Thursday, May 07, 2009

What Filmmaking Means to Me

What does filmmaking truly mean to me? For me it means commitment, it means an unequaled tenacity of spirit, it means challenge, but it also equals true bliss if one truly enjoys the art and process of it. Why do so few filmmakers "make it", at least, make it in a truly successful, culturally iconic way like Lucas, Spielberg, Peter Jackson, etc? Do they know something we amateurs do not? Do have a different approach? There is only one answer: they are famous and they "made it" because they loved filmmaking and because they stuck with it until the bitter end. It is this that separates the men from the boys. For every filmmaker who made it, I'm sure there are several others who got so close to "making it" and then bailed and gave up after a major "defeat". The men like Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese and so forth were the ones who didn't do that. I'm sure they felt discouraged, depressed and drained at some points. Hell, for all we know there were nights where these guys cried themselves to sleep. But they recovered as quickly as they needed to and kept at it and at it and at it.

Dreams are inherently good. They are the start of action. However, they can be like alcohol. Good and refreshing in moderation, but too much leads to dependency and can be quite dangerous. You can become drunk on future goals, plans and dreams and pay attention to your fantasies more than your reality. If you truly care about your dreams, you should be willing to sacrifice everything in the reality of the present moment to do what you love. I know many young filmmakers who have/had all these lovely, glorious dreams and fantasies but when it came time to do the work and put up discomfort, they all bail at once and go back to fantasizing. This is one of the worst ways to live your life.

If you really want to become a filmmaker, it will NOT be easy or even fun all the time. You will have to put up with virtually every discomfort from sleep deprivation to being on a hot film set directing with a bad cold to working endless, indefinite hours. If you truly love making films, you can endure that. That is how the great filmmakers all did it. They stuck it out and put up with being uncomfortable. If you want to be a superstar so you can have the big mansion and the pool and the comfortable life, think again. You would honestly be so much better off getting a bachelor's degree from a state college and getting a decent paying 9-5 office job until you can comfortably retire. Way less stressful to most sensibilities and a far less energy expending life. Don't be bitter about this, though. Only people like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardasian get abundance for nothing and look at how they behave. People who get everything for nothing are spoiled fucking assholes. That's why young celebrities like Lindsay Lohan who rise quickly so frequently fall the moment they reach the age of 18. Be glad that you will have to work hard for your success. It builds your character wonderfully and makes you learn the true value of everything you once took for granted.

Don't fret about getting the money for your film. Even in this so called "bad economy" which is nowhere near the Great Depression and yet everybody's whining about because they're so used to shopping whenever feel like it and living in the big McMansion in the suburban cul-de-sac, money is everywhere. The $20 bill in your wallet has probably been used by the mob, terrorists and drug dealers but also by many famous celebrities and for great, philanthropic purposes. You simply have to find the money. You don't make money, you attract it to you. If your script really is good, you will find someone who wants to read it and who wants to fund it. It's true, Hollywood is in a terrible creative rut right now, but it cannot last and probably won't get much worse. It's another aspect of corporate, The Man-driven America which its people, just as the founding fathers of America hundreds of years ago told King George III to go fuck himself, will not stand for increasingly in the future. Americans choosing Barack Obama as their president over McCain and Sarah "Mistress Milf" Palin is only the beginning of this. When people get tired of seeing the endless parade of remakes and comic book movies, they will stop paying to go see them. When this happens, which may be sooner than it would seem, the studios will have to change their output or go bankrupt. Naturally, they will need "new talent". Static thinking and static outputs cause collapse in the end, there is no way around this.

One thing I found out the hard way is that, while being inspired by things is great and fine, mimicry is not so fine. Being original doesn't mean being completely new. No stories are completely new and basic plots are recycled from generation to generation but don't blatantly copy other filmmakers either. In fact, I'd say that if you like something, rather than try to copy it shot for shot, why not take the basic idea and mix it with your own sensibility and then perhaps even take it to the next level? You even have to sometimes give up your love of film, at least temporarily, to make a great and original film. Try not to shoot films in a "set style". "Set styles" can be very self limiting. Let your films "make themselves", while also putting as much time as you can into making them good. They're your art and your contribution to society, why not make them as good as you can?

When dealing with people, things can get tough, particularly as a young, unconfirmed filmmaker. Young talent equals a lot of naive people, aforementioned people with big dreams and fantasies but not enough understanding and conviction. These people are often called "flakes". They want the glamorous Tom Cruise/Julia Roberts lifestyle but aren't willing to sit in a hot park for six hours to film a two minute scene from multiple takes, angles and focal lengths. When you ask these people this, they either leave after an hour or they try to rush you. Either way, they are easily replaceable. Always try to weed out these people before they end up on your set fucking up your shoots. When interviewing actors, make it clear exactly how much work is required of them and if they seem hesitant, politely say thanks and goodbye and interview the next applicant for each role. Crew can also be problematic as some are primadonnas who like to engage in subtle power struggles with you, the director, but try to weed out these personalities before you shoot. Even so, thankfully crew are much more replaceable than your cast. You can't have five actors play the same role and not have people notice, but your film can have five different lighting directors or DPs or assistant directors and nobody in the audience will notice a damn thing.

That said, on set, do not be arrogant. Actors and crew cooperate best on a set where they feel like their contributions are valued. They do not enjoy or work well feeling like drones to one man's ego. You may have the general idea, but your cast and crew are the ones who do much of the work putting it into cinema. Unless they are not doing it properly and are being arrogant themselves or trying to pick a power struggle or fight with you, let them do their jobs and do not try to control them. I know the stories about Sam Peckinpah, William Friedkin, Stanley Kubrick, Werner Herzog and other directors who have done crazy shit on set can be kind of amusing bathroom reading, but that kind of behavior is getting less and less acceptable by the day. Arrogance is poison to the filmmaker's soul. Filmmaking is about giving and love, not about obtaining personal glory.

If you have no experience making films, do not fret. You will learn. How will you learn? Film school can help but it is overpriced and offers zero guarantees and many film school professors, who are bitter ex-filmmakers who "didn't make it" love to "psych out" their students. You can learn by doing. You can buy a shit load of filmmaking and photography books for the sum of about $150. You can volunteer at your local public access TV station to get your hands on some higher level equipment and you can intern at many studios and all that jazz. You can also just make your own films, make mistakes and learn from them for the next one. Mistakes are truly not always failures but lessons in disguise.

When people criticize your work, it is arrogant to dismiss it all but it is also truly neurotic to fret and take it all to heart. There are different types of criticism. There are those who give your film honest, constructive criticism. Then there are those, often with sociopathic personalities or who are mad at you at a personal level, who will want to verbally take you down. If you have a heavy ego investment in your filmmaking, it is hard to tell the difference. If you are truly secure with your work and yourself, you will know the difference. People who eloquently and calmly tell you why your work doesn't succeed or totally succeed are often giving you constructive, honest criticism. Often, such as in the case with my film Dream House, they are right or you will find them right in hindsight. Try to look at your film as objectively as you can. Most of the flaws they point out will be fixable with a little extra work. Be thankful that they respect you enough to tell you the flaws of your work so you can fix them before your film goes to the internet/festivals/theaters/wherever. However, if someone simply says "your work fucking sucks" and gives no reason or an irrelevant reason as to why, this person is an asshole just throwing shit at you, often because he/she is mad at you or jealous and wants to psych you out. You could have also insulted his favorite 20 year old puppet show.

In terms of editing your film, if you can edit it yourself go for it, but many directors work better having somebody else edit their film. This often works better because many directors have too much of an emotional attachment to their footage. Think about taking a nice vacation somewhere if you can afford it after you shoot your film and before you edit. It'll lessen your emotional and egoic attachment to what you've shot. Movies nowadays are often too long and too self indulgent. Try to make your film as short as you can, not as long. People do not have high attention spans and if you can get the same thing across in 70 minutes as 170, always go for the former. Movies that burn brightly for less time are better than films that burn dimly for more time. You may well be forced to part with footage that you really loved, but if it serves no purpose for the film's main plot thread and only exists to eat up runtime, get rid of it even if it feels like hacking off a toe. Your film will be better for it and perhaps some studio will like your better film so much they'll release your movie on a special edition DVD/Bluray and you can throw it on the disc as a deleted scene!

Once your film is done, if you are a true lover of filmmaking, you will be thinking mainly about the next one! Get your finished film in as many venues as you can, that will maximize your possible exposure, which means that the people who will like it and matter will be most likely to see it. Move on to the next one and basically repeat the process. Even when you finally do "make it", you will hopefully not be content with sitting by your pool at your Malibu mansion sipping margeritas. Goodness no, you'll want to make more movies! To me, someone who truly loves cinematic storytelling should work as long as they can, till death do them part with the medium, like Kinji Fukasaku, for example, who worked on Battle Royale II until almost the day he died of cancer.

That is what filmmaking means to me.

1 comment:

Crocodile said...

Amen, Carrozza, amen.