Independent Filmmaking – Tis‘ the season of the screening.

‘Across The Pond’ England, 2009

All the movies released over the past year, and even some not yet to be released, are vying for our attention, good reviews and possible consideration for various award ceremonies.

Through various organisations like, SAG, Writers Guild etc, free screenings are arranged by the studios to raise the profile of the movies, encourage SAG members to vote etc. Many of these screenings also have highly coveted Q&A’s after the movie with actors and directors and writers.

For those of us who have signed up with these various organisations to get first pass at free screenings of this years ‘to be seen’ movies, it’s a very busy time of the year, and we can’t reply fast enough to the emails and texts to bags our seats and ensure our attendance at the most coveted Q & A’s.

All very exciting and competitive stuff!

While I was at one of the afore mentioned screenings the other day, for the quite excellent film ‘Out of the Furnace’, and the listening to the fascinating director of the film, Scott Cooper, talking about his mentors, influences and humble beginnings, I had a bit of an epiphany!

It is important to watch movies if you are a filmmaker.

Seem’s rather obvious I know….

But you would be stunned by how many actors and crew I have met who don’t watch that much TV, or haven’t seen any of the films I hold most dear, or many films at all even. And you would be equally shocked to know just how many people have proudly told me they don’t even own a TV, DVD, have cable etc…people who work ‘in the business’.


Well, each to there own of course, but, well, really???

To me it makes no sense.

If you have a passion for acting or directing or whatever, then wouldn’t you want to see absolutely everything!!

Scott Cooper, the director of ‘Out of the Furnace’, who has only one other film to his name, Crazy Heart, didn’t attend film school. He started out as an actor and had a modicum of success, but realised early on, after playing opposite such actors as Robert Duval, that he was never going to be one of the greats, so he turned his attention to writing and directing. His training as a director was watching movies. He told us with relish that he would watch film after film, trawling through director after director’s catalogue of work, with the sound turned off, because only then he could really see how they told a story with moving images.

Brilliant really, and something I have every intention of emulating.

But really the point is, he studied and he studied the way we all can, by watching films.

Film in this country is, quite ridiculously considering how much money and attention the filmmaking community is given, not really considered a serious art form.

Unlike many other countries around the world who support their filmmakers both financially and culturally.

I have a theory about this, is probably wildly inaccurate, much like many of my theories, although this one does not at least involve aliens, the illuminati, Mad Cow Disease or ferrets.…

In this country there is an all encompassing culture of success, but the is ‘success’ is almost entirely measured financially. Therefore, unless your film grosses twice its budget in the first weekend it is considered a bomb, regardless of its financial return over the coming months and especially outside of this country, which of course doesn’t really exist at all except to entertain us with its strange traditions and wacky languages, religions and hairstyles. Alternatively, if your film only cost 10 million to make its considered ‘independent’ or low budget, I only wish I had that 10 million low budget, and not worth seeing at all, or distributed further than the end of the street it was shot on, so no one else can see it anyway.

The measure of success in this art form, much more than in any other, is money, in either cost or profit……so therefore film can’t be important because most film don’t make a ton of money and breaking even or just making a nice’ish profit isn’t American enough, so the art of the film is lost and it becomes something closer to Pro-football or Basketball, it’s just what we do sometimes in-between the much more important stuff, like working in rubbish jobs making other people rich, and spending our meagre pay checks supporting those very same enterprises.

Film just isn’t given the respect it deserves as an art form, not as a part of the general consciousness. We don’t take our children to watch films as a cultural activity, it’s just an excuse to eat pop corn, and quite frankly, its became so expensive to go to the movies as a family that I can understand the reluctance to do that anyway.

Because it isn’t taken seriously as an entity, other than an entity that exists purely to make money, it becomes marginalised as an art form and therefore not supported culturally and financially outside of the money making machines.

Curiously and conversely, almost all the films that win awards for excellence, be it the Oscars, or Golden Globes and everything in between, are not ‘box office’ success.
They are critical success’s.

But the art of film, which is such an immediate and visceral art form, is too often not considered, at least by the people who green light projects. I know many many actors who will work for free, if a project is well written, if they are working with actors they respect and directors who respect them, just for the love of the art.

It’s such a strange hypocracey really, that the American Movie, which is so proudly held up as a shinning beacon of American Culture, we even had a president who was a movie star for heavens sake, gets such little reverence in its purest form, independent film.
I’m getting a bit off track here, not like me at all!

What I really wanted to write about was the need for Film to be important in your daily life, if you are a filmmaker. Set yourself a task, chose a director or genre or whatever, and watch a film a day within that framework. By totally immersing yourself like this you will learn so much about the ‘art’ of filmmaking, and you will take that ‘art’ with you when you make films.

Don’t worry if its fluff or filth, action or drama, low budget, high budget or badly dubbed martial arts. The point is to really understand how to tell a story, whatever it is.

And the absolutely best way to do that is to watch how other people do it, right or wrong and then do that…the right bits at least.

Go to art house screenings of old films you’ve never heard of, live on Netflix. Go to film festivals, they are not always expensive at all!

I just recently went to see an amazing film at the Silent Movie Theatre here in Hollywood that I had never heard of but that sounded amazing. It was called ‘Final Cut – Ladies and Gentlemen’ and it actually illustrates my point exactly.

The director, Gyorgi Palfi, a Polish filmmaker had some time on his hands and challenged himself to make a film using pieces of all of the films in his private collection. He looked through all of them, decided on a theme, boy meets girl and cut a film together using clips from his favourite films, including their scores.


He so loves Film, that he made a Film not only inspired by his collection of Film, but out of it.

The result was a riveting, on the edge of your seat, can’t blink 90 minutes or so of amazing and brilliant filmmaking. You barely had the time to recognise the familiar faces and beloved clips before you were taken to another world, another genre, another time.

Palfi took what he loved, took it apart and made something new. By doing this he showed that a big budget film like Avatar for instance, which opens the film, could be seen through the eyes of an art house crowd and have passion and artistic relevance alongside Hitchock and Well’s Bergman and Fellini.

We make it a rule in our house that we go to see a film at least once a week, and in-between that we happily pillage Netflicks. We talk about film, we go to the 3 dollar movie theatre, we immerse ourselves as much as we can in the culture of it. It doesnt matter where you live in the universe these days, you can do that!

There’s no excuse as filmmakers, there are a million places online as well as cable, and friends and even the Library!

So please, please take every opportunity you can to wallow in it, because as you do you will absorb much more than you might think and all that creative energy will flow through you and into anything you create your self.