“The artist never entirely knows — We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.” ~Agnes de Mille
The grande dame of dance may have been speaking of her craft, but the same can be said for filmmakers. There is a lot of talk out there about “getting it right,” “following the rules” and “avoiding the pitfalls” when it comes to making a movie. As if that’s all there is to it. As if, by following a prescribed list of rules any filmmaker is guaranteed success.
Sadly, it isn’t really that easy. Some of the best movies I’ve ever seen never really achieved “success” as it is determined by the great box office bean counter in the sky. Still, there was something about them that appealed to me and, as such, they rank high on my list of favorites. I think that’s true of most people, especially when it comes to watching movies. Because movie-watching, like art, is subjective.
What people tend to forget is that filmmaking isn’t an exact science. It’s an art form. As such, it follows the parameters of any art form, whether it be painting, writing, dancing or torture for sexual gratification. Sure, there’s a lot of technical expertise that goes into creating a modern movie – cameras, lenses, sound equipment, software, etc. – but in the end, all that “stuff” is being focused on bringing the vision to life, much as a paintbrush, a quill, toe shoes or a violet wand are utilized for the same purposes. All that matters in the end is the finished product.
Because it is an art form, some people may love that finished product and some may hate it, but most will fall somewhere in-between. If they are entertained, chances are they will be satisfied. Not everybody is a critic, after all. Most viewers, I find, are very forgiving, so long as the story is properly served. Will it give them something to think about? Will it make them laugh a little? Will it draw them in? Since we don’t have millions of dollars to pour into bringing our visions to life, satisfying those requirements is pretty much all we can hope for.
Which is not to say having millions of dollars to spend will make for a good movie. There are plenty of over-polished turds floating around out there. Having a low budget to work with, however, does limit how the story is brought to life. I’ve never seen that as a handicap, but rather as a challenge to the creative ingenuity of the filmmakers. So long as the story is served, it doesn’t really matter that the special effects weren’t created by Industrial Light & Magic, or that the musical score wasn’t composed by John Williams.
Having worked on both ends of that spectrum, I can say with all honesty, I would much rather be making small, independent features than overblown studio epics any old day. For one thing, there is a lot more freedom when it comes to making even the largest decisions. We don’t have a hierarchy consisting of executive producers, studio watchdogs and bean counters waiting with scalpels to excise what they deem unnecessary. Instead, we can do what we want to do and let our imaginations dictate how the story will unfold, within our means. I like that.
I also like the fact that I can be very hands-on when it comes to crafting the final project. I don’t necessarily have to hand it over to complete strangers and hope they “get” the story enough not to alter it to fit their own expectations. In the case of Lady Belladonna’s Night Shades, I wrote and directed the film, but I have also been there with Jorge to oversee the editing process, have had input into the special effects being created by Kent and am sitting next to Donny while he composes the soundtrack.
All of which makes me sound like a control freak, but in actuality I’m just there to direct and answer questions. I defer to the judgment of those doing the work. I respect their opinions and, let’s face it, if they know what they’re doing, what they come up with will far surpass what I had in mind to begin with. It happens all the time and every time it does, it gives me a rush like nothing I’ve ever experienced elsewhere. That’s what collaboration is all about. Challenging each other and pushing boundaries until something mutually satisfying is achieved.
And, yes, in the end, we all hope the finished product will appeal to a large audience. That is the ultimate goal, after all. To create something and release it out into the world, so that it can take on a life of its own. Thumbs up or thumbs down, it’s out there and we move on to the next project. Creating for the sake of creation. Bringing visions to life to the best of our abilities and learning a lot of valuable lessons in the process. Following in the age-old tradition of telling stories that allow our audiences to forget their troubles for a while and take a trip with us into the unknown, the unexpected or, at least, the unpredictable.
Making art and taking leap after leap in the dark.