Monday, January 27, 2014

Can you enter your middle-age and enter the film industry at the same time?

Can you enter your middle-age and enter today's film industry at the same time?

For more information, visit So Money An oral history of Swingers

I haven't wanted to write recently.  I'm trying to write a script.  I'm trying to figure out event planning for my school.  I'm also thinking about production; both for class and a pet project I wanted to do for myself.

I'm tense.

A friend sent me this article on how 'Swingers' was put together.  As usual I'm inspired.  The way films become cult classics is anyone's guess but it appears it has to both capture an age and a feel, as if it's born from reminiscence, AND it has to come together through sheer obsession and ultimate constraint.  The creative leadership here was in their mid 20s.

Hitting 30 is a bleak experience in this economy.  There wasn't a parade or anything.  We couldn't afford to go out.  My mom, like many baby-boomer parents, is struggling to find work.  My parents split early so it's just been us.  I almost got out of the apartment when I was working in IT and sharing a place with my ex for like 6 years. Everything went to hell at some point.  My job went bankrupt, the IT field became a vault filled with ex-communicated VPs needing a middle income salary and my ex and I pretty much decided we hated each other.

Then there was film school.  As soon as the production classes started . . . wow what a reality check.
The argument goes: "don't waste your money there, spend it on filmmaking."  Well that presumes you have money to spend on filmmaking while making massive, sometimes dangerous mistakes.  Without money you have to contend with the idea that maybe filmmaking is reserved for the wealthy but you read books like "Rebel without a Crew" or just about any indie producing guide, and you see everyone's broke.  And then you look at the date and think maybe it's the decade.

From the 90's to the early 2000's, I think we were still taking notes from the "Raging Bull' era.  And the economy wasn't great but people had part time gigs.  There wasn't enough for us to save at home and the amount of money I would go through just putting together my first 16mm film was more than I had ever held at one time (I'm talking like $1,000 cause before I was a filmmaker I was an avid video gamer and book worm).  That's not a hobby.  I'm sorry.  But you have that first film and it's pretty much crap and you know you have to make another one but you can't just take an entry-level job that makes you work 30 hours a week at crap pay because what you get leftover after taxes and a drink or two, maybe a date to Tad's Steak, is just enough to get back to the job and certainly not enough energy to pour into a film.  If you take anything higher it's full time and I've known enough managers that piss on education to know it's not a solid argument that you need to shoot.

Production isn't a pickup basketball game.  It isn't poker night.  It requires crew, lights, 10-18 hours, a script you care about, locations that will have you and, if your serious, a strategy to reach audiences.  We know the deal.  I didn't even mention a budget.  I just did.

So when I read how 'Swingers' came about I wonder if I would ever have had the guts.  At 30, I really believe poverty...I believe that no one should have to go through it.  Who can think about storytelling on the verge of eviction?  or while they're starving?  But I'm 30, and only as aware of the process and my identity within it to the extent that I am because the city and state and, to a great extent, the government, pay for me to be here.

Film school, for those who can't casually play 'director' because that money is desperately needed elsewhere, is a place where time, a community, and funding is provided to temporarily bring you across the gap of ignorance into some context of what it takes to be a professional in this industry.

One downside is that by the time you leave, if you've been on more than a handful of rough sets and you have half a stomach for it, you can't do anything else with your life.  You sense a tremendous waste even thinking about becoming a cop (no offense to cops).  Quitting seems ultimately wrong.

The other downside is the "educations" remains incredibly insufficient.  From the digital markets to digital cinema, changes in workflow and the demands of political capacity and gatekeeping, everything grand strategy related to the sustenance of the filmmaker and his crew is left out of the classroom.  It's next to pure memorization exercise save where the film students go out and shoot and that's very much on their wallet (thank you Obama for Direct Loans).

Time and again I think about what the most important assets were to these run-and-gun risk-takers.  It appears to me that it was always the people that stuck by them - from the 'Swingers' cast to the star of 'El Mariachi,' Carlos Gallardo and all the supportive people in between these films and the audience.

I look to fellow students who suffer years expending all that faith with each other on purely academic assignment and by the time they graduate, that energy that sustains them through suffering is next to spent.  Who knows how people continue?  I've only started developing my thesis approach and I'm exhausted.  My hair's thinned, I've lost weight, sleep-loss has slowed me down and the closer I get to graduation the more I need to go on...

I want this very much to be a rallying call but I didn't start a blog to give e-hugz and pass out lolz.  The truth is the business belongs to young men who haven't burned themselves out yet.  Cynics and skeptics tend to be balanced by their checkbooks, many of the mistakes made having gotten them somewhere.  I'm generalizing but this is how it appears to me.  The rest are scattered about in perpetual limbo wondering what's next.

I accidentally moved the mouse over and opened up Movie Magic Scheduling...maybe that's God telling me to shutup and get to work.  But humor me a while longer.

Factor out that we're under pain of death, filmmaking is a great exercise, a great expression of energy and heart and creativity and willfullness...  It's challenging in a way so few other things are.  The people that succeed don't always appear to earn their success because profit motivates a lot of quick successions.  I try to tell myself this to feel that the timing is exactly what it needs to be.  But without knowing the future, every new day finishing up this degree and putting my exiting films together involves a desperate struggle for bits of faith.

Some will read the oral history of 'Swingers' and be inspired.  I was.  But it was in such a way that I stood up wanting to do something, remembered I already was (writing, researching, practicing, studying), sat back down and remembered the reason I started taking things so seriously was because I hit 30 and I had to make a choice.  And for some insane reason I chose the movies...

I don't have a fortune but what has ever constituted one to me I gave to cinema.  Comforts, laziness, procrastination, a private imagination, money for games and dating and generally joy, and several chances at stability.  But without a film...

"Swingers' costed north of $200k ultimately.  That amount just seems impossible.  But.  We know in depth only what yesterday's success story looked like.  I wonder what today's looks like because after everything I've read, it appears more and more about not being found but being made.  So many tools are out there and looking back is nice but it isn't a complete story.  The industry has shifted and ultimately it's in all that uncertainty that I find the greatest hope for absolutely anyone and everyone willing go after what they want.  In the uncertainty there are definite questions and once you know what people want you can fight to give it to them.

I suppose the greatest feat of strength in pursuing a career as a filmmaker is in figuring yourself out.  Hitting 30 is very much about that.  I'm not half way to 31 and it's either gonna be a year worth celebrating or something else and just too depressing.

4 genre shorts, no-budget, shared universe, character driven, two in April, one in October, my thesis next summer and I'm out!

Let's get what we came for,
C.M. Sanchez III