Go forth, make magic

In one corner of the 2,400-square-foot studio, a toddler in a polka-dot dress is making her glittery toy unicorn prance in front of a camera. In another, teenagers are filming themselves break dancing in front of a green screen. Meanwhile, over at the equipment center, a couple is checking out a Canon digital camera for a feature-length project.

Museums are normally about exhibiting art, rather than giving patrons the tools to make it. But this summer at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Geffen Contemporary downtown, a film pop-up workshop is putting all sorts of filmmaking equipment, plus lessons and resource materials, into the hands of the people -- for free.

Launched in April and continuing through August, the workshop is largely funded by Levi’s and follows a similar event in San Francisco that focused on printmaking and one in New York on photography. The design of the workshop and its daily calendar were organized by Jonathon Wells, a Los Angeles resident and founder of Resfest, a now-defunct digital film festival.

“This workshop is a funny little thing,” said site manager Dan Connor, who oversaw the New York and San Francisco workshops. “It’s like a secret that’s not really a secret. It’s a strange mix of a cool party that everybody’s invited to but nobody wants to tell their friends because they want it for themselves.”


The workshop is a classroom, a discovery center, a film library, an equipment rental shop, a work studio, a gallery and a playground all crunched into one venue. Aspiring Martin Scorseses can borrow anything from a Canon 8mm camcorder, worth about $50, to a Panasonic AG-AF100 that costs $7,000 to $8,000. The equipment is lent out for 24 hours without charge, although a refundable credit card deposit is required.

The workshop also offers moviemaking stations: Visitors can produce their own slow-motion videos (and keep the DVD or share the footage online), bring inanimate objects to life with stop-motion and multiplane animation, and stroll the streets of Times Square via a green screen. Another station allows visitors to transfer VHS footage to DVD or other digital formats and take it home.

Hollywood filmmakers, including people who worked on “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Kung Fu Panda,” have dropped by on certain nights to demonstrate techniques, such as how to make a pixilation film using live human beings as animation puppets.

The pop-up workshops are the brainchild of Levi’s marketing representative Josh Katz, who wanted to bring the brand’s “Go Forth” campaign to life.

“Most marketing events are pretty exclusive,” he said. “We want to do something as democratic as our product is. I don’t think it’s cool to just do something for the ‘cool’ kids. Everybody can be part of this project.”

For artist Roy Lara and his assistant director/business partner Vanessa Cuccia, the film workshop is “just too good to be true.” They’ve been visiting the workshop every two or three days to borrow high-end cameras to shoot a film about unrequited love called “The Delusionist” that they one day hope to submit to film festivals.

“This is total serendipity,” Lara said of the workshop. “It’s really given us a chance to put that equipment money to other parts of our limited budget. We couldn’t have done the filming without this.”

Connor described the workshops as “your rich uncle.” But instead of paying for law school or a medical degree, this uncle says, “Go be a filmmaker.”


“And suddenly, the only thing preventing you from being successful at that is you getting off your butt and coming here to make it happen,” Connor said.




Levi’s Film Workshop

Where: Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, 152 N. Central Ave., Los Angeles

When: Hours: Opens 11 a.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday; closes 5 p.m. Monday and Friday, 8 p.m. Thursday, 9 p.m. Saturday, 6 p.m. Sunday; closed Tuesday and Wednesday

Info: (213) 626-6222 or