When I first launched Film Anthropology, one of the primary goals I set for myself, was to have articles oriented towards the art and craft of film, but more so to plant the seeds for an eventual pursuit that transcends the current social status films have in North America. FA, essentially, has been designed to explore the place in our society where film can succeed as an art form for human expression and not so much as a commercial endeavor to produce disposable entertainment. One of my favorite quotes that I always go back to, when explaining how I see film and the production of film, comes from Jonas Mekas, one of the founders of the Anthology Film Archives in New York. He explained in his Anti-100 Years of Cinema Manifesto that films should be about “friends getting together, doing the thing they love”. This is what I have in mind every time I start a project and pursue collaborators, but being in New York, it’s not always what you get, especially with a rather vicious freelance workforce.
Some time ago, a self-proclaimed “comedy troupe”., who I assume are also freelance videographers in their day jobs, put up a video on YouTube and began promoting it on the Craigslist gigs forum in New York. The video is called “Shit Craigslist Producers Say” and it has received an enormous amount of likes and positive comments, largely from the workforce. I recognized immediately the bitter undertone of the video, which was largely designed to be humorous. With little forethought as to the can of worms I was about to open, I quickly commented that the core of the video is “Mean Spirited” and then I moved on. Some weeks later I started receiving one vicious response after another and then another. Sometimes the response was posted on the video, most of the time it came by e-mail. This past week some cat from Nashville had the audacity to accuse me of “vying for slavery”. After a brief argument it was clear to me that he had little knowledge of what slavery consists of and that in his mind, volunteerism is essentially the same thing. I ended the argument as peacefully as I could. The entire thread has since disappeared from the video, as well as my original comment.
My films are incredibly personal to me and when I go into production I do no want to surround myself with people who’s dedication is only commensurate to the capacity of their paychecks. It doesn’t work out. It NEVER works out. Not unless you have a bottomless bank account. In my experience, once you start spending money, the people around you won’t let you stop. Invention takes a backseat to ease and your film becomes much less personal and the final cut typically winds up far less interesting. This Craigslist video and its subsequent comments are a prime example of the kind of people who should not be engaging in the production of independent film, in my eyes. They don’t have the spirit and aren’t in it for the right reasons. These are people who are certainly hungry, but acting thirsty. You should always be hungry, but never act thirsty. Some of the most successful independent films were created by people working on the project because they believed in it, because they had a stake in its success. Today, crews and even actors, are not approaching projects with the thought that they have a stake in them, but are measuring its potential based on the budget and earnings potential. Because of this, the quality of work has suffered immensely. Good storytellers are being ignored because their call for collaborators are being flagged for deletion by the thirsty workforce.
With indie film, EVERYONE on board needs to have a stake in its success and the only way to achieve this is to approach the production as equal partners, not the typical employer-employee relationship. Everyone has to be understanding to the needs of the storyteller and not respond venomously when they’re incapable of raising what some of these cats would consider “proper” funds. In the grand scheme of things, there isn’t all that much information the filmmaker needs to squeeze into that tiny frame, but for some reason it has become more complicated and more expensive than ever before. If we’re going to be successful at this, we need to take a step back and look at where we’re going as collaborative artists, otherwise we cannot improve the quality of our work or our economic conditions. It’s really easy to demand pay without care of where the pay might come from. Instead, offer up solutions that are a little more “outside the box” and actually make a difference. We can all mutually benefit from a community of understanding people, but only a select few benefit from the current set-up.
Desperation yields contempt for those who do not deserve it. Storytellers are generally, incredibly idealistic and there is nothing wrong with that. When I come across content like this video, I feel like my goal to elevate indie film to the next level sits in a constant state of triage. We all need to move onto the next stage and we’re not going to move on if we’re all treating one-another like garbage. There is no below the line, it’s just us. All of us.