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Zagreb Film Festival
16. - 21. Listopad 2006

SC - Savska 25
10000 Zagreb

385 1 45 93 692
385 1 45 93 691


‘My First Movie’ by Stephen Lowenstein

published by Propeler Film

In the afterword of the American edition of Stephen Lowenstein's book Robert Croman, the king of B-films, said: „Every director tells a different story, but they have one thing in common which I can testify myself from the experience of my first movie – the joy and fear all debutants experience. This is a must read for all fill students and film lovers!”.

Corman should have added just one more thing: “My First Movie” is one of the most thrilling books in the history of cinema. It is just unbelievable how whims of fate made a difference in the making of the debut films of famous world directors! If Jane Campion had not faxed a letter of support to Ciby 2000, moreover sent it on the day of the Company Management Board meeting, P. J. Hogan might never have directed “Muriel’s Wedding”. Or in case of Kevin Smith’s “Clerks”! The underpaid video store clerk at the time, he realized that he could get 25 thousand dollars on credit card loans, which was enough to begin making the film. How he managed to work in the video store and on the film production at the same time and on the same location is a fascinating story about commitment and endurance. And not to mention the stroke of luck when the only person in the audience who liked the film screened in an unattractive Sunday morning slot of the independent film market decided on the world success of “Clerks”! This really borders fantastic! Barry Levinson was very lucky with his “Diner”. After MGM had decided to shelf his debut film, one of the company employees had a different opinion and managed to save the film – almost incredibly – with the help of amazed critics. It would not be possible in Croatia, but in America it obviously was.

Some of the interviewers got their debut films because they studied at film schools, but even that was not an absolute guarantee: Ang Lee had made a middle length film as a student, but for seven years after that he waited a chance to start serious directing. Resourceful Kevin Smith was much more practical: he enrolled to a film school in Canada and dropped out half way through, because he found out that the students who leave the school get half the money back. Anyway, he thought that by that time he had learned everything he needed to start shooting “Clerks”.

It is depressing to know that for a first-time director it is not of much use the period spent working other jobs on film. Besides writing film reviews Bertrand Tavernier was also a publicity person on many French films and as such met most powerful producers. But when he offered his script for “The Watchmaker of Saint Paul” they all turned him down easily. Having finally persuaded Raymond Danon to produce his film, Raymond did not know what to do with this strange product. If his Serbian driver, who was also the projectionist, had not said “I think the film is great”, maybe Tavernier would have gone back to publicity.

Some filmmaker, like Mike Leigh knew from the beginning what they wanted to do, while other – like Pedro Almódovar – suspected that experience and maturity would provide better production conditions and perhaps yield more elaborated directorial procedure. It is most interesting, however, that majority of the interviewed directors thinks that their debuts were bad. “Pretty damn bad” is Joel Coen’s estimation of his film “Bloody Simple” (few people would agree with this, but the author has the right to his own opinion), and Neil Jordan thinks that “Angel” is like naïve painting, “a film made by somebody who doesn’t know the rules, who hasn’t learnt anything about the genre”.

Stephen Lowenstein did an excellent job. He squeezed the words out of the directors who were not particularly talkative, and made those too eloquent to still say something sensible about their beginnings. I think that “My First Movie” will be a particularly valuable book to wannabe directors. It will convince them that today acclaimed directors were petrified when they found themselves on the set for the first time, and it will reveal numerous ways how to overcome the crises on shooting, problems with financing and teach them to keep on when everything seems lost forever. If some of the future filmmakers say that “My First Movie” was their most valuable textbook, the author actually should not look for a greater thanks.

Nenad Polimac
foreword to the book ‘My First Movie’ by Stephen Lowenstein

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