Jamie Benning may be both a movie fan’s greatest hero and a copyright lawyer’s worst nightmare.
Benning runs filmumentaries.com, a website on which he posts self-described love letters to his favorite movies. He calls the works filmumentaries, and they are essentially homemade, full-length DVD commentaries of revered U.S. films.
So far, Benning has covered “Star Wars,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Last month, the 38th anniversary of the release of “Jaws,” Benning posted “Inside Jaws,” a discussion of how that 1975 summer blockbuster – some say the first blockbuster – came to be.
Unlike most sleek, studio-produced official DVD commentaries, Benning’s works are meticulous mash-ups, loaded with unusual facts and teeming with scraps of rare video and audio. Much of the material he finds by scouring the Internet, buying old VHS tapes off eBay and tapping into the personal collections of knowledgeable fans. He also conducts interviews with extras and lesser-known production employees who would probably never be asked to tell their stories in official documentaries.
“Inside Jaws,” Benning said, took more than a year to make and cost $500 to $1,000 out of pocket. He estimates the time spent in the hundreds of hours.
The films have garnered a large and enthusiastic fan base, including, he said, employees at George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic and Nathan Hamill, the son of Mark Hamill, the original Luke Skywalker.
In an interview by Skype with Erik Olsen, he spoke about these labors of love. These are excerpts from the conversation.
We are part of the VHS generation. We grew up watching these movies maybe once in the cinema, and then acting them out in the playground at school and playing with our action figures and trying to re-create those scenes, you know, purely from memory.
I got in contact with extras, with a laborer named Kevin Pike, who ended up having quite an illustrious career in film, working on “Return of the Jedi” and “Back to the Future,” building the DeLorean. And I spoke to a guy who snuck onto the set and ended up with a little part as an extra. In “Jaws,” if they wanted a doctor, they cast a local doctor, and I wanted to get this flip side from the local people involved.