I’m not a filmmaker, I’m a videographer and a proud one at that. As I mention on the Meet The Big Dog page, in a city of filmmakers I’m not one.
But a long time ago, for a brief period of time I was.
When I was young, I saved all my allowance money for comic books and for supplies for the black & white darkroom I shared with my brother. My grandparents bought us a used complete darkroom setup from my dad’s best friend and my uncle mentored me in how to use it. I was already a prolific writer, having contributed over a dozen “books” I had written to my elementary school library for circulation.
Sometime in late 1982, I discovered my dad’s Super 8mm movie camera, which had previously only been used for family vacation films, Christmas morning and birthday celebrations. I had an idea!
This was the era of trading cards – I never saw the blockbuster film E.T. until sometime after I decided to make what I now refer to as “My First-And-Only Fan Film”, but we had a nearly complete set of the film’s trading cards that told the story, complete with pictures on the front.
So I started to write a story about what would happen if the Extra-Terestrial came back to visit his friends on Earth.
I spent weeks writing dialog, setting up “adventures” and building micro-sets and miniature set pieces in which to tell my story. I knew that Reese’s Pieces candy was going to factor in prominently… mostly because I quite liked them! I needed to decide what else “Elliott” and “Gertie” were going to teach the beloved Extra-Terestrial about … because as we all know, when a race of Grey Aliens has the ability to travel through space, it is imperative that some 8 – 10 year old Earth children be involved in their education. We went to camera in early 1983.
So what did our darling children teach E.T.?
“Dog”: my childhood favourite stuffed animal that my brother and I fought over, a pink and white moppet with plastic eyes named Fluffy.
“Music”: The Everly Brothers Greatest Hits… on vinyl… says a lot about my childhood…
What misadventures did E.T. get into?
Well, he committed break and enter by visiting his buddy Elliott in his bedroom in the middle of the night and dropping Reese’s Pieces on his pillow (which allowed the astute Elliott to deduce that his favourite Intergalactic buddy had returned to Earth!) before taking off to commandeer a dump truck (after bumping his head on the back so as to allow him to utter his catchphrase “Ouch!”), which took him off on some unspoken of, offscreen adventure.
He eventually (actually, it’s the next scene – Super8 film reels were 3 minutes and 20 seconds long) returns to visit the family during daylight. My brother plays both Elliott and Gertie. We should have fired our continuity person as Elliott can’t make up his mind whether he wears glasses or not and Gertie apparently wears the same shirt as Elliott, but has an ugly blonde wig to differentiate herself.
After Elliott’s wearying informational lecture on canines and music, E.T. decides he needs a wash and heads off to take a bath. Or perhaps it was because he was driving around in the back of a dumptruck earlier.
It made sense to me when I wrote it.
After E.T. takes advantage of the invention of indoor plumbing, he’s decided he has had just about enough of this primitive and self-righteous culture which has only BEGUN to explore their own solar system and takes off again in his spaceship, which is only marginally larger than a telephone booth, in retrospect.
I present: The Return of E.T.
Now in all honesty, I hadn’t watched this is about ten years. But it has come up in conversation a fair bit of late so I decided to revisit it as a critique.
Well, frankly it isn’t bad!
It was shot in a series of time linear one-takes. There are NO edits. This is the camera master film.
I knew even as a child that we would need to sync audio up somehow so I made a point of including a “Start Tape Now!” title card so we could add ADR audio later (we never did, sadly…)
As well, I knew the exact run time of a magazine of Super8mm film was 3 minutes twenty seconds so I wrote to time. On the day, we discarded a section of dialog as we were running out of film stock and knew that the departure of the alien was most important (in fact, the film ran out JUST as E.T.’s spaceship broke frame.
The use of a Point-of-View zoom to indicate E.T. walking into Elliott’s room, the Z-Axis approach shot of the dump truck, the general maintaining of axis are all pretty advanced for an 11 year old.
Now let me state categorically that my parents didn’t help with this, excepting allowing us to use the living room and my dad’s film camera and film lights. This isn’t your typical Elementary School Science Project where 8 year old little Jimmy builds a Voltaic Pile. This was and remains my brainchild, for better or for worse.
Where did I mess up?
Continuity. Both Elliott and Gertie wear the same shirt, Elliott can’t recall if he wears glasses or not.
Screen direction. For the MOST part, I maintain screen direction, until Gertie comes out of her bedroom and starts talking to the back of E.T.’s head. Other than that, I did pretty well.
Close focus and framing. The Super8 camera was a twin lens set up with the optical viewfinder slightly above the imaging lens. For most shots, this is fine, but for the miniature work, sometimes the parallax created by the distance between the two lenses means that you can see props and other things that weren’t intended to be in frame. And of course, I didn’t understand minimum operating distance of a lens back then, nor did I understand that the distance increases based on the focal length of the lens position.
But then again, I’ve met a lot of filmmakers in their 20’s that haven’t discovered that yet.
All in all, I’m pretty proud of this piece of work. It was my first attempt at motion pictures, remains unedited and is technically well put together for an 11 year old with no real mentoring.
Hope you enjoyed this little blast from my past.
And Mister Spielberg, please don’t sue me.