Building From Scratch at Silent Film Studio

Teens, adults to write, act, film and score their own silent movie

By Alison Rooney

Perhaps a latter-day Mack Sennett, Michael Farkas dreams of corralling enough like-minded enthusiasts to form a silent film company, with a group of stock actor-players and a complement of others lending their hands to everything from camera work to script-writing.

A still from the silent film created by this summer's kids' silent film camp.

A still from the silent film created by this summer’s kids’ silent film camp.

Farkas calls himself a student of the silent film. As students do on occasion, he is graduating to teacher, or facilitator really. As he repeats something he recently accomplished with children, he guides a group of adults and interested teenagers through the process of creating and then scoring a silent film.

His “Silent Film Studio” offered through Beacon Music Factory, is a collaborative series of brainstorming sessions, beginning this October and stretching through the new year. Prospective actors, musicians, set builders, comedians and people who haven’t discovered their particular skill yet but think it all sounds like fun, gather weekly and eventually emerge with a film and a musical score to accompany it.

Farkas is a founding member of the band The Wiyos, whose blend of early swing jazz, rural folk, old-time blues and Appalachian music has been described as having a touch of the vaudevillian about it. In 2009 The Wiyos toured the country as the opening act for Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp’s summer tour.

Most recently, he has also added a bit of theatricality in his children’s band, Lucky Diaz and The Family Jam Band. Before the vaudevillian hijinks came earlier stretches working in European circuses, an experience which left Farkas with a lot of knowledge of the skills behind physical comedy.

Learning from greats of the silent era

Though participants will shape the entire experience — “You will collectively dream up a story, develop characters, find and create locations, build sets, find props, shoot the scenes — and star in it,” notes for the class describe  — Farkas will add to whatever the story is by teaching some of the broad strokes of silent film comedy. An aficionado of the great silent comedians, Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd, Farkas says he hopes the group will “play with the broader strokes, not so much to mimic, but to use in combination with a perhaps darker narrative informed by the experiences of adults and teens.”

The younger group, kids aged 5 to 11, who participated in a far more condensed version of the workshop (five hours a day for five days), utilized a set theme of “going fishing.” Farkas broke it down into elements: “What has to happen?” Cue the packing of gear. “What happens on the way there?” etc. “We told it sequentially,” Farkas says. “We took all of their ideas, and made it as absurd as they wanted it to be. It was a creative collaboration.”

For the adult/teen group, Farkas says that part of the fun is having no preconceived notions of what it is going to be. Experience is most definitely not required. “My job will be to guide them in playing with their natural abilities,” he says. “I welcome people with a lot of comedic experience, but also people with none. Gifted movers or spazzy movers are both welcome — it’s all OK, and in some ways having no experience is actually a plus.

Participants will meet approximately once a week, from 7 to 10 p.m. on Tuesdays, for about 12 to 15 weeks. The exact pace will be determined by everyone’s schedules. Participants will first write their script, then learn the elements to physically incarnate and enhance their characters, including some tomfoolery, naturally, and then they will shoot it.

Kinetic filmmaking with visuals and music

Once shooting is completed, editing will take place and then sound effects and music will be added, via a “musical soundtrack ‘developed’ by members of the group. “We’ll definitely be learning how to use music to shape the characters,” Farkas explains. Depending on the level of experience the music may be rhythmically based, using “funky instruments” he says, or, “if we have people who play things like guitar or violin, it may be more melodic. We’ll work with the skill level we have.”

There will also be a visual component to the orchestra. Once it has all been put together there will be the requisite “red carpet premiere” to show off the new masterwork and the “musicians” will play the soundtrack live to accompany the film they are starring in or have worked on in some other capacity.

Farkas says the goal of the whole project is to make it “kinetic, fun and in the moment … I’d love to see this succeed and then expand. It’s compelling. I can see it as a workshop where someone has one skill but not the rest, but can contribute in one specific area and not feel worried about not being able to do everything. There’s so much within filmmaking to grab onto: a visual component, the musicality. This is going to be a community endeavor.”

Visit beaconmusicfactory.com for more information and to register for Silent Film Studio and/or a host of other fall class offerings.

Photo courtesy of Beacon Music Factory

Comments are closed.