I recently read a very interesting quote from Chinese philosopher and writer Lao Tzu, which I don’t think I had ever seen before. Or, if I had, it was lost to the dim and misty confines of a brain pan in desperate need of feather dusting. It’s one of those pearls of wisdom that has stuck with me over the last few days, which means I probably need to pay it some heed. It goes like this:
“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”
There was a time, not so long ago, when living day by day was my modus operandi. I was really good at it, too. The past was the past. I could learn from mistakes and failures, but never let them deter me from trying again. The future was uncertain, but worrying about what might or might not be was stultifying. All that mattered was being and doing the best I possibly could at the moment. Believing in myself, despite the opposition. It was a good way to live.
There’s been a lot of water under that rickety old bridge since those halcyon days of youth, health and determination. Not having the resources of a metropolitan area hasn’t helped, but I need to remind myself that neither should it limit what is possible. The truth is, it becomes harder and harder, the older I get, to focus on today, especially when so much relies on sharp memory and deadlines – both the past and the future. Harder, but not impossible.
Add to that a demanding career choice, in which an old fart like me can very easily find himself a little lost in the cascading torrent that is life in the technological age. It’s very easy to become a relic, especially in a venture like filmmaking, in which the past and the future are integral to success. Luckily, my past is ripe with examples and experiences many never get the chance to have. And the future, for all its constantly shifting change, is even more fascinating than it was ten, twenty or even thirty years ago.
Still, it isn’t easy being a filmmaker. Don’t let anybody convince you otherwise. As creative endeavors go, this is one of the most intensive and exacting pursuits in which I have ever personally engaged. Why? Because it involves so many other disciplines: writing and editing skills, acting and character building, music and sound production, the creation of believable props and costumes, the list goes on and on.
As a published writer, I have envisioned hundreds of scenarios – creating colorful characters and putting them through their paces – but in the end, the final execution of the story is completely dependent upon the reader’s imagination. I, as the writer, don’t have to worry about whether the sound levels are right in that climactic battle or the laser bazooka the heroine is firing looks real enough, or even if the landscape of the alien planet looks TOO much like an empty lot behind a liquor store. The reader fills all that stuff in and makes it look and sound as epic as his or her imagination will allow.
As an illustrator and graphic designer, I have spent hours toiling over imagery that will shape the way people view story, aesthetics and product. As a photographer I try to encapsulate the beauty I see into a perfect moment. As an actor, I endeavor to bring what I can to the character being portrayed and deliver a performance that will be memorable. What all of these pursuits have in common is that they are solo pursuits, dependent upon and wholly guided by one vision. Take it or leave it, such artworks are seen as personal, even in those moments when they become universally accepted.
Such is not the case with movies, which are the result of ensemble performance and the creative involvement of a large and motley collection of free-thinkers. All those other disciplines have to be taken into consideration. The final product is laid bare and must be the perfect balance of light, sound, fantasy and reality. Just one cue out of place, one unconvincing fight scene, one shaky back drop or flubbed line, can take the viewer out of the experience and relegate your movie to the landfill of bad cinema. That’s a lot to be anxious about, believe me. Even when dealing in camp and B-movie aesthetics, as is my wont.
So, this is where we find ourselves. It’s been a month since the red carpet premiere of Lady Belladonna’s Night Shades – as campy a B-movie as you’re ever going to see – at the Rio Grande Theatre. It was a project fraught with obstacles and, to be honest, we at PRC Productions were not entirely sure it would find an audience in the conventional and very conservative land of mañana. Being taken seriously by other local filmmakers, particularly those big fish with unwieldy and illusory agendas, was also an issue. Yet we persevered and I’m happy to report that we survived.
What helped us do so, was the fact that we were, and still are, looking far beyond that local premiere. The plan, all along, had been to push this thing out via Video On Demand platforms. We will press a few dvds, sure, but the long-term goal has always been to get it in front of as many people as possible, build an audience, create a fanbase and eventually pitch it as an on-going series. That process is very much underway, with a clean pass through Quality Control and the push in progress to find homes in the VODosphere.
Will it happen? I sure hope so! I believe we’re on the right track. So what if this anthology doesn’t meet all the standards of a perfect independent feature? I believe there is an audience for it. Yes, it may be a little imbalanced in some areas. It may even be destined for that vast and growing landfill I mentioned earlier, but you know what? We had fun making it. We believe in the concept and, damn it, at least we tried.
We are following in the footsteps of some very brave and undaunted pioneers like the brain trust behind Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Tales From The Crypt. We aren’t seeking perfection, so much as playing with conventions and, hopefully, turning them on their ears. We know there’s an audience for what we’re doing and are willing to put forth the effort to find them.
And so we come right back around to the advice of old Lao Tzu. Focus on today, with an eye toward tomorrow, while never forgetting the lessons learned yesterday. We’ve stopped listening to the naysayers. We’re thinking beyond the box and pursuing that particular brand of peace that only comes through exploring every possibility that presents itself on a day-by-day basis. We’re striving to be the best we can possibly be, despite our limitations. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re filmmakers, damn it! We can’t afford to take ourselves too seriously.