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Monday, 10.4.04: Moviemaking, really?

There are three filmmakers now that I have my eye on. They were successful in making no-budget/low-budget movies.

Robert Rodriguez: Mexican desperados (El Mariachi)

Kevin Smith: talkie twenty-something humor, with underlying angst (Clerks)

Vincent Gallo: gritty and lonesome (Buffalo 66 and Brown Bunny)

It is helpful to know that you can produce an interesting movie without a crew of thousands and a bazillion dollars. But I'm not forgetting

Mark Borchardt, the passionate, Milwaukee-based loser (even though someone did make a documentary of his quest, called American Movie)

Some lessons:

Start with a good story. If you have a good story, you can problem-solve the production issues on the cheap.

Good story means really good story -- something unexpected and original that creates a buzz. A little controversy helps.

Want distribution? Work hard and get lucky.

My worries:

Age. Age gives you wisdom, experience, skills, and resources. But youth is fearless and every $100 feels like a fortune.

Isolation. Young filmmakers have young directionless friends, willing to do anything for laughs and free food. When you're middle-aged, your friends are consumed by their lives. Playtime is rare and manic. I suppose there are under-employed artistic types out there -- I could find them, but I'm suspicious of them. Why aren't they consumed by their lives? Maybe I should go out and find some retired people looking for some laughs. Or... maybe there are some scruffy directionless young people I could find.

The irony: the more I learn about low-budget filmmaking, the more I wonder if I can really go the distance in anything but tiny little projects for not-for-profits. Since we worked like crazy on two of those this summer, I now have the luxury of some spare time to really dig into my own indie project. On one level I'm inspired to go for it, spend 6 months to a year and emerge with my own true original. On the other hand, just having that opportunity makes me wonder if I have what it takes. "Cold feet" is fightin' words for me, especially for a project that's at the stage of requiring brain power and reclusiveness. I go back to the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald:

...let me make a general observation -- the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.

You know that success is improbable, but you work like hell to defy the odds. (Oh! Lightbulb Moment! That's what my story is about: defying the odds and losing. Hmmm... I now have to keep losing and winning in my mind at the same time. I will probably be referring frequently to the Scott Fitzgerald challenge in the days to come.)



El Mariachi (1992)

Clerks (1994)

Buffalo 66 (1998)

Brown Bunny (2003)

American Movie (1999)


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