Going Digital 

A film co-op is born.

Clockwise from top left: MeDiA Co-op founders Brandon Hutchinson, Morgan Jon Fox, Denny Henke, and Joshua Peter Laurenzi.
We're not talking about VHS, a huge disappointment to those who actually attempted home-movie editing with its complicated mess of wires, clunky buttons, and tandem VCRs spread out across the floor a decade or so ago. Oh, how did we ever do it?

Forget about it. Now we're talking about digital. Those thousands of half-constructed images we've played out in our heads? We just need three things to create them: a digital camcorder, a computer, and one (blessed) wire to connect the two.

Even if we already have our equipment, there are a few new things to consider -- RAM, processor speeds, MPEGs, pixels, DCTs, CCDs, external hard drives, editing software -- each of which seems to have a gazillion new variations. The truth is this is a new frontier for most of us.

It is no different for Memphis Digital Arts (MeDiA) Co-op founders Morgan Jon Fox, Denny Henke, Brandon Hutchinson, and Joshua Peter Laurenzi. Even though these guys between the ages of 19 and 32 have single-handedly produced, written, directed, and distributed a feature-length film and documentary and some 21 short films, they'll be the first to admit they have a lot to learn.

These longtime friends are genuinely amazed at the public's interest in the co-op since its open house March 15th at the First Congregational Church on Cooper. Part of the success of the co-op has largely to do with the introduction of weekly workshops, which cover everything from camera selection and accessorizing to case studies in which local filmmakers relate to the workshop audience their rocky roads to completed films.

"Every time I tell someone who's asking how many people come to the workshops, '40 or so,' they can't believe that many people are coming," says Hutchinson, who, besides working on a new film he refers to as The Madman, has helped with various short films and, most recently, a documentary about September 11th called Where We're Bound.

Wendy Turner, a workshop regular, says that her aspiration to document her mother's illness was just a distant idea until she saw a flyer for the co-op workshops at Otherlands. Says Turner, "You hear now, because of the digital wave, that it's so much more accessible, but, still, you need a camera and you need the editing software. So the workshops are kind of laying the groundwork for anyone to come in. It really just amazes me that they're doing this."

Matt Goad, who is involved in a high school television program and has been able to realize his own feature film, It's About Jack, says of that first night, "We just showed up and met all these people who were really interested in us, and we were really interested in them and their projects. It's a community."

One of the many things that keep people coming back to the workshops is the open approach to learning. Though Fox, Henke, Hutchinson, and Laurenzi are definitely providing a solid leadership for the organization, they are not positioning themselves as digital gurus.

"You're not as much a student as you are a peer learning side-by-side, and I like that format, because I respect what they know and they respect what I know and because of that we can learn a lot more and grow," says Goad, who usually ends up hanging out after the workshops for an hour or so just talking to everyone.

Up until this point, the screening options for digital filmmakers were few: an expensive night at a commercial theater or an equally expensive digital projector rental, which still leaves you with no venue. The MeDiA Co-op has a nice theater, which seats up to 135, and a digital projector. And it's free.

"We want to become the art house. We can show anyone's film here at any time. If someone wants to show their film here for free [no admission], that's fine, and if someone wants to charge admission, we take 20 percent, which will go to us as well as the church," says Fox, whose Three Minutes Based On the Revolution Of the Sun played a crucial role in the realization of the co-op.

Besides weekly workshops, the four also began a series of month-long workshops designed to teach selected students Final Cut Pro, one of the more difficult editing programs. Their hope is that those students will return the favor.

"You know the concept that a lot of literacy groups use? Each one teach one. If out of four people we teach we can get two of them to help with the next workshops and just carry it over, then maybe we can take some time off," says Henke, who is helping Hutchinson with The Madman as well as shooting a documentary.

At this point, the co-op's fuel is the spare time and hard work of four individuals and the church's generosity with its facilities. And funding is basically nonexistent. Laurenzi says the group has no illusions about the future. "We know the only way this is going to grow is not from us four. The only way it's going to grow is from others. So many people have already approached us and said, 'Hey, I want to help do this.'"

Indeed, everyone around these guys seems more than willing to fund the organization the cooperative way -- with time and energy.

"I'm definitely at the point where if they just need me to stand out in freezing weather holding the boom mike up, I'll do it," says workshop regular Lee Johnson with a laugh.

Everyone in the cooperative will soon have his or her chance to show how appreciative they are. From August 23rd through the 25th, MeDiA will host its first film festival.

If you wish to submit a film for festival consideration, you can download a submission form at www.mediaco-op.org or call 278-9077. If you would like to make a donation of time or money to MeDiA, call or stop by the First Congregational Church at 1000 S. Cooper.

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