A young filmmaker tries to match a thin wallet with big ambitions

Francis James is back in town with his latest film, "Tony Bravo," a quirky, personal comedy exploring what the New Orleans-based filmmaker calls the many points of view we all entertain within our own thoughts at any given moment.

The former painter says he turned to film to investigate what he regards as a relatively new language.

"I have always loved the turn-of-the-century filmmakers," he says. "Those people were still developing, trying to figure out how film-language works. A lot of people say, 'Now we know.' " But Mr. James disagrees. "Film as a language is only 120 years old, at most. That's a really young language."

James is on a sales mission at Hollywood's annual American Film Market in Santa Monica, a yearly event for buyers and sellers at virtually every level of the international film industry. Armed with videos of his movie, the man who loves the language of movies is practicing how to repeat the words of every independent filmmaker: "Buy my movie."

But not at any cost, insists this sometime University of New Orleans film instructor. "This is a new landscape for me," he says. "I know a lot of people who would like to get involved and can do things for me, but from the point of view of the person who's created the film, I have to ask, how do I get there?"

The answer, he says, is finding the right partner "and proceeding in a way that is right for me and the film."

Money to finish the film is particularly "right" at this moment, James says. Completion also involves making a final print of the film. "That's extremely expensive," he points out.

The advent of completely digital filmmaking (see story above) will have an enormous impact on filmmakers such as James, whose short "Mutiny" was a contender in the 1999 Sundance Film Festival but whose feature work could best be described as sporting a "microbudget." In fact, he says it's not simple to put a cost on the film - many of the expenses were charged on his credit card and were spread over a period of years.

"The great thing that everyone is looking for is to bring down the cost of making a film," sighs James during a follow-up phone call from his editing suite in New Orleans.

"If you can actually pick up a camera and shoot the film that you have in mind, without getting buried in costs, then you can actually focus on getting the actors you want and telling good stories - without having to spend so much money just to get started that you can't actually do it."

Lower costs and a more flexible format can have a dramatic effect on the process as well. "You don't get to experiment with film," he adds. "With video, you can shoot an extra scene or an extra take and there's not this enormous pressure to cut everything short because you ran out of film or time."

Although he notes that many of the special effects in his own film were created the old-fashioned way ("We painted an old piece of linoleum with black paint and poked tiny holes in it to simulate deep space"), James appreciates what the new technologies will do for creative expression. "That's the promise it really holds, in terms of the potential of allowing people to get their stories told at a cost level that makes it possible," he says.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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