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What is a 'microfilmmaker'?

When we first started this magazine, there were a lot of folks we chatted with that were a little perplexed by the name, “MicroFilmmaker.” Word purists felt that the name might confuse some folks into believing that our site deals with microfiche (the storage medium for periodicals), which are recorded on microfilm. Traditional filmmaking purists felt that the name implied that our readers shot on film, whereas our readers normally shoot with digital. (Not always, as we've had some impressive low-budget entries from folks who finagled 16mm, Super 16mm, and 35mm for films under $30 K, but, predominantly, they normally use digital.) At best, people were confused by the name, and, at worst, they felt that it implied that our filmmakers were of no account. (I was at one press function where another journalist said dismissively, “Oh, that’s right, you’re with that magazine that deals with those little films!”)

Our readers on the other hand, have embraced the term as one of honor, as well they should. For being a microfilmmaker has a nobility and passion that goes back to the Avant Garde filmmakers and craftsman of old.

With that said, I felt it was important to flesh out where the name came from and why we specifically chose it. That way, the ones who already embrace it, can understand its significance more and those who are still confused, can wrap their minds around it.

The name essentially is a combination of “Micro-Cinema” and “Filmmaking.” While the latter may seem self-evident, it’s not quite as self-evident in the way we intend it.

The Micro-Cinema movement is one that started in San Francisco in the mid-90’s and was designed to do for filmmaking what micro-brewing had done for beer-making. Essentially, Micro-Cinema created a communal sharing of short, amateur-made films in a neighborhood or region amongst friends and relatives. Often times these films would be family films, enthusiastic fan films, or even narrated slideshows. Whatever they were, they had some common elements: they were usually fairly short, they were shot for VERY, VERY little money, they were made using the newest technology that was easily available, they were intended to share with friends and relatives, and they were never designed to make money.

While the communal nature, creativity, and extreme passion of Micro-Cinema was awesome, much of it was low on production value, planning, or forethought. Because people weren’t intending to get their stories out to a wide audience, production value was often quite lax.

That’s why the other word is “Filmmaking.” While the term has come to refer to creating any narrative on a visual medium (not just film), we were not actually looking at this generic a concept when we chose it. Instead, we were looking at the traditional concept of Filmmaking and the structure involved in it. Lots of planning, well-chosen casts, carefully crafted elements, an intent to tell stories to a wide audience, and a desire to turn a profit. Of course, traditional filmmaking has some negative sides in that it tends to be rooted in the past to the point that it won’t try new technology let alone embrace it, it tends to make everything so bureaucratic that passion can get lost, and it tends to need so many people and so much money that stories become impossible to tell that can’t be predicted to reach a large enough audience to fully recoup all the money that these productions cost.

While artistic purists may find the concept of any form of planning or any intent to make money restrictive or vulgar, it only makes sense that if you can be paid to make films, you have the potential to get far better at it as a craft than you can if you can only work on it outside a normal job.

From these two concepts, we crafted the framework for the magazine that would encourage people to make their films, no matter where they were, who they knew, or how much money they had. However, we didn’t just want to encourage them to go out and shoot things in an ill-prepared manner. From personal experience we knew it took just as much work to shoot and edit a film with lots of problems as it took to shoot and edit a film with few problems. As such, we wanted to encourage filmmakers to avoid the common pitfalls found in low-budget filmmaking, like audio issues, bad lighting, acting inexperience, etc.

Essentially, we wanted to help arm a growing movement of filmmakers who are creative, passionate, and can make a film from a very small budget, who at the same time pay attention to technical details like legal concerns, quality production, and the ability for the film to make money (or, at the least, to be a good example of their filmmaking skill). We knew that if we could encourage this sort of mentality in aspiring filmmakers, then we could see a brand new landscape of storytelling, not just in America but in all the world.

So, now that we know what MFM was designed to be, where do microfilmmakers come from and who are they? Well, they come from all over the world, as we’ve had film submissions from every continent (except Antarctica, although we do have a few readers from there). While there are some that come from filmmaking hubs, many come from places that have virtually no film community in their area. One of our filmmakers works in a vacuum cleaner factory in the former USSR, laboring six days a week and shooting on his only day off. He spent two years crafting a film in a crowded city in which he would have to wait until the streets were empty to shoot his film. Another of our filmmakers used to be a Hollywood writer and wrote a number of well-known scripts. However, after he got out of Hollywood, he found he desired to get into directing and could afford to do it via the microfilmmaking approach.

Many of our readers don’t have formal film training, but some have gone to well-respected film schools. Some currently work for television studios, Hollywood, and Bollywood, but they love to make films when they’re off work. In this way, they are most like the early Avant Garde filmmakers in the ‘20’s and ‘30’s, who would work on Hollywood studio pictures and then ask to borrow cameras on weekends to shoot their own films.

Most of our readers use their passion for film to have a production company, both to release their films, but also to gain extra money (which they can put toward their films) in corporate, music, and advertising video work. As to their ages, we’ve got readers who are in their teens and readers who are in their ‘70’s and ‘80’s and everything in between. While filmmaking still seems to drive the passion of men more than women, the number of female filmmakers continues to grow in the microfilmmaking communities.

So what does all this tell you? You can take pride in being a microfilmmaker, because your hands reach into both the realms of Micro-Cinema and traditional filmmaking, with roots buried deeply in the Avant Garde movement of the past. These influences allow you to use the best parts of each of these in your films. So what if people scoff at you because you’re making no-budget “little films”? The microfilmmaking movement is one of the fastest growing movements in the world and, one day, the world of entertainment may well be under our purview. So long as we don’t let our passion water down our production quality, we have the capacity to change everything!

Isn’t it great to be a microfilmmaker in 2008?

God Bless,

Jeremy Hanke
Microfilmmaker Magazine

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