Here at the Bioscope we like to commend all efforts to keep the art of silent filmmaking alive today, and now we learn of The Gold Bug, an 87-minute version of the Edgar Allen Poe short story about a man who becomes obsessed with finding gold after being bitten by a “gold bug”. It’s a home-made effort by former students Spike Carpenter and Andy Tornow, produced at a cost of some $10,000. The film had its premiere last month at the Grand Opera House, Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
These are extracts from an interview with Carpenter in the Oshkosh West Index, which say much about the filmmakers’ enthusiasm and dedication:
Lack of high-quality sound equipment was one major factor in the decision to make The Gold Bug silent, but Carpenter and Tornow also hold a deep respect for the unique art of silent film.
“I just fell in love when I saw my first Charlie Chaplin film; I love the world that it places you in. The way he moved across the screen effortlessly is what I tried to capture in our film,” said Carpenter. “To me, film is most importantly a visual art.”
“It was too difficult to work with a moving camera, so we kept it simple and focused more on the composition of the frame, or the artistic balance of the shot. At one point we put the audience in a cage; because Brand feels trapped in the cottage. We filmed bars with light coming in to represent that feeling.”
In order to successfully see their creativity become a reality in the filming process, the young filmmakers constantly had to work around obstacles using their own innovations.
“The pirate treasure was just one of many cinematic tricks that we used to make this picture. We built a false bottom to the treasure chest to make it look like the entire thing was loaded, when, in reality, we only had to fill a fourth of it,” said Carpenter. “From the beginning, I wanted authentic, time-period coins, so I ordered those online. When I realized that I was still way short in terms of filling the false bottom, I purchased “filler” treasure. In making an independent film, you have to learn to cut corners whenever possible.”
To get the unique nebulous look present in the entirety of The Gold Bug, such as the sepia tone and slow shutter film setting, there was much technical film work to pursue. The crew used a program called Sony Vegas Pro for the editing, which allowed them to maximize the extent of their imaginations.
“[The program] took a while to learn; we finished late October and then were up until actually the morning of the showing to get everything finalized,” said Carpenter. “The effect of the words mysteriously appearing on the parchment is a simple double-exposure. This technique is an old one. It’s very difficult to get this shot just right. You have to stay completely still as someone else makes the necessary changes for the next shot. That is why, if you watch closely, you see that Legrand’s thumb moves a little in the dissolve.”
“Casting actors was terribly difficult, especially since this was my first film and I had zero credibility. Making a film is grueling work, and it takes up your life if you’re serious about it. We went through several different people in the three years it took to make this film. When it came to this summer we had different actors and we had to do all the pirate stuff over again.”
“When we’re old and gray we can look back at ourselves climbing cliffs and riding horses,” said Carpenter. “It’s an amazing reward to see my imagination finally come out in film. It is the toughest and most important project we’ve ever done in our lives. I learned a lot about filmmaking; it takes months and months of hard work.”
Carpenter’s father provided the music score, and copies on DVD are available from his mother – unfortunately, no contact details provided, perhaps on the assumption that the only interest will be local, but the YouTube clip looks quite stylish. The Bioscope suspects that it would merit further exposure elsewhere.