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Local Filmmaker Has Animated Presence in the Arts

August 4, 2008

By THERESA WINSLOW Staff Writer

The bookcases in Steven Fischer’s Annapolis home are a virtual smorgasbord of the humanities.

There are volumes on luminaries such as Leonardo da Vinci and the Bront sisters, tomes about silent film stars Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, a biography of movie director Francis Ford Coppola and a series of books on the Civil War. He even has a book on Albert Einstein, for good measure, and that’s just a smattering of his reading material.

Mr. Fischer is a man of eclectic tastes, but there’s a common theme that runs throughout his library and his life – the quest to better understand all aspects of the human condition.

The 36-year-old first delved into this arena through cartooning, creating the characters Steve and Bluey, and now pursues the subject by making films. Just last year, he finished four movies, including the short Civil War docudrama “Now & Forever Yours: Letters to an Old Soldier,” and the animated documentary of an Hungarian artist who fled Communist Hungary called “Freedom Dance.” The film, which he worked on with Baltimore resident Craig Herron, was narrated by Mariska Hargitay of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”

“I just think Steven is a brilliant young man who will go far, I hope,” said Judy Hilbert of Baltimore, whose late husband Edward was the focus of “Freedom Dance.”"He’s very knowledgeable in whatever he’s doing.”

Mr. Fischer has garnered two Emmy nominations for his work, and won a host of other honors. His varied resume also includes “The Silence of Falling Leaves,” which is about the massacre of Polish POWs in 1940, a short documentary of Francis Scott Key, several music videos, commercials and promotional videos.

“I’m interested in everything,” Mr. Fischer said. “That’s a good thing in being a storyteller. You have to be excited by many things.”

Mr. Fischer’s latest project is “Old School, New School,” a documentary featuring in-depth interviews with noted figures in the arts that explores the nature of creativity. The subjects include poet James Ragan, producer and animator Bill Melendez (of “Peanuts” TV specials fame), and Irish playwright and professor Sam McCready.

Mr. Fischer hopes to have the documentary finished by sometime in 2009 and his hope is that by recording the insights of highly- accomplished people, their core values won’t be lost and the next generation of artists will have a valuable resource to draw on.

One of Mr. Fischer’s friends, Mike Zampi of Severna Park, said the filmmaker often discusses the “masters” that inspire him. But Mr. Zampi considers Mr. Fischer a “master himself – just undiscovered.”

Mr. Zampi is a recording engineer and musician who has worked with Mr. Fischer on many projects. “I wish there were more people in the world like him,” the musician said. “He cares deeply about what he does and he likes to be a positive influence in people’s lives.”

Mr. Melendez’s son, Steve, who has been a mentor of sorts to Mr. Fischer, added that the filmmaker’s work is constantly improving and he soaks up new information like a “sponge.”

“I enjoy him and I like his ideas,” said the younger Mr. Melendez, who followed in his father’s footsteps and resides in London. “He has an original approach to things He’s very tenacious.”

Career in focus

Mr. Fischer could always draw and began working on “Steve and Bluey” while still in high school.

“By the time I went out in the world, I really had the mind set that since I’d been creating stories since childhood, I was veteran,” he said.

Although he still carries around a sketchbook, Mr. Fischer’s primary focus is film. He transitioned fairly seamlessly from one to the other, studying movie-making at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

While the two mediums appear vastly different on the surface, Mr. Fischer said cartooning taught him a lot about characterization and how to work with actors to get the best possible work on camera.

“As an animator, you are the actor,” he said. “You have to understand motivation, performance and timing.”

In addition, animators, by their very nature, have to have an eye for detail, and that trait comes through in Mr. Fischer’s films, said Gregg Landry, owner of the Baltimore-based video company BlueRock Productions.

They’ve worked on a few projects together, and Mr. Landry said he’s always been impressed with Mr. Fischer’s work ethic and enthusiasm.

“He has an incredible attention to detail,” Mr. Landry said, “as well as a real passion for whatever subject matter he’s doing. It’s a pleasure to work with him and he’s not afraid to put in the homework to make a project outstanding.”

The term “homework” is especially apt, since Mr. Fischer definitely brings his work home with him. In fact, it’s hard for him to step away at all, admitting he’d probably be at it 24/7 if he could.

“I go and go until I crash,” he said. “But it never feels like work. Every part of (filmmaking) is my favorite part.”

Currently, Mr. Fischer is augmenting his own projects with a job by producing videos and documentaries at a Columbia think tank, so sleep is most definitely at a premium.

“What I want to do most is tell the stories I want to tell the way I want to tell them,” he said. “It’s not about being in the spotlight. It’s your opportunity to communicate to the public (and) to the community what’s important to you as an artist. That, to me, is a privilege.”

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(c) 2008 Capital (Annapolis). Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.




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