A sum like $10,000 would seem chicken feed to a typical Hollywood wheeler-dealer. Amounts that paltry are siphoned off for pocket money or doled out to "develop" scripts that may later be peddled for 10 or 20 times the price of purchase from screenwriters forced to work on speculation.
The sum looms considerably larger to an independent, regional filmmaker such as Tom Davenport, who will host a program of his work Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at the American Film Institute Theatre.
Some of Davenport's short films have been made for less than $10,000. Last year he made about $10,000 distributing prints of his nine pictures to nontheatrical customers, principally public library systems that rent or purchase films.This year he may clear a little more, but the $10,000, mainly attributable to the popularity of an evocative live-action fairy tale film, "Hansel and Gretel, An Appalachian Version," was far and away his best commercial showing in a career that began in earnest a decade ago.
"The only outlet an independent has is libraries and schools," says Davenport. "Financially, an independent never gets back what he puts into a film, so your depend on outside support, grants and things." On the other hand, there's the satisfaction of doing something you enjoy, which becomes easier to subsidize if your aspirations are relatively modest and your working conditions are as wholesome as Davenport's
Davenport, his wife Mimi and their three sons, ages 8, 6 and 4, live an a large, refurbished country house in Fauquier Country, about 60 miles due west of Washington. Mimi Davenport runs the distribution side of the Davenport filmmaking operation from their home, which is also equipped with the editing paraphernalia her husband needs to put his footage together. The Davenports do a little farming, and what with one thing and another they've been able to make ends meet while sustaining a healthful country life.
Davenport is nearing 40, but only his unruly shock of wheat-blond hair would disqualify him from casting as the young Abe Lincoln. His parents came from Nebraska, settling in the Washington area during FDR's first term, when Davenport's father went to work at the Department of Agriculture. Davenport was graduated from Episcopal High School in Alexandria and attended college at Yale.
Davenport's first film was a 10 minuted study of the martial arts discipline ''ai chi ch'uan , made when he was living on Taiwan during an extended stay in the Orient. When he returned to the United States in 1966, he drifted into a filmmaking career inadvertently by simply answering an ad for a janitorial job at LeacockPennebaker Productions in New York City.
His move to Fauquier County was facilitated by his father, who acquired considerable property there while in building and real estate after World War II. Davenport liked the idea of taking a country place next to his father's, but he also thought that moving away from New York might take him out of the filmmaking market.
Davenport's first home-grown production was a springhtly impression of the Upperville Horse Show, made for about $3,000. It's one of the films scheduled to be shown at the AFI Theatre, along with "It Ain't Country Music," a portrait of the National Country Music Contest in Warrenton; "The Shakers," an invaluable 30minute documentary tracing the history of the movement and interviewing some of the last remaining members in New Hampshire and Maine; "Rapunzel, Rapunzel," the second of a projected four-part fairy tale cycle; and the recently completed "Thoughts on Fox Hunting," a 30-minute survey of one of the favorite pastimes of the country gentry in his neighborhood, focusing on the character of professional huntsman Melvin Poe.
"The Shakers," which was eventually telecast as a PBS special, was his first substantial credit. Made in collaboration with Fred De Cola, a friend who died of cancer before the film was completed, "The shakers" was launched on a $6,000 grant fron Davenport, the film wouldn't have been possible if he and De Cola had been better informed.
"We were so naive we didn't know we'd have to have permission to shoot," Davenport said. "Ann Rockefeller assumed we'd already been professional enough to make arrangements with the Shaker hierarchy. What saved us was the fact that there was a schism in the group at the time, between the ladies who wanted to encourage new members and those who were against it. Both were willing to tell their side of the story and reminisce about the movement. We knew we were on to a wonderful subject when we met them."