As promised earlier, here is our interview with both ANDREW DURHAM and FRANK WIEDMANN the creators of DW FILMS, who were kind enough to stop by the castle and speak to us about their wonderful movies and so much more…
UNK: As is Kindertrauma tradition, my first question is to ask both of you what movie, T.V show, book etc. was the first to really scare you when you were little?
FRANK: I guess the one movie that most obviously scared me senseless was GEORGE A. ROMERO’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. I remember a friend telling me about it, and the local “Creature Features” television show on Friday and Saturday nights started showing commercials for it. Back then, before video rentals and Cable movies you had to catch the movies when they came on T.V. Loved the anticipation this created. We waited for weeks, and when NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD finally came on, it was bliss. One year, after watching it, I was unable to get off the couch and get upstairs to my bedroom. We had a staircase that made a U-turn half way up, and I couldn’t yet face what was around that corner. When I finally did make it to my bedroom, I locked the door and pushed some filing cabinets in front of the door to keep the zombies out. Don’t know what is funnier, me pushing the filing cabinets in front of the door, or the fact that a 12-year-old HAD filing cabinets.
I also need to mention BURNT OFFERINGS. The chauffeur looking up at the window is a “poop in pants” moment.
ANDREW: JOHN CARPENTER’S HALLOWEEN is a masterpiece. In that film, he made the middle of the afternoon seem terrifying. There is a scene where JAMIE LEE CURTIS looks out of her classroom window and sees Michael Myers standing across the street from the school. That still scares me. I also agree with Frank about the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. ROMERO was a genius with his style. He made that film look as if you were watching old black and white news footage. The films that really scared me were the movies that looked amateur and homemade. The original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK were both shot with that documentary, cinema verite style. With the popularity of reality T.V., recent horror films such as THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and OPEN WATER also reflect that tone and are very effective.
UNK:Can you give me a bit of back story on how your films were made and exactly who was responsible for what?
FRANK: Andrew was the first one of us to get a Super8mm camera. I remember AS SOON as he got it we started having ideas. We both were involved in the planning stages. We would take trips down to a dumpster bin behind a local thrift store, and (since we weren’t allowed to dig through it) we would hide in it as low as possible and go through all their clothing, shoes, and precious costumes. You’ll notice in our films that ALL actors had to wear a costume we found, no matter how ill fitting it was. SARAH GETZOFF was a trooper, doing all that running and action work in shoes that were way too big for her. I also remember that we would listen to movie soundtracks a lot, and a lot of the scene progressions were created from listening to the music. Andrew was responsible for the photography, and I was the editor. Both of us also got into the merchandising. “Making of” books for some of the bigger movies, premiere night give-aways, etc.
ANDREW: Filmmaking, more so than most art forms, is probably the most collaborative. Even when it was just a group of 12-year-olds, once we decided on an idea, it was all hands on deck. Everyone contributed in some way, whether it was borrowing your Dad’s car or your Mom’s fur coat. As Frank mentioned, I was responsible for the filming and he did the editing. I can’t recall ever sitting down and assigning each task, it just seemed to transpire organically. Maybe it was because I was the one with the camera and Frank was the one with the editing machine. What still amazes me, when looking back, was our innate sense of visual story telling. With regards to shooting, somehow we just knew about establishing shots, camera angles and close ups. Even more profound was our comprehension of editing. We knew about eye lines, pacing, cross cuts and to avoid jump cuts. Perhaps this comes from growing up in the age of mass media. We must have learned this visual language from watching a lot of movies and television. I guess the same could be said today for the five year old kid who walks up to a computer for the first time and can completely navigate the desktop. Years later when I was in film school, I was amazed when the teacher would spend hours lecturing on the importance of opening your scene with an establishing shot, or going to a close up to build tension. I always wanted to raise my hand and ask if anyone in film school had ever seen a film before???
UNK: You really seem to have covered the bases as far as the type of films that were popular at that time, are there any that you planed and never got around to?
FRANK: I would have loved to do a POSEIDON ADEVENTURE ship disaster, or some sort of Zombie or Alien Invasion movie. We never did attempt any Sci-Fi!
ANDREW: Jeez Frank, what was TERROR IN THE SKY? Chopped Liver? That was a total IRWIN ALLEN disaster film. Perhaps Frank is still lamenting over the fact that our very first film, which we never finished, TERROR ISLAND, was about a shipwreck on an island. The island was inhabited with dinosaurs. Sort of like GILLIGAN’S ISLAND meets JURASSIC PARK. Actually it was probably more inspired by LAND OF THE LOST. It is interesting that we never made a sci-fi film, especially since we were the original STAW WARS generation. I still have the script for a film we almost made called FUTURE BATTLE. As I remember it was pretty good… for a STAR WARS rip off. But much like Hollywood, even we had movies in development that never made it to the big screen.
UNK: I can imagine that the neighborhood premieres for these movies were a real blast. How did they go over with friends and family?
FRANK: I remember the premieres were held in Andrew’s garage, and we did have parents show up. We’d spend most of the afternoon cleaning the garage and buying “refreshments” for the concession counter. At the SHARK premiere we raffled off a large cardboard shark fin with the words SHARK cut out of it, backed in red cellophane with a light behind that. It was very fancy! I wish I knew what happened to it.
ANDREW: I still laugh when I think about those movie premieres. You really have to understand the context to appreciate how hysterical it all was. We grew up in a college town, Stanford. The emphasis was on academics and refinement. Parents spent their time attending their children’s violin and dance recitals or driving their kids to computer class or Latin tutor. Frank and I would set up these premieres in my garage with a refrigerator box as the projection booth, then screen these Hollywood style horror films oozing with blood and guts for everyone in the neighborhood to see. We never saw this us unusual or even reactionary. We just believed that if you spent all this time making a movie, then you must have a gala premiere.
UNK: Backyard filmmaking has got to be an entirely different experience for modern kids. Do you think the technological advances and advent of YouTube will help or hinder their creativity?
FRANK: I think as long as kids get together to make movies it will be a creative experience. There is a “remake” of ELEVATOR on YouTube already by a kid who is like 7-years-old, and he re-enacted it on video with stuffed animals. What I loved about our process was that it cost $20 for 3 minutes of film back then. That was a lot of money for us at that age. Everything had to be planned out as precisely as possible. We spent so much time planning, making story-boards etc. Now, with video (which costs nothing really) I can imagine that the planning may not be as precise and some of the scenes may become very improvised and loose. Not that improvisation is bad, but having a well thought out story line is important. Also, unlimited time on video kind of takes the pressure off. I don’t know how good our movies would have held up if they had been 30 minutes. I think the 3 – 15 min time was perfect.
The films were completely silent, so we would need to create a cassette tape with the music on it. It would take quite a while to record the songs to match up with the movies. Then during the premiere, we hit “play” at the designated “blip” at the beginning of the movie and hope the music would fit for the remainder of the film. When I added music and sound-effects to these movies on my computer 30 years later, I was so jealous of the technology that’s available to kids today.
ANDREW: I’m so jealous when I see the tools that kids have at their disposal today. Kids younger than we were, are using these amazing little cameras and desktop editing systems. It’s really incredible, but… We know that all this technology doesn’t guarantee a better product. When GEORGE LUCAS went back and updated the original STAR WARS with CGI, not only did he destroy a perfect example of 1970’s sci-fi filmmaking but he ruined the film. All those extra effects took away from the original charm. An artist strongest attribute is to know when to hold back. We shot on actual Super 8 film and often had to edit our stories before we even shot film. This restraint allowed us to be very clear with every single story point. If a young kid has a great idea, an enthusiastic group of friends and love for movies, then they can probably make some great little movies, but if all you have is a bunch of high tech gear and no vision, well then you end up with a lot of very long, sloppy, music videos / skits. You can see hundreds of these on You Tube already. I can only imagine, if Frank and I had access to limitless video, the torture we would have put our audiences through with 45 or even 30 minute versions of SHARK or TERROR IN THE SKY. We might have been skilled filmmakers for 12 year old, but we were still kids and probably a “little” self absorbed.
UNK: Thanks guys. I can’t tell you enough what great treasures your films are. I know there are more in the vault and I can’t wait to see them. Consider me your number one fan. And to all you kids out there making stuff: art, movies, music, whatever… remember this handy tip from your Unkle Lancifer, SAVE EVERYTHING! You may not realize it now, but you just might have a one of a kind masterpiece on your hands!