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by P.H. Wells

Pam shoots the bay - Version 2

I monitor my visitor stats on a fairly regular basis. It’s always a relief to see that no one is reading. Sure, I get the occasional visitor who’s looking up “film can” or… “film canister.” Problem is, I’m not quite ready for prime time. I’m a newbie filmmaker.

It started last spring, this impulse to make films. I’d been writing for a long time — several screenplays, a novel, multiple-hat tricks at a small newspaper — and had come on board as an Associate Producer on a friend’s film, A Rendezvous. Then, on Memorial Day, a relative’s 91-year-old mother was featured in a front-page story of her local newspaper as a survivor of a Japanese internment camp in Shanghai, China, during World War II. Yes, I could write her memoir, but I wanted to preserve something no written account can: her voice, her posture, her presence.

So how do you go about making your first film? Well, you can take a class. I took a crash course at the Northwest Film Center, “Narrated By Me” taught by Bushra Azzouz (And Woman Wove It In A Basket, A Midsummer Night’s Dream In Prison), with the idea that by the end of the second weekend with a finished project. See me smiling. Here’s how it went:

First weekend, learn the basics of documentary filmmaking. Plan your project. Share and comment with other students. Oh, and learn how to operate a Panasonic DVX100B camera — a camera! — with two mics, XLR cables, bells, whistles and a tripod. White balance? Gain? Check out equipment.

Monday, interview test subject with said equipment and gather supporting materials (old photos, papers, music tracks, etc.). I should mention that my “test subject” is a 90-year-old woman with her own remarkable story. Tuesday, shoot around town for B-roll. Wednesday, interview test subject’s daughter on location with various surprise elements, such as the guy next door who’s power-washing his driveway. Plan B for A-roll.

Second weekend, learn the basics of video editing. Log and capture — log? capture? — footage into Final Cut Pro 7. Find out that Apple has abandoned Final Cut Pro 7 (but that’s another story). Realize you have over two hours of great stuff you don’t want to stuff into a three-minute student video. Bushra asks me what I want to do. Suddenly I have two films on my slate — Dancing On D-Street and the Shanghai project. Course grade: Incomplete.

A week later, I traveled to meet and interview my lady from Shanghai. We laid the underpinnings of a great story.

Guess I’d already laid the underpinnings of First Straw Films. Just don’t tell anybody. It’s still Incomplete.

© 2011 First Straw Films

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