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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.

 

Tuesday
Apr012014

Awards Are Worthless - The Anxiety of Seeking Approval as an Artist #atozchallenge #indiefilm

Actress KaDee Strickland and Director Akil DuPont at the Student Emmy Awards.Few people can deny how good it feels to receive an award or two, in many cases, no matter what it is for; Honor Roll, Student of the Week, Employee of the Month, MVP of the NBA, Magna Cum Laude, Pulitzer and Nobel prizes, you name it -- we salivate over and work our butts off to gain honors. This yearning was not lost on me when I started to pursue a career in film.

I wanted awards -- particularly an Oscar for Best Director or a Palme d’Or at Cannes, and I wanted them badly. Boy was I kidding myself by placing too much value on items that rarely offer more than décor and bragging rights.

I wonder -- aside from helping you build a pedigree, what are awards really worth, and what does it take to earn these coveted honors? As artists we must aim to make movies that are great. To win awards, however, these films have to not only be better than great but also considered worthy of recognition by a select group of people with varied levels of experience, talent and/or accolades in their own right. I invited a few select award-winning filmmakers to shed some light on the matter. Here, they make it clear how important awards are in terms of being a driving force behind what they do and the influence, if any, it has on their careers.

"To be honest, I just don't see the point of awards in the arts," says Amir Motlagh, director of “35 YEAR-OLD MAN,” “WHALE” and “KHOOBI,” who adds "I just can't find a justification for them -- But, I'm sure they feel good for the family. Oh, you get a few phone calls and I'm sure grabbing an Oscar would be a little different. Let's be honest here, who wouldn't want an Oscar for pragmatic reasons alone?" 

"PIG" Movie Producer Mark Stolaroff accepts an award for Best Sci-Fi Feature from program director Michael Stackpole at the Phoenix Film Festival. '“PIG” won 10 awards and "THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT" has already won two awards; for certain kinds of films -- especially these two films, they (awards) are kinda crucial in a way but at the same time, they don’t do everything for you, says Best Sci-Fi Feature winner Mark Stolaroff, producer of “PIG,” “THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT” and “MANIC.”' 

Stolaroff continues "They’re crucial in that both of these films are in a position where they really need an award because neither of them got into Sundance, which is the gold standard for films, and a lot of films don’t get into Sundance - like “SHORT TERM 12,” which is a terrific film that won Gotham awards and other accolades but didn’t get into Sundance.

When you don’t get into Sundance, SXSW, Toronto, Cannes and related festivals, you have to prove something to the kind of crowds that go to festivals. So, you have to get into a lot other festivals to show your merit and then you have to win awards to measure up – otherwise, you don’t really have an art film. You may have a good film, but it’s not an art film. Particularly with "Pig," it’s a really unusual situation; the movie fits between an art film and a genre film, although we never thought of it as a genre film when we were making it. If you have an art film, then winning an award can make a difference with your audience. If you have a genre film like a horror film or a Sci-Fi film, an award doesn’t necessarily matter."

Student Emmy winner Akil Dupont, director of "UNDERGROUND" and "SILHOUETTES" says "I’ve won 25 awards as a filmmaker so far; they come with some things – some tangible things! The majority of them – probably more than half – did not come with anything, and some didn’t actually give me a physical award. It ranges from nothing beyond an “attaboy” and acknowledgement on a website to money and mentorship.

Director Akil DuPont on the set of his fairy-tale romance drama "SILHOUETTES."Inside the industry, my theory is that people are not as concerned with awards as they are with other things because film is still a business.

The monetization of your product is what they’re most concerned with – how can it still turn over to make money, because you still have to make money with these films.

 

Some people think that awards are sorta the gateway into the industry; and in some sense they may be but in another sense, people in the industry still want to see what you can do moneywise.

What filmmaker doesn’t want the Academy Award?!! We all want one – an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, an Emmy, a Tony, a Grammy. I was hoping that "UNDERGROUND" would be nominated for a Short Film Oscar. Right now, I think this movie has the DNA for the stage, so I’m looking to see what we can get, as far as going to Broadway is concerned."

Ari Gold, director of "ADVENTURES OF POWER," "HELICOPTER" and "CULTURE" says "The student Oscar has been helpful in the sense that when I’m soliciting investment or collaborators, it makes people take me a little bit more seriously than they might otherwise. That doesn’t necessarily mean direct employment but it means that my calls or emails are slightly more likely to be answered. Interestingly, I got a bunch of Audience Awards for my feature film ("ADVENTURES OF POWER") and those have had no impact whatsoever, which is a sorta interesting contrast, but that’s the reality.

Director Ari Gold awarded for his contributions to independent film.You can daydream about getting awards but I think I’m smart enough to know that’s not the point. For me, I like to connect with an audience and know people are responding to my work, so that always is the most powerful kind of motivator. Does that mean that if I make something that reaches a huge audience that I’ll be exponentially happier? No, of course not. Although it seems like it would be nice, I’m aware that it’s a fallacy; the more successful people get, the more successful they think they need to get.

So, I want my work to be satisfying to me and satisfying to people who watch it – that’s the biggest award."

My Own Thoughts on Awards

Our culture views awards as a stamp of approval for being the best, under the expectation that a movie and its maker have been vetted against other projects of equal or higher merit. So who is to say that you and/or your work are not one of the best -- all based on whether you’ve been honored for your contributions to a particular industry or for a certain creation? Martin Scorsese, one of the greatest directors in the history of American cinema, has claimed many accolades including an American Film Institute (AFI) Lifetime Achievement Award, yet, got snubbed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka the folks in charge of the Oscars) on many occasions.

The man who helmed “Goodfellas,” “Taxi Driver,” “The Departed” and “Hugo” is no less talented, enthusiastic about his work or successful just because he lacks those golden statues. In a career that spans over 30 years, Scorsese has received 8 Academy Award nominations for Best Director and one win, to date. If it’s tough for a legendary director such as Martin Scorsese to win an Oscar, I must come to terms with how little weight awards really hold, where matters of career satisfaction and success are concerned.

Film Still | Amir MotlaghSo the way I see it, going after nothing more than shiny statues, medals or plaques after all is said and done would be selling myself short; it does not justify the amount of blood, sweat, tears, time, money and resources that are put into each independent film and the disappointments, rejections, failures and learning experiences that come out of a project.

Make no mistake about it – I do still like awards and would appreciate those that come my way. I am just working on readjusting my priorities because accolades are just not enough to keep me on this filmmaking train. I don’t want to make movies merely for a chance at winning awards, given that there is no guarantee I’ll be in the running for one and they usually don’t come with anything other than a title and something pretty to look at.

I figure, the best way to benefit from awards is by using them as leverage, since a lot of them don’t automatically come with deals and offers for the next gig.

Stay tuned for more reflections and observations on the journey of independent filmmaking!

In the meantime...

Does winning an award have any bearing on whether YOU’VE done good work?

Can YOU be considered among the best in your field, without being the recipient of awards?

©2014 All Rights Reserved

*Photos courtesy of DuPont Productions, The Pig Picture and Ari Gold Films. 

Sunday
Mar302014

Dale’s Movie Theater Nightmare and Silly Oscars Stuff

From the British movie rating system to grilling bacon and playing electronic guitars, Dale Smurthwaite at Smurfin’ the Web enjoys life’s simplest pleasures by not wasting time and space.

I welcomed this asset of my Mighty Minion Bureau to let us in on some tidbits that we may not know about him. So today, here he is, giving it to us straight – including ways to shorten the Oscars, an unexpected effect of male menopause and how he rocks out to Symphony X.

Madlab Post: What’s the deal with you and Smurfs?

Dale at Smurfin’ the Web: Haha. Well Basically I've had that (nickname) since I was a kid. My surname is "Smurthwaite" and people always mispronounce it as "Smurfwaite," hence the nickname Smurf. It’s stuck since I was knee high and so it will continue =)

If you were in charge of the Oscars, what would you do to shorten the event and keeping television viewers from turning the channel or falling asleep?

Well, with an average time of 3½ hours, there isn’t much difference between this and the Super Bowl. Viewing figures have been up for the last 4 years. I don’t actually get to watch the awards themselves due to the time differences, but I suppose if I were to try and cut the time, I would miss out some of the silly stuff like selfies and pizza deliveries. How much time did that actually waste? I think an opening number and then just get on with it. The BAFTAS are much shorter, with not too many less categories.

What happened to your CD and DVD collection?

I only have a handful of CDs and DVDs nowadays. I now have everything digital, apart from the few CDs and DVDs that I just could not sell, such as the entire “Farscape” collection on DVD and the “Lord of the Rings” extended DVDs. I had to face the reality that physical copies were just so space consuming and eventually had to go.

What is the worst movie theater experience you ever had?

Probably when I went to see “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.” The reels were played out of order. That -- on top of the fact that the film itself was absolute garbage, it wasn't a good day.

Photo by John Lennard aka yakmooseCan you share any tips on how to make the perfect Bacon butty?

Lovely, I do like a good one. Right, grill your bacon until it is just turning crispy; not too crispy though -- I don't want it breaking off in shards. Butter your bread and insert the bacon. Spread some ketchup on there -- a nice even spread, not too much and top off with some thin slices of cheddar cheese and simply enjoy.

How many guitars do you own?

I only own 1 guitar; a lovely Ibanez EDR which is made of Lucite rather than wood. I would guess that this is my favourite one as it’s the only one I own ;-)

What artists/songs are on your playlist right now?

I have an 8GB iPod Nano. I use it for the car only and my current playlist consists of around 400 songs, including everything from Michael Jackson - Bryan Adams, Escala - Symphony X and 80s cheese - Dio. Theres also some Eurovision stuff on there as well. The contest is in 2 months; look out for my blog series.

What are your thoughts about the British movie rating system?

If we are talking about film age certificates -- I think the whole system is wrong, or maybe I just got old and out of touch. I don’t agree that copious amounts of swearing are allowed in PG13 movies. When I was a kid, you had "U", "PG" "15" and "18".

How has fatherhood impacted your life, views and/or experiences?

Fatherhood is the best thing that has happened to me. As someone who never really wanted kids, to now have 2 is great. Yes, there are bad times with naughtiness, etc., but on the whole, my eldest Xander is a great boy with a very vivid imagination and like his parents, a love for movies and not just the kids Disney stuff -- he appreciates great work like “The Lord of the Rings”, “Labyrinth” and “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.”

 

Personally, I think I cry at more films and television now more than ever now that I have children. Maybe it’s the male menopause, but I watched “Saving Mr. Banks” and was blubbing. Bring on April! 

If you haven't done so already, be sure to check out Dale's cinematic Theme for April and while you're at it, go visit wife Lady Kell who is doing the A-to-Z Challenge with a super specialized theme about one of the best Sci-Fi television shows ever made, at Kincavel Korner!

 

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