American Movie Review
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Becoming a filmmaker takes much more than just passion. It takes hard work, supportive friends and family, borrowed money, headaches, lottery tickets, and a lot of beer.

American Movie: The Making of Northwestern is an indie film about indie films. Director Chris Smith’s 1999 documentary (really… it’s a true story!) follows aspiring Milwaukee filmmaker Mark Borchardt for over a year as he pursues his life’s dream – to produce a feature film called Northwestern. Unfortunately, this film isn’t really about the making of Northwestern – because early in the film, Mark realizes that he doesn’t have enough money to produce it. Instead, he decides to finish his short film, Coven, so he can sell copies (at least 3,000, he speculates) and earn the money to produce his feature film.

American Movie is a hilarious look at the life of an independent filmmaker – from the first movies he made as a kid (The More the Scarier 1 through 3) to the making of Coven. Smith interviews Borchardt’s friends, family, cast, and crew, and follows Borchardt as he chooses locations, edits scripts in the Milwaukee airport parking lot, and tries to get funding from his reluctant Uncle Bill. Smith films as Borchardt talks his mom into doing camera work, frets about unpaid bills, bails his friend (and associate producer) our of jail, and drags his kids along (sleeping bags in hand) to the editing studio – always with his laid-back drinking buddy, Mike Schank, at his side. The film even shows the other sides of Borchardt’s life – like his relationship with his girlfriend and his job at the cemetery.

American Movie is surreal. You’ll never believe that it’s a true story about real people making a real movie – but it really is. Coven was released in 1997 – and it’s for sale online at (where you can even read Borchardt’s journal of beer drinking and movie making).

Just as the people are real, so is the situation. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to make a movie, head to the nearest video store and pick up American Movie. It’s a humorously educational film about making an independent film. It’s about the hard work and the hardships that go into it – and if that doesn’t scare you away from trying to create one of your own, nothing will.

Of course, indie movie making also has its bright side. Because if you survive, you could just end up at a film festival where you sell your film to Sony for $1 million. Just ask Chris Smith…

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