Note: This is not a repost from 2008—despite the camera referenced—it’s a brand new post on April 2, 2017.
“Buy a camera and start shooting. It’s that simple.”
Advice from a filmmaker whose first feature just played at SXSW
Let’s say you work at a taco joint and think to yourself, “Man, I’d sure like to make a feature film,”—where would you start? Oh, and the problem is you have little money and no real film experience. Were would you start?
There are many options including going to film school, working as a PA and learning as much as you can on the set and working your way up, or you could go the Parker Smith route.
Parker who? What? (Yes, the guy who gave that simple advice to buy a camera and start shooting.)
Parker Smith’s film Ramblin’ Freak debuted at the SXSW film festival just a few weeks ago. In a No Film School podcast interview with Joe Fusco, Smith said he basically binge watched documentary after documentary, bought two DVX 100B cameras, and hit the road with his cat and learned to be a filmmaker by shooting 55 hours of tape.
Yes, tape. Kickin’ it old school with DV tape. I bought the Panasonic DVX 100 camera around 2003 shortly after it first came out. I was on a shoot with Orlando DP Ben Mesker and he was raving about the 24p film look of the DVX. This was in the days when high-end video shoots were done using DigiBeta cameras.
The standard rate in the early 2000s for a two person DigiBeta shoot was $1,300-1,500 per day. The DVX sold for around $3,500. I’ll never forget running into Randy Baker, another producer/cameraman friend, at a bookstore in Orlando and him encouraging me to buy the DVX 100 telling me it’d pay for itself after a couple of freelance shoots.
That’s what I did. Changed my life in some ways. (Much as the Canon 5D did later for others.) That DVX camera helped me as I went out on on own in what ended up being a 13-year self-employment production run. Over time I moved up the Panasonic food chain (HVX 200, AF 100), but that DVX not only paid a lot of bills, but opened doors for me shoot documentaries in Russia, Jamaica, South Africa, and Brazil.
With my trusty (now classic) DVX 100 camera in 2006/Cape Town, South Africa
When I flew in a seaplane over the Amazon River, in one of my coolest production experiences ever, I was shooting with a DVX100. And part of the DVX legacy is DP Nancy Schreiber won a best cinematography at Sundance for shooting November (2004) shot on the DVX, and the Duplass brothers shot The Puffy Chair (2005) also with the DVX.
But today, a DVX is only worth around $200. It’s a stand def camera. Why shoot in a digital world today on standard def on cameras 10 years old? Because you have a goal to be a feature filmmaker (and you have little money).
Embrace your limitations. That’s what Parker Smith did.
“I’ll actually have a shift delivering tacos the morning of my premiere. I will be off in time to attend though.”
Interview with Jason Whyte/@jasonwhyte before the Rambin’ Freak premiere at SXSW
Now I don’t know if Smith has a distribution deal or not, but from the buzz I’ve heard, I’d say his documentary is worth a minimum of $100,000 in a Netflix deal. Not bad for a guy working at a taco joint who had a dream, an idea, a cat (people love cats, never forget that), and the willingness to shoot with cameras that most 16-year-olds living in McMansions wouldn’t even use for a web camera.
I doubt Smith will be shooting on a DVX again, but like many of us former DVX users, it will always hold a special place in his heart.
P.S. The DVX 100 now has a big brother, the DVX 200 that shoots in 4K. I’ve been to a demo for it, but haven’t shot with it yet. Writing this post has made me all nostalgic again for the DVX which I think when I stopped using it had logged around 900 hours.
Scott W. Smith
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