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... Baby, One More Time: "Normal movie stars have sex scenes all the time, and no one says, 'Well that's kind of weird, you're fooling around with so-and-so on film.' Yet here, it's weirdly personal because that's the setup due to the script, but is there any difference?"

Super 8 Serenade

Indie auteur Danny Plotnick discusses the joys of low-budget filmmaking

By Tracie Broom

For a real horatio alger story, watch out for Danny Plotnick, San Francisco's self-proclaimed king of Super 8. Plotnick has been popping rolls and shooting mags for 12 years, spreading the word in seminars and corner bars that filmmaking need not be done Dawson's Creek-style in full kowtow to Hollywood. Plotnick has entered the brave new world of 16mm with his 17th film, Swingers' Serenade, premiering in San Francisco Oct. 1 and 2 at Artists' Television Access. Swingers' Serenade is Plotnick's raunchy take on a stiff and twisted home-movie script printed in a 1960 issue of Better Movie Making magazine. Danny had just spent the summer teaching in Southern California when we caught up with him in his tchotchke-bedecked Mission flat.

Even though you're plowing ahead with your own work, you regularly curate a show of teen Super 8 films at Yerba Buena or at ATA. Where'd you find teenagers working in Super 8?

Well, I teach at this high school program, the California State Summer School for the Arts. It's this high-energy program where they make three Super 8 films, three or four videos, and a couple of found-footage 16mm films in four weeks, so they're just kind of frantic by the end. Each year we curate the show in San Francisco--and it's great because the shows always sell out.

Kids these days: what do they think of the indie film aesthetic?

It's weird because, I think, of all the arts--at the high school level--film is the most mainstream art form out there. Students really just know what's playing out at the malls; they really don't know anything about independent or experimental or documentary. A lot of them come in wanting to be the next Spielberg, and then we're showing them our stuff, or the Kuchar brothers, or really weird stuff, and some of them do not like it at all--at first. But then they really get into it. It opens up their minds and what they think about film, so they definitely become the cult-of-film posse at the end of the summer.

How do you think that using Super 8 helps them jump that gap from the mainstream to a more independent mentality?

Where it affects them is that they're finally shooting film instead of video, and it looks appreciably different. They're always blown away when they get the film back. I think that actually shooting film and having to edit film really changes their appreciation of how film gets made. The thing about video these days--it's all automatic everything-and then all of a sudden they get to film and they have to focus, and they have to deal with f-stops. It's pretty overwhelming, but in a good way. They realize, "Wow, there's a real craft to this." And then when they get their images back and put them up on the screen, and they look really good, and they're really rich in texture, the kids are just converted to film. They really want to make films.

To what extent are you mimicking your married life in Swingers' Serenade by having your wife co-star as your wife? I read that you felt you'd beat Cruise and Kidman to the punch.

"Normal movie stars have sex scenes all the time, and no one says, 'Well that's kind of weird, you're fooling around with so-and-so on film.' Yet here, it's weirdly personal because that's the setup due to the script, but is there any difference?" I don't know. We had a fun time making Swingers' Serenade; the thing that was funny was that there was this whole crew--who are all pretty much my good friends--standing around. Afterwards--well, afterwards, I caught this wind from people like, "Uh, we were really wondering what the hell was going on on the set." But no one ever mentioned, or asked Allison [Allison Faith Levy, Plotnick's musician/artist wife] and I anything about "You know, guys, this is really weird." They all just kind of stood back. But there was a heightened level of weirdness on the set, which I thought was really good, because it ties back into the weirdness of the original magazine script.

From what I've read, you often take your camera out for a day with a couple of friends and end up with a near-completed film. How does working in 16mm, on Swingers' Serenade, for example, change your approach to production scheduling?

I think it's a combination. You can go out and make Super 8 films really quick. This film that I did before Swingers' Serenade--I, Socky--me and Allison just went out and made the film in a day, and it's really tight and gets played around a lot. But I've also made Super 8 films where it's more of a heavy crew situation, where you need a lot of lighting and sound gear. In that respect, I don't think that Super 8 is that different from 16mm in terms of what you need to do on the production end. But with Super 8, you can't really fix anything in the lab, so you have to be a little more careful when you shoot. With Super 8, once you make a cut, you've sort of committed to that cut. You can piece things back together, but the soundtrack is right on the film. There's a lot more immediacy with Super 8.

Why didn't you shoot Swingers' Serenade in Super 8?

True black-and-white film isn't available in Super 8, and I really wanted to capture the feel of the '60s period piece.

Where do you get Super 8 cameras and film?

In the city, Action Camera sells film and sends it out for processing, too. If you need to find one right away, Action Camera and Adolph Gasser sell used gear.

Any tips on making Super 8 look good?

Just shoot outside, and keep the sun behind you. It will look good .


Swingers' Serenade runs Oct. 1 and 2, 8pm and 10pm, at Artists' Television Access, 992 Valencia St. Admission $5. Contact Danny Plotnick at 415.821.9322 or s8romeo@aol.com.

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From the September 27, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.




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