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THE KIDS STAY IN THE PICTURE



By the time Darren Stein (Sparkler, Jawbreaker) got his break in the business, he was well accustomed to the ego benefits of being a director. In the documentary Put the Camera on Me, Stein and his old friend Adam Shell revisit Stein’s childhood video productions from the 1980s. The movies, which were made between the ages of eight and 15, range in genre from comedy to horror and tackle everything from Stein’s burgeoning homosexuality to the Holocaust – and, as the 65-minute documentary points out, contained as much offscreen drama as any big-budget studio film. JT Leroy spoke with the filmmakers.

 

JT Leroy: I really dug the movie. How did you decide to do this?

Adam Shell: We had this collection of movies that we’ve had for years, and they would constantly float around between us as we got older. One day Darren and I were talking about the logistics of preserving the tapes, and I said we should just cut them all together, shoot some interviews and put a little film together.

Darren Stein: There had never been a documentary about children filmmakers, kids who still are friends as adults.

Shell: Darren and I also agreed when we first started that if we’re going to do this, we can’t hold anything back–

Stein: – because Adam was nervous about the breast-feeding story.

Leroy: Did you really breast-feed until you were seven?

Shell: No, I breast-fed until I was three.

Stein: I still think he breast-fed until he was at least five. [laughs] But regardless of what happened, you could tell that he didn’t want the world to know that. And I was like, well, it’s honest. We thought you were a fucking freak because you were home sucking your mom’s tit!

Leroy: There are just so many moments I love. And the special effects were also great.

Stein: Thanks. I used to subscribe to Fangoria magazine, and every month there would be a new one in my mailbox with a severed head or something. I think I always knew that I was queer, or different, and so horror imagery and Fangoria was just a way to transcend everything natural. It was like, here are brains spilling out of a head, here’s death right on your doorstep, you know what I mean? I loved making homemade effects and stuff. In the zombie film, the ribs were my mom’s ribs that she had made the night before. I had all the recipes to mix peanut butter with Karo syrup and red food dye to get the right consistency for blood and guts.

Leroy: In the film, your mom is making these really involved, amazing dishes, nurturing and nourishing the family, and at the same time this other world is going on – the kids are on the roof!

Stein: Well, the thing is, we were on this street in the hills [of Encino, Calif.]. Our parents had careers and their own lives, and they trusted us because they knew we’d be at Mark’s house, Michael’s house, Alan’s house... But the parents didn’t know what I was doing. Not that I was doing anything bad. But I don’t know if Alan’s parents would have approved of me putting their kid in a leotard and having him seduce the baseball team.

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