[Filmmaking A to Z by Vic Alexander]

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Filmmaking is a Journey

It was in Norway when I really started to make movies. I had just gotten a degree in film production from the San Francisco State University, but I hadn't made anything, except for school projects. I didn't know where to get started. There was essentially no feature film industry in San Francisco, and I didn't want to make commercials or industrials. That's what we were trained to do anyway; the Film Department had just split away from the Television, Radio and Film Department the previous semester. Also, I hated television, like most film students at the time.

It was frustrating; I wanted to be a filmmaker like Fellini and the new wave directors. I had no idea how to get started. I thought I knew everything about filmmaking. Well, I knew the theory anyway, but the practice that was something that has taken me all these forty years to learn. The practice is then what this journey is all about.

I graduated in 1970 from film school. A few months later I found myself in Oslo, Norway. My wife is Norwegian. We decided to live in Norway for a while. First week I was there, I looked for a job in film. I asked my wife about the Norwegian film industry. She didn't know too much about it.

I called the Norwegian Film Institute. The number was in the phone book. The head of the film institute advised me to apply to Norsk Film and Teamfilm, two companies that made features. He said that Norsk Film was the state company and Teamfilm was a private company. I called Teamfilm first and they asked me to come by and see them. I went there on Thursday. They looked at my diploma and they even looked over my transcript of record a little. That's the only time somebody has asked to see my transcript of record. I was hired and began working on Monday. "Tomorrow is Friday; why don't you start on Monday." I was flabbergasted. That's how I landed my first job in the film industry.

First day on the job, I was asked to pull focus on a feature film that was already in production. It was one of the Olsen Banden films that Teamfilm made in those days. The actors who played in the movie were famous Norwegian talent; some of them were from the theater. Norwegian films and theater are state sponsored. The movies were guaranteed distribution. It was a great experience for me, fresh out of college. Here I was working on major movie sets a few weeks after I graduated from film school.

After a couple of years working on various movies, I realized that I needed to make movies of my own. This is why I had studied film, why I wanted to become a filmmaker. I began making commercials to raise money for a feature film. I worked at an ad agency. I was able to sell ideas to major companies. I wrote the scripts and shot the commercials. I edited them and placed them in theaters through the main booking agency in Norway. I was young and confident; everything seemed to be easy.

After a while I found some young people who wanted to be in a movie. They even knew about investors. I agreed to do the movie with them. I even had a beautiful Norwegian actress to play the lead. It was my first feature film. I shot the movie with an Eclair NPR. I was the only man behind the camera. I shot and directed the movie like a filmmaker -- the way I was trained at San Francisco State. My soundman was the friend of one of my actors -- hard lesson learned: you don't ever treat sound as a secondary job. I had a hard time editing the movie. The sound problems were insurmountable. I didn't finish editing the movie, but I never give up, so maybe someday I'll have the opportunity to throw something together -- you never know....

After a few more commercials, my wife and I decided to go back to California. Once there, I re-discovered that there was no feature film industry in San Francisco; I didn't want to make commercials or experimental films, so we headed down to Southern California.

I worked at a lab in Southern California at night. In the daytime I wrote a script for a documentary film about my heritage. The year was 1975 by now. We had two children. My wife began working in engineering. She had put me through film school and wanted to act in movie. It was frustrating for her because working in the film industry in Hollywood was different than in Norway. I went to Paris and London to shoot the documentary about my Ashurai heritage. The best museums for Ashurai artifacts are the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum. The money I made from the sponsored movie was small, but it was a great experience.

The following year I worked on Tobe Hooper's second movie after TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. I did some second unit camera, but I didn't like working on independent movies. I decided to work at labs and write my own scripts. The first screenplay was about foreign students and an assassination. It was titled TWO FACES OF YOUTH. I shot and edited the movie by myself using my own equipment: an Arri 2c in a Cine 60 Blimp and the Nagra IV L. I hid the microphone in a tree for one shot. My actors were Scott Sachs, Joan Dykman and Martino Molinetti. I finished the movie and took it to the Cannes Film Market. I released the movie as a VHS video.

By now the year was 1985, and I was looking for projects to shoot. One of the movies that was proposed to me was by a young man shooting his first feature film. He had made a video before and it was not released because it was about an hour short. He had stretched it to ninety minutes via slow motion, but had decided to shelve it. I offered to shoot his movie using my equipment. I ended up hiring most of the crew and editing the movie myself. It was a great experience, but it was a big mistake to work with people who had never made a movie before, especially as the movie came out alright and was picked up by Shapiro Entertainment. The movie was also picked up by Vestron for $75,000 for the domestic video rights and by Samuel Goldwyn for $750,000 for television rights. The movie was sold in and it made a few million dollars. All the money was squandered by the director and his cronies. The success of the movie went to their heads; they thought they had done it. My crew and I ended up with practically nothing -- except for the experience, of course, which was better than nothing I suppose.

I should have quit making independent movies after KILLZONE -- the name of the movie. Then later I thought that by making indie movies with a few older actors (who had seen better days, or who had made too many low budget movies and were now considered B-List actors,) was a good idea. It was not. I should have tried to work in the Hollywood Film Industry and climbed my way up to bigger projects. I could have even directed my own movies, even if it had been with my own money. But I didn't do it. Instead I muddled through as an indie filmmaker. I was called a mini-mogul by Alan Bates of the Los Angeles Times in an article he did about me in 1987.

In 1989, I directed a movie for my wife titled STAR QUEST. She produced and starred in the movie with Burt Ward, "Robin" in the BATMAN series of the 1970s. The movie was completed a few years later. Liv took the movie to Cannes, but it was not picked up by major studios for distribution. Liv's goal is to release the movie as a 3D feature film in cinemas.

I quit indie filmmaking in 1991 for a while and went on to teaching film in Central California at Cal State Stanislaus. I got pretty restless working with just kids at the university. During summer recess, I shot a 16mm movie with some young people around Modesto. I couldn't complete the movie or sell it. It was difficult to shoot a movie in Central California. The foreign market was saturated with them.

[Liv Alexander spots the Morning Star] After September 11, 2001, we headed back to Southern California. I made two movies since I moved back: BUTTERFLIES IN THE WIND, a 35mm feature, again with my Arri 2c and my digital Canon camera for sound. Then I shot another movie with a Sony Z1 -- THE RED QUEEN, starring my wife Liv Alexander.

I'm working on shooting a series of movies about the parables of Jesus now. Over the last fifteen years I've been translating the Ancient Aramaic Scriptures and finally I'm ready to translate some of the stories for the screen. This might end up being the most enjoyable part of my journey as a filmmaker. In fact, I know it will be.

July 6, 2011, 11:43 PM Malibu

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