Meet the Jury – Chris Schueler
The prize-winning productions at Cannes Corporate Media & TV Awards are selected and discussed by a highly renowned jury, consisting of true and internationally established exerts in their fields – which of course is a privilege and a feather in our cap.
We are happy to have Mr. Chris Schueler in our documentary jury, founder and CEO at Christopher Productions, New Mexico (USA). During his long-standing career, Chris was awarded the incredible number of 21 Emmy Awards, including Documentary, Directing and Writing.
Chris has created more than 100 television programs that were not only filmed, but also broadcast all around the world. His documentaries raise awareness for a wide range of important topics and sensitive issues. He directed established actors such as Glenn Close and Bryan Cranston and is founder of SafeTeen New Mexico, a community based non-profit organization.
Read our interview with Chris below. Thank you, Chris, for taking the time and the great collaboration!
We are very happy to have you in our jury at Cannes Corporate Media & TV Awards. What was the decisive factor that made you free up time from your densely packed agenda and participate – which is, no doubt, very costly in terms of time?
As a documentary producer, it’s really important to me to see other work and the very best work in the world. The Cannes Corporate Media & TV Awards is really a gift to me to be able to spend time with those films and learn from them.
Throughout your long-lasting career, you were awarded an unbelievable number of different accolades, including not less than 21 Emmy Awards. What does an award represent to you?
We have been really fortunate to have our work recognized through various national and international awards and festivals. It is always a thrill when that happens and it’s always humbling, as I know the wonderful works that are out there. The awards represent that we have done quality work, recognized by peers and the public. But more importantly, the awards allow the work to be seen and used by others. Of course, it also helps us when we’re looking for more funding for future projects.
What are the main criteria that you always have at the back of your mind when it comes to judging a production?
The BIG thing for me is that it is always about the story. You may not have all the best equipment or funding that you need or want, but if the story is good and the writing is good, that is the key. In the reverse, you may have incredible production values but if you don’t have good writing and a powerful story, this is a serious problem.
When judging, I always keep in mind that art is in the eye of the beholder. Therefor it’s always difficult to “judge” another person’s piece of work. We don’t know what they have gone through to make that project and we all see it with different eyes and different experiences that affect our view. It’s one of the reasons I love judging your awards. The international experiences are all different and come from vastly different points of view.
When teaching documentary filmmaking I have my students write an opening sequence to a documentary using the same sound bites and visuals and information. Everyone has the same pieces and tools to use but everyone creates something substantially different and usually, they are all pretty good. So, when I judge I try to look at the piece in a broader perspective; not how I would do it, but how they did it.
What makes a documentary worth watching for you personally? What is an absolute no-go?
You must grab the audience in the first few minutes of your piece. And then you must sustain their interest with the story. It really goes to the writing and that means BOTH the aural and the visual writing. If the producer/director/writer have really captured the moment in a way that propels me forward and makes me need to continue watching, then I’m all in for the project. That of course requires a certain level of production value but that in itself is not enough. I’ve seen many documentaries that look incredible but have no or very weak story lines. And it’s a no go if the first, say 2 minutes, don’t grab me.
In much of your work, you enter very delicate, contemporary issues such as global warming, domestic violence, mental health, homelessness, or addiction and use your voice as a filmmaker to create awareness. You even founded a community based non-profit organization called SafeTeen NewMexico. How do you choose your topics, and which was the most challenging one so far?
When anyone produces a documentary, there are many, many occasions in each and every project where you think it’s over. It can’t continue and I’ll have to give it up. In order to actually do a project, you have to overcome those moments. For that reason, I choose only topics that I personally feel very passionately about. So, the passion will carry me through those tough times that are sure to occur. Passion about the topic is number one in the selection process. The second thing is to consider if what we create can be used to make a difference. Can this project actually be used in whole or in part to make our schools, our community or our world better in some way? And the final selection criteria; can we actually do it - logistically, financially, with the contacts and abilities we have. Sometimes the topics come from newspapers and magazines, sometimes from students or friends or family, sometimes from travels. The ideas are everywhere.
Each documentary has produced its own set of challenges so it’s hard to pick just one. Sometimes the challenges are logistical (getting in to or out of locations where they may not want you to be). Sometimes there are financial challenges (I’ve had to fund them on my own on occasion). Sometimes there are content challenges (being certain that you’ve covered as many sides of the issue that you can in a truthful and honest way). And that is why the passion must be there, full passion for the topic and the project to find a way to make it happen.
3 insider’s tips for aspiring documentary filmmakers who want to see their work awarded?
Tip 1. Be self-aware. Understand what you do not know and find people to work with you who DO know those things. We all have strengths and weaknesses and you have to find folks who can complement your weaknesses both creatively and technically.
Tip 2. Understand that it’s a long hard process with all kinds of twists and turns along the way. You must know that it’s extremely difficult to complete a project and even more difficult to make one that’s really good. Select your project carefully, one that you are passionate about, and that has a fantastic story to it.
Tip 3. Never produce a documentary to try and win an award. That will come in its own way and own time. If you create a project from your heart, it will do just great.
For more information, see www.ChristopherProductions.org.