Armed with nothing but an iPhone, and a good idea, you too might be the next Wes Anderson or Quentin Tarantino.
The explosion in film and TV technology over the past decade has opened doors for many would-be moviemakers who could never have afforded the traditional 35mm film format that involved expensive equipment for shooting and editing, and a considerable amount of money to buy and develop all that film.
Now, kids put together their own videos on laptops and become YouTube stars. Last year, an indie feature called “Tangerine” was shot entirely with an iPhone and played to strong response on the festival circuit and in art houses around the country.
“It’s an art form that has started to become democratized like other art forms — painting, songwriting and any other kind of writing,” Dan Schechter says of today’s more level playing field.
Schechter is a New York City editor and director, who will be giving one of the master classes at the Ridgefield Film Festival in May. He hopes to show aspiring directors how they can get started in the new world of micro-budget filmmaking.
Joanne Hudson, the coordinator of the festival, thinks the classes and screenings could plant seeds in the minds of a new generation of Connecticut filmmakers. “We want it to be a very filmmaker-friendly festival,” she says of the May 20-22 collaboration between multiple organizations and venues in Ridgefield. “We don’t want it to be so big that you can’t see all of the movies and attend all of the discussions.”
In his class, Schechter hopes to take the fear factor out of filmmaking by showing the students that “there are so many ways of making a movie for practically nothing.”
A RED digital camera that produces 35mm quality images can be rented for a few thousand dollars, but Schecter says there are young and hungry cinematographers with cameras who might be willing to donate their services and equipment to a good project so that they can show the results to other directors and producers.
Tom Carruthers, who runs a regular series of Connecticut Film Festival indie screenings at the Bethel Cinema, believes almost anyone can become a visual storyteller with low-cost equipment and parlay those skills into practical forms of work, as well as indie films.
“These days, young filmmakers use their video skills to land jobs in the field for Reuters. It’s a new cottage industry of video journalists. Film festivals used to be all about glamour and glitter. Now many of them have become a working man’s place to network,” he says. “It’s almost like musicians playing in wedding bands on the side, to pay the rent so that they can do their own stuff.”
In addition to video technology becoming more portable and inexpensive, Carruthers says, there are many new nontheatrical outlets for films, from Netflix and Amazon to YouTube.
Writer Susan Cinoman and her director husband Doug Tenaglia rented a RED camera and made “All Me All the Time,” for less than $15,000, on locations throughout Fairfield County, including in the kitchen of their two lead actors, Keir Dullea and Mia Dillon. (You can see the results on YouTube.)
“Things are changing for the better so quickly,” Cinoman says. “The (latest model) iPhone produces images that are even sharper than some of the digital cameras they used to make.”
The Woodbridge writer, whose credits include the ABC series “The Goldbergs,” was excited by the chance to work independently on “All Me All the Time,” without someone else giving her the go-ahead. In the old days, a screenwriter’s only recourse was to shop a script to movie studios, which tended to leave him or her hanging indefinitely. (The critic Pauline Kael once wrote that Hollywood is “the only place where you can die of encouragement.”)
Charles Hood, who grew up in Fairfield, moved to Los Angeles a few years ago to pursue a film career, but became so disappointed by the major studio stonewalling that he decided to put together his own independent production. The result, “Night Owls,” was a hit on the festival circuit last year (including two screenings at the Greenwich International Film Festival), and is available for streaming on Amazon and the other major downloading services.
The writer-director, who came home for the holidays, says getting the rising young actor Adam Pally interested in the script was the first big step in making the comedy-drama about two star-crossed lovers on a long and lonely night in a college town.
“We were writing for a year and a half and went through three or four drafts. I gave it to my agent, who asked for a list of actors, and Adam said ‘yes’ within 24 hours. We didn’t shoot for another six months, because we had to wait for an opening in his schedule,” the filmmaker says of the actor agreeing to work for next to nothing on the low-budget movie Hood wrote with Seth Goldsmith.
Cinoman agrees that aspiring indie filmmakers might be surprised by the high-quality actors who are willing to work for rock-bottom salaries if a script interests them. She says it’s a bit like stage actors going to low-paying regional theaters to do roles they might not get on Broadway. The Screen Actors Guild makes special salary exemptions for actors who are willing to work on micro-budget movies.
Talent is still more important than technology in making movies, Schechter says.
“It’s easier to make movies now, which can be seductive. Everyone can work like a John Cassavetes,” the teacher says of the pioneering independent moviemaker of the 1960s and ’70s. “But not everyone has the talent of John Cassavetes.”
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