KEITH MAITLAND & SUSAN THOMSON | PRODUCERS, TOWER
FEATURED ARTIST | APRIL 2014
Director and Producer of the Emmy nominated THE EYES OF ME, which was broadcast on PBS’ Independent Lens and was honored with a Barbara Jordan Media Award by the State of Texas. Keith is a graduate of the DGA Directors Program and the PBS Producers Academy. He is currently producing and directing the documentary TOWER that presents the untold stories of the witnesses, survivors and heroes of the Tower shootings.
Susan Thomson spent over 12 years as a media consultant, with roles in strategy, operations and distribution at Warner Bros., Sony Pictures, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Really Useful Group”, and the BBC. Susan co-founded and co-produces FilmMatters, a dialogue that focuses on the use of film to encourage social change. Susan is currently producing two documentaries based in Austin, TX.
AHD: Please tell us about your latest documentary, Tower.
TOWER is a film about the heroes and survivors of the University of Texas Tower shooting in 1966. There have been a lot of projects in the past that focused on the sniper that day and that's not the story we want to tell. There's never been a feature film about the incredible civilians that rose to the challenge during the attack and our highest goal is to change the way people remember that day and shine a light on the strength and courage of so many brave Texans facing the unimaginable.
AHD: How did you two get started in film, and how did you end up collaborating on this project?
KM: Making movies is something I wanted to do since I was 12 - and I've just never wavered from that. I had a really positive experience on the set of Necessary Roughness in Denton when I was 15 and then went on to intern for MTV, the Muppets, and Richard Linklater in college. I worked in narrative features in NYC after that. Susan has always been someone that I respect and enjoyed working with (we made a short film together in 2001) and so when it worked out that she was back here in Texas and she was doing great things with FilmMatters, I couldn't wait to ask her to partner up.
ST: I started on the studio side of the industry in Los Angeles and spent a lot of time learning about film distribution. I then lived in London for 4 years and gained experience in News creation at the BBC. When I moved back to Texas, I started a program called FilmMatters that explores how to make and distribute films that promote social change. Keith and I grew up together and he was one of my FilmMatters panelists. I was thrilled when he told me about TOWER and asked me to produce it with him.
AHD: Your documentary is based in part on 96 Minutes, the 2006 Texas Monthly article by Pamela Colloff. Obviously not all articles merit companion films. What was it about Pamela's piece that resonated with you?
ST: The article was so intensely visceral. Reading it just totally pulled you into the characters' point of view. I'd never before imagined what that was like for the people on the ground and the references like, "I was walking past xyz building, on my way to class" just transported me to that time and place.
KM: Pam gets this disparate group to relate the events of the day in a way that really highlighted the humanity of the event. It was the first time that I saw that day through the eyes of characters I could relate to and it brought the event to light. She accomplished what we've been striving to do.
AHD: You've talked about using your film to change the way people remember the nearly 50-year-old tragedy. Would you say this kind of art has a redeeming quality?
ST: Absolutely. One of the amazing things about this story is that we can see how people processed and integrated the experience over a lifetime. The absence of bitterness from so many people is both surprising and encouraging because the suffering was just so enormous. It's powerful to see people focus on the vast number of good people who displayed such humanity vs. the one man who has always been the focus of the attack.
KM: The history, and the actual human faces of those affected by the shooting has gone largely untold.
AHD: After receiving some initial funds from PBS, you've launched an indiegogo.com campaign to raise funds for your next round of production. What has the crowd funding experience been like? What have you learned along the way?
ST: Well, many filmmakers forewarned us that these campaigns are a lot of work. They were right! That said, it's been a great experience. We got to meet with one of the top brass at Indiegogo during SXSW and he was incredibly helpful. Our biggest advice would be to really plan your campaign, have your house in order in terms of your contacts and ideally have at least one dedicated person to run your campaign and manage it across all of your social media platforms.
AHD: Luke Wilson was recently announced as the film's Executive Producer. What's it like to have someone of such name recognition join your team? How does Wilson's involvement benefit your project moving forward?
ST: It's great. When we heard that he was interested in the 96 Minutes article it was kind of extra validation that people in the big leagues saw what an amazing film this could be. Plus, people in Texas really love all of the Wilson boys and it definitely seems to establish credibility with certain people to say that Luke is involved.
AHD: This spring you're again participating in a panel discussion at the Dallas International Film Festival. What do you plan to discuss during your talk? What do you most enjoy about the film festival circuit?
KM: We're talking about films for youth that impact change. I'm moderating because I'm in the middle of making a film that aims to do just that. As for TOWER, our hope is to show the courage and determination of the students on campus that day - in a film that's aimed at young audiences. There's also a mental health element - both from the snipers point of view and from the witnesses who dealt with issues on the mental health spectrum from ptsd to anxiety in the years after the shooting. This is what I love about going to film festivals - the conversations that emerge at panels, after screenings, at parties over cocktails ... I'm hoping our panel has a kind-of a cocktail party vibe.
AHD: How can we learn more about Tower, give funds for the next phase of production, check out some great perks, and stay in touch so we can take in the film as soon as it opens?
ST: What a great question! You can donate to our Indiegogo campaign http://igg.me/at/TOWER/x/6520958 - we are right in the middle of a push for funds to help us with a big shoot this summer and any contribution really makes a difference right now. Or you can email me directly at susanthomson@TOWERdocumentary.com to discuss ways to get a tax deduction or for investment opportunities with TOWER.