Five questions for Wildwood Film Festival’s Jason Buss
TCD’s Eric Teske talks with Jason Buss, co-founder and director of the Wildwood Film Festival. Jason has worked with Tom Thorne and Craig Knitt to produce both independent films and the aforementioned film festival. Wildwood, which is billed as the only Wisconsin-only film festival, is accepting film submissions through Dec. 31 via mail and the Withoutabox website. The festival will run April 30 and May 1, 2010, at the Communication Arts Center on the UW-Fox Valley campus in Menasha, WI.
1. How did the Wildwood Film Festival get its start and what was your motivation?
Initially, Tom Thorne, Craig Knitt and I had created a film called The Hunt and after submitting it to film festivals we didn’t get a response. During that submissions process, we realized that the northeastern Wisconsin area still didn’t have a film festival. At that time, we decided to host a Wisconsin-only film festival ourselves with the goal of sharing our passion for film with others. While organizing that first event, none of us expected the festival to last, but now we are working on our ninth festival, and we’re still focused on Wisconsin film.
2. How did you get involved in film?
While I have no technical film background, my involvement grew out of my dual love of watching independent film and working background in radio. I had spent six years working on the air in radio, and after moving on to different work I realized that I missed that creative experience. I was then lucky enough to cross paths, in a non-arts job with a couple of people who were planning to make a movie. I began working with these two individuals, Tom and Craig, and we were able to make that first movie. We all enjoyed a good working relationship, and the film festival project flowed from there.
There are interesting things going on, but I certainly wish it were hotter. The biggest disappointment has been the disappearance of Wisconsin’s film tax credit after so short a life. That change really cut off a lot of potential, large-budget films in this state at the knees. The demise of the tax credit, however, will not deter a lot of the filmmakers who have day jobs and make movies simply because they are passionate about the experience. Those individuals will always be out there, but it sometimes takes a lot of work to find them.
4. As a viewer, what do you notice most in a film?
It depends first on why I am watching the film. Generally, I approach Hollywood films a little differently from the film festival submissions I watch.
When screening for the film festival, I use more of a checklist approach to make sure the entry shows the necessary level of technical skill. With a steady drop in the cost of filmmaking equipment, the playing field has leveled off somewhat for the technical aspects. Thus, acting is often the key distinguishing factor in independent films because actors give the work its voice. If you can’t get your story across through the actors, it won’t be shown.
I watch Hollywood and larger-budget independent films with a different eye. The productions are uniformly of high quality and feature talented actors, and so, as a viewer, I can devote more attention to the details. Personally, as a filmmaker myself, I can’t ignore the camera work. For example, while I enjoyed the Wisconsin-filmed Public Enemies, I found its steady-cam perspective distracting, particularly when contrasted with the beautiful camera work in the classic gangster film, The Untouchables. In my opinion, the trend toward action-driven, shaky camera shots often distracts from the story more than it gives back.
5. Why should someone travel to Menasha to attend the Wildwood Film Festival?
This is the only Wisconsin-only film festival and our ninth annual event; we anticipate some excellent submissions from all over the state. In the past, we have shown many films from terrific filmmakers in Milwaukee. Often we have been the first to provide a screen for many of these works.