This is My School
a film by
and Mario Mercado
Below is a 1948 magazine article about the background behind the making of the movie:
By Larry Frish
Mario and I wanted more than anything else to do something big in 16mm films, something that had never been done before, and something for our school which we loved so much. Neither of us had ever made a complete motion picture before, but we were willing and anxious to try our hands at it.
I first met Mario Mercado two years ago when we were both juniors at the Cherry Lawn School, a post-progressive school, located in Darien, Connecticut. We were two youths of entirely different nationalities and backgrounds. Mario had traveled all over the world with his father, who was a Bolivian ambassador, while I, on the other hand, was born and raised in Indiana. Mario and I, both being interested in photography, soon found each other's company interesting and inspiring.
Thus, although coming from two widely different Backgrounds, Mario and I had much in common --love for the camera and devotion to our school. Mario's background in photography and my background as a professional actor seemed to make a perfect combination for the making of a successful movie.
Our original idea was to make a one hundred foot black and white film about Cherry Lawn and its activities. The idea grew in our imaginations by leaps and bounds until it could scarcely be recognized from the original, conservative plan. Even so, neither of us ever dreamed of how ambitious was to be the final undertaking.
I had bought a good camera and accessories in anticipation of starting the film as soon as possible. The purchase put a sizable dent in my savings, but to be able to use a Cine-Special camera was a dream realized. My equipment included the standard Kodak f/1.9 lens, a Kodak tripod, a Weston exposure meter, and a Hugo Meyer range finder. Later I added to my collection a Kodak 15mm f/2.7 wide angle lens, which proved invaluable later in photographing action which took place in a small room, or the lovely scenery which was so much a part of Cherry Lawn. Mario owned a quantity of photo-floods and also used his Leica to experiment with tentative subject matter and angles.
Still later we added the innovation of always using indoor film for both interiors and exteriors, a correction filter out of doors, of course. This was done in order to give us complete freedom in coverage of school events. It did not necessitate changing films as we went from inside to the outdoors. The correction filter idea proved to be more than satisfactory.
Before approaching Cherry Lawn school officials for backing for our project, Mario and I figured out a rough scenario, an elaboration of the original idea, with which to present them. The school officials encouraged us to make the movie as an extra-curricular activity, but we were disappointed to learn that for the time being, at least, financial backing was not to be forthcoming.
We scarped together a limited budget of twenty dollars, with which we purchased several hundred feet of color film, a few photo-flood bulbs, and two electrical extensions. How carefully we selected and filmed those first scenes! for we had a secret plan of how we were to interest the school in financing the picture, using more than mere words! How anxiously we waited the return of the first footage shot!
When the night of the faculty meeting came around, we boldly rang the doorbell of the Director's home, and with very little explanation began setting up the school projector for the preview showing we meant to give. The faculty, a little irate at our intrusion, mellowed as the first color scenes unfolded on the screen. Yes, we had won our first battle, the battle for support; but this was only the beginning.
Filming on your own is different than filming when someone else is paying the bills. The pressure that we both felt inside of us every time we pushed the camera button was horrible, for we knew that every foot of film that went through the camera gate was the result of frugal paring of our schooling budget. The first signs of over-confidence which we had felt, now started to vanish and we began to doubt our ability to turn out a professional film that would do full justice the the wonderful educational facilities of Cherry Lawn School.
Many of those first nights, after we started production, Mario and I sat in our room silent and pensive - each afraid to tell the other about his fears and anxieties for the film. Mario and I were inseparable now. Our schoolmates began to call us the "The Playboys of Cherry Lawn", for we were seldom doing what the rest of the group did. Instead, we would go off by ourselves to plan and dream of how wonderful the film would be when completed. Although we planned a complete scenario, all of the shots were very flexible, for we wanted no scene posed or unnatural. We wanted to breathe feeling and life into our picture, for there was nothing false about Cherry Lawn.
We wanted to translate onto film the freshness and creativity of the school, the informality and sincerity of our outdoor academic classes, the nearby woods, the animal, the gleam in our classmate's eye. We wanted to record all this and much more: What the students do, what they think, how they study, what they learn, how everybody works together - in short, why our school was different from others of its kind. These were the things we wanted to show in our film.
We shot close to 1500 feet altogether. We carried our camera and equipment wherever we went on campus, always ready for the quick setup. Advice? We had lots of it from all sides - some good and some bad; some we took and some we didn't.
Each time we received a hundred-foot roll of film from the laboratory, we celebrated, and at the same time we hashed over our mistakes again and again, thus making sure not to repeat any of them on the next roll of film.
Don't use a camera without a tripod, and be careful of your pans. Take your exposures carefully, allowing for all possible reasons for miscalculations. Use a range finder and take your time.