Typewriter (film) of the moment: Nicholson and Lockett

September 2, 2011

Not a nostalgic look, Gary Nicholson and Christopher Lockett are making a documentary about typewriters, and people who use them in the 21st century.

Yeah, I’m interested.

Here’s their description of the project:

In May of 2010, Los Angeles-based filmmakers Christopher Lockett and Gary Nicholson read an article on Wired.com about “The Last Generation Of Typewriter Repairmen.” Casual conversation over coffee about the importance of the typewriter in world history eventually turned toward the inevitable conclusion that “this would make a good documentary.”

Lockett and Nicholson agreed that the passing of the typewriter, a portable printing press that moved the world’s communication technology from pen and ink to the QWERTY keyboards on today’s computers, along with the highly skilled technicians who service them, should be documented.

But as so often happens in documentaries, a funny thing happened on the way…  to paraphrase Mark Twain, news of the typewriter’s death is greatly exaggerated.  Three typewriter repairmen the filmmakers have interviewed all agree that their business is better than it has been in years.

Perhaps it is a reaction to the plugged in existence of today’s 24/7 communications world. Perhaps it is mere nostalgia and kitsch. Perhaps it is an admiration for the elegance of design and the value of time-tested workmanship. And for some, like typewriter collector Steve Soboroff, it is the appeal of owning machines on which American writers like Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Ray Bradbury, John Updike and Jack London typed some of their finest work. (He also owns typewriters once owned by George Bernard Shaw and John Lennon)

But one thing is certain, from the Typosphere – an online community of bloggers who sometimes meet up for “Type-In” events, to vintage stores in fashionable neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, Portland and Philadelphia, to noted typewriter collector Tom Hanks, to teachers using typewriters to encourage young writers to focus their thoughts without benefit of a delete key – if the typewriter is on the way out, it’s going out with more appreciation that it’s seen in years.

So far, the filmmakers have documented two Type-in events, (Los Angeles and Phoenix, AZ) have interviewed three typewriter repairmen, one noted typewriter collector and already have arranged to interview at least one Hollywood screenwriter who still uses a typewriter. They have also interviewed journalists, authors, teachers, enthusiasts and people who use typewriters in their personal and professional life.

But there are other novelists, screenwriters and enthusiasts out there. And there are so many more typewriters they’d like to feature – typewriters that produced some of the finest works of 20th Century American literature.  They have also interviewed technicians with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Office who repair the typewriters the department still uses. They are handy for typing forms in triplicate and for such communications requiring a personal touch as letters of condolence.

Along with dozens of photographically gorgeous typewriters lovingly restored by repairmen Ruben Flores, Ermanno Manzorati and Bill Wahl, the filmmakers have interviewed Darryl Rehr, the author of the definitive book “Collecting Antique Typewriters” and an artist whose work features typewriters.

On the wish-list are an East Coast-based orchestra that uses typewriters in their music, the US Patent office holding Christopher Scholes original 1868 US Patent for the typewriter, a man in Philadelphia who has wired a manual typewriter to a computer screen via USB cable and a 15-year-old collector in West Virginia who has collected more than 200 machines and has written and published a book about collecting typewriters. A writer who got kicked out of the Writers Room in Grenwich Village for using his grandmother’s 1929 Royal typewriter and making too much noise. He was given an ultimatum: Use a laptop or get out. Also on that wish-list: an artist who creates her work by typing out portraits on the page, an “instant poet” who types spontaneous poetry on the street, and an author who has documented the feminist history of the typewriter’s early days – it was the first piece of office machinery that gave women the opportunity for employment outside the home.

All of which is currently beyond the filmmakers’ financial grasp. Travel isn’t cheap. In terms of technical skills and gear, the filmmakers are covered. Lockett holds an MFA in Cinematography from the American Film Institute and his credits include TV shows for every major TV network and most cable networks, indie features and PBS documentaries. Nicholson holds a BFA in Motion Pictures and Television from the Academy of Art University  and his producing credits include indie features, Broadway, and music. The team is shooting on Canon 7D and 60D DLSRs and editing in 1920 x 1080 full HD on Final Cut Pro and recording sound digitally on a Zoom H4N.

The Typewriter (In The 21st Century) – if the typewriter didn’t exist, the filmmakers couldn’t have typed this. And you probably wouldn’t be reading it on a computer screen. It’s that important.

The film will feature people who demonstrate much greater fanatacism towards typewriters than I do.

My ears are tintinnabulating in anticipation.


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