Sometimes artists use the rules to their advantage |

Sometimes artists use the rules to their advantage

Parameters can push creativity further, according to Amy Caron, one of two Salt Lake City-based filmmakers chosen for the Slamdance Film Festival’s $99 Special competition this year.

"If you’re asked to build a house with unlimited tools, you’ll probably build a house that looks like everyone else’s," she observes. "But if you’re handed a limited amount of tools, it forces you think outside the box."

Caron found out she was selected for the $99 Special around the same time she received word that, for a second year in a row, a film she made would not be a part of the Slamdance Film Festival program.

Slamdance will welcome the $99 Special competition for a fifth year on Friday, Jan. 27. The contest will feature six filmmakers, handpicked by Slamdance, who were given $99 and 99 days to shoot a film.

In the past, $99 Special films have made some rather big waves, including providing the inspiration for the television show, "Significant Others," and a soon-to-be-produced feature film, "Never Date An Actress," starring Naomi Watts.

To keep the filmmakers honest, Slamdance asks them to disclose their budgets online.

This year, filmmaker Erika Tasini claims she spent a whopping $81 on meals for "hungry crew and actors," on her film, "Chronicles of Impeccable Sportsmanship." Filmmaker Tom Soper admitted to doling out $35 for coffee, donuts and whiskey for the cast and crew for his film, "I Must Have Been In Love With You."

Caron confesses she spent $45 to pay herself back for the Slamdance film entry fee, and for editing her film, "ClockworkRedux," all by herself.

Caron, who considers herself a self-taught filmmaker, teaches at Spy Hop Productions, the Salt Lake not-for-profit youth media and arts education center, which created this year’s Slamdance trailers.

The idea for "ClockworkRedux" came to Caron when her friend showed her the film of his Lasik eye surgery procedure.

"They give you a film of the surgery after it’s all over," she explains. "And immediately, the first thing I thought was: my god, it’s Clockwork Orange."

The film is a modern twist on Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 adaptation of the Anthony Burgess’ novel. In particular, she focuses on the sequence of "aversion therapy," where the protagonist gets overexposed to the evil in the world as a way to rid him of his wickedness.

Caron updates the Clockwork Orange concept by inserting borrowed images of Saddam Hussein and 9/11.

"I got online and looked at the past $99 shorts and I noticed the ones that were most successful went with a simple idea. You only have about five minutes," she explains.

Jeremy Nielsen, the film and video director at Spy Hop, also has a film called "Waiting," in the $99 Special competition program.

Nielsen decided to focus on a scene from a feature-length script about an anal-retentive wife and her sloppy husband, to produce a five-minute short, he says.

"It’s basically about an extremely conscientious housewife who is very particular about cleanliness in her home and her husband is the exact opposite, so she’s trying to figure out a way to kill him, but every way she can think of to do it is really messy, which doesn’t jive with her home aesthetics," he says. "So the film is about her imagining all these ways to [kill him] and each one of them creates a bigger and bigger mess."

Like Caron, Nielsen found the parameters a help, not a hindrance, to his creativity.

"I enjoyed the fact that there was a certain amount of pressure we felt," he admits. "We shot the thing in one night, we prepped the whole thing out in two days and there was a lot of energy involved because it was such a whirlwind of a project."

Caron and Neilsen agree that Utah is a strange place to be a filmmaker, but neither are planning to move elsewhere anytime soon.

"I’m asked that question all the time: "if you’re a filmmaker, why are you living in Utah?" Caron confirms. "The truth is, I’m a skier and I love the natural world, and I find that Utah has the right combination of urban and outdoors."

While Neilsen does say it can be frustrating to live in Utah, he enjoys his work with Spy Hop. "I think if I wanted to pursue an industry movie career it would be smart to move to L.A., but if I wanted to work here in town I’d have to go and just be a grip on ‘Everwood,’ and I’m not sure that would allow me to express the type of creativity that I want to," he says. Catch the $99 Specials at the Treasure Mountain Inn on Main Street, Friday, Jan. 27 at 3 p.m. For more information, visit

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