Monday, 10 December 2012 10:21

Very Independent Filmmaking, why?

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So why make films?

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Allen Wolf, on the set of In My Sleep 2010

Why go to all the trouble and pain, why risk your money and your reputation and possibly your sanity?

Good question.

It’s one that puzzles me from time to time, especially when things get tough and I can’t finish a script or there’s no money to shoot anything, or I hear another story about someone either getting their big break or giving up and leaving town/getting a real job.

It can’t be money that motivates me, because I’d be in the wrong game for that! Most people don’t make money from independent film and certainly not at the very, very independent end of the market. Even if you can make a film and market it, the chances of really making money unless it gets picked up and distributed by the big guys is infinitesimal.

Of course part of the reason for making very, very independent films is the hope that someday somehow there will be the support system and the budget to make a feature and see your story in the big movie theatres. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t lie awake at night occasionally, feeling a bit lost in the huge machine that is the Hollywood system, even if I reject it to a certain extent and operate on my own, it would be nice to be acknowledged by that machine. It would be very nice indeed to not have to worry about the money to shoot, or be running the whole show because I have to, rather than because I want to work that way.

When I am feeling a bit blue about the whole thing, after a cup of tea and a biscuit, I remind myself that I am actually living in LA, I have a lovely camera, I have projects in production, I have opportunities and resources, even if they are my own, and I have the stories, my stories, my very own work to develop and eventually film. I’m very lucky and even if I never make it really big, at least I was able to follow my dream of telling stories with film, not many people can do that.

I did meet someone last week who is well on their way to making it, and because of his tenacity and passion to make films that are entertaining and also have a positive impact onthe audience, he is now in pre-production on his second independently funded feature film, Lessons From Violet. (http://vimeo.com/54811585)

Allen Wolf is an award winning independent filmmaker and owner of Morning Star Pictures. His debut feature, ‘In My Sleep’ was released in 2010 and has been distributed in 70 countries worldwide and has just become available on Netflix. (http://www.inmysleep.com/home.php)

In My Sleep is a Hitchcockian style psychological thriller about a man struggling with the sleeping disorder parasomnia, where the subject, while sound asleep, is able to do almost anything, including driving, working, conversing and even having sex, all with their eyes open and giving no inclination to anyone else that they are fast asleep. When the film’s main character wakes up one morning with blood on his hands and his best friends girlfriend is found stabbed to death, the film follows him as his world unravels while he investigates his own nocturnal activities desperate to prove to himself and everyone else that he is innocent.

In My Sleep is a brilliant story and written, produced and directed by a lovely guy! It also has an amazing cast, and wonderful actors make all the difference in the world.

Sheer determination made this film happen, Allen Wolf actually started his own game company, Morning Star Games and created 5 award winning board games to help fund the project. Now that really is making it happen!

Hot on the heels of this success story, Allen is busy in pre-production and raising funds for his next feature, Lessons from Violet. You can view his crow funding site, with an excellent film about the project right here: (http://vimeo.com/54811585)

Lessons from Violet is a feature-length romantic comedy, inspired by the ancient Hebrew book of Hosea about a religious man who has trouble with women until he meets a prostitute who becomes his dating coach. ‘Lessons from Violet’ will be the first romantic comedy about human trafficking, the illegal trade of human beings mainly for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor.

I asked Allen why he chose to make a film with this particular message. Allen told me about a conference he attended last year about ending slavery and how inspired he was by the women who have been rescued from slavery. He particularly remembered watching a series of mug shots of one woman who had been kidnapped and forced into prostitution. The mug shots were taken over the course of a year’s arrests for prostitution and showed how, during that time, the woman physically deteriorated dramatically from looking like you or I to looking broken and damaged, in just one year she seemed to age 20. This moved Allen so much he wrote Lessons From Violet. Making a romantic comedy about this subject may not be an obvious choice, but Allen feels he can reach far more people and inform them about these complex issues by making an entertaining film.

Certainly this was powerfully achieved in films like Life is Beautiful and Slumdog Millionaire. Prostitution has long been overly glamorized in Hollywood with films like Pretty Women.

“We’ll be the first romantic comedy to highlight the issue of human trafficking and we'll do it in a way that entertains the audience and equips them to confront this important issue in their own community.” - Allen Wolf

Allen also told me that this film was written with the story of the two characters and their evolving relationship as the center of the piece. The message about slavery and the world of human trafficking is woven through their story, slowly revealing itself to the audience, a compelling way of informing us about the issues without hitting us over the head.

“One of the great oddities about the film industry today is that as production costs of major studio films have skyrocketed, the actual threshold cost to make a theatrical-quality movie has plummeted. It used to be that to make a studio-quality film, you needed a studio. Today, any filmmaker can less expensively produce a motion picture suitable for theatrical release, but you still need a terrific team to do so. Making a movie on a lower budget is a challenge and we’ll identify the right people to achieve the best theatrical mainstream film possible.” - Allen Wolf

The dichotomy of the two ends of the filmmaking universe! Studio versus independent and the filmmaking family.

Allen Wolf’s ‘why’ is to make films that become more than what you see on screen, that grow and evolve and have a life of their own beyond that 90 minutes or so you spend watching them. Films that can tell you something true about the world we live and in doing so perhaps change our concept of our world, or help us change it for ourselves.

So I think the real answer to this ‘why’ question is passion. There has to be within you, a very distinct passion for what you do so that you can continue to do it. The passion to make a film that engages the audience, touch’s someone, informs someone, move‘s someone. The passion to tell a story.

You can tell a story using many different mediums of course, the written word, music, poetry, art, dance and probably many, many others I can’t think of right now. But film is something quite unique in that it can combine all these artistic ingredients into one big, fabulously complex vision and when all these things are mixed together perfectly and with passion and it works, it really, really works.

Storytelling is the oldest form of entertainment and probably the second oldest profession. Since cavemen sat around a fire grunting at each other and drew pictures on cave walls about their hunting exploits or the latest alien visitation, storytelling has been a big reason why we are a communal species; also you are less likely to be eaten by a Saber Toothed Tiger if you are in a group. How far has storytelling actually come really? We still love to be entertained by the hunt whether it’s the Bourne conspiracy or The Sessions, and Aliens will always put bums in seats.

Stories told on film are obviously the most recent medium for those of us who like to spin a tale and one of the few that relies on technology to make the story and technology to share the story with the audience, and that technology has evolved dramatically over the last 100 years. From the nickelodeons and silent cinema, to talkies and color and films shot on location instead of sound stages. The development of stunts and, with cameras becoming smaller and smaller, the camera performs the stunts itself with the use of cranes, or by going underwater, in the air and even in space. Now with digital technology what we can create on screen is limited only by our imaginations and the depth of our pockets. 3D? 4D? Where will it end? We used to only see films on huge screens with hundreds of other people, now we can watch them on our phones, with headphones, amongst hundreds of other people, who are probably doing something else entirely.

I am the kind of person who is always looking for an answer, always asking why, much tothe chagrin of my darling husband who will probably never get used to this particularly attractive part of my personality. So when I ask myself why I want to make films, I think what I am really asking is why do I want to use this particular way of telling stories, not novels, or paintings or even theatre, but film.

What is it about film that I find so compelling?

After seeing The Artist last year I was reminded again how closely we watch when we watch. How, when the lights are out and the phones are off, we, as an audience, really take in every nuance, every murmur, or in the case of The Artists, every glance. Perhaps the event of going to the movies, queuing up, buying a ticket, buying popcorn, finding our favorite seat, not too close, not too far, excitedly watching the previews, scowling collectively at those who talk even during the commercials, (sacrilegious), is a ceremony, a preparation before the commencement of the meditation of the film. After all, how many other activities do we do that take up so much of ourselves?

So many senses focused on just one thing?

For myself I cannot think of many.

Who of us cannot define a moment in our lives or a turning point in a relationship or the loss of someone dear by something they have seen on film. So many powerful messages, so many tender moments of understanding, so many tears shed and laughs laughed and thoughts provoked.

Film is important. As an art form, as a means of education, as a method of healing and forgiving. I only have to watch a brilliant film, one perhaps that I have watched a dozen times before but are still drawn to again and again, to be reminded of that. So I suppose that wondering why we do it, or trying to explain to some relative why we don’t get a proper job with security and a pension, seems like trying to explain why the sky is blue to a three year old....or to me...

So it follow then that to make a film like the ones we love to watch, to create something that beguiles a person so entirely, for an hour and a half of their life, that changes them, even just a little, that gives them a bit of a shake or a bit of a stir. Well, that’s quite a potent‘why’ to make a film.

When I am really wondering about my own ‘why’ I remember of one of my favorite quotes about filmmaking, by the marvelous Dennis Hopper.

“The only thing harder than making a film, is not making a film” - Dennis Hopper

So true...

Read 3041 times Last modified on Monday, 10 December 2012 10:45
Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros

Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros is a British writer, director, filmmaker living in Los Angeles. She co-created the unprecedented project 52 Films/52 Weeks: A Year in Filmmaking, where she and her partners, wrote, directed, produced and edited a film a week for an entire year. She currently has several independent film projects at various stages of development.  

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