has also had success with several short films. Ronnie Carter Jones won the bronze award at the prestigious World Fest Houston International film festival, a festival that launched careers of notables like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. "There were 1,400 entries that year," Martin recalls. "They only showed 140 shorts and only 14 got awards, so since we got a bronze (third place) that was pretty tough competition."
By the time a finished film arrives at a festival, it is generally the end result of years of casting, shooting and editing. Footprints had an edge producing Circular Logic, as Martin had his male lead already in mind while writing the script and found the female lead by calling various theaters around town for recommendations. As the intimidating agent, local actor Gregg Irwin accepted the part to try something outside his musical theatre forte. "It's a completely different environment," Irwin says. "There's no audience feedback. [Martin], you know, doesn't want me singing," he says smiling. "You think coming in: 'ah, film, I'll get multiple chances to get it right, he'll be able to edit out all the bad bits' ... and it's just the reverse."
After six weeks of rehearsals and filming, Footprints now faces a year of editing down 50 hours of footage to a 90-minute feature. The lengthy editing is a process of adding sound and music after sorting out the good takes of each scene, though writing the screenplay, by comparison, only took Martin about a month. "A lot of my screenplays will start with just a snatch of dialogue here or there from a character and I don't know what it means," he says. "And then I'll write another, maybe a page or two and you'll see a story start to develop." As nabbing the film's sound goes, Irwin mentions his contribution took some care. "I'm used to projecting to the back of the house," he says, "and so when we first start, everyone's plugging their ears cause I'm, you know, 20 decibels out there."
Once the film is finished, the next venture is another year of deciding which film festivals to enter, depending on the prestige of the festival and the first-run restrictions some have. "We've had other projects show all over the world, so there's a lot of options," Martin says. "Some filmmakers get really competitive but I think the only thing you can do is make the best film you can and let it be judged on its own merits, because there are so many vagaries depending on budget and talent, that to try and compete with anyone else-you just have to make the best product you can and hope an audience finds it."
As the company has already transitioned away from short films into features, Martin doesn't see why he'd go back. "A short film is like a joke, it's just one line and you've got a punch-line. Whereas a film ... you're building emotions. It's just like a piece of music or an opera where it builds and builds and builds to a resolution," he says. "That's a lot more interesting to go through that process than just a short one-liner."
Unfortunately for Boise, the lure of golden opportunities in SoCal and beyond will probably whisk away Footprints Films "in the near future, hopefully," Martin says. That is, of course, unless our local film scene receives enough support and growth to parallel our ever-increasing population.