Bolex: Capturing The Evolution of a Legacy

ALYSSA BOLSEY – DIRECTOR

 

A year ago I wrote a Film Courage article about a documentary that had fallen into my lap while I was in the midst of film school. Quick recap: While at a family memorial, I had discovered that my great-grandfather had invented the Bolex camera, a tool that helped revolutionize independent film. So, who has used the Bolex camera? Let’s see… Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Peter Jackson, David Lynch, Jonas Mekas, Darren Aronofsky, Spike Lee, and on and on. That’s not to mention most, if not all your favorite cinematographers and film professors, plus likely a lot of you and your filmmaker friends!  As any film student would do after discovering such a treasure trove of film history, I sprung into action and started doing research. Seemingly over night, my focus had changed from completing my next school project to studying a gigantic lost archive of film history. It was like a  “Hugo” story, except I wasn’t an orphan, and Sacha Baron Cohen wasn’t chasing me around a train station.  And, most disappointingly, I had never met Martin Scorsese. The upside was that I had stumbled upon a hell of a story to tell with an endless supply of archival footage, cameras and documents, all materials that had been lost for almost a half a century!
 

As my digging progressed, an incredible mystery emerged, and I set out to make a documentary. I gathered producers, I did endless research, and finally was ready to go! Except, we were missing one major component. Aww, yes, the funding had fallen through.  Again! Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months and months have taken me here to this very moment. Little did I know that as we waited for financing to come in, there would be several major developments along the way that would take the story in a whole new direction! After having Jacques Bolsey’s entire journal transcribed and translated we were able to read about his vision for the future.  His ideas did not end with inventing the Bolex. That camera was meant for a larger purpose, that of enabling every individual who was so inclined to be a filmmaker. Here I was living that reality and curious about how we got here.

As a result, the documentary has morphed. It is no longer merely the story of the inventor of the Bolex camera, but has evolved to also tell about Bolsey’s dream to democratize filmmaking at a time when the average person didn’t have access to movie cameras.  Remarkably, as this idea developed and the camera passed through millions of hands, his dream was ultimately realized, and we live in a world where everyone can pull out their smart phone to record an impromptu video to throw up on YouTube. The documentary has become less of a bio/profile and more the odyssey of an idea and the innovation and drive behind it. This drive continues through to the launch of the new Digital Bolex, a raw 2k camera designed to bring professional recording capabilities to independent filmmakers. Within our documentary we will be following the innovation of this camera as well.
Developing this documentary really has been a journey. Many ups and downs and more lessons than I ever could have imagined have gone into it.

Here are a few lessons I’ve picked up along the way:

– Just ask (with tact of course). With one interview in particular, I put off contacting the filmmaker’s people because I was so nervous he would say no. Eventually I just went for it and sent a quick, concise and respectful email and heard back from him directly within hours.  Happily, the answer was yes! Take the time to do it right, but don’t put it off out of fear. One lead can help with the next!

– Tell anyone and everyone you know what you are doing and who you want to get in touch with, whether they be writers, actors, editors…you name it! One of my biggest leads came from an offhand comment to someone who isn’t even in the movie business, about wanting to interview a specific filmmaker. It turned out he had a personal connection to that specific A-list director, and had I not brought it up, I never would have known.

– Crowdfunding.  Build your audience early.  As the word spreads, leads can open up that are useful not only for funding purposes, but also in our case, to develop a store of archival footage that can be used in the documentary itself.  We are most grateful for the incredible people we are meeting along the way and the stories of the adventures they or their family members have experienced with this camera.

–  Audio.  Don’t skimp on it. Make sure you get the best audio you can, it’ll save head aches later.

– Prepare and expect the worse. Have contingencies and expect the worst to happen so you have a plan in place.

-Maintain hope – It can be a long, long road. I know this first hand. I’ve been researching/prepping for this documentary for years. Is it disheartening at times? Of course! Have I threatened to quit out of frustration? Yes, several times.  But if this is something you really want to do, it is worth the hardships and sacrifice.  For me at least, I prefer the struggle to regrets, and I’ll keep pushing until we get there.

Although our journey is far from over, I’m happy to say that in the last year I’ve grown, and the story has evolved into something much better than it ever would have been if the process had been easy.  I’m excited for the adventure the next year will bring.

Take a look at our Kickstarter page here and consider getting involved, whether that be by making a pledge, sending it along to a friend who may be interested, or if you have any Bolex footage you would like us to consider for the documentary, please do contact us! We are also starting a “Beyond the Bolex” YouTube channel where we will be uploading Bolex films submitted by filmmakers. If you have one, feel free to email camilo.lara@jacquesbolseyproject.com.

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BIO:

Alyssa Bolsey – (Director)

ALYSSA BOLSEY began writing and directing short films at a very young age. While still in High School, Alyssa directed a short documentary entitled “Wild Horses”. This work was screened at various art galleries in the US and was described by San Diego broadcast outlet KPBS as “an insightful look at the artistic process.” Several years later, while traveling the world on Semester at Sea, Alyssa produced and directed a short documentary about her experiences in Cambodia and India. This moving documentary, “Note to Self” was screened before the shipboard community and received accolades from the ship’s captain and the Dean of Students. Alyssa graduated Cum Laude from San Diego State University with a degree in Television, Film and New Media, with an emphasis on directing. She then spent the next two years working at Creative Artists Agency. She left CAA in 2010 to devote herself full-time to directing.