Wednesday, August 18, 2004
My Idealism vs. My Cynicism

This is probably going to sound familiar; I believe I wrote something similar not too long ago.

I led my first workshop in about a month tonight; I entered feeling refreshed and ready to take it all on again, but by the time it was over -- even though it had gone as well as it ever does -- I had remembered why I needed to get away for a while. I am carrying a pair of very contradictory impulses inside me, and I admit they sometimes bother me: on one side of this equation is the vast idealism I feel about the venture; on the other, a deep, almost bitter kind of cynicism.

The idealism is obvious: putting the means of (film) production in the hands of the people is, I am convinced, the ultimate salvation of the medium. It will be complicated and confusing for a long while yet, but when we all look back on this, we'll see that none of what is to come (and I anticipate that to include the best work yet produced) would have been possible without making this transition from industry-based to independent-based. In that regard, I am even perhaps a bit inclined towards outright revolution... storm Hollywood's Winter Palace and reclaim the studios for the cinematic proletariat; we've come to take our medium back, and we shall do better with it than you did.

The cynicism is less obvious, but stubborn. In spite of the fact that I spend this much time and energy inviting people who know nothing about film into the medium, when they do arrive full of enthusiasm -- and unrealistic expectations -- I find myself becoming very impatient and frustrated with them. Most of the time it takes the form of people coming to me looking for "help" (read, unpaid work) on their "films," which are most often ideas backed with a great deal of excitement but no particular plan or strategy. The films they come up with are most often predictable and dull, not worth the effort, doomed to failure. (Are they really? I dunno... but that's how they always sound to me.) They pitch; they cajole; they offer nonexistant money and unlikely fame. We sit and nod politely, only half-listening, and then gently, respectfully push them off, giving them some vague and non-committal advice just to get them to go away.

It is, of course, patently unfair to judge someone for being unprofessional when you have, in fact, invited them in partly because they're not professionals. I think we all feel a bit guilty about that, even though the impatience still comes regardless. A good portion of the impatience, I think, comes from the fact that so many of them seem to want easy solutions, the mythical "something for nothing;" we have neither to give. Each of us who becomes the target of these appeals has one thing in common: we worked very hard, generally for little or no reward, to learn what we know. Even now, when we have some solid accomplishments behind us, it remains an agonizing uphill struggle, a herculean effort, a sisyphean task to continue with our work. Even the smallest film is heroic, which is why we support each other the way we do. But these people who come begging for help... to be an asshole about it, what have they done to deserve our help?

And that's the rub, that's where the conflict between these two impulses lies: we have no right to be assholes about this -- we're not so great ourselves, and we did, after all, encourage them to do this -- but self-preservation seems to demand it. Otherwise, we'd be blowing all our energy and love on other people's failures, leaving none for our own (we hope) successes.

What it boils down to is this: I've spent the last eight years of my life working -- sometimes slowly, sometimes aggressively -- towards a goal: to feel myself worthy to be called a filmmaker, and to earn a bit of recognition for my work. I expect it will take that long again before I feel secure in accomplishing those goals; with what comes afterwards I don't yet concern myself. Morgan is the same, as are the rest of the people in the local scene who find themselves being hit up by newbies bearing screenplays. We have invested years of our lives, a great deal of our (and other people's) money, and most of our prospects in this pursuit. Is it not fair to demand the same of those who approach us?

(But if it is, do I have any business bringing inexperienced people in when I have no serious intention of giving them more than some explanations and demonstrations?)

In any case, I shall of course continue on in this work... I do firmly believe (in spite of my cynicism) that it's the right thing to do. And it's not that I don't want the people I turn down to go away and give up -- that's not what I want at all! -- it's just that I want them to bring something of real value to the table. That's what the "Co-op" part of "MeDiA Co-op" is there for. It doesn't necessarily have to be experience or expertise; it could, probably, be almost anything. Surely there's a happy medium to be found somewhere in here?
1:10 AM ::
Amy :: permalink