Monday, July 12, 2010

1 in 4000

Why bother anymore? What’s the point of trying to make art, to be creative, to even dream about being successful, let alone earning a living doing something I love? These are questions that I feel that I should be asking myself regularly, if not every day but I am not. For some reason I am still trying to do it.

I once heard Barbra Streisand relay an anecdote about a young, aspiring actor asking her “Should I be an an actor?” to which she replied, “If you have to ask, the answer is ‘no’.”

As I have probably written before, I always just assumed that filmmaking and screenwriting were youthful pursuits that I would eventually grow out of when it came time to become and adult and make a living. But it hasn’t happened, I haven’t grown out of those dreams and I am not exactly making a living as an adjunct professor. I am basically getting by, still scrambling for work semester-to-semester, getting a screenwriting gig here, a book gig there (the photography book that I contributed to comes out in the fall) and I even have a speaking engagement coming up, moderating a discussion on depictions of inter-faith relationships in the movies.

Anyway, to “promote my name”, “get myself out ‘there’” (and see a lot of movies for free) I contribute reviews to The last statistic that I saw on the matter, said that, at any given time, there are approximately 4000 indie films in production around the country.

When I read the trade magazines and check out IndieWire, MovieMaker and I look at the actors, directors and producers who I am friends with on facebook, all of whom have this thing and that going on and I imagine all of the actors, directors and producers I am not friends with, 4000 films seems an accurate number --- even if less than 400 will ever see the light of day, play a festival or two much less get some kind of distribution regardless of quality. Of the dozens, if not hundreds of titles that have passed through my dvd player over the past five years or so, I have seen some really good, worthy films wither away without ever finding distribution and I have seen barely competent productions secure solid deals.

So, last Saturday I received and watched a film by a young writer/director/cinematographer from South Jersey. “No Footing” is about a young woman who, eighteen months after graduating from college with a degree in fine art, finds herself working in a copy shop, designing business cards and flyers, stuck in a rut, watching helplessly as friends from high school get real jobs and start families. The film is by no means great but it is a decent little low-budget indie with nice production values, camerawork and acting, better than most of the films I have had to review and, more than anything, I really related to it on many levels.

Watching a film about a girl just out of college, full of hopes, dreams and ambitions, it was pretty hard to avoid looking inward and back at the twenty-three years since I graduated, wondering what I have done with my life, how much I have accomplished - or not.

Don’t think, for a moment, that I am complaining. I have a good life, a beautiful family, nice house in a great neighborhood and there is some money trickling in.

Back to hopes and dreams? Okay, I can’t exactly complain there either. In 1988, after working on two feature films, back to back with only one day off between them and, somewhere in there seeing Woody Allen’s “Crimes And Misdemeanors”, I decided that I wanted to be a screenwriter.

A lot of people want to be screenwriters and part of the way I earn a living is by teaching people how to be screenwriters. It’s a hard field to break into and, if I haven’t exactly broken into it, I have made a little dent in the door. If everyone who wanted to be a screenwriter, was actually working as a screenwriter, there might be a whole more than 4000 a year movies out there.

I had a volley of e-mails back and forth with the director of “No Footing” and tried to be encouraging as he told me that the film has been rejected from festival after festival.

I am re-writing a screenplay for someone who has a good chance of getting it made. When I finish that screenplay, I am writing a short comedy. A filmmaker whose films I have not liked in the past, who sent me a screenplay to read that I wound up trashing, has asked me how much I would charge to re-write a screenplay of his that is likely to find funding, I told him and he agreed to my rate. Who knows where any of this will go, if it will amount to anything? I do not know but, for some reason, that does not stop me from moving forward.

Does “No Footing” sound interesting? It might. Do you want to see it? You can’t, it has not yet gotten a distribution deal and there is no guarantee that it ever will but there is hope.