Years ago, I wanted to make a documentary on the 105-pound competitive eater Sonya Thomas, a.k.a “The Black Widow.” Here was a tiny woman who kept beating all these huge men in contest after contest.
Of course, the idea of me actually doing a movie about Sonya was preposterous. Who would ever give me the money to do it? And even if somebody did, I didn’t really want to spend a year or two of my life traipsing around to the world’s eating contests. But I felt there was a really good feature there if somebody else would do it.
But, believe it or not, I just made a short film about Sonya. Here it is:
Making films with no plans for festival play has liberated me. YouTube Cinema. The first one was my documentary on animator/artist Jeff Scher. I made that in a little over a week .
Early on in his career, producer Ted Hope used to say that the budget was the aesthetic. For me, my only aesthetic question is: Are my subject and my treatment of it interesting enough for a 10-minute video? So I don’t agonize over edits, picture quality, music, sound mix, etc. I have learned the hard way that you can spend months fiddling around with little details on films that ultimately suck.
Better, I think, to make more movies, and concentrate on who or what you choose to make films about and how you choose to do it, rather than striving for the kind of pristine polish required for festival play. Pursuing this has freed me.
Jean-Luc Godard once said that the cinema is the truth 24 times a second. For me the cinema is now 640 x 480 and 10 minutes or less. Please resist the button that makes the image bigger. See it in glorious Lo-Def! You don’t need to wait for the Blu-ray to come out.
Working quickly and cheaply means that I can make any kind of movie I want to. In this case, it is not intended as a bio of Sonya, although it has elements of that. I never tried to interview her, although there is contact info on her Website. I knew from the start it wouldn’t be about her so much as it would be about my thoughts about her and her world. A movie about the way I saw her world from outside, not the way she saw it from inside.
It began when I discovered all sorts of terrific web video on Sonya in every format you can imagine: On phones, home video cameras, local TV stations, shot off TV screens, etc. So I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll just sling a few of these wonderful things together and I’ll have another one-week movie.’ But as I got into it, I broke my rules and it became a massive three-week undertaking. In the future I’ll try not to go over my time allotment on my zero-budget movies.
I’d like to thank Melissa for not blinking when she encountered me at 1 a.m. singing “Black Widow, Sonya’s the Black Widow” into a microphone.
Postscript: I sent the link to Sonya via her Website and she loved it! It turns out that she watched it on her birthday and she saw it as a nice gift.
Reid Rosefelt is a veteran film publicist based in New York City. He has promoted hundreds of films, for such diverse moviemakers as Jim Jarmusch, Pedro Almodóvar, Errol Morris, Ang Lee and Werner Herzog. His personal clients have included The Sundance Institute, IFC and HBO Films, as well as Harvey Keitel, Ally Sheedy and the late Adrienne Shelly. His production publicity credits include Desperately Seeking Susan, The Godfather: Part III and, most recently, Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. His blog can be found at http://my-life-as-a-blog.com/.