For many, a career in film is the ultimate dream, on both sides of the camera: many people flock to Hollywood, confident that their surely-inherent talent will be “discovered,” while others drop tens of thousands of dollars on film schools to learn technical aspects of the art, or how to produce, or how to attain the Holy Grail career in the filmmaking world: the position of director. None of these steps are necessary, however. One of today’s most iconic filmmakers, Robert Rodriguez, borrowed a camera and some friends and shot his masterpiece “El Mariachi,” teaching himself as he went along, and this film launched him into stardom. All that one really needs to make a film is a camera and the drive to succeed.
Herschel Zahnd is a local filmmaker who has made it his mission to spread the Good Word of low-budget independent filmmaking. After working in the field for about four years and writing, directing, and producing the feature-length slasher “Girl Number Three,” which played at the Fright Night Film Fest (and is available for free rental from Wild and Woolly Video), he decided to start the FilmAspire Podcast, a how-to guide for first-time filmmakers. I sat down with him to discuss his podcast, how to get started in film, and some basic advice for aspiring artists.
(Interview edited for length and clarity.)
Describe the podcast in your own words.
"FilmAspire is an educational and motivational show about filmmaking… I just want to show people that, yes, you can do it, because here I am and I’m not overly exceptionally intelligent… I want people to see that it is possible, and as long as you have drive, determination, and passion for the artform and for what you’re doing and for the story that you’re trying to tell… yeah, you can make a movie. You just have to be willing to go for it and get there."
Do you have much of a local listening audience?
"That’s one of our biggest areas, the Louisville area. We have generally about 450 downloads a month, I think, from the Louisville area and Indianapolis. We have a large following stateside."
What’s your filmmaking experience?
"My filmmaking experience started after college. I went to college for theater… I was at work one night, and we were all joking around saying, 'We oughta make a movie,' and it kinda struck me, well, sure, why not? I always lovingly say that I uttered the famous last words of the filmmaking fool, simply: 'It can’t be that hard.' And I was later to come to learn to find out, yes, that it really is that hard - but if you apply yourself, it’s not impossible… We started out – and I say 'we' because I’ve never worked truly as a solo artist; I’ve always had a team of people working with me – we started out with a television show because I kind of figured, I don’t know what I’m doing - I can either go to film school and spend thirty grand, or I can learn it, just figure it out, and that’s what I did…
"I wrote a script and we loved it… We started saving money to produce the thing… and I took the money that I had saved up for the film and invested it in my first camera, which was a Canon XL2… I started doing wedding videos and things of that nature… and that eventually led me to meeting some individuals who were working with our local CW affiliate; they had a public access channel called WYCS… They were looking for somebody to do something in the horror genre, which I knew fairly well, and we created something called the Necroville Picture Show. It was a horror/comedy variety show, and I wanted to make it a platform for independent filmmakers to get their short films out. We had films coming in from all over Louisville and all over the country… but what we ended up discovering from people who were watching the show was that they would like the things on the show that were not related to the films. They said, 'Your show’s great, it’s hilarious, your characters are great. Your movies suck.' So, about the eighth episode in, we didn’t have a film, so I just sat down and I hashed it out… and we did our first content show. It was thirty minutes of complete content that we came up with. We did a few of those, and then we actually produced a short ourselves and put it on the show, [called] 'Tolerance'…