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City Lights: Fame takes work

August 11, 2010|By Michael Miller

James Cameron was once quoted giving advice to people who seek a career in the movies. "I think the most important thing if you're an aspiring filmmaker is to get rid of the 'aspiring,'" he said. "You shoot it, you put your name on it, you're a filmmaker. Everything after that, you're just negotiating your budget."

That's easier said than done, especially if "Titanic" and "Avatar" aren't on your resume. Every year, I listen to acceptance speeches at the Academy Awards with the same bemusement I feel hearing tales of million-dollar lottery winners. How many filmmakers, aspiring or not, spend their evenings hunched over a computer in a threadbare apartment, editing their last homemade production and wondering how their meandering path will ever lead to DreamWorks?

Freak tales of beginner's luck aside, trying to break into the movie business can be a frustrating grind. Chris Armstrong knows that. The Huntington Beach resident, who's been unemployed since October, has seen numerous people give up during his seven years on the outskirts of the industry. But Armstrong recently produced, co-wrote and acted in a short film that's being released as part of an national project, and he's hoping — not for the first time — that his career will get the jumpstart it needs.

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Armstrong and his friend, director and co-writer Marc Jonathan de Jesus, submitted a winning entry to the Story Beyond the Still, a competition put on by the video-sharing website Vimeo. The contest began when Vimeo — backed by a panel of Hollywood heavy hitters, including "Star Wars" producer Rick McCallum — displayed a still photo on its website and invited filmmakers to send in a two- to four-minute film that began with that image and ended with another still shot.

After the judges selected five finalists, Vimeo posted the films on its website and invited the public to vote on the best one. The winner officially became "Chapter 1" of the film, and the contestants for Chapter 2 had to begin their film with the still shot that closed the previous episode. By the time Armstrong and de Jesus heard about the project, it was almost time to submit entries for Chapter 6 – and after a quick post on Craigslist to find actors, they filmed and edited their piece in a matter of days.

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