Schmoo-light On: Steven Tagle

What makes Schmooru special is the amazing community of filmmakers that it attracts. One of the main goals that Dan and I set out to accomplish was to create a network that really clicks with each other above and beyond what we facilitate. In order to start getting to know each other a little better I’ll be spotlighting producers from time to time. Our first entry is Steven Tagle who has been generous enough to share some insights into his work as a filmmaker.

Documentary filmmaker and fellow Schmoo

How did you get started as a filmmaker?
I started making films in college as a member of the Stanford Film Society. I gravitated towards film because it seemed like such a democratic, DIY medium. Coming to film from theatre, I loved the idea that I could express myself and document the experiences of others without needing a performance space or an entire troop of actors and crew members. I wrote, directed, and produced three narrative shorts at Stanford. After college, I bought a Canon HDV camera and moved to LA to pursue film. Working as a “one-man show,” I started producing short-form documentaries for Current TV about a range of local and national issues.

What is your favorite thing you’ve worked on and why?
In January 2008, I covered the New Hampshire primary with Current. I felt that for the first time, I was using my camera in exciting and socially conscious ways, covering issues instead of politics, and affording viewers a first-hand look at the presidential primary circus. I loved the opportunity to put my filmmaking skills to work in service of “real” news. Working with Current’s production staff and a cadre of talented citizen journalists, I attended the Democratic 100 Club Dinner, met passionate volunteers, and chased the presidential candidates from event to event trying to get my questions answered. Those five days were the most exhausting and worthwhile filmmaking endeavor I’ve participated in since moving to LA.

What does it mean to you to be a “schmoo”
Other than Dan Beckmann’s pet, I think being a “schmoo” means being part of a daring and necessary journalistic experiment. Our community of skilled media producers endeavors to expand the definition of user-generated content by covering local issues intelligently and insightfully, producing pieces that professional media outlets and organizations will pay to broadcast. Being a schmoo means reporting from ground zero, using your unique voice to shine a light on local issues that the rest of the nation may not be aware of. It means engaging with a decentralized network of socially conscious producers to improve your craft, educate others, and make an impact with your work.

Would you say you’re more on the “schmooze” side or more on the “guru” side of things?
I’d say I’m comfortably in the middle. Though I’m not a total schmoozer, I like knowing that the producer network exists and feel comfortable tapping into it if I need to. On the other hand, I don’t consider myself a new media guru either, though I’m pretty adept with the equipment that I own. Funny, I didn’t know those two words were the roots of schmooru…

Anything else you want to tell us about being a filmmaker–advice etc.
I think that filmmakers, especially documentary filmmakers, must be brave, must be unflinching. The filmmaker has a responsibility to act as a witness, to give voice to the voiceless. No image is off limits; filmmakers must train themselves to overcome their inhibitions and not look away. We travel to the edge of public consciousness and return to raise awareness with our art.

And, as an added bonus, we’re going to hear 25 random things from Steven a la the Facebook meme. Read on, you may learn some very fascinating things about your fellow Schmoo.

  1. Favorite movies: Gattaca, The Truman Show, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
  2. Favorite directors: Ang Lee, Alfonso Cuaron, Stephen Daldry, Rian Johnson, and Richard Kelly.
  3. In sixth grade, I gave a presentation on Steven Spielberg with blow-up dinosaurs and a photocopied version of Spielberg’s head on a stick.
  4. In eighth grade, I wanted to be a filmmaker because Dawson on Dawson’s Creek wanted to be a filmmaker.
  5. In tenth grade, I bought my first video camera, a Sony Hi8 camcorder.
  6. I used the camcorder to film myself lighting things on fire with my friend Kyle.
  7. “Flatfish,” my first short film, is about two boys who use sock puppets to deal with the college transition. At the screening of that film, the first half of my introductory remarks were made in Greek.
  8. A week before production started on “Model Man,” my lead actor cracked his head open on a banister.
  9. At my mom’s suggestion, I cast my high school friend, Barrett, as the replacement. I made him shave his arms, wear striking blue contacts, and glue a rotating key to his back with tar.
  10. Number of times I’ve slept on the couch in the Stanford Film Society office: five.
  11. My first summer in LA, I interned at Warner Brothers and Village Roadshow Pictures.
  12. Favorite feeling from that summer: driving a golf cart around the Warner lot, passing groups stopped on tour trams.
  13. Favorite quote from that summer: “Who do I have to sleep with to get off this film?” (Courtesy of Dan)
  14. Best filmmaking advice I’ve ever received: “Do everything before you’re ready.” (Thanks Danielle!)
  15. Bad dialogue grates on my ear like nails on a chalkboard.
  16. I’ve been to Sundance four times.
  17. I can never recognize celebrities.
  18. Current TV was the first company to pay me for my creative work.
  19. My documentaries usually include shots of my subjects’ feet.
  20. Producing “Trent Loves Greg” and covering the issue of gay marriage during the New Hampshire primary gave me the strength to come out.
  21. I came out on national TV the night before the primary.
  22. I was mugged at gunpoint while filming a travel series in the La Boca barrio of Buenos Aires.
  23. My colleague said that I wrestled with the muggers for my camera.
  24. I returned to La Boca a few days later to film “Street Kid Book Factory” with collective journalist Sarah Gilbert.
  25. I appreciate documentarians who are unflinching: who can capture their subjects without ever looking away.

If you want to know more about Steven and check out some of his past work, please visit his site at: http://steventagle.com/films

And of course, don’t forget to add him as a friend on Schmooru!

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