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DIY Film Interview With Jerzy Rose

June 1, 2011 | By | Add a Comment

Originally posted on 11/11/10, we re-post this interview with Chicago Filmmaker Jerzy Rose, as his film Some Girls Never Learn kicks off the Chicago Underground Film Festival on 6/2/11.

Matthew Blake

When I ask Chicago filmmakers whose work I should check out, one name that keeps popping up is Jerzy Rose. A 2008 college graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Rose has made movies that are equal parts narrative and experimental. He has drawn his inspiration from Moby Dick, Scottish whaling ballads, the theremin – an early electronic musical instrument, Amelia Earhart, and film sexuality in the 1930’s. His latest interest is in doctors who study sweat.

I spoke with Rose about his movies, how to financially make it as a filmmaker and what “DIY film” means to him.

How do you make money?


I have a few part-time jobs. I do freelance editing of documentaries and do some technician and video documentation work for the SAIC and Columbia College. I edit educational videos. It’s a job I get from friends but I don’t feel like it relates to my work. Most of us [Chicago filmmakers] have day jobs as an educator or technician of some kind but come nighttime we have a secret identity!

What film work have you done lately?

I took about a month of off work this past summer to shoot a feature film. It was 4-5 weekends working around other people’s schedules. It’s my first attempt at a feature. It’s about this university’s pursuit of a ghost of Amelia Earhart and this deep-sea diver who obsesses over the fact that he touched her leg bone. Then he enters this really girly underworld. Maybe it’s about turn of the century academia and how it relates to early feminism, but it’s super-wacky. It’s called Some Girls Never Learn.

It sounds like this film reinforces some of the themes of your short works – a mixture of realism and surrealism, an interest in the early 20th Century, and pretty goofy male leads. What are the main themes of your films?

I’m interested in the really stylized Hollywood actresses from the 20’s and 30’s. I like the sexuality during this Hollywood code era when everything is conservative and psychosexual at the same time. It was also when Freud was just being read. They actually had psychoanalytic advisers at film studios to see what compositions would stimulate the mind. Busby Berkeley was really into this.

[My] movies feature these male characters that attempt to express something and do a really bad job at. In the Universe and Young Pilot Nelson [the title character] is trying to explain to this 1930’s Hollywood starlet this thing that he thinks is really important but he then gets very flabbergasted and feels threatened by his surroundings. And in Farewell to Tarwathie, (a film about a Scottish seafarer who falls in love with a whale), the whale was a stand-in for a good female character.

I show masculine figures that can be very pathetic – they want something but have a very tough time saying what that is.

What resources do you need to make films?

The key ingredients are access to a pool of equipment that’s free and asking a lot of favors and getting a lot of people excited about something. You probably need a connection at the Art Institute or another school or a production company. You need naturally good performers. Luckily, I feel like I know a lot of weird and peculiar people who need to be in front of a camera.

You need a handful of really awesome people who will take off of work and work completely for free.

How much do you think it will cost to make Some Girls Never Learn?

Out-of-pocket expenses, not including in-kind expenses [like a friend who will help you on your film in exchange for helping them on their film], are about $8,000. So you need investors and friends and parents of friends. And you need good credit – I’ve maxed out on three credit cards. Every time I tell someone that, they give me a death stare like I’ve done a horrible thing. But it’s not a bad trade off if you can make films.

What are your goals in filmmaking?

Short-term, I’m editing the feature that I’m working on and trying to find a good balance between working on my own stuff and getting editing jobs. I want to start writing another movie and keep making features because that’s exciting. I want to write a feature-length screenplay about an article I read that scientists are studying the different ways that men and women sweat. A scientist from the University of Liverpool has extensively studied female athletes and how they perspire. So that’s my long-term goal – or maybe a movie about Charles Darwin’s wife Emma Darwin.

I’d like to get play outside of Chicago – it would be great to show some stuff around the country. I tend to gravitate toward formalistic and experimental artwork, but I’m also making [films with plots]. So it would be interesting to show my films elsewhere and be the one in the bunch with an accessible narrative.

What’s your experience with the Chicago DIY filmmaking community?

I’ve had a pretty great experience post-college with the DIY film scene. I actually like the term “DIY film” as opposed to “indie film” because it really spells out that it’s a community of people with day jobs that go out at night with their Batman identities. Almost nobody I know has serious aspirations about making it their professional practice. I think there’s something really honest about that. It’s a better attitude compared to the portfolio boosting/start-up attitude of doing short work and student work so one day you can make it big. The people here mainly just make art for the surrounding community.

How has broadband internet and digital film changed the life of a DIY filmmaker?

Posting videos on the internet is handy and it’s useful but I still go to shows a lot. I think that the best experiences I have are at screenings festivals, but I don’t think that the internet is trying to replace that at all. I don’t think there should a fear of the internet.

In terms of shooting with film instead of digital video, the jury is still out and everyone seems to have a strong opinion on it. I can say that I wouldn’t have been able to make a feature film without the [digital] technology we have now and that’s true for a ton of people.

All Ghost Women Play the Theremin EXCERPT from Jerzy Rose on Vimeo.


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