You can have a good time at a documentary
Ira Wohl, maker of the documentary "Best Boy," began his filmmaking career in a big way, as an assistant to Orson Welles on the still-unfinished "Don Quixote" production, then shooting in spain. "I started at the top, and have been working my way down ever since," jokes Wohl.
Upon returning to the united States, he began working on commercials -- "at the bottom, as an apprentice editor." His first movie was a seven-minute dramatic picture based on a vivid dream. Then he made three documentaries, including "CoCoPuffs," which gained some celebrity: "The day I finished it, I went across the street to the post office and mailed it to the Ann Arbor Film Festival. A while later, I got a letter saying I'd won first prize. Later the picture was shown at some of the major museums. Everyone loved it. No one bought it."
Wohl isn't sure how he developed his passion for documentaries. "I don't know why," he says, "but things happen and I decide to do a film about them. For example, my second film was an interview with an old woman who lived in my building. There was nothing special about her, and that's what was special about her. . . ."
Wohl admits that he has been writing a screenplay for the past eight years, and that he may finally get around to finishing it now. Yes, it's a work of fiction, but it's still based on his own experiences. "I'm not much good at making up stories," he says, "and I don't really see the point it's not for me. I admire it when others do it, but it's not for me. I'd never do a science-fiction movie or anything like that."
Wohl's general philosophy of cinema emphasizes the filmmaker's point of view in depicting events. "When a documentary really impresses me," he says, "it's not with tricks, but with the vision that's expressed." He acknowledges, though, that this attitude is hard to convey to audiences. "Documentaries are hard to sell, commercially," he says. "People hear the word 'documentary' and they immediately expect some horrible 'learning experience' rather than a good time."
Wohl is delighted that "Best Boy" has become one of the rare documentaries to go on the commercial circuit, after respectable showings at the New York and Toronto film festivals. "You always fantasize about having your name in lights, " he owns, adding that "it's the nicest thing that can happen to a film, though I didn't expect it, what with all the problems involved."
True, Wohl hasn't worked for six months now, and he's "getting pretty low on money." Still, he says, "I know something will turn up, just as I knew it would before. And I also know you should never begin something new before really ending the old things."