2011 Was Quite a Year

Happy holidays

This year will one day be seen as a critical juncture in the project of world democracy. Citizens across the globe spoke out against state corruption, dictatorship, lack of civil rights, the squeezing of the 99% in the name of false austerity, egregious corporate greed, and the broken situation that many of us are in. Governments and companies have reacted in typical fashion, largely trying to beat the crowds into submission, pen them up, or paint them as freaks. But we need to pay attention to these movements. As film professionals, we are in the same boat.

Most of us didn’t get into making movies because we thought we’d become moguls. But I’d bet most of us (myself included) thought we might be able to at least make a living at our craft. Sadly, that has become harder and harder. Working below the line on indie films means watching your salary shrink year after year. Forget about taking a salary as a writer, director or producer. The unions and guilds are stuck in a constant battle with corporations that can outspend them on lawyers and workarounds, and still make money. Distributors are outsourcing a lot of their work to producers and directors, which will have the long-term effect of slowing down independent production (you can’t really create your next project while you’re trying to distribute the current one).

During economic down times, people who work in the arts and entertainment are looked at as expendable. Why spend money on that when we’re lagging so far behind other countries in education? But when presidents talk about education, they discuss mathandscience. They rarely talk about the root skills that scientists utterly depend on to actually do science – verbal and written communication, problem solving, logic, spatial / temporal analysis, visualization, patience. Where can you learn those things? In art, music, and writing classes.

In addition to scientists, all people look to media to help them get through their day, to inform and inspire them, to relieve their stress, maybe even to change their lives. So we have a role to play in this world.

Which brings me back to the world democracy project. Wherever you are, in whatever way you can – by donating some time, money or resources, going to a demo with your camera, spreading the word, incorporating the themes into your next project – try to support the Occupy movement and its affiliates. This is not about politics. This is about what matters to us as a society. They are asking the real questions of the 21st century. How can we all live sustainably, with dignity and respect? How can we have some say in our lives rather than have them be pressed upon us by economic, gender, racial, age, and citizenship status inequality (to name a few)? In other words, how we can we create and live our life story, instead of having them handed to us like scraps from the table? As storytellers, we can both learn and teach in this situation.

Have a fantastic holiday season and new year! Good luck to everyone in the new year with their projects!

The Long Ride Up the Rollercoaster

It’s been a few weeks since the last blog post. In part, this is because things are still in the early stages – I’m still gathering together resources that I can’t talk about publicly until things are “official.” I’m assembling some media (concept art, photo tests, and the like) that I’ll be able to show off soon. And I’m talking to my regular gang of fellow filmmakers, getting the word out about the film.

A lot of what I’ve been doing (apart from the above) has been spectacularly unsexy – I’ve been taking notes. Lots of notes. Notes about color schemes, about the character’s appearances and inner lives, about significant objects/images/facts in the scenes. I’m also reading and rereading film books, trying to get my head in the game again.

Once I’ve put some visual media for all of you to look at, the notes will make more sense. For now, I’m keeping them to myself, since most of these jottings and scribbles will never mature into executable ideas.

But that is in a way, what the point of the notes are. To prep myself for the real script analysis work that lies ahead. Right now I’m in the up stage of the rollercoaster. I know from experience that come May, when I start sending out casting notices, that things are really going to speed up rather drastically.

It’s important, especially if you’re a hyphenate writer/director/producer-type, to take time out every day to write some notes down about the script. The idea is to free your mind up a bit, let go of some of your preconceptions. Then when you start analyzing the script in more detail – finding out what the “core” ideas are – you’ve already shaken off a few prejudices.

The big thing for me is to find playable directions to give my cast. This is the Achilles heel of many an indie director. It’s so easy to get caught up in the producing or visual aspects of the film, that you can lose sight of what (in many ways) is your most important function on set – to direct the actors. Many times I’ve felt that the crew could do without me completely, and maybe even work better. But the cast depends on me.

I generally don’t look in the monitor for this reason, unless it’s a very specific shot. I trust my DP to get what I’m looking for – I’ll watch the blocking rehearsal through the monitor. I also don’t sit much. Sitting and looking at the monitor together feels like watching television. My body relaxes, I lose my focus, and pretty soon I’m in passive mode. Maybe this is good for some folks, but I need to be up and walking around. It’s probably insufferable for everyone else. But then most directors are insufferable on some level. The main thing is to communicate to the actors that I’m a participant, on some level, in their work. I watch them so they can focus on each other instead of themselves.

So that’s what late February/early March has been about – preparation, dealmaking, scribbling. There will be more exciting posts to come, I promise. But since I told you back in the day that I’d be sharing the experience of making an independent film, you might as well get a taste of the less exciting stuff too.