Spotlight: An Interview with Gary Rottger ("Indigenous: Fight for Survival")
Born and raised in New York, Gary's passion for film and video has followed him his entire life. Building on his successful career in broadcast music Gary has focused on film and video over the last three years. Gary is a member of the Emmys, and has paticipated as a judge over the past three years. Gary is currently an active voting member of the Grammys and is affiliated with SAG/AFTRA.
In October 2019, Gary's film, "Indigenous: Fight For Survival" won Best Documentary Featurette at LAFA. Indigenous: Fight for Survival, is a documentary that examines some of the unique native animals and plants of the Evergladesand their struggles with climate change, invasive species and human intervention. Filmed over a two and half year period, this film takes a deep look into the trials and tribulations of native life and what is in store for future generations.
We invited Gary to join us for an interview. Here's his story.
Gary, before we talk about your latest documentary, Indigenous: Fight for Survival, please tell us about yourself. Born and raised in NYC, what made you passionate about film and video? How did you get started?
I was always very passionate about music but, film and video were a very close second. When I was young, I always had an audio recording device and a video recording device close by. I remember I had a Panasonic VHS camcorder and when I wasn’t making music I would video tape anything and everything. I think I have a passion for being creative. It doesn’t matter what vehicle you use as long as you’re being creative.
While being a talented filmmaker, you're also a busy music producer, composer, keyboard player, and a programmer. You've worked with some of the biggest names in the industry like Kiss, Joan Jett, Frank Zappa, and Cyndi Lauper to name a few. What were some of the highlights of your musical career so far?
I think one of the biggest highlights was when I auditioned for Kiss. It was at SIR NY and I was a bit nervous. I walking in and first saw Gene Simmons and right behind him was Dianna Ross, whom Gene was dating at the time. I told her I was a big fan. I managed my nerves and got through audition. I have met so many wonderful people in my life and I am truly blessed to have had these incredible experiences.
Where do you find your inspiration and creativity?
I think my inspiration comes from wide range of sources. From my own thoughts and emotions to just about any possible stimuli the world has to offer. Lately a lot of inspiration for me comes from social, political, economic and environmental issues that plague the world right now. I am worried. Education motivates me. Being creative in film has allowed me to share some of these thoughts and issues and present them visually.
You recently won Best Documentary for your film, Indigenous: Fight for Survival. It's a very powerful film. Let's talk a bit about the process behind the scenes. First of all, why did you decide to make it, and why now?
There have been so many environmental films about the Everglades that focus solely on just the negative things: land development, exotic invasion, climate change, industrial pollution, etc. I also wanted to talk about these problems but I wanted to focus more on the actual indigenous life and its beauty.
Why did I make this film now? Because we need change. And we need change now. I hope someone makes a similar film next year and the year after that. Maybe the point will be driven home and change will occur.
What were you hoping to achieve?
To make people aware of the fact that if we don’t take action now and change our habits and attitudes towards nature we will lose nature forever. This is not happening in just the Everglades this is happening all around the world.
When you started the project, did you have a clear plan of what the process will look like, or did many things change along the way?
I basically wrote a sketch or a rough script. I created a shot list for each category and subcategory and proceeded to shoot in the Everglades over a 2 1/2 year period. The script would change based on how well I fulfilled the shot list. Unlike shooting a movie in a studio environment that is controlled, nature is unpredictable and doesn’t wait for you to get focus, or change a media card or a battery. I learned that you must be extremely patient.
Can you talk about your collaboration with May Witzman and Al Rottger? When did they come on board and what was their part in the project?
May and Al have been on board since day one and I mean that literally. Without them this film would have not been made. They were the mental support team.
You probably had A LOT of footage. Can you talk about the editing process a bit, what was the most difficult thing about it?
I used a number of different cameras. I used a Red Epic, a Canon C 300 Mark II, two Canon 5D Mark IV’s and some GoPros for underwater shots. I wound up with about 15 TB of footage total. I shot everything in raw. My daily editing process would be: look at the clips of each card, discard anything I know I’m definitely not going to use, and appropriately name and code the clips I’m going to keep. Once that’s done I ingest everything into Da Vinci resolve, I further edit and clean and color correct. I then render those files to their appropriate bins in ProRes 422 HQ. Now that everything is clean and color corrected, I am ready to go into Final Cut Pro and edit.
Coming from such an extensive musical background, how did you approach the music in the film?
The music was important to me but not as important as the cinematography. The shots had to look beautiful and that was a priority. As we all know music plays a very important role in video and film but it should always be a supportive role in my opinion.
What was your biggest takeaway from working on this film?
Wow it’s hard to film nature LOL! I lost so many great shots because I couldn’t get the camera ready in time or the subject was startled and fled. I have a great great respect for anyone that shoots nature documentaries. It’s really a labor of love. I would also like to say that as a composer and a producer of music I have spent so many hours of my life sitting at a workstation. Sitting is considered the new smoking. It is not healthy. Getting out and filming nature every day in the Everglades was a godsend.
Tell us about your experience judging for the Emmys. What are some of your responsibilities? What do you learn from each submission you review?
It is an honor to serve the Emmy organization as a judge. My responsibility is to be as fair and unbiased as I possibly can when judging. I must stay current in my viewing habits and really try to find the entries that are special. I think peer based awards are important but, the real prize is the journey we all take in the creative process. In that respect we have all won.
What do you do in between projects?
I do firmware updates, software updates, look for new gear, read about new filming techniques, take Master Classes in writing and directing, learn new editing techniques, etc.
Do you have any advice for young artists who wish to follow your footsteps?
Be as creative as you can! Try everything and see what sticks.
What's next for you? Are there any film projects planned for 2020?
There is a very exciting medical drama that is slated for a 2021 release. This is a true story and is quite a special film.
Is there anything you wish to add and/or anyone you wish to thank?
There is one person responsible for helping me enter my work into the film festivals. Her name is Christine Wexler. She is a very talented young lady.
Where can our readers follow more of your work?
Please forgive me for not being more active in social media. I will try to do better this coming year.