The A3F & The Challenge Of Shooting A Movie Theatre

Last week I had the opportunity to collaborate with The Almost Famous Film Festival during their 6th Annual 48 Challenge Screening and Awards Ceremony. I have known the organization and its team for a few years but this was my first time at one of their events, not only documenting with photos but also as part of the audience.

Jae Staats, Founder and President of the A3F is one of the greatest people I know along with Jason Francois, Vice President of the festival. They have such passion about filmmaking and the filmmakers’ community that they’ve turned this event into one of the most important Film Festivals in the US. 75 teams from all over the country participated in this last contest and the ceremony was held at one of the largest screens of the AMC 24 Theatres of the Arizona Center, in Downtown Phoenix.

Jae Staats. Founder of The A3F

Jae Staats, Founder of The A3F (left) and Kai Staats (right).

At first my focus was to just shoot people receiving their awards. Once I saw the location I recognized the great opportunity in front of me: having to photograph a large movie theatre completely full of people. I made my goal to capture the essence and real mood of the room. Though I only had 3 strobes to work with I wanted to be able to see the whole place and give it a lot of dimension, while keeping the inherit darkness of a movie theater, so I had to think quick. Fortunately I was there early enough to setup my lighting and do some tests. I ended up using a high ISO as it is expected in most evening and indoor events, but I was very happy with the image quality I was able to produce.

AMC's 450+ Theatre at the Arizona Center was Full

AMC's 450 seat theatre was full!

Most award-ceremony photos I’ve seen are shot against plain backgrounds using an on-camera flash, which allows you to work fast, but also produces very flat and boring photos. To me it was very critical to see the people in the background and show that this was not a little event where only close friends and family of the winners attended, as it often happens. This was a full 450 seat theatre with people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds, related and non-related to the participants. Sponsors, partners and people in general who just love filmmaking were also there to watch the movies and vote for their favorite shorts, writers, directors, actors and cinematographers.

It was a great event not only because of the wide variety of interesting shorts they presented, but the fact there was such of positive energy coming out from all the people that were there sharing the fun and the very unique experience created by the independent film community.

Filmmakers were clearly happy to be recognized for their work.

Filmmakers were clearly happy to be recognized for their work.

I realize the best thing about The Almost Famous Film Festival is not only the work that Jae Staats with Jason Francois and their team have done by turning it into one of the most important Film Festivals in the country, but the passion and humility of all the highly motivated people that participate and have the dedication to make independent film production an important part of their lives and their community. As an artist and filmmaker myself, it makes me excited to see the possibilities of where all this is going and the great relationships that will be built in the years to come.

Beauty went beyond the art of filmmaking at the A3F

Beauty went beyond the art of filmmaking at the A3F

In the end, I was very glad I was able to attend and come up with new photography techniques in a challenging environment. On top of that, I got to watch a lot of great short movies, enjoyed the company of close friends, met new people and also captured some very cool photos. I would say that it was a pretty good evening and definitely an experience that made me feel… “Almost Famous”.

For more information on The Almost Famous Film Festival visit


To view my entire gallery of photos of this event visit:

2 comments on “The A3F & The Challenge Of Shooting A Movie Theatre
  1. Jae Staats says:

    Just wanted to express my sincere thanks to a wonderful photographer and also a very talented writer. Mayo, your coverage of our event both in words and in images, was a true blessing and everyone at the A3F, including all the filmmakers, thank you for your creative eye and professionalism in working with us. Thank you!

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