Magazine article American Cinematographer

"Jazzman"-A Student Film That's More Than a Student Film

Magazine article American Cinematographer

"Jazzman"-A Student Film That's More Than a Student Film

Article excerpt

Filmed in 35mm, with just about everything begged or borrowed, this picture was shot with sophisticated techniques of a professional film

JAZZ MAN is a student film that's more than a student film: It's also a good movie. Assembled with a rare combination of fresh perspective and keen technique, the film has a tone and texture usually associated with truly mature work.

Written and directed by Jeff Wishengrad and produced by Ron Diamond, the film is a 40-minute musical drama, utilizing all original music. The Director of Photography was Kristin Glover. The story finds MeI Grinker, a 55-year-old saxophone player who never made it in the music world, working at a tiny run-down amusement park as a mechanic, repairing rides. His confidence is renewed when young Russel is hired at the park. Russel's goals are set beyond ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds as his real dream is to be a music promoter ... with the help of Mel's talents. The mixture of greed and ambition with friendship and trust creates a warm, human story.

The cast includes veteran actors Hank Rolike as MeI, and Albert Henderson along with newcomers Brian Stevens (Russel) and Nanea Reeves. Also featured are Charles Prime, Gene Washington, and Billy Haddnott, all talented and colorful jazz musicians who have played with many big jazz bands, such as Count Basie and Duke Ellington, during their long careers. As with most student films, the entire cast and crew donated all of their time to the project without any compensation.

Pre-Production

Faced with a miniscule budget, a search for a tiny amusement park and producing all original music, Producers Ron Diamond and Jeff Wishengrad had a great amount of work before even one foot of film could be exposed.

In an era of super-parks like Magic Mountain, small neighborhood amusement parks have virtually disappeared. They struck a goldmine with Marshall Scottie's Playland Park in El Cajon. This 30-year-old park was a museum of beautifully aged kiddie-rides.

The performance of original music in JAZZ MAN brought consideration to not only the actual composing of the music, but the preparation of filming the musical sequences. David Izzard's jazz numbers and Randy Sterling's "Riding Time," a jazz influenced rock and roll number, added to the professional flavor of the film.

Since he had never played a saxophone, Hank Rolike practiced miming to the music weeks before the shoot. The songs were broken down in the preparation of playback tracks which enabled all the musicians to repeat the musical performance on film, lip-sync style.

The decision to shoot in 35mm was contingent on one factor: donations. The budget did not allow for the purchase of 25,000 feet of new 5247 raw stock, so through perseverance and good old-fashioned abusive telephone tactics, the producers were able to get 95% of the film donated by more than a dozen Los Angeles production companies.

Working with short ends ranging from 200 feet to 900 feet, Director of Photography Kristen Glover shot a few feet from every roll to insure the film was not defective in any way. This proved to be a valuable step because there were a few rolls that had been fogged or somehow damaged before they were received.

It was also apparent that this film could not be shot over a few weekends or nights. Since the main location was a two-and-ahalf hour drive from Los Angeles, the film had to be shot just like the grown-ups do: every day for three weeks with a few days off here and there for good behavior.

The weeks prior to shooting were taken up between location tests and filling all crew assignments. The key crew members were made up of mostly UCLA film students. Producer Ron Diamond and production manager Martha Elcan traveled to San Diego State University's Film and TV department, and with false promises of fame, fortune and fun for all, were able to recruit a large group of production assistants. …

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