Thursday, March 13, 2008

What’s stuck up my ass

What’s stuck up my ass is the utter and completely ridiculous nature of independent film. Regular readers are well aware of my dislike for how business is done in this industry. My competitive and somewhat confrontational nature is legendary on the festival circuit and the few meetings that I’ve managed to secure…but something is eating at me.

As the films get worse and the ticket prices get higher and the technical level of those who call themselves filmmakers decreases and the types of narratives we choose to greenlight and shoot are homogenizing at an alarming rate and the differences between independent and studio blur even further…no one seems to want to change this process that we call development.

If there is one thing that I truly understand (other than the masterful beauty of the straight 6 engine) is organizational behavior. Why should indie film change? Why should anyone assume any of the risk that is associated with introducing something new, something untested? Why should media conglomerates and entertainment banks and venture capitalists and the vast array of independent production companies with development and first look deals risk their line of credit or reputation on an unproven entity? That is not the nature of the organization. Corporations, much like people, are mostly concerned with self-preservation; with insuring that their continually recurring income and their version of the planet earth continues in infinitum…and I guess I don’t blame them.

My issue is that when I was in business school, when I go to symposiums, when I go to financing conferences I hear a lot of references to being a “Jimi Hendrix”. I hear a lot of people talking about finding the “next, big thing”…be it to make a billion dollars or to be the Sire of a cottage industry. I listen to fanciful description after fanciful description of how people want to “change the game” and how the wish to “invert the paradigm” if you stacked all the conversations nose to tail you could walk to London and never get your feet wet. But where is the courage? I see no courage, no fearlessness, no desire to go against the grain and to follow the lust and love that is in your heart to create something that has never existed. At every level of this industry you are confronted with the practical decision, give me a fucking break. If you want to be practical, go to law school. If you want guaranteed income then get your CFA designation. I don’t know what’s more amazing to me the fact that so many people who are “on top” (whateverthefuck that means) are so utterly and completely out of touch with what is going on with the state of the art of screenwriting and cinematography (no, not technology…people don’t pay for technology…just ask Sony about Betamax, people pay for style and substance) and the needs wants and desires of the basic movie-goer or that they have become so blinded by their own arrogance and hubris which was created by their ability to survive in the Terrodome that is the film industry, that they believe that they can actually dictate trends. Do the denizens atop the financing and distribution mountain really believe that the American populace is content to continually watch rehashes of 60’s and 70’s TV shows or the 5th or 7th or 9th episode in a franchise that lost its relevance several years ago? Are we supposed to believe that a world of a digitally animated talking dogs and war narratives that always seem to tell us that we are the good guys, our culture is the good culture and our “religion” (be it Christianity or consumerism) is the good one and all the fights we ensue are just and logical even though a vast majority of us (65%+) wish all the killing would stop? Much of this behavior is being driven by ticket sales since a number of these films do sell a magnitude of tickets. Well, I’d like to point out a flaw in that logic. If I give a group a prisoners a choice between eating runny, horribly tasting sloppy Joe’s and peanut butter and Jelly sandwiches made with organic peanut butter and stale multigrain bread…and they all chose the runny sloppy Joe's…that doesn’t mean that most prisoners really prefer and like runny, tasteless sloppy Joe's. The flaw is in the offerings.

I have learned one thing from the release of films like “The Blair Witch Project”; “Memento”; “Run Lola Run”; “Pi”; Lost Highway”; “What the Bleep”; ect. and that is that there is no substitute for something that is interesting and has never been seen before.

I am a child of Finance, I am a child of Economics, I am a child of free cash flow and ROA, ROI, ROE not to mention the Dupont model and any financial ratio you can muster up…so I understand the cause of the current blindness that afflicts our industry; but what are we really doing?

No matter how much money films make, no matter how many countries you distribute them in, no matter how well coordinated your release is over a number of continents or time zones, no matter how many successful “formulas” you have discerned from back testing and data mining or theatrical releases will you ever get to the point where film is a general commodity. A film is not a form of entertainment. A film is not a diversion of reality, nor is a film escapism. These ideas and concepts are what Madison avenue has projected upon us and in my humble opinion one of the major reasons that new and interesting films have such a tough time finding distribution. We are constantly trying to mold film to fit into the publicity and marketing models of the theater or book sales or television or whatever is the current marketing rage.

Film is wholly different from any other form of entertainment that has ever existed. Be your measure the news reels used in the theaters in WWII or the creation of the blockbuster or the undeniable fact that a film can change your politics and make you call your mother or apologize to your wife. Sure, I sing my favorite songs over and over and practice my flying windmills all the time so that when I get pulled out of the audience at a concert to prove I’m the greatest fan ever…I won’t embarrass myself. But I’ve never be awakened in the middle of the night by a song lyric and had to get up and walk around and make sure that I wasn’t having an out of body experience or being kidnapped by aliens…but I have done that with film images.

I beg of you…I beg of you literary agents, and managers and publicists and distribution execs and filmmakers…esp. you fucking filmmakers to not judge our great artform by the schlock that is rolling out of post currently. The glory days will return, this much I promise. But we have to stop wishing and start doing. Oh, and one last thing…the producers work for you…stop listening to their suggestions and stop being afraid to argue with them. A bad movie has only one person to blame…and that’s the director!


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