Monday, December 13, 2010

DIY Filmmakers making their mark

A bunch of people crowd into a suburban, two-car garage. A circle forms around two shirtless combatants as they begin to trade blows.
The crowd urges them on, as the fitter of the fighters comically pounds on the the other one, who is only looking to make some money – by any means he can.
This is not a scene from an underground fight club. It’s a film sequence created by do-it-yourself filmmaker Aaron Manczyk.


Truth be known, Manczyk’s love for filmmaking was nearly stifled. In 2007, while attending the Ontario College of Art & Design in Toronto, Manczyk, now 24, clashed with his teachers in film class. He says that his teacher would reject his ideas.
Frustrated by the lack of creative freedom that school afforded, he decided to strike out on his own. Manczyk began shooting his first feature length film, My Awesome Movie, on a rather limited budget.
“It cost me $30,” he said. “Anybody who says you need money to make a film is a liar and is lazy.”
Working with Zak Tatham and Efehan Elbi in a troupe known as “Family Contact,” Manczyk acknowledges his partner’s creative help, and the fact they provided equipment. “It did cost more money, but that’s stuff that would have been bought anyways,” he said. “If someone wants to make a movie, I think in this day and age, if they don’t have a camera, they know somebody who has a camera.”
The cost of filmmaking technology has plummeted in the past decade. Cameras are relatively cheap. Computers are everywhere and editing software is priced for consumers.
Norman Wilner, a film critic for Toronto’s NOW Magazine, notes that increased access has benefits and drawbacks.
“All you really need now is a decent camcorder and a laptop and you can make a movie,” Wilner said. “And because of the way digital cinema has proliferated in the last couple of ears, you can get that movie screened at a film festival.”
While Wilner generally sees this as a good thing, he’s seen his share of DIY productions that go awfully wrong. Still, he enjoys the simplicity of the DIY film world.
“There are days I’ve come away really energized from something like, two people just walking around Brooklyn (Aaron Katz’ Quiet City).”


Bert McKinley embraces that simplicity.
Even at age 22, he has long been interested in documentary films, so that’s what he submitted as a final project at Ryerson University. His proposal was one of 17 chosen by faculty out of around 170 submissions.
McKinley’s series, The Human Project, stands out for tackling non-traditional subject matter, most notably jarring tales of people who have discovered dead bodies.
“I’ve always kind of been interested in mundane things… or I guess relatable stories,” McKinley said. “In the documentary world at least, I’m not crazy for seeing social justice kind of things, or environmental, which overall tends to be most what’s released.”
McKinley’s film project came in with a higher price tag than Manczyk’s, about $2200, but that included the purchase of new equipment. And like Wilner, McKinley says that there is, in fact, an audience for these films.
“We made it a web series to put up for free on the Internet, and we’ve gotten so much response from people.”
It’s proof that DIY filmmakers don’t need major financial backing to be seen, though it can be tempting.
Manczyk recalls a story where an acquaintance offered Family Contact a five-figure sum to turn one of their shorts into a feature.
“Within a couple times of talking to him, he already had ideas that he wanted – which is fine, but as soon as you start getting... Other people’s money involved, you end up having to sacrifice a lot,” Manczyk said.
While dreaming of making it big, however, creative freedom will suffice.
“Anybody who does it part-time, you kind of want it to evolve somewhere farther, so it can become your predominant thing,” he said. “At the same time, that shouldn’t be the only reason you’re doing it.”

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