Hello. I’m director/editor Frank Stamm. A few years ago I challenged myself. I decided that with no prior experience making films I would become a world-class director within ten scripted videos.
If you have an interest in no-budget filmmaking, won’t you join me on my journey to becoming a world-class director? Here, walk with me. I will catalog my filmic efforts and tell you what’s gone right, and what’s gone wrong. Join me in my march to be known worldwide as “Sodock’s (hick town in Western New York State) Mad Director”.
The first scripted film:
My first film/video was a 3 minute goof called “Living Simply” (2008). My original plan was to release a number of short comedy videos on Youtube hoping that one of them would go viral. I lost interest in that pursuit quickly. “Living Simply” starred Del Rivers (soon to become ever-present in my films), and the basic script was provided by Vice Admiral Richard Gagnier, who asked not to receive credit for it. The film was shot with a borrowed video camera that had fairly grainy resolution.
The second scripted film:
For my second film, “Erin Go Braughless” (10 minutes, 2008), I wanted to make something that flowed like a film, with a number of scenes, and dialogue between actors, etc. I began filming though I only had a very rough script drawn, the concept provided by Vice Admiral Richard Gagnier, with me scripting the thing on the fly. I figured with a shitty camera and actors who were amateur level, it didn’t make a lot of sense to script something complicated and intelligently, because there was no way the film was going to work out to be something complicated and intelligent. The script concept had to do with an Irish factory town where the workers have no pride, because they’re in the business of manufacturing training bras. About midway through the film they decide to manufacture bras of steel.
The film worked out very well in that it had a nice easy visual flow. It definitely lacked though in that the script/dialogue had some gaping holes. Much was left unexplained/without necessary clarification. After this film I decided I wanted tighter scripts, whether or not the actors could deliver more complicated lines convincingly.
One of the best things I can say about this film is that music was provided by a local indie band, at that time called The Shiloh Wild Band, then Fudge Club, now called Tim & Tom. I have reused the Irishy music they provided for this video in many, many other videos of mine, such as over the end credits in “The Blind Neighbor”. Something else good thing about the film was that it added to my stable of actors Craig Watkins and James "The Bob" Wyand.
Footage from this early film can be found in the short documentary "Personal tribute to developing acting skills of Del Rivers" where Del walks into a factory yard. A longer scene from this film taken outside a bar can be found in the "Del Rivers acting demo reel".
The third scripted film:
My third film was a remake of my second, this time around called “Cotton No More” (10 minutes, 2009), and set in America rather than in Ireland. The film was meant to feel grittier than its predecessor. The Vice Admiral scripted dialogue for the film this time, and he has continued to script dialogue for my films. On these early films I was basically formalizing working arrangements with a screenplay writer, musicians, and various actors (Eventually a pen and ink artist would join as well).
This film was made with a typical home video camera, but a better camera than had been used for my first two videos. I would continue to use this camera for my next two films, “Dictator for Hire” and “Cypress Springs”. This film could have been something to be proud of if my editing program hadn’t shit the bed nearing the end of the editing process. A conversation between Del Rivers and James Greco is unbelievably choppy, and it’s too bad because Greco delivers one of the funniest lines that has been written for him -- a line about compulsive talkers in foxholes.
Footage from this film can be found in the documentary “Hidden Gems from Stamm Films #1”, a look at nearly lost moments from Stamm films. (FYI: "Hidden Gems" has a direct sequel titled "Roots of Conspiracy MF".)
The fourth scripted film:
My fourth, “Dictator for Hire” (3 minutes, 2009), was a monologue that I wrote on the way to work one day, with only a couple lines adjusted by The Vice Admiral. Del again starred in this one. The character outlined in this video would be expanded on for my next film.
The fifth scripted film:
“Cypress Springs” (2010) was 35 minutes long, longer than the first four videos together. It has lot of mistakes in it, but it was the one that really made a filmmaker out of me. It’s not hard to keep a viewer’s attention for ten minutes, but pretty difficult to keep it for over 20 minutes. You really have to think about story and flow.
“Cypress” included all the actors from my other films (Del Rivers – from all my prior films, Craig Watkins – from “Erin Go Braughless”, and James Greco from “Cotton No More”), as well as additional actors. It would be the last film I’d make with a home video camera. I couldn’t see editing something for months when the quality of the video image was lacking to begin with.
“Cypress” is a mess, with unwanted wind and traffic noise in parts (I didn’t have a mic with a windscreen at the time), and crooked images due to a sub-par tripod without a level, and a missing line of dialogue that makes one conversation a little senseless, but I also believe the film contains about 20 – 30% of one of the great films of our times. It’s a comedy, but it’s also about an America in decline, and a longing for the simple black and whites of youth. Maybe one day I’ll remake it the right way. I outlined this one, with The Vice Admiral scripting.
A scene from "Cypress Springs" with an audience reacting to it can be found in an overview of films #5 thru #8. The tail end of the video overview catalogs many unscripted Stamm films not listed on this page -- for nonfiction, music, and experimental videos.
A different scene from "Cypress Springs" -- this time featuring James Greco and Del Rivers -- can be found in the documentary “Hidden Gems from Stamm Films #1”, a look at nearly lost moments from Stamm films.
Two different scenes from "Cypress Springs" -- this time featuring Craig Watkins -- can be found in Hidden Gems #3.
The sixth scripted film:
“The Blind Neighbor” (7 minutes, 2011) has funny history. It was actually filmed years earlier by a film student cousin who had a decent camera. I edited and co-directed -- the only film I've ever co-directed -- and I came up with the initial concept, with The Vice Admiral scripting. In terms of image quality, it was the best thing I’d released up to 2011, but in terms of script, it was written in the "Cotton No More" era, more or less. I got around to editing it following “Cypress”, and so it was released after “Cypress”. It debuted on July 25th, 2011, at Rochester's Little Theater's “Emerging Filmmakers Series”.
A scene from "The Blind Neighbor" with an audience reacting to it can be found in an overview of films #5 thru #8.
The seventh scripted film:
“Sandwich” (5 minutes, 2012) -- When "The Blind Neighbor” played at a local movie theater, one of the audience members said he’d like to see a sequel. That’s all the encouragement I need apparently. I was walking in a forested area called Corbett’s Glen and had an idea about being pursued by a wild animal in that setting. I then thought about placing the two characters from "The Blind Neighbor" in that situation. The film was shot very quickly. The first day we tried to film we were rained out basically, so we tried once more on another day – when the rain seemed about to pour any second. We rushed through our takes as quickly as possible. The film isn’t what you’d call a step beyond “The Blind Neighbor", but is an OK sequel, considering I was adjusting to a new prosumer camera at the time. WLGZ deejay Chuck McCoy buoys both films with his comic delivery.
A scene from "Sandwich" with an audience reacting to it can be found in an overview of films #5 thru #8.
The eighth scripted film:
“The Norm Karsh Profile” (11 minutes, 2012) was a miracle film, in that any reasonable person wouldn’t have finished it. During the editing of the film, computers broke down, editing programs also stopped working, computers were purchased and returned, new programs were installed/tried/uninstalled, new edits were built from the ground up, there were many technical issues, more. In the end the film is a little bit of madness that opened the floodgates to my working bluer (more risqué) material into future films. Has its faults but it was only the first of two "Western New York Artist Profiles", the second profile being a much smoother product. "The Norm Karsh Profile" played at Rochester’s Little Theater on Wednesday, July 25th, 2012 and Saturday, July 28th, 2012 as part of their "Filmmakers Quarterly" series.
This film was a partly fictionalized biography of artist Norm Karsh, whose drawings are displayed in the film. I wouldn't mind remaking this film sometime -- a longer and more technically proficient version.
An edited version of the film “The Norm Karsh Profile” can be found in “Hidden Gems #4”, a look at nearly lost moments from Stamm films.
The ninth scripted film:
The second Western New York Artist profile: "The Fudge Club Profile" (38 minutes, 2013). This film, my longest to date at the time, and with much higher production values than the next longest ("Cypress Springs") debuted on June 8th, 2013 at Rochester's South Presbyterian Church. This film may be considered my first polished film -- the first scripted film not to have any distracting (to me) technical errors.
Footage from this film can be found in the documentary “Hidden Gems from Stamm Films #1”, a look at nearly lost moments from Stamm films.
The tenth scripted film:
This is the film I envisioned as being my tenth and clearly topping all the work that had come before it. It’s called “The Astronaut Upstairs”, and it’s in the final stage of production/tweaking. A version of it has been screened for the actors. It took more than three years to film and runs in the 60 minute range. Though it will actually be released following some higher numbered films, I’m calling it my tenth because it was in a stage of near completion prior to the shooting of the eleventh film – it’s just that the finishing stages for a 60+ minute film can drag out. Here is a deleted scene featuring an unscripted speech from actor Kenyatta DaCosta -- the only unscripted part of the film.
The eleventh scripted film:
“Babysitter Lemonade” (7 minutes, 2014) -- This is a short goofy “slapstick” film like “The Blind Neighbor” and “Sandwich”, but unlike “Sandwich”, all the i’s have been dotted and all the t’s crossed. I figured following the near-completion of the 60 minute monster “Astronaut” -- and my becoming a no-budget filmmaker of some accomplishment -- I couldn't any longer release slapdash experiments, but should finish everything to the level that it could be submitted to a festival. A new scene and some animation were later attached to the film “Babysitter Lemonade” to create a film titled “Damned Lemonade” (10 minutes, 2017). "Damned Lemonade" was accepted into the 2018 Chautauqua International Film Festival.
The twelfth scripted film:
My “twelfth” is actually a series of short films -- a paranormal-investigation web series titled “Conspiracy MF” (2014 - 20??).
The "thirteenth" scripted film:
The unlucky thirteenth scripted film is, if the number of "Conspiracy MF" episodes is taken into account, more like the 20th scripted film.
The film, now in production, stars the fictional host of "Conspiracy MF" Nick Whippet, but has less to do with paranormal investigation than it does with reviving some of the themes and situations of the earliest films: "Erin Go Braughless", "Cotton No More", "Dictator For Hire", and "Cypress Springs" -- early films shot with typical home video camera.
*** As a side note, careful readers may note that I usually work in pairs of films. This isn’t a conscious choice exactly but more something that happens naturally.
“Cotton No More” was a remake of the factory-movie parody “Erin Go Braughless”.
“Cypress Springs” was the origin story of a character from “Dictator for Hire”.
“Sandwich” was the sequel of the also-slap-sticky “The Blind Neighbor”.
“The Norm Karsh Profile” and “The Fudge Club Profile” were both episodes of a fictional show titled “Western New York Artist”.
The two sister films “The Astronaut Upstairs” and “Frank Stamm Presents Ben Hur” were rolled over into one film, “The Astronaut Upstairs” – my masterwork.
I have also worked on some nonfiction projects/experiments over the years I’ve been working on the films described above.
*** Many of the links to videos throughout this essay are for Youtube postings. Many of these Youtube videos are also posted on Vimeo, where they may display better than their Youtube counterparts.