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My Son the Filmmaker: DV Enables Next Generation of Documentarians

By Pamela Yoder

Thirteen-year-old DV filmmaker Max Ronsebaum. Photo courtesy of

If you want to see the future of documentary film, ­hang out with a 13-year-old for a while. I've just spent the past two weeks prowling my neighborhood with my son Max and the family DV camera. It was an eye-opening experience that made me realize just  how much things have changed since I was his age almost 30 years ago.

When I was 13, I messed around with Super-8 film. It was expensive to purchase, and expensive to process. It had no sound, and the coolest thing about it was the ability to do stop-motion animation films. I did a ton of them.

Max's toolset is DV. It's cheap (if you can snag your parents' camera), it's got amazing color in low light and it's got sync sound. He's shooting and looking at his footage on a flip out screen. He's editing on his laptop G4 on Final Cut Pro. And he's posting his finished videos in QuickTime on his website. No joke!

 Back when I was 13, there were three TV networks. Batman and Get Smart were my media choices. For my son, it's the Web, Internet Messaging (IM), the WB, MTV and DVDs on his computer. Media doesn't come at him; he's totally in control of what he watches, when he watches (thanks to TiVo) and how he interacts with it.

 I asked him what "old media guys" don't get about kids and media. "Kids are sick of being treated like they are stupid," Max declared. "It's an adult's instinct to think they are stupid. Kids want a place they can get real facts––not facts that are bogged down––so they can understand."

When I was 13, media was authority. For Max, a chat on IM is in many ways more relevant and engaging than top-down media. He sees himself as a media maker, not a consumer. I asked him what kinds of films he thinks he might make. "I have a fascination with science fiction and action," he offers. "So I think I would be more passionate about making a film if I liked the idea behind it."

What's extraordinary is that Max and his peers will be the first generation of young filmmakers who will be able to actually turn their dreams into films. And he won't be limited to old ideas about words, pictures, music, animation and real world video.

Max doesn't differentiate between what we now think of as distinct disciplines. "I've done all of them, except directing," he maintains. "I say I'd like to write for a living when I'm older. I like to edit, and I've grown up around and with editors. I go out to shoot all kinds of things; luckily I live in a city that never sleeps, and always has one or two characters on the street. Right now I don't have anything to direct, but I'll give anything a try."

And what about what we do? How does the next generation feel about "The D-Word"––documentaries? Max says, "I feel that they are interesting and can teach you something. Unlike movies and television shows, [documentary] is formed by people's actions, which let in a factor of risk, but that makes it kind of fun."

"Documentary" and "fun" in the same sentence––music to my ears! And that's what the future holds––an audience of makers and viewers that are engaged, enabled and empowered, a crowd with a new visual skill set, and a passion for both experiencing and creating media.

You can see Max and his short film as part of 7 Days in September on A&E on September 7. It's his first work; he shot it when he was just 11 years old. Or see his latest finished shooting/editing project at:


Steve Rosenbaum can be reached at