Candleblog

The online journal of Vermont filmmaker, Bill Simmon.

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Where There’s Smoke…

Posted on Dec 2, 2009 by billsimmon in filmmaking, friends | 1 Comments

Back in the early 1990s I was a budding filmmaker and one night I had a conversation with my friend (and fellow budding filmmaker) Alex Woolfson on the phone about a scene that was playing out in my head (these conversations were common and continue to this day). The scene was of a man coming home and finding his wife in bed with another man — pretty cliched material — but the scene I envisioned was more mood and visuals than actual story content. I don’t remember if Alex liked the idea or how the sequence of events actually unfolded, but within a week, Alex had written a 10-page short screenplay, based loosely on a feature script he’d been toying with, that opened with a man coming home and finding his wife in bed with another man. The short film was called Smoke, and the idea was that it would become my second narrative short film, after 1993′s (no, you can’t see it) Candleboy.

gene_shootsIn 1994 I did indeed direct Alex’s Smoke script. I shot the film on 3/4″ U-Matic video in a condo in South Burlington with Jay Boulanger, Steve Fortner and Howie Webster in the lead roles. Given my absolute naivete about the filmmaking process, calling the film a “disaster” is probably too harsh. It taught me a lot about filmmaking (and editing in particular) and was a good example of me practicing what I now preach to filmmaking n00bs — make lots of bad films and get them out of the way so you can start making some good ones.

Meanwhile, Alex was busy completely ignoring my sage advice and proceeding with his own production of Smoke, throwing money and professional talent at the script in order to make his first foray into filmmaking more of a creative success.alex_pitch

Alex shot principal photography for his film in May of 1996 (he’d changed the name to Pitch by then because of Wayne Wang’s contemporary feature called Smoke) and I flew out to San Francisco to help him out as a production assistant on his set. Shot in 16mm film and boasting a sizable crew with actual departments and department heads, it was the first real “film” I ever worked on.

Alex was doing a lot of things right for a first-time filmmaker — getting an experienced DP to collaborate with, casting professional actors, shooting on film — but all of that production value cost him dearly. In fact, the cost of his film was so exorbitantly high, it took him 13 more years to finally put the finishing touches on the film.

So here it is. I’d embed the vimeo player, but the film will look better at the vimeo site rather than squished into a Candleblog post. It contains some “adult” themes and language and some nudity, so I think it’s safe to say it’s NSFW.

Congratulations, Alex, on finally putting this great little film to bed. Naturally, I take all the credit. :-)

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  1. And all the credit is what you deserve. I think it’s safe to say that without our conversations about film, “Pitch” would never have been made.

    And yes — for the record, when I advise new filmmakers I give the same advice you give: “Make *many* affordable films — it’s better to create a body of work and experiences than get bogged down on your first film.”

    That said, I still don’t have regrets about “brooking no compromise” on this one — while there are lots of things I might do differently now, I’m happy I put the effort into this script. Even a decade later, even though I know all the jokes and twists and turns backwards and forwards, it still feels like a fun ride to me. And, in the end, that makes it all worthwhile.

    And hell, we had fun in the middle of all those grown-up, experienced filmmakers, now, didn’t we? ;-)

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