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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Really, that's not what this thing is about

Some indie filmmakers that I've heard from through the magic of electronic mail are disappointed that their DIY films have not yet made them rich and or famous by Hollywood standards. What I have to say to that is if you want to get rich & famous by Hollywood standards, then you should try to make a Hollywood movie & get it distributed widely - & get tons of tickets & DVDs sold & get tons of cable & foreign licensing & then make sure you get paid properly for your work. DIY film, as I & many others understand it, is generally not a smaller version of Hollywood nor is it a quick stepping stone to Hollywood. DIY film (as I & some others practice it) is about making interesting films through means available to you at the moment, and also distributing those films through means available. On a grand scale there is a relationship between DIY film production & distribution & Hollywood stuff - but there is no guaranteed link between the two areas of art/entertainment making activities. A Hollywood movie is like a gigantic stadium show - you know, like a concert by U2 or some other epic band - takes a lot of money & people to produce & brings in a lot of money. A DIY film typically is like a young singer/songwriter performing for 50 people at a small venue - creative, interesting, can be done without losing money, may even be profitable eventually, but, as far as $s - it is like a small business as opposed to Wal Mart or some gigantic retailer. The same goes for being accepted into name festivals & having a big budget or stars or any other signifier of Hollywood or Indiewood level success. If those are the things you dream about, you should totally go after those. But, making features on digital video with unknown actors & showing those films, selling those DVDs most likely will not get you the level of fame & wealth that comes to some people in Hollywood. DIY film (as I see it) is a space for artists, entertainers, & entrepreneurs who like to make low budget film works & distribute them. DIY film is not really just another name for indiewood: indiewood was a smaller version of Hollywood, and that thing is dying at the moment (maybe it'll come back to life in a few years, who knows). There is the rare chance that one or more of your DIY projects will make a lot of money or become known US or world wide - but you should not be too disappointed when that does not happen or audiences respond negatively to your film (that actually happens to Hollywood movies too). Anyway, if you are a fan of interesting movies & do not care about stars & budgets - as far as the kind of movies that you watch, then ultra low budget filmmaking & self distribution - DIY as I know it - is a path to making & sharing/selling similar works of your own with others. DIY is however not a replacement for Hollywood. DIY film is its own unique thing - with valuable aspects all its own - unrelated to what's good about Hollywood or the benefits that a filmmaker can get from a successful Hollywood movie. Being able to make movies, show them at festivals or at your own screenings, sell DVDs is awesome - even without having famous actors or millions of dollars involved in the projects. And when you make some money from your projects you can try to save it up - maybe it'll add up to a lot eventually. But if you are unhappy with not having Hollywood level success - then stop making DIY films & try to make a Hollywood movie. Hollywood is one thing, DIY is completely another thing, and the two are not similar or closely related when it comes to budgets & ability to provide fame. Obsession with big budgets, getting into name festivals, having stars in your movies, getting a positive review from a certain critic or site are indiewood things - related to Hollywood & are ways of aspiring to be close to Hollywood. Nothing wrong with having those ambitions - but know that DIY is not really about that stuff, it is about the joy of being able to make interesting movies, show & sell those movies to people, run a small business - at least that's how I see DIY film - it is an empowering & wonderful thing (at least can be in its finest moments) but is not Hollywood. If you don't like having or needing a day job from time to time or permanently, and if you are not very excited about having to develop multiple streams of revenue for yourself (other than $s from your filmmaking activities) or if you are mostly just interested in film as a quick path for fame & wealth, then you should totally look into making it big in Hollywood. On the other hand, if you can't imagine living (or living well, happy) without being able to make movies, then the DIY route/approach will make it possible for you to make movies NOW (now being like a few months to a year :) - it will allow you to do something very interesting & rewarding (in some cases, for some) with your time & life. That's how I see it.

7 comments:

Jerry said...

SE,

In a nutshell. Well-done.

JB

Amir Motlagh said...

I haven't been in the loop on what the scene has been like because i have been saturated in my own film and music endeavors but this is an interesting article and something that was bound to happen with a new crop of DIY scenesters and will continue to happen to countless people buying into dreams without realizing that a dream is only a dream until you act on it, not once, but always.


I agree to a point that the DIY thing is not a direct path to Hollywood,altough anythings possible. And i strongly suspect that many people get into no-budget filmmaking with a tendency to try to make a Hollywood type film utilizing screenwriting tips highlighted in Robert Mckee's "Story".

But whereas Hollywood is one thing, there is a case to be made that Indiewood is closer in heritage to DIY then Hollywood. The gap of course is widening. I'm not going to get into that, but basically, you can have multiple ambitions, but act accordingly.

I agree that you should list your priorities and go for those. And also be clear on your objectives and how they fit your individual projects.

For example, you can develop your DIY project, along with your bigger Indiewood project. When one doesn't come through, utilize the other.


But, if you think filmmaking is a get rich scheme, man, it sure doesn't work like that.

Filmmaking, regardless of DIY or Hollywood is a path of dedication. Its not just making a movie, its the act of making movies, the process of making movies, and finding funding that best serves the project or your story. Self-financing or not, a filmmaker is a person, he or she who engages in the act.

It's not easy, and it keeps you up at night wondering if your making the right decisions, but in the end, fame or fortune is a byproduct of the act for some individuals. But it isn't the first line of thought. You would better be of doing countless other things if you want that. In fact, you probably have a better chance becoming e-famous by just working the internet 10 hours a day then wasting it making movies.

But if you make movies because its a part of your true identity, then there shouldn't really be to much to be disappointed about, right? Well, except all the damn parts of the film that could have been better. And to the filmmaker i say, there should always be a next time, "by any and all means possible".

1Way or Another said...

I agree with Amir. I dont think that its either DIY or Hollywood. We can make an easier case of this by simply siting solid, history examples, included below:

Andrew Bujalski, one of contemporary DIY's most noted and respected forefathers, has been, and is presently adapting a novel for Hollywood. I know personally that Barry Jenkins took the first opportunity to write for a big Hollywood collaborator, and is doing for right now. Word is, he will be working his next films thru that system. His film is still warm from this years festival circuit. And alas (although we can probably name several others), the Duplass Brothers have stated publically that they intend to take their Hollywood development checks, and AFTER taking their films thru proper Hollywood circuits, then using that money to choose DIY for their films should Hollywood not "get it." Baghead was a direct result of that, as well as perfecting the incorporation of Hollywood connections and DIY asethetic.

The Duplass brothers, furthermore, have stated that they dont think they can sustain doing DIY films every year, based on just how much they have to do surrounding the production on to the exhibition and promotion of a film. Check it out for yourself in the last edition of Filmmaker Magazine. They say, and I quote, "The idea is to have other people on a staff doing that. That way, we can concentrate on making more movies." Filmmakers, in their explanation, ideally should make films, and maybe not always be graphic artists, distribution experts, accountants, promoters, line producers, ADs, DPs, etc etc at the same time, all the time. There is a difference between both kinds of filmmaking. One can be considered ideal, and one can be considered simply a means to an end.

Like Amir stated and the Duplass reinstated, if film is apart of your DNA, you have to do it no matter what. I think the ideal is to do what several people do, find investors, or even see if you have a connection you can work thru the studio system and see if you can get it done there. If it doesnt work, takes too long, or your vision is being compromised, then play the DIY card. It can be equally as rewarding, for different reasons. And most importantly, your story gets told. But most filmmakers I know have several scripts, not just one or two. Those scripts they are just as passionate about as anything else. Most prolific screenwriters/directors have a batch of them. "These can be done for little money, these can be done for none, these can be done for a million, these are going to take more." DIY is good for them so that they can continue to work, while not being disappointed that a particular situation didnt come about yet. "We're just not doing this one right now."

The Duplass brothers as well as Barry Jenkins (both featured in that magazine for reference purposes), have both mentioned that they have scripts in their shelves that are made for the Hollywood system, and ones that are not.

As filmmakers, you create because you have too. But I dont think its less of a passion for film that leads so many talented people to reserve some films with the intention of getting it financed at a studio with name actors. They, like many others, simply understand that some projects are appropriate for certain budgets, and some, simply, are not. Its part of being a filmmaker.

I also dont think that "fame" or "getting rich quick" is a valid assumption to make for filmmakers with ambitions for higher budgets in Hollywood or Indiewood in general. I think your readers, as well as ours are bright enough not to assume any of that will happen to them, at least in the short term (if even at all). Besides, what is a "famous" director anyway? Besides Hitchcock, Tarantino, Spike Lee, Woody Allen, Kevin Smith and few others, how many directors are actually "famous"? Fame is walking down the street and my mother, who knows nothing about filmmaking, recognizes you. Almost no director outside of a couple handfulls, are famous.

To accumulate a reputation to simply get the chance to work with actors you have innocently been fans of your whole life and dream of collaborating with, then, yeah - having recognition for your work in itself is especially useful. For the many I speak to regularly who do have dream casts in mind, then having a credible reputation for good work or at least a semi-well known reputation for your collaborative process is in fact, a good thing.

As for riches, well, I actually dont know many filmmakers like that either. I live here, with millions of perspectives as there are people, where I hang out with filmmakers of all ages, races, experience, etc. And none of them have mentioned the word "rich" once in all the years I have known or collaborated with them.

However, there is a difference between wanting to be rich, and actually having a man or woman-given responsibility because you are one of those filmmakers who has others to think about besides themselves, and who have families to feed, rent to cover, or mortgages to pay. Those filmmakers will do DIY films to tell a story, and will work the DVDs to a tee for any profits, just as fast as they will work on other projects with budgets whose up front director's fee may just pay their family's bills for a little while. Those filmmakers are not necessarily money-hungry or thirsty for fame. They have another name for those filmmakers, or for people like that in general. They call them "grown-ups."

Interesting post!

The Sujewa said...

Re: "However, there is a difference between wanting to be rich, and actually having a man or woman-given responsibility because you are one of those filmmakers who has others to think about besides themselves, and who have families to feed, rent to cover, or mortgages to pay. Those filmmakers will do DIY films to tell a story, and will work the DVDs to a tee for any profits, just as fast as they will work on other projects with budgets whose up front director's fee may just pay their family's bills for a little while. Those filmmakers are not necessarily money-hungry or thirsty for fame. They have another name for those filmmakers, or for people like that in general. They call them "grown-ups."

Making money, getting famous, paying bills are all good thing, I don't think anyone is arguing otherwise. However, making & distributing ultra-low budget/no star movies (DIY films as I know them) may not be the best way to achieve any of those goals. BUT, the DIY route will make it possible for you to make a movie & get it out. As a small business DIY film can, and do, work well - like small indie labels that put out indie rock back in the 90's. DIY film is however not Hollywood. But, in some cases, DIY work can eventually lead to Hollywood work, if that is something the filmmaker wants. As an empowering creative activity, DIY filmmaking has a value separate from wealth or fame for some people - because if Hollywood does not want to or cannot tell a certain story the DIY filmmaker can - the risks are different. So there is a unique value to the DIY path, even if it does not lead to Hollywood in many cases.

Amir Motlagh said...

I agree with these points.

My bottom line on this discussion is that the individual project, ie "Story", be supported best by available, or not so immediate means.

If that means that your film and ambitions for that particular project warrant name actors and bigger budgets, that should be your first instinct. If your script truly fits the model in which case name actors will attach themselves, them go for it.

But, this is where your confidence as a craftsmen comes into play. Doing DIY projects helps craft. Directing experience in all forms helps craft. Education helps craft.

But, this is not meant to devalue DIY filmmaking. In fact, many times this type of work is an end in itself. Many times, the DIY is an artform, an experiment in filmmaking form and craft, and in some aspects, our generations avant-garde, both in form and content. Of course, not all, but i'm just trying to make a particular point.

DIY is also our generations way of making content that might otherwise never get made because they don't fit a traditional model. And also for people who love film and pursue an impulse that is now accessible.

That is what makes it a wonderful time. As we are the first generation (DV) that goes through the steps, some of us will move into the mainstream, others will drop of, and then others will continue to manage making films with the DIY ethos.

My goal has always been to manage both. I don't know if it will work the way i want because of the difficulty of time management, but that has been my fixation. Why, because the craft is what i love, content in all forms, from lo-no fi to grand fi.

One can argue that Tentation, which in all accounts is DIY (before paying for music, etc), would never have been as big as it was if Gus Van Sant or John Cameron Mitchell didn't champion it.

But nevertheless, its a work of art. Technology led its way to the DIY, and it can be as spectacular to even the mainstream as Hollywood. But it lends itself to experimentation or structure and form that isn't allowed when investors have to make 10 million dollars back. I purpose a question, what if Tarnation was overlooked by film festivals or John Cameron Mitchell? Does that make it worthless? This is the case with all artistic endeavors, sometimes your on the good side, sometimes your overlooked.

In the end, people will do what they have to, but i have my suspicions on certain things, and one might be that DIY will never do for filmmakers the same it did for musicians. Why, well maybe because we still haven't created a true language of the DIY. I am still very curious of master directors getting involved in DIY filmmaking. But our culture, youth in particular is not really into film the same way they seek out music. They are much more open to new sounds, then sights?

I'm getting of topic, but nevertheless good points from Sujewa and 1Way or Another.
Thanks for keeping me thinking tonight.

1Way or Another said...

I agree Sujewa. Thanks for clarifying. Again, good post.

The Sujewa said...

And thanks for your comments Amir & Princeton. Definitely good stuff to think about.

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