The Cinemulatto Broke-ass
Film School

Cinemulatto almost made this an entirely farcical post on things you can do to save money as an indie filmmaker—like using your kids as crew. Well, not everyone has kids. Plus, we’ve come a long way since Robert Rodriguez and his 10-minute film school, even though his advice is still relevant. We can go deeper and learn more, however. We can even go to the library.

So, here are a few things that neophyte, broke-ass filmmakers can do to save a few bucks and still become a pro. These have all been helpful to me over the years.

8 Things You Can Do to Get Some Film Skillz
(Cinemulatto’s Zero-budget Film School)

  1. Study cinematographers. Roger Deakins has a great forum, plus lots of really awesome cinematographers are willing to share information with you. Stroke a few egos! I was fortunate to receive an email response from Marcel Zyskind about the bare-bones lighting he used for 9 Songs. (If you have a rich friend with access to IMDB Pro, wash their car in exchange for DP contact information.)
  2. Go to the library. Read books and more books. Find a comfy chair and read back issues of American Cinematographer Magazine. Get a damn library card. Then check out books. Just a few of my favorites are This is Orson Welles, Master Shots, The Films of Akira Kurosawa, and The Oxford History of World Cinema. Never stop reading, and throw in at least one screenplay a month.
  3. Get on film festival mailing lists or visit film festival websites. Festivals often offer tips via their email distribution lists or directly on their sites, and frequently offer links to free films. Two good ones are Raindance and Sundance.
  4. Save money. Before crowd funding, there was good old-fashioned piggy banks (or analog begging, borrowing, and stealing, i.e., “O.G. crowd funding”). You can save money fast if you actually budget for it. And, since the cost of making a simple, short film is so dirt-cheap these days, AND since this is your passion, save some money! Make yourself a tip jar. You won’t owe anyone anything.
  5. Get equipment off craigslist. But, go with a knowledegable friend who can also be a bodyguard if needed. Then learn how to use the equipment.
  6. Make movies, however horrible. Don’t show them to anyone if you don’t want to. But make them. Hold a camera. Develop a close relationship with it. Not doing this is like expecting to know how to drive a car the first time you get in.
  7. If you can afford it (or, see tip #4), selectively take classes. But, do this only when you need to. Figure out what you’re not good at, take a class, then get good at it. Over the last 10 years I’ve taken such classes as producing, lighting, color correction, and DSLR cameras spread out over time to guess what? Yes! Save money!
  8. WATCH MOVIES. I can’t believe how many film folks I know who don’t constantly watch movies. Make it a goal to watch at least 3,000 of them. Study the shots, the lighting, the sound, the acting, the design. Watch shorts and classic epics. Black and white and silent. Films you think you’ll love and others you know you’ll hate. Watch Criterion and B movies and buddy flicks and rom coms and documentaries. For as long as director commentaries exist, listen to them, but turn them off after 10 minutes if they’re stupid. Netflix is still relatively cheap and yes, the library has movies!

Good luck and happy filming.


Just because I’ve been thinking about Eartha Kitt lately.

A Mulatto Sundance Film Festival Travelogue

Sundance 2013I was thrilled to attend this year’s Sundance not only because I hadn’t been, as a moviegoer, since 2008, but because this time my name was actually attached to a film. In this year of our lord, AD 2013, I had the honor/privilege of being one of a group of cinematographers on 99% – The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film.

What better excuse to seek out mulatto conversation at Sundance?

My initial goal was to watch as many films as possible. I ended up seeing three—the 99% Film being one of them, another being a Slamdance movie. I otherwise spent this year’s Sundance Film Festival eating, networking, partying, and sleeping, pretty much in that order. How exactly does a wandering mulatto spend her time in Park City?

Four Mulatto Days at Sundance

Day One: Saturday, 1/19/13
Stepping into the freezing Salt Lake City air from baggage claim was brutal but I adjusted. Shuttle driver wore a face mask and said the city was, that day, experiencing the worst smog on the planet. Convinced myself this was a good sign. After arriving and unloading meager travel items (suitcase, small bag) in a shared Deer Valley condo, headed to Main Street for sushi. Met a composer, John Burrows, and a documentary filmmaker, Dori Cohen. All’s well for the traveling Mulatto.

After dinner, hung out with my pal Olen Holm (who makes an appearance, along with his naked butt, in Kill Your Darlings) and his friend Daniel at Java Cow, went to a party at Blackhouse, and stalked Roberta Munroe to chat about my latest script. She reviewed it recently. I owe her a rewrite. Although no mulatto-related conversation, had my first “notable” sighting: Omar from The Wire. Think he’ll always be known as Omar? (Sundance is, of course, filled with “stars”, mostly insignificant to me, like Pauly Shore.)

Slept in the condo living room on a cot. No heat. Colder than Siberia.

Day Two: Sunday, 1/20/13
Favorite day! Woke up early and saw, four inches away from me: a gas fireplace. Great. Figured out how it worked then went to the Queer Brunch at Grub Steak Restaurant. Had TWO mixed-folk exchanges: one with Sundance feature programmer Shari Frilot (Creole and Puerto Rican), the other with writer/director/producer Stephen Winter (Czech and Jamaican). Chatted with Stephen about his work on Tarnation. Received encouragement to do something similar with my family story. Re-introduced myself to Rose Troche, said hello to Des Buford, and the highlight: hanging with Olen and cinematographer Michelle Lawler, plus reconnecting with producer and Outfest Director of Individual Giving, Christopher Racster. Good times, great people! Briefly saw friend and Mother Country cohort Joe Stillwater, yet another halfie!

Stalked Roberta Munroe again, but missed each other (nature’s call—bathroom, food).

Went to lunch at Main Street Deli with Michelle and Fruitvale casting director Matthew Riutta before going home, cleaning up, and treating myself to dinner at Squatters Roadhouse Grill.

That night: the world premiere of 99% – The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film (recently picked up by Participant Media!). My reason for being here! Incredible. An amazing, important documentary, and standing in front of a Sundance crowd—despite my stuttering out 7 words—was unbelievable. Thanks to the directors for bringing up the crew. (I was the only mulatto in the lineup, from what I could discern.) Was approached by condo-mate Mark from Arte afterward, under whose door I managed to slip a screener of Mother Country before the end of my trip. After-gathering at Bistro 412. Slipped out on the early side.

Got back to the condo in a 5-minute, 20-buck cab ride, turned on the fireplace, found a large duvet, went to sleep.

Day Three: Monday, 1/21/13
Determined to purchase at least one Sundance ticket, stood in line for 45 minutes to get whatever movie was available for that evening. Got a ticket to O Muel’s Jiseul, which ended up winning the Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic World Cinema. Lucky mulatto!

Made it to a moving and tearful inauguration breakfast at Blackhouse (or was it just fatigue?). Afterward sat at a table with Effie T. Brown for a comedy half hour.

Back at the Filmmaker Lodge, ran into Christopher Racster again. Chilled and chatted before attending the panel on genre filmmaking featuring Roger Corman, Ben Wheatley, Eduardo Sanchez, and Jeremy Lovering. Corman made his first film for 2,000 bucks and didn’t expect to make money from it. We are what we film.

Saw Best Friends Forever at Slamdance. Michelle’s cinematography was fantastic. As for the movie itself, no comment, except I liked it best when the actors weren’t talking.

Walked over to Egyptian Theatre to watch Jiseul. Subject: 60 peasants hide in a cave to escape persecution from the South Korean military. This film is haunting, expressionistic, disturbing, and beautiful. Just like mulattoes?

Last Sundance night: Blackhouse closing party. Danced with men and women who looked mixed but the mulatto conversation goal was no longer relevant (kinda). A perfect festival.

Day Four: Tuesday, 1/22/13
Spoke briefly with someone associated with American Promise on the airport shuttle, who I suspected of being mulatto so went ahead and asked a last-ditch question: “What’s your racial background?” She’s half Irish, half German, and “gets that all the time.” Flew home to family, warmth, and contentment. Fist raised in defiance, vowed to continue stalking Roberta Munroe.

Season’s Greetings!

The end-of-year shopping sprees are officially among, above, and around us. It’s hard enough shopping for the ethnically unambiguous. The real challenge is finding the perfect gift for your mulatto friends. Suffer no more.

10 Holiday Gift Ideas for Your Mulatto Pal(s)

  1. Gift cards for hair product. Don’t get them the actual product, since mulatto hair is egregiously unruly and unpredictable. No Frizz has a half-life of about two months, and Frizz Ease is effective for a week. Present your pal with a gift card lifesaver, which will come in handy in the event of an f’ed-up, fuzz-infested water landing.
  2. A taser. This is for those off-white friends who insist on living in “real” neighborhoods but who think someone could grab their gun.
  3. Dental floss. Mulattoes have great teeth. Help keep it that way.
  4. A racially relevant DVD. The DVD shelf isn’t just brunch conversation material anymore. For mulattoes, the right DVDs are a sure sign of sociopolitical consciousness. Dig deep and choose something like The Black Power Mixtape or The Search for Robert Johnson.
  5. Boojie grab bag. If you can afford it this year, this includes such things as a spa treatment, tea service, or sushi. Your mulatto friend will be so impressed.
  6. Custom t-shirt: “I’m a Mulatto”. Think how grateful they’ll be to have a quick answer to the question, “What are you?” Pick a fun color to match their skin tone.
  7. A bullhorn. People often forget they’re in mulatto company. This is a great way of letting your pal say “I’m here.”
  8. SPF 1 suntan lotion. Because mulattoes can burn.
  9. Fine literature or music. Mulattoes tend to be well-read music appreciators. This keep-on-giving gift includes not only “ethnic” novels and music, but also subscriptions to The New Yorker or Harper’s. Or, for the lower-class (read: hipster) mulatto: dig up obscure but relevant artists like Black Merda.
  10. Sporting goods. Your active mulatto will appreciate such gifts as a bike helmet, running gear, or a badminton racket. A fit mulatto is a happy mulatto!
Soledad O'Brien

We almost made Ms. O’Brien the February Mulatto of the Month in honor of Valentine’s Day, since we’re in love with her! When she’s not applying the verbal beat-down to nasty Tea Party fact shunners, she’s using her intellectual prowess to bitch-slap the Rude American White Male Public Figure. Our deepest awe and respect goes to our Afro-Cuban/Australian heroine. Keep throwin’ down for us, Soledad. You’re a true gift!