Making movies on the Ridge
Paradise duo sparks burgeoning community of filmmakers
In the 1991 documentary Hearts of Darkness, a behind-the-scenes look at the innumerable difficulties during Francis Coppola’s filming of Apocalypse Now, the director makes the following statement: “My great hope is that now these little 8mm video recorders will come out and people who normally wouldn’t make movies are gonna be making them. One day, some little girl from Ohio [will] make a beautiful film with her father’s camcorder, and for once the so-called professionalism of the movies will be destroyed forever, and it will become an art form.”
How about two young men from Paradise?
Walk into the All the Best Video store in Magalia, and you’ll likely see clerks Chris Frankovich and Benjamin Moore working the register, giving customers movie tips and maybe even hawking their own films, available to rent from the store for free on both DVD and VHS. The two friends have been putting together short films and videos since 1998, when they were sophomores at Paradise High School.
Rusty Brandt, the store’s manager, says Moore and Frankovich “are great guys … self-motivated and hard workers. They’re creative, friendly and great with customers.” It doesn’t hurt that the duo’s salesmanship has brought in new customers, including some who’ve started bringing in their own short videos to share.
In response to these spontaneous submissions, Moore and Frankovich recently coordinated a local film contest, culminating with a showing of the entries in a makeshift theater inside the video store.
Moore and Frankovich became fast friends during their sophomore year of high school. Moore—tall, slender and reserved, with Nordic good looks—is meticulous, with a quiet warmth and charm. Frankovich, on the other hand, is gregarious, playful and charismatic with a smile big enough to devour any camera. He has a quick wit and is a natural showman.
Initially, the two indulged their shared passion for horror flicks by renting videos for all-night fright fests at the Frankovich home. Before long they were scouring the films for inspiration and technical hints as they began experimenting with their own short films, executed with the Frankovich family camcorder.
Frankovich seems equally in love with all aspects of filmmaking, with a slight preference for acting, while Moore is more of a background man, leaning toward cinematography and editing.
When asked why they ventured into filmmaking to begin with, they replied that they were “bored and looking for something to do.” They initially found the creative outlet of filmmaking while doing various class projects, but they soon moved on to their own ideas. Some of their early projects included satires of public service announcements and commercials, made-up trailers for non-existent films as well as several hilarious parodies of the TV show Cops.
The two were mostly self-taught and made do with available equipment and resources, including friends and classmates. They learned by overcoming technical pitfalls with gumption and ingenuity.
This burgeoning creativity didn’t manifest in a total vacuum, however. After more than a year of patchwork experimentation on their own, Moore and Frankovich were encouraged when PHS initiated a broadcasting course during their senior year, offering greater access to equipment, technical advice and, best of all, motivation to keep coming up with material.
Now, the 21-year-olds are students in Butte College’s Radio, Television and Film Department (RTVF) and are taking advantage of having access to better equipment and even greater technical training to continue refining their skills and produce increasingly sophisticated and entertaining short films.
Moore’s two DVDs, Ben’s Shorts and Ben Moore’s Lost Works, along with Frankovich’s Short Film Extravaganza, are collections that contain retrospectives of their work ranging from 1998 to 2003. They also feature outtakes and various special features, including a recipe for realistic-looking fake doggy do, an important prop in two Frankovich shorts.
Frankovich’s Larry, made in 2004, is a comic and well-acted look at the mundane difficulties experienced by an affable Everyman, whose devious canine companion gets the better of him.
Frankovich shared that his collection, Chris’ Short Film Extravaganza, rated No. 8 in the Top 120 most popular rentals in 2004 at the Magalia store.
The amount of work that goes into even a seemingly simple production is impressive, but the men agreed that the most difficult aspect to master was sound. Audio editing is time-consuming and technically difficult, especially for indoor scenes. For example, “cover-up,” in which the editor actually dubs in silence, can be exhausting. For Larry, Frankovich had to cover up all the ambient apartment noises and dub in the sound track. Among the unwelcome noises were phones ringing, dogs barking off-cue, bizarre plumbing noises “and a really loud refrigerator hum.”
Working with a canine co-star also meant many takes with an extremely hyperactive dog. To Frankovich’s credit, the dog’s performance in the film appears seamless.
Moore added that coordinating individuals who are donating their time can be difficult. “People are very motivated at first but tend to lose their momentum quickly.” In spite of this challenge, friends are among the resources the two have used to good advantage.
The practice of drafting friends into films was also apparent in the videos screened at the March 18 contest. It’s of course fun to work with friends and classmates, but these projects require teamwork, and the social, creative and educational benefit is immeasurable.
As Moore and Frankovich have said, boredom is a challenge that youth anywhere can relate to, but it seems especially pertinent to kids living on the Ridge. Much is being done to focus attention and funding on local youth in the area—Paradise Center for Tolerance and Non-Violence, The Voice (a teen-produced magazine), Youth for Change and the Boys & Girls Club—and there are more programs and support systems springing up all the time.
Moore and Frankovich pulled together resources of their own before having access to those of PHS and Butte College. For the last two years, though, along with its broadcasting class, PHS has also been offering a filmmaking course, taught by Phil Wallick. With early access to equipment and training, many of the young filmmakers are coming up with projects that are not only watchable, but also, in some cases, damn good!
The March 18 contest screening was fun and quite well attended. Moore sectioned off the back half of the Magalia store with black plastic, floor to ceiling, creating a mini-theater. A screen and video projector were rolled in. Free popcorn was served, and pre-movie entertainment was provided by Frankovich and his karaoke machine. Dressed in formal attire, with a good voice and the charm of Sinatra, he held our attention until the movies rolled.
There were around 20 entries. With the exception of a film done by a class from St. Thomas More Elementary School, and some from Butte College students, most were done by PHS students. They included a mock commercial, a music video, a wonderful claymation piece and the delightfully absurd Coon Hunting with Pa.
There was a spoof of The Fast and the Furious entitled The Quick and the Crazy (an audience favorite), High School Ninja, a fun satire of Asian martial-arts films, and the cute A Dog Day Afternoon. There were numerous others, some comic, some offering suspense, fast vehicles and short horror. Buzz Wallick (a sophomore at PHS), whose special effects and camera skills are notable in several of the entries, won First Place for his comic interpretation of the famous “Dueling Banjos” scene from the film Deliverance.
Proceeds from ticket sales were split three ways and awarded to the top three favorite films ($21 each) decided by the audience. Storeowner Brad Jenks was on hand, thanking Frankovich and Moore for their efforts. His support, and that of the management, can’t be overlooked.
The Magalia All the Best Video store is sponsoring another film contest, this time expanding it to include participants from throughout Butte County. The deadline for submissions is Aug. 1, 2005. For details on submission length and other requirements, contact Chris Frankovich, Ben Moore or Rusty at 873-3313.