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March 27, 2007

Guerilla Filmmaking 4

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Ever since The Wife and I co-wrote and co-produced a microbudget movie -- it's a short one, but it's a very ambitious one -- I've been treating myself to occasional reflections about the experience. (Previous installments here, here, and here.) Today, a way in which the activity has affected how I, gasp, see myself.

* I'm a producer. When I first met photographers who spoke not about "taking a snapshot" but instead about "making a photograph," I found them affected and pretentious. But I quickly learned better. Because of course there's usually a lot more involved in creating professional or artistic photographs than just feeling inspired and pressing the release button: finding a subject, developing a career, choosing the film, keeping your interest alive, playing with lights, working out ways for your images to be seen ... A serious photographer isn't merely someone who has a knack for snapping nifty pix, he / she's also someone who leads a dedicated creative life.

Come to think of it, and not that anyone asked, but ... I'd suggest to author wannabes that they stop thinking in terms of "writing books" and start thinking more in terms of "making books."

It's a common delusion among wannabes that they can, by sheer force of writin' talent and effort, will books into existence. (And that the publishing industry -- and, beyond it, the world at large -- will just have to take note.) Nononono. There's much else that's involved.

A few unavoidable stages in the book-making process: coming up with an idea, researching it, conceptualizing your project, pitching it, sharpening your angle or hook, finding a place for yourself in the publishing world, design questions, publicizing your story, maintaining a relationship with your audience, etc.

It seems to me that if you think of "making a book" you'll set the writin' part of the activity in perspective. Writin' is an important stage in book-creation, god knows. (Though editing and designing have been gaining in importance in recent years.) But it isn't the only one. Thinking in terms of "making books" might serve as a regular and healthy reminder that bringing a book to fruition involves many different activities.

Anyway. Although it's been a looooong time since I've had stars in my eyes about the culture-game, the experience The Wife and I had co-producing our movie brought the above lesson home with extra-special vividness. It turns out -- surprise surprise -- that the "filming" part of creating a film is just one of many stages you need to go through if what you want to wind up with is a finished movie.

Knowing this in advance is one thing; it's another thing to live through the process. And we aren't done with our movie yet. Post-production and seducing the public into taking note still lie before us.

I think the reason the lesson hit home hard in this case is that making a movie is such a get-your-hands-dirty process. It's true that there are moments in filmmaking when the creativity is steaming and hot -- when you're dreaming the script up, or playing with storyboards, or working with actors, etc. And what an exhilarating high that can be. But 90% of what making a movie entails is beyond mundane. Finding a functioning photocopy machine ... Hauling cables around ... Making sure the location's bathroom has enough toilet paper ...

As irrelevant-to-art-making as these activities sound, they're really vital. You can't overlook them; you gotta respect them, and be on top of them. No toilet paper means your crew and your cast rebel. No toilet paper means no movie.

There are of course some non-profit-y, solitary-souls-in-garrets who make movies. These days there seem to be teenaged camgirls by the millions who make videos. And bless 'em all, of course. But these people aren't using actors to tell stories. Acted-out fiction-narrative moviemaking is an unavoidably cumbersome and earthbound process. It's more like getting a small business off the ground than it is like writing poetry.

As a result, I've changed my view of my modest creative activities. Where imaginative writing goes, for instance, I've stopped seeing the Wife and me as "co-writers" and started seeing us as "co-book packagers" instead.

The Wife tells me that she has been similarly affected by our filmmaking adventure. She has written and staged some plays, for instance, and she enjoys working with actors and presenting readings of her fiction and of the fiction she and I co-write. These days, she tells me, she no longer sees herself as "a playwright" and instead thinks of herself as "someone who puts on evenings of entertainment" instead.

We both like our new self-image. It suits us. Where thinking about "writing" can feel like a noble burden, picturing ourselves as "people who generate and distribute content" leaves us cranking out far more product.

An unexpected side benefit is that thinking of ourselves as the producers of our own work has also been creatively freeing. Fretting less about "creativity," we have nonetheless been creating work recently that we're in fact pretty proud of. It's imperfect, but, y'know, it rocks.

We're so taken by our new way of conceiving of ourselves that -- Shh! -- we've actually formed our own production company. We've filled out and filed all kinds of forms. For the moment, our company's address is the same as our apartment's. (Does calling your apartment a "suite" fool anyone?) But we've taken our first step in the direction of world-entertainment-domination.

Look out, Roger Corman! Make way, ghost of Samuel Z. Arkoff! Watch your heels, Run Run Shaw!



posted by Michael at March 27, 2007


Why, you guys have gone and become--gasp--entrepreneurs. Welcome to the club.

Did you know that Sir Run Run Shaw is still alive at the age of 100? Apparently, filmmaking keeps one young!

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 27, 2007 8:54 PM

I love thinking of him as "Sir Run Run." I've forgotten -- does being a Sir also make you a Lord? "Lord Run Run" would be fun too.

Entrepreneurship -- good lord, it's a whole new world for me. Am I still capable of learning? Well, better now than later ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 28, 2007 9:36 AM

Well Michael you have a buoyant, funny and sharply-observed way of looking at things (quite the opposite, really, of the BH monnicker) so I am sure you will put that stamp on your work. Congrats on your company and good luck on your projects.

Posted by: Doug Anderson on April 3, 2007 10:45 AM

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