Independent means your on your own…

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When your an independent filmmaker you are your on your own. Hopefully you have developed a team, or know individuals who can help you lighten the load from producing your film. I say YOUR film because YOU were the one who started down this road. If you are a director slash producer you’ll need to get down in the trenches and start assembling your team. Films are not made by committee. Making films is an autocratic way of life. Having a team is great, and helpful, but you are the General of this army. Go forth and get ready to take command.

Now that being said having a small producing staff helps. Everyone has maybe a speciality and that helps. I have come to the conclusion that GOOD films are made by a dedicated cast and crew. I’ve actually looked at movie production history, and the films that are superior to all the rest are because the production team had enthusiasm and believed in the project. A lot of these films were from first time artists who had something to prove and who had a vested interest in making a film that would stand out.

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In future posts I’ll try and go through those films histories. But I’ll leave that for some other time. What I’m trying to say here is that when you’re making an indie film you may need to rely on outside individuals who have skills that you need to compensate.

I used professional actors. I held auditions after looking at many headshots of actors. I did not ask anyone for money. I find it appalling when I hear of productions NOT offering compensation, or even not paying for the actors transportation. I know I’ve been labeled a nice guy, and you know what they say about “nice guys”? But I’m not a nice guy. I’m trying to get other people involved in my project. Its that simple. If the people I get become my friends all the better. But I first I need to figure out a budget, and before you shoot make sure you have enough to get the film in the can.

A film production unit is more then just a bunch of artist working to create content. They become a family. Yes! I said it. The F word, and that F word is “family”. I know that’s crazy. But it’s true, and no truer in independent filmmaking then in any profession I can name. It’s what makes filmmaking that special vocation. I can’t state it strong enough. Like any family there can be dysfunction in the family, but you as a good producer & director know how to head off problems before it becomes a problem. You need to be part therapist, and part artist.

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We worked seriously hard on “Deadly Obsessions”, but as you can see by the picture above there was time to clown around as well. It’s the key to esprit de corps, and trust me you’ll need that when doing an a film no matter if it’s a independent or a studio based film. Treating filmmaking like a straight business proposition is not what gets your film made. Roget Corman’s film’s had hungry artists working for him. They pushed themselves to make the best film they could. Just by recognizing talent Corman’s films may have not been cinematic marvels, but they were entertaining and cheap. It’s how Corman survived for so long. Recognizing talent is the key, and developing relationships is a key to making a good film. I’ve been involved where people don’t really care and only want to make their film footage quota for the day. Needless to say those films go into the dustbin of cinema never to be seen or heard from again. There is a whole lot more that goes into a successful film, but your first hurtle is getting it made, and a lot of films just fall apart and are never made. I’ve seen it, and I’ve been a party to it. It hurts when your film fails to grow wings and get off the ground. There is more talk in this industry then there is action. It is what seriously makes me cringe and has prevented me from making more films.

Alone my film stock budget was about over 5K, and I managed to get a discount. In order to process the film, and transfer the sound to mag track it was another 6K. I knew all this and kept the spending to a minimum, yet still I paid people. I had a few days to shoot, and then the money would dry up. I had to work a day job to get more money for post, and it was me who was working on post production. How else could I save money. I resurrected an old 6 plate flat-bed and finished on film. It was the cheapest way to go at the time. Posting on video would have costed me a fortune, so film was the only alternative. You see why I despise others who keep talking the talk and never pony up. The above picture is me at the end of shooting. That smile is releif for making it through the slog of production.

I really, really admired Kevin Smith, and Robert Rodriguez for making their low budget films. Now days you don’t need film stock. But memory cards to fill up, and hard drives to back the footage. I really think you can still get a feature done nowadays for little money, and that you can do it in stages to keep the costs low. Keeping it simple helps. Limited actors, limited locations, and keep the crew small. From the picture above you can see I had limited lighting equipment to light a scene, yet my crew and I made it work. I really think you ca as well. No matter the budget. It’s more possible now then it ever was. So go out there and be the next Coppola, or Spielberg. Don’t think because you don’t have the money you won’t be able to produce your film. Make your resources work for you. Take some time off. Coordinate your talent and crew. Spend on the things that matter, and you may attract people who BELIEVE in your project. It is time consuming, maddening and throughly invigorating, yet you’ll enjoy ever moment of it.

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The beginning of a feature ….

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After several attempts to make a movie with others I finally went it alone.  Not my most favorite thing to do.  I had always seen myself with a group of renegades making a film that we all thought would be groundbreaking, but alas it was not to be.  So when I decided to make a film I took stock of the resources I had and did my best to come up with a film I’d be proud of.  I had always been a big fan of Joel & Ethan Coen’sBlood Simple“, and I loved the author Jim Thompson who had a bit of notoriety in Hollywood when they decided to make some of his novels such as “After Dark my Sweet” , and “The Grifters” just to name a few.  I had few resources to boot too, so the film had to have limited characters and a bit of a different take on the film noir genre.

I wrote a film that I thought would be interesting, and something unique.  A take on the film “Double Indemnity” starring Fred McMurray and Barbara Stanwyck.  It was a 1944 movie about greed and lust.  It was a favorite of mine, and something I felt I could do.  I would just modernize it for today’s audience.  What I eventually wrote was something I could shoot, and do now.  I had limited funds, and I would be shooting this on 16mm.  It was way before digital video, and the video cameras that existed back in the late 90’s were in no way good enough for the visuals I wanted.  I broke down the script and created a shooting schedule with Movie Magic scheduler.  I had written my script in a program called movie magic screenwriter.  It was an old program that I used way back in the late 80’s.  If I had to give advice go with Final Draft.  I have used Final Draft for a lot of my projects and the program is quite good, but I have also used a program called Celtx.   When I used Celtex it was a stand alone screenwriting program.  The program now is a web based script writing, scheduler, budgeting, and call sheet program.  I highly recommend that you take a look at Celtx if you have multiple collaborators.  The program is quite easy to learn, and has a short learning curve, but whatever you use make sure you have a program that can breakdown the script.  It will save you time, and a lot of headaches.  Remember if you’re limited on funds and who doesn’t these days go with something simple.  Word has a template for scripts and it’s an easy download.  It may not be sleek and intergraded with other software, but it gets the job done.  After all films were made without fancy screenwriting software in the past, so whatever you use don’t apologize for not having the latest and greatest.  In my opinion use something you can all collaborate on . Celtx is subscription based so pay for what you need, but whatever you use remember the key to writing is re-writing, so make sure you get comfortable with whatever program you do use because you’ll be going back to it often.

I can say that making the film went down without a hitch, but I’d be lying.  Finding time to do all this was difficult.  It’s the main reason why the film took so long.  I didn’t have all the money to finish it, but I had enough to start it, and get it to post, so I did.
A mistake?  Maybe, but in filmmaking rules are meant to be broken, and so the only thing I can really say with any certainty is get ready for a wild ride.  If it’s your film be damn sure that you can finish it, and once you start don’t stop.  Stopping is the kiss of death for most projects.  If it isn’t the way you wrote it or envisioned it tough!  Roll with it, and it’ll all work out in the end.  Sometimes there are happy accidents that make the film better.  It’s the magic of filmmaking ladies and gentlemen, and when it happens know that you are experiencing a moment and keep moving because you have a schedule to keep.

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When I started this film I first lived in New York.  It wasn’t until I was in Philadelphia that I started to really to hunker down and get the wheels of production moving.  This brings me to keeping it local.  I did not, so I had to find hotels for my actors and some of the crew.  I used two people from my alma mater of Brooklyn College.  I needed a lighting tech / gaffer and then a camera assistant.  I lucked out with the people I got.  Both were hard working and hungry, and they really saved me when things got way too much.  Then there were the actors.  I used SAG/AFTRA actors.  Let me tell you if you really want to make a difference in your production hire union.  They were professional, and high spirited.  I know what you’re thinking I’m a low budget film I can’t afford professionals.    They’ll bust my budget.  SAG/AFTRA has low budget and ultra low budget contracts.  I got a low budget agreement and paid a small stipend to the actors.  If you can’t I understand, but getting and working with professional actors will really make a difference to you and your production.  Not once did the actors NOT know their lines.  Right out of the gate they knew their lines, and blocking the actors for the camera was easy.  Having said this I would have looked around for more local actors around Philadelphia.  It would have been cheaper, but maybe not by much.  So my tip to the fledgling filmmaker is keep it local, and if you need outside talent schedule them in blocks so you don’t pay a fortune in hotel and food disbursements.  It’s mostly common sense, but it was a first for me, and the film became my graduate studies program by default.

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Also if you can DO NOT use your apartment or house as a location.  That being said I did, and I saved on location fee’s, but for 11 days my wife and I along with our kitties lived in a communal environment.  The bed the actors are on in the picture above became the make-up area, and the rest area for cast and crew.   Though I look at it now with nostalgia I have to say that it was 10 to 11 days of chaos.  My wife and I would get up very early in the AM, and she would go to work while the crew and cast assembled.  We shot for three or four days in the apartment.  Moving from room to room. We had a small continental breakfast or we would do a Dunkin’ Donuts run getting fresh bagels in the AM.  We would get assorted cheeses and jams the evening before and we would have liters of coffee or tea. So by this example I have to say that if you shoot in your house or apartment a big tip is to have you’re significant other onboard while shooting.  It’s great when someone has your back, and my wife Phyllis had mine.  She got executive producing credit also.

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Another thing or tip to the wise.  Get permission for everything.  I did, or I thought I did.  My landlady was cool about me filming, and she was pretty enthused about it.  But it only takes one person to really throw a wrench into your production and in this case it was a neighbor who knew a judge.  Seems some people were upset at seeing beautiful actors running around, and wondered what type of movie I was making.  I had the permits, I had the permissions and release papers, so why the problem?  Here is where the first lesson in of the moral minority comes in.  Not everyone is as open minded as they would have lead you to believe they are.  I got a visit from the police, and then a call from the local film commission here in Philadelphia.  Needless to say I believe my film made them draft a policy of “Code of Conduct” when filming in a Philadelphia neighborhood.   I had done this previously and thought all was copacetic, but it seems one person had a problem, and that’s all it took.  What eventually happened was that I changed locations for the ending of the film.  With the help of crew and cast we worked it all out, and even got a police officer to help us make the neighbors comfortable.  The advantages of being a small production is that we could make the change easier then being a bigger production.   We even got my father-in-law involved who has a brief part in the movie.  He came down from New York and stayed with us and being he was a retired federal police officer, and he acted like a liaison between the local police.  When we did this there were no more problems.  So a BIG tip here boys and girls is to have a police official on set.  He or she is like the muscle of the production.  It shows you’re legit, and everything is kosher.   We had two officers throughout the production and they were the best.  If you can involve the local constabularies into your production do so.  It will save you much grief.   The agita I got was not worth it and it was a distraction that I didn’t need, so remember talk to you’re local officials about your filming plans.  All it takes is one unsatisfied patron to ruin you’re shoot and in a low budget film time away from the production is wasted time.

What I learned most of all is that doing a film isn’t like it was when you were young and naive back in film school.   There are a lot to things to consider and a lot of the production budget gets eaten up by the must have.  Insurance, transportation, housing, and meals can eat at your budget before you even have shoot a frame of your movie. If you shop around and do your homework while at the same time take stock of your resources you may just save money and time, which will help you actually make your movie.

Another approach to low budget filmmaking that I’ve been thinking about would be to consider filming as a collective.  Rick Schmidt the author of: Feature Filmmaking at Used car Prices” once told a group of us that when limited in funds everyone in the film should bring something to the table, and thereby they become an investor in the film.   If the material is exceptionally good people will want to be a part of it, but you still need to sell it.  Bringing talent, locations, equipment, and even food is an investment, and when all players have skin in the game they are incentivized to do their best.  It is your job to make it appealing and something that has a quick turnaround, so as to have everyone not lose time away from paying gigs.

Everyone makes money when the film makes money.  In a way you create an LLC with your production crew and cast.  Thereby creating a collective of artists.  The sole purpose would be to produce this one film.  Just another avenue you may want to explore when you’re doing your guerrilla shot.

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Authority…

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Someone said to me once that when she heard the song “The Authority Song” by John Mellencamp she thought of me. Back then I grinned thinking it a bit of a compliment, but if you listen to the lyrics its about someone fighting authority and losing.  Not a favorable image to think of, but in my youth maybe that’s what I radiated.  The rebel, and the guy who didn’t listen.   I was only interested in film, and filmmaking.

So what the hell does this have to do with filmmaking?  After all isn’t this a blog about filmmaking?  I was thinking the other day that after I did my film I was the guy giving the orders and it was I that willed “Deadly Obsessions” into existence for better or for worse.  Directing as well as producing are seats of authority, but in order to make a film worth watching you need to straddle a fine line between dictatorial directing and creating an ensemble film with the cooperation of you’re crew and cast.

If you’re a low budget film then you better start finding people who believe in your project as you do.    I’ve worked on a number of low budget films while in school and then after graduation.  The pay was always low, but the enthusiasm was high, and it was that enthusiasm that made the difference.  When it came time to make my own film I decided to go with SAG and AFTRA actors because I wanted professionals.   I paid for their services, though it was modest, and I believe this made a difference.   When people see you making an effort to put in you’re own money into a project it makes a huge difference in crew and cast unity.

So what does this post have to do with filmmaking?   In todays environment one can make he’s or her own film easier then it was back in the stone age.  Digital cameras, NLE’s, and software programs like Adobe’s After Effects and DaVinci Resolve make that possible.  A director / producer can do a lot by themselves.  Its possible  now to actual spend you’re own hard earned money and get it on-screen, and see it instead of wasting it on what I call “the bureaucracy of filmmaking”.  Bureaucracy of filmmaking?  What is that, and is that even a term?

Long ago, but not so long ago filmmaking took a team of artisans to create a single film.  I still don’t recommend you do everything yourself on your film.  I did, and because I was extremely busy while shooting the film, and directing it,  some things got away from me.  I knew what I needed to complete the film, but details were lost.  I did recover them by doing post shooting after the actors went home, but had I an extra producer, or a bigger camera crew I would have saved myself some headaches.  The more you know how a film is put together the better off you are, and the smarter you’ll work.  Through my experiences I actually learned from others and it certainly helped a lot.

One of those learning moments was how to direct actors.  I’ve worked a number of lowly crew positions in my career and I saw first hand that if you had a dictatorial way of doing things you got sub-par performances.  I realized that time and money was a constant enemy to filmmakers throughout the world, but what separates a “good” film from the “bad” film is how a director talks to his or her actors.  I’ve always subscribed that the script is a blueprint of the film.  It is not etched in stone.  I’ve read scripts that were so-so, and when I saw the film it was nothing like the script I read.  It’s because of the “happy accident” syndrome that happens a lot in filmmaking.  When on set sometimes “happy little accidents” happen that propel the film a bit further, and make it work better.  The actors, and the crew become involved, and you get better scenes, and a a far superior product.  Of course the authority is “you” when you are the director of a film.  All eyes are on you, and you will be asked a thousand questions from an assortment of people,  but like a blade of grass you must bend at the whim of the production trade winds.  It is the most intoxicating thing to happen when ideas come together and make a better product.  That only happens when you have a team that you respect and are paying.  I cannot stress enough the need for a collaborative work place.  You will thank yourself long after the production has wrapped.

Now what of this bureaucracy of filmmaking?  That’s when you’re cast and crew become too big.  I sometimes laugh when I see a big Hollywood production come into a neighborhood with their vans, and winnebago’s.  I understand when it is a action adventure film, and their are “movie stars” in the film, but in the independent world the bigger the crew the more money it will cost.  I am not a BIG time filmmaker.  I did my film with limited means, and limited time.  If I could do it again I’d ask for more time, but I was cognitive on not wasting my actors time because they had other projects that would pay them more.  So when it came down to creating a schedule I factored in locations and who was in the scene or scenes.  I got it done in 11 days which was way too fast.  Everything was a blur and I just wanted to finish the film.  Not the best way to make your film.

If you know the process of filmmaking you’re a step ahead.  My main concern was to get it in the can.  An old filmmaking phrase when shooting on film.   Nowadays you need to make sure you got it on disk, and that you backup your footage.    Bigger crews waste time sometimes, and the one thing I saw the most that wasted time was looking at playback with cast & crew.  Ultimately it is the director who says we’re moving on, and that’s where people need to defer to his or her authority.  But caring about your actors goes a long way.  You both need to be arbiter, therapist, counselor, and fellow artist to be a good director.  Being dictatorial doesn’t work, and I have never seen it ever work on a film set.  It causes animosity on the set, and the lack of respect for people can create friction between departments and individuals.  Be open, be firm.  You are the visionary of you’re film, and expressing that and showing everyone you’re plan may create the enthusiasm you need.

And if I may.  Please pencil in some pre-production gathering with cast and crew . It will save you time on the set and squelch ideas that are not useful to the film.  You can explain why the idea is not valid or maybe they can persuade you into a better idea, but talking about it on set is a waste of time and counter-productive.   I had only an evening to confer with my cast at one of the locations we were filming in (our house).  It went well, and I answered some of the questions the cast had on character, plot, and blocking.  I should have had one more day of that, but the clock was ticking and when the actors arrived it started a financial countdown for me.

So authority goes so far.  The other is just listening.  If you find the right people for your project you’ll want to do the best work that you can.  The best part of the filmmaking experience is the collaborative feeling you get when things present themselves unexpectedly and the scene or film gets better then the the script.  That is creatively exhilarating and the film will benefit from that.

 

Cinema as Art….

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In todays market I’m finding out more and more that film is more pulp then art.  That is not to mean that all cinema is pulp or not art, but in the days of films like “Shazam”, “Avengers: Endgame”, “Detective Pekachu”, and “John Wick 3: Parabellum” the cinema is not known for it’s art.

Please do not take this as my condescending look at cinema.  On the contra I have enjoyed a lot of these movies, and they have a lot of worth in today’s climate.  After all movies are for entertainment.  They are escapist stories that help us forget the mundane and the frightful.  Back in the depression era Hollywood cranked out its share of entertainment.  Most of those movies were musicals,  film noir’s, westerns, classic horror and serials.  In some of them the production numbers and the performances were outstanding.   There were such filmmakers as Victor Fleming, Frank Capra, Fritz Lang, John Ford, Ernst Lubitsch, Howard Hawks, George Cukor, Orson Welles and Jean Renoir.  All these filmmakers made astounding films that are studied today.

But something happened between the 50’s and the 60’s that changed all that.  Not that we didn’t have great filmmakers back then, but because studios were losing audiences to television they had to look towards the BIG films to make money.  Another factor that changed things in movie distribution was new technology in the form of the Drive-In.  As studio’s lost control of their actors, and their monopoly of theaters they could no longer “block-book” their films.  Independent studios arouse to take advantage of this and made smaller more exploitative films to grab it’s audience.  Hence we got a whole slew of low-budget films, and the world market opened up to even films from Europe.  The spaghetti western was a by-product of that era.  As technology moved on there became a slew of different types of movies.  3D, cinemascope, technicolor, and dolby sound were all used to draw in audiences.  Studios made bigger films with bigger stars in them, and it is right here where things changed, or that’s what I think.  See if you agree.

There were filmmakers who worked within this environment and that cared about their work, and through the years we see filmmakers like Coppola, Lucas, and Scorsese still producing superior work, but we are now back to the technology issue.  With more and more competition being hammered out by companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu the studios are relying on their “tentpole” films to draw in their audience.  Theaters are also doing the same.  AMC, Regal, and Cinemark all are converting their theaters into bastions of reclining seated audiences.   Even concessions have become fancier, and more prevalent in movie theaters then they were ever.  Prices to go see a movie have become exorbitant now, and if you include food you’re night out becomes something where you might need to take a loan out for, so you won’t be doing that on a regular bases.  Studios advertising budgets are bloated and they have only a small window to re-coup their costs.  Studios are competing with cable, streaming, and even to this day TV.

So are films art or entertainment?  I’d say a bit of both, but of late their has been an absence of art.  I watched John Wick 3 the other week-end and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  I like the series and I was hoping to see if their was closure to the series.  Unfortunately I was mistaken.  I won’t give any spoilers here.  See it for yourself, and I’m sure if you’re a fan you’ll enjoy it immensely, but once again the business side of filmmaking shows up.  All I’ll say is that to make the dollars the studios are leaning heavy on their “franchise” films.

You know “franchise films”?  Such films as “Star Wars”, “John Wick”, and the whole Marvel universe films.  The studios do a great job hooking us and asking us to return for the next movie, but how long can they do that until the audience becomes tired of it, and at what sacrifice does it come?  The films are fun, but will they be seen again?  20 to 30 years from now will scholars and audiences in general re-visit these films?  I don’t believe so.  They will all run endlessly with commercials on various cable stations, and you’ll be able to see them throughout the week or day, and that’s the problem.  Entertainment media is expendable.  It has a shelf life for the studios.  After the initial release of films the studios want their “revenue streams”.  Those “revenue streams” will hopefully sustain the studios and keep them in business as they create newer franchise’s.

So does art get lost?  That is the eternal question.  I believe it does.  There are filmmakers who know their history, and who know and admire what has come before.  With newer technology these filmmakers are creating images as stunning as ever, and it is up to these filmmakers who really decide if film becomes more then just entertainment.  Such filmmakers as the Anthony Russo & JoeRusso, Ryan Coogler and Peyton Reed will most likely pull it off, and of course there are still the filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, Joel & Ethan Coen, DePalma, Spielberg, Scorsese, Tarantino and Spike Lee who can still make more then just entertainment.    For movies to become more then entertainment they need visionaries and pupils of the cinema.  I am confident that will happen, but with the hyper commercialization of movies I fear that some of those classics may be tampered with, and the more that happens the less the artists vision comes through.

To sum up cinema will become less of an art form if we the audience let it.  Our insatiable appetite for content on smaller mediums may dim cinema as art, but as long as movies play in theaters and movies become social events to be shared by it’s audience in theaters I think cinema will remain an art form.  But if it becomes a commodity to sell products then the death of cinema is all but inevitable.  It’s an argument that isn’t new.  Television had been the proponent for many years of the decline of movie going, but it also has been the revitalization of older films where a a whole new and younger audience learned to appreciate the films.  Maybe that will happen again, but with new technology comes new problems, and it will be up to the studio’s and the filmmakers to decide how their films will be presented.  If that happens maybe cinema will be preserved as the art form it is.  Time will only tell, and as always the audience will be the determining factor of preserving cinema’s art through the years, and of course the pure cineaste’s will have their home theaters to forever keep the flame of cinema as art.

 

 

 

 

 

That itch…

I tried writing this blog entry a few times, and always delete it when finished.   I’ve been wrestling with the question of who I am now, and where I want to be.  Maybe it’s because I’m marking another birthday or maybe it’s just my existential part of me screwing with my psyche.  My interests and my passions have not changed, but as I grow older the energy I have is a bit more precious.  I have other things I want to do and some of them are not in the filmmaking arena.  So when I say I’m a filmmaker I wince a bit.  I’m a bit more then that, and this dance I do is exhausting at times yet there is always that urge to create or to tell a story.

So yeah if you’re a filmmaker, writer or musician you’ll get that itch to do another song, film, or novel.  It is inevitable, but as you grow older you’ll interests will wane and at other times you’re energy will be divided among other things.  Life is complex and sometimes there doesn’t seem enough time in the day to do what you want.  Today’s society really is a lot different then it was 20 or 30 years ago, and before you say “oh God it’s one of those posts” let me assure you I’ll try not to be the old man on the porch yelling at the kids on the lawn.

What I mean is that there are so many distractions in the world now.  One of these distractions is social media and this thing we call the Internet.   I say to myself I’m doing things, and yet am I?  Blogging, posting photographs, and twitting seem counter-productive  Or are we just hamsters running on a wheel in our cages?  I sometimes feel that all this noise around us could be tampered down, and even ignored and it would all be for the better.

Doing things because you like to do them is probably the best reason in doing them, but if you’re trying to seek fame maybe you’re not doing it for the right reason.  The old saying: “you want to make God laugh, make plans” is so very true.  Social media makes us all have a voice.  That’s the illusion.  We’re all special, yet there are so many voices out there that we seem to be drowning ourselves out.  There is so much content out there on the Internet that a lot is never seen or heard.  I am amazed how sometimes I find some really interesting information, music, or even art by people that are inspiring.  It’s a good feeling when you find out that you too are not the only one who thinks, or feels the way you do.

In today’s society if you really want to be heard and want to make a film there is little to stop you.  The tools are all out there, and it is not too difficult to make new music, post videos,  movies, and/or publish.

We’re in an era where making content is all that you need to get attention  There is a plethora of content some interesting and others not very.  What did Andy Warhol say that in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.   Maybe we should change that to 10 minutes because on the Internet there is always something new every 5 to ten minutes.  The 24 hour news cycle has conditioned us to be always on.  throughout the day we are bombarded with ads, commercials, music videos, and how-to videos 24/7 which I’m afraid only feeds our anxieties.

Those anxieties can hold us back and make us doubt ourselves.   For some of us it’s never the right moment.  Its not the right time, the right equipment or the right people.   How many of you have said when I get more money, or when I get better equipment, or when I find that special actor or actress then I’ll do it.  I hate to say this but they’re all excuses.  Do what you can now and worry about it later.  As an artist you grow, and one grows by learning from your successes and mistakes, and I guarantee you you’ll make more mistakes then success.  It’s our fears of our mistakes that hinder us.  By learning from those mistakes you become a better human being, and a better artist.  Can I just plainly say it: “mistakes makes you a better human being”.  I fail at things.   I’ll admit that right here, but I try and learn from those mistakes, and try not to repeat them.

So why take advice by someone like myself?  Certainly I have not reached the pinnacle of the moviemaking world.   Picasso painted in obscurity throughout his career, but he did what he loved and his works endure today, and are very sought after.  I am in no way comparing myself to Picasso, but only using him as an example.  There are many ways to measure success in life.  You should not define success by how many likes you get, or how much your work is shared.   Having a family is a real plus, and when I mean family I don’t mean it to be the traditional family we are conditioned to see in the media.  Families can consist of friends, and family.  Having that support group can certainly ground you.  It’s not always about yourself.  I learned that many years ago.  I have seen many people doing their own thing, and finding success in that.  I will in another post try to direct you to others doing their own thing.   I try to enjoy what I do.  It isn’t easy and the work, home, career balance is a tricky one.

Long ago someone said to me that it’s all about the work, and I sort of agree with that.  It’s also about what you leave behind.  Family, friends, and colleagues are just as important then the stuff you create.  In fact they are much more important in life then you think they are.  Believe me making great music or making that stunning film won’t give you satisfaction unless you get to share it with the ones you love.  Life is way to short and maybe you succeed or maybe you don’t, but the one thing I can say is that they’ll be no better joy then joy that is shared.

Now what about that itch?  That instinct or urge to create?  I can tell you that it always is there especially if your the artistic type, but things happen, and sometimes maybe you just want to watch sunsets or hold your lover’s hand, and maybe just play with the kids.  It’s all good, and worthwhile.   Don’t compare yourself to others.  Be your own person, and don’t let that blinding ambition blind you to the joys of life.  The joys are many, and it is a very short life to begin with.  Don’t waste it.  The journey is just as important as the destination.  Okay that’s my two cents now go have some fun.

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Misfire: The Rise and Fall of the Shooting Gallery

I came across this documentary that best describes the indie film movement of the 90’s.  It was during this time I was really inspired about making films, and I guess that’s why I was driven to create my own film.

Throughout the 90’s the shooting Gallery was a production company that produced such films as “Laws of Gravity”, “You can Count on Me“, “Niagara, Niagara“,”Croupier” and “Sling Blade“.  In a way it was a company making movies with low budgets and selling them at a bigger return from distributors.   But it all went bad because it became less about the movies and more about the money.

That was then and this is now.  What’s changed is that film-making has been democratized for better or worse.  The Internet has changed the landscape of film-making.   At the end  of the documentary some of the filmmakers in the video feel that there should be a resurgence of another independent movement. It’s a great note to leave us on, but one I think that won’t come again.  The demise of The Shooting Gallery happened because it got farther away from its core principle, and that was to make films by film-makers.  It defied the Hollywood standard, and spoke to the individual artist that he or she could create their own content like the “French New Wave” did in the 50’s in France.  I believe the spirit of the independent film is still much alive, and happening on digital platforms.

The problem is that there are more and more outlets of corporate entities who now control the distribution pipeline more then ever.  Netflix, Disney, Hulu, and even now Apple have  started their own streaming services.  There are also less and less independent venues such as theaters to show ones film now.   Most theaters have been gobbled up by corporations such as AMC, United Artist, and Regal theaters, but even with all this I still see the glass as half full.  Filmmaking is a business and always has been.  The successful filmmakers who actually made money are the filmmakers who got involved in distribution.  Roger Corman comes to mind, and earlier then that Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W Griffith formed United Artist to distribute their films.  Both are two different examples in two different eras in film distribution and the independent filmmaker.  One company (United Artist) formed in 1919 during the silent era, and the other formed (New World Pictures) in the 70’s when drive-in theaters were outlets for B-movies.

In todays climate the landscape has changed, and though there are more choices to distribute your film digitally it is harder then ever to do so and make a profit at it.  In my opinion the best way is to distribute your movie is doing it yourself.   Through platforms like Amazon, Vimeo, or iTunes.  If there is movement on the film you may draw interest from other media platforms, which may lead to bigger distribution for your film.   It is the most viable option for a truly independent artist.  The festival route is also a viable avenue, but if you know nobody in those circles it becomes a bit difficult to place in a festival.   There is no guarantee of ever getting a distribution deal from a festival showing though it does make a movie more attractive to distributors.

Grassroots seems to be the only option.  It’s from here where the new independent movement looks the most viable.    Maybe I’ll flesh this idea out some more in later blog entries but for now all I can say is that the new frontier awaits.  Keep plugging away and we’re all be waiting.   Keep creating….

Why be a filmmaker…

Why?  The eternal question of why do something that’s really hard, and has no guarantee of success?  Filmmaking is fickle.  Some succeed and many others do not.  My own experience bears that out, so why even try?  It seems like today anyone can make a film if they have a camcorder or iPhone, and a computer.  But way back when it took a bit more to make a film. While watching filmmakers come into our neighborhood to film I was always amazed at the army they brought.   When a production began shooting in the neighborhood I always watched how tedious it was to create one scene for a film.  An army descended upon the neighborhood, and there was so much waiting around.  To the average person it just looked boring and slow.  Meanwhile in my teens I was running around with my Super 8 camera setting up scenes, shooting them, and moving on to the next shot or scene.  As I learned more about filmmaking in school I became fascinated at the indie films of my day.  Those films were done low budget with smaller crews, and at a faster pace.  These indie films were also interesting, and cutting edge.  Such films as “Rhythm Thief” by Matthew Harrison, “In the Soup” by Alexandre Rockwell,
“El Mariachi” by Robert Rodriguez ,”Laws of Gravity” by Nick Gomez, and even “Clerks” by Kevin Smith.  These were young upstarts who went out there and just did their films.  These filmmakers were doing it without the big crew, and the oodels of money that Hollywood pumped into their own productions.  There was of course other filmmakers who were making good films during this time that were considered independent productions.   Henry Jaglom, John Sayles, Abel Ferrara, Mark Rapport, Susan Seidelman and Whit Stillman were some of these artists who did outstanding work throughout the mid to late 90’s.   I am of course not even including Nick Zedd, Richard Kern, Lydia Lunch, Penelope, Spheeris, George Kuchar, and least not we forget Scott B and Beth B.  Some of these filmmakers were considered underground filmmakers, yet they were making their films and getting them seen.   It was during this time I was exposed to many different types of films.  Some I liked while others I truly did not get.    The one theme that ran through all these films was the DIY mantra.  A lot of these films were different then your standard Hollywood fare.  They had the filmmaker’s blood, sweat, and tears in them.   In NYC I could go to different theaters and see these films on screen.  It’s not as it is today with streaming and PPV in you’re home.  It feels more sterile and antiseptic now then it did back then when there was a sense of community among the creators and their audience.

Some of these filmmakers are still making their films, yet we hear less and less of them because the venues are no longer there.   Some directors have found other avenues of revenue, and survive that way, but the true independent scene seems lost forever.  Filmmaking is a craft and the more you do the better you get at it.  Some of my favorite filmmakers are low budget auteurs who really have style, and a bit of the maverick in them.  Great art is made when the artist has his or her’s back against the wall and his or her only way out is to create.  I guess this is what makes great art, or in this case good cinema.  I am even told that some of these older films have been lost to the sands of time.  “In the Soup” by Rockwell was just recently put back together and will be seen at the NYC Queens film festival in March.

Hopefully these films will be saved, and see the light of day someday to be discovered by another generation.   I may have not been a big fan of certain films, but by being exposed to all these films I had a deeper appreciation for cinema.  That feels lost in today’s money fueled and content driven personalities who just want views, so they can monetize their views.  It all feels false, and fleeting.  It is certainly not at all cinema, and not classic storytelling.

I like the digital age don’t get me wrong about that.  Francis Ford Coppola once said that someday we’ll be amazed by some farm girl in Iowa that will make a film with her camcorder and computer.  I do hope that happens, yet I feel strangely pessimistic about that happening in today’s environment.  As long as we are driven with creating more “likes” or more “views” we will never push cinema into the 21st century.  What we really do is become slaves to corporations like Facebook, or Google where they are the ones making money on you’re content.  The music industry has suffered from this for awhile now.  Musicians make pennies on the dollar for their music while the streaming service takes the majority of the money.  Fair?  I say no, but we are dancing to their tune, and until the dynamic changes we’ll never really be able to make money off the fruits of our labors.  This includes cinema.

We can only be true to ourselves and build an audience “by any means necessary” to quote Malcolm X.  That includes grassroots distribution of content.  Good music as well as good cinema floats to the top, and it is up to the artist to keep pushing themselves.  Our corporate overloads are not demons, but entities who want to make money.  We as artists can use them to our advantage, but we need to create superior content and the way to do that is to keep creating.  To keep practicing your craft and enlist others in creating that content.

I’ll leave with Martin Scorsese talking about John Cassavetes a true original.  If we learn nothing originality is what makes good art great.  The other clip is of Alex Rockwell & cast talking about the revitalization of his film “In the Soup” at the Tribeca film festival.  It was great to hear that this will becoming to Blue-Ray someday and that this treasure won’t be lost to the sands of time.