"Ink & Paper," aired as part of the 2013 edition of "Fine Cut." A summary: A short documentary about the Aardvark Press, one of the last letterpress printers in Los Angeles and Mcmanus & Morgan paper, Los Angeles' oldest artist paper distributor.
Here, we speak with Ben Proudfoot, the director of "Ink & Paper," about inanimate objects, the importance of smaller film festivals, and magic.
You describe this film as "a love letter to dying art forms." What is it about these two men and their businesses that inspired you to tell their stories?
I think as a filmmaker you are always searching for "the tug," that compulsion to tell a certain story. Making a movie is such a long and arduous process, you really need to choose a subject that not only makes sense but also feels right in your gut. When I met Cary and Gary, I knew there was a story I could tell there. It was very simple and just made sense. It was almost as if I didn't have a choice.
As much as I was compelled emotionally to their stories, I also felt a duty to record what was going on. Because these are dying art forms, I felt duty-bound as a fellow craftsman to document their story - to scrape together some permanence in a precarious situation.
I also am fascinated by the very real and very profound relationship people have to inanimate objects, how an oily letterpress or a handmade piece of paper can be a vessel for all these feelings, all these emotions and passions in a way that really comes across on film. And for these two men, that relationship was very real and in this case very cinematic as well.
Both this film and your narrative short Dinner with Fred, a WWII period piece inspired by true events, have been featured at many film festivals. What has been your best festival experience so far?
The best festival experiences I have had are the smaller festivals like the Van Wert Film Festival in Ohio and the Flint Film Festival in Michigan. I love those festivals because I get to meet people who love film but aren't necessarily in the film business. I'm far more interested in and inspired by their opinions and world views than a larger festival that's packed with corporate clones who always have the same things to say. Plus, I get to visit really interesting parts of the country that I wouldn't have ordinarily gotten to see. Maybe the biggest reason I like small town festivals so much is because they are truly festivals - celebrations of movies and stories - instead of a Sundance or a Tribeca, which are essentially contests and markets.
Not only are you a filmmaker, but you're also a sleight-of-hand magician. Are there elements in magic you are able to apply to cinema?
I feel like I'm basically doing the same thing. Magic and cinema are very related fields. I guess that's why the earliest filmmakers were magicians.
What has been the greatest thing you've learned while studying at USC?
Take the road less travelled by.
Who do you consider some of your greatest artistic inspirations?
I'm big on Capra, Spielberg, Disney, Peter Weir, David Lean, John Ford, Minnelli, Steven Zaillian. Those are my film people.
But perhaps more than them I'm inspired by the work of musicians. Almost everything I've done that has bordered on inspired was created around, with and because of some piece of music or musical style. Mostly orchestral stuff. Tchaikovsky. Vivaldi. Some jazz. A lot of film music. Love Williams, Herrmann, enjoying Desplat's stuff. Orchestral stuff is better for me I find. Words confuse it when I'm looking to be inspired. Lyrics turn on another part of my brain. I'm very moved by music and so it plays a very large part in my creative process as well as in my movies. My partner in that department is composer Kyle Malkin, who no doubt will be the next John Williams. He's just gifted.
What's next for you?
Well I'm building my company, Breakwater Studios, and trying to figure out a way to employ myself and my collaborators, learning my place in the long continuum of storytellers, constantly improving my craft, hoping I don't do anything too stupid, hoping I don't forget how lucky I am to do what I do every day, hoping I can help others do the same.