Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Typewriter (In the 21st Century) film screening @ AFI

The Typewriter (In the 21st Century) recently screened at the American Film Institute (AFI) in Los Angeles, CA on Monday 8/6/2012. We all know this film as the Typewriter Movie and have been eagerly awaiting its release. Let me tell you, it is everything and more it has promised itself to be and delivers well beyond our highest expectations.

Nestled near the base of the hills of Griffith Park and Hollywood, right off the 101 freeway lies the famous American Film Institute. It is the scene for this screening which had several distinguished guests including the filmmakers as well as several people featured in the film and some lucky guests of which my younger brother Chris and I were happy to be part.

For this intimate screening, the spotlights and red carpet were left for a later event. There were no limosines or paparazzi - (it was that secret and exclusive!) and I didnt hear about any after party at the Playboy Mansion. Nevertheless, there was a undeniable excitement in the crisp LA night air.

Once inside the Louis B Mayer Library, it was suddenly quiet as if we were in the wrong place - Alfred Hitchcock was rolling film somewhere. There were not any signs for the event. But out of the corner of our eyes, in a seemingly empty room , we spotted a green Olympia SM3 and it was like fingerprints at a murder scene: THIS WAS IT!

Director Christopher Lockett held attention at the door, his opera quality voice carried like a rising crescendo wave that maintained a height of those seen at Waimea Bay. He greeted us warmly and heartily - he was clearly in a fabulous mood and understandably so: he was right about to share his passion project with some friends. In a swift motion he gestured for us to sign in on the Olympia.

Clickety Clack.


This should be the way everyone signs in for any future Typewriter movie screenings, premieres, and showings be it at any film festivals or Regal Cinema. This was an initiation - and all it took was to type out your name. And a transformation occured and you were now truly ready to see the world of typewriters.

We took our seats and looked around the screening room. The audience itself was a mishmash/hodgepodge assortment of people but i immediately spotted Ruben Flores of US Office Machine and Ermanno Marzorati of Star Office Machines so we certainly were in very good company.

Once 8:30pm came around, Christopher gave an inspiring introduction to the film, sharing some details of the making of the film. A unbelievably paltry $9,254.00 was raised through Kickstarter and served nearly the entire budget of this documentary. Christopher likened this sum to "less than the craft services budget for an indie film" - that gives you a real idea of how stretched the filmmakers were for this documentary. Still, passion overcame the difficulties and challenges. Christopher shared some creative solutions such as hiring someone off Craigslist to do some supplemental shooting for $50.

The film began.

The preface showed what you would expect a typical documentary to start with: some history and facts which is fine since typewriters are over 100 years old... but that is all this film shared with those PBS-type documentaries. It presented its content in a hip and organized way. Slowly the cast of characters were revealed, their roles introduced and then each of their individual stories woven into a narrative whole.

The documentary explored how the relationship of people and typewriters was and how this relationship has changed and evolved through the typewriter's lifetime - some people had literally lived their whole lives with typewriters such as the repairmen; some had abandoned it only to find it again such as some collectors; some discovered the typewriter despite it being considered archaic and obsolete such as the younger generation who like to type; and some vigilantly kept with their typewriters against the blanket of technology such as authors like David McCullough.

The people interviewed had various opinions of the typewriter and its place as well as future prospects. One repairman said basically that typewriters will eventually die out. This was sad but certainly possible. A real poignant part of the documentary showed that a lot of the repairmen wanted to pass on their knowledge to their children, specifically sons, but their sons wanted to go a different route for a career. Bill Wahl shared that his son would have been the 4th generation to repair typewriters. Still, others felt that typewriters have a promising future because they are being discovered by the youth. And basically everyone expressed in some way that typewriters will always have a place because they capture people's imagination.

Although there are so many highlights of the film, my favorite parts of the documentary were those interviews with the repairmen especially the scenes with mid-90s year old Manson Whitlock who singlehandedly infused the film with such genuine humor I can still recall him and laugh. I feel these repairmen were, if not the heart of the film, then certainly its spirit. They personify the typewriter and its journey. They have gone through what the typewriter has - ups and downs, top of the world and near death and now, resurrection, a hopefully sustained one.

Also notable must be the interviews with authors specifically, David McCullough and Robert Caro. These 2 are men who have made their careers writing and doing so with their trusty typewriters. In fact, they are both so linked with their typewriters it might as well be a body part. It really hit home that this machine could play such an important part in someone's life as to be called a "partner".

And of course, I also enjoyed the parts that showed the collectors and those in the forefront of the typewriter's resurgence: the typosphere. I am glad Richard Polt is our ambassador as he represents the best of us and our intentions. Others shown were Michael Clemens and the Reverend Ted Munk who both had some great contributions to the typewriter story.

The film is such a treat to watch and like many of us will feel, you really need to watch it more than once because nearly every frame has at least one typewriter in it and at times (such as when interviewing Richard Polt who has the lovliest background of dozens of desireable typers), many!!! So there can be a lot of distraction for those of us whose eyes dart to any shape akin to a typewriter. Lots of eye candy in the film, alright.

The film ended to as much applause as 30 people could muster so much so that it was the applause of a crowd double and im sure the sound overfilled and poured down the hills and woke up Bruce Willis. Christopher Lockett had about a 20min Q&A and a lot of the audience sentiment was that we were particularly happy with the people assembled to interview for the film. I also overheard some platen recovery/Ames/West Coast platen discussion between Ruben and Ermanno - i guess this subject wont go away until we find a real solution.

Christopher mentioned that he read the Wired Magazine article Meet the Last Generation of Typewriter Repairmen and was inspired to do the film. He said that typewriters deserved an elegy but i believe what he ended up making is not at all a lamenting swan song but a chronicle of the seasons like that shown on National Geographic nature documentaries that present out of winter comes the spring.

Those of us who already live and love typewriters will only care for our machines more. I have a strong sense that this film will inspire and transform many curious into full blown collectors and members of the typosphere. It should elicit a conscious response from any viewer: either instill a reverence for the typewriter's past and/or evoke an active participation to join the growing movement.

That is the lasting message of the film. We can help the typewriter by spreading the word and keeping it alive. The same goes for this wonderful documentary, a real treasure for the typewriter: we should talk about it and spread the word about The Typewriter (In the 21st Century).


  1. Christopher LockettAugust 10, 2012 at 4:44 AM


    Thanks for coming to the screening and for the very kind words. Putting the film up in front of a select audience was important for us, too. Our little filmmaking team had been playing it pretty close to the vest for several months, holed up in the editing suite, so it was nice to see how people reacted to it.

    Producing partner Gary Nicholson, editor Kevin Mangold and I have been working quietly for months in post production to achieve one simple goal - get the passionate talkers on the the screen, let them tell their stories, and get out of the way. But, as the saying goes, "simple" does not always mean "easy." There is a lot of work that goes into it, but I think we've gotten reasonably close to echoing what David McCullough says in the film: "The hardest thing in the world is to make it look easy, right?"

    When I read that story, I thought we would be making an elegy. But it was almost immediately apparent, from the first interview really, that this was no elegy, but rather the celebration of the machine and the people who use, love and repair it that the film has ultimately become.

    We've got a few more small tweaks to make, some color adjustments, some audio cleanup, etc. The film will be ready to make its first official public debut at the Venice Type-In at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center on Sunday, September 23.

    Louise L.A. Marler, an artist featured in the film - she is not a key cutter, but features typewriters in her art without damaging any typewriters - has a flyer for the event on her page:

    Thanks again for the kind words, Michael. And as ever, thanks again to everyone in the Typosphere who shared their knowledge and passion. There are so many stories we wish we could have included in the film, so many more interviews we wish we could have done. But if you noticed in the B-roll, the cutaway shots to web sites and graphics, that we made a serious effort to include as many websites and blogs as we could. We may not have gotten to everyone for an interview, but it is my hope that several Typospherians will be pleasantly surprised by their blog's appearance on-screen.

    We have only come as far as we have on the strength of the Typosphere's participation. If any of you you know a library, local film festival, or indie art-house theater in your area that might be interested in screening the film, please let us know through the website or the Facebook page. And if you've got a contact who works in acquisitions at a distribution company, we would certainly love to know about them!


    Christopher Lockett
    Director, The Typewriter (in The 21st Century)

  2. Jealous. Wish I could have joined you. Congrats to the producers.

  3. Wonderful, Michael!
    Thanks for the updates, glad to hear that the documentary had an AFI screening and that you were able to attend.

    Chris, have you submitted the film to the Chicago International Film Festival? Hope so!

  4. Congratulations on a great screening, guys!

  5. Congratulations on a successful first screening! I can't wait to see it myself - hope it will make it to Phoenix sometime (:

  6. It sounds absolutely wonderful!

    Michael, thanks for being the reporter on the scene for those of us who couldn't attend.

    Chris, Gary, and Kevin, thank you for this labor of love.

  7. I cannot wait to see this! You, good sir, are lucky to have been there. This will be a huge conversation piece for typospherians for years to come, once it hits the silver screen. Thanks for sharing!

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