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Low Budget Legends

13Bit Interview With Manny Kirchheimer Part 3


We recently had the good fortune to visit with Manny Kirchheimer, filmmaking legend as well as low budget legend.

Manny is best known for his groundbreaking work in “Stations of the Elevated,” as well as “We Were So Beloved.”

Legendary editor, director, teacher and mentor to many filmmakers, Manny was gracious to recently talk to us about filmmaking, life and, of course, the philosophy of low-budget filmmaking. We at 13BIT are not afraid to say that we love Manny for his philosophy and his artistic integrity.

Enjoy!

13BIT:

Have there been people over the years that you’ve worked with, do you ever collaborate or do you generally — you’re a one man show?

MANNY K:

Yeah — no, I don’t collaborate. Why is that? I guess I’m an introvert. You know, animators — independent animators don’t collaborate, either. They just love sitting all night long pushing that button on the animation machine. They’re a particular breed. Nothing against collaboration. Some of the most wonderful things in the world are — you know, but I just don’t think its worth my time. I don’t have to keep appointments with anybody. I don’t have to say we’ll meet tomorrow. I don’t have to argue with anybody. Just, you know, it’s not that I’m a one man band, it’s just that I like to think things through. I like the challenge of it.

You know, this film I’m making now, it’s going to be an hour and a half. And in late May I gathered six people up here to see my two hour cut. And they told me how terrible it was, right. But, I took notes, and I learned a lot. So then I worked for three months and refined it, and it was still two hours, to my dismay. And I invited another six people up and they really came down on it. They really gave me hell.

And, you know, I surprised myself because I didn’t used to be able to do this. But, I loved it. I loved the challenge, the chess game of fixing what they were talking about. You know, and my wife said, “Manny, are you going to be able to — is that going to work? Are you going to be able to do this?” And I said, “It’s a challenge. I’ve got to figure it out.”

And so once again, I’m now close to showing the people again and of course once again I’m optimistic that this time I’ve got the right structure. And structure’s what it’s all about, you know. And so we’ll see. Maybe in two weeks I’ll show it. I’m in the middle of it right now. But, I did — I have a new structural line and I really love feedback. I ask people to be as honest as they possibly can, and as a teacher I think I’m tough on students because I’m really — I don’t fudge anything. Because, it’s important to know this stuff before the film is finished. When you find out after it’s finished that it’s crappy, then it’s time to suffer, you know.

13BIT:

We try to be overly critical always on our stuff. With features, it’s harder. With documentaries, I feel like it’s easier because you have so much extra footage that you can always rearrange the structure . . .

MANNY K:

Well, the script has got to be good to begin with. You know, I mean if the script isn’t there then you’ve got a problem. Although, some films have been doctored and some films have been helped along. But, the script is everything. And then if you do fulfill the script, if you’ve got good acting, you know, then the structure’s already there. It’s in the script.

13BIT:

Exactly. There’s not much you can do. I mean, maybe you can heighten, you can do stuff with music. Or you can heighten some emotional point. But, there’s not much you can do.

MANNY K:

Yeah, but that’s not — you act as if that’s bad.

13BIT:

Oh, no, it’s not bad.

MANNY K:

No, it’s good.

13BIT:

It’s good, if you can do it.

MANNY K:

That’s good. But, in documentary, in the kind of documentary, the kind of documentary that I’m making right now, it’s very complex. You know, the structure — I mean, I fooled myself. I thought it was going to be a piece of cake. But, I always fool myself. You know, I always say, “Oh, I’ve got this –” you know, you come up with a fantastic idea. Well, the idea is not the execution. You know, the idea is just the idea, right?

So, I’ve got this idea, okay. I’m going to take — you see all these pictures around here, right. I love prints. You’ll notice they’re all black and white and I love that stuff. So, I said, you know, “I know something about prints. I love prints. I’m going to make a film about war as depicted by these prints over the centuries.” But not, you know, not a gallery.

You know, and create a war and create the causes of the war, the industrialists, the church, the military and so on, right. Because it all exists. I mean, from the 15th century on, you know, the artists were doing this stuff. You know, and you talk about Goya and Daumier and Otto Dix. Okay, and then I say, since I’m a teacher and I just love process, then I’ll have three artists doing new ones live.

So I’m going to follow a lithographer, an etcher and a woodcutter making new anti-war prints. I’ll show you one of the ones I got out of it. Anyway, I said, “Wow, what an idea.” That’s, you know, on cloud nine with an idea like that. That is such a fabulous idea, okay. So it’s all shot, you know. It’s all done. I got wonderful artists. Got great stuff out of them. You know, they’re talking as they work, right. I’m asking them — I’m interviewing them like I’m interviewing you while they work.

I said ahead of time, I said, “Look, can you talk while you work? Otherwise, I won’t.” And anyway, then I got 600 images that I’m moving on the thing, you know, on the post, you know, with the motion, with the up and the down and these — you know, and the close-up. Tough. Tough to keep that up for an hour and a half. I can show you a ten minute trailer that’ll just blast you away, because, you know, short form is easy. You’ve found that out, right? Short form is easy. Long form is not easy.

13BIT:

We’re not that interested in short. I mean, it’s interesting, but we like making feature-length stuff.

MANNY K:

Yeah, well, you know to keep it up and to keep it not — in a case like this, you can’t keep it too heavy. My wife — she feels more deeply than I do. So, I show concentration camp stuff, you know, she’s looking down. So I’ve got to adjust that so that she doesn’t look down. Anyways, that’s just one of my problems. But, I just love the chess game.

13BIT:

Yeah, you have to make all the pieces fit, you know, it’s like an idea of what you want, but you don’t really know what you want until you work with all the material.

MANNY K:

That’s right, yeah.

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