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William Savage’s Crash Course in Klunkerz

William Savage’s Crash Course in Klunkerz

Articles - Directing

With films from studios’ “independent” divisions coming to replace genuine independent cinema in the minds of many, it’s reassuring to know that there are still moviemakers out there willing to max out their credit cards to get their first feature made. William Savage is one of those moviemakers. For his directorial debut KLUNKERZ, a documentary that chronicles the creation and ascent of the mountain bike in Marin, California, Savage reached into his own pocket (or rather, the bank’s own pocket) and is now doing his best to market the film himself and pay off the loans.

While in the midst of this grassroots campaign, Savage, whose first job out of high school was doing manual labor at the Skywalker Ranch, took some time to answer a few of MM’s questions.

Andrew Gnerre (MM): KLUNKERZ is your feature-length directorial debut. How did this come about so many years after your start in the business?

William Savage (WS): I never had a high enough credit rating to borrow this much money before! Seriously, my career has gone all over the place. I left Skywalker and started my own business. I worked for rock promoter Bill Graham for a few years, and then I moved to L.A. and I went back to school for filmmaking. I got a job as a receptionist at a production company. I worked as a PA. I worked as a director’s assistant. I worked as a producer’s assistant. I ended up working in the development of independent features and television scripts. I was making a living, but I was having a bit of a career crisis. I wanted to do something on my own and get it made.

I started working on my first really commercial script and it felt good. It takes place in the 1970s in Marin and has bicycles in it. Around that time a business acquaintance called and wanted me to come to a screening at The Directors Guild of a film he’d been working on. He knew I was an old skater and might dig the material. The film was Dogtown and Z-Boys, and they had just returned from Sundance where they killed it.

As I watched it, I began thinking about the Marin mountain bike guys. It just kind of hit me that I was the guy to make this film. I kept working my day job and I’d obsess on these guys at night. It took me a couple more years before I pulled the resources together and got things rolling.

MM: Documentaries of this nature always appeal to a very specific niche audience, but your picture is just as enjoyable for those of us who aren’t cyclists. Is this something that you were conscious of while making the film?

WS: KLUNKERZ was always going to be about mountain bikes, but with a large amount of background material for other types of cyclists and history buffs. So yes, the idea in the beginning was to try and get through to a larger audience.

After getting to know the subjects, I realized the heart of the piece was about these individuals and their passion in life. Here was this group of hippie athletes who were out to build a better mousetrap for their own amusement, and it became a multi-billion dollar industry and an Olympic event. Their efforts were collaborative and it was innocent and pure. It was American ingenuity at its finest. I figured if I could tap into that, I might have something that would resonate with audiences.

MM: The movie is packed with information on what seems to be a topic with much vagueness surrounding it: The creation of the mountain bike was a process of evolution, making it tough to determine who was responsible for what and the people involved seemed more interested in partying than cataloging their history. Was it challenging to get all the facts in order?

WS: I spent so much time in prep doing research that it wasn’t all that difficult. I read all the books, magazines, Websites and whatever else I could find before I met any of them. I then took a huge piece of butcher paper and made a timeline from 1968 to 1983 and I started filling it in with events and inventions.

At that point I tried to get to know everyone personally before I stuck a camera in their face. There was already a lot of information out there about these guys, and whatever didn’t seem right, I simply asked them. The idea was to get answers from two or more people who were present at the same event to corroborate the story. I figured if I was way off base, any discrepancies would be addressed at the cast screening.

MM: How much did your previous work on film and television projects help you while directing your first feature? Did you feel prepared or is directing a feature-length film a different beast altogether?

WS: KLUNKERZ was real eye-opener for me… I guess nothing prepares you to make a film; you just have to do it. It’s like having a kid; if you wait until you’re really ready, you’ll never do it.

I don’t think that if someone wants to make a film they should be intimidated by the physical aspects of production. It’s not about the technical hurdles; it’s about people and getting what you need from them. I can’t edit, but I know what I want and I know I can find someone who’s a really good editor. The larger question is, once I find that great editor, can I communicate effectively with this person at a very intimate level for months and months? The psychology of dealing with so many people who are all looking to you for answers was the most exhausting part of the process for me.

I also thought that if I made a good film that got some favorable reviews, people would find it, but that’s not how it works. With a small project like this there’s no PR or marketing people involved. It’s up to the filmmaker and how creative he can be to gain some visibility, like sending blind e-mails to MovieMaker. It’s like the campaign trail, only you’re not raising and spending millions of dollars a day, you’re just out there on the corner, barking to get people into the theater.

For more information on the film visit www.klunkerz.com or http://www.vasentertainment.com.

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