Magazine article American Cinematographer


Magazine article American Cinematographer


Article excerpt

Necessity was the mother of Ingenious Invention for this young film-maker who couldn't afford expensive crystal-sync equipment

In the fifteen years since the expression "student filmmaker" became common, it has become something of a tarnished phrase, often implying a suspicious species of fast-talking, occasionally brilliant adolescent who doesn't return equipment. It's a reputation we partly deserve; after all, it takes a bit of conjuring to create a half-hour of entertaining dramatic art when you're just another kid with aBolexandno visible means of support.

Student filmmaking is trial-by-small-change; the Great 20th-century Novel could be written with a Bic Banana, but even the Average 16mm silent short is going to set you back a couple of hundred. In my short-end days I had to improvise constantly to keep the state of the art higher than the current state of my bank account. With a little help from my friends, I made my own camera crane, dollies, tripods, lights, gobos, car mounts. I messed around with Cinemascope, 3-D and front projection - and I even tried processing my own film, once.

To pay for my expensive habit, I ran a college film society. There was something righteous about running films to make films; I was learning from the masters and letting them subsidize my apprenticeship.

Surviving the experience generally sharpens the wits, and whets the appetite for spending even more money - this time on a film with sound. Most student films have a minimum of sync sound because it's too costly renting an Eclair and Nagra at $40 a day (that's 800 feet of B&W). Even in a film school you have to reserve a camera weeks ahead, and you're lucky if the equipment shows up on time and hasn't been mauled over by the Anthropology department. In a way, lack of sync sound is a hidden advantage, because it forces one to learn to tell the story visually.

But people do talk, and eventually you have to enter the sparkling world of dialogue. I tried everything. For instance, wild sound works well when all the takes are less than 5 seconds in length.

You can play dialogue over reaction shots, long shots, backs of heads, and great dramatic montages with voiceover monologues.

I made four films with post-recorded "looping," and got pretty good at it. My "looping stage" consisted of a projector stationed outside on the lawn, aimed through the living room window at a screen. The actor stood inside with a microphone connected to a tape recorder, trying to match his reading with the repeated loop image on the screen. The process works, but it doesn't exactly inspire spontaneity in the actor's performance. …

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