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Next Level Round 4 Recipients

Photo by Caty Gainer from Connor Rickman’s Next Level Project, ‘The Whole Lot’.

Congratulations to the recipients of Round 4 of our Next Level Grant Program!
Read more about the program here.

 

The Next Level Grant Program provides funding for local directors and producers that are currently working on a project in the state of Utah. The Utah Film Commission seeks to cultivate original storytelling by providing the extra push for filmmakers to get their film to the “next level”. This program funds projects of all stages from development to production and distribution. Round 4 supported the principal photography phase which provided five projects grant funding that can be used during principal photography.

Utah Film Commission has awarded five projects that reflect excellence in storytelling and visual style. Read more about the projects and the filmmakers below.

Sage Bennett — Sisterhood

Sage Bennett is a filmmaker from Chicago currently residing in Salt Lake City. She works primarily as a commercial director with Namesake Content, a Salt Lake City based production company, along with Boogie Nights, a company based in Paris. I am passionate about telling stories that make people feel a little less alone in this shared human experience.

Is filmmaking a career path that you’ve always wanted to pursue? Was there a defining moment that you decided you wanted to be a filmmaker?

I began funneling my creative energy into short films, music videos, and photography from a very young age. Growing up, I didn’t think of filmmaking as a viable career, and so I made little films as a hobby. I loved the way filmmaking could evoke emotion in a way that other mediums could not. In college, I found mentors like Julian Acosta and professors such as Sonia and Miriam Alberto, they showed me becoming a filmmaker was within my reach.

Can you provide a brief description of your project that received the Next Level grant?

The project that received the grant is a short comedy-drama about two sisters who must learn to reconcile their differences or be forced to deal with the collapse of their family and their parents’ divorce all alone.

What aspects of the Next Level grant program do you find most helpful?

The grant is probably the most helpful aspect of the program because it has a direct impact on the production of the film. The Sundance Co//ab membership is also very helpful. There is always so much more we can learn, and I love that the Sundance Co//ab program creates a space for filmmakers to grow outside of a traditional college education.

What are you planning to use the grant funding for?

I am planning to use the grant funding to pay for actors, camera equipment rental and some of the crew.

Sabi Lowder — Like Home

Sabi Lowder is a writer and filmmaker with a passion for social justice and long drives through the desert. Prior to entering the doc world, Sabi was a leader in her community as an advocate for survivors of sexual violence and community organizing. She’s most driven by her desire to tell engaging stories for marginalized audiences rather than about them. 

Is filmmaking a career path that you’ve always wanted to pursue? Was there a defining moment that you decided you wanted to be a filmmaker?

I was actually pretty committed to becoming a lawyer, academic, or something painfully serious up until a couple of years ago. I leaned towards things that seemed like “realistic careers.” I knew I loved talking to people, loved hearing stories, and loved film, but I didn’t think it was something you were allowed to pursue as, like, a real job.

But there was a little whisper that had been nagging me for years telling me to write and create. I finally decided to stop ignoring it and here we are.

Can you provide a brief description of your project that received the Next Level grant?

Like Home is a short film profiling four first-generation immigrants as they navigate coming of age in the U.S. With parents from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq, these young adults work to find their own voices in a world between East and West. It’s a story of survival as they learn to thrive in the tension between cultures.

What aspects of the Next Level grant program do you find most helpful?

The grant is amazing. I’m lucky enough to be collaborating with an incredible DP (Kendall Terra) who was willing to give some of her time because she cares about the project, but being able to pay her a decent rate is so empowering as an independent filmmaker. You want to support your team.

However, the Utah Film Commission Support may be the most helpful aspect. Making something out of thin air is like a constant dance with imposter syndrome. Having the support from UFC is so validating. It really helps me tell myself, “I’m totally doing this. I’m making a film!”

What are you planning to use the grant funding for?

Paying my DP a fair rate! I’m also buying some equipment that every emerging filmmaker needs like a mic and some hard drives. We’re on a strict budget, and the grant really helps us get off the ground. 

Maxim and Lucy Nebeker — The Dowager

Maxim and Lucy Nebeker are a twin brother and sister filmmaking duo. They are Salt Lake natives and have been interested in filmmaking since they were little. After finishing college they rejoined forces to create Castor & Pollux Studios, their production company. They are full-time filmmakers who hope to create a new lexicon of folklore in the Rocky Mountain region in order to add our voice to the already vibrant Utah arts community.

Is filmmaking a career path that you’ve always wanted to pursue? Was there a defining moment that you decided you wanted to be a filmmaker?

Film making has always been something that we wanted to pursue together. We grew up in the shadow of Sundance and were always in touch with the independent film-making world because our mother worked as a coordinator for Sundance’s local outreach program. This meant we got to see all the movies as they came through the festival with local audiences. Sundance features films from every part of the world and we were touched by the power of film to capture the identity of a place and community. We similarly wanted to harness film’s power to highlight and explore our region’s unique culture and history. When we finished our schooling, we felt ready to enter the wonderful and complex world of film-making and make our mark on the industry as artists devoted to a regionalist vision. 

Can you provide a brief description of your project that received the Next Level grant?

Over the last year, we have been making shorts that are part of what we’re calling “The Rocky Mountain Mythology” trilogy. They are meant to be mythical stories that have strong allegorical messages. We are hoping to make stories that could have been taken out of a Utah folklore collection. The project that won the grant is the 3rd short in the trilogy and is titled The Dowager. It follows a farmer’s wife as she deals with the death of her husband in a world where metaphor and magic demonstrate a very complex and emotional event. 

What aspects of the Next Level grant program do you find most helpful?

The grant will certainly be very helpful with procuring the essential equipment and crew we need to make the film. However, the benefits that come from being a recognized part of the community are much more long-lasting and can continue to be fruitful beyond this one project.

What are you planning to use the grant funding for?

We are planning to use the grant money primarily to obtain the necessary equipment (e.g. camera, grip and electric).

Cody Petersen — The Hitchhiker and The Cowboy

Cody Petersen originally started attending the University of Utah to study architecture, and briefly considered the film program but didn’t really see how to make that an actual career, especially outside of Hollywood. He ended up getting a 4-year degree in music,  where he was introduced to and worked on the technology side of music.  There, he learned how to run their recording studio and also how to edit using protools, even working for a time on-air as a radio DJ.  Over the last 10 years, he’s been doing video production both as a freelance/self-employed one-man band and as the in-house “video guy” for several large companies. Most recently, he worked as the in-house DP/production manager/sr editor for Vivint Smart Home where he worked on the yearly commercial campaigns featuring prominent players from the Utah Jazz.  He is currently back in the freelance/self-employed world under Fury Motion Picture Co. where he focuses on cinematography, also offering editing, directing, and producing services.

Is filmmaking a career path that you’ve always wanted to pursue? Was there a defining moment that you decided you wanted to be a filmmaker?

No, filmmaking hasn’t always been a path I even thought of pursuing.  It wasn’t until I was coincidentally in a position to do it that I thought it might be something worth pursuing.  I wouldn’t say there was one defining moment, over the years I’ve realized that the hardest day working on set I still consider just hanging out and having fun with my friends… oh, and I can get paid too? Done.  

Can you provide a brief description of your project that received the Next Level grant?

The Hitchhiker and the Cowboy is a script that was handed to me by a producer friend of mine several years ago when I was a freelancer looking for projects to do.  For one reason (or excuse) or another, it kept getting pushed to the back burner. I am motivated to make it now because of my recent return of full-time self-employment and wanting to make something of my own rather than just taking jobs people offer me.  It’s a story about two men whose old car leaves them stranded in the desert.  It soon becomes obvious that the old cowboy is not who/what he seems and may be holding a secret as to why he was driving on the old dusty road in the middle of nowhere in the first place.

What aspects of the Next Level grant program do you find most helpful?

I’m looking forward to taking advantage of all aspects of the Next Level Grant program for various reasons.  The grant will obviously be helpful to secure talent and resources to actually make the film. One thing I have learned over the years is that a good network of like-minded industry people is even more valuable. Having worked in the corporate world for as long as I have, I am still relatively unknown in the film industry. So I’m looking forward to the Sundance Co//ab membership as well as working with the Film Commission to help establish and build relationships in the local industry.

What are you planning to use the grant funding for?

The grant will first go towards hiring an actor, crew and some equipment rentals.  Luckily, I do have a small network of rental houses and industry friends that are willing to support me by donating time, talents, and equipment to work on this project.

Danny Schmidt — Janwaar Castle

Danny Schmidt is an award-winning director, producer, and cinematographer of non-fiction television, documentaries, and web content.  He has produced, directed, and photographed documentary films for clients including PBS, National Geographic, Netflix, Smithsonian, NASA, the National Science Foundation, and many others. He won an NW Emmy award for cinematography for his DP work on the PBS film Indian Relay and another for best topical documentary for Finding Traction on Netflix.  He received his MFA in Science and Natural History Filmmaking in 2012 from Montana State University and his BS in Earth Science from the University of Utah.  He currently lives in Salt Lake City.

I am broadly interested in nonfiction filmmaking, cinematography, and collaborating to tell stories at the confluence of culture, humanity, and the natural world.

Is filmmaking a career path that you’ve always wanted to pursue? Was there a defining moment that you decided you wanted to be a filmmaker?

My path to filmmaking was a bit circuitous. I had gone to college for science at the University of Utah, and then took a hard turn to the arts and enrolled in an MFA program for documentary film at Montana State. I didn’t have any idea what filmmaking entailed. The first year of film school was hard! But it was also an eye-opener. Filmmaking is a lifelong process of learning, collaborating, and uncovering new stories and potential within yourself.

Can you provide a brief description of your project that received the Next Level grant?

I am currently working on completing a documentary called Janwaar Castle that tells the story of several young kids in India whose lives have are transformed by the skatepark built in their tiny village.  I’ve skateboarded for most of my life and I’ve also believed in it’s ability to transform lives in a positive way.  The kids in this village are fairly isolated, but they are cultivating their own skate culture while at the same time using it as a vehicle to break down generations of caste and gender barriers.  It is really inspiring!

What aspects of the Next Level grant program do you find most helpful?

I am so thrilled to be part of this Next Level grant program.  Of course, every penny helps to make this project come to life, but I think having the support of the Utah Film Commission is invaluable.

What are you planning to use the grant funding for?

This funding will go towards the next production trip to the village in India helping to offset travel, accommodations, local fixers, and gear rental.

 

Find more information about our Next Level Grant Program here.

Allie Russell is the Marketing Coordinator at the Utah Film Commission, based in Salt Lake City. For any press and media inquiries, contact the Utah Film Commission at cmmartin@utah.gov

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