Los Angeles Times
November 22, 2001
Filmmakers Are Taking the Bus
Filmmakers Are Taking the Bus
At first glance, the graffiti-painted school bus looks like something most moms would steer kids away from. But this is no vandalized vehicle--it's a Mac-based video production studio piloted by an edgy group of Los Angeles filmmakers working to bring movie making to a wider audience.
The bus belongs to the Los Angeles Filmmakers' Co-op, or LAFCO for short, and it's a rolling testament to the democratizing power of personal computers. The bus and its drivers are three months into a yearlong, cross-country road trip focused on enabling artists in rural areas to experiment with the medium of film. When I caught up with them, the bus was parked next to an artist's barn near the Mendocino County town of Albion, population 398.
LAFCO was founded by Tao Ruspoli, who in 1999 was the sole bidder on an EBay auction for a 1985 Chevrolet Bluebird school bus. After driving his $3,000 find from Colorado to Los Angeles, he replaced its seats with custom-built furniture that now houses video-editing workstations. In the back of the bus, a seating area doubles as a screening room, complete with a ceiling-mounted video projector and surround sound audio system. "The idea grew as people brought their visions to it," said Ruspoli, 25. One of those people is Alfonso Gordillo, 26, a UCLA film school graduate who helped found LAFCO and shares in bus-driving duties with Ruspoli and a third member of the team, photographer Roger Mona Webster.
Eloquent and Euro-handsome, both Ruspoli and Gordillo are multilingual, and when their trip began, they made ends meet by working as interpreters for international conference calls. Now that their travels have taken them to areas that often lack cellular phone service, they're relying largely on donations and video sales. They've also received funding and advice from other LAFCO members, including independent filmmaker Julian Dahl, who serves as a consultant to the group.
The LAFCO bus got its initial road tests in the L.A. area, where the team toured local high schools. After longer jaunts to Tijuana and the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, the bus was ready for its current mission, which began at this year's Burning Man festival in Nevada and ends there next year.
LAFCO describes this trip as a "Cine Circus." The team rolls into town like traveling troubadours and seeks out local artists--or is sought out by them. "We want to give artists the chance to see how their art translates to the medium of film," Gordillo said. "We end up learning something from everybody we work with."
Artists make most of the creative decisions behind their films, with guidance and technical assistance from Ruspoli and Gordillo. When a movie is finished, it's screened--in the bus, in a barn or, in one case, in a small town's movie theater.
LAFCO's editing workstations are a Power Mac G4 and a Cube. An older G3 system handles scanning and image-editing duties, and all three systems are networked to one another and an iBook via Ethernet. Several high-end video decks and four FireWire hard drives round out the mobile studio. LAFCO shoots footage using mini-DV-format camcorders and edits using Apple's Final Cut Pro software, which has become the high-end editing program of choice in the Macintosh world.
Despite the technical and mechanical challenges of making movies out of a converted school bus, the LAFCO team feels a certain liberation in being away from film-crazy Los Angeles. "In L.A., everybody pulls out a script when the bus pulls up," Gordillo said.
You can monitor their progress and tour the bus at http://www.lafilmmakers.org.
The LAFCO bus bears a spray-painted quote from Jean Cocteau: "Film will only become art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper." Said Ruspoli: "We aren't there yet--but it's within reach."
Jim Heid is a contributing editor of Macworld magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.