Friday, January 18, 2008

I can see clearly now...

I woke up really early because it was cold (when is it not fucking cold in England?) and because I had to screen today. Not that there was anything wrong, but the opportunity to screen is an opportunity to fall flat on your face. You have to take it pretty seriously because your reputation is on the line.

Gary said that we didn’t really have anything to do other than hang out at the festival (The Hull International film festival). I had really wanted to check out a number of the screenings but I was also screening today, so I’m not really going to be able to move around too much…I have shit to take care of. I did manage to get Gary to take me to a UK council “Financing your film” Seminar.

Gary was less than thrilled that I wanted to attend. The phrase “UK film Council” seemed to make him ill, I would sound find out why. We scampered about the festival till we found the symposium. We were in a small auditorium that held about 50-75 people comfortably. There were maybe 30 filmmakers in attendance. Before the thing started I was excited. I wanted to hear theses cats speak and see what kind of advice they give and more importantly they were going to screen some of the work that came out of their grant program. Gary seemed more irritated than ever.

We mingled and spoke to a couple of filmmakers and did the typical squaring off and defending our films-thing…and then it started.

The moderator introduced the exec’s from the Film Council who were accompanied by a filmmaker and a screenwriter. I was not too happy that they had brought a screenwriter, I mean I like screenwriters (I am a screenwriter) but I don’t think their points of view are too relevant. I am a director and I like to speak to other directors and producer because I wish to talk about the realities of film production. If you are merely a writer than in my opinion you can only really discuss their difference between what you intended and what was actually captured on film. The screenwriter that I was listening to speak had a lot to say about what the film should look like and feel like, but she had no courage to direct so in my opinion she doesn’t want to do the dirty work. She liked the “idea” of filmmaking but wanted someone else to come in and do it, but wanted the respect as being the sole creative entity behind the project. That was laughable to me. I guess she thought that the director should stop and ask her for her opinion every time he had to make a decision, or maybe she just wanted the ability to interject her feelings on how the scene (and film) should play out. Either way I don’t care. Filmmaking is not a group effort, filmmaking is not decision making by committee. Films are made by one person who is executing their vision and I know there are a lot of people who disagree with that statement and to those who do…I suggest you try shooting something complicated, something with multiple shooting days…trying shooting something that will only grow in complexity in the editing suite and tell me how much unwarranted advice you want to hear.

So we watch the four films and I begin to understand why Gary didn’t want to come. While the films were very well shot and well acted, the social awareness of the films became burdensome. According to the UK Council, you can’t just shoot a film…the film has to have some overreaching social message to tell you. I didn’t mind it at first, but then I felt the weight of social morals weighing down the cinema. I suddenly knew why the crazy British films were really crazy and why Simon Pegg really puts it down.

The lights came on and we began the Q & A period. Only, no answers were really forthcoming. I listened to several arrogant filmmakers who weren’t even filmmakers (because they had yet to shoot their first film) go on and on about what kind of career they could have if they got this money. The whole funding the film, editing the film, exhibiting the film-thing seemed like water under the bridge for a lot of the assembled “filmmakers”. It was tough to listen to. All of these assumptions about how you will eventually get a shootable script, how you will eventually get the thing edited because it’s just editing…for the assembled ones here a career was a foregone conclusion.

I didn’t hear any talk about bodies of work or who you make films for. No, the UK film council has a great plan to kind of take over the International film world…too bad it seems to be killing the filmmakers. It was really shocking to meet directors and filmmakers who had worked with the film council and have vowed to never work with them again.

I was kind of crushed. I had traveled here because I had admired the UK’s model. I thought it had offered opportunities and a level of egalitarian-ness that didn’t exist in the states. I now clearly saw the advantages that the US has over the UK. I mean yeah, shit is hella expensive here in the states. Bribery and coercion are a way of life, it’s all about who you know and how much money you are going to make someone else…yeah it kind of sucks. But at least your film is your film. The UK filmmakers had not nearly as much to cheer about. While the UK does offer funding and national recognition, they want to control projects. I can’t imagine who it must feel to finally get your project funded and into serious pre-production and then have “suggestions” made to your script. I can’t imagine how it must feel to deal with a large bureaucracy that has “other” intentions for you film.

I felt now that US and UK filmmakers were much more alike than we have previously assumed. While we deal with astronomical economic barriers and ridiculous interpersonal politics we still get to shoot mostly what we want. Overly anxious producers and meddling exec’s are the cost of big films not all films.

I went up to speak to the main UK guy and man was he a cock. I mean how often do you meet a filmmaker from another country who’s traveled to your home court to give you props on your financing model (which I have since thought of as bullshit) and the least you could do was attempt to engage me. I mean c’mon dog, I know you’re like the main dude and all that shit…and that you get more ass than a toilet seat…but how about some professional courtesy?

After that we got the fuck out of Dodge. Smoked a gang of weed and got ready to screen.

We arrived at the bar/screening venue a little late (I only say that because there was a full house that was kind of staring at us) and all I really wanted was a pint. The crowd was friendly, very friendly and I really felt at home. As this trip progressed I begin to see my screenings in a different light. There are still the litmus test by which I live and die; but they are a product of their environment. I have really begun to understand that there is only so much emphasis that I can exert on any individual screening and while I don’t ever think you should de-emphasize the importance of how your film is seen, I do believe that a good amount of meeting people and shaking hands can have an effect.

The people here really seem to like me. I’m not able to touch a pint to my lips without someone coming over to me and asking me a question about Los Angeles. In their minds it’s an amazingly wonderful place that is full of opportunity. Which is basically true, although it can be amazingly wonderfully bad and dangerous and yes anything can happen, including your being shot dead by LAPD, being forced into the porno industry (uh, I went willingly) not to mention a few other things. To be completely honest I loved the idealism of the Hull residents. It really made me feel like I have taken my chosen city for granted.

Gary stood up and introduced the return of Slack Video. I don’t really know how to tell you what Slack Video is…other than to say that it’s a collection of the left of center, not really understood and not really thought about pieces of film. It’s the kind of films that you won’t necessarily rent but won’t be able to take you eyes of off when it’s on the screen. The closest approximation I can give your is the neck of woods the David Lynch writes and directs in. The traditional view points for watching and assessing film don’t work here. Slack video is a place where you have to put most of what you know and what you like aside and trust in the Slack Video crew. For that I was grateful, because my film has been included in this lot. I do believe I have transcended the categories of “calling card” and “Show piece” and moved into an arena of relevant and edgy.

The screening goes without a hitch. Ironic because Slack video made the smallest deal about their screening, they made the smallest deal about who they were and what they were trying to do…they just put up the films and got people loaded. I was congratulated for the look and the feel of the film and then they all dispatched to go out outside and smoke and continue drinking. I mingled and mingled and then there was a weird little wink-wink, nudge, nudge thing going on. The last time I witnessed something like this the cops busted in and tried to arrest nearly everybody.

Gary then asked me if I wanted to go hang out and smoke mad ganja…uh, let me think about that. What followed was about 7 hours (I’m not kidding) of drinking and smoking. I mean these Hull motherfuckers can really put’ em back. I walked into this guy’s house and then he pulled out a 10X13 Tupperware container that was full of weed. I can’t believe how high I was. I mean I’ve been really high before but I was cat napping on clouds I was so high. It was really unsafe to be speaking out of your ass in such a highly intoxicated state. But I’ve always been a risk taker (have you met my ex’s) so I was like what the fuck…let’s have at it.

We began by talking about our favorite films, or I should say they talked about their favorite films…all I did was just listen. That was until “Crash” was brought up. I really did try and resist the comments but they held the film in such high esteem that I had to get a little critical on them. I took a huge hit of the spliff (half weed-half tobacco…Brit’s.. I get it, but what the fuck?) and let them have it.

COOPRDOG
So you like the film?

BRITISH FILMMAKING CATS
It’s brilliant.

COOPRDOG
What makes it brilliant?

BRITISH FILMMAKING CATS
It’s a courageous film to make about race a topic that we are afraid to talk about.

COOPRDOG
Yes, we are afraid to talk about race. But the film doesn’t really talk about race, it merely expounds and somewhat justifies the fears of non-people of color in LA.

BRITISH FILMMAKING CATS
What are you talking about? The opening scene is about race?

COOPRDOG
Well other than being wholly inaccurate in the way that Blacks and whites relate to each other in LA, the scene is about power and not race if you want to get technical, and it’s a false and romanticized depiction.

BRITISH FILMMAKING CATS
How so?

COOPRDOG
Black people are pulled over and harassed by LAPD all the time in LA, as are most ethnic minorities. I don’t care how much money you have, I don’t care how far you are up on the entertainment latter…if you get pulled over by LAPD in that manner and the cops begin to speak to you in that tone, you aren’t going to fuck around.

BRITISH FILMMAKING CATS
Ok..ok.. but you’re speaking as a …well forgive the term.. “hoody” black guy…so of course you read this differently. But the characters weren’t… uh..hoody…so they probably didn’t realize what was going on.

COOPRDOG
Ok, I’m going to speak from an informed “African American” opinion…since I’m the only Black motherfucker in this town.

BRITISH FILMMAKING CATS
Hey…we got a black guy who works at the train station

COOPRDOG
Yeah, and he knows my brother…anyway, The feeling of harsh treatment or even unfair treatment from LAPD is not something that only poor blacks feel and worry about or have the ability to recognize. If you have dark skin and were born in the US you know exactly what is going to happen. It’s only a strange and bizarre situation to the white majority.

BRITISH FILMMAKING CATS
So, you’re saying that you get pulled over and have your wife finger fucked in front of you a lot?

COOPRDOG
Uh, no…I’m not married. I’m saying that the feeling, the situation, the taste of the air of a pending racial incident is something that black people in the US know very well. It’s not possible for them to misinterpret or misunderstand. It’s learned behavior and it’s not something that you get wrong.

BRITISH FILMMAKING CATS
That’s bullshit. You can’t say that?

COOPRDOG
Oh? Have you ever been in a fight? Have you ever been punched out? If you have you can recognize immediately when things are about to escalate…that’s a feeling you instantly recognize if you’ve been in the situation.

BRITISH FILMMAKING CATS
He has a point.

COOPRDOG
Please remember that I’m not attacking “Crash” even though it has the same name as a brilliant film by David Cronenberg…but that’s not my point.

BRITISH FILMMAKING CATS
What’s your point then?

COOPRDOG
My point is that this is a film about redemption, which, correct me if I am wrong, is a concept that Christians dwell upon on a regular.

BRITISH FILMMAKING CATS
So you think there is religious propaganda in the film.

COOPRDOG
I think my country is forever caught up with the “right” way to do things and hence almost everything we produce has some level of religious or social emphasis in it.

BRITISH FILMMAKING CATS
You should try living here Mate!

The place erupts in laughter.

COOPRDOG
Yes, this much I have seen. But what I’m driving at is that this is not really a film about race. We don’t really get to see how Blacks or Latino’s or any other ethnic group feels about race or specifically their feelings about the white majority… only the misconceptions of the white majority.

BRITISH FILMMAKING CATS
That’s a generalization!

COOPRDOG
Is it? Do you really think Sandra Bullock’s character has spent a lot of time around Mexican’s and Latino’s? Do you think she’s really spent one on one time with convicted felons?

BRITISH FILMMAKING CATS
Does she have to?

COOPRDOG
Yes, she has to because she dresses down a Mexican guy with heavy Tatt’s over his body, publically. She’s quite comfortable with making these derogatory comments literally to his face.

BRITISH FILMMAKING CATS
I still don’t see your point.

COOPRDOG
My point is that in the real world, in the real Los Angeles that individual would make it a point to make her feel very uncomfortable by violating her personal space and by staring her down. But we don’t see these things happen. It’s an open area for racial conflict yet the minority is forced to adhere to the rules of decorum. God forbid he would react like a real convicted felon that’s trying to set his life straight and let her see just how unwise it is to make those kinds of statements in the presence of said individual.

BRITISH FILMMAKING CATS
But he’s an individual, he might be a pussy.

COOPRDOG
Yeah he might be. But he’s also a pussy when he’s daughter is almost killed by the Persian cat who blames him for the robbery. If you know anything about Hispanics and Latino’s it’s that their families are sacred to them. So not only is he not willing to defend himself but also he’s daughter and this goes down if front of the dude’s house…so it most definitely reveals his status as a man and his ability to protect his family. And when he learns that she has not been killed he has no anger, he doesn’t lash out…he doesn’t even utter a single harsh work… he just walks into the house.

BRITISH FILMMAKING CATS
You think that’s bullshit because he’s Mexican?

COOPRDOG
I think it’s bullshit because he’s and American and an LA resident and Mexican. Any one of those three would more than likely get you shot…but again we see no anger…just restraint. Seems odd to me.

BRITISH FILMMAKING CATS
Ok.. I hear you…but it seems like all of this arise from how the black characters are treated.

COOPRDOG
Well the film is a no holds barred attack on the black family.

BRITISH FILMMAKING CATS
Oh, come on…how can you say that?

COOPRDOG
Dude! We see the initial assault where the Black man does not defend the Black women. We see their relationship completely fall apart and you open see both of them question their marriage. Only to see the black male shun his wife when she shows up at the set…crying her eyes out and then he takes his rage out on another black character (Ludicrous) and he’s left in a tense standoff with LAPD.

BRITISH FILMMAKING CATS
Well that could happen?

COOPRDOG
Could it? If the Black family is so fragile, so easily rattled then how is it that we made it out of bondage? We’re talking about more than 200 years of “harsh” treatment at the hands of the white majority. So either that is a wholly false depiction or we never survived lynching and dismemberment and Jim Crow laws and all that shit.

BRITISH FILMMAKING CATS
So you are saying that it’s false because Black people have dealt with and do deal with much greater racism all the time.

COOPRDOG
Yeah, that’s exactly what I am saying.

BRITISH FILMMAKING CATS
Well… I still like the film.

COOPRDOG
Hey man, you can love the film…but it’s kind of bullshit as far as a racial introspection is concerned.

As the night drew to a close we argued a lot more about film and let me tell you that it wasn’t like when I argue in the States. This was more of a discussion of ideas and while it did get heated at times, it was never disrespectful. It was an honest attempt to see what I thought and to pick my brain. I think that is what I respected the most about this place is the intense curiosity. I really felt like there was a meeting of the minds and I was happy to participate.

On the walk home Gary and I talked about what had happened to night and if I had been beat up a little. I told him that that was why I was here. As we talked I was just overwhelmed with how vividly these filmmakers saw the shots that they wanted to shoot, but funds and equipment are so scarce. I was humbled and felt that I had taken many things for advantage…I have to do better.

The next morning Gary drove me to the train station and gave me a big hug. I’d only been around this guy for about two days and I was really going to miss him. But I had to get him and Hull out of my mind…because I was on my way to Barrow in Furness…my fourth screening in 9 days.

COOPRDOG

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