A Look Inside “A Look Inside the Film Industry”

By Rachel Margolis
Photo courtesy of Marilyn Rottersman

A woman picks up a flower and runs down a driveway after a cloaked figure with no face. She enters a house, where a knife falls out of a loaf of bread. She goes upstairs, turns off the record player, and watches through the window as a woman picks up a flower and runs down the driveway after a cloaked figure with no face. This woman goes inside and passes the knife that’s lying on the stairs. Upstairs, she finds the knife lying on the bed. She goes and turns off the record player, and now there are two of her upstairs. She watches more duplicates of herself run down the driveway. She pulls a key out of her mouth, and the key turns into the knife. Then three of her sit down at a table together…

Wait… What?
That was my reaction to “Meshes of the Afternoon,” an “avant garde” short film from the 1940s. If a piece is “avant garde,” this basically means that it doesn’t necessarily make sense, but it’s considered artistic and innovative.
In the AM March Intensive “A Look Inside the Film Industry,” we watched and analyzed clips from across the spectrum of film history, from the Lumière Brothers’ 45-second, 1895 masterpiece, “Exiting the Factory,” to the opening credits of the 1980 film “Raging Bull,” to the scene in “The Dark Knight” in which the Joker detonates a hospital. We even played jeopardy, learning in the process what a “gaffer” does on the set (manages the lighting for the production), which film won Best Picture in 1958 (the musical film “Gigi”), and who said, “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow” (Lauren Bacall in “To Have and Have Not”).
But some of the most interesting components of this March Intensive were the presentations by film experts who had volunteered to contribute to the course.
On Tuesday, Vicky Bippart, a documentary filmmaker, shared her documentary about the history of rock and roll. Not only was it highly informative, it also gave us the opportunity to learn about the process of creating a documentary: Ms. Bippart told us about her experiences interviewing famous artists, struggling to obtain the rights to use their music, and more.
On Wednesday, Bill Phillips, a screenwriter, spoke with us about the making of “Christine,” a 1983 adaptation of a Stephen King novel of the same name; it was striking to see how much effort, vision and resourcefulness go into making a film. The screenplay was one of many that Mr. Phillips has written during his career, and he brought in an example so we could see what a screenplay actually looks like on paper. 
On Thursday, Bruce Posner, a film historian and preservationist, brought in cameras and rolls of film from different time periods and explained how their quality has changed over time, as well as the difference between actual film and digital filming. We also watched a clip from the restored short “Manhattan,” which demonstrated the difference that restoration can make in very old film.
And on Friday, Ben Silverfarb, a Hanover High graduate, returned to the school to present his film, “Brief Reunion,” of which he was the producer. In addition to viewing an excellent, never-before-seen movie that takes place in the Upper Valley, we learned about the role of the producer in filmmaking and got a first-hand account of the triumphs and trials of creating an independent, low-budget film.
The PM group met Kevin Chesley, a staff writer for the RJ Berger Show, who discussed screenplays with them via Skype (he was in LA). Alan Gelfant, an experienced actor, was also a guest speaker for this group, and students had the opportunity to write their own scripts and run their ideas by him and the rest of the class.
The film industry, though as interesting as ever, has been growing more and more difficult to “get into” lately, and I would recommend this course to anyone who wishes to learn more about it.

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