make your own:
filmmaking from the margins
by Lenn Keller

Revised. Published in Femme Flicke magazine, and Ms. Film's DIY Guide to Film & Video


What you'll find here, are excerpted journal entries from the production notes of two of my films, Ifé, a 5 minute short shot on 16mm B&W film, about a black French butch lesbian in San Francisco, and Sightings, a 14 minute short, shot on 16mm color film. Sightings is a story about two African American lesbians' humorous attempts to connect romantically. When I was approached by Femme Flicke (a women's film zine) to write about my filmmaking experiences, I was hyped to do it, because as a cultural and media activist, I believe that it's critical to the building of a just society, that the film production process be demystified and thereby made more accessible to women, and all marginalized people. People, who's stories are just begining to be told, and who have not historically had access to filmmaking, be it Hollywood or indie.
About twenty years ago, when there were only a handful of American independent filmmakers, a black filmmaker from Brooklyn, NY, Spike Lee, produced, directed and wrote, She's Gotta Have It. It was released in theaters nationwide, and his maverick filmmaking style changed things on the indie filmmaking landscape forever. It was visually exciting and innovative in it's representation of African Americans. I was blown away both by the film and how smartly it was marketed -- indeed, the gauntlet had been thrown. It's true, I did have problems with some of the sub-text, the predatory lesbian character for instance, and the rape ending, but despite those things, disturbing as they were to me, I was still impressed by the fresh (very hip) African American imagery. I was also impressed and inspired to learn that Spike Lee had written, directed, and independently produced a highly profitable film, on a budget of only about $75,000. In the process, Spike Lee hired a lot of people who might not have otherwise gotten the opportunity to start or advance in their film careers, both as makers and actors. This begged the question, if he can find qualified people of color, why can't Hollywood? However, on the other hand, the story goes that when Spike was challenged about She's Gotta Have It's sexism and homophobia, one of his replies was, " what I did. If you don't like it, make your own..." I have to say, I'm forced to agree. Like it or not, those of us in the margins cannot expect any one filmmaker to address all our concerns, or represent all our dream's and fantasies. So, for all you budding filmmakers, if there's something you want to see on screen, be like Spike, and make it!
Warning! Filmmaking Can Be Addictive
Before we get into the journal entries, let me warn you, making films can be addictive. It's harrowing and exhilarating, and definitely not for the faint of heart. It's a helluva' lot of work, so you need to have a strong vision and the perseverance to see it through. Filmmaking is also both an art and a craft, so if you're interested in making good films, there's an incredible amount to know technically and aesthetically, and you could easily spend your whole life learning. Though some processes have changed with the advent of digital filmmaking, filmmaking has traditionally been a collaborative art (even if you are the director), as there are many roles and functions on a crew. As a filmmaker, you can be a producer, director, writer, editor, cinematographer, gaffer, grip, wardrobe person, set decorator, art director, sound recordist, etc.

There are as many ways to approach making a film, as there are filmmakers, but I'd like to offer a suggestion for those who are just starting out. I worked in several different capacties, including doing script continuity, shooting stills, and as a P.A. (production assistant) on numerous projects before making my first short. And from my experience and observation on those, preparation (planning and organization) was essential to getting what was envisioned onto the screen. Because, when you are on location shooting, things can get unwieldy fast. And, though some filmmakers are known for shooting on the fly, I think it's wiser and more efficient to go in knowing what you're doing. And, you can always deviate from your plan if you have one, but at least for me, the more organized a shoot is, the better. If you dare to read on, continue to the next page. And if you want to skip around, some of the highlights of the journal are Making Ife, Pre-Production Begins, Roll Camera!, Shoot day from Hell!, and It's a Wrap!!

All content © Lenn Keller. All Rights Reserved