Eddie Schmidt, renowned filmmaker and Oscar-nominated producer of Twist of Faith and This Film Is Not Yet Rated, knows how to keep busy.
Former President of the Board at IDA, a non-profit community for independent filmmakers, Schmidt’s been busy producing features (Beauty Is Embarrassing) and directing NBC’s WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?, so it’s a wonder he had time to make Good Bread, his brilliant contribution to FOCUS FORWARD about ex-cons finding renewed purpose through an innovative program at an LA-based bakery.
Read on to find out what ingredients went into Good Bread and what being a documentary filmmaker means to Schmidt.
FF: How did you find out about Homeboy Industries?
ES: I've known about Homeboy for about 10 years - I remember tearing out an article around 2002, putting it in my ever-expanding idea folder and thinking, "This is inspiring. Someday, this could be a great documentary." In 3 minutes, "big picture" is actually close-up.
FF: What made you decide to do a documentary about them?
ES: Our society has the highest incarceration rate in the world. We're clearly very big on punishment, but not so big on rehabilitation. Giving meaningful second chances to ex-convicts by teaching them valuable job skills is, especially in 2012's divided America, a true social innovation.
FF: So how did you get the process started?
ES: Homeboy had some very reasonable ground rules about filming there, and once we navigated those, their doors were open completely and enthusiastically. I was looking for someone in the bakery program who was the cusp, where you could really see the positive effects of the work and the camaraderie kicking in. Herb immediately thought of Noe, and as soon as my producer (Amber Bollinger) and I met him, we knew he was the right person to follow.
FF: What was it like getting the characters on camera?
ES: Noe was very open and receptive, and easy to talk to from the get-go. I could see that he had a kindness about him that contrasted with all the tattoos and I very much wanted that to shine through.
FF: Were some of them reluctant to talk?
ES: Sure. The people working at Homeboy are building new lives for themselves, and not everyone wants to reflect on their past. I get that. And since I'm not doing an investigative piece, there's no reason for me to try to pull stories out of people who prefer to keep them private.
FF: How did you handle editing the film, whittling everything down to just three minutes?
ES: I brought in a young editor, Dave Emmendorfer, who has been cutting my sizzle reels and promos for the last several years. The trick - and I think we did it - was that I wanted the piece to both feel like it was tightly paced and yet have time to breathe. It's about people so you don't want it to be rushed; you want to feel something.
FF: How did you know that you were going to be a filmmaker?
ES: It came late for me: end of high school into early college. Eventually, I realized I wanted to tell more complicated stories visually, and once in Los Angeles I found a writing partner, Brad Carlson, who works at Paramount now, and we made two narrative shorts that won some awards at film festivals in the mid-90s. But gradually I started to gravitate towards nonfiction. I mostly read nonfiction books, and I started to have a hunger to see those kinds of riveting stories unfold on the screen. "
FF: When did you realize that it was becoming a reality?
ES: I had been a sketch comedy writer & performer since college, and my group, called Ooze had a deal with Fox TV Studios to do our own show around 1999/2000. We were known for staying in character and doing media pranks - this was pre-Sacha Baron Cohen. So we were mildly hot for a few minutes, and it was one of those things where they tell you your life's going to change, are you ready to be a star? We were being positioned as a possible replacement for MAD TV, on Fox. But of course MAD TV stayed on the air and no one else picked up the show. At the same time, I'd been producing a documentary with Kirby Dick about high school students for no money ("Chain Camera") and then that film got into Sundance. So I called my agent at the time and said, "Hey, I have a new career now!" And that was it, I turned the corner and stayed there.
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