Spearhunter: An Interview with Co-Director Adam Roffman
30th March 2019 by Will Stewart
Powerful hunter, ladies man and professional narcissist. A spear hunter in rural Alabama erected a museum of his own achievements in a bid to protect his legacy.
Co-Director Adam Roffman was kind enough to answer a few questions about the film, and what drives him as a film maker. If you’d like to see your film on MadeGood.tv, then please feel free to make a submission.
MadeGood – Talk about your background as a film maker a bit. How did you become a director, are short documentaries your usual work? You co-directed this film with Luke Poling, what’s your working relationship and background with him?
Adam – I’ve made my living for the past 20 years working in set decoration on big-budget studio films that shoot in the Boston area, such as The Town, American Hustle, Ghostbusters, and Gone Baby Gone. Additionally, from 2003-2013 I was Program Director for the Independent Film Festival Boston and that’s where my love of documentaries came from and it served a bit as my documentary film school, watching thousands of feature and short documentaries, seeing the different techniques and styles used in the medium. After the 2013 festival I stepped down from the festival to give myself more time to actually make some films of my own and so far I have mostly been working in the short documentary format. Spearhunter being my first time directing, I wanted to make sure I didn’t waste the opportunity by making typical first-time director mistakes, so I asked my friend Luke Poling if he would be interested in co-directing the film with me. Luke co-directed an excellent feature documentary called Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton As Himself and I helped him and his co-director Tom Bean with that film’s festival run. Luke and my sensibilities complement each other very well and we had in a sense three directors on Spearhunter because I recruited Nathaniel Hansen to be our cinematographer and editor. I knew Nathaniel because I had programmed his beautiful feature documentary The Elders at the film festival several years earlier.
MadeGood – How did you first hear about Gene Morris, and what compelled you to make a film about his life? His ex’s are fantastic on film, you must have been thrilled that they were so co-operative and charismatic.
Adam – I first found about Gene Morris when I went to visit my father in Alabama in 2014. On the way from the airport to my Dad’s house at night, we passed the Spearhunting Museum, which the outside of was adorned with painting of animals and an imposing man holding a spear. I asked my dad, “Um…what was that?”. He replied “Oh…it’s just some spear hunting museum”. I replied “Oh…one of those. Well, I am not going to see something like that back in Boston, so we are going there tomorrow”. So the next day we went by and took a tour of the museum, and that’s when I realized that this was a museum dedicated to and about the man who built the museum. Gene Morris had made a museum all about himself. I thought that that was astounding and unusual and that, along with all of the visuals that the museum provided made me feel like I had to come back with a camera.
We kind of hit the jackpot in terms of interview subjects when we located Gene’s ex-girlfriend Sharon Estes Henson and his ex-wife Heather Jean Morris. They both were completely open and frank and gave some extremely quotable answers. And the fact that both of them, as well as museum employee Carlos Williams, were all dressed in full camo added a nice visual element to our interviews.
MadeGood – You worked with a relatively large team on this short. How did you assemble the team, and how ‘hands-on’ were you with the production? Often due to budget constraints directors on shorts like this are forced into being a jack of all trades – did having a capable team free you up solely concentrate on directing, or did you get involved with the filming, editing etc too?
Adam – Well, the main team was Luke, Nathaniel and myself. Luke and I traded off on who was doing the interviews (Luke interviewed Carlos and Larry and I interviewed Sharon, Heather Jean, and Joe). All three of us conferred on the shot selection with Nathaniel doing most of the heavy lifting there and coming up with some great ideas, and I was looking at many of the shots through my set decoration eye. Nathaniel edited the film out of his home studio and Luke I and I would come by and give our input after each cut of the film. All three of us had a hand and a say in all of these aspects of the film, because Nathaniel is also a director and had some great ideas to contribute.
We were also very fortunate to nab John Kusiak to do our score. Luke and I each knew him a little before this and were already big fans of his work with directors like Errol Morris and Robb Moss.
MadeGood – You’ve had some film festival success, vimeo staff pick etc which is great! What advice would you have to other people wanting to promote their short?
Adam – First I would tell all filmmakers who are making a short to make sure to take some compelling still photos during the making of the film, both behind-the-scenes photos of the production but also, and more importantly, still images that will help promote the film in festival programs and websites. The press will always ask for a compelling still images to go along with any coverage they provide as well.
It’s also never too early to start thinking about who to market and promote your film to and to start making a list. For Spearhunter we started making a list before we had started editing of hunting organizations/websites/publications, all publications based in Alabama, and outlets that write about documentaries or short films. All of which you can find through extensive googling. Also keeping a running list of social media accounts that make sense to promote your specific film to is a great idea.
Once your short is done doing the festival circuit and you’re preparing for its online launch, we’ve found that it is very helpful to reach back out to the festival programmers who showed your film and send them the link and ask them very nicely if they would share it on either or both their personal and festival’s social media.
In terms of high traffic websites with some prestige to them, I’ve had shorts become Vimeo Staff Picks, be selected by Short Of The Week, and get permanent placement on National Geographic’s Short Film Showcase and on AtlasObscura.com. Depending on a filmmaker’s subject matter, all of these are great places to get your work seen and shared, and it really just makes sense to do the research to find as many sites that your film would make sense for and to send it to them.
MadeGood – What are you working on next?
Adam – After Spearhunter I did two more short documentaries back-to-back with cinematographer/editor Nathaniel Hansen, All The Presidents’ Heads and The Collection (SXSW 2017). Currently, Luke Poling and I are wrapping up a new short documentary that delves into another quirky character, and we are also prepping a documentary feature that we’re keeping pretty hush hush about, but that we expect to be sharing with the world sometime in 2020.
MadeGood – Thanks Adam! I’m sure your feature will be a smash, can’t wait to hear more about it.