Wednesday, January 19, 2005
DIY Or Die, Assholes

A conversation overheard while leaving an introductory class on screenwriting:

College Guy #1: So you wanna do some screenwriting?

College Guy #2: Yeah, I've done some before... I mean, not using the standard format or anything, but I don't think that matters much anyway...

CG #1: Nah, I don't think so either...

CG #2: I don't know much about the technical stuff, but I don't really need to, I'll just leave that to the pros.

CG #1: Yeah, just focus on the creative part and get the award.

(both laugh)

Fools. Idiots. You've failed before you've even begun.

There's an assumption made here, and no matter which option you choose, these guys are fucked. The first possibility is that the Hollywood/"Indie" writer-director is a viable possibility, in which case dismissing standard screenplay format is an instant failure. No screenplay, no matter how brilliant, will even make it past the unpaid-intern reader if it isn't in Courier and correct, standard format. A petty point, but that's just the rule of the land.

And if we assume that instant absorption into the world of Sundance competition and studio screenings and award ceremonies isn't guaranteed -- necessitating we make our own first films -- then the dismissal of knowing "the technical stuff" is not merely a creative failure, but I would argue the independent filmmaker's equivalent of a moral failure as well. The statement suggests that its speaker has utterly missed the point, is going about things in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons, has no concept of what's actually involved in making a film, and is still looking for someone else to do the hard bits.

Ain't nobody going to make your film but you, so you'd best know how to do it if you ever want to see it playing somplace other than inside your head.

This was the single most frustrating thing working at the Co-op: people came in who expected us to lead them through a simple procedure: 1) instantly recognize their overwhelming creative genius and instantly align ourselves with them and their interests; 2) take their ideas and form them into beautiful, perfect films, giving them complete creative control without asking them to do any hard work; 3) put their perfect films in front of the Right People, who would then whisk them away to lives of glamour, artistic adoration, and their rightful place in the pantheon of Great Directors.

I mean, if you asked them, obviously that's not what they'd say they wanted... but that's really what they wanted. And when we're brand new, we all have those little fantasies -- they feel good, and they give us the balls to think we could actually do this big, impossible thing that nobody thinks we can do. But eventually the delusional phase has to pass, and we have to start looking at what the deal really is -- long, hard, unglamorous work for very little obvious benefit and no guarantee of success or recognition ever -- and decide if we still want to do it. Those of us who've decided we do have zero fucking patience for the delusional folks.

I'm sick of people who send their first goddamn crappy film into Sundance. The hard truth is, everybody's first film sucks... you hopefully love it anyway, since it's your baby, but that doesn't mean you can't see that it's an ugly, deformed, crippled baby that can't cope with life in the outside world. I'm sick of people who assume others -- those of us who've spent years acquiring skills and experience -- are going to put aside our own work in favor of theirs. Fuck your film: you want it made, you make it. Sure, exceptions are possible -- filmmakers pin their hopes on that one oh-so-tantilizing chance in a million with a fervor exceeded only by lottery players -- but I'm telling you, Jack, when I say it's unlikely, I'm talking being-struck-by-lightning unlikely.

And more than anything else, I'm sick of people who come into this looking for fame and money and recognition. Filmmaking is an artform, like painting or writing or dance -- if you manage to make a living, and you get some critical acknowledgement and a few awards, that's obviously incredibly good and bully for you, but does your average painter or writer or dancer do what they do for that reason alone? They do it because they must, in spite of the frustration and poverty and dead, unproductive months and years; filmmakers have to be the same. The big trade-off in the expansion of film into an artform for everybody is that not everybody is going to be able to rely on Hollywood to provide a standard by which to measure their success. What about artistic success? What about living a life doing work you enjoy and which has meaning for you? Huh? Why's it always have to be about motherfucking Sundance? Screw Sundance! Seriously! We'd all be better off if it didn't exist... Sundance fucking pisses me off, it's the bane of successful sub-indie filmmakers everywhere.

It's time for a new model, a new set of assumptions, a rejection of what's come before -- which is no longer relevant -- and the construction of something that can actually have useful meaning for us now. And leaving the hard work to other people is NOT going to part of it. That's so bourgeois-pampered-white-kid it makes me puke.

PS: The title of this post is ripped from a documentary film of the same name (well, minus the "assholes" part) about the necessity of doing one's own shit in any artistic or creative endeavor.
1:30 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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