‘I Feel Stupid’ Director Milena Pastreich Talks About Her New Documentary ‘Pigeon Kings’
In film school we made our films as quickly as possible, it was more like a sprint. Making a documentary is a marathon.
Milena Pastreich, director of I Feel Stupid, recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for her upcoming feature documentary Pigeon Kings, and she took some time to tell us a little bit more about her experience working on the film, how UCLA trained her to wear a lot of hats, and the best way to capture moving birds on film.
How did you learn about these pigeon trainers? Why were they compelling enough to make a doc?
I stumbled upon the Los Angeles community of Roller Pigeon fanciers in 2011 while location scouting pigeon coops for I Feel Stupid, my UCLA Graduate School thesis film that aired on Film School Shorts. I immediately knew I had to tell the story of the Roller men and their birds. I began my journey as an outsider in the pigeon world, but over the course of the last five years, I have earned the title “bird lady.”
You’ve primarily worked in narrative film. Why make the switch to documentary for Pigeon Kings?
I couldn’t help myself. As soon as I met the Roller Pigeon fanciers, I knew I had to make a documentary about them. So it was the subject matter that pulled me in, not the desire to make a documentary.
You’ve been shooting this film for five years. Does that take a lot of patience? How does that compare to the quick turnaround of student filmmaking?
It requires patience, but more than anything it requires persistence. I wanted to film in a verité style and watch change occur over time, rather than sitting my subjects down for a bunch of interviews. This means years of filming. Ultimately the key is to find a subject matter and characters that you are so passionate about, that nothing will stop you.
Making a documentary is a completely different beast than student filmmaking. In film school we made our films as quickly as possible, it was more like a sprint. Making a documentary is a marathon.
Any tips for budding cinematographers on the best ways to film birds in action, or even when they’re still?
Most of the pigeon footage was shot by other DPs, while I shot the birdmen. It was extremely hard to do. Some tips are: stop down. No need to shoot a shallow depth of field because focus is insanely hard. We rented a crazy telephoto lens that seemed it was made for shooting birds – it was a Canon 150-600. That helped, or maybe it just made us feel fancy.
For these rolling birds, it was particularly beneficial to shoot them in slow motion. That, of course, doesn’t always apply to shooting birds. It depends on what look you are going for, but for us it was very important to understand what it looks like when the birds are rolling, which is best done in slow motion.
How did your experience going through UCLA’s MFA program and making I Feel Stupid influence your process on Pigeon Kings?
In the first year at UCLA, we were required to do every crew position. We were put into groups of six people and we rotated through the positions as we worked on each other’s films. On a technical level, that was extremely helpful for me in shooting this doc because I had to wear so many hats and was often the only crew member. More importantly, UCLA taught me about story and the importance of compelling characters. This was very important throughout the entire process, particularly now, in the edit.