The Letterpress Journals: Setting the Hook
by Andrew P. Quinn
Hey y’all. I’m Andrew P. Quinn, the co-director of Pressing On and a co-founder of Bayonet Media. One summer in high school armed with a RCA camcorder, a handful of action figures, one gallon of gasoline, and enough boredom, my best friend and I made Spacerats From Outer Space. After shooting a scene we’d run into the house and pop the tape into the VHS deck. It was magical to see our work on the television screen! I was hooked. By the end of the week we recruited a crew of neighborhood kids and hosted screenings in our parent’s living rooms. I spent the following decade trying to turn “make believe” into a living.
Making a feature film has been a lifetime goal but I thought it’d be years before the opportunity would arise. Others in the past had come to us about making feature docs but it never panned out. When Erin Beckloff came to Bayonet with the project, we all instantly knew this one had a chance. She belongs to the community and knew the audience — most importantly she had her shit together. With any professional endeavor, being able to get things done is essential.
At this point I knew little to nothing about letterpress. We’d done a short film about a print shop here in Indianapolis who was still using a Heidelberg Windmill. The machine was fascinating, but I didn’t really understand what it did or what letterpress was. Erin started educating us on the subject and introduced us to “The Daves” (Peat and Churchman). The fascination was setting in.
For the Kickstarter campaign video, I wanted to show the potential audience what the feature film was going to look and feel like, build their trust, and set a hook with the story.
To make a film there are two things I’m looking for: a story and an opportunity to show the audience something they’ve never seen before. When you walk into Dave Churchman’s basement it’s easy to be overwhelmed. Every nook and cranny has been stuffed with things from his collection. There are cans of ink balanced on top of the light fixtures. Stacks of paper teetering on type cabinets. As you talk to Dave, the conversation will lead to some artifact. He’ll soon shuffle through the narrow aisles to retrieve the item buried under his various open projects. As the observer I was amazed that he could find anything in this mess. Now I was connecting the dots: is this a story of people’s passion for something that keeps accumulating? I thought, if anyone else we encounter is half as interesting as Churchman we’d have no problem with the story. The next day we met Dave Peat, his collection is twice the size of Churchman’s plus the guy has a freaking train locomotive!
Next, the Bayonet boys and I got a crash course on letterpress printing. Churchman’s press is a Pearl from the 1800s and still works perfectly without the aid of electricity.
He grabbed a little knife attached to an HVAC vent with a magnet and began to carefully smear ink on this big plate mounted to the machine. He proceeded to pump a foot peddle which turned a cog that turned levers that turn other cogs that spread the ink. It was like something from a Steampunk fantasy. Eventually this cast iron contraption spit out a piece of art. HOLY SMOKES! We were obviously going to have plenty of visuals to illustrate this story.
After spending a couple of days shooting in Churchman’s basement we had the backbone for our Kickstarter video. Skipping past the tedious details of editing, here’s the finished campaign video (the second half is Erin’s letterpress shop, she has several more presses along with her first Kelsey now):