The popular notion of how filmmakers work, derived from the Hollywood model, is that they all start with scripts, then haul out the cameras and lights to realize those visions.
But many independent artists, especially those working in an experimental vein, don't function that way. Often they just shoot stuff that interests them; if the footage winds up in a completed film, it's a bonus.
Working at that end of the spectrum is Brian Dean Richmond, a fixture on the local art and music scene. Richmond, 49, shoots mostly 16 mm film, having never joined his fellow moving-picture artists in the past decade's wholesale transition to video. He keeps his outtakes, which he tapes together on reels and views when he needs something for a piece he's working on. It's a kind of journal on film. His short films ... most under 15 minutes ... draw on footage that's years, even decades, old.
"My Final Friend," for instance, is a kind of re-thought home movie. It's composed entirely of black-and-white footage shot on the grounds of Richmond's family home, in Murrysville, starting in the late 1970s. And while it's "about" his relationship with a woman, the sense of loss and resignation are communicated largely through images of a small boy (a neighbor) attempting archery in some snowy woods, and of a barn whose second-story doors Richmond himself had painted with a large heart. The boy was someone whom Richmond's father, a scientist, was helping with math. Part of the film's soundtrack is from a cassette tape an older student gave to his late father; it features someone reciting what Richmond believes Korean poetry.
The collage approach echoes Richmond's affinity for larger artifacts, as well as the state of his homestead itself. "I collect lots of junk and it sits around in our yard, and I try to think of ways to use it," he says. "It's a problem in some ways, but in other ways it gives you ideas."
Richmond will screen "My Final Friend" and three other new works at the June 13 installment of the Film Kitchen screening series. Also screening are "The Photographer," a short narrative by Rochester Institute of Technology student Moonsik Chung, and "The Pittsburgh Monologue Project," a short documentary about a local theater project, by Carnegie Mellon grad student Lee Hollin.
Another of Richmond's films, "Parking Lot," began a decade ago as a cinematic journal about an unpaved lot near the then-new North Oakland home of Pittsburgh Filmmakers, whose facilities and equipment he has long used. The lot's resemblance to a moonscape fascinated him (the first moonwalk happened on his 13th birthday). The paving of the lot a few years back makes the film an historical document as well as an impressionistic artwork.
"Hardie Way" is built around an optical illusion Richmond noted in the eponymous two-block-long South Oakland street. The Cathedral of Learning aligns with Hardie, but because of how the street's buildings sit, the closer you get to the landmark skyscraper, the farther it seems to recede. Again, the footage was collected over a period of years, and features Richmond's sons ... Waylon and Leif, now ages 12 and 15 ... as they grow up. "They're in almost everything I have," says Richmond.
In person, Richmond can be almost inaudibly soft-spoken. He tends to populate the background, even at opening receptions for his own films and paintings, and at performances of bands for which he's played bass and other instruments, including Johnsons Big Band and The Working Poor. But Richmond often collaborates on his films. "Parking Lot" features a sound collage by Sam Pace, while the "Hardie Way" soundtrack is by Chris Cannon. And Richmond credits filmmaker friends, including Michael Johnson and Adam Abrams, for helping him with techniques such as hand-coloring and optical printing (the rephotographing of moving-picture images to achieve special visual effects).
Another hallmark of Richmond's work is dual projection: screening two 16 mm filmstrips from synchronized projectors so that the images overlap. Richmond says this preserves the colors of each filmstrip in a way that would be impossible were the two sets of footage married on a single film print. It's the flicker of the frames that lets the color come through.
"Flickering is indecipherable," he says. "Your eyes really can see it, though."