July 21, 2013

Stories left on the cutting-room floor

Jamie Benning may be both a movie fan’s greatest hero and a copyright lawyer’s worst nightmare.

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.

Q: These are all films that seem to be of interest to a particular type of fan. I’m guessing you were born in the ’60s or ’70s.

A: I was born in 1976, a year after “Jaws” was released and a year before “Star Wars.” So by the time “The Empire Strikes Back” came out in 1980, I was fully immersed in the world of “Star Wars” along with all of my friends, with the action figures and the bedspreads and the curtains and the lunchbox and everything else.

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.

Q: Where did you get all the material for “Inside Jaws”? There’s a wealth of stuff.

A: James Beller, who runs JawsCollector.com, got in contact with me and said: Please can you make one on “Jaws”? He basically sent me a list of what I should read, and I went about trawling through all of this, picking out things that wouldn’t be a repetition of what we’ve heard on official documentaries and what’s on the documentary “The Shark Is Still Working.” And I ended up creating something that was about the local people rather than just the main players. We’ve all heard their stories before but what we haven’t heard is the stories of those people who fly by on the credits or weren’t on the credits.

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.

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