One Year Lease

a film by Brian Bolster

How do you go about discovering potential doc subjects?

More often than not, I stumble upon an idea or subject. In the case of my short documentary, “The Lookout,” I was on an extended backpacking trip in Glacier National Park and came across a seasonal Fire Lookout stationed on top of a mountain in the Park. It was a summer job that I could only dream of having. I figured the closest way to experience a Lookout’s life was to make a documentary about one. One Year Lease, on the other hand, is a rather unusual circumstance in that Tom and I happened to have the unfortunate/fortunate experience of living in Rita’s building. In many ways that story found us. The question I ask myself is whether a subject or story is right for me. If I can’t stop thinking or talking about it and can visualize the story, I know it’s something worth exploring. For me personally, I have to be passionate about the subject in order to make a film about it.

The archival audio (answering machine messages) is such a crucial element as a content/form. At what point did you feel like you might have the necessary ingredients for a new short doc?

I actually never imagined making a documentary film out of our landlord’s (Rita’s) voicemail messages, and the messages were initially not saved intentionally. Our keeping them on our phones was mostly out of laziness or to play for friends and family for laughs; however, toward the final few months of our lease, we realized that between the both of us, we had amassed well over 100 voicemail messages from Rita. However, it wasn’t until the last two or three months that I had the idea to make a short documentary about our living situation.

Any advice, regarding film festivals, for emerging filmmakers?

My advice to filmmakers would be to not take festival rejections personally. Admittedly, it can certainly sting to get a notification that doesn’t work in your favor. However, having participated in some final programming deliberations for a few festivals, the truth is that there are so many factors that go into programming selections that are beyond the control of the filmmaker. The best advice I can give to filmmakers hoping to make the festival rounds would be to do their research before applying. Take a look at previous festival programs and whenever possible watch any of those films, if available, online. I think that will give a filmmaker an idea as to what programmers for that particular festival are looking for. Lastly, if you are making a short film, keep it short! When it comes to short films, the shorter the better.

Brian grew up in suburban Boston, MA before attending and graduating from the film program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. His most recent film, One Year Lease, won the award for Best Documentary Short at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival and is currently a Cinema Eye Honors 2015 nominee for Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Short Filmmaking. His short documentary films have screened at Slamdance Film Festival, Camden International Film Festival, Outfest and Traverse City Film Festival among others, and his short documentary The Lookout won the Big Sky Award at the 2012 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Montana. Brian also holds an M.A. in Curriculum and Teaching from Teachers College, Columbia University, and has worked in several public and private schools in New York City, and as an educational researcher for Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues. He currently lives in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City.