Suezean Matarazzo and Nicholle Walton Durban can barely contain their enthusiasm when they talk about Austin Film and Arts Academy, the film school for kids they’ve founded that is now in it’s third year. The two women bring their over 20 years of skills and experience in the real-world of professional filmmaking to aspiring students with an intense two week class that immerses them in every aspect of the craft, from pre- and post production to distribution and film festivals. There’s more information on their website, including hours of operation, discounts, and description of classes.
AMFM: WHERE DID YOU FIND THE INSPIRATION TO START THIS SCHOOL?
SUEZEAN: /strong> My inspiration came from years ago when I started getting RTF students from UT as interns on professional film sets. I discovered that there’s a lot of stuff they don’t learn in college, and I enjoyed teaching them. From that I was asked to come in to teach by the Leander school district for the media and film department.
I found I really enjoyed working with these kids. They are a lot like me when I was 12 and 13. I had no information on how to shoot a film, there was no where to go to get any actual real training. So I started training these high school and middle school children on professional techniques learned on the set.
After that I was asked to join REEL Women, and through them as a board member I managed a production in the education department for children from 12 to 21. When REEL Women dissolved, I started Austin Film and Arts Academy and continued to do the same thing, and just refined it. Then after a year, I brought Nicholle in.
As a kid, I had no one to tell me how to set a light, what’s the color temperature, how to rack focus. A lot of the film schools “dummy it up” for the kids, and I try to teach professional technique.
AMFM: SUEZEAN, YOU’RE A MOTHER YOURSELF.
SUEZEAN: Yes, I have five kids.
AMFM: THEN YOU KNOW YOU DON’T ‘DUMMY IT UP’ FOR KIDS, BECAUSE THEY’RE SMARTER THAN WE ARE.
SUEZEAN: Absolutely! They’re ready for the information and they want the information, and they need it.
NICHOLLE: We’re both moms, and I have similar story. I come from a small southern town, and I was telling Suezean that I literally had to fight my high school principal to do “Grease” because the good girl turns bad in the end. That was the thought process there.
Ironically, in Lousiana (ironically) 16 years ago, there was nowhere for me to go as a performing artist. So I went to L.A. When we came back here and I became more active in the film community, one of my goals was to work with children. Having my own children, and looking at the options around town – don’t get me wrong, they’re great, but they were kid’s camps. They were dumbed down for the kids to have something to do for half a day and then play. So when Suezean approached me, it was a natural fit.
I wanted to get kids together, to teach them the technical aspect, and really encourage creativity – surround them with like minded people, and have them network.
AMFM: WHAT ARE THE KIDS SAYING ABOUT THE SCHOOL?
SUEZEAN: I’ve had a lot of return kids. The kids are saying this is the only opportunity they’ve had to shoot actual films, with professional cameras and lighting. So they love it. So every year when they come back, I see they’ve got new ideas, and they’ve started a network with some of the other students in-between the years.
The parents love it too. On the one hand they’re glad the kids are enjoying it and learning, on the other hand they’re fearful they’re going to have “film students” to send off to college. (laughs) That’s not every parent’s dream.
NICHOLLE: The kids really love it. You can look at the work that’s been generated through the school and it speaks for itself. We’re teaching the full aspect of filmmaking. You may want to be a writer, or director, but you need to understand how the grip department works. You need to understand how the producing aspect of it works. You need to understand how to talk to your actors, and your actors need to know how a film set works. When you give them a full, rounded picture of how things work, it allows them to become stronger with their own individual focus.
SUEZEAN: It helps them achieve their goals. After they learn to schedule and shoot the film, then they learn that it has to be edited, it has to be scored, it has to be marketed. We have a resource section for them with information on sending films to film festivals. They see that it’s a whole business, and their dream becomes more of a reality, because they have the tools as well as the steps that you need to go through.
AMFM: HAVE ANY OF THE CHILDREN SENT THEIR FILMS IN TO A FILM FESTIVAL?
SUEZEAN: Right now we are taking that on ourselves, if you look at the website you’ll see some of the completed films. One in particular is called “The Assignment” that we would send off. But a lot of the kids their films will end up on Youtube.
This is educational for us too. Our generation’s thinking was you would go to film festivals and a distributor. But watching the way this generation views and consumes their media is completely different.
AMFM: AT WHAT MOMENT DID YOU FEEL THAT THIS WAS SOMETHING YOU REALLY WERE MEANT TO BE DOING?
SUEZEAN: The first day of the film school three years ago. It was the same feeling you get when you walk on set. Excitement! My mom was a school teacher for 30 years. I said I would never be a teacher, I would kill the kids. But I realized that when you’re teaching something you’ve been so entrenched in for 20 years, it’s natural.
NICHOLLE: I was excited when Suzean approached me, because it was something that was already in my peripheral. I also consider myself an eternal student, from the people that I work with on professional sets, to the people that I train with in other classes, to the kids that I teach. It was also because I am a mom, and I saw that working with my own kids and wanting to give them a piece. When we went through the camp last summer, I knew that this was how I wanted to spend my summer. It’s the same as being on a professional film set in so many ways, and it’s different because they’re children, but I learn as much from them as they learn from me.
SUEZEAN: You’re inspired by it. You start to remember the fun that you had when you first started.
AMFM: HOW LONG ARE THE FILMS?
Nine to 11 minutes, and they shoot in four days, working from 9 a.m. to 4. p.m. We have one week where we train them on the equipment, on safety and set protocol. We explain the departments, we develop the script. The writers break out of the group. They write the script, plan the shoot, crew up. They have a little schedule and a shot list, and they follow that meticulously.
NICHOLLE: We bring the classes together and incorporate them. In our acting classes, you’ll see the actors audition for the director. We teach the director how to work with the various actors and their roles. Even our claymation and stop gap classes, you’ll see these younger filmmakers, but they take legos and clay and storyboard out an idea, they bring it together and they film and edit it.
AMFM: HAVE YOU BEEN AMAZED BY SOME OF THEIR IDEAS?
SUEZEAN AND NICHOLLE: Blown away! Just blown away.
SUEZEAN: Not just by their ideas, but their understanding of film. These are kids that really want to be filmmakers, actors and directors. They’ve done their homework. When they show up, I surprised, they already know what a motivational shot is, I’m surprised that they understand the arcing of a character.
They have a lot to learn because they don’t have a lot of life experience, but it’s very inspirational. I’m surprised how talented and amazing these kids are. We have one named Julian who started out when he was 11. This is his third year, and he wrote and directed “The Assignment.”
NICHOLLE: He’s amazing.
SUEZEAN: He will be a force to be reckoned with. There are always the kids who come to camp because they have to, but there are some that you just “know” have it. There are some kids that have graduated from UT that I’d been working with since they were juniors in high school, and you can see it in them, it’s very apparent.
SUEZEAN MATARAZZO has 20 years of experience in film and video production. Getting her start in Los Angeles, she worked her way up from grip to camera, then moved to Austin to co-found the music software company Nemesys, the first company to develop drive-based streaming audio. Their GigaStudio product line, designed for studio music recording, was used to score Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Academy Award winning Gladiator and hundreds of other films and network shows. After selling NemeSys to Tascam Japan in 2001, Ms. Matarazzo returned to her film roots. Relearning her craft in a digital format, she formed Matahari Pictures, a small production and editing studio in Austin, Texas. She has a visual style that has been compared to top photographers and has traveled around the world to film documentaries and narrative projects, most recently a documentary in Northern India, chronicling the impact of farmer suicides on their surviving children. She serves the Austin community by sharing her love and respect of film, and the process of filmmaking. Former CFO of (AFA) Austin Film Alliance, she mentors RTF students from the University of Texas, along with other interns from all walks of life. Long involved in working with non-profits, she currently serves on the advisory council for Our Mission Possible, an organization that forms a bridge between the judicial system and young, at-risk teens in East Austin. She works closely with teachers and young aspiring filmmakers, co-authoring the Media Tech and Film Department’s 2008 curriculum at all Leander ISD high schools. Her inclusive approach to film brings interns on working film sets, to shadow in the Camera and the Grip and Electric departments. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
NICHOLLE WALTON DURBAN is an actress, singer, producer and business entrepreneur. She attended Santa Monica College and Cal State Fullerton where she trained in Theater Arts, and was active in Musical Theater and independent films. She became a member of SAG in 2003 after her role in The Girl Next Door (20th Century Fox / Directed by Luke Greenfield). In 2007, she traveled to China as part of the SMC Musical Theater Troup/Cross Cultural Exchange Program.Mrs. Durban met husband and business partner, Justin R. Durban in 2007 and after the birth of their first son, the couple decided to relocate to Austin where they would raise their family and form their production company, Edgen Films, LLC with partner Leah Weinberger. With Edgen Films, Mrs. Durban has been instrumental in developing and producing Award Winning Short Films such as MAHLEN, BITS & PIECES and RACK (2010 Doorpost Film Festival Finalist). In 2010, she worked with local Production Company D7 Studios, Producing the full length scifi action adventure film THE CURSE OF BABYLON. In 2012 she would team up with Suezean Matarazzo, to help with the development and expansion of Austin Film and Arts Academy, a program that guides kids in the business, creative, and technical aspects of filmmaking. Mrs. Durban continues to teach, develop, produce, and promote the Arts and takes pride in being involved with high quality, exciting and inspiring filmmaking.