Friday, June 30, 2017

Personal Filmmaking, James Piper

One thing about Rick Schmidt's book, Feature Filmmaking at Used Car Prices---Schmidt pretty much acknowledges that you won't make any money at it. He warns people not to delude themselves into thinking they're earning any kind of living making these movies. That's what I remember---I don't have a copy of it in front of me.

You make your 70 minute 16mm feature which you could do for $6,000 according to the first edition and $10,000 in the revised edition which is equal to $20,000 today. Then you show your movie at film festivals and hope a distributor will take it.

There was another, far more practical book on filmmaking from the early 1970s, Personal Filmmaking by James Piper. He passed away in 2015. A first edition is for sale on Amazon for $124, but there are reasonably-priced copies available.

The book was based on a Fresno City College course he taught, a textbook intended for high school or college. Students would shoot a movie on Regular 8mm or Super 8 film. Each student would make a silent film, sometimes with a tape recording to play along with it.

The emphasis was on an individual making the movie, not a collective activity for the whole class. The result would be a number of short films, not a single class project.

If I remember correctly, the students tended to be from various backgrounds, not film majors. And they used ordinary home movie equipment---a movie camera and maybe a tape recorder.

One made an art film--a film poem--set at a funeral. Another was about guys on a hunting trip who hear on the radio that a homicidal maniac is on the loose. The hunters become the hunted.

I'm citing this from memory. I read the book about thirty years ago at the university library. I read it in the '80's when you could shoot and process a roll of 8mm film for $10.

You could spend $10 and have fun making a four minute movie that your friends and family would grudgingly watch, or you could spend $6,000 and work for years on a 70 minute feature they would refuse to sit through more than once. Would you rather be a young Mike and George Kuchar or a middle-aged Rick Schmidt?

To be fair, back then, there was a remote possibility that a $10,000 16mm feature could make it into theatrical distribution. There's no chance of that now. Although I guess, there are a few mumblecore movies that have somehow hit it big.

But there were short 8mm films back then that won awards. There are also short 8mm films being shown now on Fandor. Some kid made a Tarzan movie in the '60s.

You can now do it essentially for free on video and get a couple hundred hits on YouTube.

Take advantage of the age we're living in, with digital camcorders and steaming video. The economy is no good. You're not going to miss out on your chance for financial success by pursuing your dream no matter how outlandish. In fact, you could save a fortune on student loans. Even if you fail it will pay for itself.

During the Great Depression, New York became the center of the art world because artists knew they had no chance of making any money. They were free to do what they wanted and they made monkeys out of those snotty Parisians.

More recently, after the financial collapse, there was a sudden glut of DJ's in New York City. People in the financial sector found themselves free to pursue their dreams. Most of them dreamed of being DJ's. No wonder the economy was ruined.

In this age of digital video, it's time for a truly personal cinema.

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