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The 'Stone Soup' of Filmmaking

When I was growing up, my mother used to make the most delicious split pea soup I have ever tasted. Rather than it being thin and gruel-like, as is often the case with split pea soup, hers was hearty and full of big chunks of potatoes, carrots, and ham. When you ate a bowl full of it, you were left warm inside and very pleasantly full.

What brings up this reminiscent recollection of soup in this April editorial, you may ask?

Well, a lot of people have asked me how Microfilmmaker was started…what purpose it's designed to really serve…and why I think that the team at Microfilmmaker is in a position to actually help filmmakers. I mean, when it comes down to it, just who do we think we are? None of the members of our team are multi-million dollar movie moguls and, as such, there's a question in some people's minds as to the validity of this magazine. Every time I hear a question like this, I am reminded of the Story of Stone Soup.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Story of Stone Soup, it is the story of a wandering beggar a few hundred years ago. The beggar wanders into a small village and, because he's very hungry, he asks a number of the wealthier villagers if they can spare any food. The farmer says that he has no vegetables, the butcher says he has no meat, the dairymaid says she has no milk…in fact, no one seems to have any food at all when the beggar talks to them!

The beggar then sits down in the square and thinks for a moment. He notices a few poor people in the town who are hungry like he is and a few more who have a little food to eat, but not even enough for a single meal, let alone enough to share with him. Meanwhile, the wealthier members of the town don't seem to be willing to help anyone else. As he thinks about these things, he hatches a brilliant plan.

He stands up in the middle of town and announces for all the villagers to hear that he will make an amazingly delicious soup from "nothing more than a few stones and some water." Because of the absurdity of his claim, the entire village draws near to see if he can accomplish it.

"Well, obviously, if we're going to make soup, we need an iron cauldron," the beggar begins. "Can anyone fetch us an iron cauldron?"

"I've got a real big one," one housewife volunteers and scurries to her home to get the cauldron.

"And of course, we'll need a fire to heat the soup over," he continues. "Does anyone have some logs and kindling they could bring for the fire? How about a cauldron holder to let it hang over the fire? Oh, and a stick to stir it with?"

A woodchopper raises his hand to volunteer the firewood while another housewife volunteers the cauldron holder and stirring stick.

"Now, of course, we'll need some fresh water," the beggar explains after everything has been brought.

"I can draw a few buckets of fresh water for you," a young girl volunteers.

"Perfect," the beggar smiles. "After that, I just need a few stones."

As the water is placed in the pot and the fire is kindled, the beggar wanders about the square until he finds two or three stones that look like they're just the size he needs and throws them into the pot.

As the crowd waits expectantly, he points out, "This stone soup is going to be delicious just as it is, but it's too bad we don't have some carrots we could add to it as well, because that always brings out new flavors."

One of the farmers raises his hand and says, "Y'know, I've got some extra carrots I could throw in there, if it'll make it taste better."

When the farmer brings the carrots, he also brings a knife and the beggar proceeds to peel the carrots and slice them into the pot.

After that the beggar sighs, "It's too bad we don't have some beef we could add, because I've always found that beef really brings out the flavor of the carrots in the stone soup."

"Well, I've got some extra beef we could throw in there," volunteers the butcher and he trundles off to get the meat.

As the day passes, the audience goes from waiting for the beggar to suggest new additions and just volunteers new ones themselves, waiting to hear from the beggar if their offerings will improve the taste of the stone soup. To each voluntary contribution, the beggar confirms that this would be "just the thing to bring the flavor of the soup out even more."

By the end of the day, the entire cauldron is full to overflowing with the heartiest soup anyone in the town has ever seen. The beggar encourages everyone to bring as many bowls as they can find and proceeds to serve everyone from the giant cauldron of soup, rich and poor alike.

Soon everyone is contentedly full and smiling widely, amazed by the ingenuity of the beggar who could make "such a filling soup out of nothing more than a few stones and some water."

That's basically what Microfilmmaker Magazine is all about. As low budget filmmakers ourselves, we noticed that it was very difficult to make our films, that we had to learn a lot of things the hard way, and that we were too small to be noticed by anyone who had the means to help us out. As we looked around at all the other filmmakers who were in our predicament, we began to believe that, if we all worked together and pooled our resources, then an amazing 'soup' could be made--one that could even change society. One that could grow so large that it could even attract the notice and assistance of larger companies and benefactors so that, by the end, everyone was much benefited from their association with this filmmaking 'stone soup.'

When I first started the magazine, a lot of people--both filmmakers and companies alike--were incredulous that I thought a bunch of people making films for less than $30 grand could change our society. However, when I suggested that a few filmmakers send their films into be critiqued to be a part of it all, they said, "Sure, why not?" When I suggested to a few software companies that they let us review their software, they said, "Sure, why not?" When I suggested to a few writers that they let us reprint some of their how-to articles, they said, "Sure, why not?"

As time has gone on, more people have come up to the Microfilmmaking 'cauldron'. Now, filmmakers volunteer their films for critique, software companies offer their software for review, filmmakers ask to write tutorials, musicians request to be listed in the magazine so they can let microfilmmakers use their songs in their films, book companies suggest their filmmaking books be appraised, companies volunteer discounts for our readers, nationally published authors contribute original articles, national talent agencies choose to watch our best-critiqued films, arthouse theaters want to show our Editor's Choices, and comic companies ally with us to give no-budget filmmakers a chance at comic franchises and professional storyboarding.

Some folks have come to the 'cauldron' and mentioned their fears that the 'cauldron' might tip over or, eventually, be left abandoned to dry out. I have explained to them that, while nothing in life is certain, I don't foresee there being a problem. For, as more people become involved in our filmmaking stone soup, one day, when our arms get tired of stirring the soup, we will pass the stirring stick on to the next trained soup stirrers who will stir it for a time and we, in turn, will simply eat the soup with everyone else. Then, when those stirrers grow tired of stirring, they will simply pass it on to the next stirrers in line.

So, in the end, when it comes down to the question: 'Who do we think we are?'…The answer is quite simple: We're just a few stone-toting beggars who know how to cook.

God Bless,

Jeremy Hanke
Microfilmmaker Magazine

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