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For 27-year-old New York film student A. Stephen Lee, earning a financial grant from Salt Lake City's The David Ross Fetzer Foundation meant he was able to make fewer artistic compromises in completing his latest short film.
At the end of his film, "The Sounds of Coins Hitting Brass," for example, he envisioned a long, dreamy scene where a young boy would come to understand something difficult about his enigmatic father's character. Securing the equipment and hiring a steady-cam operator to film that long take added up to about an eighth of the budget for his entire film.
"I was really happy to make my film exactly the way I wanted to," says Lee, a San Francisco-area native enrolled in film school at New York's Columbia University, whose film features a Filipino cast. "Because I got a little bit more money, because I got the grant, and I was able to work with my friends, I felt that I was able to compromise less. It meant I could make a film that I think would otherwise be risky to fund."
"The Sound of Coins Hitting Brass" is one of four short films to be screened at the third annual showcase for local actor/musician/filmmaker David Fetzer, who died in 2012 at age 30 of an accidental prescription drug overdose. His mother, Betsy Ross, and friends launched the nonprofit in 2013 to support emerging artists, as Fetzer did in his life with the film scripts he wrote, with acting roles in his friends' films and with the experimental theater company he launched.
For Brigham Young University-trained filmmaker Nick Dixon, also part of the showcase, earning a gear grant from what's known as The Davey Foundation offered him a chance to rewrite a script he had already filmed.
His Utah-shot film, "Mine," in which the desert landscape outside southern Utah's Hanksville stands in for the Gaza Strip, is about a shepherd (Andrew Diaz) who finds himself trapped on a land mine.
"I used it as a do-over, applying things I had learned from the last movie and trying to make it something I was happier about," says Dixon, 27, who won student and regional Emmys while at BYU, and best student director at last year's Filmed in Utah Awards. He currently works as a post-production supervisor at Salt Lake City's Saint Cloud production company.
The foundation offered one filmmaker grant last year. This year it offered two financial grants and two gear grants for emerging filmmakers, defined as those under age 35. In addition, the foundation is working with Plan-B and the Salt Lake Acting Company to offer grants supporting young playwrights. (See box.)
The Dec. 15 showcase at the Tower Theatre offers filmmakers a chance to present their films on a theater screen and to meet film lovers interested in supporting emerging voices. The two other films to be screened are Ted Schaefer's "The Zeno Question" and Lauren Wolkstein's "Beemus: It'll End in Tears."
In addition, the foundation will host a meet-and-greet and filmmakers panel Wednesday at the Broadway Centre Theatre headlined by Nathan and David Zellner. The Zellners' film "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter" premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, and the filmmakers are planning to shoot a new film in Utah.
What sets apart The Davey Foundation's grants is they come with advice and connections. "Fantastic feedback" from an "amazing network of super talented filmmakers and mentor" is how filmmaker Ben Keegan describes the help he received last year to complete "The First Men."
Keegan will be returning to Salt Lake City this year after spending the year providing a "fresh set of eyes" to Lee.
Grant programs for short films are rare, and that they matter significantly to beginning filmmakers is reflected in the increase in Davey Foundation submissions, from 150 in 2014 to 400 in 2015.
"We were not quite prepared for the jump," says Kenny Riches, a longtime friend of Fetzer's and the foundation's vice president. Riches' second full-length film, "The Strongest Man," screened at Sundance last year. He read 200 of the scripts himself, as the foundation was committed to having application read by two readers.
"There's not a lot of foundations giving grants specifically to short narrative films," says Virgina Pearce, head of the Utah Film Commission. "They've carved out a niche for themselves. I count The Davey Foundation as one of those putting Utah on the map for having a living, breathing film industry here."
The goal of any filmmaker is to have his or her work seen, says Schaefer, who termed himself "happy to be part of the Davey family." Without the foundation's gear grant, he says it would have taken longer to cobble together the money to shoot his third short film.
"To be able to screen it in a theater is amazing," Schaefer says.
Lee adds: "Anytime it's not on a computer is amazing."
This year's showcase also represents another step in the foundation's growth. "We're really trying to change it so it's not just a memorial every year, and instead focus it on what David really put his energy into, which is help on other people's projects," Riches says. "It's still all in the name of David and our love for David, but we're just trying to grow as an organization."
Honoring the work of emerging filmmakers
The David Ross Fetzer Foundation's annual showcase will screen four short films and offer a silent auction to raise money for the Salt Lake City nonprofit.
When • Tuesday, Dec. 15, 8 p.m.
Where • Tower Theatre, 876 E. 900 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $15 ($5 students), at the daveyfoundation.org or at the door
Filmmaker Forum, with filmmakers David and Nathan Zellner
When • Wednesday, Dec. 16, 7 p.m.; preceded by a meet-and-greet in the lobby at 6:15 p.m.
Where • Broadway Centre Theatre, 111 E. Broadway (300 South), Salt Lake City
Tickets • Free; donations to The Davey Foundation accepted
More information • The foundation also works with two Salt Lake City theater groups, Plan-B and Salt Lake Acting Company, to support emerging playwrights. Plan-B recently announced its third and fourth grants, for Morag Shepherd's "Not One Drop" and Austin Archer's "Jump"; its second grant-sponsored production, a sold-out run of Rob Tennant's "Booksmart," played Dec. 3-13. SLAC supported a developmental workshop and staged reading of Katherine Vondy's " The Fermi Paradox" in August and is accepting applications for its 2016 grant. Visit http://www.saltlakeactingcompany.org/new-play-development for information.