Larry Yust

Director Larry Yust with Producer Marshal Backlar

I have many people I admire. One of them is Larry Yust. Mr. Yust is a man who has no pretense about him. In an article in Shock Cinema author Nick Pinkerton wrote: “Larry Yust’s education is a combination of Stamford U theater, summer stock and the Army Signal Corp. It sums up how Mr. Yurst is, and how he approached his work. I was first introduced to Larry Yust’s film “Trick Baby”. Shot 100% in Philadelphia the film plays like a Jim Thompson novel. The film was released in 1972 and I caught it sometime in my teens on a late night movie. After seeing it again it still holds up and it’s a great modern film noir if film noir were in color. Throughout the film you can feel the grittiness of the street, and the performances are dead on. His other film “Homebodies” is a film is a dark comedy that feels pretty authentic & still manages to hit themes of what it is to grow old in America. There’s no gloss in Yust’s film, and it is these films that really make Yust’s films standout. I would be remiss if I did not include Yust’s cinematographer collaborator Isidore Mankofsky.

Yust had done a number of films for the Encyclopedia Britannica Educational Corporation. They are even available on YouTube. Such films as: Dr Heidegger’s Experiment, The Lottery, The Lady and the Tiger. Yust’s filmography is limited, but it’s the work he’s done that makes him unique in my eyes. Always working with low budgets Yust manages to pack a whole lot into his films.

It is fortunate that there is also a short film made of the man that premiered in 2019. Mr. Yust has gotten more involved with ” Photographic Elevation”. As described on Yust’s website:

A Photographic Elevation is not a panorama which is photographed from a single, static point of view, and in which all objects not directly in front of the camera are distorted.  To make a photographic elevation, Yust walks or rides along a path parallel to the subject being photographed, snaps overlapping shots of it with his camera always pointing directly at the subject, and then puts the shots together in a computer.  The resulting images are essentially free of perspective and cannot be achieved in any other way.  They provide a new way of looking at the world.

To see works of his go to his website www.larryyust.com/

But don’t let me tell you about his genius let him tell you himself in this excellent film made by Loic Zimmermann. I would like to thank them here for there inspiring look at an artist and filmmaker.

Family Stories

I’ve been working for awhile on a memorial video for my mom who passed earlier this year. I had videotaped her looking at photo albums and I recorded her reactions and her thoughts, but those recordings were never used. I’ll explain why. Back in ’96 I filmed my mom using my Arri 16mm BL camera. This is before I made my feature “Deadly Obsessions“. I thought it would be a good exercise to get familiar with the camera while at the same time putting my mom on film for posterity. I had no idea on how or when I would use this in the future. I even recorded our first Thanksgiving dinner with the family in our small apartment in New York. It was fun and I was trying to do the things that I was taught in film school at Brooklyn College. I bought the Arri BL to force myself into using it. I did, and it was a good idea, but hard and a bit of a pricey experience. There were some problems, but since it was a test run to get me more familiar with the camera I managed to get image and sound. Just a small amount of footage was unusable, but the sound was good. It will always astound me that future generations will never know the butterflies you get when you load film in a changing bag, and the then wait to see your dailies from the lab. In a pure digital realm there are other problems of course like corrupt drives, but loading a film magazine in a changing bag can be a sweaty and nerve wrecking experience. As they say. Practice, practice, and PRACTICE!

I had hoped to make a film about my dad who passed in the mid 90’s. I needed to learn about those early days and since I did not have an interview with my dad on video or film. I would have to rely on people who knew him. My mom was that person. That was the plan, but as usual life got in the way and the film became more about my mom, and how she met my dad and how she grew up after losing her father and then mother. I was glad to have the footage and it is in the majority of the film. I had the footage transferred to VHS and digitized that footage for the film. This was way before digital media, and so I figured this was the better way to see how well I had done. Back when I did the interview hard drives were expensive, and transferring it to digital cost. There is still a bit of a perfectionist in me to have the film transferred to a hard drive now and re-edit the film with better looking footage of her. I may do that just to satisfy the archivist in me, but first I need to find a facility near me that does this or I might just have the lab I originally used to do it. The lab was DuArt films in New York. I’ve used them since I was in film school, and they alway did a GREAT job. Another lab worth noting is ColorLab down in Maryland. I used ColorLab to strike an answer print for my feature, and their also tops in their field. I’ll see how it goes, but first back to the film. I wanted to get the film done in time for my dad’s and moms anniversary in October. I don’t know why, but I gave myself a deadline and that helped me get the film done. It forced me to focus and find a beginning, middle and an end to the film.

I used Adobe Premiere to edit my mom’s film. I was familiar with the program having used it in the past, but now I had to re-learn it and what better way to do that then having a project to finish. I used tutorials on YouTube and tutorials from Adobe. Adobe has a whole lot of tutorials on their website, and when you subscribe to the service you get a whole host of videos to help you navigate and learn Premiere. To say that I learned a lot is an understatement. I’m still in the process of learning the software and have found out that it does way more then it did when I first used it. I edited for over two months to get the footage in order and scanned many old photos to use in the film.

My only regret is NOT filming more of my mom. The DV footage I shot was of little use. I mostly used them to know where and who were in the photographs. I got a sense of how they went chronologically and that’s how I got to know my mom’s history. To say that the DV footage didn’t have any value is not correct. It gave me a better understanding of my subject. But time is your enemy, and if you think you’ll one day do this yourself I would suggest you to whip out your cell phone and start recording your subject NOW! I was fortunate that I recorded my mom when she had most of her facilities and she remembered a lot of what happened throughout the years. I think I did the best I could do, and have been complimented on the film. I simple named it “Irene” and it felt fitting. I could hear her complain about being made a fuss over, but that’s the point. How many of us know our family members and their story. Our parents were young at one time and it was much different then then it is now. With ever death the stories are lost, and those stories need to be told. Each story is a moment in time and I firmly believe that there is a fabric to life that is woven in these stories. It’s as old as sitting around a campfire and talking about our experiences. It’s only when you zoom out and look at the bigger picture that all those stories make sense finally, and through them we see similarities with one another I find that very fascinating. Were not all that different from one another. Good stories are meant to be told. The more real the better.

I have to confess that I was very inspired by Martin Scorsese’s film “Italian-American”. In the film he talks to his mom and dad about growing up in the old neighborhood. It’s a love letter to his parents and better yet it’s a testimony of the love Scorsese’s parents had for each other. I wish I had done this with my parents. Now days it’s even easier to just film people with your cell phone and not use bulky noisy equipment like 16mm cameras, but you need to take the time to do so, and time is what we don’t have. We think we do but we don’t.

The film hopefully is for future generations to look back at. Everyone loves an origin story & we all have them. We may not be rock stars, or famous actors or actresses but we all know people who did extraordinary things. Raising a family is an accomplishment in itself, and maybe finding common connections with one another helps us understand each other better. Because when we understand and know how people grew up we might just find out we have more in common with each other then we realize. By knowing that we may just start talking to each other instead of shouting at one another. At least that’s my lofty idea. Whether it comes to fruition is anybody’s guess. So without further pontification I’ll just let the work speak for itself. I learned a lot from this exercise, and have an idea on doing one on my father, but that entails digitizing old media and putting myself in front of the camera. It’s an exercise that will be challenging, but worth doing.

Filmmaking: Trade or art form?

I’ve been working on a short film about my mom. She died recently and I have over the years recorded mom talking about our family history. I being an only child wanted to preserve the history for my children, so they would get an idea on where and how we came about. Of course this history has been hard to get a handle on. I had my mom talk about things that I had questions on, but as her dementia became more and more prevalent the more I worried about losing it all. We all don’t realize that our parents had a lives before us, and that they had dreams and aspirations as well, so I wanted to document this. If anything for me and my family and maybe their families someday.

What I needed to do is warm up those filmmaking skills I had learned so many years ago. Of course things and technology have changed, but I have kept up with the technology as best I could. I first downloaded DaVinci Resolve which I found really great, but there was a problem. Some of my footage was on Digital video tapes. Those small cassettes we all shot with on our Sony’s & Cannon cameras back in the 80’s and 90’s. I also had some 16mm film that I transferred to tape which needed to be digitized. DaVinci does not handle archaic formats well. So I broke down and bought Adobe Premiere. I am familiar with Premiere since it was one of the first non-linear editing software I used in my career. But some time has gone by, and Premiere has become a monster. It can do many, many things, and Adobe has made many improvements, so I needed to tech up, and I am still in the process of doing so. Digitizing stills, videos, and audio has become a crash dive into the new Adobe Premiere, and at times a frustrating & invigorating experience.

So how much is filmmaking a trade and how much is it an art form? Filmmaking requires many skill sets. The more you know about those skill sets the better filmmaker you are. My dad had always wanted me to learn a trade. “Learn a trade and you can go anywhere in the world” he said. Be a world citizen and learn about the world. That’s what was drilled into me, and somehow I did that but instead of plumbing or some other trade I learned the rudiments of making a film. From film cinematography to film editing I became more and more entrenched in those disciplines then most. I had good teachers but technology moves on and things change. I bragged that I could teach filmmaking to anyone in 20 to 30 minutes, and yet it would take you a lifetime to master it as an art form. While filmmaking has it’s trades it is also an art form which you can create by mastering several filmmaking disciplines.

I learned that or am learning that as I edit together my family’s history. Digital film has become more and more easier for the average person to learn. It is that which I find so fascinating and fun. Here I am a college graduate with a degree in film production, and I feel inadequate behind this software, yet I find a community on-line where I can get answers quickly to my film production problems, and with every piece of knowledge I fall more and more in love again with filmmaking.

I have known many excellent technicians, but there is something else that is needed to become a proficient and GREAT filmmaker. That is experience and the knowledge of creating a GOOD story. You can be proficient in editing and cinematography, but if you don’t have a good story all you have are interesting images, set to dialogue and /or music.

I find myself frustrated and antsy on NOT knowing it all, but I find myself telling myself to look at the story. The mechanics of piecing it together will come. As I am editing my little film I find myself getting more and more inspired, and this little film is becoming bigger and more intricate as I go. The story is dictating the technique, and that’s an interesting development. Is filmmaking a trade or art form? I say they are both, but the master filmmaker will use both his skills to create a piece of art that will be bigger then what he/her thought it was. Learning the mechanics is a basic step in creating film. The better armed you are the better you’re film will be.

So back to this little film I am doing. What I thought would take me a few weeks may take me longer. The materials I have on hand dictate what and how the film will develop through those months, but by pushing the software & hardware further one learns the craft better & being inspired by the work is something a filmmaker can only aspire to. No matter where you are in your career be inspired and get excited by the work. I hold no illusion that the film will play in a multiplex soon, but what I find inspiring is that maybe somewhere in the distant future a descendant of mine might sit down and look at the film, and see and know better from whence they came from. They then can point to that crazy great grandfather as inspiration, and maybe that’s as good as it gets, but for now I feel inspired and inspiration is the mother to good work. In the end that’s all we really need to become good artists who have something worthwhile to say. Be inspired everyone.

The Future of Film-making II

I’ve been looking into what film-making is now.  I’m kind of that dinosaur that shot things on film, so film ISO, film latitude, emulsion were nothing I didn’t know about.  Yet I feel out of touch in today’s film-making climate.  It’s all become digital, and we no longer cut physical film.  In a way it’s become a bit easier, yet with that being said shooting digital can be anything but easy.  You’re dealing with resolution, different editing codec’s, file size, and let’s not forget the 24, 30 and 60 f.p.s you can shoot with.  Then there is the different media you’ll need to store your files on.  For example ScanDisk 32GB 95 mb/s or 128GB 170 mb/s or 32GB 80md/s are all things a filmmaker needs to know.  The faster your media is the superior your image will be.  Confused.  We’ll let Dave McKeegan explain it to you.  I find his explanation enlightening and easy to understand.

 

Now that that has been explained it all came down to camera, and let me tell you I researched the crap out of it to the the point of over researching it.  It came down to this what do I want the camera for?  I wanted something with a dual purpose.  One My old DSLR was old and did not take video, but the main purpose was video.   At least it was for me, and of course I could have gotten better, but I did not have the funds to go hog wild.  I wanted to open an avenue where I could shoot shorts, and to some experimental stuff with the camera.  Being a Nikon guy I really was leaning toward that, but I went with Canon.  I know you say sacrilege, but Nikon does not have a camera that is both good with video and stills.  Canon had it both.  When I finally got my hands on the Canon I knew I made the right decision.  It’s auto-focus is stunning, and it really is a run and gun type of camera.  I got an older model the Canon EOS 80D.  The 90D is out, but I got a package deal that included a Rode microphone, and also a scan disk card and a beautiful 18-135mm lens.  The speed of the lens is 3.5.  Not the fastest, but still good enough for what I want to do.  Also I’m looking to get some better lenses, but in due time.  There is still much to learn.  With that I also upgrade my computer.   File sizes are big when shooting video, and you’ll need processing power and a good video card.  I choose a DELL.  I’m familiar with them, and they never have let me down.  Again money was tight, but I managed to get something that I think I can use, and in the coming months I hope to post stuff here and try to see what I can do, and of course on how it works.

Here’s an example by Lohit Mohanta.  Here he shoot his lovely model Kira at 60 fps, and the video is about the auto focus.  See how quick the camera can focus.

 

Now for my last example.  Me being a film student and a film snob I know I will never get the quality of an Alexa type cinematic camera, but here is a comparison between the two, and as Gene Nagata shows in his video the 80d is not that bad, and the visuals are quite pleasing.  I will push the camera a little more, but I’m not expecting Black-magic or Alexaquality images.  But I need something to experiment with.  I will be using DaVinci Resolve for my editing.  It’s free and the color grading is pretty cool, and I intend to use it as much as I can, and see what results I get.  SO let’s see how it goes, and I’ll try and put up my success, and failures up here for all to see.

 

So thanks for listening and I hope to see you around.  The one thing I truly believe is hat through all of us we learn a bit more,, and hopefully something will move us to create something unique.  Remember my belief is what Francis Coppola once sad about a “Fat farm girl from Iowa will make something that will blow cinema away”.  So be that girl or boy.  The technology is here.

Jess Franco

Franco

A friend of mine wanted to know which films of his to watch.  Now maybe that seems like an easy answer, but with Franco’s movies the best advice I was given was to watch as many as you can.  Only by watching as many Franco films as you could did you realized how innovative and interesting Franco was as a filmmaker.   Franco’s style is eclectic at best, but it is a style non the less.  Franco had been plagued with budgetary problems as well as distributor problems.  Like every filmmaker he endured, and created some interesting films throughout his career, yet it has become difficult to try and form an opinion on his style since many of the films were re-cut or put into other films and re-titled.  I only began to know Franco’s style after watching several of his films.  What drew me to him is his repertoire of films, and his style.  Even with the problems he suffered during production and post-production he still had a style that I’d admired.  His catalog of films are over 360 and to achieve that in a lifetime is something that should be commended and saluted.  When I met the man along with Lina Romay his companion and a fellow filmmaker/actress herself he gave me the time to listen to me, which I wasn’t accustom to since many in the profession can be off putting, and a bit standoffish.   Franco liked that I knew many of his films and that I seen many in grind-house’s back in New York City, and on video cassette at home during  the early to late 80’s.

I have a soft spot for Franco.  On interviews Franco has given in the past he was very honest and you can hear his frustration with producers and distributors. Yet he always prevailed in some way, and managed to produce a film, which is a feat unto itself.  To do this over 360 times is something of a remarkable feat.  Their are themes and story lines that Franco has done more then once.  He treats nudity as a very matter of fact.  He knew about the film hitting some exploitative marks, but he did it with style, and never degrade the actors or actresses.  He fought censorship in his own country of Spain under the Fascist Francisco Franco, and still managed to produce & direct many films.  It is Franco’s determination, and his skill as a filmmaker that make me admire him.  So I am going to try and list 5 of his films that are must sees.  Of course that said one really needs to view as many of Franco’s films as possible.  It’s getting easier to see them since Franco has become a bit of a cult director, and more and more is recognized as a fringe filmmaker or a European director & producer.  More and more distributors are uncovering his lost films and are actually conforming his movies to their original cut.  No matter how you feel about Franco you have to admire his tenacity and his intellect in creating films that stood out from the rest.  With that said I give you my 5 best Franco films.  I feel though I may have to come back and list other films someday to do Jess Franco any justice.  Till then enjoy these five:

Venus of Furs is one of Franco’s best and it is a film that shows how unique his film-making was.  James Darren plays a jazz musician who becomes obsessed to the point of madness with the mysterious fur-clad Wanda, only to find her dead body washed up on the beach.  After awhile he see’s Wanda (Venus) enter the club, and is amazed at her resemblance to the dead Wanda.  Franco’s use of continuity and camera is strong here.  The film also has an interesting score, but I think it’s Franco’s best.  If you can get a good copy of the film I highly suggest seeing it.  Franco liked calling it “Black Angel”, but the title was changed by A.I.P the distributor to cash in on the success of a similar title Massimo Dallamano film.  The film was released n 1968.

 

Count Dracula was a film that Franco wanted to do, and tried to make it faithful to Bram Stoker’s famous 1897 novel.  The movie is bolstered by Christopher Lee in the part of Count Dracula, but unlike his Hammer films this production suffers from a low budget.  There are many elements that look decidedly cheap like fake bats, and plastic spiders spiders.   There are also some inconsistencies in the script such as characters who are wheelchair bound suddenly get up as if nothing has happened.  But it is Christopher Lee who shines, and as always he makes the movie watchable.  The beginning of the film is pretty accurate to the novel, but it veers off after that.  The film is very watchable, and I am told that the Blue Ray has some great extras also.  I personally like it because of Lee.  Apparently he was not happy doing his Dracula series for Hammer Studios, and Franco lewd him into playing Dracula for his film convincing Lee that he would follow Stoker’s novel.  Dracula would have a mustache as he does in the novel.  Lee had some nice things to say about Franco, and the two became good friends.  Lee admitted that Franco was a great filmmaker who never got the budget that he needed to make the film properly.  Franco used Lee again for a movie entitled “The Bloody Judge”.  It was released in the US as “Night of the Blood Monster”.  Lee said in interviews that the footage of torture and executions were put in later, and he never saw the film.  One more example of how distributors and producers perverted Franco’s films.

 

Vampyros Lespos is one Franco’s most successful films.  In this film American Lucy Westinghouse become fixated on a young brunette.  She meets the princess Nadine Korody while dealing with the princess’ inheritance for her law firm.  The princess is played by Soledad Miranda an actress who Franco had a relationship with.  Soledad is in many early films by Franco, and her look is quite unique.  As Tim Lucas say’s in his book “Obsession: The Films of Jess Franco” : “Soledad Miranda is absolutely gorgeous and gives one of her most rewarding performances ever.  Her aura of melancholy and enigmatic eroticism inspired Franco…”  It was tragic that she died in a car accident, but throughout Franco’s films you can see his obsession with her.  In Vampyros Lesbos we see that in plain fashion.  The use of Istanbul’s architecture is shown predominately in the film.  The soundtrack is unusual and it is said that the film Vampyros Lespos started a new era in Franco’s filming. “More rushed and improvised, but all having a unique and fascinating determination to deliver something unusual within their commercial boundaries.”  I myself have a difficult time with the film because of its unusual pacing, and it’s glaring yet strange soundtrack.   Franco does not use any of the usual vampire traits, and stays away from the traditional vampire folklore.  The film is loosely based on Bram Stoker’s short story “Dracula’s Guest”.  I truly believe as Tim Lucas says in his book that ” Vampyros Lesbos is as surreal as it is trivial, as artistically ambitious as it is sexploitative, and as poetic as it is comic-bookish, all combined in a completely over the top melange that is unique, and alienating…”   This film confirms to me that Franco is very much the avant-garde auteur, and that his films are original.

 

She Killed in Ecstasy is a revenge film where Soledad Miranda presence carries the film.  Franco combines deserted landscapes, and avant garde decor into the film, and though it is a film about revenge it feels like a strange and erotic pulp novel.  The photography and again the unusual soundtrack give the film a very alienating yet exotic tone.  The music is by Manfred Hubler and Sigfried Schwab.  Again Franco paints the film in a very avant-garde feel.  I consider the film a strange mash-up of exploitative elements that have am unusual feel to them.  It’s not your ordinary revenge film, and I feel Franco gives it some style.  Again with his limited budget Franco pulls off a film that is memorable, and a bit unforgettable.  It’s what makes Franco such a fascinating filmmaker.

 

A Virgin Among the Living Dead is what I like to call Franco’s very surreal type films, yet Franco creates an unusual atmosphere throughout the film. I like it for it’s stylish use of surrealism.  What is real and what’s not is how Franco keeps you interested.  It’s really a journey into madness, but Franco gives it some style.

The synopsis of the film is simple:

A beautiful young woman named Christina arrives in Europe to visit her estranged relatives in a small castle for the reading of her dead father’s will. She eventually discovers that they are all un-dead, and they fear that when she inherits her father’s mansion, she will ask them all to leave. But Christina is lonely and tells her Uncle Howard that she wants them all to remain there and live with her. She learns that a spirit called the Queen of the Night has claimed her father’s eternal soul because he committed suicide by hanging himself. Christina winds up becoming one of the living dead herself, and at the end of the film, she and the rest of the family all solemnly march off into a swamp on the grounds of the estate, accompanied by the Queen of the Night

The film is a European erotic horror film directed by Jesús Franco. Franco shot the film in 1971,  but it was only released in 1973 after some additional erotic footage was added to the film without Franco’s involvement. It was later re-cut with some extra zombie footage and redistributed to theaters again in 1981 as a zombie film.   It has since been restored on DVD to Franco’s original director’s cut which was called “Christina, Princess of Eroticism”.

It is one of the most distributed film of Franco’s.  It is also one of the most worked-over of his films.  Several years after it’s release it was released with soft core inserts for the X market.  The new footage badly distorted Franco’s original concept.  Later on the director Jean Rollin shot several zombie scenes to replace the soft core footage, so it’s one of those films where you have to watch out for.  I saw it originally with the additional footage shot by Jean Rollin, and it seemed a mess.  Once it was restored it was a lot easier to understand.  Franco adds erotic imagery throughout the film, but it is his style.  He never shy’s away from it and I like that of Franco. Tim Lucas said it best in his book about Franco: “Franco once again demonstrates his passion for cinema as he turns this horror comedy into a Godard-like mock surrealist film”.

Virgin Among the Dead3

* I’d like to give credit where credit is due.  Tim Lucas the publisher of the magazine “Video Watchdog” has been a BIG influence on me when it comes to Franco.  His book “Obsession: the films of Jess Franco” is my bible of all things Franco.  It was Lucas who guided me through the Franco’s filmography, and I haven’t look back since.    Franco may not be for everyone, but I recognized a skilled artist, and Franco was that and more.  Thank you Mr. Lucas for your devotion, and your writing ability in bringing Franco to the rest of us cine-files.

** I also would be remiss to not also name Lina RomayMs Romay was Franco’s co-conspirator, and his companion for many years.  She starred in many of Franco’s films, and became a producer in her own right.

Fringe Filmmakers…

I’ve written about Orson Welles, John Cassavetes, Jean-Luc Godard, Francis Truffaut and numerous other filmmaking luminaries, but their is a fringe in filmmaking.   I am as inspired by them as much as I am inspired by their most famous brethren. Such filmmakers as Larry Buchanan, Ed Wood, Sam Sherman, Ted V Mikels, Andy Milligan, and my favorite Jess Franco are all examples of filmmakers working on the fringe, yet making films against the odds.  Some of these filmmakers never pushed into the mainstream, and some can see by their films why, yet they all managed to keep on making films.  Why the fascination you ask?  Because they put together a film and got it made on a very limited budget.  They also were entertaining and fun, and I guess that’s why I so admire these filmmakers.  They had an obsession with film & filmmaking, and they made films against staggering odds

Now I’m not going to say that a lot of these films were classics or that they were mainstream, but they are inspiring.  There were also other filmmakers that admired them as well and they lead me to other filmmakers who have toiled with basement budget and difficult situations.  Such filmmakers as Paul Bartel, Jim Wynorski, Fred Olen Ray, David DeCoteau and Frank Henenlotter are all stellar filmmakers.  They all also have a knack to make low budget films look like higher budget films.  Their work is solidly good filmmaking, and how does one learn filmmaking but by studying filmmakers who make fun, entertaining films on a budget.  They are also movie fans which help, and a lot don’t make films that are intellectually talked about in academia or film criticism circles.   These films and filmmakers should not be dismissed as just entertainment for the masses, but as artists working with limited resources.  These filmmakers should be studied, and should never be considered amateurs but true showmen who have things to contribute to the world of filmmaking and cinema in general.

My favorite is Jess Franco.  I had the privilege to meet the man and talk to his wife.  Franco spoke very little english, but I made sure that I told him that I loved his films and thought they were great cinema.  He smiled and I hope he was pleased in hearing that.  His wife Lina Romay was also a delight and starred in many of his films.  She actually took the time to actually listen to a fan and admirer.  Mr. Franco has made over 200 films to his credit, and unfortunately a lot of his films were re-edited and re-titled, so it may be safe to say the exact count of Franco’s filmography may never be truly known.  Tim Lucas co-wrote a FANTASTIC book called: “Obsession The Films of Jess Francoabout Franco which I feel is the definitive book on Franco and Franco’s work.  Another book entitled: “The Films of Jess Franco” is a book that analyzes and examines Francos’ films and his career.   A good description of the book is as follows:

Editors Antonio Lázaro-Reboll and Ian Olney have assembled a team of scholars to examine Franco’s offbeat films, which command an international cult following and have developed a more mainstream audience in recent years.”

I believe each one of these filmmakers I’ve mentioned above deserves a full blog entry in their own right and hopefully I’ll be able to do that in the future, but I just wanted to bring up these fringe filmmakers because they are artists we can really find things in common with.  Especially when your a low budget filmmaker and one who is just starting out.  We can learn from their triumphs and their mistakes, and become better filmmakers for it.  Also something I find quite helpful is that one should not be so damn serious about it all, and learn to enjoy the process.  “Enjoyment”; now there is a word that one does not hear of when associated with filmmaking because making films is a stressful, and expensive endeavor, and yet if we don’t have fun making movies why the heck would you do it in the first place?

I can remember when I was in my teenage years and the frustration in getting friends and family together to make another super8 feature.  That exercise was a primer for what was to come, and after so many heartaches, and difficulties I still wanted to do make more films.  It is only now as an adult that I find myself making my own roadblocks because “filmmaking” has become serious business.  That energetic feeling when you were younger is no longer there.  There are contracts, re-writes, insurance, & scheduling actors & crew, along with a whole host of other filmmaking business things you need to deal with.  It’s what separates the professional and the amateur.   If you’re serious about filmmaking you need to deal with the business side.  The fringe filmmakers I’ve mentioned knew the difficulties and limitations they were up against and they still did it, and that’s where I find an admiration and respect for them.

There is a balance you have to contend with when you make a more professional film.  Such  filmmakers have actually made it into the mainstream.  Fred Olen Ray for example has directed numerous Christmas movies, and family type movies yet he still remains grounded in his low budget roots.  I’ve been a fan of his for some time, and I like his work.  Just like I love Cassavetes’ or Truffaut’s films I still have mad respect for the filmmaker’s like Mr. Ray and Señor Franco.   Both filmmakers have toiled in the low budget arena for so long and have created some pretty decent films only to be dismissed as low budget fodder.

With the advent of Blue-Rays, DVD’s, and streaming one can find a lot of these filmmakers and their films.  Even if they don’t have running commentaries they are still good examples on how to make good entertainment, and interesting films.  Guess my love for all cinema is indiscriminate.   There are of course films that are just plain “turkeys”, but even those have their own charm.  Always enjoyed the category “So bad it’s good”, but then again those films are entertaining on a whole different level.

I haven’t even skimmed the surface of “fringe filmmakers”.  I haven’t talked or mentioned such filmmakers as Herschell Gordon Lewis, Russ Meyer, Joe Sarno, David Friedman, Larry CohenRay Dennis Steckler and Doris Wishman.  All filmmakers who deserve to be mentioned, and introduced to those who are unfamiliar with their work, but we’ll leave that for another time.

 

 

Making an Ultra low budget film…

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Long ago when the fever ran hot I decided to take a course in “ultra low budget filmmaking” by Dov Simens. We got a huge book and a wealth of info was imparted to us over 2-days. As you can see my original cover of the book is well worn, and falling apart. Looking back at the course it still held a wealth of information that I used in producing my film “Deadly Obsessions”. Along with that and Rick Schmidt’s book “Feature filmmaking at used car prices” I became enthused in making my own film when several attempts at making my own feature film with others fell apart.

It’s difficult having grandiose ideas and then scaling them WAY back to fit the budget you actual have, but that is the nature of the beast. You work with what you got, and for many of us it’s as the Kinks said in their song “Low Budget”: “we’re in a low budget land where nothing can last”.

In my filmmaking endeavors as well as in my professional life I’ve always worked with less. Do more with less. It seems that’s the mantra these days, and it’s a frustrating one at that.   What I had hoped to learn from Mr Simens was how to make films professional and affordable.  The key word there is affordable.  I needed to know the nuts & bolts of the business.  It was an awakening, and something that pushed me to start KGB Productions, Inc.  It’s how I slowly ramped up to my feature which I shot on 16mm film.  I had to think about contracts, SAG regulations, insurance, and transportation for cast and crew. What stuck in my mind was what a film professor had to say when I was in school. “Look around the room.   These people will help you & you should use them and help each other”. So I took that advice and went back to my alma mater of Brooklyn College and asked my old professor who would they suggest, and I went with that. I got two talented individuals who did lighting and camera assisting.  Hindsight being what it is I should have made one of them also the films camera operator, but I was editing the film, and I knew what I needed to cut the film together so hence I did triple duty which I don’t recommend. You know what you’re comfortable at doing and you know you’re strengths, so its your call on what you want to do.

The book that Dov Simens distributed for his class was sort of my foundation on budgeting, breakdown, and scheduling. It really helped.  I remember Dov telling us how to make a film for 100K, 50K, 25K, 10K, and even 5K.  Mr Simens was very practical, and he got my brain thinking how to make a film with the funds and resources I had. He also convinced me to make a film and stop trying to seek financing through studios. Back then the video boom was ending, and DVD’s were the rage, but nobody is going to invest in you unless you have some skin in the game. I failed to convince others and it was up to us and our talents to get something started. Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” film was a film I locked onto as being an admirer of.  Mr. Raimi and his collaborators Bruce Campbell, Rob Tapert, Gary Holt and Tom Sullivan made a film that blew the doors off independent filmmaking.

If you’re here to make money on your film you might as well take that money and invest it in a Dairy Queen franchise instead. Investing in film is risky, and no one is going to take a chance on you unless you have something to show. Raimi culled together a super 8 film which he shopped around to investors and from that he got his production funding. If you’re able to put together a reel of work you and you’re crew have done maybe you’ll find some money.  It’s a lot difficult now, but not out of the question.

Ultra low budget filmmaking is what got me. I mean when you don’t have much it’s inspiring to find out about others who have made a film with limited resources.  SAG even now has an ultra low budget agreement which is great. Using SAG talent is like being at Baskin Robbins and looking at all the flavors of ice cream they have. There’s a lot of talent in SAG and working with professionals who really like you’re script can be invigorating.

Another book helped me with my budgeting and that was Film & Video Budgets by Maureen Ryan published by Michael Wiese publishers. It was a great reference guide at preparing my budget.

But the one thing that made my obsession more real was meeting Jaque Deerson.  Mr. Deerson was the cinematographer on a film called “Two Lane Blacktop”.  A movie made by the illustrious Monte Hellman.  Jacque also goes by the name of Jack Deerson, and it was he who made me aware of budgeting and production management.  He gave me a copy of a budget for a film he had been working on and through our talks I began to formulate a plan to put a film together by myself.    Along with the information that Dov Simen’s provided I really saw that I could actually make a film and how to scale it up or down depending on the resource I had at the moment.

We all think a film has to be like other films that preceded it, but a film can be whatever you want it to be.  It’s up to you to make sense of it, and tell a story that both engages the audience and entertains them.   The idea is not to imitate what was out there, but to make a film realistically with the resources you have, and that’s what I’m trying to say in a very convoluted way.  We can be our own worst enemy.  We don’t think outside of the box often when it comes to movie production.  Sometimes our limitations are the things that really set us free.  There are all sorts of ways to make a film, and of course you need to tell a story, but how you do it is up to you.  I was taught that there are many genres in filmmaking, and whose to say that you can’t use some or all of them in your film.

I sincerely believe that someday somewhere someone will make a film that will be a revelation to the industry, and the funny thing is that it will come from someone who had limitations and overcame them.   I’ll never have budgets like Hollywood has, but I refuse to believe that because I don’t have oodles of money I’ll never make a movie.  That’s just plain wrong.  A little bit of research, and a lot of ingenuity will propel you further then you would think.  Go out there and get it done, and think outside of the box.  I have faith in the revolution to come.

The future of media…

Streaming content on demand (VOD), Blue Ray, 4K, YouTube, Netflix, and Vimeo. All video delivery systems that didn’t exist a few years ago. The next generation will have a variety of platforms to go to for content. Already today studios and media outlets are scrambling to create their own streaming service. Disney, CBS, NBC & ABC are all getting into the streaming business to squeeze money out of consumers and try and provide niche markets where they can make money on.

With all these outlets streaming companies are producing their own content for that market. How do these streaming services make money? Easy subscribers. The more the better, but with all the streaming services available now are they shooting themselves in the foot by competing with one another. CBS Access has several programs that are exclusively made for them. Such programs as Star Trek Discovery, or The Twilight zone are programs made for the platform. Netflix has a plethora of movies such as “In the Shadow of the Moon”, and “In the Tall Grass”, or series like “Mindhunter“, and “Black Mirror”. Of course both platforms also have older content such as past series, and shows like “Breaking Bad”, and NCSI or Blue Bloods. It is the age of home entertainment and streaming is leading the way. FIOS & INFINITY already offer a NETFLIX package along with your subscription. So it seems that streaming will be an integral part of any cable companies repertoire. Since it is the cable company that is providing the signal for both cable and internet they will do what is more profitable for them. The good news is we now have choices in what we want to see. Will this cause more and more people to cut the cord, and just go with internet for their streaming purposes? I doubt that this will be the end of cable since many of us derive our internet through them, but more and more people will supplement their internet connection with different streaming systems. What the cable providers are doing is trying to give their customers faster services, and it is already reflecting that in their advertisement.

And where do SmartPhones come in? For a lot of the world many use only their phones to communicate and or to watch content. Companies are all touting 5G, and the fastest network around. Sprint and T-mobile will soon merge and with that they will have acquired the Dish Network which is expected to be the fourth-largest wireless carrier in the US.

So how does this all pertain to guerrilla filmmaking, and content creation? Well I’d say a lot. There are more platforms for content then there is content. As a filmmaker you need to be smart and figure out your niche. Where do you want to be? A filmmaker should be diversified and know what’s hot. Is it horror?, romance?, or possible some other genre?

The object is to be seen. However you do this will depend on how you survive and make a living at content creation. I just recently came across PLUTO TV, and now have it on my phone. It’s exactly like free TV was back in the good old days. The company makes money by selling commercials like terrestrial TV did way back in its infancy and in a way still does. The content does not seem to be edited, or bleeped. It’s the one thing I really find appealing. After all cable TV is suppose to be for subscribers. It’s only the on air channels that are censored for content. I understand the FCC rules, but long ago cable provided its customers with uncensored content, It’s only when the superstations became a thing such as USA, or TBS that content got butchered. But that’s another discussion entirely and I’ll leave that for another time. Romance, horror, standup, comedy, news, & sports are all on Pluto TV. Something for everyone. Even an indie film channel, and that’s not all that they have. The content is old and new, and did I mention free. It will be interesting on how well the company does, but I’m certainly in their corner. The commercials are also not endless like they are on some terrestrial stations. If you can live with having a few commercials occasionally I think you’ll enjoy some of the content. I do believe that the nostalgia factor is also involved since there is a lot of content that hasn’t been seen for many years since it was first shown on TV.

Again you need to scream above the noise in order to sell your content. There is a lot noise out there and all that noise is your competition. I never believed or thought that it would be easy. I’ve sited YouTube as a platform where you can show you’re work . YouTube is definitely a tool where you can sell your message, and drive possible people to your content. You have to be smart and it has to be good. By making interesting and good content you may catch the eye of one of those streaming services or even a studio and that maybe all it takes to get you noticed. But you need to show the numbers to them, and prove that there is an audience for your films.

Also don’t forget to make content that you’re passionate about, and what interests YOU. You’ll be working on it for a long time, and if you’re not interested in what your working on or producing how are you ever going to make the rest of us interested. Back in the good old bad days of exploitation films producers made films for the drive in circuit. The 80’s were fueled by low budget horror knock offs where some of the films became classics, but in all honesty a lot of those films were subpar, and pretty awful. It was the videocassette market that made that all possible. Maybe in the future there’s a market for a streaming company for bad films so bad that their good. Create streaming parties, for fans is already happening to some degree over at Facebook. Whatever it is you need to find a way to break out, and reach your audience.

Today older movies seem to be wanted, and revered. Such distributors as Shout Factory, or Vinegar Syndrome, are finding old films to resurrect and make what was old new again. I believe Shout Factory partners up with several streaming companies to provide content. I’m sure by providing this free content SHOUT uses that as advertisement on their brand. It’s a niche audience where Shout Factory is making money on the films they have obtained while streaming supports their distribution arm of the company this in turn drives the sales of DVD’s and Blue Rays. Maybe that’s a key to selling your film or films. Streaming acts as another tool that companies or filmmakers can use to get seen. Filmmaker Fred Olen Ray runs his own film company called Retromedia Entertainment where he also distributes older films that he has acquired along with his lower budget films such as “Chainsaw Hookers”, and “Phantom Empire”. Through Udu Digital channel content they have set up Retromedia TV on Roku. Mr. Ray also has a site on Vimeo, and sells his films through Amazon as well. This is how a filmmaker survives. It is a great example of how you can sell your films and get seen.

You need content, and you need content people would like to see. Maybe your a film enthusiast who loves old movies. Maybe along with your films you would like to distribute these films as well as your own. It’s an interesting way to try and break through the clutter.

I do feel that the opportunities are out there and you as a content producer need to be obsessive enough to make your content speak to others. Now is the time of the guerrilla filmmaker. The opportunities await you. You just have to be crazy enough and smart enough to take advantage of the new media landscape that is emerging.

These are only my observations.  I’m trying to figure it out like the rest of us, but I’m optimistic that the marketplace will fracture more and more, and filmmakers and content creators will have a pipeline to their patrons.   The elephant in the room is how to make it cost effective for the filmmaker while still keeping the lights on and the filmmaker feed.  Who said it would be easy?  Oy vey!

Check the following link on how to stream & sell your movie.  Quite informative.

Filmdaily

 

Be the next Mozart of Filmmaking….

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I’ve so far I’ve shared my likes, dislikes, and my advice on making a film. I myself am not a good example on how to do things.  If anything I’m a good example of getting it done, and what I mean by that is producing a product.   You have to realize when your talking to anyone about making a film they’ll look at you like you have 6 heads. It is an understatement to say that most people just don’t get it.  Why? It’s a simple question. Why go through the pain of writing, financing, and shooting your film when maybe the odds are that you’ll never make any money at it, and you’ll struggle at getting it seen.

I have to argue that in today’s world you have a better shot at getting your film seen then ever before.  How you ask?  Easy it’s all about social media and how big YOU can push you’re own story through the gate keepers at studios.  Make no mistake I am being very sarcastic when I say it’s easy.  It’s anything but easy, yet it is being done.   Good stories and good films get seen.  How they get seen is all up to you.  I am no master at knowing how to do this, and it would help if you knew people who did.   The distribution business has changed radically in the past few years.  Sometimes if you make an impression and get some buzz going through the festival circuit or even on-line studios may begin to notice you.

I have had NO luck doing that personally.  Maybe because I didn’t want to give my baby away for free.  I always felt that if anyone wanted to distribute my film they would make an offer.  But that is naive.  There is a whole lot of content out there.  Many of different degrees of quality.  I have looked down at films shot on video because I felt the technology wasn’t there yet.  Also the quality of those films (shot on video) were not of the same quality of films shot on film.  That is no more the case.  I can attest to seeing some really good films shot on digital.   Just peruse YouTube, and you’ll find some.

Listen if you’re hot on making a film of you’re own do it.  Simple.  Test the waters.  Use friends and relatives when doing you’re initial foray into filmmaking.   Make a couple of shorts and post them.  The more you do the better you get at it.  No really it’s that simple.  We are our own gate keepers.  We put limits on ourselves for what ever reason, and those reasonings can be multiple.   Life can get complicated at times.  Life is short and there are a lot of things people go through that sometimes gets in our way of what we want to do.   Don’t beat yourself up if the circumstances don’t happen for you right away.  Plan, write, read, and meet other creative people like yourself.  In numbers there is strength.  Just get out there and experiment.  No actors or you’re time limited?  Try the avant garde  Anything goes there.   We all need to do something we enjoy, and NOT finding the time is on you.  It’s you’re passion GO FOR IT!

Don’t let the naysayers get you down.  Stymied from lack of talent?  Check out the local art scene in your area.  I bet you’ll find some great talent there.  You just need to look hard enough.    Can’t pay people?  Well make it easier for people to act and participate in your opus by feeding them, and/or maybe paying for their travel.  If their your family they’ll understand, and if their not they’ll thank you for the opportunity to participate.  The one thing you should NEVER do is lie.  Don’t lie to people about your project.  I never did.    When I finally had the resources or partial resources I jumped in and went ahead and focused on finishing the film.  It took awhile to finish the film.  The editing and the sound mix took awhile, but I found people who could help me, and it didn’t turn out too bad.  Even today I still want to re-scan the negative and do an HD version of the film so I can distribute it myself via the web.   I always thought my movie was one of those dime store novels you picked up at news stands or airports, and watched while killing time via you’re phone.  We’ll see how that goes in the future.

Remember YOU’RE the one person who can set yourself back.  I’ll still keep trying myself, and hope that I have the privilege & opportunity to make another film.  But don’t forget to live also.  Go out with friends, fall in love, and do things that make you happy.  Don’t be all too consumed by being that filmmaker.  If you have the itch go scratch it.  Start making films with your phone.  Don’t underestimate yourself.   I’ve taught young children how to tell stories, and they seem naturally gifted in doing so.  Especially in todays world where media dominates a lot of their lives.  I’ve taught kids for 10 to 20 minutes, and they figured out how to put clips together and create a story from those clips.  The hardest thing is to teach what is the idea or subject you want to convey.  I have had teenagers ask me what should I talk about or do?  I’ve given them the same answer always and that is to write what YOU know.  What is it that you are passionate about? Let it flow from what interests you.  Again when you invest in your passions an idea is born, and from there it’s off to the races.  We are conditioned to emulate Hollywood, and TV, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  I find that in young children, and in teenagers the norms are challenged, and if you show them other works unlike what they see in mass media they really get excited about their ideas.  It’s also a great way to learn collaboration which filmmaking is.  So no matter your age, or where you come from you should not feel inhibited by your ideas.  Experiment, and play with different forms and different media.  I really believe that we are on the cusp of a breakthrough in media, and it is not only technology that is driving this but the different ways we use and see media now.

I keep on coming back to what Francis Coppola said about moviemaking:

Now go on and start being that new Mozart of filmmaking like Mr. Coppola says.  He believes it, and so do I.

Independent means your on your own…

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When your an independent filmmaker you are your on your own. Hopefully you have developed a team, or know individuals who can help you lighten the load from producing your film. I say YOUR film because YOU were the one who started down this road. If you are a director slash producer you’ll need to get down in the trenches and start assembling your team. Films are not made by committee. Making films is an autocratic way of life. Having a team is great, and helpful, but you are the General of this army. Go forth and get ready to take command.

Now that being said having a small producing staff helps. Everyone has maybe a speciality and that helps. I have come to the conclusion that GOOD films are made by a dedicated cast and crew. I’ve actually looked at movie production history, and the films that are superior to all the rest are because the production team had enthusiasm and believed in the project. A lot of these films were from first time artists who had something to prove and who had a vested interest in making a film that would stand out.

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In future posts I’ll try and go through those films histories. But I’ll leave that for some other time. What I’m trying to say here is that when you’re making an indie film you may need to rely on outside individuals who have skills that you need to compensate.

I used professional actors. I held auditions after looking at many headshots of actors. I did not ask anyone for money. I find it appalling when I hear of productions NOT offering compensation, or even not paying for the actors transportation. I know I’ve been labeled a nice guy, and you know what they say about “nice guys”? But I’m not a nice guy. I’m trying to get other people involved in my project. Its that simple. If the people I get become my friends all the better. But I first I need to figure out a budget, and before you shoot make sure you have enough to get the film in the can.

A film production unit is more then just a bunch of artist working to create content. They become a family. Yes! I said it. The F word, and that F word is “family”. I know that’s crazy. But it’s true, and no truer in independent filmmaking then in any profession I can name. It’s what makes filmmaking that special vocation. I can’t state it strong enough. Like any family there can be dysfunction in the family, but you as a good producer & director know how to head off problems before it becomes a problem. You need to be part therapist, and part artist.

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We worked seriously hard on “Deadly Obsessions”, but as you can see by the picture above there was time to clown around as well. It’s the key to esprit de corps, and trust me you’ll need that when doing an a film no matter if it’s a independent or a studio based film. Treating filmmaking like a straight business proposition is not what gets your film made. Roget Corman’s film’s had hungry artists working for him. They pushed themselves to make the best film they could. Just by recognizing talent Corman’s films may have not been cinematic marvels, but they were entertaining and cheap. It’s how Corman survived for so long. Recognizing talent is the key, and developing relationships is a key to making a good film. I’ve been involved where people don’t really care and only want to make their film footage quota for the day. Needless to say those films go into the dustbin of cinema never to be seen or heard from again. There is a whole lot more that goes into a successful film, but your first hurtle is getting it made, and a lot of films just fall apart and are never made. I’ve seen it, and I’ve been a party to it. It hurts when your film fails to grow wings and get off the ground. There is more talk in this industry then there is action. It is what seriously makes me cringe and has prevented me from making more films.

Alone my film stock budget was about over 5K, and I managed to get a discount. In order to process the film, and transfer the sound to mag track it was another 6K. I knew all this and kept the spending to a minimum, yet still I paid people. I had a few days to shoot, and then the money would dry up. I had to work a day job to get more money for post, and it was me who was working on post production. How else could I save money. I resurrected an old 6 plate flat-bed and finished on film. It was the cheapest way to go at the time. Posting on video would have costed me a fortune, so film was the only alternative. You see why I despise others who keep talking the talk and never pony up. The above picture is me at the end of shooting. That smile is releif for making it through the slog of production.

I really, really admired Kevin Smith, and Robert Rodriguez for making their low budget films. Now days you don’t need film stock. But memory cards to fill up, and hard drives to back the footage. I really think you can still get a feature done nowadays for little money, and that you can do it in stages to keep the costs low. Keeping it simple helps. Limited actors, limited locations, and keep the crew small. From the picture above you can see I had limited lighting equipment to light a scene, yet my crew and I made it work. I really think you ca as well. No matter the budget. It’s more possible now then it ever was. So go out there and be the next Coppola, or Spielberg. Don’t think because you don’t have the money you won’t be able to produce your film. Make your resources work for you. Take some time off. Coordinate your talent and crew. Spend on the things that matter, and you may attract people who BELIEVE in your project. It is time consuming, maddening and throughly invigorating, yet you’ll enjoy ever moment of it.