Bending Steel: Professional Filmmaking in the new DIY Age

A cinematographer and director Ryan Scafuro presented his Nerd Nite talk, “Bending Steel: Professional Filmmaking in the New DIY Age,” at the Oberon Theatre in Harvard Square, as the second part of a special Nerd Nite on September 24th.

Scafuro who usually works in commercials and on The Daily Show explained that life as a freelancer has it’s ups and downs and it was during one of his down times, in 2011 that he and his friend Dave Caroll met Chris Schoeck, an aspiring strong man who was practicing his craft in a basement storage unit of Caroll’s apartment building.

A 43 year old New York native, Schoeck was described by Scafuro as an outsider and very socially awkward but incredibly passionate, spending hours in his “cage,” practicing, surrounded by bent metal and torn phone books.  According to Scafuro he is a man on a mission to revitalize the sideshow strongman and realize his full potential by staging a live performance at Coney Island at the end of August 2011. “He always felt he had a  greater potential but never knew what it was, and he believes that he found it in this act,” Scafuro said.

But, the more they got to know him, the more they realized that their project really needed to be a full length feature and not a short documentary. “Dave and I really peeled away all these layers of the onion and thought holy shit, we kind of have an important thing we have to do and we have to do this justice,” said Scafuro.

Scafuro explained that most of what they needed to know they learned as they went along.  Using their own equipment they were able to shoot 400 hours of footage using DSLR’s (digital single lens reflex camera’s) and farm out post production.  Eventually they decided to form a production company and divide up the tasks with Carroll as the director and Scafuro as producer.  But, there were a lot of other jobs that needed to be done, “we also needed a lawyer to write up releases to deal with the insurance, and we needed an editor to edit the film which is REALLY really expensive,” he said, “We were lucky in all these situations to get people who were just interested in the movie and working on a feature length for the first time  and were like, this is worth it.”

By the time shooting was finished, they were out of money.  Scafuro explained that to finish their post production which included; recording sound, sound design, sound mixing and bunch of other stuff they needed to raise a additional $25,000.

So they turned to Kickstarter, to create a fundraising campaign.  It was another learning experience Scafuro said,“you can’t just throw up a campaign and expect to make money.  I spent the first month looking at the budget and trying to figure out what we could get.  Then I looked at Kickstarter and tried to figure out what worked and what didn’t.”

With the film finally ready to go Scafuro explained that they are now in the process of making submissions to film festivals like the Toronto International Film Festival and SXSW.  With their submissions to the big first tier festivals done, they’re now waiting to hear if they got in.  “So you go to Sundance, you go to Toronto, you go to Tribeca and you see if they bite,” he said, “and if they bite you’re in good shape and you’re usually talking to distributors and people who want to buy the film at the festival.”

If that doesn’t work then they move on to tier two festivals and options for self distribution.  Social media has really helped.  Scafuro talked about how using social media and new technology is changing the way filmmakers interact with their audience and can facilitate an almost immediate transition onto a big screen.  Bending Steel now has a website, twitter feed, Tumblr blog, Facebook fan page and previews available on both Vimeo, YouTube.

With two years of work behind them and their heart set on a Tribeca premier for Bending Steel, Scafuro didn’t make it sound easy but he made it sound doable and at the end he said that he would absolutely do it again, but never with his own money.   He hopes that this will be a platform for his career and lead to other funded projects down the line.

Because of the process or the subject I think even if strong men aren’t your thing, you have to admit it’s hard not to admire people who can so passionately pursue their goals.  In the end my curiosity is piqued and now, even though I never thought it would interest me, I have to see this movie about a guy bending steel with his bare hands.