On Wednesday, 14 November, I will post the first of many articles about lessons I’ve learned and my experiences during the past 15 years of making and selling films globally.
This blog will be a detailed look at my style of filmmaking. As a believer that there are nearly 7 billion people in the world with 7 billion different perspectives, far be it for me to proclaim that this is THE style of ALL low-budget filmmaking. I’m relatively certain that other filmmakers exist in the world today and have developed their own methodologies for bringing their visual works to fruition.
There are two pioneers in this world of ultra-independent filmmaking that I want to call out. First is John Cassevetes. The other is Stan Brakhage. I bring them up, not to pretend to be in their league, but to simply show the reader that from the earliest periods of film, there have been mavericks – independent and strong-willed individuals with a story to tell, who have refused to follow the rules as they existed at the time.
John Cassevetes worked in a world of classic cinema. He was a well-respected actor who was sought after for traditional films. And yet there was another side that embraced “doing things differently.” When I met Gena Rowlands (Mrs. John Cassevetes) at the Stockholm International Film Festival in 1998, where she was receiving an outstanding achievement in film award, I was struck by her comments about working in that independent environment. There was a devotion to the art and a devotion to the craft, and neither had to be compromised to reach the final outcome.
I never had the privilege of meeting or knowing Stan Brakhage. Ironically, he was a Kansan, as am I. And my earliest mentor, Eric Sherman, was a dear friend of his. I learned about Stan through Eric, and became intrigued by his work. Here was a man who explored the world of film without even subscribing to the notion that there had to be a narrative. It was an exploration of the visual sense – a journey into the brain as wired directly by the optic nerve. Though I remain a committed narrative storyteller, I have been influenced greatly by Brakhage, and have tried to find my own way of using color and visuals to provoke the viewer’s response.
What is the point of mentioning these two greats? It is simply this: no matter where we are, or what we have done, others have gone before us. We can derive much wisdom from their journey, and their experiences can have a positive impact upon our own journey. No, we cannot simply make their journey again. That is the ultimate problem with Hollywood – it can only emulate, copy and reproduce. Originality is lost. What we can do is be inspired and encouraged by those who have gone before.
In and of itself, the above is not enough reason to put this blog together. When I embarked on my filmmaking odyssey in 1996, I was a recent Cal Arts dropout. I had been obsessive about filmmaking from the time that I talked by grandfather out of his Betamax video camera when I was 8. I wanted to make films. Cal Arts was the right place to be if I wanted to be independent, but it was not the place to be if I wanted to dive in and experiment with narrative, live action filmmaking. Being a stubborn, 20 year old first born, I simply quit and said to my dad, “I’m ready to make a real film.” He simply said, “If we can do this in a business like manner, then yes, I will help.”
What has followed, since Pep Squad was filmed in 1997, has been a series of lessons and experiences that have resulted in my approach to filmmaking. Each new project – and there have been 11 of them – has taught me valuable lessons about what to do next time, and what not to do ever again! It is my hope that sharing all this with you, the reader, will be of benefit to you as you move down your filmmaking journey.