Ron Schildknecht


In the movies: Schildknecht finds good stories here
Marilyn Clark
Business First / November 24, 2006

Ron Schildknecht, 48, started making films in the Super 8 format as a youngster in Louisville.

He later moved to 16mm film during his college years -- he earned a bachelor's degree in communications at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green and a master's degree in educational media at East Texas State in Commerce, Texas.

He makes independent films now through Germantown Films, his private production company. And his position as manager of multimedia services for the Delphi Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Louisville helps him keep his creative and technical skills sharp.

When producing "Freshman Survival 101," a six-part movie module for incoming fall U of L freshmen, he used high-definition digital video and made the final cuts using a Mac Pro desktop computer with a 30-inch monitor.

To appeal to students, Schildknecht created a content mix that runs the gamut of today's pop culture -- from TV talk shows to classic horror movies, cartoon animation and comedy.

Schildknecht's past film credits for U of L include "Hubble's Heritage" and "Castles to the Sky," produced for and shown at Rauch Planetarium in 2004 and 2003, respectively. The shows now are sold on DVD at the planetarium's gift shop.

With his own company, he is making a full-length historical docudrama about the Germantown neighborhood of Louisville, using various formats. The film, which will air on Kentucky Educational Television channels and will be sold on DVD, is being underwritten by $40,000 in grants from KET, the Kentucky Arts Council, the Kentucky Humanities Council and the Kentucky Oral History Commission.

The seed for "Germantown" was planted in 1984, when Schildknecht returned to Louisville following stints as filmmaker-in-residence in Tennessee and multimedia instructor at a college in Texas.

While living in Germantown, he formed Germantown Films and one of his first indie works was "Borderlines," a drama focusing on the south-central Kentucky/Tennessee borders, which aired on KET during the mid-'90s.

During guest artist lectures at the Governor's School for the Arts held each summer for high school juniors and at film lab sessions, Schildknecht frequently shows "My Porcelain Past."

This is a 20-minute black-and-white documentary he made that captures the last 24 hours of the White Castle restaurant that once stood at the corner of Eastern Parkway and Bardstown Road. Currently, he is transferring the film from VHS to DVD format and adding outtakes, special features and still photos.

"I never wanted to do anything but write and direct," said Schildknecht, who works on independent film projects in his home studio. "Louisville is my home. It's where I am comfortable, and the stories that I want to tell take place here."

Rejuvenated Louisville Film and Video Festival opens Nov. 11 at Baxter Theatres
Paul Kopasz
LEO / October 30, 2002

Walter Brock raises his eyebrows and sighs. “If nothing was done,” he says, “then our feeling was that the festival might not last another year.” When Brock says “the festival” he is referring to the Louisville Film and Video Festival. The “our” he mentions are the members of the film-selection committee with whom he has been working to beef up the event’s prestige.

These fine folks are among those who took on the thankless task of rejuvenating the Louisville Film and Video Festival, a job at which they seem to have succeeded. From left, Debbie Skaggs, Mary Yates, John Begley, Bill Green, Penny Leach, Ron Schildknecht, Walter Brock and Jennifer Ratoff. Photo by Brian Bohannon.

With virtually no funding and only a deeply ingrained love of cinema, Brock, an acclaimed documentary filmmaker himself, and his collaborators, John Begley, Ron Schildknecht, Debbie Skaggs and others have surmounted a number of obstacles...

...Finally, there is an event called the “Video Derby Race,” in which teams of producers are given exactly 72 hours to conceptualize, shoot and edit a 3- to 5-minute video on a theme provided without advanced warning. That theme will be revealed at a party that opens the film fest.

Brock credits Ron Schildknecht, a Louisville independent filmmaker, with this oddly appealing concept.

Local Artists: Ronald Schildknecht
Mark Griffin
The Vulture / June 1994

Hollywood may be the city most often associated with film, but it isn’t the only one. There is New York City, India, Scandinavia and Bowling Green.

Bowling Green?

Yes, Bowling Green. Many people are unaware that Bowling Green has a fair number of resident filmmakers. Among these, Ronald Schildknecht stands out, having produced three films through his own company, Germantown Films. In the ten years, he has been in production he has made The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster, My Porcelain Past, and Borderlines.

All of Schildknecht’s films deal with local subject matter in Kentucky. Schildknecht loves doing films that deal with the communities in the Bluegrass state and said he would feel alien if he tried to venture outside of that.

Schildknecht’s film experience goes way beyond Germantown Films; he has been making films for as long as he can remember. He would gather his friends together and produce comedies, horror films, and school projects. “It was just something I was drawn to, I suppose,” said Schildknecht. As a Media Production Specialist at Western Kentucky University, Schildknecht brings his experience to others.

Schildknecht first film under the Germantown name, the Legend of Pope Lick Monster, was also his most controversial. Inspired by a piece of Louisville folklore surrounding a train trestle. The trestle is said to be the home of a monster called the Sheep Man (portrayed in Schildknecht’s film as the Pope Lick Monster), and the film is about three teenagers who go there in search of it. One nearly gets killed when he mistakes a train for the monster.

When three teenagers were killed at the trestle during the same period of time Schildknecht’s was filming, The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster, began to receive increased attention. The involved railroad company and the family of one of the victims lobbied to keep Schildknecht’s film out of the theaters.

After all was said and done, Schildknecht’s film played anyway, and the railroad company put up a fence to keep the trestle from becoming a hangout. The fence wasn’t very successful. “Every time there is an incident on the trestle (there has been another death and a few near misses) I get a phone call from the TV station wanting to air a section of the movie.”

Schildknecht’s other two films, My Porcelain Past and Borderlines replace controversy with profit. Both short films have been well received by the public.

Schildknecht’s latest project, with the working title of Germantown, is his dream project. It will feature length drama about the Louisville neighborhood and the people who live there. “This is the movie I have wanted to do for ten years.”

Schildknecht enjoys what he does but wishes Bowling Green would be more supportive of artists like him. “There is really no venue for independent films here,” he said.

Schildknecht encourages others to get involves in cinematography. “Grab a camera and start making movies…make as many movies as you can, show them to audiences, get feedback, and learn how to manage money.”

See the sidebar for where to find Schildknecht’s films.

Schildknecht’s Films

  • Legend of the Pope Lick Monster, Controversial local short film about a Louisville legend and how it affects three teenagers. 16 min. B&W.
  • Borderlines, Discusses old customs in early Kentucky folk justice. Provides a different insight on Kentucky life. 48 min, color.
  • My Porcelain Past, documents the closing of a popular Louisville White Castle on Bardstown Road in Louisville due to a rent dispute. 19 min, B&W

LVAA Media Center Grows Under KAC Artist-in-Residence, Ron Schildknecht
Visual Art Review / January/February 1990

You have had a variety of roles with the LVAA, the most recent being a Kentucky Arts Council media artist-in-residence for the past three years and also the coordinator of the Association’s newly founded Media Center. What do each of these positions entail?

The way my residency is structured the two roles blend together frequently. Traditionally, and artist-in residence works solely within a school environment, and indeed I devote a significant amount of energy to teaching various media production and animation workshops for the LVAA. I also coordinate other related workshops which don’t teach but which hopefully broaden the scope of media instruction in the area. Since my residency is community-based, I am involved in a number of activities such as organizing independent film and video screenings around the city such as The Uptown Theatre, the JB Speed Art Museum and the Water Tower. I also consult with individuals and organizations on a variety of media-related issues and provide equipment to anyone interested in producing their own films and videos through our media center. I also sit on a number of boards and committees, such as the Kentucky Association of Media Artists and the KET Film and Video Festival planning committee. John Begley and I are on both the Kentucky Art Council’s and KET’s media advisory committees.

How did the Media Center evolve?

Photo by Bill Karlen

John Begley, Rhody Streeter and I have long recognized the need for getting the tools of media production into the hands of the artists in the Louisville area. While media centers, public access television facilities and university television and film departments exist in many other cities across the country, Louisville has never been a healthy environment of independent media producers. For instance all of my training was obtained elsewhere and much of the six years I’ve been back in Louisville has been devoted to building a support base from which I can produce my own independent works. Filmmaking is an activity, which requires large sums of money, special equipment and the unique contributions of many people. If this area is going to thrive in the media arts along with the other art forms, there need to be recourses readily available to the artists. Media production can be an expensive undertaking but there are methods in which organizations and artists can collectively reduce those costs. The dividends will be films and videos locally produced which are indigenous to our regional culture and heritage.

In addition to the Arts Council support of this program, our first major breakthrough towards this end was the donation of 16mm film production and editing equipment from Al Shands, who used to produce documentaries for television in the seventies. This equipment had been and will continue to be available to artists who desire to work in this medium on a low-cost rental basis. It was invaluable to me in completing “The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster” and also allowed me the opportunity to shoot a documentary on the closing of the White Castle on Eastern Parkway and Bardstown Road. That film is still being edited.

Perhaps of greater interest to artists is our recent procurement of a ¾ inch video editing system, on loan from local video producer Butch Ellis. Video is generally a much less expensive format to work in and now consumer video cameras are almost as commonplace as personal computers. In order for video to exist as an art form in this area, affordable editing access is a prerequisite. And because of a grant we received for the National Alliance of Media Arts Centers we will be offering editing access grants on a per project basis.

Regarding your own work, you were recently awarded the first Kentucky Film and Video Project grant from the Kentucky Humanities Council/ Kentucky Arts Council to produce and direct “Killings.”

The idea for the film was inspired by the research of Kentucky folklorist/writer Dr. Lynwood Montell, who documented an era of violence in the Upper Cumberland Plateau. Between the Civil War and the 1930’s, this rugged area of small farms along the Kentucky – Tennessee border had a homicide rate more than ten times the national average. When I received one of the three KFVP script development grants last year, I commissioned Becky Reynolds, also a Kentucky native, to write a dramatic script which would explore the circumstances under which this code of violence took place, the relationships of the persons involved and the presence of the precipitating factors, such as guns and alcohol. The KFVP panel choose her script out of three to receive production funds, but I still have a significant amount of money to raise before I can shoot the film.

You are also involved in developing a public television series for the LVAA, which focuses on the Kentucky visual arts scene. You seem particularly well-suited to this project, not only because of your skills as a filmmaker, but also because of the numerous resources and contacts you have developed as a result of working for the LVAA and Kentucky Arts Council over the years.

“Off the Walls” will be a 30-minute magazine format with segments consisting of artist interviews, gallery tours, art process demonstrations, art interpretation, current events as well as video art. The concept for the show began as a no-budget series of half-hour shows we produce for cable public access several years ago. It was always our intention to replicate it on a higher production level for a statewide audience. It was a matter of developing the necessary resources to fund and produce the show. KET is expressing an interest in airing “Off the Walls,” so we’re hopeful we’ll be producing a pilot soon, with ten monthly shows to follow. I think what makes this program exciting is not only the opportunity to monitor various artists and arts happenings across Kentucky, but the fact that we’ll be contracting media artists in the state to produce show segments in their area. In other words, there will opportunities for artists to participate on both sides of the camera. I aim for the program to live up to its title.

Now that your three-year term as an artist-in-residence is coming to an end this spring, how do you foresee your relationship with the LVAA?

The residency has allowed me the opportunity to provide many community services, which would not have been possible for me to do otherwise. Some of that activity will be trimmed down. And with no other major funding source in sight, I think the Media Center has got to become more self-supportive – meaning more media artists and media professionals producing independent works, providing training and participating in its operation on a volunteer basis. If we’re going to continue, it’s time for the ownership to be spread around.

My direction with the LVAA will most likely shift to the production of the “Off the Walls” series, which will still allow us to provide equipment access through the Media Center. I see my role as a producer/collaborator/ facilitator with artists across the state in producing a variety of arts-related programming. And as a direct result of producing the show, I’ll have the equipment capability to do a lot more related video work, education and promotion for the Association.

Starving Artists
Diane Heilenman
The Courier-Journal Magazine / June 4, 1989

Five who shun full-time jobs to pursue their muses talk about what they give up and what they gain

Making art is not a hobby like collecting coins. There's no guarantee that the value of the thing will increase.

Nor is it a diversion, like a paperback you can pick up every night for a few minutes and put down when you get sleepy.

Art is a lifestyle, and the starving artist is both a myth and the reality of that lifestyle.

It's a myth in the sense that artists don't have to endure squalor and poverty in order to produce decent work. Think of Picasso, for just one example.

They have to live fully. They don't have to live badly.

But the myth is reality in the sense that most artists do starve just a little bit. It's hard to make a living making art.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are at least 330,000 visual artists working in the United States. This 1987 estimate counts only artists who derive a major portion of their income from their art. To get a broader view, consider the National Endowment for the Arts that indicate many of these artists live at or below poverty level, some on as little as $3,000 to $4,000 a year.

Typically, they get by as bartenders, waitresses and carpenters. They borrow from family and friends to pay the rent. They use birthday money to buy art supplies. Money is secondary to career for these most creative entrepreneurs, who do what they must in order to have time.

They buy time by living a lifestyle half of America might reject and the other half might envy.

They suffer from great needs, not the least of which is the need to be understood.

And they are, by and large, happy. Or, no less happy than the rest of us.

Here's how five artists make it...

Ron Schildknecht, 30,
film maker, Louisville

Ron Schildknecht is as tall as a basketball player and slender as a bow. There is an occasional hunched-over concavity to his posture that speaks the opposite of his quick, bright smile.

He has chosen movie-making as his life’s work and his hometown of Louisville as the place to do it in.

“I've never wanted to do anything else,” he said.

Photo by Pat McDonogh

Hollywood is not for him.

“If I went elsewhere I could probably get work, but it wouldn't be my own work.”

Last December he produced what he considers his first “real” film, “The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster,” a story of am imaginary creature that lures young men to their deaths when they walk a dangerous railroad trestle as a youthful rite of passage.

Schildknecht is proud of the somewhat controversial film and has started on another story line, this one a sort of murder mystery based at the Kentucky-Tennessee border.

But right now his movie-making is going slowly. A few realities are staring him in the face.

He is the only wage-earner in a growing family. He and his wife, Pamela, who live near Bowman Field in a house they are buying from her father, have a year-old daughter and another child on the way.

The medical insurance they have will only partially cover the costs of the new baby due in October. And, to compound things, Schildknecht said he just found out that the unemployment folks consider him self-employed as an artist-in-residence at the Louisville Visual Art Association earning $12,000 a year. He is ineligible for unemployment benefits when the annual grant expires this summer.

“We try to keep expenses down, but I'm getting into debt. I'm getting to a point where I'm going to have to decide. . . . .

I have never pursued commercial work. But if you come and ask, I'll usually do it because I need the money.”

He made his first film as a high school sophomore. It was a history piece in which he anticipated currently popular animation techniques by constructing the Egyptians pyramids frame by frame using sugar cubes.

His brother, Hank, a lawyer, keeps advising him to do film-making as a hobby. But Schildknecht said he’s had “a real job” and just didn’t like it. He was coordinator of educational media at Cedar Valley College in Dallas after graduating in 1980 from Western Kentucky University with a degree in communications.

“I always wanted to have a studio to call my own.” He is trying to fix up the attic of his house for studio space.

He obviously can’t foresee the future, but he said, “I don’t think I’d be doing this if I thought it would always be this way. I'm optimistic that there’s going to be a payoff in the end.”

“I feel real poor . . .. But I try not to let poverty get in the way.”


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