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For the first time in a single volume, Kathryn Ramey has written a thorough, hands-on guide to the craft and processes of experimental filmmaking, showing you step-by-step the material methods that will help you begin an experimental media practice. From these lessons, following the tradition of Stan Brakhage’s A Moving Picture Giving and Taking Book and Helen Hill’s Recipes for Disaster, you’ll learn to take materials apart and put them together in new ways, use products for purposes other than those intended by their manufacturers, and free yourself from the constraints of conventional media.

This companion website features video examples from numerous films for inspiration and emulation. Each video and audio file provides insights into the workings of a different approach to experimental film.

Above Image: Still frame from "WEST: What I know about her" by Kathryn Ramey, glitched using HexEdit.


"Clearly, Kathryn Ramey is committed to creating a new generation of experimental filmmakers who are equipped with the tools and the intellectual savvy to be great artists and thinkers. This book provides both novice and veteran filmmakers with the momentum and the muscle to work with the moving image in their own homes. Ramey's voice is confident and encouraging. She tells us how to transform our domestic universe into a studio where great things will happen when the lights are on and off."- Lynne Sachs, Filmmaker and Recipient of a 2014 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in the Creative Arts

"Kathryn Ramey's Experimental Filmmaking is many things at once: a homespun, one-on-one personal primer (like Stan Brakhage's pioneering Moving Picture Giving and Taking Book); a plainspoken how-to technical manual (like Lenny Lipton's essential books of the 70's); a compendium of interviews with a variety of experimental filmmakers about their practice and process (like Scott MacDonald's invaluable A Critical Cinema series); and a celluloid cookbook, very much in the spirit and letter of Helen Hill's Recipes for Disaster. Both retro (including - at long last - a perfectly realized JK optical printer manual) and au courant (digital glitching techniques, etc.), Experimental Filmmaking most of all celebrates and encourages creative adventure with alternative approaches to filmmaking, and offers us recipes, roadmaps, directions, and countless helpful hints as to how to create your own alchemy. This very useful and engaging book of sprocketed (and pixeled) revelations has arrived on our doorsteps, it seems to me, right on time... I Second That Emulsion! Back to the Future!" - Phil Solomon, Professor in the Film Studies Program at the University of Colorado at Boulder


Kathryn Ramey is a filmmaker and anthropologist whose work operates at the intersection of experimental film processes and ethnographic research. Her award winning and strongly personal films are characterized by manipulation of the celluloid including hand-processing, optical printing, and various direct animation techniques. Her scholarly interest is focused on the social history of the Avant-Garde film community, the anthropology of visual communication and the intersection between avant-garde and ethnographic film and art practices. She has been the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including the Social Science Research Council on the Arts fellowship, the LEF New England moving Image Grant and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowship. She has published articles in Visual Anthropology Review and The Independent as well as the anthologies Women’s Experimental Cinema (Duke), Made to Be Seen: Perspectives on the History of Visual Anthropology (U of Chicago), Anthropology and Art Practice (Berg), and Experimental film and Anthropology (Berg) has screened films at multiple film festivals and other venues including the Toronto Film Festival, the TriBeCa film festival, MadCat Women’s Film Festival, 25fps Experimental Film Festival in Zagreb, Croatia and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC.Her book Experimental Filmmaking: Break the Machine is due out from Focal press in Spring 2015. It is a thinly veiled experimental ethnography on the contemporary experimental film scene masquerading as a textbook on experimental film techniques written in the freehand voice of a zine.



Chapter 1


    A feminist palimpsest of cinematic representation.

    Lauren's films have received numerous awards and screened internationally at venues including: Images Festival Toronto, Margaret Meade Film Festival at the American Museum of Natural History, Ann Arbor Film Festival, Des Moines Art Center, Sao Paulo Museum of Image and Sound, Black Maria Film Festival, PDX, VideoEx Switzerland, Festival Des Cinemas Differents De Paris, Brighton Film Festival (UK), and the Emerging Filmmakers Showcase at the Cannes Film Festival. She's received funding and grants from the Museum of Contemporary Cinema Foundation, the Women's Education and Leadership Fund, Microsoft, and Visa. Find out more about Lauren at

      Steve Cossman (b. 1987) is founder and director of Mono No Aware; a nonprofit cinema arts organization whose annual event exhibits the work of contemporary artists who incorporate live film projections and altered light as part of a performance, sculpture or installation. In 2010 he established a series of analog filmmaking workshops for the organization and developed an in-person screening series entitled Connectivity Through Cinema. Steve's first major work on film, TUSSLEMUSCLE (2007-2009), has screened at many institutions internationally. In 2013, he completed residencies at MoMA PS1 and the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto. He has been a visiting artist at Yale, Dartmouth, the New York Academy of Art, SAIC, and the University of Pennsylvania. Steve's most recent work on film, W H I T E C A B B A G E (2011-2014), a collaboration with Jahiliyya Fields of L.I.E.S., had its U.S. premiere at Anthology Film Archives. He currently lives and works in Brooklyn as a director, curator, visual artist and member of the collective DecayNY, creating time-based works on film, video, and paper.

      Chapter 2


        Rubbings of the historic Moviola editing machine from NW Film Center's School of Film, Portland, OR, are animated by cameraless methods using only photocopies and adhesive tape onto 16mm film leader. Inspired by NWFC's 40 second movies project, this is exactly 40 seconds long, 960 frames of picture. The variations in grid square size is the result of the Moviola's metal footpedal being worn down in the editing of countless movies. This evidence of millions of miles of film footage, lovingly cut by scores of editors is recast upon wings of light via crotchety projection contraptions in wishing NWFC all the best for the next 40 years.

          DADA/ADAD by Emerson Students vm335 2013 – Featuring a number of techniques of hand manipulation/creation described in chapters 1 & 2 of Break the Machine, my students collectively created this short cinematic expression.

          Chapter 3


            This film was made by hand processing color reversal film and then optically printing onto more color reversal film and hand processing that. The filmmaker created a matte with black wrap and a hole punch that he put in the gel holder in the Bolex. 

                West Virginia industrial landscapes are collaged through a series of mattes that transform the photographed scenes into a kinetic field of shapes and spaces. While the technique and the emotional tone are reminiscent of the earlier are more purely personal CHUCK'S WILL'S WIDOW (1982), the new film extends the already complex visual idiom by inlaying social, sexual, and personal and political subjects. Woven into the fabric of the film is the story of Fred Carter, a retired coal miner and black lung activist who was framed by the Federal Government into order to undercut the black lung movement and to stop his bid for president of the UMWA. His story is told through fragments of documentary interviews and by a poet whose narrative is a counter theme in the film. The thematic elements and formal approaches sit in precarious balance. COALFIELDS has an original poetic text by Kimiko Hahn and sound composition by Earl Howard. – distributed by filmmakers cooperative in NYC, You can find out more about Bill Brand at

                  Endless Present: Biography of an Unknown Filmmaker by Cornelius Thistle is an unconventional and multi-layered approach to autobiography, incorporating hand-processed abstractions, ethnography, and the works of anthropologist Ray Birdwistle and artist On Kawara. The film features hand-processing and optical printing.

                  Screened at Iowa City Documentary film festival 2004, Boston International Film festival 2004, 15th Annual Onion City Film festival 2003, Ann Arbor International Film Festival, Ann Arbor, MI 2003 - Honorable Mention, Philadelphia Independent Film and Video Association, Subsidy Award Winner, 2002.

                  You can learn more about the films and writings of Kathryn Ramey at

                  Chapter 4


                  The following are all audio clips that I made to go along with instructions in the book.

                                  Husta Light Mic (2011) – Performance with microphone and hand-made film for VM335 by Christopher Husta. Instructions on making the light microphone are in the chapter

                                  Chapter 5


                                    In 2014, the Wilderness Film Expedition -- the Handmade Film Institute's Robert Schaller, with participants Curt Heiner and Armand Tufenkian -- made a film in Colorado's Mt. Zirkel Wilderness which they entitled "in lightning Agnes". It briefly chronicles both a climb and the struggle to document it using a handmade photographic emulsion that was prepared and coated onto celluloid outside on a rock at night using water from a rushing creek, rolled up before dawn during a lightning storm, shot under the constant threat of more lightning, and processed carefully on-location the next night. What results is presented as it came out of the camera, the result of a collaboration between the filmmakers and the wilderness environment where they lived for a week.

                                    For more information on Robert Schaller and the Handmade film Institute please see

                                    Chapter 6


                                      Vertical exposures follow the natural trajectory of the film strip, various chemicals are applied in tight quarters by hand under red light. Under these conditions, the struggle to maintain control quickly gives way to a kind of desperate religion.

                                      Josh Lewis is a New York-based artist and experimental filmmaker working at a fluid intersection between abstraction, documentary, and narrative forms. Coming from a background working in photochemical film processing labs, Lewis's handmade films explore the boundaries of manual knowledge, bodily struggle, and the persisting enigma of film's material potential. He's shown work at Anthology Film Archives, Eyebeam, Microscope Gallery, Uniondocs, Sight Unseen, Magic Lantern Cinema, Experimental Film Festival Portland, New Orleans Film Festival, Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival, Milwaukee Underground Film Festival, the Australian International Experimental Film Festival, and EDOC: Encuentros del otro cine festival internacional de cine documental. Josh is the founder of the artist-run film labNegativland. – find out more about josh lewis at

                                      Chapter 7


                                        Super 8 filmmaker Dagie Brundert was born in 1962 in Ostwestfalen, studied visual communication and experimental filmmaking in Krefeld and Berlin and has been working with Super 8 film since 1987. In 1994 she joined Ramona Welsh and Pamela Homann to found the female filmmakers' collective FBI - FREIEN BERLINER ISCHEN, which put on Super 8 film shows in Berlin for four years. Since the end of the regular screenings, Dagie Brundert's short Super 8 films have been showing up sporadically at various film festivals, lighting up the screen and people's mood and always making audiences yearn for more. (from an article by Luc-Carolin Ziemann) Dagie makes pinhole photographs and has been a leader in experimenting in environmentally friendly hand-processing of motion picture film. Find out more about her at (click the hamburger for English)

                                            These two short films were shot by my research assistant and friend William Palumbo and hand processed in the standard Caffenol process. The 7222 was developed in a standard negative process (using just developer and fix) and the 7266 was developed in a reversal process using caffenol for both the first and second developers. As you can see, both experience significant artifacts of the processes as we just put them into standard film cans (what I call “jam it in the can” in chapter 5) and the 7266 actually has some very nice negative sections and solarization. Both were transferred via our Elmo film chain at school which is why they are so low resolution.

                                            Chapter 8


                                              Untitled #2 is an exploration of the medium of film. The images were created without the use of a camera. By blending different colored lights, as a painter would blend his or her paint, directly onto the undeveloped film, these images were created and then optically printed together. The result is a moving image, but not in the normative sense—this is an abstract animated approach to the exploration of light, color, and sound. – This film was made as a capstone project while Brendan was at Emerson College. Brendan is now a Seattle based videographer and editor focused on food and sustainability issues. His work includes Online Video Marketing, Event Videography, Food Photography, Short Films and Experimental 16mm Film Production. You can find out more about him and his work at

                                                This film was used by contact printing parts of a 16mm print of Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) as well as metal screen onto black and white film and then hand processing it. It was made to fulfill an assignment in my Alternative Production Techniques class at Emerson College. 

                                                  This film was produced under my tutelage by a 3rd year Emerson College student. Because this person may face reprisal from parents and government officials in their home country if it was known that they were in film school, they prefer to remain anonymous. The film transfer produced a sepia tone and the scan lines.

                                                    Lauren's films have received numerous awards and screened internationally at venues including: Images Festival Toronto, Margaret Meade Film Festival at the American Museum of Natural History, Ann Arbor Film Festival, Des Moines Art Center, Sao Paulo Museum of Image and Sound, Black Maria Film Festival, PDX, VideoEx Switzerland, Festival Des Cinemas Differents De Paris, Brighton Film Festival (UK), and the Emerging Filmmakers Showcase at the Cannes Film Festival. She's received funding and grants from the Museum of Contemporary Cinema Foundation, the Women's Education and Leadership Fund, Microsoft, and Visa.

                                                    Her most recent film, PXXXL, was completed on 35mm with handmade lenses and LED lights in a color darkroom. You can find out more about her at

                                                    Chapter 9


                                                      This film uses a variety of multiple screen formats to create an intriguing series of visual riddles. The film consists of a series of simple camera movements that are rendered "diachronically"- several different aspects of the action are presented on the screen at once. By playing with time delays between these images, new kinds of space, action, gesture, and temporality have been found. Generated from structural principles, the film is both lyrical and sensual and provokes a new understanding of time and cinema.

                                                      The man who could not see far enough (1981) 33min. 16 mm film, color, sound (excerpt) uses literary, structural, autobiographical, and performance metaphors to construct a series of tableaux that evoke the act of vision, the limits of perception, and the rapture of space. Spectacular moving multiple images; a physical, almost choreographic sense of camera movement; and massive, resonant sound have inspired critics to call it "stunning" and "hallucinatory." The film ranges in subject from a solar eclipse shot off the coast of Africa to a hand-held filmed ascent of the Golden Gate Bridge, and moves, in spirit, from the deeply personal to the mythic. "The man who could not see far enough" has won major awards of distinction at numerous festivals both here and abroad, including the Oberhausen, Edinburgh, American, and Sydney Film Festivals, has been broadcast nationally, and is in collections at Centre Pompidou in Paris and at Image Forum in Tokyo.

                                                      Since 1968 Peter Rose has made over thirty films, tapes, performances and installations. Many of the early works raise intriguing questions about the nature of time, space, light, and perception and draw upon Rose's background in mathematics and on the influence of structuralist filmmakers. He subsequently became interested in language as a subject and in video as a medium and generated a substantial body of work that played with the feel and form of sense, concrete texts , political satire , oddball performance, and a kind of intellectual comedy. Recent video installations have involved a return to an examination of landscape, time, and vision. Rose has been widely exhibited, both nationally and internationally, having been included in shows at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Biennial, the Centre Pompidou, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Film Society at Lincoln Center, and the Rotterdam International Film Festival. He has been awarded fellowships by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Pew Foundation, the Independence Foundation, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and is fond of writing descriptions in the third person.

                                                      You can find out more about him at

                                                        6 analogue filmmakers each made a film for one track on the album... this is the track I got to do visuals for... hand-processed 16mm film, each frame exposed 9 times... (my attempt at mimicking the pioneering work of the Whitney brothers) No computer effects or enhancements, this is a transfer from film to digital at 24fps. I used fcp7 to add the soundtrack and take out three flashed frames. get the lp at ...comes with a poster and a dvd of the films.

                                                          The current incarnation of my ever-evolving animation stand/op printer set up... I've used it to make all my films and vids to date, although this is way more automated than my first bare-bones version, in which I had to advance the film on the projector by hand via the inching knob... didn't have a motor for the bolex either... had to wind it up v e r y carefully mid shot w/o altering it's position... wish I had documented that original set-up, was a pain in the ass but a lot of fun as well... I was inspired to build this (in what was once the living room of my small apartment) after a visit to Jeff Scher's incredible studio... he had four or five rotoscopes set up... and more old movie cameras than ebay!

                                                          Chapter 10


                                                            Largely an exploration of landscape, Comerford’s early work pares down the technology of filmmaking to examine media’s role in the construction of place and history. By using a pinhole camera and home made noise machines, in his CINEMA OBSCURA series, Comerford creates otherworldly landscapes out of ordinary locations. His more recent work leaves behind the len-less camera in favor of the standard 16 mm lens, turned toward some of Chicago’s pre-urban stories in order to “explore the evidence, revision and erasure of histories in the landscape.” Thomas Comerford is a songwriter, singer, guitar player and filmmaker in Chicago, IL. You can find out more about him at

                                                              Made as a final project in my Alternative Production Techniques class, the pinhole len(es) were simply black card stock attached to a dslr with black gaffers tape.  He used a combination of single and multiple holes and then edited in fcp.

                                                                In stark contrast to video, "Hand Made" focuses on the grain of the celluloid and the organic nature of emulsion. It was created by contact printing images with a flashlight in a darkroom without the use of a camera, labs, digital editing or any type of sound equipment.

                                                                Chapter 11


                                                                  A Thousand Sentences is derived from the work of Caleb Gattegno (1911-1988), an Egyptian-born mathematician and educator who pioneered a systematic and synaesthetic method for teaching foreign languages and arithmetic. The film begins with Perlin's hand-painted animated color fields, each  corresponding a vowel or consonant sound of the English language, as developed by Gattegno. The second part of the film, in black and white, animates an excerpt from Gattegno's 1974 book 'A Thousand Sentences.' The book was written to function as a primer for English learners to practice reading simple texts, yet in its selection of phrases, all written by Gattegno, it also represents the author's philosophical tract and worldview.

                                                                  Courtesy of the artist and Simon Preston Gallery, New York

                                                                    Filmmaker Joel Schlemowitz screens a selection of new short films and works-in-progress, including a series of film rolls from his recent travels throughout the cities and countryside of Japan. The program includes his recent short film “For Adolfas” made with footage he shot in 1999 of the filmmaker Adolfas Mekas who died last year. The screening takes place in connection with Schlemowitz’s current exhibition LIGHT OBJECTS at Microscope featuring camera painting and cinema sculptures.

                                                                    Chapter 12


                                                                      The background of the image is made of patterns of dots directly laser printed on clear leader. That background also doubles as an optical soundtrack with different pitches created by the different density of dots. The dots were inspired by the stockings Toni Basil ("Antonia Christina Basilotta") wore in Bruce Conner¹s "Breakaway" in 1966, which also serves as the source footage for the dancer in the film. Toni Basil herself is a source of inspiration for all 30-somethings who haven¹t yet made enough of their lives. (She was 39 when "Mickey" was a hit in 1982.)

                                                                      This film was commissioned at Cinematexas in 2005 over a meal of pulled pork and peach cobbler. This film is also known as "32.37" (the price of that meal).

                                                                      From the Lunchfilm series: curator Mike Plante has lunch with a filmmaker and then gets a film for the cost of the lunch in trade. Some rules are written on a napkin. Here are the rules for this commission: Reference dance. Reference Texas. Have an autograph in it. Mention Toni Basil.

                                                                      Roger Beebe teaches in the Department of Art at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. From 2000-2013, he taught at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL, where he is also founded and served as the Artistic Director of FLEX: the Florida Experimental Film/Video Festival from 2004 until 2014. For more information about Roger please goto

                                                                        Fulcrum films describe films that transform film material from a photographic image into a 
                                                                        three-dimensional sculpture in order to showcase the projector as the place where films pivot 
                                                                        from being unseen to being shown. Fulcrum Film 3 is about weight.

                                                                        Peter Miller is an artist living and making work in Europe. He took his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, is originally from Vermont and apprenticed to be a silversmithHis film and photographic works are preoccupied with magic and generally investigate the phenomena of the cinema and its constituent, irreducible elements: lens, light, flicker, audience, projection, etc.

                                                                        His films are distributed by Light Cone in Paris. He is represented by Galerie Crone in Berlin. You can find out more about him at his website

                                                                        Chapter 13


                                                                              the ceibas cycle is a ten-part, multimedia exploration of ghosts, glitches, and the aesthetics of entropy. begun in 2007 and completed in 2011, the cycle offers technological rupture as an interface; exploring geography, testimony, mortality and other hackable systems. centering around an understanding of archival memory and networked representation, these pieces attempt to redefine viability. for our cyber-organized culture, glitches embody the imperfections that allow for us to be complete. something fragmented presents itself as a dialogue and not simply as a vessel. in this spirit, the ceibas cycle serves as a home for these hacked and broken reminders - offered in all of their complex imperfections, so as to better celebrate our own.

                                                                              evan meaney is an artist and researcher, teaching new media practices at the university of south carolina. his work explores liminalities and glitches of all kinds; equating failing data to ghosts, seances, and archival hauntology. he has been an artist in residence at the wexner center for the arts, a founding member of GLI.TC/H, and a contributor to the atlantic. more recently, evan has worked with the super computing team at oak ridge national laboratory on projects made possible through the national science foundation. his time-based artwork is available through the video data bank in chicago. To learn more about Evan Meaney please visit his website