Movie Maker Profile: Allen Moore

From a phone interview with filmmaker Allen Moore, full-time adjunct faculty member in the Film and Video Department at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and Cinematographer for Ken Burns. Interview conducted and post written by Siobhan Hagan.

Allen Moore grew up in Baltimore and went to Gilman School, where he developed an interest in still photography which he credits to eventually leading him to motion picture filmmaking at college. Moore attended Harvard and delved into the small visual arts program, living and breathing film for four years. At the time, the cinema verite movement was still young, so he was able to learn all the different aspects of production, eventually favoring cinematography. After college he worked on his own films while working for others. He also did some part time teaching at Harvard, and the ethnographer Robert Gardner commissioned Moore to live on a tiny Scottish island and to document their culture. Moore made the documentary “The Shepherds of Berneray” (1981) from the footage and shopped it around to festivals and to get more work, but eventually he put it aside.

Moore stayed in the Boston area for ten years or so, traveling all over the world shooting film. He still had family in Baltimore, and when he fell in love with a long-term friend, he moved back to Maryland to start a family. Moving to MD did not really change his career because he was already established. There were more documentaries being made in D.C., so they lived in Silver Spring to be close to the nation’s capital. Once they started having children they moved back to Baltimore.

While he was in D.C. Moore read about a production company that was making a documentary about the US Congress. He called up the company and asked to speak to the director, Ken Burns, to see if they needed a local cameraman. It turns out that Burns loved the “The Shepherds of Berneray” so much that he hired Moore on the spot–he has been shooting for Burns now for 25 years. They started shooting everything on 16mm and Super 16mm. Currently Moore still shoots Burns’ landscapes on Super 16mm, and  interviews are shot on a Panasonic VariCam.

Moore notes that he made a living as a freelance cameraman, but he could not have done so making his own films. When he was very young and didn’t have many expenses it didn’t matter as much, but with a family he needed a steadier income. Eventually he wanted to travel less to spend more time with his family, while still being able to shoot his own films–so Moore stepped into the role of teacher. He was invited to teach part time at MICA nine years ago as students vocalized an increased interest in shooting and producing films on 16mm. The department has Bolex cameras for silent 16mm production and then utilized sync sound Aaton cameras for more advanced work. They also have several flatbed editing machines, rewind benches and viewers, and a video transfer system. Many students outside of the department frequently take the 16mm film production classes.

While Moore finds all moving image formats exciting to work with, when pressed, he stated, “if I were to choose the most elegant to render an image, I would choose Super 16mm because I know it the best.” He did nod to the fact that there are some amazing HD cameras out there, and how he is looking forward to shooting with them as well in the future.

More mentioned that there is definitely more film production of all genres happening in Baltimore these days. He feels that Maryland needs more schools to get students excited about the medium and more funding sources for locally produced work. The Maryland State Arts Council only has one small grant, given every other year–Moore says that there needs to be a state production fund that was bigger and more frequent. While at MICA, he has been instrumental in increasing collaboration between film students. There is a narrative production class where both MICA and Johns Hopkins University students work together to produce films from start to finish.

Another issue (which this author agrees with readily) is the value of local moving image archives and increasing access to them for filmmakers. There are many untapped places and collections–Moore mentioned the Maryland Historical Society AV collection and the University of Baltimore Langsdale Library’s news collection–so much could be done if these were cataloged and made available to easily research.

The ethnographer in Moore came out when I asked him if he kept any originals from his films (non-freelance work): he keeps everything, including outtakes, the raw ¼” open reel original sync sound recordings, the edited 16mm film magnetic tracks, etc. Everything is in his basement, and he can unfortunately smell the vinegar syndrome starting on the older stuff. “All the film I keep because it was such a commitment to shoot it, who knows how it might be used some day. I even have projects that I shot for that I never finished as they could be used for something some day too. It is all very precious to me.”

MarMIA thinks so too.

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