FILMMAKER FLASHBACK: WINTER, 1993
Leading up to our 18th birthday, I’ll be revisiting on the blog one issue of Filmmaker a day. Below is Winter, 1993.
In our second issue of Filmmaker, attorney Robert Siegel interviewed Steven Starr, former head of the motion picture department at William Morris who left the agency to produce Tom DeCillo’s Johnny Suede (the first motion picture to star Brad Pitt) and direct his first feature, Joey Breaker. (Subsequently, Starr launched the web video site Revver and produced the documentary FLOW.) Peter Broderick interviewed Alex Cox, and I wrote the cover story on Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant, interviewing Ferrara, distributor Paul Cohen, and the late, great Zoe Lund, who wrote the screenplay and acted in the film. Two other pieces popped out. The first was a dialogue between directors Alex Rockwell (whose In the Soup won Sundance) and Quentin Tarantino (debuting with Reservoir Dogs). The great thing about directors interviewing each other is that the conversations often veer in directions an outside journalist interviewer would never take them. Like this discussion of the video assist:
Rockwell: You find a rhythm of a film in your actors. You’re right, because that’s one of my beefs. You know that trend in Hollywood, “Let anybody direct, we don’t need auteurs anymore.” People get freaked out by that but in the Hollywood system, that’s fucking normal, man! The bottom line is that there really aren’t that many directors because ultimately, you’re right, they surround themselves with great d.p.s, with all these kind of people. So they just kind of sit back and hang out at craft services or look at a video assist. Whereas a low-budget film, you’re forced to deal with your actors because you have to be right there, you have to be part of everything.
Tarantino: I didn’t have a video assist when I did this movie nor did I want one because I didn’t want to run the risk of being buried in the monitor. For me, it’s very important to be, boom, right there with the camera.
Rockwell: I used a video assist a couple of times on In the Soup and I saw right away, man, that the video assists start directing the film.
Tarantino: Oh, you better believe it.
Rockwell: Because when you say cut, all of a sudden everybody–the d.p., the actors if you let them–gathers around that fucking thing and it’s no longer “I think the take is good.” When you say, “Cut,” the attention has to be on the director. The actors should trust you and say, “What’d you think?” But if you use the video assist, the video assist starts directing the movie.
Tarantino: You’re a hundred-percent right. When I do have a video assist, I won’t have a playback!
Rockwell: Once or twice I was wrong and I thought this take was better than that one–it didn’t happen all the time–but the thing was, once in a while it happened and when I was wrong and was proven wrong by the fucking video thing, credibility goes down about five thousand notches.
Winter 1993 also marked our publication of Peter Broderick’s “The ABC’s of No-Budget Filmmaking,” the first in his series of highly influential articles detailing the production methods of a new generation of filmmakers forgoing the typical mid-six-figure indie budgets of the time. Chronicling the making of Nick Gomez’s Laws of Gravity, Gregg Araki’s The Living End, and Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi, Broderick broke down the films into their constituent production elements — like these notes on camera and sound in El Mariachi:
Equipment: Camera – Arri 16S, which was not designed for sound. It was so noisy that it sounded like “it was eating the film, which made us even more careful.” Because the camera was old and out of use, Rodriguez was afraid that it might break down, so he had another reason for shooting as little film as possible.
Stock: Kodak 16mm 7292 and 7284 16mm film. Most shots were done in a single take, sine he planned to reshoot whatever didn’t come out. When everything came out, no reshoots were necessary, “I did a lot of cutting in the camera.” Since he wasn’t shooting sound, he didn’t have to waste film getting up to speed or with slates, and no takes were NG because of sound. They only had a single 400-ft. magazine with a counter that stopped working after 350 feet. Since he didn’t know how much film he had left when the counter stopped, he’d shoot cutaways, dream sequence stuff, and other things that didn’t really matter.”
Sound: Marantz tape recorder and Radio Shack mike. Rodriguez usually recorded two or three sound takes of each line. If he couldn’t sync them with the picture takes later, “I would just do a cutaway to a dog or something else.”
“I recorded everything at the same level so the background sound would match.” He moved the mic closer or further away depending on how far the character talking was from the camera.