Indie Filmmakers: Can We Help Each Other Daring Greatly?
Indie Filmmakers: Can We Help Each Other Daring Greatly?
Today is a change-of-plan day, instead of posting the article I had prepared, I’ve opted for a personal blog post/call to action to you, my fellow filmmakers, storymakers and storylovers. I’m not sure if it’s the best day to post this; Thanksgiving is kicking in the U.S. so I know a vast majority of you guys won’t be around, but hopefully this post will survive long enough to reach you out and will spark some exciting conversation.
Last night (European Time) for the first time I participated to @seedandspark #filmcurious tweeter chat. For those of you who have no idea what @seedandspark is, they are a disruptive crowdfunding and distribution platform that focuses solely on filmmaking projects. Their goal is not only to help us get funding, but also to have access to a platform to distribute our films -their site- and to build a community.
Every Tuesday, at a time that is friendly for both the U.S.A and Europe, @seedandspark invites indie storytellers to join a conversation on a particular topic, adding the hashtag #filmcurious for tracking purposes. Last night kicked off with a powerful opening by S&S co-founder, Emily Best and went as follow:
In light of last night’s events and what seems to be terrible divisiveness, today’s #filmcurious chat is an open discussion 1/9
— Emily Best (@emilybest) November 25, 2014
“In light of last night’s events and what seems to be terrible divisiveness, today’s #filmcurious chat is an open discussion. We started @seedandspark because we saw a profound institutional bias against getting diverse stories made and seen. With technology, the cost of production has come way down, and we can connect directly with our audiences. We don’t have to ask permission to tell stories. We don’t have to wait for someone to say it’s ok to find an audience. We have tremendous power to create new narratives, to shift people’s center of thinking, even if a little at a time. So I would like to know, what will you do with your power, and what can we do together? We would like #filmcurious to be a space space to explore ideas. You are welcome to disagree with opinions. Healthy, vibrant debate is good. But please remember that people’s experiences are their own.Thank you for being a part of the #filmcurious community.”
Right after these empowering tweets, Seed & Spark tweeted:
1) What are the best strategies for breaking through the noise of institutional, commercially-driven media? #filmcurious
— Seed&Spark (@seedandspark) November 25, 2014
A lot of ideas were shared, and this is what I wrote:
- a) taking risk telling stories
- b) being honest about the quality of your final work
- c) sharing and asking people to care accordingly. (i.e. being aware of “The Gap“)
My first answer lead to more inner thoughts and sharing in the heat of the moment, I was jazzing ideas that I had been playing with in my head but never really publicly formulating and it was an amazing feeling to talk to peers on a global scale about such an important topic.
The conversation stopped online but not in my head, and I felt compelled to write today about what I feel could be a way to take care of points B and C.
There is a Structure Missing for Filmmakers to Dare Greatly but Safely
I believe our community is lacking a safe environment to take risks, share their stories and receive helpful feedbacks. Not a ‘I like/I don’t like’ type of feedback, or a film analysis from film critics, but feedbacks from peers who can put a film in its film-making context, who understand budget and constrains and creativity’s hurdle and want to help by playing the role of ‘mentors’ the time of a feedback session.
This type of feedbacks is currently only available to those who either have a thick network of storytellers around them in real life (and good for them!) or those who gets into Labs, Residencies and Fellowship programs and get to have professional mentors. But we can -and must- do better than that.
What currently happens is that we create something, and we put it online or send it to festivals, because that’s the only way we can get feedbacks (and there is always this tiny hope that it will go viral or become a Vimeo Staff Pick). Then, we have to work very hard to ask people to pay attention to our work.
We use our energy and suck others’ energy by asking them to stop what they are doing to enter our story, and sometimes (often?), our stories are just not ready. They are attempts at telling a great story, but they haven’t reached the level we wanted them to reach, either because we didn’t have the budget, or because we made mistakes while learning. I think it’s all ok and great, the only problem is that we are burning our chances with mainstream audience by never differentiating what is ready and what is not.
I believe that people want to discover great stories, but they also want to limit the amount of risk they take when they pick the story they are going to invest time on. So they either go with what is safe (blockbusters with endless sequels, family movies, romantic comedies rehashing the same plot with a different name every holiday) even though they know it will leave them feeling partially empty. Think comfort food. You know you can do better than that, but you eat it anyway because at least you know what you get inside the greasy box.
Each time we lure our general audience into clicking on something that is not quite there, making them believe the contrary, we lose points and the indie community takes a hit. (albeit a small hit but still, a hit).
When you look at how painters worked, they were making dozens of sketches, preliminary paintings and studies before attacking their main piece.
When screenwriters write, they don’t upload their first draft for everybody to read. They polish it and their initial story can take many shapes before reaching its final written version. Screenwriters without representation can also receive notes (against a fee) to help them out sharpen their script.
Writers without representation have many forums at hand where they can post short stories and receive feedbacks from readers who are usually writers themselves. (And if you’ve been on one of those, the level of useful feedbacks is pretty high.)
When we make a film, we make a film, and we move to the next film. We have one shot to make a good film.
Filmmakers can’t receive note from anyone but from the people who care enough to comment. There is no website offering to give us notes against a fee. And yes, we could say that Vimeo or YouTube are like video forums where we could get feedbacks, but when you look at the comments, you know it’s just not how it works. Either we stay silent, or we say we like/love it. (I’m excluding trolls here).
But what about constructive criticism? I think we’re scared of giving real feedbacks because we don’t want people to ‘retaliate’. After all, hearing ‘negative’ comments on your work is one of the hardest thing to do gracefully.
Thought: What about having a safe platform where we could upload the film for our peers to give feedbacks, ask questions and talk with an open heart about filmmaking?
The best feedbacks experience I ever had was during one a night class at UCLAX where we would have to screen our short in front of everybody, and then silently sit facing the crowd as 8 to 10 peers were giving us feedbacks. On top of that, everybody could write an anonymous feedback on papers collected by the filmmaker. This was a great way to a) learn to receive feedbacks, b) learn to give useful feedbacks and c) help each other out.
I’m thinking we could maybe try to reproduce something similar online. Have a platform where we could speak with an open heart to give feedbacks to peers, all the while not fearing retaliation and keeping trolls and haters at bay. I really believe that to make stories that reach a wider audience we need to learn more from our experiences. We can’t direct movies as often as cinematographer can grab a camera and learn filming. So we need to maximize the learning curve of each project we make.
How can we do that? Can we do that? Do you think it’s a good idea? Do you have another idea? Can this thing mutate into something doable and better? Please let me know your thoughts.
Word of Mouth is Still Our Best Friend aka We Need to Become Trustee Tastemakers for Our Audience
Another element that I found fundamental to do while we bridge The Gap is to cultivate the impact of our word of mouth instead of letting gatekeepers do this for us.
As an audience, what do I do to cut the noise? I listen to people I trust and whose opinion and taste matter to me.
If we want better stories to reach wider audience, if that’s really what we are about, then we all need to build a community where we share the stories we have discovered and think are worth talking about. While we work on our own projects, trying to make our story as best as we can, nothing prevents us from cheering for other people’s work.
This is why I started The Monthly Creative Menu last January. Each month I send a selection of stories -on any medium- that I have enjoyed and think others might enjoy too. And it can go from X-Men Days of the Future Past to Short Term 12, it can be a Poem, a Podcast or a Museum.
As a storyteller, this has the great advantage of pushing me to discover new stories that I will feel comfortable recommending. It also makes me connect with other storylovers who are curious and open to discovering new stories, and who share with me stories they enjoyed because they know I care.
This is not only the most pleasurable win-win I can think, it’s also the best way to promote different stories. Honestly, I wish everybody had an MCM, because we can always use more filters to find out what matters to us.
This was a very spontaneous and long post. I feel there is much more to say, but I really want to hear from you. I want to know if you feel that having a platform to receive feedbacks from peers is something that you would find interesting? What do you think would be the best way to go about it, and anything else that popped through your mind while reading this?
Thank you for reading until this last sentence, and for caring about our community.
PS: taking it one step further: It’s impossible not to mention Brene Brown‘s 99u talk: Why You’re Critics Aren’t the Ones Who Count as a major influence on my current thinking about this matter. Highly recommended. (And I first heard the Theodore Roosevelt’s quote in her talk too.)
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