You have an unlimited palette of options in front of you nowadays.
Time is yours to do with as you wish. The vista? Wide the hell open. Expression is free and totally at your disposal. And the tools to be able to convey all of these onto a larger canvas are now at your fingertips like never before. Information, gear, kit, and technology are now all commodity items to almost everyone in the developed world.
The age of Democratized Filmmaking has well-nigh arrived. Today, everyone and their grandmother can be a filmmaker. Everyone can pick up a cheap digital camera – and no, it doesn’t have to be the RED Epic – cobble together a nice narrative and engage an audience. Blam, you’re an independent filmmaker. You deserve a banana and a high-five. Good on you.
But just because your story is worthy of telling, doesn’t mean you should tell your story. What’s that? What do I mean, you ask? Well…
- Does your film move an audience along a clear cut path?
- Does it – throughout — deliver a solid call to action, getting you to perform a very specific action, or is it another one of the umpteen posturing sessions, that unique purview of the pretentious indie snob-cum-artiste?
- Does it engender some sort of brisk dialogue about the images people have witnessed over the course of its 90-minutes of playback?
If it does none of these things, you’re epically failing the indie film “fitness test.” And if you’ve been repeatedly failing this test over your career, it’s high time to invoke some radical changes to your approach to making movies. Welcome to the new indie law: you are not allowed to shoot indie degenerate drivel. You are not allowed to waste other people’s money (crowdfunded, or obtained otherwise). You are not allowed to produce self-indulgent, abstruse, ridiculous plots that hardly anyone understands (read: Charlie Kaufman screenplays) and that wastes precious resources which can instead be used for better films, shot by more talented indies – who for want of sufficient resources are busy scribbling away scripts and storyboards on Moleskines and Mac Book Pros at their nearest Starbucks location. You are not allowed to suck.
I recall watching a Jim Balog TED Talk in oh-so-eleven which detailed – in a series of harrowing, though mysteriously alluring time lapses – the rapid, inexorable recession of several of the world’s remaining glacier fields on five continents. It’s a positively stellar talk if you haven’t viewed the video before (duration: 19m20s).
In it, Balog discusses how terribly underutilized the deeply-moving and objectively persuasive film medium is for getting word out about particular globally-sensitive issues. He posits – using his Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) as the pre-eminent example —that if film were, in fact, leveraged properly in order to demonstrate the critical need for societal engagement on particular issues (like glacial retreat or something else similarly climactically impending and catastrophic), that the world would become a vastly more mobilized place. Like I said, if you haven’t watched the Talk before, Balog’s arguments are very hard to resist.
Balog’s intentions are noble, to be sure. While he doesn’t seem to necessarily wade into the roiling argument about global warming being a man-made vs. an entirely natural phenomenon (thereby opening up a whole case of scientific whoop ass) his EIS contributes to the dialogue immeasurably.
If Balog succeeds in making you do anything, he gets you thinking about the issues at stake. He gets you feeling about the daily ravages to the planet’s icy surfaces and he shows you through deeply-compelling time-lapses – rather than telling you through graphs and other abstract graphical manipulations – that we the Earth’s remaining glaciers are melting into the sea. The EIS (and Balog’s many presentations on the subject to different fora) attempts to tone down the injurious invective, mudslinging, and muckraking to sluice the argument into more tranquil culverts, forging a solid framework of doing rather than pontificating, gesticulating, and essentially adding two-fifths of frack-all antagonism to the discussion. The climate change debate suddenly adopts an optimistic beat. And what’s responsible for this? The 100-year old medium of film…
The lesson for indies is of a similar vein: don’t make projects that suck which have no purpose other than to preen your feathers and crank up your profile. Don’t shoot vanity projects which no one gives two pooper-scoopers about. Don’t waste your investors’ money (primarily because you end up ruining it for the rest of us when you can’t pay them back because your film is inscrutable, even to the likes of Charlie Kaufman, hehe).
If you have the resources to do something worthwhile as a filmmaker and find yourself well-endowed – from both technical, personnel, and most importantly, money perspectives – use those precious resources to make the world a place which sucks less. Learn from Jim Balog’s stalwart example, not to mention the dozens of other filmmakers and documentarians who want to improve the world in their own special way, to press into service one of the planet’s most currently impressive, influential mediums known to man.
Let me know what you think of the Talk when/if you do have a chance to view it. EIS and films like it will get you thinking differently about the world and your small (thought profound) place in it, wherever you find yourself on the Earth’s rocky crust. Even if you’ve never seen snow before with your own two eyes and frolicked in an icy wintry wonderful since you live in a tropical climate, this issue affects us all. The effects of glacial retreat will find its way to your town…
And lastly, please don’t suck. Indie film’s credibility won’t be able to weather another wave of shoddily-executed, no’er than no-budget films with pointless storylines with lame acting with abhorrent production values, sound, and direction.
Adam Daniel Mezei, PMD | Producer of Marketing and Distribution
Indie Audience Engagement Services for Independent Feature Films and Documentaries
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