Fill the frame is a documentary about street photography that has been successfully kickstarted.
From the kickstarter page we read:
“With the continuing rise of the digital age and popularity of social media, the genre of street photography has propelled like we’ve never seen before. Still there is more opportunity for street photography to be recognized and appreciated by the masses.
Photography is a vehicle for storytelling; capturing a moment in time yet allowing for endless possibilities of interpretation. Fill The Frame is a feature documentary telling a story not only within the frame of photographs, but of the people behind the camera.
This film follows eight esteemed street photographers in New York to get an exclusive look at their work and their own unique journey over the years.
You don’t have to be a fan of photography to enjoy this film. My hope is that you’ll find a story that will resonate with you, to help fuel your own passions and fulfill your own dreams. “
I interviewed the director, Tim Huynh about his project below…
Fill The Frame Movie: Interview with the director
Who are you?
My name is Tim Huynh, I am a freelance video content creator; born, raised, and based in Honolulu, Hawaii. I first came across street photography in 2009 while in Chicago doing an internship. A fellow intern showed me some of Vivian Maier’s work (this was the early stages of her discovery) and ever since I’ve been hooked. I love street photography because it allows me to be creative without much effort, compared to making a short video or film.
What do you like most about street photography?
What I like most about street photography…That you can go out on any given day and take a photo without very much effort and be happy. I like that there aren’t many rules if any depending on who’d you ask.
More importantly I like the street photography community, from my experience the street community is very supportive of one another.
What is the Fill the frame movie about?
Fill the Frame follows eight contemporary New York City street photographers. The film takes an in-depth look at their work as photographers and as individuals, documenting their journey up to this point. The main cast consists of Dimitri Mellos, Jonathan Higbee, Julia Gillard, Lauren Welles, Mathias Wasik, Melissa Breyer, Melissa O’Shaughnessy, and Paul Kessel, but also features some of the very best street photographers to give their insights on the genre as well. We interviewed Jeff Mermelstein, Richard Sandler, Matt Weber, Michael Ernest Sweet, Meryl Meisler, Colin Westerbeck (author of Bystander), and Sandra Philips (SF MOMA Curator of Photographs).
How did you get the idea for it?
The idea was stewing in my mind for a year between 2017 and 2018. I’ve always done short documentary projects but wanted to pursue a bigger feature length film. I just didn’t come across the right subject matter until now. The initial idea was to do a series of vignettes highlighting one or two street photographers from various cities around the world and combining it into one film, but with little budget that was unrealistic.
So, I had to narrow down to one location and felt New York had the best bang for my filmmaking buck. However, hopefully this sets a foundation to build off of, as I would still love to produce a series of episodes in the future featuring photographers from all over, just like the original idea.
How did you approach making the project?
We began filming in the summer of 2018 for ten straight days. When I came back to Hawaii, I started to transcribe all the interviews and really study each interviewee’s answers. I tried finding similar themes amongst all of them and picked the best sound bites. I had to figure out where the narrative arc was and who were the strongest of the interviews.
To be honest, the process was ongoing, when you work on a project like this you can plan out your timeline as best as possible, but you’ll always find something, another angle, another theme that may make you reconsider your direction. Every photographer in this film is so interesting. Their backstory and how they began shooting street are all so different, it’s really hard to condense an hour and half of interview footage down to the best several minutes for each person. I just wanted to make sure I did everyone justice.
How did you go about selecting the photographers that are in the movie?
I was already following some of these photographers on Instagram and reached out to see if there was any interest. I formulated a longer list and sent out emails as well. I then sent preliminary questionnaires to the ones that responded back so that way I could learn more about their story and what inspires them. To me the photos were not enough, the person also needed an interesting story to share.
To me the photos were not enough, the person also needed an interesting story to share.
Anyone can curate a nice Instagram grid, but I wanted to know their story, what inspired them, what struggles did they have, what are their insecurities, and how their story can possibly help others. These were the things I was looking for when selecting the cast.
Also, I wanted to ensure that the cast produced different bodies of work. I wanted to touch upon a variety of different photography styles. Diversity was something I thought of a lot throughout this entire process. This was challenging because I needed folks that wanted to be a part of this project, had a good body of work to showcase, had an interesting story to share, and lived in New York City.
Of course, some people dropped out half way after the initial questionnaire process. Then there were a few others whose schedules didn’t align. It was like putting together a puzzle, all the pieces needed to fit perfectly. All in all, I am very happy with the cast that’s in the film. I believe it is a diverse group from age, gender, and background.
What are the challenges for making a movie like that? How did you overcome them?
Before this, I had never been to New York. So one of the early challenges were logistics and setting everything up in a city I had no idea what was like. I was working with a new cinematographer and other team members for the first time, so really trusting each other was crucial.
It was worrisome not knowing what to expect from the interviewees and their responses to my questions. You can always paint a picture in your mind of what they may or may not say and plan as much as you can, but you really don’t know what you’ll get. Funding became a challenge after the fact because I didn’t realized I needed to involve and interview additional people to give historical context to the film.
I also needed a lot of B-ROLL filming, which we did some while I was in New York, but because the main focus was to get the interviews, it was hard to coordinate the visuals of what each person was saying, until after I had dissected it during editing. Research, research, research! Going back and forth with the Kickstarter launch. I tried to stretch this as much as I could with my own resources but I definitely needed more help, the Kickstarter backers definitely made this whole project happen. And as of now I am reviewing it with the post-production sound, then off to festivals before releasing it online. So there’s still quite some time before anyone sees it. THANKS FOR YOUR PATIENCE!
What was the most exciting part in making this film?
The most exciting part was meeting everyone spending time with each one of them getting to know them beyond Instagram and Facebook, and just having a genuine conversation about their life and thoughts on street photography. Editing was fun. It was like opening a present on Christmas day. Dissecting the interviews, moving things around on the editing timeline to make something great, I really enjoyed that. Editing is where the magic happens, especially in documentary filmmaking. Being able to add my own twist and flavor to the film was my own contribution and I’m excited for people to see.
What did you as an artist learn from producing this film?
The main thing I learned was that everyone is just trying to find happiness in some shape or form in what they do. It felt good knowing that I wasn’t the only one who felt joy in just picking up a camera and taking pictures on the street. I found confidence in myself, that I can produce a feature length film if I just put my thoughts into action and take a leap of faith. By meeting and interviewing all these talented street photographers, it has inspired me to always be myself and pursue what fuels my creativity.
” It felt good knowing that I wasn’t the only one who felt joy in just picking up a camera and taking pictures on the street ”
What do you hope people takeaway from this after they watch the film?
I hope after watching the film, people will feel inspired or reinvigorated to pursue whatever they are in life, as it did for me. If the viewer can resonate with at least one of the photographers’ stories, then I feel I did my job.
What advice do you have for those that may want to pursue a similar project as yours or a independent documentary in general?
My advice would be to find a subject matter that you’re passionate about. You’re going to be spending a lot of time diving deep into the topic, so it only helps that it’s something you love. Be curious and want to know and learn more. I find that many people pursue documentaries but half way through the passion fizzles out for whatever reason.
Sometimes funding can be a major roadblock, other times it’s just a loss of interest. Another piece of advice I would give is to over prepare but be flexible. Things will change on the fly so it’s best to be open-minded because sometimes you’ll discover something unexpected in your footage that may lead to a better story. Once you have your rough cut all laid out, ask a few friends watch and critique your film. Having different perspectives will help.
Any closing comments?
I just genuinely want to thank all the Kickstarter backers for their support and those who shared or interviewed me about this film on their platforms. It has been a long and exhausting road, producing a project like this. Juggling work and life on top of creating a film was difficult, but we are in the home stretch, so it’s a big relief. Through this experience, I realize that I’d like to do more street documentaries in the future, so I really hope that viewers enjoy what they see in this film.