"I just disagree with the
whole student-teacher apparatus," he states plainly. "Basically,
if the teachers are working or practicing artists, the only difference
between them and the student is that they’ve been at it longer.
Everyone who’s trying to do artwork or film has got the same problems.
So whenever I teach a class or workshop I immediately break it down
and turn the group into a production unit as opposed to a classroom.
I set up a contract that shows we’re all sharing equally in the
venture and make it a true collaboration."
Schmidt, who has a revised book
in the works that he hopes will be released by year’s end, is pleased
with the results his efforts have generated thus far. He cites Clerks,
this year’s top prize winner at the Sundance Film Festival, as evidence
that his philosophy is bankable. Made for $27,500 by 23-year-old
director Kevin Smith, the film embodies the two central elements
of Schmidt’s philosophy: it explores the filmmaker’s own circumstances;
and it was financed with money Smith had originally earmarked for
"Kevin was a discouraged film
school student when he noticed someone copying contracts out of
the back of my book," Schmidt proudly explains. "He bought
it and was walking across some bridge in Canada reading about how
to begin a project when the idea for his movie suddenly slammed
into his head. Realizing there had never been a movie made about
convenience store clerks, he dropped out of school, bought film
stock with the money he saved on tuition, charged $2,000 limits
on 10 credit cards and made the movie with another clerk and his
In both his book and workshop Schmidt
identifies the essential first step as loading up on film stock
– about 14 400 ft. rolls of black and white Plus X or negative l6mm
film – and placing the expiration date on the outside of your refrigerator.
"If it’s a year before it expires I guarantee you’ll rustle
up a camera and sound gear, figure out a story, find actors and
locations and shoot the film before the expiration date arrives.
That’s the nitty-gritty. That’s putting the dream up against all
the logic that says you can’t do it."
Asked to respond to criticism by
proponents of formal film study, Schmidt points out that his hands-on
workshops offer something film schools do not, namely real experience
making a feature, and that no other book in print offers anything
like the low budget formula he describes. "Film schools actively
discourage people from making feature length narrative films,"
he says. "What they offer for the most part is equipment that
never gets used. It’s not worth throwing thousands of dollars into
film school to come out of it with a 10- minute short.
"My book is about giving the
average person the foundation he or she needs to begin working toward
their dream of becoming a feature filmmaker. Of course the film
education establishment sees it as a threat; I’m saying you don’t
need to learn how to make a movie. All of us have seen maybe 8,000
hours of movies on TV, or something hideous like that. We should
be able to know how to shoot a scene and make a cut. And we definitely
should be able to come up with more original stories than the tired
old retreads we see over and over again. I encourage people to present
material vital to their own life. That’s the key to it. Just ask
the people who did Clerks."
"Acting for Directors"
As an actor in films and on Broadway,
Barry Primus has worked with some serious directors, among them
Elia Kazan, Martin Scorsese and Sydney Pollack. His 30 movie acting
credits include roles in The Rose, Absence of Malice, New York, New York, and Night in the City. Two years
ago he directed Robert De Niro, Martin Landau, Eli Wallach and Danny
Aiello in his film, Mistress. If anyone understands the dynamic
between actor and director, it’s Barry Primus.
His three to five day "Acting
for Directors" course, developed while a teacher at the Rockport
Film Program in Maine, is currently making the rounds of intensive
film workshops and receiving high praise. Though there are many
ways to teach directors about acting, such as with books and lectures,
Primus feels the most productive way is to encourage them to do
the actual process themselves.
"I try to give them a very
intense experience in what it is to act," he comments. "I
have them start out by doing a series of exercises where they come
to understand a little bit about the rules and ideas behind acting,
like what an intention is, what an action is in a scene, what characters
"It’s ironic, people get into
film because it’s moving and human and enables them to express themselves
and touch other people, but most wind up being swallowed by the
technical end and getting away from why they got into film in the
Primus divides his program into
two parts. In the first, students work on themselves as actors,
learning to relax, open up to their instincts, access their emotions
more freely, and use their heads less. Basically, he says, they
learn to perform. The second part deals with the script itself,
as each student learns to perform a monologue on camera.
"Acting is an art that can’t
be taught in a short time," he continues. "I try to import
a sense of the kind of acting I personally find most moving and
exciting in moviemaking, where the actor uses his own experiences
to convey the feelings of the character. The idea that acting is
about real experiences, real things that happened to the actor,
to me is crucial." When asked if he means he teaches "The
Method," Primus bristles. "Yes, I suppose so, in that
actors’ tools are their own experiences. But that term is so bandied
about and misunderstood that I’d rather avoid it."
Primus reports that at the end of the course students
usually feel they have not only broadened their knowledge about
how to direct actors, but have also gotten back in touch with their
creative and emotional roots. Not just for beginners, the classes
attract working commercial and video directors as well as newspeople,
techies and actors looking to make the jump to directing. MM