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Camera for Hire

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When making arrangements to meet with Heidi Spencer, the filmmaker asked, “Wanna grab a beer?” Not having to be asked twice, I agreed to meet her at Paddy’s Pub, which showed movies on a huge screen behind us. As we sipped our pints of Guinness and smoked her American Spirits, Spencer talked about how she always wanted to put her music into films. After getting a C+ in her first film class, she dropped out of film school and traveled all over the country. After “hitting the end of the road so many times” at the age of 25, she decided to start over. She graduated with a BFA in Film at UWM this past December with high honors, and took first place in the Student Film Festival a couple years ago. She noted that Steven Spielberg flunked out of film school as well. “I learned not to give up,” she said, munching on some Chex Mix. In film school, she soon realized that her vision of mixing her music with film was completely different from the reality of filmmaking. “It takes months to make a 10-minute film.” So she fell in love with cinematography and digital editing. “I love operating the camera, hearing the noises it makes,” Spencer explained. “In my shots, I don’t use a lot of panning. I’m not moving the camera, but something is moving in the frame or I’m directing it to move.” Making films in school was very challenging for Spencer, “I had to shoot, direct, time schedule, sound record and edit it all in 3 months.” Yet people like UWM Film Department Chairman Rob Yeo took the time to show Spencer how to execute various filming techniques. “People’s generosity with their time and effort really helped me in making my films,” she said. “People would tell me to be creative and just do it. They really encouraged me.” Now that she’s not in school, she recently moved to Riverwest and is dealing with more limited resources. “I desperately need some kind of income,” she explained. “I have 800 feet of color negative film in my refrigerator,” the two-time Kodak award winner said. She also just bought a camera at an estate sale. “I’m waiting for the right time,” she said. Meanwhile, Spencer is finishing the production of her second CD, which will be released on September 10 at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn, where she has been bartending regularly over the last six years. The enhanced CD will feature two of her films. Passenger Blues, one of her favorites, is a more “personal film,” starring five friends and relatives who drive Spencer around after her car dies. They also appear on her CD, which she claims was unintentional at the time. “It was the one time I ever mixed my own music and film,” she said. Naya Luna is named after, and stars, her niece, who Spencer feels is “too smart with maps and geography.” The film also uses some of her father’s music from a children’s record. It was nominated for an award in the Midwest section at the Milwaukee International Film Festival last year. Spencer, however, feels “a little detached from what’s going on” in the Milwaukee film scene. She was an older returning student, and was told at one job interview that her age was working against her. “I’m having a hard time finding a place to fit in Milwaukee. People around town already have their own groups and production crews.” Nevertheless, Spencer, who describes herself as “a loner in general,” has assembled her own team to help produce her films. “I love Riverwest Film and Video,” she said. “It’s a great resource.” “My films are about other people, whereas my music is more intrapersonal,” she continued. “They are passionate and heartfelt. There’s a lot of stretching the imagination. Others are very simple and uncomplicated. I only have one narrative, Modjeska,” which explores the rumors of its haunting through the stories of the people involved with the decaying historic theater. “All my films are for the sake of time spent,” she continued. “I was 25 with little to no income, living on grant money, so it was free and fun to make a film. I would call up my friend Melanie and say, ‘Wanna rollerskate on the Pabst Theater stage while I film you?'” For more information about Heidi’s films, music or her bartending prowess, email her at: .
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