Filmmaking | Interviews

Changing the World One Frame at a Time

1 Jun , 2007  

Written by 'McKevin' Kure | Posted by:

This month Steve Stuart hits the screen with 48 Hour Film Fest shorts and a serious look at Northern Uganda.

Steve Stuart has so many different projects, interviewing him felt like beating Darwin to the Galapagos Islands. At first daunting, it ultimately became an extraordinary expedition into the heart and soul of a very creative individual. Hopefully the following interview with NewEnglandFilm.com will help define the inspirational filmmaker, Steve Stuart Baldwin.

McKevin: Would you like to be called Steve Stuart or Steve Baldwin?

Steve Stuart: Most folks call me Steve. My wife has taken to calling me Steve-o lately, which I like. I don’t much care to be called “Steven” as it sounds like my mom asking me to take out the trash. My full name is Steven Stuart Baldwin, and back in the 90’s when I was writing and directing a lot of theatre locally I dropped the Baldwin and started going by the abbreviated Steven Stuart. This was partly because I was getting tired of being mistaken for Stephen Baldwin, Alec’s younger brother. (In fact, it just happened again earlier today, no kidding.). Besides, doesn’t Steven Stuart have a nice Steven Spielberg or Sam Shepard sense of alliteration to it? I like alliteration.

McKevin: You’ve had numerous films accepted to festivals around the country, including one coming up June 2nd in your hometown of Beverly, MA. Can you take us back to the first time you heard one of your films had been accepted to a festival? Is the feeling still the same?

Stuart: There is certainly something special and memorable about your first time for sure. I was making the leap from being a theatre director to being a filmmaker, so I really had something to prove to the naysayers who told me I was crazy to make the leap! My first film was Cereal Killer shot back in 2001, which was first featured at the Dudley Digital Film Festival at Harvard…a sort of progressive, progenitor for a lot of the short film festivals you see today. Honestly, though, we just found out this week that we won an Audience Award with our latest 48 Hour Film Project film, and I was just really happy for the whole team that we got that recognition. Frankly, those kind of feelings never get old.

McKevin: With all the sites out there to display films and video, is getting your film into a traditional festival as important as it was even five years ago?

Stuart: Yes, even though some expert somewhere suggests otherwise, I’m sure! It’s way more fun sitting in a large cinema watching your work on a giant screen with an enthusiastic audience gasping or laughing in all the right spots. That experience you can’t duplicate with YouTube.com. I hope the cinema experience never goes away. Having said that, I’m as guilty as the next guy for using the web to host a lot of my work. There is something very satisfying about having people make comments in Turkish.

McKevin: Can you tell us about your short film Sneaker Double Feature, showing June 2nd at the FilmNorth Film Fest?

Stuart: Sure. It’s actually two short films for the price of one. Sneaker Double Feature is our 48 Hour Film Project entry for Boston, May 2007. The first short is String Theory which features two guys trying to one-up each other by telling the story of a woman jogger they regularly “check out” from their Saturday morning park bench. It features some ninjas, pirates and a very special appearance by the Grim Reaper. The second feature is La Shoelace D’Amour, which follows the crazy antics of a shoelace chomping couple enjoying a romantic interlude at a fancy French restaurant. It’s also a bit of an ode to Monty Python. Also, included are five previews of coming attractions and a special appearance by Kip the Gnome! Check out www.filmnorth.org; the fest is on Saturday afternoon, and it’s free!

McKevin: You wear a lot of hats! How does one go from a short break-dancing spoof to challenging the world to acknowledge the plight of so many in Uganda?

Stuart: For me it’s always a short leap from break-dancing to documentary making. Speaking of which, I was just reading online that there is a growing break-dancing community in Kenya these days. Now that’s a good story for me to tell, don’t you think?

McKevin: Has making a film like Hope for Uganda always been on your mind?

Stuart: I started getting involved in nonprofit video production back in 2002. Then in 2005 I was in the Dominican Republic twice with an organization called World Vision, which does some fantastic relief and development work worldwide. While there in the midst of the poor, I think I found one of my purposes in life, which is to help tell the stories of people in need. To me it’s the best job on the planet. I haven’t actually figured out how to make a living doing this, but it’s a goal. As for Africa, I have Bono from U2 to thank for bringing their difficulties to my attention. This was back in 2004 or so, and I started scheming how I could go to Africa and make a documentary. Now Hope for Uganda will premiere in Gloucester on June 23rd at an event at the Fuller School at Blackburn Circle. I hope we sell the place out and raise a lot of awareness on behalf of the Acholi people in Northern Uganda. I would love it if some people reading this article showed up for that event. I sincerely mean to use this piece to promote the welfare of the Northern Ugandans who have suffered terrible things as a result of this ongoing conflict.

McKevin: You started a company called Seven Lampstands to help promote the causes of many, not just focusing on your own efforts. Can you tell us a bit about the name and where you see the company a few years down the road?

Stuart: Playomatic is the name of my video business, and it just seemed a really clunky, funky, and probably inappropriate name for promoting nonprofit organizations, so I decided to create a new identity that would focus solely on that purpose. Since the mission is to shed a little light in dark places, I have appropriated a biblical image. Golden lampstands are mentioned frequently throughout The Bible (Exodus 25, 1 Kings 7, Zechariah 4, Revelations 1) and is generally a reference to God’s spirit. So Seven Lampstands is about spreading light, love, peace and hope to some people who really need it. Filmmaking is really the art of crafting light, so it seemed a doubly appropriate name from that standpoint. I have written an extensive business plan for Seven Lampstands that explains my goals to use video production and the Internet for meaningful nonprofit promotion, and the MySpace and YouTube pages are already up and doing their job. Now I’m working on finding better funding for this venture. These sorts of things don’t happen overnight, but I’m hopeful to have this plan fully in place in a year.

McKevin: Let’s step way back in time. How did all of this creativity and caring come about? Can you recall a time or place or feeling? That moment you just knew you’d be making films and helping change the world?

Stuart: My mother would tell you that I have been directing things since the age of three when I corralled my siblings and neighbors into homemade productions. My desire to be a director wasn’t encouraged much growing up because it’s not a very practical occupation like engineering or postal delivery. I tried the latter but it didn’t really stick. The helping to change the world through video production was a more recent discovery. I’ve always been suspect of what I would call propaganda, yet you have to get over that pretty quick when you realize there are some people out there in genuine need of help. They want someone to come stand in their midst, have their heart broken, and then go back to tell their story. It’s like being a traveling troubadour with a camera in your hand. So for all the class clowns out there, there are some jobs out here for you in the real world.

McKevin: One of your many intriguing short films is called Vital Signs (a documentary exploring the spiritual lives of young Christians). Have you been impressed with the response it has gotten? What’s the most important thing you learned while filming it?

Stuart: To be honest, that was finished around the same time as Hope for Uganda and all my energy has gone into promoting the Africa piece for the upcoming debut. Vital Signs is a piece that I co-produced with a buddy of mine, Phil Jackson, and I believe he has some plans for promoting and exploiting it. So the answer to your question is: I don’t think this piece has been promoted enough for me to be impressed with the response it has received. However, the few people who have watched it have given some generally positive comments on how powerful it is. Personally, I think it’s pretty awesome seeing young people today whose lives have been remarkably transformed. My favorite line in that piece is “I put down my beer and I put down my weed, and I got outta there, man!”

McKevin: Your primary company, Playomatic Media, offers your services to other companies and artists, in all facets of production. How do you balance such a vast amount of talent? And where is that talent taking you next?

Stuart: Thanks, that’s very kind of you to say. I have more ideas than I have time, energy and funds to accomplish these days. In fact, I have had more creative thoughts pouring out of me in the last six months than the previous six years I think, and I wish I could bottle it and sell it to some buddies suffering writers block. Instead, I’m trying to learn how to delegate more as I simply can’t get it all done. I have a few things coming up. I have some funny webisodes I’d like to produce this summer. I’m also about to head back to Africa for a conference on apartheid and racial reconciliation that I’m feeling very passionate about, despite being a bit under-funded for that right now. I turn 40 in August so I’m also thinking it’s time for a big barbecue with the buddies.

McKevin: In one of your blogs you listed favorite films ranging from E.T. to Braveheart. Is there a particular scene or character in a Hollywood film that you identify with the most?

Stuart: Yes, I really identify with George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life who was blessed to have a community of people who loved and supported him even when he was off on a bender. I have friends and family like that, most of whom make regular appearances in my short films. Without their creative input and constant collaboration I’d just be a cranky hack with a busy notebook.

Learn more about Steve by visiting www.playomaticmedia.com, www.youtube.com/sevenlampstands, and www.myspace.com/playomatic.

Brian ‘McKevin’ Kure is a writer, photographer and freelance journalist in New England. His first book RockHead will be available this summer. He can be reached via e-mail at info@mckevin.com.


Learn more about Steve by visiting www.playomaticmedia.com, www.youtube.com/sevenlampstands, and www.myspace.com/playomatic. Brian 'McKevin' Kure is a writer, photographer and freelance journalist in New England. His first book RockHead will be available this summer. He can be reached via e-mail at info@mckevin.com.