A Conversation with Oscar-Winning Filmmakers SEAN FINE & ANDREA NIX FINE
By Tyler Malone
This year Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine became the first filmmakers to win an Academy Award for a project that was crowd-funded. Though the majority of the funding for their documentary short Inocente actually came from other sources, to get their budget and their film across the finish line these Oscar-nominated documentarians turned to Kickstarter. And with Kickstarter’s help, the film became a success.
Inocente transformed the Fines from Oscar-nominated filmmakers to Oscar-winning filmmakers. The Academy Awards showed that their crowd-funded project about a homeless teen creating art was also crowd-approved (and not just by any crowd, but by arguably one of the most discerning crowds in the industry: the Academy itself). I spoke with these fine filmmakers over the phone after their big win.
Tyler Malone: Congratulations on the win! Tell me a little about both Inocente the film and Inocente the subject. How did you find her, and what made you see a film in her story?
Andrea Nix Fine: The way this all started out was that we read this horrifying statistic that one in every 45 kids in this country experiences homelessness. It just didn’t seem possible. And the more we looked into this the more it looked like this invisible crisis that no one was speaking about. So we knew we wanted to make a film about it, and give these kids a voice, and what better way than by finding a kid who was expressing herself through art? So we started contacting all sorts of organizations, schools and shelters, to find a kid who might be the right one to tell the story. We found this great place called ARTS, which stands for A Reason to Survive. The founder Matt D’Arrigo told us we had to meet this amazing artist Inocente. We went out there and met her, and we were taken with her. She was strong and vulnerable at the same time. She was just about to have her first art show, so we thought what better way to tell the story than to look at the paintings she was creating, and tell her story through them.
TM: Inocente is now getting a lot of press for being the first film to win an Academy Award that was crowd-funded. Tell me a little about your Kickstarter experience, and what it means to move the industry forward in this way.
Sean Fine: We want to be clear from the beginning that while Kickstarter did help in a major way at a certain point in the process, it did have producers and multiple funders. Films these days are rarely funded by one entity–it’s really rare–so you have to find a lot of different people to back a film. We had this great organization called Shine Global and a producer Albie Hecht. They helped find funding, and they got MTV involved a little bit. So we got a lot of help from a lot of different players. But we did come to a critical juncture where we needed additional money. We all talked about it and thought Kickstarter might be a great thing to do. We asked for $50,000. We figured that would be attainable. It also helped us create a community.
ANF: When anybody who donated to our Kickstarter saw us win on the Oscars, they probably felt like, “That’s my film!” They felt a part of our team, a part of the ownership. It helped to spread the word of the film, and lend support to the film in an entirely different way.
SF: As a filmmaker, it’s just another tool we have. The more tools the better.
TM: Definitely, especially for shorts. It’s nice to have a built-in audience, because sometimes it can be hard for shorts to find an audience, and to be seen.
ANF: You’re absolutely right about that. Shorts have an interesting thing. Most of the shorts have what they call a “broadcast hour” length. Our film was just under 40 minutes. It makes it really hard for something that has a broadcast hour timeline to make the jump into anything after that broadcast. I think it makes funding harder, it makes everything harder. It’s, of course, great to have your film broadcast, but that’s a very short life. You really need the film festival circuit and critical review that only comes from theatrical screenings.
SF: The other positive of Kickstarter is that when you put up the little film pitching your film, it’s cool, because you get feedback. We’re not people who generally show our cuts to a lot of people beforehand, but it was nice to see people really excited by what we were doing. It put a little wind our sails.
TM: What was your Oscar night like before and after your win? How was it different from your experience when you came with War Dance?
ANF: The end part felt very different. But it’s always exciting. Though to have Inocente with us this time was very different. It meant the world for her to be with us, and it meant the world to us to have her there. It felt so natural and necessary to have her with us. She’s never even been able to watch the Oscars before, so it was a kind of Cinderella story in that sense. We were only the ninth category, so it went by so quickly. That moment, because it came so early in the program, just kind of crept up on us.
SF: Before we were saying, “Oh, we don’t care, we’re just happy to be here.” And you do feel all that. But literally in the commercial break right before our category, it dawned on me what it means if we win. All that stuff comes rushing at you. What does this mean? Not only for filmmaking, and for Andrea and I as filmmakers, but what would this mean for Inocente, and for other homeless kids? We didn’t write anything down to say, and then I started thinking, what if this happens? We’re going to be standing in front of a billion people, what will we say? Then when they call your name it’s just full emotion, and I can’t remember much of anything else. But I think it went well.
TM: What did you think about Seth MacFarlane’s hosting job? And the whole show in general?
ANF: Because we won so early in the ceremony, the thing is you go backstage and do a press line. They give you a drink, you meet people, you’re walking around. We missed the majority of the show. We sat down and Argo won for best picture, and we were out. So we missed quite a bit.
SF: The only thing is, I have to say, we came home yesterday. My kids had stayed up to watch the Oscars, and what song are they singing to me constantly? “We Saw Your Boobs.” I’ve got my family singing about boobs now. I had to explain to him that that’s not nice. While it was funny, I wasn’t psyched that my kids were singing that song. That was pretty much all they remember from the ceremony besides us winning the award.
ANF: I had to tell them that they can’t sing that at school. But it’s hard to explain that even though you saw that on TV, you can’t sing it at school. I think there were parts that were a little crass. But it got good ratings, so they got what they wanted. And the music and dance numbers were really fun.
SF: When you’re there, it’s a live show, and it’s so fun, and funny. It’s completely different in person than on TV, I think.
TM: I know you have a new documentary Life According to Sam, which premiered at Sundance, coming out in 2013. What can you tell me about that?
SF: It’s a feature-length documentary on HBO in the Fall. It’s about a 13-year-old boy named Sam who has a disease called progeria, which causes parts of his body to age rapidly. Basically, he’s thirteen, but parts of his body are already like they’re 80-years-old. Many kids with progeria die when they’re around age thirteen. When his parents got the diagnosis, they were doctors at the time, and they were told to just enjoy their time with their son because he would inevitably pass away. They decided to change their career paths as doctors, and take on progeria. When we start our film, Sam is thirteen, and his parents are in the middle of trying the first experimental drug trial on their son and on other kids with progeria.
ANF: And why we were drawn to the film was that it was just such an incredible story, right? There’s this rare disease, and a kid who is born to two parents who, in some ways, are really some of the few people that could potentially do something about this. So it’s a lot about some of those major questions we all ask in life. I think we were drawn to it for that human aspect. It’s about what do you do with the time that you have here on earth? What do you want to pass on to your kids? What is life all about? And people are always interested in how people overcome hardship. So it’s about this family dealt this difficult card, and how they deal with it. It’s a hard subject, but it’s anything but depressing. It’s a film that embraces what life is all about.
TM: After Life According to Sam, what is next for you? Any further projects in the pipeline?
ANF: We are really excited about some of the things we’re currently developing. We’re in the process of developing four narrative scripts. We can’t talk about specifics yet.
SF: But some of them are based on some of our documentary subjects. One we’re working on is with Inocente. We can say that.
Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine are Academy Award-Winning and Emmy Award-winning directors. Sean is a director/cinematographer, and Andrea is a director/writer. For the last decade, they have been producing, directing and shooting documentaries for the finest outlets in television and film. They have worked in over thirty countries, from dangerous war zones to the Arctic Circle, to bring unknown human stories to the screen.
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography by Andres Branch for PatrickMcMullan.com
Design by Marie Havens
Andrea Nix Fine & Sean Fine, The Hollywood Reporter Nominees’ Night 2013, Spago, Beverly Hills, CA, February 4, 2013, Photography by Andreas Branch for PatrickMcMullan.com