Guest blogger Dan Fiebiger with his hand built “Dan-Cam”, a 35mm motion-control animation system.
Dan Fiebiger Remembers The Center For The Moving Image: A Four Part Series by Dan Fiebiger continues here with Part Four:
By Dan Fiebiger
Andries Deinum’s booming baritone voice, with a thick “Dr Strangelove” Austrian-Europeanesque-sounding accent, complete with occasional rolling “R”s, and dynamic blusterous personally did indeed suggest that he would have made a great Assistant Director on Fritz Lang’s, or anyone’s, movie set. The Oregon Encyclopedia says Deimun did indeed work as a Special Assistant (if not an official union AD) for Fritz Lang during some of Lang’s Hollywood years, as well as for director Irving Pichel and Dutch documentary filmmaker Joris Ivens. When I took classes from Deinum, other than the Fritz Lang reference, he mentioned nothing of his history, nor did I get the further opportunity to learn it, when I had access to him. When we had our one lunch together, he was more interested in hearing my history rather than telling me his, and so I told him, as I’ve told you here in my opening paragraphs of this post, and my early life stories seemed to endear me to him in some way. Maybe he found some kind of kindred spirit from my Germanic-Czech name of Fiebiger. I just don’t know for sure. All I know is that we hit it off and got along pretty well all thru my senior year, when he was around at all.
Denium was the perfect contrast to the soft-spoken Tom Taylor.
(How come there’s no Oregon Encyclopedia page for Tom Taylor?! Someone with more official info about Tom than me should create one.)
Deinum’s love for Joris Ivens’ documentary work became apparent right from the beginning, as he often mentioned him and showed his work. One Ivens’ short from 1928 about a bridge in The Netherlands showed how Ivens shot footage of every aspect of the bridge, “becoming ‘one’ with the bridge” as Deinum described it, with all the detailed close-ups that were needed to show the motors and various other parts for raising the bridge to accommodate ships passing underneath, and give you an idea of the impressive complexity of the engineering that went into the construction of the whole bridge.
It was this same technique I was trying to duplicate with my little Forecourt Fountain film that so unimpressed Tom Taylor. It also influenced my final CMI film, CHANGEOVER, discussed below.
What Deinum was teaching with this “all immersion” philosophy was similar to the Suzuki method of “surrounding and immersing yourself with an all-encompassing atmosphere” method of music education, which Sinichi Suzuki developed for his young violin students, and later became world famous for in classical music education circles.
Much of what Denum might have taught us was not taught, as Denum had a stroke toward the middle of the fall term and was gone for the rest of that term, the entire winter term, and the first part of spring term. Tom Taylor filled in best he could, but had little in the way of teaching us how to write any kind of script, let alone teach us any standardized rules of pacing, drama, formatting, etc., for writing a script of Hollywood standards. I had to be content to learn all that on my own from reading the right books and from gleaning info from my filmmaker friends in Los Angeles when I lived there for one summer in 1983. When Deinum retuned for the third term, he mostly talked about what it was like to have a stroke, and slowly recover from it. So I never learned his history, or much else from him in the way of specific details of scripting or filmmaking, other than what I’ve already mentioned, in spite of his vast knowledge about films and the film industry.
As I mentioned above, Deinum’s Suzuki-style “all-immersion” philosophy based on Iven’s “THE BRIDGE also influenced my final term CMI film, CHANGEOVER, a “double-layer” film about a PSU projectionist running a film about a projectionist who enters his film (it uses clips from Buster Keaton’s SHERLOCK, JR) which was shot in 75 Lincoln Hall where I was now the projectionist for the Portland State Film Committee’s film festivals and other Film Committee screenings. Watching the many varied films in those festivals gave me a wonderful idea of all the great ideas and techniques underground (now we call them “Indie”) filmmakers were doing all around the country, and some other parts of the world. It was all a magnificent companion to the CMI classes and almost like a lab for science and art classes.
CHANGEOVER (1974, 12 minutes, 16mm, color) is based on a true incident of an friend of mine who also went to PSU and worked in the AV department as a projectionist named Bill Marx (no relation to the famous Marx Brothers). Bill also ran some Film Committee screenings and loved to talk about the films with the audiences to whom he had just showed the film. But one day, his audience disappeared before he could get downstairs from the projectionist’s booth to talk, and he was left all alone, a lonely evening that affected him deeply, and so in 12 consecutive days and nights (from concept to final answer print) with no sleep in the spring of 1974, I made a film of the incident with Bill for my final CMI spring term 16mm project, using the Shaw-CMI editing system to put the film together using tape splices. I had no money for an A-roll and B-roll to be re-printed into a color-timed release print as Tom Taylor said I should normally do.
(I’m working on a slow digital restoration of the film as finances slowly trickle in.)
Shot in color and with the benefit of a tight mostly-musical soundtrack, Deinum and Taylor said it was better than they expected it to be based on my one-day-written script, and each gave me a “B” for the term, scant better encouragement than the “C”s I got for fall and winter term 8mm projects.
I had no particular feelings about Portland’s film community in my CMI days. I knew so few people in it, being so busy with my endless school work and my own all-solo films. I never partied, drank, smoked, or did drugs and didn’t just hang out with my artistic contemporaries all that much, unless we were actually working on the occasional project of some kind. I always had the feeling that if I didn’t just go out and do and learn things for myself, nothing would get done at all for me. I’ve always felt alone and thus have been mostly a loner and hermit as a result. Things seemed to pick-up in the 80s when so many L.A. shoots came up making TV and cable movies (and I started working on a list of films shot in Oregon, work still in progress), but so few local people were hired. The big jobs were always being done by L.A. film crews. Access to state-of-the-art film equipment was limited for local filmmakers, and funding opportunities have never really existed at all, forcing most to self fund their productions. All of Portland’s attempts at calling itself a film town are really a joke in my opinion, despite Gus Van Sant’s loyalty to shooting a lot of his films Portland, and Will Vinton’s limited hiring opportunities at his studio all through its existence (even more restricted now that it’s Phil Knight’s Leika studio).
I visited Tom at CMI from time to time during the late 70s when I was in the area and had the time. Deinum was never around when I happened to visit. I saw films made by his students in later years that exhibited far more talent and technical proficiency than me, and most of my classmates. Some of them became semi-successful in the Hollywood film industry for a time.
Two CMI students exhibited exceptional talent and had successful Hollywood careers:
John See, a Theater Arts major (CMI was officially part of the Theater Arts Department), who in the early 70s made a clever 8-ish-minute short film called THE METHOD where a series of student actors doing a Method-Acting exercise try to “become” various vegetables. Using just editing, and voices on the soundtrack, they eventually become real vegetables, literally, sitting on their chairs, until the entire class consists of nothing but chairs containing vegetables by the end of the exercise.
John See formed a comedy troupe in the mid-70s that I got involved with called Savoir Faire. We put on a series of successful small-theater semi-improvizational comedy shows at the YWCA across from the Portland Art Museum and NWFC. See also was the Assistant Director (apparently uncredited) on a 1977 TV movie called “THE SPELL” shot in Oregon. (In the Hollywood film industry system, non-union personnel on the crew routinely didn’t receive credit for their work, regardless of how essential or involved their work was in the making of the film, and the Hollywood union system is skewed to make it almost impossible for new people to afford to join a union to get proper credit.) See then went to Los Angeles and wound up as a writer for the dramatic cop show “Hill Street Blues” in the early 80s and won an Emmy for one exceptional episode.
Another CMI student who found success in Hollywood was Mark Verheiden, who with two other students (I don’t remember their names) made a series of quirky comedy short films at CMI in the late 70s that Tom Taylor let me watch during open of my post-graduate visits, all of which were pretty impressive for this crisp pacing and fresh ideas. I think Verheiden and his friends also took film classes at the NWFC and somewhere along the way made a 16mm black-and-white featurette (about 45 minutes) which was a NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD-influenced zombie film set during the American Civil War. I don’t remember the film’s official title. Verheiden later wrote the successful movie TIMECOP (1994) and was involved in the making of the movie ALIEN VS PREDATOR (2004), and I’ve seen his name pop-up (usually as a writer) in other film credits in the 90s and beyond also.
As Tom Shaw started shooting his own films in the late 70s, and bought and set up a small movie studio on the S.E. corner of S.E. 75th Avenue and Division St. in 1978-9, he took his entire editing system back from CMI and so Tom Taylor had to make do with the secondary editing equipment he had assembled in the smaller editing rooms.
Shaw later went on to make a short comedy film, “BRATS ON THE MOUNTAIN (a 18-minute “home-alone” kind of story where kidnapped kids prove to be so obnoxious that the kidnappers give up on getting any kind of ransom and release the kids), and an unfinished feature-length comedy film, THE GREAT OREGON KIDNAP CAPER, the aforementioned THE COURIER OF DEATH aka THE COURIER, and a second and final action feature film, OPERATION: TAKE NO PRISONERS released to DVD in 1987-8.
Shaw, to his credit, continued to loan his 16mm equipment out to local filmmakers in between (and sometimes even during) his own films. Penny Allen shot PAYDIRT, the second of her two Portland based indie features, on Shaw’s equipment. Gus Van Sant used it for his short films and his first feature film, MALA NOCHE. Steve Lustgarten used it for AMERICAN TABOO, a student Oscar winner in 1983, and Jim Lowry and Phil Roth used it for their 1987 action film, BAD TRIP. These in addition to numerous other short films and even commercials by local filmmakers.
In retrospect, I wish I would have known much more about Deinum’s European, Hollywood, and Portland history ahead of the time I first met him, and that he hadn’t had a stroke that year (1973-4), so I could know what better questions to ask him and learn about the Hollywood system and the never-ending antagonism between the Hollywood system and the Indie film attitude, which would have given me a more realistic view of the trials and tribulations of filmmaking in general, and learn it earlier in life than when I finally learned it randomly on my own. I also wish PSU had taken the CMI department more seriously and given them bigger budgets to work with so they could buy more and better equipment to work with, and pay for lab costs so that filmmakers could come closer to fulfilling their visions instead of trying to make films at a perpetual poverty-level.
As CMI’s budget decreased again, in the late 70s and early 80s, the Northwest Film Study Center (later the Northwest Film and Video Center, then finally Northwest Film Center) took up the slack, and thrived, becoming Portland’s official film school, though always far from the more comprehensive film schools such as NYU (Scorsese, De Palma), USC (Lucas, Carpenter, O’Bannon), UCLA (Coppola), and Cal Arts (Burton, Lassiter). It seems that Portland has always been about 25-50 years behind the times as far as access to state-of the-art film and video production equipment is concerned.
What I always liked best about CMI was its name: The Center For The Moving Image which always sounded and looked real good and very “official” on resumes that I submitted to anyone and everyone to get film work. It even got me some work at the Disney studio in 1983.
I just wish CMI had lived up to its impressive-sounding name (at least for that 1973-4 year) and had had a decent budget and a more comprehensive standardized curriculum. If only PSU had had the vision, foresight, and money to build and expand the CMI department as its own independent department and not an after-thought “wing” of the Theater Arts Department, PSU could have become the premier film school of the Portland area and possibly even the Pacific Northwest, if not the whole country.
Once again mostly on my own, I am struggling to tool-up for digital music and film production, slowly buying and learning the computers that are specialized for music and movie production, a never-ending learning curve and battles with expensive technical problems.
Wish me luck, as I’m 60 years old this year and generally running out of time and energy, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to afford to finish even some of the filmic visions that have been floating around in my head for the past 50 years.
Catch ‘ya later. Bye for now.
Dan Fiebiger Glamourous North Portland, 2012
A 35mm motion-control animation system I built (with help) in the 80s and used for two modest projects (I still have the system):
This concludes Dan Fiebiger Remembers The Center For The Moving Image: A Four Part Series, by Dan Fiebiger
Thank you, Dan Fiebiger, for sharing this history of the Center Of The Moving Image with the readers of Oregon Movies, A to Z.