The Invisible Man Returns

ireturns

People from around the world gasp in spontaneous indifference at my absence.

I haven’t written a blog in some time.  In fact, it’s been so long that Google has de-indexed me.  I’m getting emails asking for links to some of my best-loved blogs.  (For what it’s worth, those seem to be Plan 9 from Out of Sequence, Maureen O’Hara Vs. the Egg People, and The Marx Brothers Explain Copyright Law.)  There’s a subtle plugola that might get just those blogs reindexed!

People are also asking me where I am.  I’m on Facebook and on the Dr. Film Facebook page, but no blogs.  Why would that be?  Well, frankly, I’ve been underwater with work and I’m only now coming up for air.  Writing a blog like this takes concentration, and I’ve been saving that for paying work.

Let me answer the questions I have been receiving:

Q1: Is King of the Kongo coming out on DVD/Blu-Ray soon?

A: No.  There are extenuating circumstances and I can’t go into them here.  A Kickstarter campaign would not help.  YouTube won’t help.  There are some problems.  That’s all I can say.

Q2: Have you found any more sound discs for Kongo?

A: No.

Q3: Are you working on any more preservation projects?

A: Yes.  I’m hoping to raise money for some.  I’m hoping that I can get Little Orphant Annie, the basketball films from Milan Indiana, and a film called Little Mickey Grogan restored.  At the current time, all are having some problems.

One of the reels of Little Orphant Annie awaiting the word to restore it!


Q4: Are you doing crowdfunding for these?

A: Maybe.  Some of the issues involved are deeper than just funding; again, I can’t go into them here.

Q5: You keep talking about a video streaming project?  Have you given up on that?

A: No.  We’re moving forward on it and it’s being developed.  I’m hoping to get a federal grant for it.  I listened to what you guys said and I’m going to try to fund a 501(c)(3) broadcast and streaming station that will be aimed at promoting literacy about older films and film preservation.  If I can get it off the ground, it will be called VintFlix.  We have the page reserved already.  It will take more funding to get going than I can get on Kickstarter.  I’ve been in contact with the National Endowment for the Humanities and they are saying encouraging things.

Q6: Is the Dr. Film show dead?

A: It’s not a bit well, but I wouldn’t say dead.  We are still talking about a podcast, but I haven’t had time to do one.  If VintFlix gets off the ground, then the Dr. Film show will be on it.

Q7: You promised to write a blog on digital vs. film on the Facebook page, but you haven’t.  Where is it?

A: I’m working on it.

Q8: You say you’re busy.  Does that mean you’re making a lot of money?

A: No, I’m fulfilling obligations and doing publicity for other things.  I would never recommend doing what I do unless you’re unbalanced like I am and just need to do it for some reason.

Q9: You’re doing shows and personal appearances?

A: Yes, a great number of them and in several cities this year.

Q10: Are you appearing as Dr. Film?

A: No, as myself.  If you’re interested in booking me, then you have my contact information in the Dr. Film main page or the email link at the upper right of this page.

Q11: I saw your King of the Kongo presentation at (wherever you saw it).  Can you bring that to my theater?

A: Yes.  Contact me.   The episodes are available on film or DCP.

Q12: I saw your show on the history of color in the movies.  Can you bring that to my theater?

A: Yes.  Contact me.  We have to do this one on film, and it doesn’t work in a really huge auditorium.

Q13: Are you affiliated with David Pierce and James Layton, who wrote the book on the history of Technicolor?

A: No, but I know them.  My presentation is entirely different from theirs, although theirs is quite good.   I’ve seen it more than once. (They discuss the history of the Technicolor company, whereas I show examples of many of the different processes, including Technicolor. They go more in-depth than I do.)

Q14: I think your work is very cool.  How can I support you?

A: Buy some t-shirts or send me PayPal.  I’ll send you the address if you’re so motivated.

Q15: We’re not interested in stuff you’re trying to do.  We’re only interested in what you’ve done.

A: Thanks for that.  Would you rather me just wait and post a boatload of stuff when things get resolved?  Part of what this blog is about is the ongoing saga of film preservation and how I’m trying to do it.  It’s a drama.  Have fun with it.  Really.  There may even be a book about it someday…

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10 Questions With Julia Marchese

autumnalhairsm

A random photo of Julia Marchese that I stole from her blog.

I don’t think I’ve seen a movie that makes me jump up, cheer, and cry all at the same time for many years. Julia Marchese’s film Out of Print made me do just that.

There have been a lot of films lamenting the loss of 35mm film projection, which is a loss I feel pretty deeply.  I am not a huge fan of the digital projectors that have replaced 35mm, and I’ll be tackling just why that is in an upcoming blog, by popular request.

But there’s no question that digital is here to stay.  It’s easier and cheaper, so it’s going to stick around.  It does have certain advantages, but it has a lot of disadvantages too.  Alas, the 35mm projectors in most theaters have been unceremoniously ripped out like a rotten molar, to sit languishing in theater lobbies or (sometimes) street corners.

And what’s sad about that is that there are zillions of films (and I don’t have a precise number, so zillions will suffice) that will never be available for digital projectors.  It’s a miracle that some of them are available on 35mm, but they still are.

Marchese’s film makes the elegant point that this is a real tragedy, because it’s going to mean that many less-known films that still exist are going to be unseen, because it will be too expensive to remaster them digitally.  If you don’t have 35mm, then you can’t play them.  Yet the studios in many cases have insisted that the 35mm projectors be removed as a condition of financing the change-over to digital.

This is partly why I champion saving old formats.  I believe in this quite passionately.  A lot of readers here dislike 16mm (they call it the “children’s format”) but there are a ton of things I can get in 16mm that were never in 35mm.  There are films on VHS that were never on DVD, films on DVD that will never be on Blu-Ray, etc.  And you can argue that the good stuff will make the grade of the marketplace and be on all the new formats.  It’s an argument I’ve heard before.

But there’s so much stuff that hasn’t been seen for so long… how do we know that the marketplace has gotten to choose all of the good stuff?

And Marchese expertly weaves this conundrum in with her film, which I love.  The problem is that film is an art form that’s intended to be seen with an audience.  Film requires a community and those communities are dying out.  It’s becoming harder and harder to see a film on a big screen in a theater.

More and more, we’re seeing films on NetFlix, with our stinky feet on our coffee table, which isn’t the way these films were designed to be seen.  Marchese uses examples of the New Beverly theater in LA to show how this community functioned, and some of the audience members there.

(As a side note, I remember running Young Frankenstein this past October for a local theater.  It was a brutal pain, and I had to lug heavy 35mm projectors in to do it.  BUT… when the film got going, we had a wonderful audience.   And as I watched it, I realized that the film is carefully timed to match audience laughter and reactions.  It’s cut to the jokes.  And if you’re just one guy sitting there, the movie can seem a little slow, because you’re not laughing at everything.  With an audience, it’s perfect… that’s what I’m talking about here!)

Marchese talks to audience members and New Beverly staff members about the culture of film and what it means to them.  It’s just an absolutely wonderful, electrifying experience.  It’s all of the things I always want to say but can’t… because people have me shut up after a few minutes.

The movie has an odd coda that deserves to be mentioned.  After the film was completed, Quentin Tarantino took over the New Beverly and tore out the digital projector.  Tarantino is a staunch 35mm advocate.  Marchese lost her job there (not due to Tarantino).  The New Beverly is still there, and yet it’s not.  Tarantino is doing all of the programming, using mostly films from his own collection.

You can read about it in her blog here.

I asked Julia Marchese for a brief bio, which I normally would try to weave into my rambling narrative, but in this case I’m just going to reproduce it:

Julia Marchese is a filmmaker living in Hollywood. She is originally from Las Vegas, and has lived in California for over 15 years. She is an actress, writer and director, and Out of Print is her first feature film. It is currently touring internationally on 35mm, including the Film Archival Museums in Frankfurt and Vienna.

I really can’t recommend this film highly enough.  It’s a must-see.  If it comes to your area, please come see it.  I’m going to try to get her bookings where I can.


Trailer for Out of Print
 

Q1) Can you give me some background on who you are and your history with film?

I’m just a film geek who made a flick about something I’m passionate about.

Q2) I saw your film and I noticed that you are like me in that you’re not trying to trash digital projection, but rather trying to say we need to live with film and digital together. I love this idea. So many people are firmly in one camp or the other, and I think they both have advantages and disadvantages. Tell us a little more about your take on this.

My dream is that digital and 35mm can live together harmoniously forevermore. There is absolutely no reason why that can’t happen, except that the studios want digital only to be the future. There are so many little theaters around the world who want to show 35mm prints and either are denied access or hampered by the studios’ rising rental costs.

Q3) Your film has a lot of great bumpers and ads from the 1950s and later. Where did you find all that stuff?

Thank you! Everything came from the Internet Archive, an amazing website with a gigantic selection of public domain clips! It’s an amazing resource for filmmakers.

Q4) The idea of film and theaters as a community and a shared experience is something I’m afraid may be dying. Your film celebrates this like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s just right along my own views on this. Why is this so important to you?

Because the most important thing in the world is human connection and our society is running away from it as fast as possible. Watching a film in a sold out theater, on the big screen with an enthusiastic audience vs. watching at home by myself on my computer? There’s no contest.

Q5) We all know Mike Schlesinger here and we love to make fun of him. I note that he is one of your interview subjects. Is there something silly that you can share so we can make more fun of him?

I got nothing, except to say that he is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate. Sorry!

Q6) You’re actually making film prints available! Bravo! How much does a print cost you? Lab prints are fierce these days. I ought to know.

Deluxe/Fotokem were so incredibly helpful and generous in helping me make a film print of Out of Print. I won’t tell you how much they charged me for the print, but I will say that you should get in contact with them if you’re interested in making a print of your film. The worst they can say is no, and possibly they’ll say yes!

Q7) If we see your movie, then we miss out on the fact that you were axed from the New Beverly after it was finished. How has that affected you and what are you doing now?

Yeah, that kind of adds a melancholy air to the movie that was never intended. Honestly, losing my favorite place in the world broke my heart. I’ve spent the last few months in a dark place, but I’m trying to look to the future and find another job that I will love as passionately.

Q8) If someone wants to see and book your movie, how do they do it, and are you available to make personal appearances with it?

They can contact me at fightfor35mm@yahoo.com – I am available for Q&A’s!

Q9) After your film was completed, I know that Quentin Tarantino took over the New Beverly, ripped out the digital projector and is programming everything himself. Some have applauded this, and some say it’s killing the community at the New Beverly. Do you have any comment?

I think Quentin Tarantino is an incredible person who saved the New Bev with his own money and is dedicated to keeping 35mm alive – he will forever have my respect for that.

Q10) I get interviewed all the time and people never quite seem to understand my work. If there’s something that I didn’t ask you that I should have, please let me know, and answer that question here!

Why is the music in Out of Print so crazy awesome?

Because it was composed by my brother, Peter Marchese – the lead singer of Tokyoidaho!

Posted in Views and reviews | 2 Comments

Janitor in a Booth

I’m not much of a social butterfly and I have no innate “sense” of how these things work.  I do know one odd thing: if you’re a projectionist, then you’re considered the lowest of low in society.  I’m not sure why this is.  It may be the plethora of underpaid teenagers who were relegated to projection booths, most of whom screwed up prints and caused the presentations to look bad.  I suspect that it’s something deep-seated in the heart of a lot of arts organizations, and I’ll write more about that in a bit.

As most of you know, I make a “living” doing film presentations and preservations, and I prefer the look of projected film.  I’ve worked in scores of venues, from Lincoln Center to a dilapidated opera house in Delphi Indiana that rained plaster from a leaky ceiling.  Some places have their own projectors and a staff projectionist, but often, if I’m going to run film, then I need to bring my own projectors.

In order to make ends meet, I also act as a projectionist-for-hire, which is one of the jobs I hate most.  That’s when I get treated the worst.  I’ve had amateur filmmakers yell at me for running their film with not enough “pink” in it, and I had another guy who had me change the volume on his movie 200 times. (That’s neither a typo nor an exaggeration.)  Sadly, a lot of people shoot things on their phone and then, when it looks different on a 30-foot screen, they panic.

And then the worst one: I was working at a museum once who had Peter Bogdanovich come in to introduce Touch of Evil.  That’s great, because he’s an expert on Orson Welles… in fact Welles lived in his house for a while.  But Bogdanovich is also a director who’s made some cool pictures, and I’m a big fan.  I spliced together a best-of trailer reel of several of my favorites, and I also got the reissue trailer for Touch of Evil touting all the restoration techniques that went into it.  It was all 35mm and all ready to get to the projector.

But they wouldn’t let me run it.  And I was never allowed even to speak with Bogdanovich.  I could look over and see him, and I wanted to ask him about Noises Off and The Cat’s Meow.  He had interviewed heroes of mine like director Allan Dwan.  Couldn’t ask him anything about it.  Whatever for?  Were they afraid I was going to give him projectionist cooties?  Sprocketosis?  What’s the deal?

My guess is that this is something of an arts caste system.  Put simply, I think there’s this idea of there’s them what does the art, and there’s them what supports the artist.  These “non-artists” are somehow less valuable people than the “artists.”  And they shouldn’t mix company.  That would be bad.  Apparently, you don’t want to besmirch yourself with contacting someone who is in the support mode.  That includes the sound guy, the janitor, the security people, and the projectionist.  They’re like the untouchables in the caste system.  Neither to be seen nor heard.

Now, the problem is that I’ve got my feet in both worlds.  I have to.  If I have the only print of a film, then you know who’s going to project it?  I AM.  I’ll insist.  The fact that I’m a historian/collector makes me an artist, but the projectionist is support only, and contaminated.

So the arts communities, particularly my local one, don’t know what to do with me.  I’m not the only one who encounters this.  Just last night, a friend of mine from Boston, who knows more film history than most professors, was told, “You know, most projectionists don’t get to pick films like you do.”

What?  So this guy has been demoted from a valuable commodity to the being the equivalent of a janitor in the projection booth.  (Not that I’m trashing janitors, mind you… they provide a tremendously valuable service.)

Oh, and it’s not isolated.   There’s been a huge stink in LA about underpaid projectionists, which is odd, given that there are fewer and fewer of them anyway. You’d think that the ones left working are the good ones that are really needed.

I seem to get more film historian jobs outside my local area, and I find that I seem to get more respect (and hence pay) the farther I am from home.  This is why I love to hang out at film conventions where they run oddball films (sometimes mine).  It’s great to be around folks who understand film and respect it as an art form, but I still struggle with carrying that idea back to my local area, where I’m apparently contaminated with projectionist ptomaine.

And that’s really sad, because it means that, instead of consulting me, programs are created by “arts people” who are completely and utterly ignorant of film.  And it means that everyone programs the same five films all the time.  I know of three different showings of Wizard of Oz in my area just this year, and it’s only February.  OK, it’s a great film, but haven’t they made anything else?  Oh, yeah, I guess Casablanca.

Again, I don’t quite understand this, but I’ve responded to it.  I have taken to avoiding projection-only jobs.  I don’t ever promote myself as a projectionist.  I promote myself as a film historian/collector/presenter.

This has even affected my choice in vehicles.  A while back, my dad was noticing that I was constantly loading film and equipment in and out of my car.  He said that I should buy a van, so I could leave stuff in there all the time.  I told him that I couldn’t, and I told him why.

“Dad,” I said.  “It’s a perception thing.  The projectionist owns a van.  The film historian has a car.  I have to have a car.”

“Oh,” Dad said, thinking a bit.  “I understand.”

I’m still not sure that I do.

Posted in Dr. Film's Pocket Rants | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Kongo Lessons


Restoration Demo for King of the Kongo (it looks even cooler in HD!)
 

Some of you may not be aware that I’m in the midst of restoring The King of the Kongo (1929), which is the first sound serial ever made.  You’d think that people would be happy that I’m doing it, but I get frequent complaints about it, and a lot of questions.  I’m going to answer some of these today.

Q1: Why are you restoring a serial that’s bad and the prints aren’t great?

A: Because it’s bad and the prints aren’t great.  The archives weren’t interested in this one.  I tried.  They didn’t care.  They probably shouldn’t care, either, because part of their job is triage.  I think it’s important—it is important—it’s just that there are a lot of films in worse shape that are in line ahead of it, so I’m doing this myself.

The bottom line is that I knew that if I didn’t restore it, then no one would, and I knew where all the elements were, so I wanted to get it done while we could.

Q2: Is the whole serial sound?

A: The serial is part silent and part talkie.  The trade papers are a little confused about this, so I can’t prove this theory.  The trades at the time announced The King of the Kongo as being available in silent and sound versions.  There’s even an announcement that the silent version is finished and they’re starting on the talkie version.  But there’s no mention that I can find anywhere of the serial being played without sound.  I suspect that there was only a sound version released, and that is part silent (with synchronized music and effects) with one scene per reel with synchronized dialogue.

Q3: What survives on the serial?  Are you restoring the whole thing?

A: The entire picture exists.  There were 21 reels initially and we have 10 reels of the sound.  That’s a little less than half of the original sound that survives.  Of those, Chapters 5, 6 and 10 exist with complete sound.  Three other chapters have one reel of sound with the other still being lost (each chapter is two reels and hence two discs of sound.)

I restored Chapter 5 with Kickstarter funds, Chapter 10 with National Film Preservation Foundation funding, and Chapter 6 is being done now.  For all three Chapters, I owe thanks and funding support to Silent Cinema Presentations, Inc. (There’s a lot of drama about how Silent Cinema saved my bacon in previous blog installments.)  I may go back and restore the the picture for the rest of the episodes and drop in the sound for those parts that survive.  The complete chapters that survive have been archived to film.

Q4: This is the digital age.  Why waste money on film?

A: The restorations were done digitally and archived on film because film never crashes and goes beep when you turn it on.  Film is archival.

Q5: Are you going to put this on YouTube?

A: No.

Q6: Will it be available on Blu-Ray?

A: I hope so.

Q7: A friend of mine told me that UCLA has 35mm prints of this serial and so you’re wasting your time on this bad print you’re restoring.

A: I hear this rumor all the time.  You know what I did about it?  I contacted UCLA.  You know what they told me?  They have a 16mm print, just like mine and it’s under a donor restriction, so I couldn’t access it anyway.  There is one more print in the US that I’ve heard about in private hands, and I couldn’t access that.  There’s another 16mm print in France that’s not better than mine.  There’s a partial 35mm in an unnamed US archive that’s also under donor restriction, meaning we can’t get to it.  So that’s it, folks.  I contacted the donors for permission and they said no.

You want footwork to find the best materials?  I did it.

Q8: It’s frustrating to watch a serial a chapter at a time and then out of sequence.  Why don’t you wait until you find all the sound and restore it then?

A: Because we may never find all of the sound.  And right now, we’re at a point where I can sync the sound and picture with the help of some people I know.  Later on that might not happen.

Q9: Why did you restore Chapter 10 and then Chapter 6?

A: Because we found the complete sound for Chapter 6 after Chapter 10 was already underway.

Q10: There’s a whole group of people who do serial restorations who are spreading bad rumors about you.  Do you hate them?

A: No.  I can’t hate people who do restorations.  I contacted those people some time ago, offered to pool resources, and was told to go away.  So I went away.  They were convinced that they could do a better restoration than I could do, and that they knew where all the sound discs were.  To date, they have not done a restoration.  I would still be happy to pool resources with them.  I feel that films should be restored from the best elements.  If they know where better materials are (and they might exist in private hands), then I’m willing to help.  I suspect that the elements they thought were complete were the same incomplete ones that I found in private hands, and I bought them so I could do my restoration.  But I would still help them if they asked.

Q11: I heard that Library of Congress has all the sound discs.

A: I heard that too.  I asked them, and I contacted the film people and the audio people.  Do you know what they told me?  They don’t have them.

Q12: Does this look better than the DVD that I bought of this?

A: You bet it does.

Q13: The DVD I bought is silent with music, but has long stretches with no titles.  Is your music the same?

A: You have the sound version missing the dialogue track.  About half of each episode was silent with intertitles.  The remaining half had dialogue. The music on your DVD is patched in later to go with the action.  The original score by Lee Zahler is on the discs, plus dialogue in all those long stretches with no titles.

Q14: I heard a rumor that you may start a Kickstarter program to release a Blu-Ray.  That seems kind of crooked to me, since you got grant money to do the restorations.

A: I got grant money to do the lab work for the restorations. The lab work (scanning, track re-recording, and digital film out) was covered.  All the by-hand work (sync, image restoration, etc.) was free.  And we’d need to do that work on the 7 chapters that still need their picture restored.

Q15: Did you learn anything of historical significance while you were restoring the serial?

Yes, some.

Ben Model’s undercranking theories are borne out here.  The silent sequences are shot at about 21-22 fps and then played back at 24.  The actors haven’t adjusted to this yet, so they’re still playing slower for 21-22 which makes the dialogue deadly slow.  Once again, we see that audiences in the silent days were used to seeing films played back slightly faster than they were shot.

This film has some very interesting set design and some interesting lighting, almost expressionistic.  It’s mostly lost in the prints we see today.

Despite the fact that the film has that deadly 1929 slow pacing, I note that director Richard Thorpe has put some interesting touches in it.  There’s a long shot in which Robert Frazier is tailed by Lafe McKee and William Burt.  It’s staged to show off the set and so that we get a sense of distance between McKee and Frazier, but it’s all done in one shot with no cutting.  There’s not a second where nothing is happening onscreen, but it’s done very economically.

Mascot used black slugs (pieces of leader) to resynchronize shots that had drifted out of sync.  I’ve seen this in The Devil Horse (1931), The Whispering Shadow (1933) and The Phantom Empire (1935).  I could have taken them out, but it’s part of the Mascot “feel” and “history,” so I left them in.  There are several in Chapter 10.

There’s a little throwaway line in which Lafe McKee refers to Robert Frazier as “black boy.”  It’s 1929 racism.  I left it in (you probably wouldn’t have noticed if I’d cut it.)

Q16: You were talking about donor restrictions.  Do you mean that the donor of the film restricted access to the films after donating them?

That’s exactly what I mean.

Q17: You mean that we spend taxpayer money housing and cooling films that the donors won’t let us see?

I do mean that, yes.  And that’s the topic of another blog post.  Remember, I don’t make the rules.  I just live with them.

Posted in Dr. Film's Pocket Rants | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

An Open Letter to Google: You’re Killing Us

The motto of Google is, “Don’t be evil.”  Well, I’ve got a message for you, guys.  You’re being evil.  I don’t think it’s intentional, but you’re killing us.  By “us” I mean the small group of independent film preservationists who try to make a living my preserving and presenting films.  And there’s one thing that’s killing us more than anything else.

YouTube.

YouTube (which is owned by Google), has morphed into a Frankenstein-like creature that’s made up of cat videos, people’s reviews of other media, music, and bootlegged movies.  It’s become the global repository for everything that is cinema.  People never seem to ask me whether something is available on video, on film, whether they can see it with an audience, nothing but this: “Can I see it on YouTube?”

But there’s a problem.  Google has an odd policy about YouTube, which is that anyone can post anything for any reason at any time and it’s up to the original copyright owners to file a complaint to take it down.  The amount of Google patrolling that happens there is pretty thin.  Disney does it of course, but you have to be on it all the time.  New videos pop up every moment.  And I’ve done some complaining… they often ask me if I’m really affiliated with the project.

Google seems to have the idea that the whole world will be better if everything that ever existed in the history of the world is suddenly indexed and available for download.  A few years ago, Google was scanning books, copyright notwithstanding, and posting them for searching in Google Books.  When some of the authors complained, there was a strange reaction that this was somehow stupid.  After all, if the books are up and searchable, isn’t that an advertisement for you to buy it?

No, it isn’t.  And it’s even worse for people restoring films.  You see, the restoration of a film isn’t copyrightable.  Please don’t email me and tell me otherwise.  I’ve researched it.  If I add something to it, then I can copyright the changes, but only that.

So if I restore an uncopyrighted film, spend hours doing it, release it on video to recover my costs, then it’s perfectly legal for someone to rip the DVD and throw it on YouTube.  A lot of people think this is great.  It’s cool.  It’s sharing a movie with the world, opening up the audience.  And, to a certain degree, that’s true.  It is giving publicity to the work.

But it’s free.  And it encourages people not to buy the work, which means that sales go down, and suddenly you’re not making it on the razor-thin margin of sales, but you’re still reaching the same number or more people than you reached before.  They’re just not paying for it.

Sure, I hear you say, there are people who will find out about your work on YouTube and buy it just to show support.  But I’m finding that that’s about 1 person in 10 to 1 in 20.  Five to ten percent.  90%-95% just look at it and say, “WHEE!  IT’S FREE.”

So I’m just a bitter whiner punk, right?  Well, don’t believe me.  Ask people like Paul Gierucki, David Shepard, Kevin Brownlow or Dave Stevenson.  They’ve all had to curtail or stop their releases because of YouTube.

And Google is generous enough to let us share ad revenues with people who post films.  That’s wonderful. We can post our own stuff and hope we can make money that way.  Except no.

The most popular person on YouTube has some six billion views, with an annual income of $4 million.  This equates to about $ .0006 per view.  That’s for dude-boy video games and YouTube Poops that are amazingly popular.  Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that we apply that to a bootlegged version of Seven Chances that appears on YouTube.  It’s got 40,500 views at this point.  I’m not supplying the link because I fear that some of you will watch it.

I spent about 80 hours just fixing the color sequence for this film, and Kino paid me about $250 for my trouble. (They apologized for this, and they were very nice, but they said they couldn’t afford any more.)  The bootlegger has taken this film, which I’ve got to say is probably among the most popular silent Blu-Rays, and he’s earned a whopping–get this–$24.68.

And let’s assume that maybe one in ten would otherwise have bought the film if they couldn’t get it for free… that’s 4050 copies sold.  I’m sure Kino would LOVE to have sold that many of this disc set.  I’ll bet it didn’t sell anywhere near that.

While I’m on the topic of Seven Chances, let me take this opportunity to rant a bit more.  Not only does Kino make no money off this, but the print on YouTube is horrible.  The uploaders used a compression technique that makes the film really dark, so that you can barely see the color in the sequence I restored, and a lot of detail is missing in the rest of the film.

I think this really does Seven Chances and silent film in general a great disservice.  By featuring inferior copies on YouTube, we’re perpetuating the idea that silent films, and old films in general, look bad.  People almost invariably feel that it’s due to bad old technology and not bad new compression techniques.  This perpetuates the idea that old films are inherently boring and not worth seeing.

AND THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT WE PRESERVATIONISTS ARE FIGHTING AGAINST.

Not only is Google depriving us of income that we might otherwise get, the are also poisoning the well for new people giving these films a chance.  The vast majority of the bootlegged features are exceptionally dark and blurry, and this is often noted in reviews that we see on IMDb.  Sometimes for good movies.

Let me clarify that Seven Chances IS copyrighted, and that one of the bootlegged versions has been up for two years from the time of this posting.  It’s got the copyrighted score on it.  Imagine how much easier it would be to bootleg someone’s restoration of a public domain film.  That’s not even against Google’s rules.

Look, I appreciate free as much as the next guy, but the market here is dying.  At one time, you could try to sell films to TCM, but they’re becoming increasingly insular due to costs, and they still have zillions of films from the RKO, MGM, and Warner library that they’ve never aired.  Why should they license films from outside?

That leaves Google.  I’d love to see Google spend some of its dripping billions on putting non-junk on YouTube.  If YouTube is suddenly the cultural repository of all video not on NetFlix, then can it at least look good?  Can you find collectors, historians, archives, and preservationists who will get you good prints instead of stuff that’s reviewed as “bad, and I couldn’t read most of the titles”?  Throw those people or organizations a check.  After all, they saved good copies of the films in the first place.

I suppose we can consider archive.org, but their stuff, with a few exceptions, looks even worse than YouTube.  It’s even more lax in rules than YouTube, with blatant violations like an uncut Dracula and the Metropolis restorations with complete Kino titles.

I know that a lot of people seem to think that restorations happen like magic and are pretty cheap to do.  I used to be in the computer animation business and we’d have a similar problem: guys would come in and request substantial changes, then come back in 5 minutes and ask to see them.  Hence our motto: “All computer rendering takes place in zero time.”

Since I do this professionally, I’ll outline what I’ve done on my NFPF restoration of King of the Kongo.  I get a couple of requests a month to put this on YouTube, and about two per week asking for the Dr. Film episodes.  Then they don’t understand why I answer, “I can’t afford to put them on YouTube.  Once they’re on YouTube, they’re valueless.

I don’t have another job to fall back on for the money I lose on this.  And if I did have another job, I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of the work I do now.  Here’s what went into King of the Kongo, Chapter 10:

  1. About $6500 of lab work, including scanning and archival film recording.
  2. Breaking the film down on a shot-by-shot basis to fix contrast and brightness issues (about two days of work plus about two days of computer rendering time.)
  3. Stabilizing the film on shot-by-shot basis to make the image stable enough to do lip sync.  (about 4 days of work plus a couple of days of rendering.)
  4. Synchronizing the sound.  This is a technical disaster that I could go on about for hours, but let’s just say it was about a week.
  5. Getting everything moved.  The sound discs moved from Michigan to Indianapolis, to Virginia, to New Jersey, back to Virginia, and back to New Jersey.  This was all hand-carried to avoid damage in shipment. The film went from NY to Indianapolis, then hard drives went back and forth.  The logistics are a nightmare, with about 5-6 people involved in it.
  6. Restoring the credits.  Again, a long, long explanation, but a lot of math and about 4 days of work for 45 seconds of footage.
  7. De-noising the picture.  Using a special statistical analysis program, all 30,000+ frames of the film are analyzed to remove suspected dust.  About half of these are false positives and must be cancelled by hand.  This takes about two weeks.

Now, I did get an NFPF grant to cover this.  They covered the lab expenses.  Everything else I did myself.

So am I going to put this all on YouTube for free?

Am I going to produce more episodes of the Dr. Film show and post them for free?  (Maybe even one with the Kongo restorations.)

I’d love to.  I’ll do it when Google sends me a big check to cover my heating bills for last winter.  I’m sure not going to make it back in Blu-Ray sales.

Posted in Dr. Film's Pocket Rants | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on An Open Letter to Google: You’re Killing Us

10 Questions with Tommy José Stathes

I’ve known Tommy Stathes (rhymes with Mathis) for a few years, and his relentless drive to pick up cartoons is fascinating.  Not only does he have original 1920s Kodascopes, but he collects old film prints of cartoons discarded in the 50s.  He knows all about the different versions and cuts available.  I hate to use the word obsessive (which might apply), but he certainly tries to get things right and tries to spread the word (and joy) about cartoons.

Like me, Tommy goes out on the road and does shows with live film projection.  I particularly like the answer to his last question in which he talks about the need to promote, promote, promote… even though it might be a little embarrassing.  But we’re both promoting stuff that few people know about and fewer people care about, so getting the word out is critical.

Those of you who follow this blog know that there’s a running thread about the fact that TCM has never even acknowledged my existence despite my efforts otherwise.  It therefore, galls me to no end that TCM is now presenting the second special with Tommy’s efforts, and that they found him on the web because of his work.  But NOOOOOO, they never found my site.

This leads to another topic: Tommy and I are constantly ribbing each other.  Most film historians take themselves pretty seriously, but I don’t especially and neither does Tommy.  If you don’t follow either of us on Facebook, then you may not know that he loves to poke fun at my hatred of Disco.  He finds the most horrid Disco songs, sometimes bordering on unlistenable, and posts them on my page.  He’s also fond of something called YouTube Poops, which I have to admit I don’t understand at all. (Mr. Stathes has asked me to clarify that he personally does not like YouTube Poops, and he doesn’t particularly understand them either, but he does enjoy posting them on my Facebook page to annoy me.)

In retaliation, I have posted things on his page playing up his resemblance to Senator Al Franken, and accusing him of running nothing but dupes.  Dupes are inferior copy prints made on film.  It’s considered a prank to wait until a collector’s pride-and-joy print hits the screen in a darkened theater and then yell DUPE.

Now, just because we have a Facebook war doesn’t mean we hate each other. Some people have actually taken our jokes seriously.  I have to admit I have a grudging respect for the punk.   I tried to let the air out of his tires, but he doesn’t drive.

Tommy Stathes contemplates that lost Bray cartoon, or perhaps he smells a whiff of vinegar.

Tommy Stathes contemplates that lost Bray cartoon, or perhaps he smells a whiff of vinegar.

Q1.  You’re going to be on TCM with your own time slot in October.  Please give this a plugola for the readers so we know what to expect.  Keep in mind that I’m insanely jealous because it’s been a running tale here that TCM doesn’t even open my mail, much less give me a WHOLE TIME SLOT (you evil….)

That is correct! On the night of Monday, October 6th, TCM is dedicating the evening to rare, early and classic animation programming. I’ve provided an hour’s worth of rarely seen cartoons produced by the Bray Studios from 1913 to 1926. Bray was the first successful cartoon studio and many of animation history’s notable animators and studio heads got their start at Bray. The films come from my early animation archives and TCM asked me to co-host the program with Robert Osborne, which was a surreal task for me. Maybe you’ll see my stage fright showing through.

Q2. I’ve often said that film is the least-respected art form.  But cartoons are the least-respected films. You save black and white silent cartoons, which most people would never even bother to watch.  Why is it that you save them when almost no one else even cares about them?

I can’t tell just how sarcastic you’re being, because I know you like and collect some of them too, though, as you know, there are actual film historians and archivists who openly dump on cartoons. [Ed note: I wasn’t being sarcastic at all.]  I care about these films and save them firstly through a personal interest in animation and in film history, and secondly because there have been no long-term, grand scale archiving efforts outside of a small handful of private collectors who have helped carry the torch in recent decades. I think every vein of pop culture history is inherently of value for several reasons, and it’s the niche I decided to research and preserve. You’d be surprised, though. For every seasoned film buff and historian who might turn their noses up at old cartoons, there are two dozen or more bright-eyed and fascinated ‘civilian’ attendees at my film screenings who are completely charmed by these films. At the end of the day, they ARE fun and charming films, whether you understand their history and value or not.

Heeza Liar 1

Col. Heeza Liar, a popular JR Bray character.

Q3. You’re particularly excited about John Randolph Bray.  Please tell us a little about him and what makes him special.

As I began to hint at earlier, Bray is an extremely important figure in animation history. Without him, there would have been no bona fide animation industry, or its birth would have been delayed or played out in some other way. Bray was born in Michigan to a minister’s family in 1879, and though a creative and industrious person, he had an unsuccessful stint at college. Bray then got into journalism and finally cartooning once he moved to New York City in the early 1900s. By 1912, Bray had seen some of the earliest cartoons that were made, such as Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo (1911) and he began thinking of ways to translate his own comic characters to the screen. There’s an old rumor that he posed as a reporter to gain access to McCay’s studio, learned about animation techniques that way, and proceeded to run back home to start animating..and eventually patented those techniques as his own. Bray had a reputation for being unscrupulous that way, but these and other moves he made led to the founding of his studio upon securing a distribution contract with Pathe. Bray is often called the Henry Ford of animation–unlike no animators before him, he kept up with regular release schedules by applying the assembly line method of production in his studio, which, coupled with the animation techniques and shortcuts he developed himself and ‘borrowed’ from others, sped up the process and allowed theatergoers to begin seeing cartoons regularly. What many people don’t realize is that all this happened years before Disney became famous.

Q4. Tell us about the master want list.  How often do you recover a cartoon that’s on it?

The infamous 16mm Silent Cartoon Want List! It’s a semi-complete list of silent-era cartoons that were known to be available in 16mm. Sometimes I go for a few months not finding anything on it, and sometimes I’ll find a dozen things in one month. You can never really know when stuff like this will turn up, or where. In the three or four years since I started the list, I estimate I’ve found and taken over two hundred titles off of it.

Q5. I am on record for hating cutesy Spielberg films, but you have a special love for …batteries not included.  Why do you love this film so much?  Doesn’t it have to do with a different type of preservation?

This is one of those situations where I saw the film and fell in love with it at age 5 or 6. So, Spielbergy and 80s Hollywood schmaltz aside (which I think is far more endearing than the quality of Hollywood films today), I love the film for several reasons. It takes place in disappearing Old New York, showing the boarded-up and abandoned period of the East Village. I’ve always loved distressed old buildings so a film centered on them is eye candy for me, as is any film taking place in my native New York prior to the 1990s. Then there’s a great story about an elderly couple who are trying to live out their final years in relative peace. The husband is trying to hold onto his old tenement building and the cafe he’s ran for decades, and the wife is battling dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. We see their and other residents’ struggles to carry out their lives while a real estate firm is trying to level their block for new luxury high-rises. For mainstream Hollywood, comedy and cheesy elements aside, I think the story is told quite beautifully. And how could you go wrong with Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy? I’m not usually big on sci-fi films so the elements of the story surrounding the little flying saucer repairmen is just a novelty to me, and not the focus of the story or the film. It’s fantasy-based but the conclusion is a victory for those of us who are sensitive to the plight of average people and those of us who are architectural preservationists.

Q6. I know you hate to speak before a group about your films.  How is it that you spread the word about watching these films and that they’re cool?  Do you get word of mouth at your shows?

Well, I wouldn’t say I hate doing it. It’s taken me a few years to get comfortable with it, and I don’t have the gift of gab in general, so it’s always a bit of a challenge. The word about my work and shows is spread through a lot of online promotion, word of mouth, and carefully written programs given out to attendees of a screening.

Mr. Stathes unspools another of his spotless original prints for an unsuspecting audience.

Mr. Stathes unspools another of his spotless original prints for an unsuspecting audience. (Photo by Joel Esquite)

Q7. Your site is called Cartoons on FILM.  Why are you so into FILM when most people want blu-ray or DVD?  Is there something special about film for you?

I will always feel that there’s something intrinsically charming and special about holding a reel of film and seeing the little individual frames spooled up in a roll. I was born in the VHS age, but became instantly hooked when I saw a projector up close and all the care and mechanical components that went into making the apparatus work. While the technical working of machines isn’t my immediate forte, the joy of running a projector and showing people a movie off of a DVD or digital file is galaxies apart. Physical film and projectors win, hands down. There are always people who are also fascinated with seeing the projector up close and I think that’s half the attraction of my screenings.

Q8. It’s known that I constantly make fun of you.  It’s actually upset some people, so I have to mention it here.  Please state for the record that I really am mean, don’t like you, and am completely dismissive of your efforts.  Feel free to mention the dupe joke if you like (even though I’ve had to declare a moratorium on it.)

If you’re really truly mean, then my name is Senator Al Franken. You and others also call me Senator constantly. I can’t win! People should know that you’re only [half] kidding when joking about my spotless original prints.

Q9. I’m aware that you especially like Disco music, which is an “art form” that I really do find vile and disgusting.  I’ve often said that those of us who lived through the 70s are embarrassed about Disco.  We don’t want to celebrate it at all.  Just because this is your time here, please pick a relatively inoffensive Disco tune and I’ll post it with your comments about it.  Lawrence Welk covers of Disco tunes are not to be discussed.

Oh, no need to torture you any further with a specific disco tune or my thoughts about it. All I’ll say is something I’ve said before: Not everyone who lived through the 70s is embarrassed about Disco. Sure, there was a lot of tackiness about some of the music within the genre and some of the culture connected with the music, but that’s true for most popular genres of any media. I think the tipping point and the reason a lot of people were annoyed by it is because it went overboard and infiltrated too many corners of life, rather than remain one genre of music and culture that you just heard about once in awhile outside of being a true disco king or queen in constant immersion. Some of it is very beautifully orchestrated music with a catchy, clean beat or melody. For me there’s a sentimental aspect to it and it’s one of several kinds of music I like. Get down on it and dance, dance, dance Dr. Film!

Q10. I hate it when people interview me and don’t really understand the point of what I do.  What important question did I not ask you, and how would you answer that?

I think you got everything down pretty well, since you have a practically perfect understanding of what I do. I think there are two remaining questions: A. Where are you going from here, and what else do you want to do? B. What are some challenges involved in being an independent archivist and exhibitor?

My answers: A. My basic long-term goal is the same as it’s always been. Find, reunite and preserve as much silent-era animation as possible in one location. The additional things I want to do include finding more ways to get these films out to larger audiences, which includes home video, hopefully more broadcasts, and possibly some “modern” things like streaming, while retaining some sort of control and a method for making some kind of revenue. I’m not employed by an archive or university so, as you know, guys like us need to have a sort of proprietary lordship over the films we work with, even though our mission is to share them with the public as much as possible. B. Well, I just answered part of that question already! The only other thing I’ve had to learn is how to be my own promoter. Again, being independent means I have to promote, promote, promote, almost all on my own. I hope my friends understand that I’m posting about my shows and projects on social media all the time because that’s the only way I can keep it going and stay afloat, not simply because I’m obsessed with the medium. In my non-film walk of life, I barely even get into discussions about my work or film with the general population. I may be a showman and put on public events but if you ran into me in the street and had a chat with me, you would never know I do this sort of thing.

A shot from How Animated Cartoons are Made

A shot from How Animated Cartoons Are Made

Posted in Views and reviews | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

The Ghastly Skeletons of Paul Bunnell

I know I’ll get some complaints here.  “Hey, you just did a blog about that Blamire guy! Do something else!”  Well, I haven’t sold my soul to Larry Blamire or to Paul Bunnell.  I promise that I’ll write blogs about other topics at some point.  Right now, I’m deep into the National Film Preservation Foundation restoration of King of the Kongo, so when someone tells me that I can get a new article, that I don’t have to do anything, and that it has to do with film and history, well I have to post it.

And besides, Paul and Larry are making films that I particularly enjoy, and Paul even sees the light about real film.  (Larry, not so much, but we’ll work on him!)

Paul’s film The Ghastly Love of Johnny X is one of those independents that was shot with love as a tribute to the films of the past.  I particularly enjoy Paul’s description of Kevin McCarthy.  The more I hear about Kevin, the more I regret that I never got the chance to meet him.  He sounds like a really amazing guy.

And, while I’m on the topic, Larry Blamire’s Kickstarter project to fund The Lost Skeleton Walks Among Us is winding down.

So, while I’m on enforced hiatus from the Dr. Film blog, here is an interview with filmmaker Paul Bunnell by filmmaker Larry Blamire.  Can you get any cooler?


Paul Bunnell (left) and Larry Blamire check each other for melon-oma.  (Lost Skeleton Returns Again)

Paul Bunnell (left) and Larry Blamire check each other for melon-oma. (Lost Skeleton Returns Again)

LARRY: Paul, The Ghastly Love of Johnny X is such a refreshing blast of entertaining individuality. Can you recall a singular moment in time when the idea for it was born? Or was it a gradual birth, like a kind of slow mental ooze that happened while you slept?

PAUL: There was not a singular moment in time the idea was born, although that would have been wonderful!  It wasn’t a slow mental ooze, either, and to be honest, thinking about it probably disrupted my sleep.  It was more like a caterpillar, in that the basic idea came to me, not fully formed, but inspiring enough that I started filming.  Then, as you know, production went into a sort of stasis, or cocoon, to follow my metaphor, during which changes were made to the style and the story.  Finally, quite a bit later, the finished film emerged as a beautiful, wacky, black and white butterfly, still bearing a resemblance to its beginnings, but quite different from the original concept!

LARRY: Are you concerned about the current glut of Dark Comic Sci-fi Musical Romances?

PAUL: Actually, I’d be thrilled to see many, many more Dark Comic Sci-fi Musical Romances.  The world could always use more entertainment, and GLJX, of course, is ready, willing and able to lead the way!

LARRY: The film seems to take place in an alternate reality 50s, yet it’s very consistent that way. How did you describe its world to your cast, designers, etc., without them doubting your sanity?

PAUL: There was never any question; my sanity was doubted since day one. I had very specific ideas for sets and props and wanted to give the film an artificial studio look without being condescending or cheesy.  One of the things I wanted to replicate were the craggy exterior sets from Bride of Frankenstein. I told my production designer: “You can mess up the other sets, but no matter what, get this one right!” It was a challenge to achieve the desired effect for the money we had to work with, but Lawrence Kim figured it out and my hat will forever be off to him. By the way, where is my hat?

LARRY: Talk about your casting process; any cattle calls? Mostly folks you already knew?  [Ed. Note: In show business parlance, a cattle call is “a theatrical audition at which many performers are seen only briefly, often in groups.” Just in case you didn’t know.]

PAUL: Some I knew, some I didn’t. I discovered one of the gang girls working at a coffee shop. She was this striking beauty with classic features. I told her about my upcoming movie AND that I was married. I didn’t get a date, but she did happen to call me about a year later when I was casting and I gave her the role of “Annette.” I discovered another Ghastly One at a nightclub in Los Angeles; Morris Everett was the real rockabilly deal, complete with tattoos and a zany personality, so he got the part. Finally there was a very good friend of mine, David Slaughter, a fellow film aficionado who was rather critical of my movie That Little Monster. I put him in GLJX so he would have a birds-eye view of the struggles it took to make a movie. To this day he has never negatively criticized GLJX. Everyone else auditioned for their roles through the casting call process, except for Mr. Projector (Aaron Ball), who will always be invited to appear in every movie I make.

LARRY: Creed Bratton is particularly terrific–how did he become involved?

PAUL: It’s a funny thing to admit, but I had no idea who Creed Bratton was before I cast him. I was trying to get my friend George Chakiris (yes THAT George Chakiris from West Side Story) to play Mickey O’Flynn. He was on the fence about it. I then met Paul (Phantom of the Paradise) Williams and decided he would be absolutely perfect to play Mickey – and after a couple of meetings he said YES! Four years later when I finally got the money to finish shooting, I contacted Paul but couldn’t get his schedule to correlate with ours. I went to my casting director for ideas. She put out a notice and received hundreds of submissions, one of which kept finding its way to my attention. That “one” was Creed Bratton. His agent mentioned The Grass Roots and that he was the real deal from the sixties and so on. I decided to meet with him to discuss the role. During the meeting I mentioned I didn’t own a cell phone. Creed immediately took his phone out of his pocket and threw it into a nearby tree. I knew at that moment he was going to play Mickey O’Flynn. Happily, Paul Williams was able to give us one day and agreed to play the talk show host. His scene was shot on the first day, which also happened to be Creed’s first day. At the end of the day Paul took me aside and complimented me for casting Creed, saying how perfect he was for the part. I had to admit he was right.

Creed Bratton as Mickey

Creed Bratton as Mickey

LARRY: We’ve each had the pleasure of directing the wonderful Kevin McCarthy. Was he just as quiet and reserved on your set?

PAUL: No. He was actually quite feisty… in a good way.

LARRY: Okay, I was kidding right. He was wonderfully insane on our set.

PAUL: That’s true .. and I had the pleasure to witness the insanity when you filmed his cameo in Trail of the Screaming Forehead. What a fun day that was!  When Kevin came to film his role in GLJX I was a bundle of nerves. I just wanted to please him, but everything seemed to go wrong that day. The 35mm camera stopped working and we had to send out for a replacement; this shut us down for a few hours. Kevin kept suggesting changes in the script. One thing he didn’t like was revealing the resurrection suit at the beginning of the movie. He also re-wrote some of his dialogue, which I happily approved. Oh, and that wonderful hat! Kevin thought it would be a good idea for his character to have some kind of a hat and I agreed. A week later I received a magazine clipping in the mail. It was a caricature of the rock band DEVO wearing their signature hats. Kevin drew an arrow to the hats and wrote: “These look interesting.” I thought it was very funny since I was sure he had no idea who DEVO was. The idea was so inspired that our costume designer (Kristina West) created a modified DEVO hat for his character. All thanks to Kevin!

JX Bunnell & McCarthy

Kevin McCarthy (in Devo hat) being directed by Bunnell (left).

LARRY: Kate Maberly’s delightfully wacky in this. Can I say “delightfully wacky”?

PAUL: You bet! Any actress from the UK who can play an American valley girl is the mutt’s nuts — that’s British slang for “delightfully wacky.”

Kate Maberly is like a valley girl.

Kate Maberly is like a valley girl.

LARRY: How tight were you to the script? Any improv?

PAUL: Occasionally I would call out “Start Acting” instead of “Action”.. but for the most part we stuck to the script. The only time we veered was when Creed Bratton or Paul Williams was on set. They came up with quite a few zingers, most of which made it into the final cut.

LARRY: Paul Bunnell: fun to work with? Or Fritz Langian nightmare?

PAUL: I always try to keep my sets fun and positive. There was only one “incident” where I lost it with a pushy Assistant Director. I guess he didn’t understand my Langian working method.

LARRY: Did your concept of the film shift at all over the period of making it?

PAUL: Somewhat. The script was heavily revised and re-written during our six year “hiatus”. In the original story there were two concerts and Mickey O’Flynn was the villain. This changed and Mickey became more fun loving and cartoon-like.  I then added the delightfully wacky Dandi Conners character and the big set piece at the end. A major change was the musical aspect itself. Originally GLJX was NOT a musical – not until I brought Scott Martin on board to write some songs for Mickey O’Flynn. I liked them so much that I decided to add a full blown musical number in the diner. That one turned out so well that I decided to add more songs while waiting for our money. If it wasn’t for the six year break there would only be a couple of songs in the movie – and if it took any longer we might have had more songs (or no movie at all).

johnnyxonesheet-web-xlLARRY: I know you’re passionate about shooting on film–and it looks gorgeous–can you see any circumstance where you would try HD? (come to the dark side, Paul… come to the dark side…)

PAUL: I believe that film is still the best way to capture the image. I finished GLJX without using a digital intermediate and made a few 35mm release prints from the original camera negative. I also made a beautiful 2K DCP (Digital Cinema Package) version of the movie. Both versions are beautiful to watch. If you don’t have a skilled 35mm projectionist there is always a chance something could go wrong with the presentation (missed changeover cues, focus issues, etc.). But with digital projection there is a controlled presentation every time which reduces the odds of something going wrong. So for today’s modern audiences I would prefer to have it seen digitally in a theatre, but for myself, I prefer the look of the 35mm print.

LARRY: How did you get the last of the Eastman Plus-X Negative Film? Burglary?

PAUL: I started filming 2nd unit stuff for GLJX in November 2002 on Kodak 35mm Plus-X black-and-white film stock and continued with it in 2004 when the actors came on board. Then there was the long break between filming and a lot was changing in the industry during that time. When we finally got the money to finish in 2010 I heard that Kodak had just discontinued their Plus-X stock. Luckily there was a small amount of Plus-X in various Kodak facilities, but it was going fast. It seemed that every filmmaker was buying up whatever they could get their hands on. My sales agent pulled some strings and got us just enough to finish the movie with some rolls coming as far away as France.  So that’s how GLJX became the last 35mm feature film shot entirely on Plus-X.

LARRY: Were you a monsterkid? Come on, ‘fess.

PAUL: I used to watch all the classic monster movies every weekend on “Fright Night with Seymour” .. so I guess you could call me a bonafide monsterkid.

LARRY: What was the first movie monster that ever scared you?

PAUL: For some reason I remember being creeped out by War of the Gargantuas. By the time I got a color TV set I was over it .. but that wasn’t until I was 40.

LARRY: Off the top of your head, give me five films that influenced or affected you greatly, but not in alphabetical order?

PAUL: How about in year of release order: Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights (1931); James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935); Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937); Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958); and Stanley Kramer’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).

LARRY: Who’s your favorite painter?

PAUL: Earl Scheib (he painted cars when I was a kid).

LARRY: Did you make home movies as a kid?

PAUL: Yes. I made my first one in 1974 on super 8mm film with no sound. My first “talkie” was a year later in which I played the role of “Count Dracula”. I followed it up with “Bite of the Werewolf” featuring a classic Don Post mask. I made a total of 22 films during the 1970s-1990s

LARRY: Loved the talk show scene; a good example of the film’s High Strangeness. Is surreality a goal of yours? Or do I just see what I want to see?

PAUL: I love the surreal. The sound designer had all this canned laughter and applause that sounded like it was coming from a huge studio audience. I decided it was way too much and dialed it back to almost nothing. I wanted to give the scene a feeling of awkwardness. I wanted the sound of the actual audience watching GLJX to be the laugh track. It was probably a risky choice, but I think it works and helps give the scene a High Strangeness feel.

LARRY: The score is fantastic. Nice to see the Moon-Rays involved. Tell us about Ego Plum and Scott Martin.

PAUL: Ego Plum and Scott Martin are a couple of multi-talented musicians whose work compliments each other nicely. Scott is a classically trained composer who writes his score on paper, like Amadeus did back in the day. He rehearsed the singing parts at his house and was present for all the recording sessions. He really is quite brilliant. Ego Plum is one of those self-taught musicians with a great ear for arranging and composing music, although I’m not sure about his other ear. He orchestrated and performed the music for Scott’s songs, which gave them a unique sound. He also composed the film score which took several months to complete. I was usually there for the sessions and helped out with bongos, phone books and bicycle tires. The Moon-Rays title track is a delight and pretty much encompasses all things musically ghastly, but in a good way.

LARRY: The production numbers are ambitious and very nicely done. Nightmare to stage or Fun Time; you decide!

PAUL: I usually had a vague idea for staging but wasn’t completely sure until I surveyed the set. I would walk around the sound stage with headphones and listen to the songs before filming. The choreography was worked out well in advance with ample rehearsal time. For the numbers I worked with choreographer Carolanne Marano and let her co-direct with me. This method worked really well and I think the quality shows on the screen.

LARRY: I remember seeing That Little Monster first listed in the Sinister Cinema catalogue and being intrigued. Talk a little about how that film came about.

PAUL: I wrote a script for the television show Monsters with high hopes of getting my directing career started.  I met with producers but there was little interest so I decided to make it myself. TLM turned out to be more of an experimental art film with an appearance by Forrest J Ackerman at the beginning and a cameo (his very last) by Bob Hope at the end.  I never got directing work based on its odd nature but the Sinister Cinema and Elite Entertainment releases did get me some much needed press. It was then I decided to make GLJX. Like TLM I decided to shoot mostly on weekends. This went on for five months until the money ran out. I was just about to give up after trying unsuccessfully for six years to raise finishing funds when in the eleventh hour a former grip on TLM (and good friend) Mark Willoughby came to my rescue! He financed GLJX and was quite pleased with his promotion to Executive Producer. Who would have thunk it?

LARRY: Radiator girl from Eraserhead? True or false?

PAUL: False. She is actually known as “Lady in the Radiator”.. but if you’re referring to De Anna Joy Brooks’ expanded cheeks makeup in GLJX, this was not inspired by Radiator girl.

LARRY: What are distribution plans?

PAUL: We had a small theatrical release and quickly became known as the lowest grossing film of 2012. Strand Releasing became our official distributor in 2013 and released a beautiful DVD edition, chock full of exclusive bonus features.  Also, GLJX is currently available to stream on Netflix.

LARRY: Can you give us any clues about what’s next for you? Already working on other projects?

PAUL: My next movie is called Rocket Girl; about a young girl’s adventure on Earth in the futuristic year of 1967. There’s also a bio-pic about 1960’s pop icon Tiny Tim. But the one I’m really itchin’ to do is a reimagining of Victor Hugo’s The Man Who Laughs.

[Ed. Note: It’s interesting to hear these guys gush on about The Man Who Laughs.  I was a contributor to the Kino DVD of that film.]

LARRY: Okay, that is way cool. One of the first movie monster paintings I ever did was one of (yeah, I know he’s not really a monster) Conrad Veidt’s startling images from the 1928 film. Not to give too much away, but would it be a period piece?

PAUL: My version of The Man Who Laughs will be reimagined to take place in a 1930s mythological setting; more of a fantasy driven fairy tale than an authentic period piece.

LARRY:  Sounds like another piece of unique entertainment from the mysterious mind of Paul Bunnell!  Thank you very much for the interview, Paul.  This has been perfectly ghastly, but – as you say – in a good way!

jx poster_style d


Just in case you missed all the hyperlinks, you can read more about Paul Bunnell’s Ghastly Love of Johnny X here.

Larry Blamire is trying to fund his next movie, The Lost Skeleton Walks Among Us here.

And, if you’re a first time reader, this blog is promoting a classic film TV show that I’ve been trying to launch for years. It’s here.

Posted in Views and reviews | 3 Comments

10 Questions With Larry Blamire

Back in 2003 or so, Mike Schlesinger was promoting a trailer for a movie that Sony had just picked up.  I saw the trailer and howled with laughter.  Mike told me that it was a real trailer for a real movie.  I asked him if the filmmakers could keep that pace up for the length of a whole feature, and he assured me that they did.  It was a little film called The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra,  and I bugged Mike mercilessly to find me a theater where it was playing.

Making a movie is a tricky thing, and independents doubly so.  It’s almost a delusional state, or a psychological malady.  You need to have a crew of at least a dozen people working together on a project that the odds say may never be seen outside of the 2am-4am time filler slot on TNT.  Most don’t make money, and most lose their investment entirely.

This is why I’m often enchanted with the can-do spirit of 1950s filmmakers.  As much as we like to make fun of him, Ed Wood was a successful filmmaker.  He beat the odds.  He got films made and released.  Roger Corman was and is a successful filmmaker.  His films hit theaters and TV.  Were they silly?  Sure!  Cheap?  You bet!  But they got made… and the directors came back to make more.  I’d guess that 90% of movies that are started are never finished, and maybe half of those that are finished are ever released in some fashion.

I sensed an immediate bond with writer-director Larry Blamire’s creation when I finally got to see it.  A lot of people don’t really understand what he was trying to do.  The most clueless critics (I’m not going to link to a clueless review… find it yourself) say that Larry is spoofing 1950s-60s movies and making a deliberately bad film.  He’s not.  He’s making a tribute to those films, and he’s even limited in much the same way they were.  Sure, it’s funny, and it’s a little more over-the-top than the originals were.  But it’s clear that Larry loves movies, low-budget or not.

One of the marvels of Lost Skeleton was the way Larry aped that poetic but tin-eared dialogue that we know so well.  Ed Wood is famous for it, but you can hear it ring through epics like The Conqueror and most of the Roger Corman films of the period.  It’s the sound of “Get it done by tomorrow morning so we can shoot this.”  Larry nails it.

And it takes a special kind of actor to be able to read that sort of dialogue without sounding like he’s an idiot.  John Wayne couldn’t do it, but Charlton Heston could.  Lyle Talbot did it in Glen or Glenda.  But all of Larry’s talented stock company does it brilliantly.  It’s a joy to watch these folks tear their way through the film, with innovative reaction shots, and clever but not-quite-hammy portrayals.

When Larry premiered Lost Skeleton Returns Again at a convention in Kentucky,  I drove for several hours to see it.  I did it again to see his cut of Trail of the Screaming Forehead.  (I even resisted the chance to throw spitballs at Mike Schlesinger when he won the Rondo award, and that was self-restraint, people.)

But now Larry is spearheading a brilliant and innovative Kickstarter campaign to make the third Lost Skeleton film.  I couldn’t let this opportunity go without talking to him about it.  Most Kickstarter campaigns are pretty static and dry (like mine was),  but Larry has a new video or hook every couple of days.  It’s quite cool.

For the record, The Lost Skeleton Walks Among Us is a project I endorse wholeheartedly.  But then again, I’m that guy who has a popular blog for a TV show that he can’t sell!  Still, we all must do our part, and this is mine!

I INTERVIEW NOW!  (Did you see what I did there?  Well, if you didn’t, then skip it.)

Writer/director/actor/producer Larry Blamire

Writer/director/actor/producer Larry Blamire

Q1. You’ve done some clever satires of popular genres.  Your first picture was Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. That’s been discussed to death, but I’d like to talk to you about the pictures that inspired it.  It has a very Bert I Gordon/Roger Corman/even 50s Universal feel to it.  These pictures have a feel of “Wow, these poor guys had nothing to work with.  It’s amazing that the film even got finished.”  You seem to celebrate that spirit.  Would you discuss that feel of 1950s filmmaking and maybe give us some films that gave you some inspiration?

LS1LB: I wrote a play in the late 80s, a comedy-with-heart called Bride of the Mutant’s Tomb that had an Ed Wood-like director scrambling to finish his film in Bronson Canyon while everything seemed to go wrong.  I didn’t realize that would be me several years later.  Although everything wasn’t going wrong for us of course, it was still a mad scramble and that now almost seems a “method” approach to what we were emulating.  My relationship with 50s low (or medium) budget scifi is complex; I chuckle with respect.  That is to say no matter how unintentionally funny some of them were (and plenty weren’t) I still admire that they got it done.  It’s almost heroic.  And I love when a film like my oft-mentioned Attack of the Crab Monsters conveys genuine atmosphere, a sense of doom.  It’s crazy.  They often touch a surreal vein in me, the incongruous imagery they present, whether consciously or not.  The reversed footage of The Blob running up the old man’s arm, giant eyes crawling around snowy mountaintops, even that skinny big-headed monster in Fire Maidens of Outer Space lurking in a lush natural Eden-like setting.  Unconscious strangeness is still strange.

Q2. I really loved that your sequel to Lost Skeleton was not just a rehash of the original, but it was a much bigger-budget production that went in a completely different direction.  From an artistic standpoint, tell us how you like to approach the idea of sequels.  I know that a lot of the 1950s sequels don’t do a good job of changing direction and become rehashes.  One particular film that does it well is Revenge of the Creature, which is quite a different film from the picture that spawned it, Creature from the Black Lagoon.  On the other hand, the Godzilla pictures really started to get old quickly after a promising start.

LS2LB: I agree.  And Revenge of the Creature is a great example.  I enjoy that film as much as the original (though every time I watch it I do want just a little more monster-on-the-loose action).  I do dislike sequels that rehash.  I only did the second Lost Skeleton movie because I had a different idea, and I went from dead set against it to “I gotta make this movie.”  Even the music reflects something entirely different; from the low budget scifi style production music to the Herrmannesque feel of Morgan and Stromberg’s score.  I love both but the latter reflected the matinee adventure perfectly.  Expedition, jungle, monsters–I still love that formula.  And guess what–it still worked for my favorite Jurassic Park movie, Jurassic Park 3, another example of a sequel treading different ground.  Hell, it was more fun than either of its forerunners.  Do a sequel if you have something different up your sleeve, otherwise don’t bother.

Legendary Bob Burns with gralmanopidon (Frank Ippolito) for Lost Skeleton Returns Again

Legendary Bob Burns with gralmanopidon (Frank Ippolito) for Lost Skeleton Returns Again

Q3. As everyone knows, you’re currently trying to finance the third Lost Skeleton movie, which I understand is a departure from the last two.  Your Kickstarter campaign is really brilliant.  What did it take for you to get this going?

LB: Well, thank you and it’s taken a lot of work.  I tried to start it up last year but I was taken away by other projects.  Several months ago I began making the videos that I felt were necessary to try and get across that we do some wacky and different stuff.  It started with the “lost” footage from the original “silent” Lost Skeleton, which was created to be only one small part of the faux documentary A World Without Lost Skeleton.  And that piece was a (something) load of work for me, some pretty intensive editing.  But I have to say I was as happy with the outcome as anything I’ve created.  It sets up the conceit of the Lost Skeleton being at war with me, which I thought might be an amusing arc to keep the Kickstarter interesting.  Add to that exec producer Mark Stuart’s mighty effort with the pledge incentives and you’ve got a lot of work put into this.  As to The Lost Skeleton Walks Among Us, once again the story came to me and presented something very different from its predecessors; the characters living in the suburbs circa 1963, with Dr. Paul experimenting with atmosphereum while a series of “radiation murders” is going on, and the Lost Skeleton moving in next door as he seeks to get his full power back.  It reaches new heights of absurdity, which is always of interest to me.

Q4. You made a number of episodes of Tales from the Pub, which are quite hilarious.  Those are great spoofs of 1950s “spooky” shows, particularly One Step Beyond and even some of the John Nesbitt shows.  I particularly like the way that you have a nasty film-like splice in the credits of every episode, just like a bad syndication print would have.  Can you talk a little about the 1950s shows that inspired you for this?

LB: We were having meetings in Dan Conroy’s basement pub like once a week, looking to plan our next project and it came to me as something of a creative outlet; these perfect little economical pieces that we could shoot on our own and post online just to keep ourselves sharp, and of course have fun.  I’m pretty sure I had just seen a fairly creepy episode of Lights Out (I think it was) called “The Martian Eye” that had something of a claustrophobic paranoia to it.  These were infectious for me; the more I wrote the more came to me–and I really enjoyed the challenge of having to tell a story in just a couple pages.  The cast was game and everyone chipped in wearing different hats; shooting, lighting, etc.  One Step Beyond was probably the closest model, but like our movie parodies I hesitate to add that I really do enjoy that show.  It’s nothing like, say, spoofing something cause it’s “bad”, it’s spoofing it because it’s fun.

Production designer Anton Tremblay with his  old dark house model for Dark and Stormy Night

Production designer Anton Tremblay with his old dark house model for Dark and Stormy Night

Q5. I almost feel that your spoof of “old dark house” pictures, Dark and Stormy Night has too much material to spoof, since it’s never really been done before.  You caught everything in these pictures, from the scheming relatives to the rigged seance, the dumb “wait, that’s impossible” character identity switches, and the hidden gorillas in the basement.  I’d like you to talk about this genre a little and how it inspired you.  Give us some specific vintage titles you’d recommend.

dasnLB: I really do love old dark house pictures–Jen [actress Jennifer Blaire] and I have been known to binge on them–and it’s sad to think we may be (incredibly) running out of ones we haven’t seen (I’m still hoping Columbia’s 1933 Fog, which sounds like an old dark house on an ocean liner, may turn up).  I decided it would be absurd fun to incorporate every ODH setup there is (some of which you mention), combining the will, stranded travelers, washed-out bridge, curse, escaped lunatic, etc.  When Jen and I watch them we have strict criteria; for instance if the night lasts only one act, or if the police arrive and the setting is no longer so isolated, we’re inevitably disappointed.  If there’s no storm, that’s a letdown–at least give us some howling wind for crying out loud.  In fact, atmosphere might just be the most important ingredient for us.  And even though DASN is a comedy I wanted it to have some of that.  Just to rattle off some favorites: The Phantom of Crestwood, The Bat Whispers, Night of Terror, Menace, Rogues Tavern, One Frightened Night, House of Mystery to name a few.  The Old Dark House is wonderful of course, though highly atypical, and Rene Clair’s And Then There Were None is probably the classiest, and a wonderful film in any category.  Of the made-for-TV movie heyday, the best would have to be the excellent but unfortunately titled She’s Dressed to Kill (1979).  Of course I love the alternate venues, like the old dark baseball stadium in Death on the Diamond or old dark movie studio of The Preview Murder Mystery.

Larry with his wife, actress Jennifer Blaire

Larry with his wife, actress Jennifer Blaire

Q6.  I know you’d rather not be typecast as “that Lost Skeleton guy” because you have a lot more ideas to offer.  Please discuss Steam Wars and what you’re doing with that.

LB: Steam Wars is my epic and it’s coming into its own, starting with the first three books of a graphic novel, the first of which is almost at the printer, followed by action figures–all leading up to a movie (and possible franchise).  I’m partnered with Jerrick Ventures on this, which is Jeremy Frommer and Rick Schwartz.  SW incorporates everything I love about big action movies, swashbucklers and cliffhangers and involves massive Victorian fighting machines shaped like armored warriors and manned by crews.  It’s steampunk, though I was developing it before there was such a term.


Teaser trailer for Steam Wars
Q7. Rumor is that you’ve worked a little with Ray Harryhausen… I’ll tip my hand and admit that I am a big fan of Ray’s.  Just because I’m a fan… tell me a little about that experience…

LB: Well, I would never say I worked with Ray (if only!).  However just to have his blessing on Trail of the Screaming Forehead, in that we were using traditional stop-motion, was a thrill for me.  Hell, hanging with him on several occasions was a thrill.  One of my boyhood inspirations and idols, the last true cinema magician.  The Cyclops emerging from the cave in 7th Voyage of Sinbad was a defining moment for me.  I’m proud to have Trail called a “Ray Harryhausen Presents.”

Andrew Parks blazing The Trail of the Screaming Forehead

Andrew Parks blazing the Trail of the Screaming Forehead.

Q8. Trail of the Screaming Forehead is a departure from the Lost Skeleton genre, but a subtle one.  It’s more of a bright Technicolor film, much like some of the color 1950s and early 60s fare. Can you discuss the different artistic “feel” of Trail and what films inspired you on this?  I keep thinking of Invaders From Mars for some reason…

LB: Definitely, as well as Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Small town residents gradually taken over until the heroes become more isolated and paranoid.  I wrote it immediately after the first Lost Skeleton and it just came to me; again, a need to do something quite different but with a similar humor.  This one had no “strings showing” though.  It looks slick and polished, as though made by different folks in the early 60s.  Mike Schlesinger calls it Douglas Sirk meets Body Snatchers or something like that.  It definitely has that look.  Are you familiar with that great book Still Life, with those ridiculously rich color photos from 1950’s movies?  Like that.

I should also mention I’m writing the audio Adventures of Big Dan Frater, with Brian Howe, Dan Conroy and Alison Martin reprising their Screaming Forehead roles in a series of outrageous tales. The great Philip Proctor (Firesign Theater) is narrator. These will be available soon, and ongoing.

(Dr. Film responds: I’m not familiar with Still Life.  I suppose I should be.)

Q9. I know you shoot digitally, which is a particular preservation problem.  The version of Final Cut Pro that you used to cut Lost Skeleton is now unsupported and obsolete!  Do you have any plans to preserve your films so that the master materials are not lost?  (I didn’t make a pun about the Lost Skeleton becoming lost, so you’re welcome…)

LB: Thank you for that.  No, you know, I really don’t.  But I should.  Definitely.

Q10.  I often get interviewed by people who have no idea or understanding about what I do, and I think they don’t ask questions that are entirely relevant to the point.  What question should I have asked that I didn’t ask, or what would you like to answer that I didn’t ask?

LB: I actually really liked these questions because they’re somewhat different than what I’ve gotten before.  The only thing that comes to mind is something like “what are you watching now?” which may or may not be of interest.  I just finished With Fire and Sword, Jerzy Hoffman’s 1999 epic that wraps up his trilogy set in 17th Century Poland, which I found beautifully entertaining and richly satisfying.  It might even edge its way into my top ten favorite movies which changes gradually over time. René Clément’s Les Maudits made it on there not too long ago.  Blowup  may always be at the top for me.

Posted in Views and reviews | 7 Comments

The Artrepreneur in the Lon Chaney Economy

Legend has it that Lon Chaney, Sr. sought a raise at Universal in 1918 and was refused. The studio head, William Sistrom, told him, “I know a good actor when I see one, but looking at you, I see only a wash-out.” Chaney left the studio that day determined to make more money and do more of the work he wanted to do.

Chaney had a problem. He wanted to be a leading or top supporting actor and specialize in odd character parts. No one thought it was possible. They all wanted handsome leading men, actors like Henry B. Walthall or Wallace Reid. Chaney not that kind of actor, and he knew it. He was without work for some time and finally got a break in a William S. Hart western.

chaney

Lon Chaney during the shooting of The Miracle Man, his breakout film

In 1918, Chaney was a single father with a 12-year-old son. This was when there almost were no single fathers, unless the mother had passed on. He had been in nearly 150 films at Universal, and he worked steadily, but he sought something else. He was an artist who wanted to control his own destiny, and he was willing to do what was necessary to make it happen.

Silent film accompanist Ben Model has a word for people like this. It’s a guy who is an artist and also runs his own business. It’s artrepreneur. Part artist, part entrepreneur. Chaney was definitely one, and, really, a lot of artists are, particularly in show business.

Eventually, Chaney found his niche and was able to do exactly what he wanted to do. He even got the sweetest revenge by being hired back to work at Universal, something he always demanded a premium to do. (This is partly why I have always thought that Chaney would never have done Dracula for Universal. He was in a long-term contract with MGM, a bigger, more prestigious studio that loved his work. Why would he slum at Universal?)

As a successful star, Chaney bumped into another struggling actor in about 1925. His name was Boris Karloff. Karloff was walking home from a job and Chaney gave him a ride home. He gave Karloff a bit of advice that he never forgot: “The secret of success in movies lies in being different from anyone else. Find something no one else can or will do–and they’ll begin to take notice of you.”

And, right there is the inherent disconnect in it that faces everyone in the arts: Chaney said you have to be different from anyone else, and yet he couldn’t find work because Sistrom didn’t think he was enough like everyone else. Chaney would have gotten hired, fired, and been forgotten like Reid and Walthall if he’d been as handsome as they were. He had his own idea about his own art.

The artrepeneur has a key task. The world wants to put you in a shoebox so they know how to deal with you. For an actor it’s handsome, ugly, foreign, suave, funny, something. The artist who doesn’t fit into the shoebox (and the most successful ones don’t…just like Chaney said) needs to convince people that his art is worthwhile, even though they might not understand it.

“Gee, I want to play disabled guys, people missing one limb or multiple limbs. I want to play foreigners and villains. I want the audience to be so sad for me that they root for me, even though I will almost always die in the last reel without getting the girl.”

WHAT ARE YOU, CHANEY—CRAZY?

And, in a very real sense, Chaney was crazy. He’d have been much smarter to go off and get a “real” job, like most people did at the time. He wanted his son to stay out of acting and stick with his job at the General Water Heater Company. Really. I’m not making that up.

In the 1920s and 30s, that was a good idea. The chances of making it in acting are incredibly low and you could usually count on a company taking care of its workers (that is assuming that you didn’t lose your job during the Depression of the 1930s.)

But these days, that’s all out of the window. We now live in what I call the Lon Chaney economy. Everyone is in show business. The old model, the one where you got a job, put up with the garbage they fed you for 20 or 30 years, and then retired on a good pension… well, that’s seeming more and more like science fiction.

The new model is this: “I don’t care what your education is, I don’t care what your background is. I care what you can do for me that I can’t find someone else to do cheaper. If you can’t find something, then you’re out.”

Faced with a job market in which one is basically forced to repeatedly audition to stay employed, many workers are electing to chuck the whole thing and become artrepreneurs. Hey, if the world is like that, with no security, then why not work for yourself?

Well, I can’t claim to be as successful as Lon Chaney. I’m hoping to work up to Doug McClure. However, having done this for a while, I have some suggestions:

1) Be versatile. Don’t say, “I’m an artist… I do ONLY THIS.” Your goal is to do your work and eat, so remember that doing things that encourage that goal helps you. If you need to design a web site for yourself, go to stupid parties to meet clients, or figure out how to do your own accounting, then do it. Don’t let it eat up all of your time, but do it. Budget time accordingly, like money.

2) Be prepared for indifference and hostility. You’ll have to answer the questions. “Is this your day job?” “Hey, I know a guy who does what you do, but he works for free!” “This isn’t work if it’s fun. You’re not doing real work.” I assure you, even if you love what you do, there will be a lot of unpleasant stuff around it. Your job, and you must accept it, is to enthusiastically tell them that, yes, you’re crazy, but you think the world needs what you do because….” and really work on that last part.

3) Learn how to recruit help when you need it. The artrepreneur can’t do everything, but he must learn to do some things. You’ll have to do a lot of different things, and do them fairly well, because you’ll start out having no money and people won’t believe in you. One may be good at marketing, another may be good at technical stuff. It’s a good place to start your one key marketing bit, the one only you can do. If you can’t convince another fellow traveler that your work is worth his time, then you haven’t got the spiel down yet.

I’m not going to claim I know all the answers. I’m not what you’d call a great success, and I still struggle with that key thing. People still think what I do should be for free.

What I do know is that more and more people are going to be in my shoes, because the nice thing about the artrepreneur is that he can never be downsized or outsourced. He never works for that passive-aggressive boss like the one in Office Space.

Now I just have to convince people that the Dr. Film show is cool and shouldn’t be free on YouTube. Argh. It’s an ongoing battle.

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One Year Later and the Dust Settles

Last year,  on this very night, I was writing a really cool gag post on London After Midnight.  I knew it would be a perfect thing to post for April Fools Day.  This is also Lon Chaney’s Birthday…

I cooked up an  elaborate fraud and posted it, neither the first nor the last of such things,  and I made it really sound believable.  That was the problem, I guess.

It wasn’t the first one of these I’d done.  I always posted something cool on the old alt.movies.silent newsgroup, but that’s now been overtaken with spam and endless posts about whether Irving Thalberg was the spawn of satan (I kid you not on that last piece… I gave up on it after about 20 of those.)

I’d never done London After Midnight because it’s so obviously bogus,  but I had a couple of nice pictures and a good lie cooked up, and what fun it is for April 1st.

To add to the fun, and make it clear that this was a joke,  I added a news item  about the Dr. Film show being picked up by TCM.  If you follow the blog and the site at all, then  you know that this is something that is likely never going to happen, and that was the whole joke of it.

Well,  the TCM message boards got hold of it, and they went nuts.  I got emails from all over the world, my readership skyrocketed (only for a day, mind you), and people told me that I was the spawn of satan (and here I thought it was Irving Thalberg.)

Of course,  I didn’t post it to the TCM board, and I wasn’t even a member. I had to become a member to post a response to my lambasting.  It was generally felt that I was trying to get publicity for a weak and/or failed web site and that this was going to put me on the map.

Genius idea… wish I’d thought of it.  Didn’t work anyway.

The net result was that my blog posts have gained some traction, but only later in the year, I still get an occasional nastygram from someone on the TCM message boards (which I can’t do anything about), and Dr. Film didn’t get any more recognition than it had ever received… and that was pretty minimal from the start.

Oh,  yeah, there’s one more upshot.  There’s going to be no April Fool joke this year.  I can’t stand the noise.  I had a good one, too.

Last year’s blog:
HERE

And the firestorm from the TCM board (again from last year…  note that this is reverse chronological order from newest to oldest.)
TCM HERE

Will the April Fool return next year? I’m not sure yet, but I wouldn’t count on it!

Posted in Dr. Film's Pocket Rants | Tagged , , | 6 Comments