You won’t find Tom Schroeppel‘s face adorning the cover of Film Comment, Filmmaker, MovieMaker or any other film magazines that champion American cinema, yet, in his own way, Schroeppel has exerted a quiet influence on aspiring filmmakers in film schools across the country for the last twenty-five years. How? As the author of The Bare Bones Camera Course for Film and Video, one of the simplest — and by simplest, I mean best — textbooks to cover the basics of motion picture production.
When you get a copy of Bare Bones in your hands the first thing you realize is that Schroeppel’s not kidding with the title. It starts with the brown (think: “paper bag”) cover and block lettering. Open the book and you find text in double-spaced 12 point Courier font and simple hand-drawn images. The content is standard film/video textbook stuff, only it’s distilled to its most essential, readable essence. It’s like the film textbook equivalent of one of those incredible, out-of-nowhere independent films from the late 70s or early 80s. What it lacks in production values it more than makes up for in content and handmade charm. But don’t take my word for it — no less than Nestor Almendros called it “a marvel of clarity and conciseness.”
In true “self-reliant” fashion, Schroeppel took the DIY route to publishing and distributing the book. What’s unusual, though, are his sales, which are approaching 120,000 copies sold. When you stop to think about the number of student filmmakers that have learned about such basic concepts as “color temperature” or the “rule of thirds” from him, well, that’s what I mean when I say quiet influence.
After I decided to use Bare Bones this fall for the production courses I’m teaching at Virginia Tech, I approached Tom about doing an interview. Happily, he agreed, and over the last few days we emailed back and forth about his 89 page/$8.95 wonder, and its sequel, Video Goals: Getting Results with Pictures and Sound.