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 Three:
Part Three by Dan Fiebiger
The same summer of 1970 when I first met Tom Taylor in the tiny Center For The Moving Image rooms in the basement of Lincoln Hall, there had been an anti-Viet-Nam war protest march where the cops had showed up and bashed head of protestors, Portland’s only riot until the economic riots of the 90s and beyond. Tom and his film students had taken their cameras out to film the marches in 16mm and captured some of the police brutality on film as the police “maced” (pre-pepper-spray) protestors and even some of the camera people, including local news people who were also covering the event. Taylor was always proud to show his film of the event to anyone who would sit down and watch it, which I did when I first met him.
By 1973-4 when I took classes art CMI up on the 3rd floor, Tom had been hired to film a “high mass” (don’t laugh) staged by the Catholic Arch Bishop at Cathedral Church in N.W. Portland. Tom and his crew was hugely restricted to setting up his limited number of cameras at great distances from the proceedings and so no close-ups or medium shots could be shot to use as cutaways for editing. Both the mass and the film were long, drawn-out affairs, with the entire hour-long mass fully captured, each film shot was long in both senses of the word (distant from the barely-moving subject and long in length), creating one of the most boring films ever made. But at least it was in color ! A print of the film probably proudly rests in the archives of the Archdioceses near that Cathedral church.
I took a three-term sequence of ‘filmmaking’ and another three-term sequence of ’scripting’ from CMI for the 1973-4 school year. Fall term emphasized the basics of filmmaking, learning how to use a Sekonic light meter, familiarization with CMI equipment, and other basic filmmaking and editing philosophy and theory. Winter term emphasized actual 8mm filmmaking. We shot a variety of short 8mm B&W projects based on some kind of rough vague theme or idea. We took a couple field trips to nearby areas in the downtown core area, one of them being the newly built forecourt fountain in front of the newly remodeled Civic Auditorium on S.W. 3rd Avenue in between Clay and Market Streets. For the forecourt fountain project, we were asked to film it in “some kind of interesting way”.
I had brought my Minolta 8mm camera that by then I had about 10 years experience using so that I could guarantee presenting something that was in focus and properly exposed. I had also gotten proficient at using the advance lever to shoot single frames, even though the camera wasn’t designed to shoot animation, which gave me some creative advantages over the little 8mm B&H and Bolex CMI cameras that everyone else was using. I shot a series of carefully composed close-up shots of various concrete forms, various parts of the fountain, with the early shots being about 5 seconds in length, and gradually speeded up (shortened) the shots to 4, then 3, then 2, then 1, the half-second, etc., until I was shooting single frames by the last 10th of the 2-minute roll of film. After a flurry of single frames, the final long (double meaning again) shot of the film was the entire fountain, so that the viewer could finally see what the whole thing actually was.
Tom thought the film was a little “too-Hollywood” and gave me a “C” for my effort, and for the term, which devastated me when I thought I was going to surpass most of my fledgling classmates in both concept and technique. Most of their films had huge technical problems (some out of focus, etc.) and showed the filmmaker’s inexperience with a camera. Their’s were all shakily hand-held while I used a small tripod for every shot, for example. I learned that there was no second-guessing audience reaction, no matter how much experience you brought to the project and how technically proficient you might be, and you should never be confident that you’re creating anything that anyone wants to see or experience. I have never had any confidence that I was doing anything worthwhile with my life ever since, confirming my father’s attitude that filmmaking and all the arts was a just a big waste of time and money and I was (and still am) an idiot for pursuing it all my life.
I’ve been equally idiotic pursuing my musical activities also. During most of his weekly visits, my still-living 90-year-old dad keeps asking me “when am you gonna get rid of all this junk” that is my carefully assembled home recording studio that took me 50 years to save up and buy. He always tells me all computer technology is a big waste of time and money also.
Another 8mm CMI project was to “shoot something to show an aspect of PSU”. Again using my frame-by-frame technique, I animated one of the tall white garbage cans (that were just outside the CMI classrooms) moving down the halls of PSU, going into various buildings, class rooms, and departments, and back. (The can was a metaphor for students frantically rushing to all the departments of sections of PSU to keep up with classes.) I also shot a test roll in the hallway near CMI of the garbage can moving to and from the camera and across the camera’s field of view to see what strobing effects the white can would create against the darker background. I was later told the test film was more entertaining than the final film. (All of these B&W 8mm films were left in the possession of CMI. I didn’t not get copies of any of them. I don’t know if any of them have survived.)
For the third and final spring term, we shot a 16mm synk-sound sequence with the Auricon camera re-enacting a short bit from a mid-30s Marx Brothers film (I forget which Marx Brothers film). A guy named Matt (forget his last name) with a sense of humor and love for the Marx Brothers was the director. The “set” consisted of a small trap door mounted at head-level in a real door so that two “Marx Brothers” could do a vocal routine thru the small door. I was put in charge of sound, since I could get access to a couple semi-decent microphones from the AV dept. (And even then, they weren’t the right kind of microphones for film production, since CMI had no Senheiser shotgun mike that would have been the right thing to use, and so the soundtrack was full of boomy excess room-ambience, muddying the voices, and barely understandable for the usual lack of frequency response of the 16mm magnetic film recorder.) The whole thing was just an excuse to learn and use CMI’s best equipment and if anyone is in his right mind, the film has been destroyed and a stake has been driven through the director’s heart.
What was best about Tom Taylor was his soft-spoken (and under-spoken) nature and personality, which was not the least bit intimidating and thus encouraged students to a ask any (and any number of) questions. This warm, gentle presence that was so characteristic of Tom made him perfect for his later non-PSU work running a media center for novice seniors who wanted to learn video and produce shows for local cable access.
(How come there’s no photos of Tom Taylor to be found on anywhere on the net? Adding “Portland Oregon” and/or “film” to his name during Google searches doesn’t help, either. Nor does listing it as “Tom Taylor III” (which he was) help, either.)
Contrasting Tom in every way was the dynamic other teacher of CMI, the flamboyant Andries Deinum.
I didn’t meet Deinum until I started taking classes from CMI in 1973-4. Until then, he was only a name on the class schedule and I knew nothing about him when I signed up for his class.
During a single lunch we had together in the Portland Room on the second floor of Smith Center (a sort of “teacher’s lounge” eating area at that time, but open to anyone who could afford the cost of the buffet meals) early in my first term, Deinum claimed to have been the “Assistant Director” (his words) for German director Fritz Lang. Although I don’t see Deinum’s name mentioned in any credits of any of Lang’s films on the IMDB, it’s typical for most films prior to the late 1970s to be under-credited, leaving many key people out of the credits, and so it’s quite possible Deinum didwork on some of Lang’s films. The first “Star Wars” film in 1977 “upped the ante” for more complete film credits, setting a new standard for the film industry from that point-on.) Maybe someone should add his name as “Assistant Director” (“AD”) or “Production Assistant”, or even “Associate Producer” (‘uncredited’) on Lang’s films during the time that Deinum resided in Hollywood (on films that no other AD is listed), just so he gets acknowledged for his contribution to Lang’s films for the rest of the world to refer to.
Assistant directors are the noisy ones on the set that loudly call the start and end of shots for the whole crew to hear the moment after the usually soft-spoken director mumbles the same commands just barely within ear-shot of the AD. ADs are also the “energy-creators” of a film set, motivating the crew to “hurry up and get the shot set up and let’s get shooting” whenever needed, cuz sets often get bogged down and chaotic unless someone keeps the crew focused on the task of efficiently setting up each shot. (A good production assistant (“PA”) constantly making coffee and bringing it to every member of the crew helps this process out a lot also. I’ve worked both jobs.) ADs actually got Oscars for a five-year period of time in the 1930s before the category was unappreciatively dropped by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) after that.
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Dan Fiebiger Remembers The Center For The Moving Image: A Four Part Series continues with