Independent Filmmaking >> What’s this one about then?

What’s this one about then?

There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.
– Frank Capra

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filming‘The Robbery’, Lancaster, CA 2010 (52 films/52 weeks)

No one really knows what they are doing.

My lovely Husband is often telling me this, especially when I feel some doubt about one thing or another.

And you know, he’s right, just please don’t let on that I admitted to it.

Making a film takes an enormous amount of effort. It is a world of wonder, but wonder alone cannot sustain it. You need help. Help and people and things and stuff and money, even with no budget there is always money involved. You also need ideas and energy and the unshakable belief that all will work and be well and not break or fall apart.

In short you need passion.

But passion without planning is chaos and chaos might seem interesting and exciting in an existential kind of a way, but in the world of filmmaking, its just a mess.

Speaking of messes…

I have just watched the Oscars, and while it was not the best Oscar show I have ever seen, I am trying desperately to remember one at all at the moment that was brilliant to compare it to, Maybe the Hugh Jackman one, or Steve Martin, parts of it were pretty great.  Barbara, Michelle Obama, the dance sequence with Harry potter…Jack Nicholson being himself.  But the point I am reaching for I think is that although it had very experienced producers, director and host and stars, it was just okay.  It seemed as if they weren’t quite sure of what they were doing, and why.

There’s a lot of that in Hollywood.

Just because there is money and experience and lot’s of brains working overtime, it doesnt guarantee anything.

There’s certainly no such thing as a sure thing.

Or as John Goodman’s character in Argo says “ So you want to come to Hollywood and act like a bit shot without actually doing anything?  You’ll fit right in”.

It’s all just smoke and mirrors, and sometimes even with all of that they don’t fool the audience particularly well.

Perhaps that’s why there have been so many times when I sit dumbstruck in a movie theatre having purchased my ticket and popcorn and soda, even though I brought a bag of fruit and a bottle of water, and wonder how on earth the movie I am watching so eagerly and full of hopeful glee, ever got made.

It probably got made because a movie had to be made and this script found its way to the top of the pile, somehow, and everyone showed up and committed and money was spent. So regardless, it seems sometimes, of story or acting or anything obvious at all, there I am, sitting in a movie theatre wishing I had spent my 12 dollars, or 6.50 or sometimes even my 3 bucks at the 3 dollar movie theatre by my house, on something else.

It has also amazed me this past year, regardless of there being quite a lot of great films released, of how often I would look to see what I wanted to see and found that I didnt want to see anything at all.  Out of maybe 10 or so films on release there was nothing that interested me.  Not just because I had already seen the one good film that was out, or because I am especially picky or snobbish or unreasonable, but because there just wasn’t anything good to see.


But not an isolated incident.

I love movies.

I love watching them, I love making them, I love reading about other people making them. I love watching those ‘making of’ 11 minute docs they have on HBO or on the DVD of the film.

I love watching award ceremonies, even the painful ones.

So why is it that sometimes I am bereft of anything to pass the time with let alone love?

I think it must be because, as I said before, nobody really knows what they are doing, and quite often that translates into rubbish films that flit through their release windows at break neck speed.

You would think that as a very, very independent filmmaker this might actually make me happy somehow, or more secure in my own talent or abilities, but this is not the case.

I usually get very cross and go on extended rants about the ineptitude of the industry executives and how if I had even a small part of the budget wasted on whatever it was that I had just sat through, what an amazing film I could make.

I think that as an artist and a filmmaker this is absolutely the correct response.  To be angry and insulted and frustrated by films being made that clearly are not driven by story or passion or even passable acting.

So what to do?

Well, that’s probably a question that resonates around the offices of many a studio at the moment.  There are obviously some great films made this year, but just a few, and maybe thats okay.  But the big problem in Hollywood is that the films that aren’t very good still cost a lot to make and in some cases a fortune to make, like Battleship…(a title that puts the fear of God into even the most agnostic of executives).

You might think that all this studio politics and financial loss and second guessing to the point of abject fear and therefore inaction has no effect on our world of very, very independent film.  But it does, as least for me it does.  I might not be making huge or even some budget films, but that lack of confidence in Hollywood filmmakers can shake even the smallest of players.  If they, with all their money and talent can’t even polish their turds, then what hope do I have of writing something compelling or making something worthwhile?

We all have our confidence shaken sometimes, and we all, especially me, have our creative egos, our dark moments, and our loss of direction.

That’s when I reach for something to steer me right.  Something to remind me that wonderful things can happen when you sit in a large, dark room where millions have sat before, your shoes resting gently on tiny pieces of spilt popcorn and squished milk duds.

Your head nestling where many, possible unclean and certainly lice ridden heads have nestled before you.

I remember going to see Close Encounters with my Mum and Dad when I was a kid and talking about it for days afterwards with them, realizing that my parents were far more open minded and astonished by the possibilities of life than I ever imagined.  I suddenly saw them as people, not just parents, a revelation for any child. Taking my kids to see the first Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings films and remembering how breathless we all were and over come with the thrill of those worlds and those characters.  I remember watching Raiders of the Los Ark with my Mum on video every day for a year after school, my dad had just brought home a VHS player he had scored of some bloke in London, off the back of a lorry no doubt… we only had a couple of choices film wise in those days.  So we knew every line and both of us squirmed when Harrison Ford kissed Karen Allen.  Begrudgingly enduring The Bridge over the River Kwai, or The Longest Day on every single flipping holiday at the insistence of Dad, with no alternative but the rain outside, helping in the kitchen or a book, well before our house had more than one telly.  In retrospect these were the films that changed me, informed me, made me laugh, cry, feel, sing. Even the silly ones.

Films that made me want to become a storyteller myself.

I also remind myself that a little over a year ago I was in the midst of our 52 films/52 weeks project and, although exhausted and more than a little nuts, I was creating and learning and growing as a filmmaker and building connections and friendships and a massive amount of experience from which all good things would be possible.

So having to roll my eyes through a few studio pictures I suppose isn’t such a huge hassle,  even though I would rather not have to pay for the privilege.

And one day would I like to be up there on stage, accepting my Oscar for best director, or best original screenplay?

Of course I bloody would, are you mad?  Even if the show was terrible.