How Sundance Sparked This Female Filmmaker’s Super 8mm Film

My first time directing and I chose to use Super 8mm film. It all began last January while I was at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, relaxing in the Be Glammed gift suite with my friends. I had just received this J.Crew denim shirt and along with this cool peace of denim, J.Crew was offering to add a personal patch or writing on the back dedicated to your passion. I thought putting actress or producer would look silly, and said to my friend “maybe I should put Director on it!” I’m not a director, but I thought it could be a good conversation starter when I’m out. Little did I know what was in store for me in 2018. Only 2 months after this encounter at Sundance, I directed and wrote my first short film, and on super 8mm film! It’s called “My Dearest One” and I’m still amazed on how this all came together.

From Actress to Producer to Director

I love to create. I am an actress and being in front of the camera is my true passion. I was in Drama through high school & college, then moved to NYC and worked hard to attend more acting classes. I eventually started to book roles. Through life’s plan for me I began hosting an extreme sports TV show and was eventually hired to create a web-series for a nightclub.  These gigs gave me the opportunity to share my creative ideas by making segments from scratch and it began to reveal my skill set as a producer. Still, I never dreamed I’d have any idea how to direct a film.

Dawn Church and Karen Numme

Fast forward to 2018, in Los Angeles. I was booked as lead actress in several short films that made their way around the festival circuit. I decided to attend a filmmakers workshop and heard of a contest called Straight 8, based in the UK. The rules of the Straight 8 competition are as follows. Create a film, in sequence, on 1 roll of 8mm film, and there can be absolutely no editing. In order to achieve success at this challenge, I would need 1) a Super 8mm camera, 2) a good story, and 3) cast and crew.

When shooting on Super 8, there is no audio, so this had to be a very strong visual story. My concept evolved over a few colleague chats. I reached out to everyone for a camera. As an actress, I’m not swimming in funds, so this would have to be done on no budget and lots of hustle. The contest is pricy to enter, so renting a camera was an unnecessary expense. I had almost given up when a director friend came through with 2 Super 8mm cameras he’d let me borrow. Being unsure if they even worked, I drove out to the Valley, to Pro 8mm in Burbank for a check up. After a discussion with the fine people of Pro 8, I decided the Eumig seemed the most reliable to use.

From 52 Shots to 37 Shots

Karen Numme, John Diego Hernandez, Dawn Church

Thrilled that I finally found my Super 8mm camera, I could finish developing my story concept. I reached out to writer friends and pitched my storylines, hearing their reactions helped finalize my vision. Time for development. This story is in my head, so how do I convey what’s in my head to the crew? I created a storyboard of 52 shots. After a few peer discussions, I realized that 52 shots would be over the 3:20 film time allowed on 1 roll of film. I had to made some cuts and got the storyboard down to 37 shots. This was also my moment of clarity. I would have to direct this film myself. With no dialogue, I’m the only person that sees the story in my head and must direct every single shot to get what is needed and to make this a successful film.

So, there I was. The Director. And the thought was frightening, but, I was determined to make this film. It’s normal for a production to have some complications. I had locations and props in my mind that were not available the shoot date, so I had to keep adjusting the script to the resources available. I assembled a crew, talent and had to settle on a much smaller location than desired, but we made it work, and it looks great!

Day one went well, except I underestimated how much longer it takes to shoot with a Super 8mm camera. Lots of adjustments on each shot. Shooting in sequence at a small location, we had to move furniture for each shot as filming. We lost daylight, shot as much as possible, then had to agree to dedicate a 2nd day of shooting in a couple weeks time.

The next day I flew to NYC to act on another short film and my friends recommended I register for the AT&T create-a-thon 48hr film challenge that was happening that weekend. It was exciting meeting everyone and to join a team as lead actress.

When I arrived to film the next morning the writer said the director/sound guy and main camera person both canceled. That a second camera person was on the way, but with no director, I’m thinking I should probably just leave. I’m talking with the writer about what’s really needed and how the script needs to be adjusted to create a 5 min short that makes sense. Then he asked if I would direct the film. I was completely surprised and would have said no way, except I had such a good experience directing my own film 2 days prior. That had given me new confidence. Then I looked at that writer and the crew that did show up, saw how much everyone loves this industry and just wants to create films. I said Yes. I directed my second short film, which turned out great and is being used as a sizzle for their feature.


John Diego Hernandez and Dawn Church


As A Woman in Film, I Can Do It All

To all the women in this industry, you really can do it all! I really don’t know how far I’ll pursue directing, I’m still excited to know I’m capable of directing, and naturally good at it. I still have a lot to learn. I also think directing is extremely exhausting, being in charge of every detail is so much work! The end result, however, makes it all worthwhile. While my main passion will always be acting, now I’m excited to have expanded this passion into all areas of filmmaking. My passion continues to grow stronger for creating content as a producer and now director. I think it’s important for people to hear this story, and be inspired. I’m such a confident person, yet, doubted I could be a director. Then I did it. I didn’t even realize I had been limiting myself all this time. Everyone, especially in this industry should know to never limit themselves, anything is possible.

On projects, with so many equally talented peers around, I prefer we all create together. I love to collaborate and look forward to from hearing from you! 

Subscribe to DawnChurchLive on Youtube to see more of the Super 8mm film “My Dearest One” and future projects.  

Coming up in 2019: I’ve just created an original series that’s being reviewed now for production options and recently been cast as lead in the short film “Whisper” for festivals. Keep checking my IMDB and @DawnChurchLive for more surprises!

I’m a Kentucky girl mixed with New York City hustle. Manhattan raised me into a driven, unstoppable force that can get anything done creatively or otherwise. Growing up I studied Acting and Art, also took Ballroom dance, which I still enjoy today as often as I can find a dance partner! While my main passion will always be acting, now I’m excited to have expanded this passion into all areas of filmmaking.

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