Reflections on practice and the price of cinema

The Philosophy of a film maker

After my meeting with John Sealy, I have found renewed vigour in my approach to my own practice, It is not so much a shot in the arm as a reminder of why I started all of this film making malarky, and why I continue to try and express creatively ideas and feelings through moving image.

John Talked in terms of the philosophy of the film maker being the driving force that moves through all work bringing a purposeful tangible essence. I am not for a minute claiming that I am the finished article or that I have arrived and can now make films, and shout about it from the tree tops.  I am aware that I am taking my first steps into the world of film making.

However I do feel that the essence of a personal philosophy toward ones process and therefore work is at the heart of all practice. It is what shapes and drives the work,  it will of course change and evolve over time, in my own case I am still finding it within the clay of my art form.

If the philosophy combines the technique and practice  and really encompasses individual voice, then a good part of the fuel that feeds is through research.

It through this material that I can find not only ideas and philosophies and new modes of thinking, but discover and refine what my practice means to me. I will not deny that I find great nourishment in the research and theoretical and philosophical voyage, I find this has a natural sustenance for me and my practice that I’m eager to pursue. I have come to this position as a student where I feel truly fortunate to have the time and resources and guidance to be able to explore this in depth, It is a little like being given sanction to gorge yourself in a sweet shop (although a sweet shop of knowledge)!

It has not always been so In my life so I am all the more eager to embrace this time and the opportunities it offers.

On the other hand I will also be honest and say that finding a resonance or balance between this enquiry into practice through research, with the entrepreneurial measuring stick of economic success (perceived or other wise) have been far more difficult.

To look at this in more detail I would like to take a moment to think about how we measure success in our practice as artists or in my case as a film maker. In a commercial and public sense almost all measurement of perceived success in film and cinema is, I think it is fair to say measured by bums on seats. If I where to show my films in a gallery setting this would of course change the context and framing of the work.

However returning to the darkened room where people collect together to watch flickering images on a big screen, we find both in the non profit and purely commercial sector that the central concern will remain how many people attended the screening?

Film screenings and the distribution of films are almost always carried out by institutions and companies that are not actively makers themselves. This may sound like a contentious statement, It is certainly meant to be a provocative one. I will explain myself, It is very commonplace to see academics and makers on the judging panel list for a festival, but one must not be fooled by the process that underpins this and the criteria that these perceived experts are also working under, there is a loaded pressure here also.

Many festivals these days have huge numbers of entries, hundreds even thousands to wade through, and the judging criteria of course must be necessarily of a defined and even harsh nature. However it must not be forgotten that the festival circuit itself has become a burgeoning industry that in many cases takes the money from all comers first, regardless of quality or content. The festival scene has become a big global enterprise, that is reaching a bloated  point.

The sad truth is that programmers and funders are generally not interested in the art of the piece first, the criteria for them that remains of most concern is; ‘will this screening festival be perceived as a success’, and to measure this only one factor is truly of considered in this case, and that is simply audience numbers.

So finding sustainable ways of making films is really only a starting point, because if we want our films to be seen it has to be first accepted either into a festival or screening, and the first and most powerful criteria for acceptance for screenings is the equation mentioned above.

The reason I mention this is because I did have a lightbulb moment with the whole crowd funding idea, It is of course a great platform to raise the funds for a project, as films do need a certain amount of capital to be made, this is arguably less than ever before, and is certainly an achievable goal through a myriad of avenues including crowd funding, No my light bulb moment came at the idea of audience, making for films as I say is only half the battle, and lets quickly dispose of the myth of the brave new world of online screening, it is a useful platform that has very limited scope for actually finding or building audience from scratch.

For instance, Vimeo is a far more targeted and defined platform and community, but it is a limited one in which a great deal of the content is repetitious and to put it plainly it very much has an in house style. it is not a hot bed of creative firmament as it would have you beige but actually a useful gateway and resource that used correctly can be instrumental in the promotion of and communication of projects.

I am not even going to waste too much energy on youtube it is like talking about the telly, it has many channels most of them full of ….! and although a new art form of the vlog is only now being pulled into the vortex of commercialisation and the devious digital selection processes that govern what we actually get to see (more importantly what makes it to the surface) It is not a platform that really supports or encourages creative fiction. The licensing issues alone preclude that in a big way, and although youtube has changed a lot of this it still remains a platform to shout about what your up to, not one to screen it.

Vlogging, as a format, is hardly on the wane. But in many ways it’s now recognized as a means to an end. “Brand revenue and business opportunities are flooding into the influencer space from the video and display advertising markets,” says Jonathan Katz, an entertainment attorney who represents a lot of YouTube talent. “By its nature, daily vlogging is not a scaleable business model, and once a creator has developed an engaged audience, there are much more valuable opportunities for the creators to pursue.”

I am not trying to say that there is no future in online video or VOD that would be ridiculous! What I am saying is that for the most part the criteria is the same if not worse than the traditional cinema screening form, in terms of what will be screened or accepted, Amazon, Netflix and all the other major platforms are looking for a certain kind of content, much of it fitting very traditional and safe criteria. content of narrative nature particularly those containing sex and violence, sell very well as do human centred documentaries, perhaps the only true diversity to be found here, is in the quality.

So where to find an audience as a film maker who makes arty films that are not deemed commercial? Well back pre rant to my light bulb comment, I see the crowd funding platform as just this a means to reach out and perhaps find that audience for niche films like mine, it may be a small audience even here but that doesn’t actually matter, if as I suspect you connect with a potential audience and make the whole production a form of film making collective you begin to break outside of the old models of pure bums on seats, the holy grail is to get the film made and to get it seen, is it possible to do both but in reverse order? to Build a community around the project fund the film and the screenings for the supporters, then it becomes quite refreshing truly democratic and breaks down the economic and capitalistic model whilst still addressing the economic needs.

The next big issue and one that I am still struggling with is how to do this, to build this community, to encourage a real level of engagement outside of the the purely finical and reward based model but to stay true to the authorship and philosophy of the maker mentioned above?

I feel this is a very acute balancing act where I really want to encourage a genuine and tangible increased involvement for the backers, not just a pretend lip service, to be open on many levels to feedback and even suggestions and ideas, whilst still maintaining the core of the film and my own voice.

Thankfully I am not the first person to address these questions Jim Jarmusch in his rules of film making (that he starts in rule one by stating there are no rules find your own) Perfectly encapsulates here what I want to achieve which is finding methods to serve the film through  collaboration.

Filmmaking is a collaborative process. You get the chance to work with others whose minds and ideas may be stronger than your own. Make sure they remain focused on their own function and not someone else’s job, or you’ll have a big mess. But treat all collaborators as equals and with respect. A production assistant who is holding back traffic so the crew can get a shot is no less important than the actors in the scene, the director of photography, the production designer or the director. Hierarchy is for those whose egos are inflated or out of control, or for people in the military. Those with whom you choose to collaborate, if you make good choices, can elevate the quality and content of your film to a much higher plane than any one mind could imagine on its own. If you don’t want to work with other people, go paint a painting or write a book. (And if you want to be a fucking dictator, I guess these days you just have to go into politics…).‘ (Jarmusch)

What I am thinking may or may not work in practice, but that is simply an extension of the above outside of the production crew present and encompassing the backers/collaborators as much as possible.

There is no doubt it still creates a lot of areas of potential problems, i.e. people feeling they want to take over the film or feeling that they are not being heard, even feeling hurt that there suggestions are not being acted on, if that is the case. But as I say to try this model and push it as far is practical and still make a coherent and strong piece. needs a fine balance between listening and action. But this is exactly what is happening on a good set anyway.

As far as I am concerned if something serves the film, I up for considering it!

So the last tension area I want to discuss here is that of the structure of rewards, on many crowd funding projects, it seems that everyone has there own take on this and many are variations on a central theme. There does in most cases exist a Heirarchy in financial investment and return, therefore the more you give the greater your perk or reward, I am desperate to find a way around this elitist model, I am not just uncomfortable about what this implies, If you have more money you are somehow more important and can claim an elevated position in the process. but also in my own case it completely undermines the spirit and content of the campaign and the film. I is a big conundrum as yet I have no easy answer. I have a list of finished rewards, in the that traditional model, they underpin the economics of the screenings and numbers  correlate, when I had finished I felt vaguely sick. I will not be uploading them onto the crowd funding campaign page even as a theoretical  non launch model. Instead I will include them in my blog and refer to them through my written assessment. This Module I have decided is an ideal opportunity to experiment with a form of crowd funding that could maybe work for me as a film maker, so I hope this risk taking will be taken into account.


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