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People in Film: Aaron Kaufman

May 28, 2012

Aaron Kaufman founded Barbarian Films, is part of Robert Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios and Quick Draw Productions. DFI attended the SXSW panel Making it Happen: Financing an Independent Film, which Kaufman moderated, and were fortunate enough to catch up with him afterwards.

DFI: As you are focusing more on new filmmakers, what makes you want to take a risk on newcomers?
Kaufman: We are always looking for someone who surprises us. Recently we had Josh Trank down to Austin where he showed his new film “Chronicle”. It was so refreshing to see someone up-and-coming who had a really clear voice and command of the form. This is always what excites us and gets creative juices going.

DFI: What do you look for in a script? What would it need to get you interested, even with no possibility of big names?
Kaufman: We make films with a very specific voice. We are looking for a prime mover project; we want to be first we don’t want to make a copy of a copy of something. We are obsessed with finding something fresh and something that keeps us entertained. In many ways we are still 14 year olds who go to the movies and get excited by the coming attractions. In its essence this is what makes the experience of going to the theater to see a movie such an amazing and transcendent experience.

DFI: You spoke about making a nickel look like a dime, but is bigger always better?
Kaufman: This comment was about stretching the resources one has to make for the film to look and feel it was made at a quality level above its actual budget. People are surprised sometimes that money spent on a film does not always make it to the screen. If you waste time on set or pay for costly sets or stunts that ultimately don’t get used, you spend money but don’t necessarily enrich the film itself.

DFI: As you spoke on the increasing accessibility of filmmaking equipment as well as the possibilities for films to be seen in untraditional ways, do you think that the new attention to the Middle East could translate into a bigger audience for projects coming from that region?
Kaufman: I am anxious to see the Middle East develop into a strong audience for feature films. I have been inspired by filmmakers such as Aki Kaurismaki , Wong Kar-wai and Lars von Trier. Each of their voices is so different and so very different from anything which would ever be produced in the US. The talent in an emerging market always comes a generation after films are truly accepted and digested. The French New Wave occurred after a generation of kids absorbed the popular Film Noir coming out of Hollywood. So it will be interesting to see what a generation of new talent from the various countries of the Middle East creates once they have digested and synthesized outside films with their own cultures and points of view.

DFI: What are the challenges specifically facing Arab filmmakers in the global market?
Kaufman: It is always a challenge for a new region to export their films. The only remedy for this is to create great product. Whether it’s “Persepolis” or “Pan’s Labyrinth”, if a film is great it will get at least some attention. Over time viewers will get used to receiving product from the Middle East in the same way that they have become more open to films originating from Western Europe, Spain and Asia.

DFI: As new markets open through the aforementioned accessibility of technology, how do you feel the landscape will change? Will films and filmmakers have to evolve in some way to continue to reach the audience?
Kaufman:I have always felt that the film industry would benefit from having multiple film “scenes” the way that the music business has benefited from music “scenes” such as the California Surfer Music movement in the 60’s or the Seattle Grunge scene in the 90’s. These localized concentrations of artists provide a momentum and even a friendly competition which pushes artists to make great work. Now that technology has put the ability to create a credible film into the hands of most people, there could easily develop a decentralized group of film “scenes” that produce different styles and points of view. In the US we could see a movement come from Cleveland or even rural areas in the mid-west while we could also see these type of scenes developing all over the world. I am hoping that the more artists that emerge will mean more great films to be seen.

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