FameBooking had the pleasure of interviewing Phoenix celebrity and filmmaker Chris LaMont. If you didn’t know - Chris co-founded the Phoenix Film Festival, in addition to directing, producing and writing several well-known independent films. He’s also been a professor at Arizona State University since 2003 (not to mention the fact that he graduated Magna Cum Laude from the same university – even winning a local Emmy while still in school). It would be safe to say that he is one of the biggest names in film in the state of Arizona and certainly has touched many lives through living his passion – FILM!
When did you know you would end up in film as a career?
I was one of those kids that picked up a camera in 4th Grade and started making movies and always kept making them through middle school and high school. When I graduated high school, I kept making film projects but thought I was going to be an English teacher, because there wasn’t a film school in Arizona. During college, I asked myself what made me happy – and it was being creative and making movies – so that’s what I did. Very blessed to still be doing that thing I dreamed of when I was a kid.
How did the Phoenix Film Festival come about, exactly? Was it your idea?
My producing partner and I were editing a short film project late one night, and I said that it was too bad that there wasn’t a local film festival that we could submit our film to. I said that maybe we should start one. And that was it. Sometimes the best ideas are the ones that come at 4:00 in the morning.
When does it take place, and how is it different from other such festivals?
The Festival takes place at the end of March over 11 days, and there are a couple of big differences. We take over an entire wing of screens in a multiplex for most of the festival. Most festivals have screenings in different places – in Sundance, you have to jump on a tram to take you to four different screening venues – but everything is centralized in one place. It creates a great sense of community with the audience and the filmmakers.
The other is our emphasis on truly independent filmmakers, the ones who are making movies with lower budgets and don’t necessarily have big Hollywood stars in them. We want to give all filmmakers a chance to tell their stories, regardless of the amount of money they spend.
That is so cool. What's the hardest part of running it?
There’s so many moving parts – getting films submitted, getting sponsors, marketing the festival, and then the actual execution of the event itself. The Festival has two paid staff members and over 200 volunteers who work every year to make it work – but it does, and it’s a great experience for everybody involved. We have over 25,000 attendees every year!
What thing(s) do you love most about the festival?
Watching these filmmakers who have worked so hard on their movies get a chance to show them in a great venue, to appreciative audience members who know the sacrifices it takes to make an independent film. It’s not easy, or everyone would do it. And the trademark of a good festival is bringing the filmmakers out to the screenings to do Q&As. You can go watch a movie - but to see the creators in person and meet them is a truly special experience.
One other thing that is great about our Festival is the tremendous focus on education. We have high school workshops during the festival where they get to meet filmmakers and also learn from industry professionals about writing, directing and all aspects of film production. We also run the Arizona Student Film Festival which gives student filmmakers a chance to show their work to our audiences on the big screen. I teach at ASU and the coolest thing is when a student reminds me that they met me at our workshops and now they are enrolled in the film school. We're inspiring and growing the next generation of filmmakers.
Tell us what’s cool about the Phoenix film scene from a Phoenix celebrity perspective.
Honestly, there is a very small film industry presence here in Arizona. Because the state lacks financial incentives for producers to come here (as opposed to states like New Mexico and Louisiana that have huge incentives), it’s generally small independent filmmakers. Beyond that, the industry is commercials, industrials, and educational videos.
How long have you been teaching and what is your favorite subject(s) to teach?
I’ve taught for 16 years at Arizona State University, and I have a number of favorite subjects. I teach an online class about American Comedy Films, and I even wrote a textbook to accompany it. I have a Career in Media Industry class that gets our students ready to go into the outside world, and my Creative Process class is the first required class that all film majors take – where I take them through all of the aspects of film creation. It’s great to see those students realize all of the jobs it takes to make a movie!
Is there anything you could tell us about your own films that fans don’t already know?
The films that I’ve done are all small budget films, you can find most of them on Netflix or Amazon Prime - including The Graves, Justice Served, and Netherbeast Incorporated - all home-grown Arizona films. On The Graves, we filmed in a real ghost town, and had some real creepy stuff happen out there. Like that place was totally haunted.
What do you think about the new directions that filmmaking is taking these days?
The industry is in a big state of flux right now. The Disney takeover of Fox is going to limit content creation, but with Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services, this is a great time to be creating content. Everyone loves entertainment – but it’s also a huge business.
Anything you often say, or would like now to say, to young filmmakers?
The biggest thing is learn how to do the technical aspects of film. How to use a camera, how to light, how to record proper sound, how to edit – once you do that – then you can start honing your storytelling skills. But having a good knowledge of the technical basics is so important.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Make sure that whatever project you’re doing is the best it can possibly be. You don’t ever get a second chance to make a good first impression – and if you make one bad movie, it’s hard for people to believe you can make a good one.
We know this isn’t easy, but: name your five favorite movies in any genre.
Rear Window, The Matrix, Apocalypse Now, The Empire Strikes Back, Anchorman.
What are you currently working on?
My career has been in phases – out of college I was a director and did five features, then I moved exclusively into producing and produced six films, and now I have a writing partner and I’m screenwriting. I have an agent in Hollywood and we’ve sold three scripts in various genres. One of them, The Au Pair, about a girl who ends up working for the wrong couple who have a horrible secret, is being produced independently and should be out before the end of the year.
Ooh, that sounds hot, we'll look for it! Thank you for being such a gracious Phoenix celebrity. Any final thoughts in closing?
I say if you have a dream and people don’t get your dream, then you should go for it anyway. I believe in a life of no regrets – go for it – and even if it doesn’t work out exactly as you wanted it – at least you can say that you tried your best. No one can ever take that away from you!