"I opened up the email and saw the first word -- 'Congratulations!' -- I called Ron instantly, jumping up and down like a teenage girl. Ron was driving and had to pull over just so we could relish the moment. We both worked so hard on this film, for almost five years; it felt incredible to have it recognized with such a great honor!"
That's filmmaker, Louise Amandes, sharing the moment she found out Bezango, WA, her documentary feature made with producing/directing partner, Ron Austin, had been selected for exhibition by the prestigious San Diego Comic-Con. As any independent filmmaker knows, these are the moments, rare and wonderful, that can truly change the trajectory of one's career, of one's project; bringing it to an audience it might not have found otherwise; allowing it to be discovered in an artistic field of thousands of offerings. Simply put, it can be life-changing.
When I started blogging several years ago, one of my missions was to use the platform I had to shine whenever light I could on the artists, the projects, the smaller, more independent endeavors, that often get lost in the sea of art and craft available in our burgeoning marketplace. Bezango, WA, and Louise Amandes, seemed perfect candidates, so I sat down with her to get a bit more perspective on her and this unique project.
A feature-length documentary, Bezango, WA, focuses on an eclectic and vibrant community of Seattle-area cartoonists, sharing their wide gamut of artistic styles and sensibilities, along with glimpses into individual philosophies, creative processes, even the struggles inherent in making art while attempting to make a living.
An eclectic artist herself, Louise knows a little something about both the joy and struggle of the artist's life. Throughout a long and colorful career, she's worked as a screenwriter and songwriter, improv actor, drummer; talented graphic artist and web designer, along with her "day job" as a sought-after Seattle massage therapist (she was the on-set consultant for director/writer Lynn Shelton's film, Touchy Feely, starring Rosemarie DeWitt and Ellen Page). With such a diverse background herself, it's not hard to picture her finding affinity with artists in the cartooning community, many of whom she met, along with creative partner, Ron Austin, while studying animation and motion graphics.
My first question, Louise, is how did you and Ron come to work together, and how did you arrive at the idea of doing a documentary on "Seattle cartoonists"?
Ron and I made a few short films together early on, and when it came time to decide on our next film, he had the idea of focusing on the cartoonists and comic artists of the Seattle area, where we are both based. Ron has been part of the cartooning community here for many years; he's dabbled in cartooning himself, and was involved in the cartoon group, Cartoonists Northwest, so he knew there was a rich assortment of stories to tell about this particular genre of artist.
But neither one of us had any idea how to actually tackle the subject, even whether to make a feature film or create a web series. We decided to start by interviewing a few cartoonists and see where it evolved from there. We originally had a select group we were talking to and thought about focusing the project largely on them, but as word got out about what we were doing, more and more people started recommending we interview this person or that person. We came to discover there was this vast community of extremely talented artists here, who support and inspire each other through all kinds of events and collaborations, and we quickly realized this community was the heart of the story.
One can really sense, while watching the film, how much you respect and admire both the creativity and the struggles these people experience in making art in a challenging market.
That's true. As artists ourselves, particularly indie artists with our own set of challenges, Ron and I wanted to highlight these incredibly talented people who never stop doing their art despite the struggles of living in an area like Seattle, which has become a very expensive place to live, and working in a field that's highly competitive and not always lucrative. Our goal with Bezango, WA was to honor that commitment to their work, and reflect just how real and "down home," in a way, these artists are despite those struggles.
Independent films come with inherent challenges for any production team, particularly given the lower budgets and limited production personnel. While it's not common for a creative team to both wear the hats of "producer" and "director," the success of Bezango, WA makes clear that you and your partner figured it out!
Can you give us an idea of how you two divvied up the production and creative tasks during the years of putting the film together?
We both had our hands in every element of making the film. Ron was the chief financial contributor and I was in charge of production. In the beginning, Ron did a lot of the cinematography, while I set up the interviews and staged the shots, setting up the lighting and audio. At first I didn't even know how to use the DSLR camera, but over time I got a handle on it, and we ended up filming with two cameras for each interview... giving us a much better selection of shots to choose from. As we moved into post-production, I did a larger percentage of the editing, as well as setting up the music for Brian Cobb to create, and working closely with Andrew Lloyd, our sound editor. Ron also had a hand in the editing, music, and sound, but the bulk of that was done by me to balance out his financial contribution.
Your respect and affinity for this particular community is evident in every frame of the film, from the stunning "beauty shots" of the Pacific Northwest, to the intimate and revealing conversations with individual artists. The vulnerability and openness of many, the shared stories and candid perspectives offered, give testament to their commensurate respect for the celebratory intent of the film, making it a mutual admiration event! Tell me, what are the reactions Bezango, WA is inspiring, and what do you most hope people get out of it?
The reviews, both personal and editorial, have largely been positive. People have let us know how much they enjoyed learning about this group of artists, learning about this industry that so many had no idea existed. Some feedback suggested we'd included too many artists in the original edit, so we took a look at that and have edited it down since the original screenings. But for those interested, the original, full-length version of the film will be the one screened at San Diego Comic-Con.
As for what I hope people get out of it: It was really important to Ron and me to use our medium to educate the world about these artists, their art, and their struggles. I hope, after viewing the film, that people have a better understanding of this community, and will support these great artists who work so hard to put out amazing work, especially those from the area we feature. One of the best comments I continue to hear from people is that they feel we've educated them about a community they had no idea existed, one they will now definitely support by buying more graphic novels and comic books.
I know you've done a number of screenings at various film festivals and regional events since the film's completion, but getting selected for the San Diego Comic-Con is quite a prestigious honor, one, I hope, that vaults the film, and you as filmmakers, into the next stratosphere. Having seen and enjoyed your documentary immensely, I very much agree that it offers unique insight into a very specialized art form, one which I had little knowledge of up till now, while revealing the universal struggle that exists with artists of many mediums. It's a both wonderful testament to, and a window into, the world of the talented group you feature. I encourage audiences and appreciators of art to grab a badge and get to the screening.
Speaking of which, how can readers see the film this coming week at Comic-Con?
People with Comic-Con badges can see the film on Friday, July 22nd, at 11:05 am PST-12:50 pm PST. It will be screened in Pacific Ballroom 23 on the , 1st floor of the Marriott Marquis right next to the Convention Center. There will be a Q &A after the film with Ron and I, which will also include Frank M. Young, David Lasky, and Pat Moriarity, who are featured artists in the film.
Thanks, Louise, for sharing a bit about your documentary. I have no doubt Comic-Con attendees will find it as inspiring as I did. I wish you and Ron all the best with its continued rollout, and look forward to seeing what's next from you.
You're welcome, and thanks for helping get the word out. Every independent artist knows -- including me! -- that our task is to find the balance in creating great work, getting it seen, heard, and appreciated, and, at the same time, assuring one's survival and forward motion. Which makes me all the more honored to have our little film selected for this event. I'm looking forward to the feedback and excitement it will bring to our artists, our film, and to us as filmmakers. We're happy to be included and hope to see lots of you there!
BEZANGO, WA: San Diego Comic-Con, Friday, July 22nd, 11:05 am PST-12:50 pm PST, in the Pacific Ballroom 23, 1st floor, Marriott Marquis.
Photograph of Louise by Deb Rosof; photo & trailer by permission of Louise Amandes
For more information check the Bezango, WA website, and enjoy the trailer below.