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…


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.