Jimmy Ennett – Australian Naked Filmmaker
A few months ago I was reviewing my Youtube account and saw a mile of comments left on my videos. A few of them were from a young filmmaker in Australia named Jimmy Ennett who said that he was a one-man filmmaker, too, and that he’d even bought my book Naked Filmmaking. This was very personally uplifting for me to learn that not only was Naked Filmmaking reaching beyond U.S. borders, but that it was also spreading out into new hemispheres.
I quickly sent this young compatriot a thank you e-mail and we began corresponding. I wanted to know who this other naked filmmaker was and how he came to find the journey into filmmaking without-a-crew. Then I thought it would be interesting to share his story with other people who check in on this blog so that readers know that I’m not the only crazy one out here. That there are other filmmakers out there who, like Jimmy and me, feel that there are better and easier–and cheaper–ways to making films that following the traditional crew route that all the schools and the other filmmaking books proclaim.
I invited Jimmy to write a blog about himself for this site. Since Naked Filmmaking has been selling well over the past year, I know that there have to be a few more filmmakers out starting to go “the naked route.” If you are, please sent me a note. I’d love to post a blog about you.
As I was finishing setting up this post I sent Jimmy an e-mail encouraging him to follow Chapter One of Naked Filmmaking and register his name as a web domain and create his own blog-driven website. Within an hour he e-mailed me back to say that he’s just registered jimmyennett.com. It may be a few weeks or months before it’s rolling, but check in on him. I’m sure that he’s going to be a person worth following.
Here, now, meet Jimmy Ennett — One-Man Filmmaker:
My name is Jimmy Ennett. It’s not a name you should know, it’s just me. I’m a 24 year old Australian College student, in a fairly unremarkable city in a fairly remarkable country. I am studying a myriad of film based subjects, as well as writing, and other things to help plump up a double degree. None of these classes are the reason that you are reading this right now – the reason is that I share a mantra with Mike, the same mantra that lead me to his book, Naked Filmmaking, and that is “why not?”
Why not learn how to operate a camera?
Why not learn how to achieve the best possible audio?
Why not learn how story beats translate to script, and decode what you have been watching your entire life?
Why not just shut up, and make something? Anything?
Writing this, I realize that I’m preaching to the converted. You aren’t the type of filmmaker who thinks directing equates to outsourcing. But Mike has given me this opportunity, this platform, to discuss what has gotten me to this point in my young career and to offer advice to anyone that will listen.
Let’s skip the part where I made movies with my Dad’s camera and that I was born to make movies – you have already lived that story and read it in every article about the next wunderkind director or seasoned master.
I’m going to come in late, and leave early.
In 2009 I differed from my current university to live in Melbourne for a year (I currently live in Canberra, the capital city of Australia – I bet you all thought it was Sydney, so you’re already learning something). I went there because I was dejected at how hands-off my production course was at my Canberran University. I took up some part time study at a TAFE (Community college) to learn about the practicalities of a multi-cam television studio environment. My thought process was that I wanted to make screen content, and it seemed the most logical choice for future employment.
At this same time, I’m in a brand new city, working in a call centre and scraping together my rent.
I had a lot of time to myself.
This is when I somehow caught wind of Robert Rodriguez’ book Rebel Without A Crew. I devoured that book, within a day I had bought his box set just to watch El Mariachi with his audio commentary. I learned more that weekend than all of my tertiary education put together. A book, written in the mid 90’s, by a Texan making a feature in Mexico was more relevant to me than a TV production course in my own backyard.
That book set off a chain of events that have led me to where I am now.
After that I bought a Canon HV40 camcorder and a Depth Of Field adapter. This allowed me to fix Canon FD lenses to the front of this 720p, 24p camcorder (for 2009, it was very fancy).
You know that you’re doing something that you have to do when you are barely making rent but can somehow muster $2,000 together to spend on this stuff.
I would read blog after blog, chew up forums, and research until 4am on most nights (it didn’t equate to the best phone manner for my day job).
The one thing I didn’t research, or realize, is what to put in front of the camera.
It’s something I see in filmmakers today, young and old.
They get transfixed on the gear, on the stuff, and not what to do with it. They are never happy with what they have—there’s something new around the corner, so why use the obsolete junk in your hand? Right?
It was something that I happened to find through my second reading of Rebel Without A Crew, and that is simply – Technical people can not learn how to be creative. But creative people can learn to be technical.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t drawn to filmmaking based on what F-stop was used here or the minutia of an audio peak there. I was, am and always will be drawn to it because I am creative and I want to tell stories. I was arming myself with this technical arsenal, and that obsession was starting to take over.
I had to take stock. I had to recalibrate and think how I want to get my work out there.
I moved back to Canberra in 2010 and went back to my old University. To my surprise they had changed the production course significantly, now there were units on documentary production that actually had us out, every week, making a different style of documentary. There were specialty cinematographer courses, the lot.
But there was a shining beacon of a class that really helped evolve my production techniques. It helped me consider how I light my subjects, how I chose my framing and what I say to my actors. That was a class spent in a room, not a studio, in the form of scriptwriting 101.
I was fortunate to have a teacher who is a current writer on a huge show in Australia called Underbelly. Think Sopranos, but based on real suburban criminals, and a lot of drama. Our content doesn’t come close to the production value of a HBO epic, but this show was the closest we have been.
The way that she taught how to tell a story, how to break it down, how to plot it out logically then lather it with creativity was captivating.
My confidence started to rise as I would top these classes, including the scriptwriting class, which was filled with writing majors and published short story authors. I fused my visual language with my prose, broke it down to slot into three acts, and guided the mind like I would my camera.
It was around this stage that I was seeing the quality of DSLR footage and the mindset that shallow depth of field equates to amazing cinematography (remember, this was still over a year ago).
I researched and decided to import a Canon T2i from Japan (which was exactly half the cost of buying it here) with the single lens kit.
A week later I made this documentary for the documentary film. (Please excuse the terrible quality at the end, as I was using my HV40, It being the last day of shooting and our subject was pouring her heart out after weeks of building report, so we couldn’t stop the shoot based on full memory cards and empty batteries.)
This short was nothing special. I didn’t focus pull on the dolly shots, I didn’t light with any colour corrected bulbs, and the camera was set to Auto White Balance.
All that aside, it blitzed the competition at the end of semester screening. (Again, not a film school, and even the “directors” didn’t know how to edit.)
Fast forward to January this year, I decide, after watching Tropfest (A huge national short film festival) that I was going to take it a bit more seriously. A local Canberran competition was about to happen, and it was quite big in our little city. The parameters for the competition were set around giving filmmakers a theme a month before, then on a Friday night announcing 10 locations/items that had to be in the film, with a ten day deadline from then. This insured that the films were made in those ten days, and that the playing field was at least even in that regard.
The theme was ‘invitation’, and the items were things like a post office, a certain train station, an RSVP, etc.
I had the story ready to go in my head once I heard the theme, so the ten days were more about the logistics of getting these things/locations into the film, without it feeling too portmanteau and disjointed.
During my research I looked at prime lenses and settled on the Sigma 30mm 1.4f prime – this little baby more or less equaled a 50mm lens, due to the 1.6x crop factor of the APSC sensor T2i. The reason I bring this up is that I used that technical knowledge with my idea and was able to light my film with diegetic flashlights and lamps, due to how open the lens could be.
Here is Invasion my entry for ‘Lights! Canberra! Action! March 2011’
The actual shoot was over two nights, using my Rode Videomic that I bought with my HV40 back in Melbourne, a little Zoom H1 to record the sound and my trusty Canon T2i with nothing but my Sigma prime. I remember reading somewhere that Wes Anderson used one prime lens on his first feature ‘Bottle Rocket’ – he said it forced him to move the camera around a bit and think much more about what he was shooting and why, instead of locking off and zooming to frame.
I also chose to do steady tripod or dolly shots throughout the ominous, tense, slow bits to show that my protagonists were in control. I then held the collapsed tripod like a stabiliser for the last scene, to add a bit of shake, showing them way out of their comfort zone. It’s one of those things that I feel adds something to the aesthetic without being overt or obnoxious about it.
The dolly was actually homemade with my father with inverted skateboard wheels on a triangle of wood and two lengths of cheap PVC pipe – worked a treat.
The film ended up taking home three awards and more importantly, it made people take notice. To this day I help out on set with one of the judges of that original competition, and thanks to his recommendation that little film won me a silver award in Sydney from the Australian Cinematography Society in the student category.
That’s my story up to now, and next year looks even brighter. I’m getting paid Assistant Cameraman jobs and I’m doing well at College. It’s thanks to contributors like Mike that I am able to fathom success in the world of filmmaking – because success to me isn’t a Porsche in the driveway, it’s me wanting to express myself. Books like Naked Filmmaking show me that if I can execute a micro budget short, then a micro budget feature is entirely feasible.