Danny Plotnick Bio

For the past twelve years Plotnick has been an integral part of the San Francisco film community, as well as the underground film scene nationally. In addition to making 17 films, he has released three videotape compilations into home distribution, embarked on five national film tours, one European film tour and has taught numerous seminars on super 8 filmmaking and alternative distribution.

The past year has been particularly busy. In addition to completing his latest film,Swingers’ Serenade, Plotnick undertook a three-week tour of Holland, projected films at The Terrastock West music festival, put on free film shows in S.F. at The House of Low Self-Esteem and Bloodshot Cafe, curated a show of teen films at Yerba Buena Center for The Arts, a short film showcase at El Rio Outdoor Cinema, an all night screening at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design, taught numerous film classes at Film Arts Foundation, San Francisco State University, University High School, California State Summer School For the Arts (an acclaimed high school arts program in Southern California), programmed several hundred film classes as part of his full-time job at Film Arts Foundation and made I, Socky (co-directed by Alison Levy). I, Socky is a super 8 short chronicling a day in the life of a rogue sock monkey. The film netted second prize at the Brainwash Film Festival, an Honorable Mention at the US Super 8 film festival and screened at festivals and showcases in Athens, Vancouver, Seattle, San Antonio, Portland, Minneapolis, Toronto, Chicago and numerous cities in Holland. Plotnick has also gotten I, Socky in front of people by placing the film at local video stores as a free rental.

Like I, Socky, many of Plotnick’s other films continue to show at various festivals and nationally curated screenings around the country.

He has undertaken three tours of the Pacific Northwest, one of the Southland, one of the East Coast and one of Holland, showing his films along with works by other Bay Area and Midwest filmmakers. The tours have been quite successful, featuring screenings at traditional independent film venues like New York’s Knitting Factory, Seattle’s 911 Media Arts Center and Olympia’s Capitol Theatre, as well as more alternative spaces like Portland’s Howling Frog Cafe and Baltimore’s Mansion Theater. Plotnick is a fervent supporter of short independent films and through projects like compilation tapes and film tours hopes to broaden the audience for independent filmmaking. Such endeavors help bring alternative cinema to people who might not normally have the opportunity to see these types of films.

Also, as one of this country’s biggest super 8 advocates, he is constantly fielding calls about the technical and aesthetic issues regarding low-budget filmmkaing. In 1996, Plotnick presented a collection of American super 8 films for a visiting group of Dutch journalists and filmmakers. His film Pillow Talk is playing at the MOMA in New York as part of the Big As Life series which focuses on the history of super 8. Over the years, he has honed the craft of making films in the oft-maligned gauge of super 8. The result being, that he teaches several seminars a year in super 8 film production at San Francisco’s Film Arts Foundation, as well as presenting guest lectures and seminars at various institutions in the region. He has taken his super 8 workshops to various institutions around the country including Evergreen State University in Olympia, The Olympia Film Ranch, San Francisco State University, Seattle’s 911 Media Arts Center, the New York Underground Film Fest and the Chicago Underground Film Fest.

That said, Plotnick is ready to embrace a new dying medium—16mm. Swingers’ Serenade, shot in glorious 16mm black and white premiered at the Chicago Underground Film Fest in August 1999.

MY RANT ( circa1994)

"Gimme Super 8 or Gimme Death!"

Super 8 gets a bum rap in the film community. The perception that it looks brown and sounds crappy is maddening. Granted, the medium does have its idiosyncrasies and limitations, but no questions asked, one can make a kick-ass, sharp looking and pristine sounding piece in no time for no money.

There are several keys to working effectively in super 8. First off, one has to treat it as its own unique medium, not as a mini-16mm. Super 8 has its own strengths and limitations that don’t necessarily correlate to 16mm. Once you gets a grasp of these, you’re on your way to producing work that looks as good and, technically speaking, sounds better than its 16mm counterpart.

Another important thing to keep in mind with 8mm is the need to mentally have your chops up when you’re making a film. The toughest thing about s/8 is there’s little room for error. Unlike 16mm, where the lab can save your ass in any number of ways, s/8 is a very unforgiving medium. If you record your image poorly or you mess up your sync sound in the production phase, you’re in deep shit. Basically, you’re not allowed any mental lapses in production or pre-production, which ultimately is a good thing— It makes editing a relative cake walk.

When people do tout s/8, it usually revolves around the money issue—that it’s cheaper to work in s/8 than 16. To me, that’s not the main advantage of super 8, because ultimately, all film formats are expensive these days. Super 8 is less expensive, but it’s still expensive. There’s nothing cheap about it.

To my mind, the main advantage of s/8 is the immediacy that comes from working with reversal stocks and single system sound. Though less hearty filmmakers blanche at the notion of cutting camera original, I think that one gets to know and appreciate their film a lot more when they put their fingerprints on it. I’m sure that sounds pretty hippie dippie, but I know that one’s methodology of creating art manifests itself in the artwork and, that said, the immediacy and intimacy that comes from super 8’s methods of production do make for more vital and exciting works.

Also, and maybe more importantly, you could, if you wanted, make an entire film, start to finish in two weeks. No edge codes to keep track of, no conforming, no pesky negative to cut, no dealing with syncing mag and picture, no answer prints, no waiting around for months to find a spare $2,000 to finish your 12 minute film. None of those headaches. Just plug your mic directly into your camera, send the film to the lab, get it back, edit it on your kitchen table, grab your projector and go have a show.

It’s that simple....really.


...Well...Uh...(Addendum to rant, circa 1999)

All right, in theory I still agree with my vitriolic championing of super 8, but times have changed. Kodak has scrapped sound super 8 stocks—a devastating blow to sync sound filmmakers like myself. Strangely, Kodak’s moves helped put a hot iron in the butts of many a marginalized filmmaker and the hue and cry to save super 8 was heard loudly. Kodak even introduced a new silent super 8 stock. So sure, we can all pat ourselves on the back, but the unfortunate reality is there are still no sound stocks, thus severely limiting what one can accomplish with super 8. One can still tackle subjects with a wide variety of techniques and styles, but sync sound is gone from the palette and that sucks. If you ever want to hear some rip-roaring dialogue, you’re pretty much out of luck...unless you want to shoot 16mm or DV. In the past year, I shot two films. I, Socky is a short film which I accomplished with my tried and true ways on super 8. The film didn’t call for sync, so I was able to shoot silently and add sound in post (quite expeditiously I might add by utilizing a digital sampler). The other film Swingers’ Serenade necessitated sync sound. The film was also a b&w period piece. Since b&w super 8 print stocks don’t exist in the States and sync sound doesn’t exist in super 8, there was no choice but to use 16mm. In super 8, the film simply wouldn’t be up to snuff. Don’t worry though, I just tell people I’m embracing a new dying medium.