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A few weeks ago, a guy who was writing a book for film school students asked what I thought was wrong with indie movies and what pitfalls new filmmakers should avoid.
No offense to the author (seriously I was touched that you wanted me to opine), but that’s a shitty way to teach, ain’t it?
It reminded me of my years in Chicago, struggling to learn improv through a series of brain-scrambling proscriptions: Don’t say “No.” Don’t talk business. Don’t talk about yesterday. Or tomorrow. Or….this often resulted in new performers standing there stammering, paralyzed by the fear that anything they did might be wrong, which kinda defeats the free-flowing purpose of something called “improvisation”, no?
(For more on this, read Mick Napier’sImprovise.)
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with indie movies.
I realize that, earlier this year, Brett and I did a song parody about indie clichés, but so what if sensitive, middle class white boys are frequently the protagonists?
That’s what you get when there are a lot of sensitive, middle class white boys who want to make movies. What else do you expect when one of the mantras of writing is: “Write what you know”?
If you’re not a sensitive white boy and/or you don’t feel adequately represented in cinema, it’s on you to tell your own story.
So the love interest is some heart breaker now commonly derided as a “manic pixie dream girl?”
Everyone’s characteristics – wearing gym shorts, singing to themselves – are wondrous and strange and adorable when first viewed through love-colored glasses.
(Later, when those glasses break, those same traits are re-labeled “crazy.”)
So this new indie’s derivative of that indie, which makes a reference to that movie, which was inspired by–what? Are filmmakers supposed to live in a box so they can shit out the most original ideas in the universe? All artists are influenced by their surroundings and idols at first. It’s like a warm, inspiring little cocoon, out of which one’s own style eventually emerges. It will.
Flip side: When a filmmaker does inject something unique, perhaps something from their very own lives – a hamburger phone, a job in a mattress store – it’s belittled as “quirky.”
Anyway, fuck those people.
Originality doesn’t matter as much as execution. Case in point: there were two indie movies this year in which a sensitive white boy fell in love with Zooey Deschanel: Gigantic, which sucked; and (500) Days of Summer, which charmed.
(I chalk that up to direction: no one in Gigantic seemed to want anything badly enough; they looked blank most of the time, which isn’t very fun to watch.)
Indie filmmakers don’t need to wrack their brains finding original ways of saying “I love you.” They just need to open their hearts and make the saying of it as true as it can be. Which brings me to the only advice that might be of service to young filmmakers, which is to look inside and ask themselves “why?”
Why be a filmmaker? Why make this movie? Because you feel this story must be told? Because you want to prove yourself to someone? Because if you turn a miserable experience you had into art, it will have at least been good for something?
Because it's when you're at your happiest?
Because if you can earn a living or win an award by doing something you love, it will make you happy at some future time to be disclosed?
Because you think it might change the world for the better in some small way?
Because it gives you delight?
Because you always imagined yourself doing so?
Because you don’t feel adequately represented by all the other movies out there?
There are no wrong answers. You don't even have to have a reason. The asking is just the exercise.
With so much of a filmmaker’s energy devoted to output, to sending things out into the world – I figure it’s worth they're while to tend to what’s inside from time to time.
Even if no one else ever sees it. Even if not one shred, not one tiniest whiff of it, winds up in a movie.