Monday, February 9, 2009

The Cinematic Civil War – Part 1: Maps & Borders

“the not-so-truly-independent film, no matter how 'other' it calls itself, is often simply trying to sneak a place, it seems, amongst other films, bigger films, measured often by their commercial success, or the social advancement accorded its makers… No matter how passionately many filmmakers talk about their Vision, too often the overriding impulse is to garner admiration from bigwigs who can finance bigger films, and the attendant, supposed, freedom this will bring for future work. I would argue that this future work is already devoid of inspiration, as it is based upon a filmmaker whose work was made, at least in some measure, in order to secure career options, rather than having been made out of a serious, undeniable urge to craft a particular film, regardless, totally regardless, of its career implications.” - Jay Anania


Know what you want out of this industry before you get too far into it. We all know the general diction of where we’d like to end up, but the roads that take us there are never easy, never simple, and never a straight line. The speed bumps and detours along the way can misguide us, steer us off course, and sometimes change our destination entirely. It is this guiding philosophy that truly separates us; our “sorting hat” if I may make a Harry Potter reference.

Some are in the industry because they like the atmosphere; regardless of their station and the longer we do this, the more of them we meet. Some of us know career Production Coordinators, UPMs, Grips and Transportation Captains, that’s what they do, and that’s what they will do. They’re distinctively interchangeable from project to project and Studio to Indie. It doesn’t make them more or less filmmakers than directors, producers, DPs and actors, all the creative types… right? And I address them here to ensure that they are not forgotten and remind us all how incredibly vital they are to Production, they are a film’s arms and legs.

Although all these people are important players, they are by their very nature, not the ones who truly steer the direction of our world; rather it is the people who create, originate, develop, nurture and finish with their films, and many times those people have more than one title. At some point in their lives, these people made the decision to “work in the movies”. Some want to work within the Studio system, some wanted to work outside of it.


When this is all we do, we have to do it well. We have to make a living off of it. But not many of us are able to do this full time. Not many of us work only in this industry.

The Indie community is comprised of countless individuals and tribes wandering the world. Some just make one film and that’s it, others a few, and the rest continue to make one film after another until they can’t. When you’re an Indie filmmaker, it sometimes feels as if they world is against you and the bigger community at large doesn’t want you to succeed, no matter how many successes you’ve already had. And it feels like that a lot.

If we are the true Indie filmmakers that Anania mentions above, then we run the risk of becoming bitter; we work on our own films, developing one project at a time for what can be years on end; tweaking our characters, refining our shot lists, rethinking our scores, retooling our team, re-scouting our locations, re-evaluating available technology. And all the while we do this, a studio puts 30 million dollars into the next “Scary Movie” riff or a tweeny movie about horny kids. We see these movies coming out with horrible scripts, terrible jokes and phoned in cinematography and they make us sick. We think “for 30 million I could have made 30 to 60 amazing films, son of a bitch.” In that moment, we have the option of taking two roads, the one we planned on taking, or the easier road with a seemingly more stable [financial] future.


In his statement, Anania defines this Civil War that we seem to find ourselves in. We either make the films we want to make because we truly believe [and know] they’re wonderful and new and we continue to make films like that, or we take our first truly independent film (and for the same of argument assume this first one is a great success) and use the status gained from it to crossover into the studio financing side for future projects.

I believe that as long as you know where the roads will take you, there is no right or wrong choice.

However, because of that, I’m in a very small minority. Over the past few months my trade and travels have exposed me to many Indie Filmmakers, and most of them has a hard line view on these two options. It seems that out of these filmmakers, the majority of them want to use their first film as a launch pad for bigger projects with bigger budgets and more wide-release exposure. In contrast, the other filmmakers wish to make all their future films like their first film (in this case: well-developed, new, hopeful, honest and modest) without care of studio pickup for distribution. The small minority that I find myself a part of is the group understand both sides of the argument, but is honestly fine with whatever the means are so long as the vision isn’t compromised.

An interesting, and perhaps revealing, bit of insight is that out of all these people, their current, personal, economic situation helps them make these decisions. The bulk of us who are not so well off lean towards the career launching “crossover” films, and the bulk of us who are content with our current economic situation lean towards the continued Truly Free Films of our origins.


And what are the pros and cons of each choice? The Truly Free Film or the Post-Crossover Film. Over the next four weeks, we will be dissecting the advantages and disadvantages of each with the help of those filmmakers who have been down these roads before, and who knew, and didn’t know, where they were going, starting with distribution.

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