In Residence: Filmmaker Terence Nance

By his own admission, filmmaker Terence Nance has been working on “5,000 things” while in residence. It’s the nature of the filmmaking beast to have many pots (post-production, editing, filming, pre-production, etc.) bubbling away at once on the stovetop. Keeping on top of them all is a necessary challenge, especially for a young filmmaker. 

Terence’s first feature film, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival as part of its New Frontier program. The film, which uses both live action and animation, garnered a number of accolades: Filmmaker magazine named Terence one of the 25 new faces of independent film. The film also won the 2012 Gotham Award for “Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You.” The film has since been released theatrically in the U.S., U.K., France and South Africa.

On a fellowship funded by the NEA supporting community based, socially engaged visual artists, Terence was joined at VCCA by his collaborators Naima Ramos-Chapman, and Chanelle Aponte Pearson. “When Naima and I first got here,” he says. “We had to finish two films because they are premiering in January. And Nothing Happened is a film Naima Directed and I DP'd and produced. It is a retelling of post-traumatic stress following a sexual assault. It focuses on how PTSD affects banal, quotidian things like how to get out of bed, how to make breakfast, or talk to your family. This film to premiere at the Slamdance Film Festival, which takes place in Park City Utah at the same time as Sundance. Their other film, Swimming in Your Skin, is premiering at Sundance.

After they completed those two films, Terence was able to focus on another collaboration, this time with Ms. Aponte Pearson: a film documenting skin bleaching practices around the world. “We’re putting together footage we shot in Jamaica and writing the script for that part and then just trying to get the transcripts for the pre-interviews from other subjects in other countries. Then we can write a script based on those and get some footage to cut together so we can raise some more money for the shoot in Thailand.” A film like this, with multiple locations in multiple countries, requires a lengthy and costly principle photography period. Funding from ITVS covered the Jamaica filming. They also received partial funding from Tribeca Film Institute. Terence is optimistic about securing other funding once they get the script for the pre-interviews done. “We broke up the principal photography period into little chunks and we’ll be doing that, shooting little chunks, until there’s like a tipping point basically. Total budget for that film is like $900,000, which is not a lot in the film world.

“Fingers crossed, if we get more money we’ll be going to Thailand in November. I also want to go back to Jamaica and be a fly on the wall. Just watch and watch and not ask questions. I want to see what people are talking about and if there’s anything that can be revealed about why they bleach their skin. I want to emulate photographer Sebastião Salgado who really immerses himself in the places he photographs, spending several weeks there before he even gets his camera out.”

Funding films varies depending on the project. Terence has done commissions as well as small, relatively inexpensive out of pocket projects. “How things happen is just random. It’s the nature of being American. In Canada you have the National Film Board, the U.K. has the lottery. We have to piece it together randomly. There’s no one way to deal with the challenge of fundraising for feature films.”

The old model of artists and patrons is still very much alive in the film world. Patrons tend to be in other industries like the tech world. They don’t really care if the work ends up being commercially viable even though it generally is. Films that are increasingly ambitious and conceptually different from mainstream movie are funded by a patron. “Patronage exists outside the formal box and will sustain the bigger ideas.”  Terence says. He’s still trying to figure it out.  “The patronage model doesn’t really exist in the black film and art community,” he says. “We don’t really have that, we don’t have that wealth class. That said i'm open to funding from any patron of any hue.”

Terence makes all kinds of films from music videos to fictionalized stories and non-fiction works. He resists the term documentary to describe his fact-based films preferring subjective non-fiction or invented non-fiction to describe them. This allows for a more fluid, open approach. Terence’s films run the gamut in terms of length from 16 minutes up to a four hour version of a 90 minute film for presentation in a theater setting.

Terence and Chanelle valued VCCA’s open spaces and empty studio walls, a welcome respite from their visually charged and busy lives in Brooklyn. Last year, they spent two months at The Headlands Center for the Arts in Marin County, which provided the same blank slate on which to work and think.

Success has not changed Terence. “Now I have a longer resume... more work, but nobody threw a party as a result, nothing happened, I'm just constantly reminded that I need more work in order to galvanize the resources to make more conceptually ambitious projects. Work that requires period costumes, 40 extras, or whatever.” One hopes that the patronage is forthcoming that will see the ambitions of this very interesting up and coming filmmaker come to fruition.


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