MEMBER MONDAYS is a weekly interview series highlighting current members & alumni of the Austin School of Film + Austin Cinemaker Space community! Each week, we’ll be featuring one of our incredibly eclectic community members, and doing a deep dive into their work. Insight into what makes them, them.
Shifting from tech industry to independent filmmaking, Austin Cinemaker Space member Clete Donovan has made big changes for himself in the past year. We spoke with him about his path to film, and his philosophy on the process of creating art in an ever changing multimedia world.
What was your “aha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a filmmaker?
Clete Donovan: After working a sales job behind the same desk for two years, a nearly fatal accident turned my world upside down. Performing the same mundane tasks 40+ hours a week was eating away at me piece by piece, so I started wondering what jobs out there could allow me to channel this urge to create something meaningful. Film had always seemed interesting, so I familiarized myself with locally beloved artists like Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez. Slacker and El Mariachi were two incredible films made with hardly any money or formal filmmaking education… Aha! I’ll be a local nobody who flips the script and reminds people the importance of living the life you want, not the one you’re “assigned.”
Two-part question here: (1) What is the first film you ever ever ever made? (2) What is the first film you shot professionally for an audience?
CD: The first movie I ever made was for the 48 Hour Film Project last year. The plot included a newly published writer arguing with a sceptic over the ethics of planned parenthood. In the end, each character sheds a shade of arrogance and begins to understand the opposing perspective. The story felt strong, but the execution of bringing it to life fell short. Except for two of my friends, none of us knew what the hell we were doing. We didn’t even have a title! It’s funny because it’s so bad, which you have to learn to appreciate.
The first film I shot “professionally” was Glorified Beauties, which took place in early 2017. My goal of bringing a grand idea of unity to the big screen was still in mind, so I wrote two long-lost friends with broken hearts reuniting in a public bathroom. The level of preparation and adaptability was much more prevalent this time around, so naturally the film feels more like an actual movie. And even though there were still plenty of mistakes, people started to laugh with us and, hopefully, not at us.
How and when did you discover Austin School of Film?
CD: I discovered [ASOF] while seeking local film organizations online last year. It started with a simple Google search and took off from there. The offering of inexpensive classes providing hands-on experience caught my immediate attention. It’s as if the school were made for people exactly like me; eager to learn with little expendable income. Any filmmaking success in my future will be largely dedicated to the good folks of ASOF.
CD: Comedy is undoubtedly my niche. I view laughter as a medicine, so I naturally try to include as much of it in my life as possible. Even though I have ambitions of creating dramatic films to reach the world someday, writing comedy is the best way for me to build momentum.
Birthday Wishes for Clete was inspired by friends and family not being able to attend my, you guessed it, birthday party! As a filmmaker creating his own production company, it’s imperative that I constantly create new media. Sometimes that includes short films that take 6 months to complete, and other times it involves trimming your beard and knocking it out in 30 minutes. None of the characters in the video are based on actual people, but everybody has that crazy family member who needs to be laughed at every now and then.
Your films have a lot of variety–from comedy to the more dramatic, like The Last Hunt that you acted in, co-produced, and helped write. So what is your preferred niche and are you inspired by any particular filmmaker(s)?
CD: I believe the key to life is moderation. It’s easy to lose a true sense of yourself and your surroundings if you overindulge in anything. The act of laughing is a medicinal, but so is the act crying. Finding the right place and time to experience happiness and suffering can help you grow as a person, which is all I’m trying to do at this point. That being said, I’d say my preferred niche is “dramedy”. Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers have executed some of my favorite films in this genre.
Circling back, how did you become involved in The Last Hunt?
CD: It all began when Yasir Masood approached me after one of our acting classes with Mona Lee. He sat me down and told me of a true story that he wanted to make into a short film. The plot would include me as the character robbing a convenience store clerk, played by him. Nothing crazy, right? However, after hitting me with the twist that his grandfather was the clerk and how he survived a bullet-wound to the head, I got goosebumps. The story had to be told and I had to be a part of it. Just shy of a year later, we screened it at Austin Film Festival.
You’ve since decided to take your productions to the next level, starting a production company called Think Flamingo. Where did the drive to start something like a production company come from?
CD: The mission of Think Flamingo is to inspire others to create and find their own voice, no matter the field or industry. In addition, I plan to take Austin from the “Live Music Capital of the World” to the “Live Capital of the World.” In essence, I would like to see Austin thrive as a culturally-strong city where people of all creative minds can collaborate. Being a filmmaker, my part will begin with a focus in the entertainment industry. My thinking is this: If a southern city in a predominantly non-progressive state can become an artistic cornerstone with NYC and LA, the energy will become infectious.
Any film productions on the horizon for you?
CD: I have two main projects at the moment. One is currently being edited and will have a private premier next month. It’s a short film about an unsuspecting drug dealer maturing from the wisdom of a mysterious con artist. The other project will be my first feature-length film and will hopefully be completed by mid-late 2018. If I had to stamp it with a cheesy description, it would read Superbad meets Workaholics.
Fast forward to ten years from now, what do we see going on in Clete’s film world?
CD: I hope to be making films that speak to me as much as these current projects do. I have the support of friends and family to help me grow as a filmmaker, but I don’t want to rely on them for financial support ten years down the road. It would also pain me to lose sight of my vision, which is why my stories will hopefully remain genuine and relatable as to continually serve as inspiration for others.
INTERVIEW BY: Stephanie Franks