Friday, September 21, 2007

Things you need to question...

Det. Budd recently finished working as a DP on a film in a 48hr film festival. I had a scowl on my face as he told me about the shoot. I really didn’t want to hear about it. I mean, I wanted to hear the particulars because I’m a filmmaker and I always want to know what other people are shooting…but I think these “quick turnaround” festivals are bad for business and for individual filmmaker development..

I truly believe that 24 hr film festivals and 48 hour film festivals are extremely counter-productive to the development of filmmakers. Yeah, sure….the more you shoot the better you will get. But it’s not as simple as “more is more”.

These quick festivals are not good for us. In a relatively short amount of time the perception of what it takes to make a film has drastically changed. Filmmaking is no longer a labor of love. No longer is it a task that takes years to prepare for and then weeks to shoot and months to edit. Thanks to digital technology and good old American ingenuity films can be produced as quickly as a batch of cookies.

Is it any wonder that there are throngs of so-called filmmakers who feel the pre-production is not really a process of nailing down all the details of your film…but a short period of a few days or hours where you talk about what you are going to do when your film blows up. Principal photography is now a just a process of “gathering media” and it’s not where the real “magic happens”…and then there is post-production. Where we focus on all the festivals we are going to play and how we are going to sweep all the awards at Sundance.

Now I know it seems like I’m just bitchin’…but I’ve been on the festival circuit since Jan ’06 and this is a lot of what I have come in contact with.

This is where I get on my soapbox:

A film is the most hedonistic art known to man; with tens if not hundreds of persons working in unison for somewhere between 3 days and 10 months if not years and then it goes into post; where another large group of individuals will slave over the vision of the director. Sure, not all films are as massive…and not all films take as long to produce; but that is not the issue.

The issue is that in the minds of filmmakers, particularly new filmmakers, making a film is a quick and tidy process. That any motivated and intelligent filmmaker can visualize an entire film in their mind at one time…and can complete it in much the same fashion.

But what happens when you aren’t shooting on weekends, when you aren’t crewing up with friends and family, when you aren’t spending less than $5K to make your film….what then?

How are you going to be able lead and manage a $1MM film or a $15MM film if this is your primary skill set. And now of course I hear the chorus “but I don’t want to make million dollar films”… really? Do you think it’s going to be possible to sustain a career as any sort of filmmaker with budgets of less than $100K? This is not the 60’s and it’s not the 80’s and it’s not the 90’s…this is a crowded medium and the costs of production increase each year. Sure, go ahead and cite the production cycle of digital cameras and their ever cheapening costs, you will get no argument from me there. But let’s look at a budget shall we… where does the money go?

Art dept, production design, food, insurance, permits…all things that have been deemed “luxuries” by the guerilla filmmakers. Sure, it’s possible to go out and shoot a feature with minimal pre-production, sparse if any art dept. and prod. design for a not to expensive amount (say $200K)…but do you think you can sell this film? Do you think you can get people excited about seeing white walls and one take-long lens-masters? Furthermore, do you think that it’s possible for you to repeatedly shoot and release films that cost less than $500K while so many hundreds of other filmmakers shooting (dumping) films of that budget range into the distribution equation? Go ahead, ignore me….but if all of you actions do not result in a film sale…then there is nothing to talk about.

When you go to the movies…you demand production values… hell most Americans judge the films by the stunts and the visual effects in them and sure, you can stipulate that you aren’t that kind of filmmaker…but then what are you saying? That you can have a career, that American independent film can have a career with such sparse filmmaking seen on the screen? If you truly believe this, than the situation is much more dire than I believed

I ask you then, what kind of filmmaker are you? What kind of vision do you have? Is it really that sparse? Do you firmly believe that you can get any performance in a maximum of three takes? Do you honestly believe that the basic building blocks of film are just a luxury?

How will you grow as a filmmaker? You aren’t going to wake up one day and have 50 camera set-ups in your mind. You aren’t going to get inspired about color and texture and light temperature by walking around the mall…it’s about vision!

There is an increasing lack of vision among us nowadays. If you don’t have hard and fast beliefs about camera placement, focal lengths, editing rhythm, musical scores and the kinds of stories you generally like to tell, then you most certainly lack vision. I am not worried about you, even if you shoot your feature before me, because at a certain point you will get your way, at a certain point everyone will listen to you, at a certain point the money people will begin to trust almost everything you say…and if you don’t have something deep, meaningful and insightful to say…your influence and career will quickly dissipate.

I meet a lot of filmmakers, from many places…but where is the vision. Wanting only to shoot on digital is not a vision, wanting to make films with lots of gunplay is not a vision…all of those things are aesthetics of the vision. I have been pursuing this film thing rather seriously since about 1995 and I think I have the cultural capital to make the statements that I am making. I’m not trying to reserve filmmaking for only the well-heeled and the connected…that is not my supposition at all.

I just believe that this push to shoot as much as possible, as soon as possible will ultimately not be beneficial for the artform. Maybe not on the film you are shooting now, maybe not on the next film you shoot…but on one of your films, one that is sufficiently large and has the demands of a strict schedule and shooting ratio you will realize that certain things can’t be rushed. You will realize that filmmaking is a process of refining your art little by little as time passes. This is what I feel is lost in the “hurry up and shoot” philosophy.

My advice: prepare as much as you can before you shoot, and shoot the most ambitious thing that you can. And by ambitious I don’t mean lot’s of stunts and speaking roles (necessarily), I mean come out of your comfort zone and push yourself, push the medium and push the limits of your understanding. I think that micro-budgets are counterproductive to this process. Sure one can state that experimentation is easier with a small digital film than a sizable celluloid feature – which is true. But without the demands and pressures of a “larger, celluloid film” those lessons will mean little. Because, there is not threat of not finishing the film…which is a very real threat on a large set.

I think we need to ask ourselves….what skill sets are we learning? And are these skill sets really conducive to our primary goal. For my goal and my vision of filmmaking I do not believe that shooting digitally will do this for me. What do you think?



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