by Gina de Miranda
"Gutter Punks", a "un-scripted" documentary, captures harrowing stories of
New Orleans's street life told by runaways. Shot and edited entirely with
digital technology by independent director and producer, Brent Sims,
"Gutter Punks" cuts new filmmaking ground by its use of digital technology
and its low budget.
"I only had $5,000 to make the film and I wanted it to be as real as
possible," said Sims, "digital let me do that. It was cheap enough that I
could it, but it also let me do some amazing filming, especially with this
Panasonic Digital Processing Beta SP camera (PVV-3 Recorder). Its night-eye
feature let me shoot in almost total darkness."
Additionally, Sims noted, the mobility of the digital camera let him shoot
footage impossible with film. "The police were not crazy about this project
to begin with," Sims said, "they often followed us while we were filming
and that made the kids very nervous. These kids were not going to wait
around for a three-man camera crew and lighting to get set up. I had to
work around the kids."
Sims often walked as he filmed. Digital technology, particularly the
night-eye and longer life batteries, permitted Sims to follow wherever the
teens lead him.
While digital's real-time filming capabilities enthralled Sims, he
recounted one horror story. "When my producer and I were attacked by
several drunk teens," said Sims, "I knew right then that this wasn't all
fun and games. Being a filmmaker could be dangerous. I had to pull one teen
off of my Executive Producer, Ted Baldwin, while he was yelling, "Cut,
Cut." Sims and Baldwin were saved by other homeless teens. Neither Sims or
Baldwin filmed for a month after that incident.
From start to finish, the 24-year-old Sims invested 3 years of his life
in "Gutter Punks." Although Sims had experience with 35mm and 16mm film
from commercials and features, digital cameras were new to him. Learning
the camera proved easy and within days of picking one up, Sims was ready to
Actual filming took nine months, mostly due to the migratory patterns of
homeless teens and the research required to determine how and where to
film. Finding teens willing to talk proved more difficult. Sims worked at a
shelter frequented by many teens. Sims shot most of the footage in the
three months leading up to Mardi Gras. During that time, he noted, all the
shelters were filled with an estimated 3,000 homeless teens. Because of the
distrust that many runaways had towards the media, Sims found it difficult
to win their confidence and this lengthened the filming time.
"I held a meeting one night, during some of the worst time for the teens
and bought them pizza and soft drinks," said Sims, "I told them that I
wanted them to tell their stories, not lies, but the truth. A few, only a
few, told me to go fuck myself, most lined up and told their stories."
Once the filming was completed, Sims took the footage to Baton Rouge, his
home town. To edit the footage, Sims took the Panasonic's cassettes and
placed them in a video deck that was attached to a Power Macintosh 9600/300
MHz that contained an Avid MCXpress video processing board that would
perform the digital manipulations of the actual footage. After editing,
Sims made several video dubs of his D3 master and sent them out to a number
of film festivals. Unfortunately, protocol has not caught up with
technology and Sims found out that he needed to convert his video to either
16mm or 35mm film in order to be accepted by many festivals.
What does digital filming technology mean to independents? Perhaps Sims
says it best: "The greatest moment was standing at this huge tent in the
Hamptons at the awards ceremony for documentaries, I looked over at my
Executive Producer, Ted Baldwin, whom I had worked with for over three
years, and fought with many times, and we both knew that the most important
thing wasn't that we didn't win, but that we proved it could be done."
Sims' video was good enough to catch the attention of indie consultant
Robert Hawk, owner of ICI, who contacted Sims with suggestions and
recommended the film to other film festivals. It is screening at other
festivals including Cinequest in San Jose' California. When queried about
future projects, Sims said he currently talking with some agents and
studios about a romantic comedy and a thriller, both set in New Orleans.
Sims also noted, "I will not answer any questions at this time about my
involvement with President Clinton, but let me say that I have never had a
sexual affair with him, but 'Gutter Punks' distribution rights are open in
all territories including D.C."
[For more information on CineQuest click to
[Gina de Miranda is a film-lover and producer who has spent way too long in
high-tech industries and would love to escape.]