It was a great evening for anyone who has ever imagined making a film. There I was at a winery, surrounded by rolling hills, and among a group of dedicated movie makers. And yet I wasn’t in Hollywood at all, but right here in Illinois. I was at the First Annual Movie Makers Mixer at Sleepy Creek Vineyards.
I got to talk to Johnny Robinson, a former professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, who was the founder of the Champaign Movie Makers. This group of independent filmmakers is an organization for people of all levels of expertise who want to improve their skills and meet others who also want to make films. Mr. Robinson has made several films, and also worked on Quaint, an original film created by the Movie Makers in the last year. Originally an illustrator by training, he worked as an animator, but finally came back to his early love, live action film.
I, like many people, I suspect, have always thought making a movie would be a lot of fun, but assumed the cost would be prohibitive. In fact, that’s not necessarily the case anymore. Basic equipment can be had for $7,000, which includes $4,000 for a camera. This has made filmmaking much more accessible and caused a great surge in the number of local indie films. There is a shark, though, in the sparkling waters of all this creativity: distribution. Film festivals, where indie movies can break out of obscurity and get distribution to a mainstream audience, are simply overwhelmed by the number of new films. Added to that is the fact that a lot of these movies just aren’t very good. Distributors have apparently taken to asking filmmakers to post their films online, and then only consider the movie for distribution if it gets a sufficient number of hits.
I asked Robinson what he planned to do next. He has lots of ideas but will probably choose a project based on the availability of actors. He said he has learned that it is a lot easier to write a script based on actors than to create a script for which no local actors are quite the right match. If anyone is interested in the films he has already made, they are available through his website.
I also got to talk to Mike Boedicker, who is finishing the editing of a full-length film called Revolting. The story is about a “one hit wonder” playwright whose characters won’t allow him to create a sequel to his one success.
I asked him what the hardest thing about making a movie was and he replied, “wearing all the hats;” he had to act as his own producer, director, writer, photographer, and editor.
Probably because I’ve seen so many homemade (and sometimes professional) videos with decent visuals and terrible sound, I asked him how hard it was to get good sound. He said it was “tough.” Wireless mics in theory work great, for instance, but in reality, whenever actors move, the fabric of their clothes can interfere with the sound, causing static. So instead he had several people doing boom, operating one of those big overhead microphones that occasionally make their way into the frames of films.
Mike also talked about how cheap it has become to make movies. An indie film editor has access to the same computer programs as the professionals do — he named Final Cut Pro as the one he used. You have to have a good computer, but if you do, you can make films using non-linear editing, which sounded to me a lot like the cut and paste capacity of a word processor, and much easier than traditional methods.
Mike isn’t sure what his next project will be, though a horror film is possible. It’s one type of movie that can get distributed without a big name.
Bill Kephart, an actor who was part of the one-day shoot of Quaint, Champaign Movie Makers’ group project, told me the script was also brainstormed in a single day at a café. The editing, though, took two days. The group also made a mocumentary about the filming of the project, which is entitled Quainter.
Kephart also explained that the group is the Champaign Movie Makers not because they make a particularly “Champaign” movie, but simply because they are here together in this community. In other words, the group serves as a networking opportunity for very individualistic people. It also tries to have something educational at each meeting.
To learn more about the Champaign Move Makers, visit their Yahoo! Group.