The Last Letterpress and Paper Store in Downtown Los Angeles

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ink&paper is a portrait of Aardvark Letterpress and McManus & Morgan Paper, neighboring businesses working together to survive in a digital era. The film was directed by Ben Proudfoot, a film student at U.S.C., and he describes the making of the film in a brief interview below. 

The Atlantic: How did you find this story and decide to tell it?

Ben Proudfoot: As a student at the U.S.C. School of Cinematic Arts, I was enrolled in a class where we had to make five short films in one semester. When it came to the third project, I decided to make a documentary.

I decided to choose a local guy whose business was a rolling fruit truck -- he walked around our neighborhood selling little bags of fruit for a dollar. I met him, told him I'd like to follow him around with a camera for a day, and we arranged to meet at 4AM downtown the following day where he bought his fruit every morning. He stood me up three times. At four in the morning.

Anyway -- the afternoon after the third stand-up, I was waiting in Aardvark Letterpress waiting for my letterhead to be printed, worried about what to make my documentary about as I only had a week left before I had to screen it for the class. A thought occurred to me that this business might be a great place to shoot a doc. I asked the proprietor, Cary, and he told me that I should also so see Gary next door. I did, and the rest is history.

I think what was so appealing to me about these two shops was that these guys are so passionate about what they do. And that inspired me. 

Here are two businesses that should have gone under years ago, and they are not only surviving, but on occasion thriving, doing quality work with no shortcuts. That was exciting to me. Plus, there was the dependent relationship between them -- symbolized by the power cord that connects them -- that drew me to the story.

See, ink&paper isn't really a film about ink or paper. It's a film about taking pride in your work, doing what you love no matter what, and relying on friends to get through the rough times.

Did anything surprise you in the course of shooting?

Since I didn't know anything about Nepalese paper or letterpress going into this, I was surprised around every corner about the details of the job and all the work that goes into printing just a business card.

The title credits is just a shot of Aardvark's linotype machine -- a massive hulking thing that pumps out little lead lines of type. I was shocked when the operator, Bill, told me that that's how newspapers used to be printed - lines and lines of these massive machines typing away - creating hundred pound lead slabs that were created from hundreds and hundreds of lines of type. It's amazing how much we take for granted.

I think the other thing that surprised me was just how good of a story there was lying beyond these storefronts. I mean, if it wasn't for my fascination with printing and my desire for letterhead, I wouldn't have ever looked twice at these shops, or even wondered or cared if I drove by. It makes me think that maybe all of those other places that you drive by (houses, storefronts, etc) - wherever there are people - there's a great story. And I love that because so often, particularly nowadays, we are bombarded with stories of the superhero -- the more-than-man who does extraordinary things with extraordinary stakes. It's interesting (and telling) to me that so many people responded to this story -- one about genuine heroes who tackle real obstacles. I think people are sick of superman and want stories about people like Cary and Gary.

What's next for you?

I'm graduating from U.S.C. in the spring, and since I'm Canadian, I'm looking to find a job and get someone to sponsor me into the country so that I can keep doing what I love. I may make a few other small business profiles a la ink&paper, and I will continue the festival circuit and distribution hunt for my short film Dinner With Fred. Other than that, I'm developing a slate of feature film screenplays.

For more videos by Ben Proudfoot, visit http://www.benproudfoot.com/.

Via Kottke.

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Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.
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