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Friday
Apr042014

Daring to Ditch Disadvantages like Robert DeNiro #atozchallenge #indiefilm

In Production on ABYSS: THE GREATEST PROPOSAL EVERWatching “Heat” in its entirety for the first time during post-production on my short film “ABYSS: THE GREATEST PROPOSAL EVER” helped me further understand how adapting to knew plans, when your current circumstances no longer serve you, is very important.

For months, I’ve had a few food storage containers and shot glasses soaking in (what used to be) soapy water that turned into sitting water -- to break the grease or loosen any sign of leftovers so I could wash them with ease. I wanted to keep these containers because I didn't buy most of them; they came from my mom, grandmother and one of my aunts. So, I wanted to return them to their original owners. The thing I've failed to get a handle on, however, is the fact that they are just storage containers; I can get new containers or use what I already have in the cabinet.

My 30 seconds to make a decision have long been up and the heat is on, as the areas surrounding those used containers get rusty and bacteria starts to grow -- they are made of plastic, after all.

I can't hold onto these containers nor the celebratory shot glasses that are in no better shape than they were years ago. They've each had their time in terms of usefulness but neither of them serve me now when it comes to meeting my dining needs.

“Never get attached to anything you can’t walk away from in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner” – Robert DeNiro as Neil McCauley in the action crime drama “HEAT”

l-r: Director Nicole Ayers, Camera Operator Torian Holt and Actor Rodney Benson during production on ABYSS: THE GREATEST PROPOSAL EVEROn the movie making front, this lesson from Robert DeNiro’s line in “HEAT” has a lot of meaning such as the importance of not getting attached to a particular draft of a screenplay, an uncooperative actor or crew/staff member, an editor, a DP, a film festival, the style of a scene, a line of dialogue, a prop, a favorable review from critics, a bad review from critics, or even an end goal.

When the heat is on, I need to be quick to walk away from any element that has a negative impact on my production. I must not waste any time on ridding myself and my projects from anything that becomes a liability when things get rough -- especially given the fact that independent film is already one big ongoing struggle after another.

Thinking back to when I was making ABYSS: THE GREATEST PROPOSAL EVER (and even today), I realize I need to be better at honing in on these things because there were times when I did just the kind of thing that DeNiro says to avoid. 

  • I wanted a specific editor and damn near panicked when I couldn't get one.
  • I wanted most of the scenes to be completed in one shot -- but that didn’t happen, which left me feeling lost and out of my element while wondering how in the world I was going to piece this movie together.
  • I planned to shoot at a place in Kensington and then scheduled to shoot at a house in Germantown; all of a sudden, it seemed as if the rug had been pulled from under me when both of those plans went down the drain.
  • I wanted an editor to re-assemble one of my final cuts during post-production, but when that solution was postponed, I worried that this movie would never be finished.

Making movies and watching films made by other people has taught me the importance of embracing change, compared to the alternative -- resistance, which keeps you stuck and can make matters worse, not better.

The same goes for all those other areas of life that have either long passed their sell-by date or just started being more troublesome than they are beneficial to us. We need to let these things go -- habits, material things, thoughts, beliefs, relationships, goals, jobs, emotions, activities, behaviors, agreements (in the workplace or otherwise) and habits that bring us trouble; this goes for just about any type of trouble -- with law enforcement officials, trouble within ourselves, trouble in our families, trouble with people we don't even know or trouble with our health, spirituality, safety, happiness, freedom or peace of mind.

When we are not willing to walk away from the things that cause us (or have the potential to result in) trouble -- and do so in a timely fashion, we do a disservice to ourselves and sabotage the things that matter most in our own lives. In movies and in life, there is always another way. There's always another actor who has the same, if not better qualities that fit a particular role. There are always other craftsmen and servicemen who are skilled at doing the job that needs to be done. There will always be another chance to improve upon something, or to start over, or to be different than before. That is, unless you're dead. Then, it won't matter -- but what will you do with the time you have now?

More importantly, are YOU willing to do-it-like-DeNiro and walk away from the parts of your life where the heat is on?

 In case you missed yesterday's post about making movies, check it out now: A Conversation Concerning Competition in Cinema

Thursday
Apr032014

A Conversation Concerning Competition and Cinema #atozchallenge #indiefilm

Production Crew on Set of TROOP 491: THE ADVENTURES OF THE MUDDY LIONSThere's a saying in the film industry -- you're only as good as your last movie. Considering that film festivals receive upwards of 2,000 submissions each year and only accept less than 5% of these works to screen at their event, moviemakers are pitted against a lot more than our own work.

The competition to gain favor among audiences, media outlets, studio executives and judging panels is high -- especially now that YouTubers and Vine stars appear be to landing television shows, sponsorships and movie deals more often than those of us who have studied and practiced the craft of filmmaking.

Oftentimes, it seems like we’re competing against four different areas including our previous work, Hollywood flicks released by the big-boy studios, other independent films and new media stars in who are killing it in the online video arena. While taking this into account where my own filmmaking endeavors are concerned, I also welcomed “Khoobi” director Amir Motlagh and “Troop 491: Adventures of the Muddy Lions” director Praheme to add some further understanding on how these matters affect them, or not.

For me, knowing that my latest short film “ABYSS: The Greatest Proposal Ever” is a much better movie than most of the movies I’ve made so far, brings a certain level of contentment. It tells me that I’m not spinning my wheels – at least not right now. Competing with one’s last movie can be a good thing; it’s worthwhile to consider this form of competition to be a sign of progress if the work we produce now is better than our previous creations. Competing with movies that are backed by studios and come out of Hollywood, however, is a disaster waiting to happen.

Filming scene on set of an Amir Motlagh production.“I have no interest in looking back, so my previous work is not a concern. However, I do strive to push myself anytime I have an opportunity to work. Often that means refining elements and avenues that might have been previously pursued or explored.

You can always build on thematics or aesthetics but in the end of the day, comparing is not helpful for me.”

 – Amir Motlagh, director, “KHOOBI”

l-r: Director Praheme and actor Kimani Coleman on set during scout meeting scene in TROOP 491: THE ADVENTURES OF THE MUDDY LIONS“I hope that with every movie I make, I can improve somewhat from the previous film. I don’t feel any pressure at all because it’s a natural progression. That is what makes a successful career – my movies getting better with each one.

I can see some growth in my first feature [Troop 491: The Aventures of the Muddy Lions] compared to the work I’ve done in film school, [particularly with] my writing and story. I feel like I’m decent; I don’t feel like I’m really good at anything right now and if I keep that mindset, that’s how I will keep making good work. I’m always working on my craft. On my second movie, I will be able to see my improvement as a filmmaker."

– Praheme, director, “TROOP 491: The Adventures of the Muddy Lions”

Not all independent filmmakers try to go toe-to-toe with studio productions but over the years, I’ve noticed some in the indie film world who do attempt to make movies that rival studio fare – particularly in the case of genre films; which never ceases to amaze me because it doesn’t make much sense. Studios have the juice to pull off all sorts of scenes containing stunts, special effects, crazy action sequences and hire the likes of George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Zoe Saldana.

Zoe Kravitz and Shailene Woodley star in DIVERGENTNo matter how much some independent films try to duplicate what Hollywood does, an ultra-low budget independent film is almost always going to come up short. That’s why it’s best to stay in our lane and do what we can with the resources we’re working with.

 

“'Superior' is a strange word in arts because it implies absolute standards of judgement, whether personal or from an outside source. That type of judgement is probably detrimental to your mental space whether immediately, or in the long run. One might as well concentrate on the tasks that lay directly in front of him/her.” – Amir Motlagh, director, “KHOOBI”

Over the years, other independent films, as well as online video series, have been two forms of competition that I considered to be useful to me in terms of knowing what resonates with people and what doesn’t – as well as what is possible and noticing opportunities to make or showcase my work in a way that has yet to be done by anyone else.

“I don't want to sound like I just picked up a GO GET' EM incantation; but really, the only competition is the self. The rest is a real drag. If this were basketball, then we're talking about something else. The rules are set, the standards are set. Filmmaking is not basketball. "Best" doesn't exist. Collaboration is a much better tool than competition.” – Amir Motlagh, director, “KHOOBI” 

Director Praheme on the set with actors Kimani Coleman and Michael A. LeMelle during a prison scene in TROOP 491: THE ADVENTURES OF THE MUDDY LIONS

“Competition helps us because the higher the competition, people have to work harder to get their work seen in a very crowded workplace. There’s so much material out here now – yours has to be really good to stand out. So, that means you have to find better stories, better actors and get the best cameras in order for your work to get noticed, because there is so much competition.  I think competition is great for every form of business; people get lazy if there’s nobody competing against them, and I love it!” – Praheme, director, “TROOP 491: The Adventures of the Muddy Lions”

Of all the concerns I’ve had for a long time regarding competition, I’ve been starting to come to terms with understanding that it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day, since the audience ultimately decides what is good and what is just Blah. That begs the question: How do we compete against other players in our field when the audience is in control? That’s just it -- we don’t!

Being aware of what’s out there in the marketplace is key to knowing how audiences respond to certain genres, cast members, plots, etc. but it is unnecessary to size up the quality of one’s work based on the characteristics and trajectory of another person’s creations. It’s better to give a project my best shot and not worry about competition in any area of the film industry. Instead, I choose to view competing films as motivational tools (even to learn from, where necessary) rather than a barrier, which is freeing because whatever happens will happen.

How has competition influenced how YOU operate in your profession, area of study or other pursuits?

Also, stay tuned for more from Praheme and Amir Motlagh! Be sure to check out yesterday's post: What Ben Affleck can Teach us about Bravery.

TROOP 491: THE ADVENTURES OF THE MUDDY LIONS is about Tristan, a reluctant new Scout who is conflicted after witnessing a homicide. Will he follow the code of the Streets or the code of the Scouts?

Directed by Praheme, this family film is showing:

Arizona International Film Festival

  • Saturday April 12th - 7pm at the Screening Room (127 East Congress; near Scott)
  • Sunday April 13th - 12:00pm Noon at the Grand Crossroads Cinema 6 (4811 East Grant Road; at Grant and Swan) in the Crossroads Festival Mall

Watch Amir Motlagh’s short film “KHOOBI” about young man born with an obsessive compulsive drive, whose dreams are faced with obstacles, including a war torn childhood that shake his soul to this day.

Wednesday
Apr022014

What Ben Affleck Can Teach Us about Bravery #atozchallenge #RatedR #IndieFilm

"I'm grateful for everything you've done for me. You're like my brother...but I'm leaving. Are you gonna shoot me? Go ahead...but you'll have to shoot me in the back."

 – Ben Affleck as Doug MacRay in the Crime Drama “THE TOWN” 

A "Four Eyed Monsters" Scene Directed by Susan Buice and Arin CrumleyYou have to be willing to stand up for what you want. It's about making decisions for yourself that might be unpopular or unwelcome by the masses.

It's about hearing people or traditions or even your own self-doubt try to hold you back or forbid you from doing something different; entertaining new possibilities, and still pushing forward in a way that says "Screw you! I'm doing it anyway!" -- even if it means losing the relationships or status that you had with friends, family or the extended community, up until this point.

Bravery is the moment when you take huge risks to forego what's comfortable and familiar, in favor of the possibility to be in a situation that best meets your interests or needs. It surfaces when you stop questioning your own motives. It reveals itself the moment you quit making choices that you are less than enthusiastic about, only to please other people. Being an independent filmmaker requires a certain level of bravery at many stages of the process.

That scene in “The Town” where Ben Afflecks character basically tells his best friend to go fuck himself, is what I think it means to be brave. Three independent filmmakers, however, also come to mind when I think about what bravery looks like.

  • Collaborators Susan Buice and Arin Crumley’s Do-It-Yourself approach to finding (and growing) an audience of more than a half million people is unlike anything that has been done before they made the comedy drama “Four Eyed Monsters.” 

They captured their filmmaking journey as well as a budding romantic relationship, and shared it in a series of video podcasts on their YouTube channel.

Buice and Crumley were brave to make their experiences public on another level, chronicling the pitfalls and successes that they each faced as artists, lovers and friends who mixed business with pleasure; all for the world to see – through massive credit card debt, depression, insecurities about STDs and all, despite the risk of being scrutinized by people in their own social circles, co-workers, roommates, YouTube viewers and film industry critics.

They were also brave to pursue non-traditional means of getting people to pay attention to their work, which included convincing fans to “request” their film in local theaters, which helped them organize a release correlating with the demand in cities across the country.

  • Bravery explains how Steve Balderson can call people, companies and organizations on their bullshit while also questioning the conventional practices that we irrationally follow when it comes to the movie business. 

Balderson doesn't limit himself in any way and is not afraid to stay true to his vision. He stands tall even when people are walking out of the theater where his movie is playing, or throwing objects at the screen in anger during the film festival run for his comedy drama “Watch Out.” He has worked with some of the most unforgettable talent that a filmmaker could have the pleasure to direct, including the late actress Karen Black.

In filmmaking, as in other professions (and various areas of life, for that matter), there will be people like Ben Affleck’s (fictional) best friend, who will want to keep you from steering your life in the direction you want it to go in -- and in the way you so desire to do so. Appeasing those kinds of people doesn’t do anyone any good. I know I don’t have time for that kind of nonsense and I’m guessing that neither do you, so we’re both in the same boat. So whaddya say we tell them to go fuck themselves! Stand tall like Steve Balderson. Get creative with your pursuits like Arin Crumley and Susan Buice. Be brave.

What does Bravery look like to YOU?

If you haven’t already, read yesterday’s post: Awards are Worthless – The Anxiety of Seeking Approval as an Artist, the first installment in my series about Why We Make Movies.

 

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