From the Student Film Club: Hi Filmmakers, Interested in learning about using a professional camera or refreshing yourself on video production skills? This Friday, January 21, from 4:30-6:00pm, we will be offering a Camera Workshop at the library led by our Treasurer Keller Hollingsworth! In this workshop, you’ll be taught how to use the library’s Canon C100 professional filmmaking camera with hands-on practice, as well as some general basics about cameras and film! If you attend, you’ll be officially certified with the Canon C100 and be allowed to check it out from the library at any time and use it for your short films! It’ll be a great opportunity to practice with a professional camera on short films you may produce for our Spring Student Film Festival!
Eli Saliba (CofC ’20), former Film Studies minor and Student Film Club officer, is currently a graduate student at the University of Georgia’s new MFA program in Film and Television. As part of his studies, he has produced his own short film, Lavender, which has been selected for this year’s Beaufort International Film Festival, February 22-27! Eli’s film was among only five student films selected for this year’s festival. A full list of the official selections can be viewed by clicking the festival logo below.
Be sure to save the date and plan a trip to Beaufort to support one of our own! in the meantime, you can check out a trailer for Lavenderhere.
Congratulations, Eli! You made all of us here in the Film Studies program proud!
Updates and additional info about the Beaufort International Film Festival, now in its 16th year, will be posted soon.
Michael Nesmith (Nez, or Papa Nez, to his fans) who passed away on Friday, December 10 at the age of 78, will be best remembered as a member of The Monkees, the pre-fabricated rock band that was America’s answer to the British Fab Four, The Beatles. The television series, The Monkees, aired on NBC for two seasons (1966-1968), during which time the group released five LPs on the Columbia Pictures-owned Colgems label. The first four of these LPs went to number one on the Billboard chart. The band also released a string of hit singles, including “Last Train to Clarksville,” “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” and “I’m a Believer.” None of the members of The Monkees wrote these hits or played any instruments on them. They were largely the efforts of seasoned songwriters from New York’s Brill Building: Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, Neil Diamond, Gerry Goffin & Carole King among others. The musicians, including drummer Hal Blaine and bassist Carol Kaye, were members of the famous Wrecking Crew, who played on some of the greatest records of the 1960s.
Nesmith, who landed the role after reading an ad in Variety magazine calling for “Folk & Roll Musician-Singers for acting roles in new TV series,” would quickly become frustrated with the recording arrangement. A folk singer-songwriter himself (he often performed at clubs on the Sunset Strip), Nesmith wanted not only to record his own songs, but play on the records as well. Thanks to his tenacity, and the support of the other Monkees–Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, and Peter Tork (also a folkie on the L.A. scene)–the group wrested artistic control from their boss, producer Don Kirshner, and started making their own records, beginning with the 1967 LP “Headquarters.” With songs like “Papa Gene’s Blues,” “Sunny Girlfriend,” and “Auntie’s Municipal Court,” Nesmith is considered a pioneer of Country-Rock, later made popular by The Eagles, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Linda Ronstadt (whose group the Stone Poneys had a hit with the Nesmith-penned country rocker “Different Drum”).
After Nesmith left The Monkees in 1970, he formed his own group: The First National Band, and released three albums on RCA, to critical acclaim but dismal sales. He continued recording as a solo artist and, in 1977, had a modest hit, “Rio.” What was so groundbreaking about the song was not the record itself, but the music video that accompanied it (you can view it here). Music videos were hardly new (indeed, one might argue that The Monkees television series was a vehicle for promoting the group’s singles and LPs, as the group would mime, romp, and goof around to the songs). So Nesmith didn’t invent the concept of the music video, but he took the medium more seriously than anyone else and turned it into an industry. In 1981, four years after his video for “Rio,” Nesmith was awarded the very first Grammy for a music video, his hour-long collection of sketches and songs entitled Elephant Parts. You can view an excerpt of Elephant Parts, the video for his song, “Cruisin,'” here. That same year, MTV was launched, forever changing the music industry.
This is pretty much where most stories about Nesmith end, with a detailed history of his time as a Monkee (both during the show’s initial run and in subsequent reunion tours throughout the past thirty-five years) and a nod to his contribution to the music video genre. You’ll also see an odd but well-known fact that Nesmith’s mother invented liquid paper (which corrected typewriter typos) and left her son a vast fortune. You’ll also see that Nesmith used his inheritance to create Pacific Arts, a media company that produced not only Nesmith’s own music videos, but also distributed television programs (such as Ken Burns’s acclaimed documentary series on the Civil War) and backed a few mainstream films. Nesmith was executive producer of the cult classic Repo Man (dir. Alex Cox, 1984).
And it’s Nesmith’s long and varied role in film and filmmaking that needs more attention. Yes, he also was executive producer on the odd-ball John Cusack and Tim Robbins film Tapeheads (dir. Bill Fishman, 1988). And there’s more to be said of Pacific Arts, which in 1995 launched Videoranch, a company devoted to multimedia projects. Three years later, Videorach began developing technology that would combine live content with virtual environments. In 2006, Nesmith launched Videoranch3D.
But wait, there’s more! And to know the fuller story we need to go back to 1968, when The Monkees were still a hit group with a popular TV series. You see, The Monkees NBC series was the brainchild of two men: Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson. Inspired by The Beatles’ 1964 film A Hard Day’s Night, they imagined something similar, but based in Los Angeles and featuring four, wacky, out-of-work folk singers. After securing their four Monkees, including Michael Nesmith (who was given the dumb nickname Wool Hat, because…well, he wore a green wool hat), a pilot was filmed based on a script co-written by Paul Mazursky (best known for his Academy Award-nominated screenplay for An UnmarriedWoman, and more recently for his role as Norm on the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm). Schneider and Rafelson pitched the pilot to NBC, and it bombed badly. The worst NBC pilot ever, at that time. But when they re-edited the pilot and added footage from the screen tests of Nesmith and Davy Jones, suddenly they had a hit on their hands.
Schneider and Rafelson formed Raybert Productions and made a deal with Screen Gems, the television production wing of Columbia Pictures. The show did moderately well in its Monday, 7:30 slot, going up against CBS’s Gilligan’s Island and ABC’s Western series, The Iron Horse. When the show became a hit, thanks to the success of the records which were released on the Colgems label formed by Columbia Pictures and Screen Gems, Schneider and Rafelson became stars.
The pair had their eyes on the feature films, so naturally the first Raybert Productions project was a film based on The Monkees. To bring the film to life, Schneider and Rafelson enlisted the help of Jack Nicholson, whom Rafelson had met at a movie screening. So it was in late 1967 when Nicholson, Rafelson, Nesmith, Jones, Tork, and Dolenz retreated to Ojai, California, to brainstorm ideas for a Monkees movie script. It was decided that the film should put an end to The Monkees phenomenon once and for all. Head (which then had the working title Changes) would not only expose the “manufactured image” of The Monkees, but the culture it fed as well.
In 1967, Jack Nicholson was an unknown actor, having appeared mainly on television (as Jaime Angel on the popular NBC series Dr. Kildare) and in low-budget horror films produced by Roger Corman’s American International Pictures, such as The Raven and The Terror. His most recent acting gig was in a low-budget exploitation movie directed by Richard Rush entitled Hells Angels on Wheels. Now he was was co-writing the screenplay for a movie about one of the biggest rock groups in the world. “I co-wrote Head,” Jack would later proudly repeat to friends. “Nobody ever saw that, man, but I saw it. A hundred fifty-eight million times. I loved it. Filmically, it’s the best rock ‘n’ roll movie ever made.”1
Only one Michael Nesmith composition was featured in the film, his high-powered “Circle Sky,” which the group performed live in Salt Lake City, May 17, 1968. But it captured the raw energy of a Monkees concert, and put onto celluloid the evidence that the pre-fab four could really play. The footage of The Monkees, led by Nesmith, perfoming live for enraptured teenage girls, cut with images of horrors of the Vietnam War, must have baffled teenagers and adults alike (you can view a clip here).
Indeed, when the film was released, it receive negative reviews, notably from the New Yorker’s Pauline Kael, perhaps America’s greatest and most influential film critic: “the doubling up of greed and pretensions to depth is enough to make even a pinhead walk out,” she wrote (she would later revise her opinion of the film).2 The film bombed at the box office.
Yet Head has gained respect over the years, and is now widely regarded more classic than cult. More importantly, it spawned the career of Rafelson as a feature film director. While Head didn’t make any money, it proved to be an important step forward, as it brought together an important creative team: Nicholson, Rafelson, and Dennis Hopper. In fact, Hopper has a brief appearance in Head in a cafeteria scene, (which you can view here), along with Nicholson and Rafelson.
Still flush with money from their deal with Screen Gems, Raybert Productions financed a film that would go on to change the movie industry and help usher in what is referred to as the New Hollywood. The film was Easy Rider. Directed by Hopper and starring Nicholson in a minor role that would be his big breakthrough, Easy Rider went on to gross $60 million on a $250,000 budget. It garnered numerous award nominations, including the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival (Hopper would win the Best First Work award at Cannes).
Yet while film historians single out Easy Rider as the game changer, the film that changed Hollywood forever, we have to credit its predecessor: Head. There would be no Easy Rider without the Monkees, and there would be no Monkees without Nesmith (“he was our leader the whole time,” Dolenz said, in his first public statement about the loss of his friend).3
As the careers of Rafelson, Nicholson, and Hopper took off, the careers of the individual members of the Monkees went into a tailspin. But it wouldn’t take long before Nesmith righted his own ship, releasing the First National Band and other solo albums and establishing his multimedia empire–and returning to feature filmmaking.
Sometime in 1984, a draft of the script for a strange, sci-fi punk film about a car repossessor landed on his desk. A budding filmmaker by the name of Alex Cox, with his friends Jonathan Wacks and Peter McCarthy, had been trying to get the film financed, but without any luck–until he heard from Nesmith, who was knocked out by the script. “I just fell crazy in love with these guys. I thought they were so smart and they were funny and they were way off the meter. Way off the side,” Nesmith recalls. “And Alex was particularly inspiring to me; he was very edgy and very in-your-face. He’s a big guy, he was about 6-foot-4, and thin as a rail, and I thought, ‘This guy is going to be able to do this: I’m going to have to figure out how to enable him in the way that can get the most of the film.’”4
Today, Repo Man rides very near the top of virtually every list of greatest cult films of all time. And while we rightly single out the performances of Emilio Estevez (as Otto) and Harry Dean Stanton (as Bud), as well as the direction of Alex Cox (who would go on to make the critically acclaimed Sid and Nancy and adapt Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Johnny Depp), we shouldn’t forget Nesmith, and his legacy and influence not just in music and television, but movies as well.
Scott Edwards, Quintessential Jack: The Art of Jack Nicholson on Screen. McFarland, 2018, p. 243.
Paul B. Ramaeker, “‘You Think They Call Us Plastic Now…’: The Monkees and Head.” Soundtrack Available: Essays on Film and Popular Music, edited by Pamela Robertson Wojik and Arthur Knight, p. 98.
Andy Greene. “Mickey Dolenz Remembers Mike Nesmith: ‘He Was Our Leader the Whole Time.” Rolling Stone, 10 Dec. 2021. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/monkees-micky-dolenz-michael-nesmith-tribute-1270342/. Accessed 11 Dec 2021.
Jamie Laughlin, “Nobody’s Monkee: Michael Nesmith on Repo Man, Corporate Pressure and Creative Control.” Dallas Observer, 30 Sep. 2016. https://www.dallasobserver.com/arts/nobody-s-monkee-michael-nesmith-on-repo-man-corporate-pressure-and-creative-control-8757153. Accessed 11 Dec 2021.
What better way to get ready for next Spring’s Annual Student Film Festival, which will be in its 17th year, than with the announcement of this year’s winners of the Student Film Club’s Annual Screenwriting Competition!
First place: “Weight” by Peyton Brotzman. The prize for first place is that the screenplay will be produced by the Student Film Club and made into a short film (and will be Film Club’s official entry for the Spring Student Film Festival), and a poster will be made for the film with the writer receiving a framed copy! We look forward to seeing Peyton’s screenplay up on the big screen next Spring!
Second place goes to Bristol Barnes, for her screenplay, “It’s Getting Bad Again.” The second place prize is a copy of Dan O’Bannon’s Guide to Screenplay Structure & 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, 2021 edition, by Steven Jay Schneider.
Third place goes to Noah Futch, for his screenplay, “The Camera.” The third place prize is a must-read for anyone interested in screenwriting: The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby.
Congratulations to everyone who submitted, and a big thanks to the judges who picked this year’s winners.
Do you have an idea for a film? Start filming now!
Members of the Student Film Club participated in a digital filmmaking workshop at Trident Technical College last Friday, November 12, led by production instructor and friend of the Film Studies program, Tim Fennell. The workshop was a huge success, giving students hands-on training and important collaborative skills. Thanks to Tim and to Trident Technical College’s Film, Media, and Visual Arts program! And keep an eye on this blog for news of next semester’s digital filmmaking workshop. Attendees will be certified to check out start of the art equipment here at the College’s Addlestone Library. And remember: the 17th Annual Student Film Festival is coming next Spring!
Tim Fennell, friend of the College of Charleston and Film Production Instructor at Trident Technical College, will be leading a digital filmmaking workshop that is open to all College of Charleston students. The workshop is Friday, November 12 and runs from 3:00pm to 6:00pm, with a pizza break at 5:00pm (pizza provided by Trident Tech).
The workshop objective is to introduce students to the fundamentals of Digital Film Production techniques and equipment through discussion, selected video viewing, and hands-on demonstration exercises in the Trident Media Arts Production (MAP) facilities.
The TTC Media Arts entrance is the 950 Building at the Mary Thornley Campus of Trident Tech, 2050 Maybeline Road, North Charleston.
The Jury Prize for the 15th Nuovo Cinema Italiano Film Festival was awarded to Martin Eden (2019) directed by Pietro Marcello, with a screenplay by Marcello and Maurizio Braucci from the novel by Jack London. Congratulations! Special recognition goes to many of the jurors’ other favorite films, including the compelling documentary In prima lina (On the Front Line, dir. Matteo Balsamo and Francesco Del Grosso, 2020) and the off-beat Il predatori (The Pretadors, dir. Pietro Castellitto, 2020).
Here’s a preliminary list of courses offered Spring 2022 that will count toward FMST credit. Please check back frequently for updates/changes. Click highlighted text for course description (if available).
The Charleston Literary Festival begins Friday, November 5 and runs through Sunday, November 14. The festival includes talks–live and virtual–with authors such as Paul Auster (Burning Boy: The Life and Work of Stephen Crane), James Ivory (Solid Ivory: A Memoir), Yaa Gyasi (Transcendent Kingdom), André Aciman (Call Me By Your Name), and many others. The live events will be held in Sottile Theatre and Hollings Science Centre.
Be sure to attend a special screening of Luca Guadagnino’s 2017 film adaptation of Call Me By Your Name in Sottile Theatre on Saturday, November 6 at 2:30, followed by a Q&A with author André Acimen and special guest James Ivory, led by Dr. Colleen Glenn, Associate Professor of Film Studies.
Please note: for the health and safety for all, mask wearing and proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test (taken within 72 hours of the event) are required for entry to all festival events.
“I ate a hot dog, it tasted real good/Then I watched a movie from Hollywood”
Frank Zappa & The Mothers, “Cheepnis”
It’s widely known that World War Z (dir. Marc Forster, 2013) is the most expensive horror film ever made. At $190 million, it holds a $30 million lead over Van Helsing (dir. Stephen Sommers, 2004) and a $40 million lead over The Wolfman (dir. Joe Johnston, 2010).
Of course, just as you can make a bad horror movie with a big budget, you can make a good horror movie on a low budget, as Alfred Hitchcock did with Psycho (1960). The film cost $800,000 and grossed $50 million. George Romero’s zombie classic Night of the Living Dead (1967) cost a mere $114,000 and grossed $30 million. And then there’s the legendary Blair Witch Project (dir. Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, 1999), whose budget is estimated to have been somewhere between $200,000 and $500,000. The film ended up grossing nearly $250 million.
But what about that sweet spot, the low-budget horror or sci-fi movie that is bad–and I mean really, really bad? This is what we call “cheepnis.” Or rather, this is what Frank Zappa calls cheepnis, in his song by the same name (which you can find on the classic 1974 live, double LP, “Roxy & Elsewhere”). Take, for example, the classic cheepnis movie It Conquered the World directed by the auteur of cheepnis, Roger Corman. This 1956 film starring towering Hollywood figures like, um, Lee Van Cleef and Peter Graves, is about a creature from Venus that tries to take over the Earth by implanting innocent people with weird bat-like mind-controlling devices. The creature (the “It”) is…well I’ll let Zappa himself describe it:
“The monster looks sort of like an inverted ice-cream cone with teeth around the bottom. It looks like a, like a teepee or a rounded off pup-tent affair. And ah, it’s got fangs on the base of it, I don’t know why but it’s a very threatening sight.”
Then there’s the 1964 film The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies. Yes, that’s the title. And it was made for $38,000. This monster musical (yes, monster musical–filmed in Terrorama no less), “directed” by Ray Dennis Steckler, tells the story of three friends who visit a carnival and stumble upon some incredibly strange creatures who stopped living and became mixed-up zombies. It’s no surprise that both It Conquered the World and The Incredibly Strange Creatures were both featured in episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
This Halloween, as you seek out monster movies to send shivers down your spine, don’t forget to seek out those movies that send you to the floor in hysterics because of the cheepnis of it all. And for those of you who would like a primer on Hollywood cheepnis, check out on YouTube the 1982 documentary It Came from Hollywood (directed by Andrew Solt and Malcom Leo) starring Cheech & Chong and Saturday Night Live and SCTV veterans Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, and John Candy. And for those of you who are curious about Zappa’s homage to cheap monster movies, check out this performance of “Cheepnis.”
“Baby I’m sorry ‘cuz it’s all I wanna know, I need a little more cheepnis please”