Recently I had a conversation with one of the supporting actors from my new film THE SPACESHIP, which is currently in post-production. We were talking about the various people we had worked with on the production, the cast and the crew alike, and all their various personalities. We talked about all the people who had a positive outlook for the project as well as those who didn’t think the project would go anywhere. The project is so big and the cast/crew so diverse, that there is no consensus. At one point during the conversation, I told this actor that so many of the people we brought on board had never worked on an indie film before and so they have no respect for what it takes to get these things off the ground. The actor gave me a puzzled look and quickly shot back “so what’s a take?” almost as if implying that it doesn’t take much. Immediately I realized just how out of touch many people are, who haven’t engaged in full time production duties.
Independent film making is one of the most difficult tasks one can engage in. You could know everything there is to know about telling a story in motion picture form, but somehow someway, things don’t always go according to plan. If I put my mind to it, I’m sure I could mathematically figure out exactly how to produce one of my most complicated scripts into an impeccable indie film, right down to the last frame and sprocket hole. But it wouldn’t work – if there’s one thing Vietnam taught us is that you could be the best of the best and know the ins and outs of your plan down to the teet, but the human condition will always interfere and fuck things up. Things do not work out the way they should – hardly ever. This is mainly because of two factors, communication of creative ideas and individual personalities. The communication of creative ideas has pretty much been taken care of, as there are all sorts of mechanisms that directors can use to relay their ideas to their creative team. Personalities on the other hand, are a whole different thing, especially when it comes from people who haven’t a shred of experiencing on the production side.
In independent film making, there are people who are way down there (points to the floor)… and waaaaay up there (points to the sky). I consider myself in between. Every time I finish a project and see it through to the festival circuit, I feel slightly elevated. In my personal opinion, anyone who has produced an indie film and has plans to do another, exists in this middle part of the spectrum, mainly because of their willingness to go through it again. That part is so huge. Every production has people who are way down there – like so far down, they don’t stand a chance of ever coming up. Those people are bad for indie film, we don’t need them. Those are the people who complain about every little thing, who are afraid to leave their comfort zone and just accept things the way they are. They are the people who don’t care about the project or the other people on the project and isn’t in it for the end result, unless that end result is an enormous paycheck. They’re involved because they have false ideas on what they can take from it and when they realize they’re not going to get what they want – they concentrate their efforts on shutting it down and ruining it for everybody. They’ll keep you on your resume as long as they have to and then remove you the first instance they can, because in the end, their careers will likely be commercial oriented. These people appear in all departments all across the board and have shown up to every set I’ve ever been on. They’re like pebbles in the shoes of every truly independent filmmaker out there The individual people will likely only appear on your set for one project and you’ll never see them again – but similar folk will always pop up in the future.
When I decided to dedicate an enormous portion of my life to motion picture storytelling, I did so with the assumption that I wouldn’t make a lot of money – but with the hope that one day I could, that is, if I developed my skills enough that someone would see value in what I can do. Whatever happens, I’ll always be of the opinion that indie film isn’t and shouldn’t be about money, and if you’re in it for the paycheck, you’re ALWAYS going to be disappointed, no matter who it is you’re working for. I learned this back in high school when I made my first movie and I’m dumbfounded that there are so many people who don’t seem to get it. The only production related jobs I’ve taken strictly for the paycheck were corporate commercials for product brands. When it came to indie films, PSA’s and other important or artistic based endeavors, I always took the job on its own merits and worked out the compensation later because to me, the compensation was the least important part of my reasoning for engaging in these projects. Some projects I turned compensation away, in exchange for creative control (which so many of my vendors would NEVER do). As far as I’m concerned, everyone should operate this way – unfortunately most people don’t and often turn work away because budgets are too low or making money is more important than artistic integrity.
Indie filmmakers shouldn’t be treated in the same way studios are treated, whether it be by cast, crew or the unions. Most of the indie productions you’ll work for aren’t insured, have no benefit plans and aren’t even union signatories. This should tell you everything you need to know about the nature of the production. Don’t get me wrong, by all means, it’s not a bad thing. I prefer the smaller, under financed productions for a lot of reasons. Money destroys – it doesn’t create, especially when it comes to art and you can see that very clearly in the structure currently dominating the Hollywood industry. This brings me to the area of financing, which probably deserves a dedicated article as well. The people I mention as being “way down there” tend to believe that just because a filmmaker is unable to acquire financing, that a film doesn’t deserve to be made – a Darwinian mentality so to speak. Obviously this is not my belief structure at all and my goal with this blog, Film Anthropology, is to promote the creation of film and art, regardless of resources and to work towards changing the mentality of those that are responsible for the support of the creative types who engage these projects head on. Many of us can do it alone if we have to, but prefer not to. I’ve been accused of being arrogant and that by not raising “proper” funds on some of my projects, that I don’t “truly” care about said projects. Clearly I disagree. These are the words of people who have not attempted, and will likely not attempt, to produce their own independent film. If they do, they’re the type who will only do it when the conditions are “just right”. But what they don’t realize is that the conditions will never be… “just right”.
In his Anti-100 Years of Cinema Manifesto, acclaimed experimental filmmaker and founder of the Anthology Film Archives, Jonas Mekas, once said: “The real history of cinema is the invisible history: history of friends getting together, doing the thing they love.” I couldn’t agree more and live by these words every time I jump into a production – whether fully financed, penniless or crowd funded. Film making will always be about friends getting together to tell a story.