BU Today: COM Alums Launch Auspicious Phoenix Productions
Cinemathèque hosts screening of five of their films tonight.
By Amy Laskowski, BU Today
Independent filmmakers face not only the hurdles all directors do—casting, location scouting, and shooting schedules, to name a few—but also the pressing issue of how to finance their films. Without a studio to underwrite the costs, getting a film made is often a Herculean task. Three BU alum filmmakers, tired of starting Kickstarter campaigns to fund their work, hope they’ve found a solution to the problem: forming their own movie studio.
“We didn’t want to do hat-in-hand fundraising anymore; we wanted to create a framework to fund our film projects on a repeatable basis,” says Joseph Dwyer (COM’14), cofounder and co-owner of Auspicious Phoenix Productions, which he and friends and former classmates Oleg Bolotov (COM’14) and Jim DanDee (COM’13) started in 2015 (the three work day jobs on top of making films). “We saw too many filmmakers put all of their eggs in one basket. They’ll attract a lot of attention to do one film and then by the next one, it’s hard to go back and ask people for more money. So we wanted to cut that out, and make a business that is profitable and aimed toward creating visual work.”
Auspicious Phoenix Productions, a studio-based entertainment company in Somerville specializing in art, documentary, and narrative films, has made seven so far. Tonight, Bolotov, DanDee, and Dwyer return to campus to show five of them as part of the BU Cinemathèque series, a College of Communication program that brings accomplished filmmakers to campus to show and discuss their work.
The short films, funded and produced under the Auspicious Phoenix umbrella, are: BLOOD HIGHWAY, directed by Dwyer, a throwback to ’70s grindhouse cinema; QUIETUS, directed by Joy Song (COM’15), a story about rebirth; LADIA, directed by Álvaro Congosto (COM’12), about a female athlete; CRANIAC!, directed by Paul Villanova (COM’13), about a young filmmaker who discovers a Martian living in his brain; and THE LITERAL LENS, directed by DanDee, a narrative documentary about a journey in Japan. All five directors will be at tonight’s screening.
The names of the filmmakers whose work is being shown tonight will be familiar to anyone who has attended the Redstone Film Festival in recent years; all five have previously been nominees and winners.
The classmates kept in touch after graduation, DanDee says, and just like in film school, they helped crew one another’s films. “When you’re in school, you typically have an inner sanctum of people,” he says. “Filmmakers work together because they know they can rely on each other. It’s this close-knit community that gets built up,” and as a result, the five films share a similar approach and tone.
The studio heads took the five films on the road this past August, part of what they billed as Auspicious Phoenix Production’s Rolling Revue tour, a nationwide roadshow exhibition of original short works produced and curated by the studio. Over the course of three weeks, the team visited New York City, Houston, Los Angeles, Denver, Boston, and Kinderhook, N.Y.
The tour was so successful that the team plans to repeat it next year, only this time, a composer will first create a piece of music and the filmmakers will be challenged to make separate short films to accompany it, according to DanDee.
This type of outside-the-box creative approach might be more difficult to pull off if Auspicious Phoenix Productions had to answer to a larger outside presence, like a financier or an executive producer, Dwyer says. But they don’t.
Craving creative independence, they developed a self-sustaining business model when they started the company. They rent out their Union Square studio for commercial shoots, photography, and use by other filmmakers when they aren’t using it to shoot their own work (four of the five Rolling Revue films were shot there). And it seems to be working. Despite losing upwards of $16,000 their first year, DanDee says, they have since turned the ship around. “In 2017 we made over $40,000, and in 2018 we are on pace to hopefully break $100,000,” he says.
“That’s all bootstrapping, no loans,” Dwyer says. “Working with a small business association mentor, we set up a bunch of different revenue streams in terms of using our space as a studio, taking the films that are made in the studio and exhibiting them to make money. We want to stabilize and diversify our company.”
DanDee’s feature-length, fixed-perspective thriller, THE EXPERIMENT, about the rapid psychological decline of a medical test subject, is currently in preproduction. And in postproduction at the studio is a narrative documentary feature, OCULAR, directed by Song.
“We’re excited for the next few years,” Dwyer says. “We’ve been learning as we go and adapting what works and getting rid of what doesn’t. A lot of the stuff we picked up along the way as a film production company has been what do we want to do and what aligns with our goals. We have a big space to do work in; how do we make money off of that in order to make money for our productions? How can we open it up to people and make it a resource in the community? We want to let people know the landscape is changing, and we consider ourselves to be at the forefront of that.”
The founders and owners of Auspicious Phoenix Productions, Joseph Dwyer (COM’14), Oleg Bolotov (COM’14), and Jim DanDee (COM’13), will speak and screen their work tonight, Friday, February 9, at 7 pm, at the College of Communication, Room 101, 640 Commonwealth Ave. The event, part of the BU Cinemathèque series, is free and open to the public.