Let’s make some movies, Miami.

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For the last 5 years, I’ve lived within a few blocks of Jimmy’s Diner.  For even longer than that this neighborhood greasy spoon has been my go-to place for low-key weekend breakfasts and some of the best people watching in the city.  Whenever friends are visiting, I ask them, “Want to go to the diner from Moonlight?” The answer is always a quick and resounding “yes.” Such is the appeal of the beloved film that even an innocuous neighborhood restaurant becomes alluring.

Two years after Moonlight premiered to audience adoration and Academy Award wins, people are still talking about it and the impact its made on Miami. The energy and enthusiasm it ignited have been fervent.  

The question on everyone’s mind now is: what’s next?  How do you follow the film that Miami Herald critic Rene Rodriguez rightfully called “Miami’s first bonafide movie masterpiece”?  It was that question that brought Moonlight producer Andrew Hevia, ArtCenter South Florida CEO Dennis Scholl and myself together to brainstorm how to leverage this watershed momento improve the local filmmaking ecosystem.  

We knew we were succeeding in some areas.  Miami-made short films are soaring, with local collective Borscht Corp leading the way with 17 projects in the last eight years premiering at Sundance. Our documentary community, spearheaded by the work of Billy Corben, Alfred Spellman and Dave Cypkin of Rakontur, have brought Miami stories to major networks and cinemas for over a decade.  

However, we weren’t creating many independent narrative features.  

Filmmaker Ang Lee famously said,  “There is more than one way to make movies” and we couldn’t agree more. Making a great film is not a question of celebrities, explosions and a big budget, but rather of storytelling, ingenuity and a unique creative voice. Some of our most beloved and heralded storytellers started with not much more than an idea, a few resources and maxed out credit cards.

Many of these films weren’t just low-budget, they were microbudgets. Robert Rodriguez famously made El Mariachi, the film that launched his career, for $7,000.  Kevin Smith’s first feature Clerks, still regarded by many as his best, only cost $27,000 to make.  Moonlight itself wouldn’t have happened if Barry Jenkins hadn’t first made Medicine for Melancholy, a small indie that cost him $14,000 but captured the attention of the film programmers at SXSW and Toronto Film Festival before being nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards.  

Microbudget filmmaking is not just about saving money, it’s about using finite resources to tell your story in innovative ways.  When you don’t have a substantial budget for special effects, elaborate locations or makeup prosthetics, you learn to lean into your storytelling skills and your ingenuity.  Dennis, Andrew and I knew that a Microbudget Film initiative could create an ecosystem where films could be conceived, produced and released all within Miami-Dade and then shared with the world. Today, I’m here to introduce the Art Center South Florida’s Cinematic Arts Residency.

This exciting new opportunity, helmed by ArtCenter’s new Cinematic Arts Manager and filmmaker Jason Fitzroy Jeffers, will help spur a new wave of Miami filmmaking.  Two filmmakers will receive $50,000 each to make a movie set and filmed in Miami. They’ll get an established producer to help them make it, studio space at ArtCenter South Florida, mentorship, industry networking opportunities and, when completed, the film will get a week-long theatrical run at O Cinema.  The pre-requisites are simple: Be Miami-based; share samples of previously created work, and tell us what you’ll do, and how, with the funds.  

In the wake of Moonlight’s Oscar win, many of us asked, how could we ensure that Moonlight was not an anomaly?  The answer has been there all along.  Let’s give artists the tools and opportunities they need to excel and see what great works await us.  

This week at the Toronto International Film Festival, Barry Jenkins will premiere his highly anticipated follow-up to Moonlight, the gorgeous looking If Beale Street Could Talk  and the Rakontur gang will build on the incredible Miami stories they started telling with Cocaine Cowboys when they unveil the zany and captivating Screwball.  As excited as I am for these new works from some of our hometowns most gifted creators, I’m most anxiously anticipating discovering the new cinematic voices in Miami who will share their own stories and experiences with the world.  We all want to see what you have to share and we’re ready to help you make your visions a reality. Come on and tell us a story.

Applications for the Art Center South Florida’s Cinematic Arts Residency are being accepted through Sept. 18 at 6pm.  You can apply here.  An info session will be held on Sept. 16 at O Cinema Wynwood.  Please RSVP to attend.