the deal,” my son Max explained last August.
“It doesn’t make any sense, but in order to take Narrative Film making,
I have to take Documentary first semester—even though I have no interest in
documentaries. Everyone in the class has
to submit a documentary proposal by the end of the week. Then we vote, and the
top three get filmed. I’d much rather
direct my own movie than work on somebody else’s, but it’s a lot of work. Should I send in a mediocre documentary proposal
and just hope I can direct my narrative film second semester?”
your best work. Always,” I add. “If you
don’t, and your screenplay isn’t chosen, you’ll be upset. You’ve waited three years for the chance to
direct a film. You have just two
opportunities. Don’t throw away one of them.”
proposed a movie about a local celebrity, Billy Name, who is Andy Warhol’s
former lover, photographer, and the leader of the Factory. “I’m going to call it, “Fifteen Minutes of
going to win whether you like it or not,” I predict.
“Why do you think so?” Max asked.
the Warhol era is cool, and your title makes it sound like fun. I bet the other screenplays will all be
serious topics, like under-privileged kids, or an expose on politicians and
A few days before college, Max
learned “Fifteen Minutes of Name” had been chosen for production. “The good news is I won. The bad news is I
got the film crew from hell. Theresa has no idea how to edit.”
you get stuck with her?”
the teacher assigned her to me.”
it won’t be as bad as you think…”
my son’s film crew turned out to be worse than he thought. Max complained all semester: “Mom, you don’t understand, editing is one of
the biggest jobs. Theresa’s doing
nothing. Even when she tries, it’s so bad, I have to redo it. ”
can’t the rest of your team help you? They’re getting graded on the movie too.”
MY movie, Mom. I’m the one who’s
responsible. I don’t even have a
producer like all the other teams, so I’m going to have to do all the research,
set up all the interviews and make all the arrangements. It’s so UNFAIR,”
IS unfair,” I remind him. “We have to make the best of it.”
Max, this meant he had to direct, produce and edit his film, while still
carrying a full academic load, which included writing a novella. I always thought the job of a producer was to
raise money, and since no funds were necessary, this didn’t seem like a big
deal. But I was wrong
have to find other people to interview, besides Billy. I need to have an art expert on the Warhol
era. Plus I have to locate people who
were part of the Factory scene, who are alive and willing to be interviewed, and
then I have to coordinate with my cinematographer and sound person.”
Thanksgiving Max was in a panic. He and
his film crew would have to work all weekend.
Karen, one team member who lived in Wyoming, would stay with us. The bathroom my son shares with his sister Sarah
was already cluttered with his-and-hers cosmetics. When Karen asked Max to make room for her
toiletries, he replied nonchalantly.
to Max, Karen was horrified and burst into tears, and said she didn’t feel
“I told her SHE was welcome, but
her criticism wasn’t. She didn’t take it
tells it, the next day was worse. They
were interviewing someone for the movie when Max noticed the sound wasn’t
working properly. He asked Karen about
it, and she told Max he was being unprofessional for mentioning a technical
difficulty in front of the subject. Afterward, Max countered with his own
complaints, and Karen ended up spending the night elsewhere.
end of this weekend—which Max assured me was only a small taste of the hellish collaboration
with his film crew—Karen forgot a piece of equipment on site at an
interview. The interview had occurred on
West 29th Street and 9th Avenue, inconvenient for
transportation from our home on the Upper East side. Max asked his Dad if he would mind driving him
over to pick it up.
am I, the chauffeur?” Henry quipped. “Karen’s
the one who left it. Tell her to go get it.”
she doesn’t know her way around. She’ll
“You’re 22,” Henry said. “You can figure it out.”
Henry had already
agreed to drive Max and his crew back up to school with all the heavy film
equipment. This is four hours round-trip; Henry wanted to leave by 2 pm so he didn’t
have to drive back in the dark. The
other team member was waiting in our lobby at 2 pm, but Karen had gotten lost
retrieving the forgotten equipment and was running late.
At 2:20, Max called to warn her
that we were leaving. Karen told him she was walking down our block, “You don’t understand,” my son said. “My
Dad’s not waiting. Run, don’t walk.”
We had already pulled away from the
curb, but the traffic light turned red. As
we waited for the green light, Karen stumbled into our car, huffing and puffing.
In the end, Max edited most of the film
himself, digitally splicing eight hours of film into 23 minutes. In addition to spending part of every weekend
talking with Billy Name and sorting through his photographs, Max had set up
interviews with Factory super stars Ivy Nicholson (a model who’d starred in
some of Warhol’s films) and Ultra Violet (former Salvador Dali mistress) and
found pictures of them as beautiful young models to contrast with the old
ladies they had become. He also arranged interviews with art historian Douglas
Crimp and Serendipity owner Steven Bruce, who had met Warhol and sold his work
before he was famous. For background
music, he used Nico and the Velvet Underground. Somehow he also wrote 60 pages
of his novella and took three other classes.
Max was more sleep deprived than during
any other semester. Nobody in the class
thought his film would ever be finished—let alone any good. And everyone knew
his group was not getting along. Max was
not winning any popularity contests, and did not end up directing a narrative
film second semester. Instead, he decided to drop the class and work one-on-one with his professor on a TV pilot.
I don’t know what (if anything)
will become of the pilot. But “Fifteen Minutes of Name” was chosen for the
Kingston Film Festival and won an Accolade Merit Award. As a result of my son’s stellar work on this film, his
professor recommended him to a friend to edit her documentary—a great part-time
job—while he looks for full-time work.
At the Kingston Film festival this
past weekend, my son spoke eloquently during the question and answer session
after the screening. In a tone of
near-wonder, Max described what he’d learned about the process of film making
and about the beauty of a documentary.
“It’s not like writing a script for
a narrative film, where you control the story. You can’t impose your will on a
documentary or choose a direction. If
the people you interview aren’t interested in your questions, you have to
follow their interests. Sometimes you have let your subject open up and just
let the story unfold.”
From bad beginnings (and middles),
sometimes a story ends surprisingly well.
Labels: Andy Warhol, college, documentaries, film festivals, film making, parenting, The Factory