April 13, 2015
SCA Family Stories: Jordan Ledy
By Kaiti Williamson
Since graduating from SCA in 2014 with an M.F.A. in Film & Television Production, Jordan Ledy has been screening his documentary thesis film It’s Better in Italian at film festivals across the country. Ledy is a New York native who has performed in all aspects of filmmaking. He graduated in 2008 from Columbia University with a B.A. in English Literature and Jazz Studies and went on to shoot and edit several international documentary films during his time at USC.
What have you been doing since you graduated in 2014? Since I graduated, I’ve been taking my thesis film to festivals. I graduated in May and spent the summer semester finishing sound and final delivery of the film, so really the film was completed in September. I took a nice break after that--went back home, saw my family, and premiered the film at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. More recently, the film was nominated for the USC First Film Best Documentary award, so I’m looking forward to the award ceremony later this week. We’re also going to screen at the Nashville Film Festival this Saturday. Apart from my film, I’ve been freelance editing, cutting short form stuff, commercials, music videos, and I’m currently writing a feature film.
I understand you studied abroad in Florence in your undergraduate, is that correct? I was an undergrad at Columbia, graduated in ’08, and then my junior year I spent my Spring semester in Florence, Italy. It was the best experience and probably best decision I made in school. I don’t have any degrees in Italian but learning the Italian language by being there and living with an Italian family, it was far and away the most valuable thing I got out of college. I lived with a homestay family and they had two sons, one of whom was just a couple years younger than me, and none of them spoke English. I had studied for a couple years before I arrived in Italy but I was really a terrible speaker and couldn’t hold a conversation in Italian. After a few months, I became very close friends with their son Filippo and I’d go out with him and his friends, so from then on I was speaking Italian full time.
When you were abroad, was this were you got the idea to look into Italian dubbing further? It was funny because I was very loosely interested in film at the time but I hadn’t taken any film classes. So while I was there, my homestay family always had the television on when we’d eat dinner together. Usually Italian shows. For some reason, all the Italian talk shows are two goofy Italian guys and then beautiful Italian models that dance, so it was really easy to spot that those were Italian shows, but every now and then it would look like an Italian Law and Order and it would take me a while to realize “oh, wait, that’s an American show, but they’re all just speaking Italian.” The show that really stood out to me was House because it had a lot of characters that I wouldn’t recognize, so I’d glance at the TV and think it was an Italian hospital show and then Hugh Laurie would pop up. He speaks really quickly in English so when they dub it in Italian he speaks even faster. That’s what first got me interested in dubbing. As an American, I thought Italians would do subtitles like we do with foreign film, so it took me by surprise to see an American show dubbed. That was the first time I thought, “who is the guy that gives Hugh Laurie an Italian voice?” I did a little research on it and it stuck with me, but I didn’t think too much about it until I took CTPR 531 with Amanda Pope.
Did all of the financing come from your Kickstarter campaign or how were you able to finance the production of the film? The way we did it, I knew it was going to be pricey up front because we had to fly our crew of four to Italy and house them for five weeks. There were a lot of costs that aren’t really typical USC thesis film costs. I knew I was going to do a Kickstarter and I also threw a fundraising party in New York, where I’m from, and invited friends of mine and my parents who had a few bucks. I gave a presentation, showed them a pitch tape, and politely begged them for contributions. It’s something all USC students practice--convincing people with money to like your movie.
Had documentaries been something you wanted to pursue for a long time? When I started at USC I didn’t think I’d be interested in documentaries. Prior to USC I had worked on a feature documentary and had gotten some jobs shooting behind-the-scenes videos, so unwittingly I had been doing documentary without really calling it documentary. When I got to USC I was excited to focus on narrative because that’s what I really wanted to do. I did plenty of narrative at USC, but it ended up that a lot of the opportunities I found interesting at USC were in documentary. Because editing and post is my background, I wanted to cut a Production III, and word on the street was that editors have more say in the documentaries because the director is busy shooting, so the editor has a lot more freedom to experiment with the footage before the director really gets to start shaping it his or herself. Mark Harris had his Cultural Exchange Program which was an opportunity to go to China for two months and make a documentary, so I applied and ultimately went to the Communication University of China in Beijing and spent a couple months there making a documentary. By the time I came back I thought, “okay, I’m done with documentary!” and started planning a narrative thesis. At the same time I was taking Amanda Pope’s documentary pitch class and developing Better In Italian. In the end I found that it was going to be more expensive to produce the narrative. I still love docs and feel I’ve improved a lot as a filmmaker by making them. It’s a great time for documentary films right now. I feel like the making of a narrative and documentary overlap in a lot of ways, but I love discovering the story as you go in a documentary and the necessity to keep your eyes open to things you don’t expect. While we were making It’s Better in Italian, I didn’t know the story. I knew I wanted it to be about Italian dubbers, but I didn’t know what would happen as we were shooting that I would have to clue into. Documentaries take longer in general than narrative, so I would love to do another documentary and I always keep my eyes open for potential ideas, but for the moment I definitely want to knock out some narrative work before I embark on a feature doc, which would take a lot more time.
Looking back at the process, was there anything that stood out to you while producing It’s Better in Italian that you hadn’t fully anticipated? Getting the clips of Italian dubbed films--selecting them and getting the clearance to use them. That was really interesting. I had to have all the dailies translated and after that I started pulling any film that anyone referenced. I got Italian copies of all of my main characters’ dubbing work. Anything I could find on YouTube I would grab, and we started integrating them into the cut. I did a little preliminary research to see how expensive it would be to get the rights to just one of these clips and it turns out it’s incredibly expensive. It was going to be prohibitively expensive to purchase the rights to the clips, which meant I would have to use fair use. I had been vaguely introduced to the concept of fair use and how it pertains to documentary filmmaking, but I had to do a ton of research and I eventually hired a lawyer outside of USC to review the film and make sure the film complied to the best fair use practices. Finding the clips, clearing them and then the technical issues of Italian DVDs encoded at a different frame rate than American films--it was not for the faint of heart. I’d say if you plan on doing any documentary that requires a lot of archival footage or clips you would need to own the rights to, then get ready to spend a lot of time vetting it and figuring out how to do it properly.