July 1, 1995

Notes from the Reel World: The Board President's Column, July / August 1995

During the past two years, one of my IDA responsibilities has been overseeing requests for fiscal sponsorship. I've been fascinated by the variety of subjects that a attract the concern of filmmakers. Among them you can find The Art of Making Horseshoes, The Story of Hemp, The History of the Flying Tigers in World War II, Today's American Expatriates in Hungary, and Recollections of Route 66.

For a long time, I've had my own personal obsession to produce a documentary about eradicating graffiti. The sight of tags like VENT, JOKER, BF, ETB, DREX, or CBS ("Can't Be Stopped") on the walls of my office building or buildings around me drove me bonkers, and I used to spend a few minutes every day covering over the mark­ ings. After a period of time, my efforts were silently acknowledged by the absence of tagging in my immediate neighborhood. I had played with the idea of producing a film on the subject, but never came up with an approach that pleased me. Then, several months ago, I read an article in the Los Angeles Times about a man named Joe Connolly who was more obsessed than I was. He actually quit his job in order to eliminate graffiti in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles on a full-time basis. By a strange quirk of fate, my son-in-law, who is a talented writer, was assigned to write a magazine article about Joe. Knowing of my interest in the subject, he got us together, and the minute I met Joe Connolly I knew I had the makings of a wonderful half-hour documentary. Here was the Jack Nicholson of graffiti busters. He could reveal how taggers scrambled up to roof tops, explain the meanings of their tags, show you the best way to eradicate their markings, et cetera, et cetera . Best of all, he could improvise dialogue and demonstrate these things at the same time. For the first time in my career, I became a card­ carrying independent filmmaker, producing a documentary for no reason other than that I wanted to make it, without the promise of an ultimate sale. I hoped it would inspire people to empower themselves in regard to cleaning up their neighborhoods.

Using money from an unexpected windfall, I put the documentary together in three months. In the process, I was pleasantly surprised a t the ingenious ways I found to cut expenses. Best of all, there were no network "notes." Besides the fun of working with Joe, the most enjoyable and interesting part of this exercise was onlining my production on an Avid 8000 at an innovative company called New Edit. I found this to be a major breakthrough in the tedious process of onlining. Instead of slowly putting your program together cut by cut from your various Beta tapes in a linear fashion, you just enter all the shots you're going to use into an Avid 8000, and voila, the entire cut is digitized and automatically assembled. Any additional changes you want to make at this point are done by pressing a key on the Mac. The electronic melange is then put on a D2 tape. This nonlinear approach cuts the time of onlining in half. (What makes this breakthrough possible is the fact that the computer is finally able to reach accept­able standards of picture resolution. The electronic images of your original Beta SP are matched in quality by the electronic images in the computer. To be fair, this system cannot at the present time make complicated titles and graphics. These have to be done at a regular online house. However, Avid is coming up with a new program, called Pinnacle, which should take care of the problem.)

Now that I'm the proud parent of a half-hour documentary called Off the Wall!, I face the more difficult part of this venture: finding a television or corporate entity to distribute this labor of love. But how can they not want it?! I'll know soon enough.

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