UM alum Billy Corben on filmmaking, politics and Miami


Movie: Straight Out Of Miami: Rakontur Previews New Work at The Regal Theater throughout Miami Movie Competition on March 9, 2017

Over the previous few many years, UM Alum Billy Corben has assembled an extended record of jaw-dropping documentaries, exposing the secrets and techniques of South Florida.

With titles together with “Cocaine Cowboys,” discussing Miami’s involvement within the Medellin cartel, to the detailed exposition of the rise of ‘Canes soccer in “The U” documentaries, Florida has gifted Corben with what looks like countless tales to inform.

From founding his first manufacturing firm on the age of 15 to releasing his first movie, Corben discusses the experiences and selections that introduced him to the place he’s in the present day.

You started within the leisure trade as a baby actor: how did this flip right into a profession of manufacturing, directing and documentaries?

“I used to be not athletically inclined like my brother and I used to be on the lookout for an after college pastime,” Corben mentioned. “I had a pal who was in a Sears bicycle business and I used to be mesmerized by seeing her on TV.”

Corben made his movie performing debut in “Parenthood,” a comedy directed by Ron Howard in 1988.

“You’re an actor as a child, however when you’re going to remain on this enterprise, you develop up and transfer behind the digicam,” Corben mentioned. “As a substitute of being instructed what to do, you’re telling different folks what to do.”

Whereas attending highschool at New World College of the Arts, Corben and two childhood buddies at North Miami Seashore Senior Excessive College fashioned their first manufacturing firm as highschool sophomores.

The three continued to construct the corporate by way of their time in school, with Corben at UM, producing companion Alred Spellman briefly at UM and later Florida Worldwide College and fellow companion David Cypkin at Florida State College. After school, Corben and his companions moved to Gainesville, Fla. to analyze a narrative that turned their first movie documentary — “Uncooked Deal: A Query of Consent.”

One yr later, the documentary was set to premiere on the Sundance Movie Competition. In 2001, the three had been the youngest filmmakers within the pageant’s historical past and the one ones from Miami.

When did issues flip political?

“I used to be desirous about civil rights, in pursuit of justice, in talking reality to energy,” Corben mentioned.

Whereas at New World College of the Arts Corben served as senior class president, advocating for the scholar physique on points regarding academics and administration.

“I had distinguished myself already as being a insurgent with a trigger,” Corben mentioned.

Having grown up within the post-9/11 period by way of the 2008 recession, distinguished political occasions — together with the Trump administration — affected his view of politics and establishments.

“The concept America could possibly be taken in by a con man and a demagogue definitely proved that the Miami of in the present day is the America of tomorrow,” Corben mentioned.

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Inform me about your time right here as a UM scholar. How did it form who you are actually?

“I believe I miss it extra now, you don’t actually know what you’ve acquired till it’s gone,” Corben mentioned. “I don’t know that I appreciated it as a lot once I was there.”

At UM, Corben triple majored in political science, screenwriting and theatre. Resulting from his growing profession, Corben took a number of leaves of absence throughout his time at UM. In his opinion, these durations of time spent away allowed him to understand the courses he was taking extra.

“I navigated my method into actually nice courses with actually great professors,” Corben mentioned. “I had Rafael Lima, an exquisite professor who I’d had in highschool. I had him virtually each semester from like my junior yr in highschool virtually by way of my junior yr in school.”

In his opinion, an important and useful class Corben took was screenwriting.

“It’s good to perceive the basics of storytelling with the intention to know what to do with any of that,” Corben mentioned, referring to cinematography, directing and modifying.

Corben misses the difficult setting of a faculty classroom and the encouragement for wholesome debates and considering.

“I discover myself in loads of echo chambers lately,” Corben mentioned. “I get pleasure from a superb religion debate, which is difficult to come back by as a result of so many debates in the present day are poisonous.”

How did your highschool manufacturing firm flip into Rakontur Productions?

“The primary firm was a subchapter S company my and Alfred’s dad needed to be the officers of,” Corben mentioned. “We known as it Spellman Corben Productions, which appears like a legislation agency.”

When it got here time to create Rakontur, the filmmakers already had an organization — it was merely a matter of branding it. For them, the mission of a documentary filmmaker is to discover a good story and inform it effectively. Rakontur is the phonetic of the French phrase raconteur, which suggests one who tells tales with talent.

As a documentarian, what’s the course of in getting credible, firsthand views on these breaking tales?

Relating to first-person storytelling, Corben explains that it’s all in regards to the “I” and “we,” not “they” and “he.” For him, firsthand data not solely will increase a chunk’s credibility, however attracts the viewers in for storytelling from a particular perspective.

“Simply because its first hand data doesn’t imply that it’s correct,” Corben mentioned. “It could possibly be self-serving.”

Corben describes his course of as synthesis journalism. After corroborating the narrative, filmmakers straddle the road between journalism and leisure.

“You tempt the viewers with the sweet and then you definately slide some broccoli in there,” Corben mentioned. “And hopefully for 2 hours you’ve been entertained, however you’ve additionally unexpectedly discovered one thing alongside the best way.”

What’s the hardest a part of the method?

“One of many hardest elements is entry. It’s not what it’s who ,” Corben mentioned.

Working within the trade for over 20 years, Corben spoke to the adjustments within the public’s strategy to documentary filmmaking. To start with, entry was difficult. At present, in a brand new period of non-fiction filmmaking, persons are extra conscious and keen to talk out publicly.

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Is it true that you simply rating your personal movies?

Corben has composed a few of the tunes, songs and themes which have gone into a few of his main works, together with “the U,” “Uncooked Deal: A Query of Consent” and “Sq. Grouper: The Godfathers of Ganja.”

“I’m all ardour, no expertise relating to music,” Corben mentioned. “So I’ll sit within the piano and tinker it out, then I’ll put it within the arms of some good composers.”

Graduates from the College of Miami Frost College of Music have composed the rating for a lot of of Corben’s initiatives.

“The perfect documentaries that we make are musicals,” Corben mentioned. “You might take out the dialogue and nonetheless perceive the journey and the emotional arc of the story.”

When did you determine “God Forbid” was a narrative you needed to inform and when did you understand you had sufficient data to take action in truth?

The corporate had been monitoring the story because it first broke, however when it first got here on their radar it was a narrative from Politico they’d examine Jerry Falwell, the previous president of Liberty College, who occurred to personal a $4.65 million business property on Alton Rd. in Miami Seashore.

As extra data was revealed, Corben started to appreciate there have been extra layers to the story.

“What was attention-grabbing in regards to the property was that it had a liquor retailer, very a lot towards the Liberty method,” Corben mentioned. “It had a homosexual pleasant flop home and a youth hostel upstairs, drawing within the irony of this example.”

In 2018, a follow-up was printed in Buzzfeed, figuring out the Fallwell’s actual property companion as Giancarlo Granda, a pool attendant on the Fontainebleau in Miami Seashore, the place the Falwells met him. Lower than a yr later, the 20-year-old was their companion within the $4.5 million property. The story then took to the web, and the “poolboy” narrative fashioned. In June of 2020, Giancarlo Granda reached out to Rakuntor Productions, asking if they’d inform his story.

“Alfred Spellman, my producing companion, usually jokes that if you get launched from jail in Florida, your first name is to your mom and your second name is to Rakontur to make a documentary about you,” Corben mentioned.

What are your ideas on the film screening nonetheless taking place after it was initially declined?

“All’s effectively that ends effectively,” Corben mentioned.

Corben enjoys returning to UM and sees each alternative to come back again and converse to college students as an opportunity to showcase what the ever-changing trade has to supply.

“I want I had extra alternatives whereas I used to be at school to listen to from individuals who had been really out on the planet, within the career I hoped to pursue,” Corben mentioned.

Corben extends his because of Rene Garcia, the present supervisor of the Cosford Cinema, who beforehand served because the Movie Critic for the Miami Herald.

“I learn him rising up,” Corben mentioned. “It was one of the crucial thrilling bucket record moments of my life when he reviewed our first documentary in The Miami Herald and gave it a 3 ½ out of 4 score.”

What are your plans for the longer term?

Rakontur Productions is presently engaged on the fifth and last of the Cocaine Cowboys documentary collection, titled “The Final of the Cocaine Cowboys.” The story will observe Carlos Lehder, one of many 4 unique co-founders of the Medellin cartel. Launched from U.S. jail in the summertime of 2020, Lehder invited Rakontur Productions to Europe, the place he lives now, to inform his story.

“Cocaine Cowboys have been considerably Miami centric,” Corben mentioned. “This one’s not nearly Miami — it’s a narrative about Colombia, Bahamas, Mexico, Panama, Cuba, the USA and the way cocaine and the struggle on medicine turned your entire hemisphere the wrong way up.”



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