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.



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