A Visit with Film Maker Cy Dodson, Creator of Beneath the Ink

Winner of Best Documentary at Catalyst Content Festival

All images on this page courtesy Director Cy Dodson

Many people are probably unaware of the scale of the Catalyst Content Festival, now in its 14th year, that took place in Duluth in mid-October. To give an idea of how big the event is, festival director Philip Gilpin said there were more than 800 films submitted for consideration from 25 countries this year. Nearly 90 films were screened and 26 scripts read during the five-day event.

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One of the films I saw was an extremely powerful documentary called Beneath the Ink. It came as no surprise to me when it won Best Documentary. Even better was hearing the news that Director Cy Dodson was signed by the Abrams Agency, a major sponsor of the festival.

What did surprise me — but shouldn’t have — was discovering that Dodson and I both graduated from Ohio, University in Athens.

How did you come to choose Ohio U in Athens and what was the focus of your studies?

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Cy Dodson: I grew up in Zanesville, Ohio which is about an hour drive to OU. A lot of my high school friends went there. It’s in the hills, nice location for a school. I was undecided for a while in college. I took a variety of classes, a lot of engineering and music classes. I ended up getting a communications degree with an emphasis on audio production. Not a whole lot of jobs for audio/music recording. I ended up working for my home town television station. I was in the news business for the next 8 years as a journalist, ended up moving to Minnesota in 2000, working for KSTP.

How long have you been making films?

CD: I’m sort of a late bloomer. I made my first documentary My Last Breath in 2015, The Ragman in 2017, and Beneath the Ink in 2018. All short films. Short films are typically the entry point for first time filmmakers, so I’ve screened with filmmakers at festivals that are probably half my age. I wish I would have started 20 years ago, but times were different back then. You had to take out a second mortgage to be able to buy a camera and editing system.

How did you come to take an interest in film? Did you grow up with a camera in your hand?

CD: I thought I wanted to have a career in music, that was about the only thing that I thought I was halfway decent at. So that was my path in college. I didn’t pick up a camera until I started my first job after I graduated. It wasn’t my first love, but eventually became my profession.

Covering a Klansman with an American Eagle

Beneath the Ink is a powerful story. How long did you work on this project? Can you share how it came about?

My first two films were a process. It’s like anything else, you have to a do it a few times, gain experience and learn what works. Beneath the Ink was filmed in less than a week’s time, mostly over a weekend with a couple pick up shots. More so than anything with the film, it was the subject matter and story. The story sold this. I didn’t have a crew, the production value is good but it’s not epic, but it’s timely and it’s redemption angle resonates with people.

Bobby, the central character in this documentary.

What’s the key to successfully telling a story in film?

CD: It’s really all about the story. Is it universal, timely, and thought provoking? If the answer is yes to those questions, it would be worth pursuing. I see many filmmakers putting so much time and effort into films that really have no chance at success because the story isn’t there. It’s so hard to find unique stories that have a complete package, including surprises, layers, and emotion. There have been stories told on tattoo artists that cover up racists tattoos, I haven’t seen any documentary films.

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Congrats on your Best Documentary award at Catalyst. There was a lot of competition. Now you’ve been selected to be represented by the Abrams Agency. Can you share how that came about and what’s next?

CD: Catalyst was a great experience. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I went to one of their intro meetings in Minneapolis to hear their spiel. At the time, I didn’t know I would be pitching a series. I noticed something on social media about deadlines for submissions and 15 dollars, hit the submit button. I’ve spent a lot more for a lot less at festivals before. We won Best Documentary, met with several networks, and signed on the dotted line for representation with Abrams. That 15-dollar submission went a long way for us with Catalyst. I would recommend learning more about Catalyst, even if you don’t have anything to pitch.

Anything you’d like to say to future creators?

CD: Be bold, take chances, and learn from mistakes. The competition is fierce, there are more content creators now than there’s ever been. I had a great run and still got a pile of rejections from festivals with each starting, “we had a record number of submissions this year.” Even if your film doesn’t win awards and get a distribution offer, that doesn’t mean you failed. Build on what you learn from each project.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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