If you had asked my friends in high school what I was destined to be they wouldn’t have hesitated to anoint me the next Spielberg, the next Lucas. In the late 1970’s there could probably be no greater honor, akin to calling a young golfer today the next Tiger Woods, or tapping a teen hacker the next Bill Gates. It’s a heady thing to know you’re thought so highly of, that your peers see something in you that you do not see in yourself.
The problem wasn’t a question of self-esteem, it was that the people I was being compared to and the things they produced didn’t resonate with what I wanted to do. I had always felt that I wanted to do something with film, in motion pictures, something that had to do with sequential storytelling in a visual media, but by the time I trucked off to college I still didn’t have my definitive role model. I held onto the “dream” and went along for the ride through college, coming out the other end only slightly less clueless.
It’s taken me nearly 30 years to figure it out, but today while reading a newspaper article about the band R.E.M. I realized why I’m not a filmmaker.
It’s because I wanted to be in a band.
I didn’t want to be in a rock band, or a blues band, or any kind of musical organization. I wanted to be in a film band. I wanted to join up with a bunch of like-minded people and pool our collective talents into filmmaking. Like music, film is a collective medium, with individuals specializing and participating for the whole. The problem is that filmmaking is generally consumed by people full of authorial ego and is collaborative in the most mercenary of ways. You don’t see the bassists union making pay and lifestyle demands while the drummer’s union stipulates the length of a workday. You don’t see lead singers with their agents holding off until contracts arrive stipulating their name above the title of the album.
Sure, there are film production companies that are formed by people who have gained enough clout to make the films they want. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a small crew of people who get together and jam out some ideas until a cohesive image comes together. Not some cheesy collective, like some holdover from the hippie days, but a group artistic endeavor that expresses themselves visually the way musicians do aurally.
Oh, Hollywood tries to market their movies this way with “From the producer of” and “From the director of,” and historically you have director/star match-ups like Burton-Depp and Scorsese-DeNiro but these are hardly what I’m talking about.
Imagine you’re off to see a new film by The Seven Samurai, or Die Wenders Staat, or perhaps a little something from Un Petit Chat. As with bands, over time would would come to know their strengths, could fairly compare them with their previous works, and have a better sense of the quality of the work going in.
Perhaps then, with bands as brands, we could address the ticket price issue. A local band playing a local gig isn’t going to command the same door fee as a big ticket band commanding seven nights at the local arena. A paperback doesn’t fetch the same prices as a hardcover. So why does the low budget indie film get stuck helping foot the bill at the box office as a big budget box office failure?
But I digress. The sad fact is that it’s taken me 30 years to see now what I wish I could have seen then. Bands are for the young. No forty-something dude is going to pick up a guitar and pull together his poker buddies and start making waves as The Midlife Crises. Sure, you can age into the scene but you can’t capture the market, you can’t reach the hearts and minds of viewers and listeners open to your ideas. Couch surfing and living in a van just isn’t conducive to folks in need of daily fiber and condroitin supplements.
In the off chance there’s a band of filmmakers out there looking for an elder member with a sense of history and humor; I’m totally into the French and German New Wave (Godard, Wenders, Herzog), early 80’s indie films (Cox, Syales), classic screwball comedies (Sturges is king), and any film that isn’t afraid to go longer than 45 seconds before cutting.