A couple of weeks ago I came across this article on IndieWire about low-budget filmmaking (The comments alone are why I no longer participate in online filmmaking groups). What’s my immediate takeaway from this article? I never buy into a system. Never. Nothing is worse than coming across statements along the lines of, “You have to do it this way because everyone else is doing it that way.” If I thought along those lines I never would have published magazines or produced films.
When I was a magazine publisher I can’t tell you how many people said early on, you need named writers and designers. As a start-up we couldn’t afford that, so I went the secondary route – we secured unknown talented writers and designers simply looking for an entry into the publishing industry. The result was a ten year company with millions in revenues that had market leading publications. The exact same thing holds true for making a motion picture.
I don’t care if you spent $1,000 or $100 million on a film, it simply comes down to the end product. Because what it all boils down to is getting the right cast and crew to believe in your project. When I was setting up Justice Is Mind there were limited resources, so it was my job as director to not only present the project accordingly but to see it through to the end and beyond. Out of the over 200 people involved in Justice Is Mind, only one crew member left (right in the middle of production), I dismissed one crew member and one actor pulled out right before principal photography. I’d say the percentages were pretty good!
This is not an easy industry by any stretch and is wholly subjective. If you are easily bruised emotionally or always looking for acceptance, the entertainment industry isn’t for you. But as I found with Justice Is Mind there are scores of people that want to make a project shine as much as possible and it has nothing to do with a budget. I believe audiences responded to that shine because they saw the enthusiasm and passion of all those involved. Because that is what this industry is all about passion. And passion begets enthusiasm.
As filmmakers of course we read the trades and look towards “Hollywood” for trends and opportunities. Of course we would love a major studio to come calling, but waiting for the phone to ring often isn’t the answer. The answer, in my view, is to surround yourself with like-minded talented people that see your vision. It’s all about developing a network that’s built from the ground up for the next project and the next and so on.
It takes time and doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s that moment when you are sitting in a theater surrounded by those who believed in the project that all your efforts have been realized and worth every sleepless night.
In the entertainment industry there are the readers. Those individuals who are assigned to read screenplays. Whether you are at a studio, agency, network, production company or film festival, there are the readers. They are on the front lines of evaluating your script. I was a reader for a film festival a few years ago. From reading screenplays that you can see on the silver screen with an Academy Award nomination to those that would be best served as fodder for a litter box, the net of the result is that a human being read it.
I have long been used to subjective industries. From sports to entertainment, a human being decides your fate. They decide if your performance or project is worthy of an award or the circular file. But the last thing this industry needs is a computer program to evaluate the quality of your screenplay.
This past week in The Hollywood Reporter came this article This New Artificial Intelligence Script-Reading Program Could Find Your Next Oscar Role. It was bad enough when I read a few years ago about some new program being developed that could write a screenplay and now reading about one that decides the fate of a screenplay by a computer? Both can immediately fade to black with no acts.
The absolute bottom line to the entire entertainment industry is the writer. Without writers nobody has a job. A writer comes up with an idea, researches that idea and then writes a story. A good reader sees the nuances between the lines of action and dialogue to properly evaluate a script. If after all the human checks and balances it pasts muster, it is then the responsibility of the director to breathe life into those pages to present a project that can be sold into the market. No computer program can do that.
There’s no question that tens of thousands of scripts are written on any given year and tracking them is a daunting task. We know the process of moving a project from script to screen is a herculean one. But if you start to marginalize the writer through the process of a computer program you are doing this industry a disservice because there is then no motivation to create. Last I checked computers don’t fill the seats of a theatre human beings do.
One of the biggest complaints that producers have is finding quality writers and, in particular, showrunners for TV shows. This is not an industry that works off a stopwatch. It is an industry that continuously yearns for that next creative idea to be championed into production. No computer program can do that.
I know that somewhere today on this “Pale Blue Dot” someone has thought of an idea that will eventually wind up in our theaters or as a TV series, because when all is said and done nobody will be presenting a Best Writing award to a Hal 9000.