JANUARY 15, 2019 INDIE FILMMAKING IN THE RAW
My dreams of having an honest-to-goodness movie career went the way of all things when I gave up acting in Manhattan as I approached 30 and enrolled in graduate school to study journalism, then left the city to settle in the Midwest with my new wife, a university professor.
In Madison, Wisconsin, I wrote a bunch of scripts, came close to optioning one with an LA producer, even wrote a feature-length narrative to produce locally, but at that point, making a professional-quality low-budget film meant shooting on celluloid with a 16mm camera and employing a crew of 3-5 people. It also meant editing out of town, because Madison didn’t have an editing bay. So, budget restrictions kept me from going beyond the planning stage.
Jump ahead 20 years, and I’m a teacher, having found my place in the world, one where I’m doing something productive and, at times, even creative, helping society, yada, yada, yada. You can read my poetical waxing about teaching in a post below (January, 3, 2019).
Anyway, as one friend put it, technology finally caught up with my ambition, and the development of inexpensive digital cameras that gave a film look led me back into moviemaking. No longer dependent on expensive gear, or worried about the cost of developing film stock, I went on a tear. Decades of pent-up energy burst out of me, and I have since produced well over a 100 films, from minute-long web series episodes and short narratives, to feature-length docs. And, at age 64, I’m still churning away.
I’ve made some decent movies, nothing to catch the attention of networks or studios on either coast, but film festivals have welcomed me, as have public libraries. In 2015, I retired from the classroom to concentrate exclusively on filmmaking, and went off on my own to produce In Search of America, followed by a year in Israel where I travelled around the country much as I had done in the US, capturing intimates glimpses of the people.
To produce my first dozen video projects, I managed to find a little funding to hire two-person crews to handle camera and sound. Buying my first digital video camera liberated me even further. So now, funding or not, I can keep making movies. Going solo is not my first choice, as I love collaborating, but I’m an impatient cuss, so when the spirit grips me, I can move.
This brings me to Kids ‘n Cake, the first music video I produced on my own. I cringe when I see all of the out-of-focus shots, but the children’s energy, and the catchy song by Cake, carry the piece well enough to make me smile when I watch it. You can view the video by clicking here.
JANUARY 7, 2019 PUNISHMENT & REDEMPTION
Several ago, I volunteered in a minimum-security prison, working alongside graduate student volunteers teaching literature and writing. Inmates discussed texts and brought in pieces of their own for critiques. I found their commitment to the class, even though they weren’t earning formal academic credit, impressive. Some of the original writing I heard was quite good. Before my first month of volunteering was finished, I knew I wanted to film a short documentary about the students and their instructors.
I waited five months to get permission from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections to bring a film crew into the prison. The wait was worth it. Once my project got the green light, my crew and I gained more access to the facility than I expected, and I wound up making a full-length documentary with the footage we captured. My goal was to offer a glimpse of life inside the prison that was neither sensational nor sentimental. From what people who have seen Dostoevsky Behind Bars have told me, I believe I accomplished that.
One significant thing that has stuck with me since then is something the warden told me, that putting someone behind bars is the punishment. Once there, the system should help the convict improve himself and prepare to return to society as a productive, contributing member. I hope my film helps reinforce that message. Beyond that, I’ll let the work speak for itself. You can make pay-per-view requests through my contact page.
Eventually, I will release Dostoevsky Behind Bars for free online viewing. In the meantime, I’ve have just released Artists In Absentia, a shorter documentary that serves as a sequel to the first. You can view it by clicking here.
JANUARY 3, 2019 COMEDY + COLLABORATION = COMMUNITY
After pursuing a career in the arts for more than 20, first as an actor, then as a writer, I returned to college in my 40s to earn a teaching degree. That was probably the best career move I’ve made in my life. Teaching not only made me more aware of the need for equity and social justice in public education, it turned me into the filmmaker I am today.
Located in one of my city’s poorest neighborhoods, Lincoln School earned standardized test scores that were a constant reminder of the so-called achievement gap. Hard as I worked, my African-American and Latino children typically performed below their white classmates, many of whom were bused in from a more affluent part of town.
One way I sought to level the playing field was through community-building. Another was through enrichment activities, such as singing every day. This led to my first music videos. Hello Eek, a short documentary I produced with a colleague who shared my philosophy of joyful, at times raucous, learning, is a prime example of the kind of community-building I did with my children. You can view it by clicking here.
JANUARY 1, 2019 WELCOME
Welcome and Happy New Year.
Having closed down my Twitter and Facebook accounts last month, I am starting 2019 with this director’s blog in order to communicate more directly with people interested in my work. For visitors, that means there will be no ads.
For me, it means I can avoid the toxic crap that appears on those other platforms, stop obsessing over the number of likes and shares my posts attract, and liberate myself from featuring lame, or abusive, remarks that show how much “authentic” engagement my content generates. In short, this blog will allow me to document what I’m up to without worrying about my popularity.
Anyone who wants to respond to my posts can write to me through the Refuge Films contact page. Perhaps I’ll quote the remarks in full, or as an excerpt. At the very least, I’ll respond in a return email.
That’s it. Thanks for visiting. To check out my Refuge Films YouTube channel, click here.