KTQ in the Early Years: Taking On Industrial Filmmaking

A closer look at Kartemquin’s early history reveals an often forgotten period of time when the original filmmaking cohort took on industrial for-hire gigs to help support their own social issue-based documentaries and the growth of a developing organization.

Co-founder and artistic director Gordon Quinn joined University of Chicago Cinema and Media studies professor and long-time Kartemquin member, Judy Hoffman (What's Happening at Local 70,HSA Hospital Strike '75,Chicago Maternity Center Story, Golub) back in April to reminiscence and reflect on the days of making these industrial films for clients such as McDonald’s and Pontiac.

“Essentially, it was a way for us as people in Kartemquin Films to make a living so we could pay the rent and work on independent films that had very little funding at that moment in time,” Hoffman said. “It was also a way to hone our craft, to be able to play with different kinds of equipment that we couldn’t necessarily afford, and it was incredibly beneficial because we met lots of different people who worked in the industry, and we got to work in situations that aren’t open to the public. We learned a lot from this experience that we brought back to our own filmmaking.”

The event was part of a series put on by South Side Projections entitled The Streets and the Classrooms: Educational and Industrial Films in an Era of Massive Social Change. An audience Q&A followed the screening of three examples of industrials including Strange & Beautiful, a film about quality control at McDonald’s, and Roadmap to Change: The Deming Approach about a Pontiac factory adopting a new system of efficiency. The films were used mostly as inter-industry instructional or informational videos to help connect companies’ branches all over the nation.

“You learn a lot by being in the belly of the beast,” Quinn said of filming within companies. “One of the ironies when we were making these films is that we were also making films for unions…like Taylor Chain 1 and 2 and The Last Pullman Car…we were also making, essentially, industrials for unions…they looked a little bit like some of these films.”

Hoffman and Quinn also discussed the varying degrees to which they had creative control over these industrial projects and the manners in which they approached them.

“We had a lot of fun on these shoots. We didn’t have to sell the job, we’d just be hired to do it,” Quinn said.

The audience had a few laughs over the recollections, which included stories of big ideas at McDonald's for delivering French fries and a time Quinn fell off a motorcycle while on a shoot.

“We joke a lot about these films, but actually I find them really interesting as documents and as, I don’t know—they’re documentaries,” Hoffman said. “What we did for industrials was to provide the industrial film with a documentary style that lent a certain veracity to what they were promoting.”

To read the full Q&A with Hoffman and Quinn, you can click here.