Beyond Vassar

Focus On Eddie Schmidt '92

Producer: Chain Camera, a new documentary film from director Kirby Dick that was a hit with reviewers at the recent Sundance Film Festival.

Synopsis: In August 1999, 10 students at John Marshall High School in Los Angeles were given video cameras and asked to document their lives. No limitations were placed on what they could shoot. After a week, the cameras were given to 10 new students, who filmed their lives for a week, then passed the cameras on. Like chain letters, these cameras circulated through the student body an entire year. By the end, filmmakers had about 700 hours offootage shot by some 200 teens that captured contemporary urban high school experiences. The footage was edited into a film that focuses on 16 students. Chain Camera is scheduled to air on Cinemax in September, and will have a small theatrical release this summer. The BBC plans to air it in England in the fall. It will also be screened in a number of other festivals over the next few months, including. Schmidt talked about the project in an email exchange with the Quarterly.

VQ: What did you do as producer of Chain Camera?

Chain Camera was extremely collaborative, and I was involved every step of the way. During production, I’d check in every week at Marshall High as a new batch of kids received their video cameras, give them a technical primer, answer their questions, and encourage them to show us their lives. Then Kirby (the director), Dody (our other producer) ,and I would meet with the editor (Matt) a few nights a week to review the footage that was coming in.

Together, we constructed not only the individual pieces, but the overall movement of the film, the arc, the pace, etc. Personally, I’m proud of pushing for little moments of human comedy that I think added a lot: the "codas" toward the film end of the film (prom, graduation, and goodbye sequences); and the transitional pieces from subject to subject that give the whole movie a floating quality. I also selected a lot of the music, dealt with various business and legal issues, and supervised the whole finishing process. The hardest part of all was choosing who to put in the film–we had enough good footage for two movies.


VQ: What was the objective of the film?

To make a documentary that eliminated the distance between the filmmakers and the subjects, and to give teenagers who might not get a chance to express themselves in the media to do so. Adults are always wondering "what are kids today thinking?" and if you watch this film, you’ll get an idea. Every generation naively fears that the next generation is going straight to hell. One of the things I loved about this process was seeing how articulate and sharp these kids really were. They were aware of more, and had to deal with more, than I did at that age. And I’d have been hard-pressed to express myself as well as they could.

One reviewer at Sundance walked out of a screening behind a well-heeled elderly couple, and the woman said to her husband, "Why would anyone want to make a film about those filthy kids?" I love that reaction. That’s every knee-jerk response to teenage culture since the 50s. And it’s exactly why people should see the film–it’s teenagers as they really are, and if you’re smart, you’ll listen to them.


VQ: What other films have you worked on and in what capacity?

Together with Brad Carlson, I cowrote and directed two award-winning short films, Happenstance and Brotherly Love, which played in several festivals including Boston, Seattle, San Jose, and Ft. Lauderdale. In features, I was the post-production supervisor on Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss, Legalese, and Kirby Dick’s previous documentary, Sick. I also had stints managing post-production at New Line Cinema, and on the TV series Unsolved Mysteries. For the past couple of years, I’ve owned an editing company called Spootwerks with another Vassar grad, M.J. Loheed ’92, and together we’ve produced promos, trailers, and DVD content for films like Boogie Nights, Seven, Little Nicky. And I suppose I should mention that I, along with M.J. Loheed and Matt Patterson ’92, cowrote the book, The Finger: A Comprehensive Guide To Flipping Off (Acid Test; 1998). It’s a definitive look at the world’s nastiest hand gesture which, believe it or not, made’s top 75.


VQ: What’s next for you?

Well, there’s a lot of interest in doing a Chain Camera-style reality show for series television, and we’re talking to networks about a number of different ideas. Also, my comedy group, OOZE (comprising ex-Vassar Laughing Stock members M.J. Loheed, Matt Patterson and Joe Wagner) still performs regularly in Hollywood, while maintaining our satiric stronghold on the Internet at I’m finishing up a documentary that I directed called POPsicle Culture, which is my journey into the lives, loves, and legends of The Ice Cream Man. And in June, I’ll be marrying a lovely woman by the name of Rachel Kamerman. She’s a production designer for film and TV, so it’s kind of a media-saturated household.

BY THE WAY...I just wanted to mention my debt of gratitude to the entire Vassar film department. They really cultivated not only a passion for understanding films, but for making them. James Steerman and especially Ken Robinson took a boy from Connecticut who liked making stupid videos with his friends and armed me with the basic tools to put a film together. If you look at the number of Vassar film graduates in my class, the class before mine, and the class after it, and see how many of them are working in their field, it will blow your mind.

— G.W.