June 29, 2018

Do you want to make movies, or would you rather make excuses?

Alice Cooper has an excellent song about excuse makers, called “Lost in America.”

“I can’t go to school because I don’t have a gun” might sound terrible in days of school shootings, but it reminds me of a lot of discussions we have on Shooting People.

Ed Wood couldn’t make films without celebrities, or so he thought. Yet, some of the greatest films of the last half century, From Benji and Blair Witch to Napoleon Dynamite and …

“Wait a minute,” you say. “Those microbudget films had experienced crew.”

Hey, don’t interrupt. What did the cinematographer for Napoleon Dynamite do before that movie? Probably some corporate films, but nothing that’s listed on IMDB. Check out other films. A lot of “inexperienced” people made great looking “first” films. They learned their craft in film school, or in corporate films, or even just took it slow by trial and error on their first feature film.

Napoleon Dynamite looked okay. It may not have a academy award for cinematography, but it was a great film.

Let’s take Police Academy 4, Batman and Robin, Showgirls, or almost any film panned as the worst ever. Those films fit all the gurus bills for success. They had tested stars (at least from TV), experienced crew, even award winning writers. They had cameras that might cost more than your house.  They were mostly parts of tried and tested franchises.  They tried the tricks that “experts” claimed that people wanted.

It’s like this. Sometimes a painting done by a five year old is more interesting than a “perfect” portrait of some old fart staring at you.

Dogme is better than Solo. El Mariachi is more entertaining than Spielberg’s Lincoln.

Making films is not a math test. It’s not about getting a perfect score. It’s about entertaining an audience. Almost like social media.

Remember that terribly baby photo shot on a cheap cell phone that got more likes than your well composed picture of a fence? Art is not about perfection, it’s about an audience.

The worst thing about art school is it creates an illusion that there’s some magic recipe that the audience wants.  Because, there is some elusive magic recipe that the art teacher wants.  Critics, film gurus, others pretend like there’s a formula too.  But filmmakers, like the writers of Kung Fu Panda, know what the real secret ingredient is.

Making art is about being yourself.  Not about finding your inner child, but about being creative.  This means having the courage to discard the opinions of others, and search for “truth” that is greater than human understanding.  If the social scientists (or anyone else) knew what people really want, why haven’t they used that knowledge to stop wars, pollution, and violent crime?  Listen to them, yes, but don’t rely on them.  Go with your instincts too.

I’m not saying “nobody knows anything.”  We all know something.  But, none of us can please everybody.  So, in making art, we find the niche that we want to please.  Even the critics would prefer authentic voices to zombies who follows the critic’s own arbitrary rules.  Follow too many rules, and you become predictable.

I think all the people who make impossible demands, wanting super experienced crew and high end cameras, and expecting the perfect screenplay to fall into their lap, don’t really want to make films. They’d rather make excuses.  The same goes for people who claim they can’t afford to pay, after returning from a 5K holiday.  You make sacrifices to make films, that’s how it is.

“But, I’ve tried everyone,” you say.  Well, have you tried asking me nicely?  Have you tried asking me what I want from a film?  Have you tried telling me what you want from an actor/writer/co-worker?

If not, you might not have asked some other people either.  Look at the people around you.  Who have you left out?

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