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An exploration of fathers and filmmaking

Exclusive insights around the very first episode of the new podcast, Radio Film School

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With several ProVideo Coalition writers hosting their own podcasts, we’re obviously big fans of the medium, which means we’re always on the lookout for new shows. We recently found out about a brand new podcast called Radio Film School, and it’s a show filmmakers of any experience level will enjoy. Hosted by Ron Dawson, a filmmaker and commercial video producer in Seattle, WA, the show has been billed as “This American Life for filmmakers.” In each episode, Ron takes his listeners on a journey to discover what it means to be a filmmaker.

In the official premiere episode, the role that fathers play in cinema is explored with a number of professionals. The episode goes into detail around the vulnerabilities that filmmakers like Alex Vo and Jeff Cannata incorporate into their work from this perspective, and we hear what kind of power the word “father” possess for some.

You can listen to the full episode below or download it via iTunes, but we wanted to drill into this topic a bit more with Ron. We asked him about how the theme of this first episode emerged, what approach is going to have the greatest impact on audiences, his upcoming “Get a Grip” segment and plenty more.


ProVideo Coalition: The importance of fathers and fatherhood in filmmaking is the central theme of your first episode. In talking with these filmmakers, did you get a sense that this was always an important part of their work, or did that theme emerge organically?

Ron Dawson: That’s a great question. With regards as to whether this fatherhood theme was part of their work, my premise is “how could it not.” Whether or not they know it, the relationship with their fathers (good or bad) all played a key role in the artist they became. I wasn’t able to get into too much detail in this episode, but Slashfilmcast Jeff Cannata had told me specifically how his relationship with his dad spelled out the kind of work he does now and the kind of comedy to which he gravitates.


Were you struck by the differences in artists who grew up with fathers versus those that have not?

That’s an intriguing question. I don’t know how significant my analysis can be as I only have a small sample from which to glean information. But, within the context of this episode, I think it’s interesting to see the difference in work between Alex Vo and Marshall Davis (two artists from fatherless homes) and that of Jeff Cannata, who had a strong and positive relationship with his father. Alex as a filmmaker does a lot of work for non-profits and worthy causes. He addresses a lot of darkness in this world with his work. Marshall is this profound poet that uses his art to inspire us look in the mirror and ask tough questions about choices we make in life. Jeff is a fun, funny, light-hearted and very giving individual who tells “Dad Jokes”.


Much of what Marshall Davis Jones explores showcases how and why the concept of a “father” goes beyond biology. How universal of a theme is that for artists and filmmakers?

I think the idea of fatherhood is “universal” insomuch as any topic about parenthood can be. Again, how can it not. The role a father (or mother) plays in your life will affect your worldview and will have a significant impact on ALL of your “children”, both literal and figurative.  In a follow up interview I do with Marshall, he draws an analogy between giving birth and an artist “birthing” his or her art. I think the kind of themes one explores in his/her art will draw greatly from his/her childhood, which is naturally affected by your parents. And in most societies in this world, that father figure role (whether it’s good, bad or absent), will run deep. I see it personally in my life, my wife’s (who’s a photographer and writer) and the lives of close friends and family. I see the fatherhood image being particularly significant in the African-American community as well. The art that comes out of that community (film and music in particular) is strongly tied to fatherhood.

I also serve up Patrick Moreau’s commentary as further proof. As he mentions in the episode, the “Spelling Father” video hits on a strong “universal truth” that impacts stirred up some visceral reactions in the Vimeo comments, a site that is almost as comically a depository for praise as YouTube is one for trolling. That’s not a dig against Vimeo at all. It’s actually a testament to the character of the filmmakers that frequent the site. But it is uncommon to see a lot of provocative commentary on videos. That fatherhood topic really hit close to home for filmmakers on the site.


Do you think filmmakers who explore very personal stories are able to more easily elicit responses from an audience?

Absolutely. The whole reason great movies are great is because the stories touch on some aspect of the human condition that is personal. It’s funny you ask because this exact question is a central theme for part 2 of the “Of Fathers & Filmmaking” episode (airing Sept 15). I propose that an artist cannot reach his/her zenith in their craft without delving into subject matter that leaves the artist vulnerable in some way. When they tap into that vulnerability and allow it to infuse their craft, they will undoubtedly elicit stronger responses from an audience.

Just think about the commercially successful filmmakers who are perhaps better known for “blockbusters”, but then diverge from their norm to make something intensely personal. Actually, regardless of whether they’re known for making blockbusters, when a filmmaker creates something personal, audiences respond. I think of Fellini and “8-½”. Spielberg and “Schindler’s List.” Probably most, if not all of P.T. Anderson’s films. Jafar Panahi’s “This is Not a Film.” Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell.” Ozu’s “Tokyo Story.” You can go on and on.

Or even filmmakers closer to our station in life. Vimeo darling Eliot Rausch’s career is built on personal films. “Last Days with Oden” is deeply personal. Philip Bloom’s “My Dad” (speaking of which, I’m kicking myself I didn’t explore the father issue with Bloom. He’s frequently commenting about his dad).


Stillmotion’s story (from wedding videos to the Super Bowl) is proof that the best thing filmmakers can do is create something and get it out there, isn’t it?

Their story certainly does illustrate the power of getting your work out there. But there were plenty of examples of that before they came along. YouTube is chock-full of “celebrities” who are famous strictly because they consistently created work and put it out there. YouTube celebs prove that you don’t even have to have high-production value work to gain notoriety. So, yes, filmmakers: do work and get it out there.


What can you tell us about your upcoming “Get a Grip” segment?

I’m glad you asked about this. I’m excited for what this segment can be. As I say in the episode, “Radio Film School” is about telling stories. Stories about the world of cinema. And I think the stories we don’t hear or see all the time have the potential to be the most powerful, poignant and profound. I want “Get A Grip” to be such a segment.

I call “Radio Film School” “This American Life” for filmmakers, but I’m also quick to state that a closer comparison in style, length and format is Radiotopia’s “99% Invisible” with Roman Mars. That’s easily my favorite podcast now, and a clear influence for my show. One of the things that makes 99pi so fascinating are the stories of what appear to be mundane topics that are elevated to this sublime state by virtue of the little known facts, and/or the passion of the people who are telling the stories. Roman’s TED talk about Flag Design (which was essentially just him “performing” an episode on stage) has over 1 million views and got a standing ovation. Just think about that for a moment. A presentation about flag design got a standing ovation. I would hazard to guess, presentations about flag design never get standing ovation even at flag design conferences.

I say all of this because I think “Get A Grip” has that same potential. I can only imagine the stories out there about unsung heroes working on the “frontlines of filmmaking”. Stories that are riveting and/or inspirational, but ones the average Jane or John Doe filmmaker wouldn’t seek out. I can’t help but think about George Huang’s “Swimming with Sharks” which was supposedly loosely based on his own experience as the PA to a major Hollywood producer. I want to hear about the ins and outs of craft services. What’s it like feeding a crew of 1,000? Do you see table cliques like you get in high school?

I know great stories are out there; but, people need to reach out to us and let us know they have a story to tell. (Email me at radiofilmschool@daredreamer.fm if you have such a story).


Are you planning to include deleted scenes and outages at the end of every episode?

I definitely want to have some kind of “bonus” material at the end of every episode, post credits. It won’t necessarily be “deleted scenes.” For example, in the next episode I’m going to use that spot to provide a follow up to the little “cliffhanger” I created in episode 1 regarding the two versions of Marshall’s “Spelling Father” poem. I got the answer and as expected, Marshall does not disappoint with regards to the poignancy of his answer.

Other post credits clips will most likely be excerpts from my interview with my buddy J.D. Cochran who will be a recurring guest. He is introduced in our stand alone segment “Short Ends”, specifically the one about directing actors (Sept 8). The banter between JD and I is pretty comical. He’s an indie filmmaker with extensive acting experience. We’re somewhat of an odd couple. The best way to describe our dynamic is Carlton and Will from “Fresh Prince”. (Sadly, I’m the Carlton character.)

Anyway, just like the the post credit sequences in Marvel films that pay off for those willing to stay through the credits, I want to do the same. I’m one of those “stay through the credits” filmmakers. I just feel that all those people each put so much heart and soul into the film I just watched, I want to honor that and read as many of their names as I can. I honestly enjoy it. The same goes for this type of podcast. A lot of work goes into making a story-driven show like this. So I want people to hear the names of the people and sponsors who will make it possible. And if you do, you’ll get a bonus.


Any hints or previews you can give us about upcoming episodes?

Man. Sooooo much in store, on both the main show and the “Short Ends” interim stand alone segments. In season one we’re exploring “finding your voice as a filmmaker and developing a signature style.” So on the main show, expect to hear more passionate group discussions about style. Some future episode titles I have include

  • Birth of a Filmmaker (aka “S.O.S. Atlantis”)
  • In search of…The Signature Style
  • The Salieri Syndrome
  • Minding the Masters
  • Keeping it on the “QT”
  • The Incredible Andersons
  • The Brothers Bloom
  • “Guest” of Honor
  • Spike’s Gotta Have It
  • TPS Reports
  • You Need More Flare

In many episodes we’re going to explore a single filmmaker who has a distinguishable style. From the titles above, you may be able to guess some of the filmmakers we’re discussing.

But I’m almost more excited about the “Short Ends” episodes we have planned. As I mentioned before, these are stand alone mini-radio documentaries and narrative readings. They will give us the the freedom to explore all kinds of topics related to cinema, but from this storytelling, journalistic, ”99% Invisible” podcast style. Some upcoming “Short Ends” topics include :

  • Plan E from Outer Space (hint: it’s related to Ryan Connolly, of Film Riot fame)
  • Do I Sound Black (talk about personal)
  • I Love My Mom, But What the Hell Was She Thinking (the Halloween special exploring the stories of how my mom, single at the time, took my little brother and me, ages 6 and 8 respectively, to see such movies as Earthquake, Jaws and Amityville Horror. To this day, I can’t see one of those iconically shaped New England houses with the window “eyes” and not get freaked out.)
  • Dear Muse…Where the Hell Are You (I just realize I say “Hell” a lot in these topics.)
  • The Great and Mighty Oz
  • How Much is Enough (a biting and critical look at filmmakers’ quest for likes and views)
  • And a special piece about Star Wars just in time for you know what!

(Note: I reserve the right to change the names of some of these, but the topics are pretty much set in stone.)

Patrick Moreau of Stillmotion also approached us about doing a special behind the scenes segment of their upcoming “The Remarkable Ones” web series. That should prove to be very compelling.

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Jeremiah Karpowicz moved to Los Angeles to become a screenwriter but quickly realized making a film was about much more than the script. He worked at a post house where films like Watchmen (2009), Gamer…