Even on a $100 million film, people will complain that they haven’t got enough money and enough time, so that’s always going to be an element in filmmaking.
I was wading through my RSS feeds on Feedly (RIP Google Reader!) when I came across this link:
In the article, there’s a brief discussion of China’s rise of what they’ve termed ‘Microfilms’ (微电影). Essentially, they are digital shorts posted to streaming sites, like Youtube.
For anyone working in our industry, this is nothing new. . . We’ve all worked on at least one short that was made specifically to be streamed online. I personally think there’s nothing wrong with that. . . if anything, I think it’s awesome. ANYONE ANYWHERE can shoot something, post it up, and people can have access to it. This is the biggest change our industry has seen so far in the 21st century. . . Not the ‘Death of Film’, the rise of Digital Projection, or even the ubiquity of digital effects.
The biggest change is ACCESS.
During the 20th century (pre-video), if you wanted to shoot a film and have people see it, you had to go through the Hollywood system. With home video, these restrictions were somewhat relaxed, and gave rise to the modern indie scene (granted, this is a GROSS generalization. . . there’s a lot more to the story, but bear with me). Then came the internet. . . and distribution channels widened.
Fast-Forward to NOW, and we have entire communities built around the idea that ANYONE, ANYWHERE can upload video, and share it with the world. . . and the world has been watching. The fastest run on a video I ever had was 30,000 views in 6 hours. . . more people saw that video that my ENTIRE previous output at that point. In the scheme of things, my numbers were small, a drop in the streaming video ocean, but still. . . that was a big deal for me at the time.
One thing that I’ve noticed about the youtube is a dearth of serious, dramatic, and for lack of a better word, ‘cinematic’ content. There’s literally HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of hours of cats in hats, teens crying over [insert pop idol here], and middle-american testicular injuries. . . but the ratio of ‘films’ to ‘videos’ is still quite low.
I’d say the biggest reason why there’s so much content on Youtube (and other sites) is not necessarily the fact that it exists (“if you build it, they will come”), but that the vast majority of people now have 1080p cameras in their pockets. Most smartphones available on the market will give you a passable image with enough skill, light, and patience. The sound isn’t always the best. . . but, again, still passable. The post-production tools are readily available. . . all people need is the time and drive to make films.
Most of the content I’ve seen on Youtube has been either funny, tragic, or informational. There’s a metric ton of great-looking content being posted constantly. . . but there seems to be a lack of serious, dramatic storytelling. I suppose my question is ‘Why is that?’. Why aren’t people shooting small, serious films in their spare time? Are naturalistic, compelling stories worth less than Vlogs and DJ Fail videos? Does the world want more rally crashes instead of stories about people? Much like our Mumblecore forebears (ugh. . . I just cringed at how pretentious that sounded), we’ve got access to equipment, and stories to tell. But why aren’t we doing it?
My challenge to you is to DO it. Do it for the SAKE of doing it. Do it for the art! We’re all filmmakers (I hate that word). We’ve got the talent, the skill, and the ideas. Go forth, and take advantage of this fresh film democracy.
That sound like grandstanding, but I feel like you know what I mean.
The thing I hear most often from my peers is they WANT to write/direct/shoot/whatever their passion is. They expend tremendous amounts of energy trying to get to a position where they can take advantage of opportunities to practice their craft of choice. Obviously, these are our careers. . . this is how we pay our rents. But there’s no reason why we can’t be doing this in our off time, as well.
I don’t know about you, but I love what I do. I’m a cutter. . . and if I wasn’t cutting professionally, I’d probably still be cutting in my spare time. Since i’m cutting all the time, I like to think that i’ve gotten pretty good. In Malcolm Gladwell’s Pop-Sci book The Outliers ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outliers_(book) ), he talks about a 10,000 hour rule; if you do something for 10,000 hours, you’ll become successful at it. I’m a big fan of this, and I’ve been trying to get to my 10k hour mark as quickly as possible. There’s no reason why other people can’t do the same. Why are you waiting for that opportunity to direct? Directing is a craft, a skill. Go out and practice.
I think of it in terms of touring musicians. You can’t wait until you’ve sold-out Madison Square Garden to be a rockstar. It takes a tremendous amount of time practicing, honing your craft, until you can get to a position where you’re successful. Same goes with shooting. If you’re a DP, why are you reading this? Why aren’t you out shooting?
There’s this idea that you need to raise a bunch of money to shoot a film. This simply is not true anymore. . . You can go out RIGHT NOW and shoot for nothing. I’m not saying that ALL films should be shot for free. . . that would be terrible. But there’s other forms of payment besides monetary compensation. I was talking to a colleague about this idea of ‘just shooting’, and he said that he’d gladly shoot for free for the right project. In my opinion, as long as you don’t feel it’s a waste of time (time is money), you should have no reservations about shooting for free. You shouldn’t have any reservations at all. Just shoot.
Again, look at mumblecore. Members of that loose movement had access to new, cheaper means of telling stories, and they ran with it. Why can’t we do the same?
Enter ‘Tiny Cinema’.
This obviously isn’t a manifesto, but an idea.
Using consumer cameras (or whatever gear is handy), small crews can shoot naturalistic, compelling stories, inexpensively and quickly. These films won’t only tell amazing stories (I feel the term ‘New’ can no longer apply to the stories themselves, just the way they are presented), but stretch the bounds of what’s considered possible with current consumer technology. Minimal Budgets create Minimal Risk. . . experiments can be conducted in a nearly consequence-free enviroment. The idea of ‘Tiny Cinema’ is to not only help one hone their craft, but be a test-bed for new ideas/techniques that can be applied to larger films/paid projects. As long as the people involved have a chance to take chances, hone their craft, and contribute to a film they believe in, then the work isn’t ‘free’. . . it’s an investment into one’s future career. Write in your off time, approach your actor friends (we’ve all got some). Pick a day, see who’s around. I don’t care how busy a season it is for me. . . I can always find a day somewhere. Take a day off, go out and shoot.
Obviously, this sounds like a ‘No Pay but looks good on your Reel’ pitch. . . but there’s more to it than that. This isn’t a moneymaking endeavor (i’m highly critical of the ‘sell a short to finance a feature’ business model), just an opportunity for everyone to grow, and tell great stories.
Those of us working in New York live on the biggest ‘back-lot’ in the world. I urge you to take this idea, using the city we love as a Backdrop, and tell compelling, contemporary stories. That’s what Tiny Cinema means to me.
As a ‘Put-Up-Or-Shut-Up’ kind of deal, ANYONE who approaches me with a small short like this asking me to cut will get my serious consideration. If your story is there, I’ll cut it for you. We’re here, it’s now, and we’re young/hungry. There’s literally no reason for us to do it.
Do these things, and put them out in the world. . . and then do them again. Keep doing them. Keep doing them until you’re amazing.
Tl;DR Go Out, Shoot Good stories, Use whatever you have. Do it for Free, Do it For Love, Do it For Art. That is Tiny Cinema.
Dogme 95 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dogme_95
iMovie for iPhone 4 and the future of filmmaking http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-19512_7-20007040-233.html
10,000 Hours to Greatness http://jameswharris.wordpress.com/2008/11/30/10000-hours-to-greatness/