Slip Cue’s Robin Kupferman Puts a New Spin On Documentary Shorts

By Cynthia Lechan Goodman
Written for the Accolade: Film, TV, New Media & Videography Awards

Celebrity, fashion admiration, narcissism describe the world in which we live. Everyone loves the highs of it all. Robin Kupferman has presented a most special film for today's world and culture that can be, well, overblown. Her film addresses DJs and hip-hop. These words alone speak celebrity, fashion, admiration, even narcissism. These are the hype and heights of social congregating among the young. The film is amazing in its down-to-earth, realistic look at what it takes to pursue being a DJ. Her film is not overblown, grandiose, or exaggerated, as the world it portrays can be.

What she does is present a candid, behind the scenes look at what Dj-ing is, and what it takes to make it as one. Individual DJ's in her film are a cross section of genders, races, levels of experience, yet they all have some personality attributes in common: they are professional, self-confident, they set reasonable goals. With her capable documentary style, they come across as flexible, searching for self improvement with openness, honesty, and humility, all of this and still in the realm of celebrity!

How does Kupferman manage to show something that is both a visual and auditory experience with the nuances of specialized technology involved, and still show us portraits that are intimate, emotional, about real people? And all in a short! Certainly it was a challenge that she has succeeded in accomplishing so well. She deserved her Award of Merit from the Accolade Competition.

The Vibe

Everyone today loves sound. Music is the vibration that carries us along in rhythms, patterns, decibels for pleasure and inspiration, to be moved. Kupferman explores the DJs’ role, lifestyle in giving people pleasure, inspiration, a moving experience. To begin with, “slip cue” is in the creative minds and technically gifted hands of the DJ. As Robin explains, slip cue is holding a record still while the turntable platter spins beneath it, then releasing it at the right moment, on cue. This, she explains, is a metaphor for a DJ/Producer starting out. It is the pulse of their passion for electronic music and the avenues and tools they use to become what they are and do what they do to shape their own paths within the industry. And this is their challenge that Kupferman portrays with an open and encouraging view.

Any creative job well done looks easy, but in Slip Cue, Robin Kupferman explores and clearly reveals the passions, the procedures, the learning experiences, the levels of technology, and the creativity needed for aspiring DJs. They have a lot of work to do to explore the avenues and tools they may use to shape their own paths within the industry. But it is work that they reveal has its many rewards.

Robin sees an interesting parallel between the creative process of DJ-ing and filmmaking which added to the dimension in her film. “I definitely feel there is a parallel between the two creative processes in that they can both be organic and ultimately they connect with audiences. At a venue, a DJ can get a feel for what the crowd wants and feed off of them, participating in their experience and amplifying the power of the music to keep the crowd going. They connect with their audience through the music. Although I started with a general structure for the film, as the film evolved, it began to take an interactive approach. Was the film about the people, or was it about the process of what they do and how they do it? Instead of focusing on the subjects’ personal lives, Slip Cue details the various ways in which the viewers are able to pursue their drive to “be a part of the fabric that is the music scene…” as DJ Soda comments in the film.

The Peeps

Yet, she does indeed show us real people in the DJs she interviews. She didn't have to focus on their personal lives to ingeniously let us know these DJs and how they are dealing with and shaping their various levels of their careers. She covers what we do want to know about them, their goals, their attitudes about their skills and abilities, how they feel about what they still need to learn or to accomplish and develop. Their realistic assessments of where they are and what they may have to do and how they feel about it, their needs for leadership, self sufficiency, assertiveness, and motivation.

Even though Kupferman did not have a budget to interview DJs around the world, she was able to muster her ingenuity to make her project work. As Robin explains, "I conceptualized, created and financed this film through my production company, Tiekara Productions. I started the company right after graduating from film school in order to begin the project. I decided to remain in the cities where I lived over the past five years, Vancouver and Chicago respectively, and interview local and touring DJs and producers there."

"The first interview conducted was with Junior Vasquez in Vancouver in 2006 and was arranged by one of the associate producers and photographers of the film, Quana Parker. The more interviews I conducted, the more I was exposed to the various facets of the scene and wanted to present a perspective that connected these elements. This led to interviews with DJs who were also promoters, producers, record store owners, record label owners, club owners, and radio show hosts, in addition to the founder of a local DJ school. With the volume and variety of interviews conducted, the interviewees became the main character of the film; in this way, the DJs embody a Gestalt film-making process."

"In terms of the biggest challenges or stumbling blocks, I would say (they are) time and financing. There are several aspects of the filmmaking process (pre-production, production, post-production, festival submissions, marketing, etc.) all of which require a lot of time and energy."

The Tech

But the people and the places are just part of her filmmaking strategies and excellence. There is the technical aspect of the filming itself. Kupferman explained, "Since I was working with a low budget I had limitations with the type of gear I had access to. Technically the film could have had a different aesthetic with higher-end gear, however it pushed me to focus on conveying a stronger message. The film was mostly shot using natural lighting. There were a few interviews using lights, however that was only in the first year of making the film due to budget constraints. There were no lights used at clubs because I wanted to try and capture the true essence of the surroundings. The camera used was mostly a Panasonic DVX100B. A few of the shoots later on used a Panasonic HVX200, however the footage was still shot in Standard Definition. The intro and end credits footage was filmed using a Super 8 camera."

"In terms of the sound, it varied from using a handheld Shure SM57 microphone to Sony ECM-77B lavaliere microphones. I found using a boom was difficult to capture clean sound since most of the environments had a lot of background noise. The film was edited using Avid. The editor, Megan Bodaly, was a huge part of the making of this film. She believed in the project from the beginning and stuck with it for five years. I can’t thank her and the rest of the crew who worked on the film enough."

The Long And “Short” Of It

This film has been both an exceptional learning experience for Robin Kupferman, as a filmmaker, as well as a gift in education and inspiration to her audiences. She candidly describes her own process with humility and thankfulness for those who helped her. "I learned how to express ideas more effectively through the medium of film during this process and gained valuable insights about the business aspect of filmmaking. I decided to make a short because I knew mistakes would be made and I wanted to learn them on a smaller scale first. I had two great mentors for the project to turn to when I had questions. George Johnson, who was my documentary teacher at film school, was an invaluable resource to me. The other was my lawyer, Scott Andresen who taught me an immense amount about the business side of filmmaking. Overall with the film I learned to listen to my instincts more, both creatively and in terms of producing. I also learned to surround myself with people I can trust."

For Robin Kupferman, winning the Accolade is more about the message and the content of the film itself, rather than personal affirmation. She confides, "It’s an honor to win an Award of Merit and to be recognized in that way. Winning the award helped achieve my goal in creating this film which is to shed a positive light on the electronic music industry and scene and to bring more awareness about it." Even more important is the opportunity the Accolade Competition gives, bringing important films to our eyes. She is grateful that "being recognized by the Accolade Competition encourages me to keep creating films in my own style instead of tailoring them to be main stream."

To The Aspiring Filmmakers

From her experience, Robin shares this with aspiring filmmakers. "Find a topic or idea you’re passionate about and take it as far as it can go. I learned a lot of how to make a film by just going through the process and trying to absorb as much information and advice from the people around me. If there are limitations or roadblocks that arise, I tried to view them as challenges that pushed my thinking into new directions. Sometimes the outcome ended up being more rewarding."

And luckily for us, Robin Kupferman is still on the move. Slip Cue was accepted to the Short Film Corner at the Cannes Film Festival and will be viewable at festivals and events coming up. Moving forward, she is planning her next documentary about experimental music.