Thursday, October 9, 2014

Wonderful Quote About Story

This is quite a lovely quotation about stories.  It's from The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit.

"Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions."

Thursday, June 26, 2014

7 Reasons to Make a Short (?)

I just read one of those Raindance posts that are often insightful.  This one was "Seven Reasons to Make a Short."  Since I (so far) only make shorts, I thought I'd ruminate on their reasons.

Reason #1: Artistic Freedom. 
I can't talk about reason #1 without referencing Reason #2, because they are kind of the same. . . .

Reason # 2: Practice Doing Riskier, Unique Work.
I think #1 and #2 are essentially the same thing. True, you could exercise artistic freedom to try to totally imitate your favorite TV series.  But unless there is a personal element, which often leads to some unique aspect of the film's style and shape, why are we here?

Reason #3: Post-production Ease
There point is that you can focus more intensively on 10 minutes than you can on a running time of 90 minutes, which is certainly true.  On the other hand, I am typically the only work resource for post work while in a longer piece you might have some help.

Reason #4: Budget.
Yes, it's cheaper (or should be) to make a shorter film. Of course, you still spend a lot of money, too much, but you are not required to.

Reason #5: Online Marketing, by which they mean that it's easier to get a short online and seen, compared to a feature.  Alas, "online" has many more hurdles to jump over in order to really get seen by more than friends & family.  You can build a web site, but getting people to be aware of it, come to it, click through the important stuff, tell their friends and then come back – that's hard to do in our crazy mass culture.

Reason # 6: The Untapped Market, by which they mean to wax lyrical about how you can go viral and shorts are easier to digest, can be grouped together (oh, by Raindance!) and seen in theaters.  My take: sorta kinda, but there's no magic here; see previous paragraph.

Reason #7 was bogus really, pointing out that if you win a major festival you can get qualified to be considered for the Oscars.  Not exactly a reason to decide to do a short, but true.


I think there are really only these reasons to make a short.
-    You can do a personal, idiosyncratic film
-    You can afford to do it without selling to some existing market
-    You can expose it to the world easily (but getting the world to notice is still hard)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Blank Pages

Recently someone I follow on Twitter quoted the writer Nora Roberts saying something I found fascinating:

    "I can fix a bad page.  I can't fix a blank page."

I feel the same way about putting a film together.  Or maybe it's my rationalization.  Either way, I'm having a hard time (okay, plenty of normal life excuses too) getting through the first rough cut of my recent film project, working title, First Kiss.

I feel like once I get the rough cut completely, I can make a list of major problems and begin to work on them.  But getting through the "blank page" stage is proving challenging.

My life in high tech was similar.  I was not necessarily going to be the next Steve Jobs, seeing something totally unique.  However, I was good at taking a product and understanding how it had to evolve to become better and better.  I view editing as a similar process.  Originality happens first in writing, then in producing and directing (shooting) the film.  But for editing, I have to do the first rough assembly before I can even really begin to see the film, to try to discover the film hiding in the rough cut.

Some days I wish I had the editing speed and facility of some filmmakers I know, like Nic Beery for one (he's fast) but that's just not the way it works for me.  On the positive side, taking time gives me more distance, better detachment from the original material and enables me to be a bit more objective in editing decisions.  

I can fix a bad cut of the film.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

"Going deeper, not wider."

I used this expression in a recent newsletter and it made sense to me when I wrote it.  But, I think there's a lot to figure out about this expression.  Not just what was I thinking, but what are some of the possible meanings of this quest for filmmakers, especially small, self-funded filmmakers.  This is my first attempt to unpack that expression.

As folks who know me and my work are aware, I am primarily interested in stories of human connection.  How we find self-worth, how we find love, how we lose them - these are topics that interest me greatly.  While I have had a gun in one film (okay, that was a docudrama) I've never done films about crime / criminals, space ships, zombies or insanely rich crazy businessmen.  There are great films (and bad ones) about all of those subjects.  I've helped to create a zombie film and it was a great and fun effort (as DP).  But, at the end of the day, it's ordinary people, making their way through the trials and rewards of everyday life that I find the most satisfying.

So going "deeper" to me means primarily exploring the kinds of feelings and actions that make up our lives at this level.  Going deeper means finding a way to enable performances that are rich in the realism of their conflict and nuance.

Okay, so what is "wider" and is that a bad thing?

In this context, I guess wider means encompassing a larger scope of possible "things" or life but therefore not necessarily revealing as much about the meaning and interior of these things.  I'm not convinced, as I write, that it's the best or only way of thinking about these things, but here's my thoughts.

Wider - for the average indie wannabe filmmaker at my level - [that's the lowest level, btw] often means trying to tell stories about things that you don't really know.  I could write a story about being in prison and trying to make it as an ex-convict.  I've actually worked with ex-convicts but I've never been in prison and my idea of what that's really like has been formed primarily by other movies, e.g. not real experience.  I can imagine some things about it, but it's not based on personal experience.

Am I saying that you can only write based on personal experience?  That you shouldn't write a story about climbing Mt. Everest or running from the Mob?  Well, yes, in the sense that most of us have no real idea what is involved, what matters, what's important in those worlds.  But, of course, you can create a story about climbing a mountain without being a mountain climber yourself.  It may or may not be realistic but it can be a clever construct, full of twists and turns that will entertain folks.  That's kind of what I mean by "wider."  But if the film is going to feel personal, going to resonate with an audience deeply (there's that word again) I believe you have to find a way to connect to the issues personally.  So, even in the mountain climbing story, it's possible to connect genuinely and deeply with surviving in a hostile place, struggling to maintain your focus, overcoming physical exhaustion.  Reinforced with some careful research, you can write this story with personal energy. 

Of course Hollywood, when things really work unusually well, manage to marry a massive amount of research and resources with personal insights – that can produce a film like Gravity.  But that's just not a realistic option for me or filmmakers at my level of resources.

In other words, to the extent that I can connect with something personal, even a bit metaphorically, I can go deeper into the story.  To the extent that I am only trying to reel in elements I find cool or popular but have no real connection to, I'm going wider.  And going wide of the mark of personal filmmaking.  And personal films are the only films I can make that will have unique value.