Auteurs vs Collaborators

By Audrey Ewell

When I talk to filmmakers and industry people alike this year, there has been a new emphasis on collaboration. People are trying to find new ways to work together. With this collaboration comes a new way of looking at ownership and authorship. It is no longer always "my film" but is evolving into "our project". I even hear it in how filmmakers speak of those who watch their films -- in some cases "audiences" are expanding into "community". Yet for all that speak, I don't encounter all that action.

I am in London now, and I have been asked what the effect of the Occupy Movement has been in America. I tell them of the change in tax policy of NY Governor Cuomo. I tell them of the greater concern about the wealth divide that I heard in New Hampshire last weekend at the town hall events I went to. And I tell them of the 99 Percent Film.

We are entering the era of the collaborative film and we have Audrey Ewell to tell us all about it today.

My favorite films are those made by directors whose work is iconic and unique. Stamped with authorship. Bold. Brash. Or quiet: sublime. Auteurs.

As a director, I greatly value the work of everyone on a film, but I also know what I want, and that’s to create a singular world. I love the idiosyncratic touches of authorship that I find in the work of auteurs. An example; something about the rhythms of mid-career Michelangelo Antonioni films kicks my brain into high gear; I actually think they create a measurable change in my brain chemistry. I’d love to test that theory, actually.

Anyway, I also believe that others can enhance the director’s vision in ways the director might not come up with themselves. If the vision has been clearly articulated, the parameters defined, and skilled collaborators get the aesthetic and vibe, the collaboration should enhance the vision, while still keeping that idiosyncratic stamp of authorship. I believe in both the auteur and the power of collaboration, but above all, I value singularity of vision.

So why am I now making a truly collaborative film with a bunch of people I’ve never met, many of whom have no experience whatsoever, side by side with other award-winning filmmakers? What happened?

Well, Occupy Wall Street happened. One day a couple months back I was at home, watching on the livestream as hundreds of people were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge. So that night I went down with my partner Aaron Aites and we filmed, and the next day, I felt a need to make this film… with others. I not only knew that I didn’t have the time or resources to suddenly jump into an ambitious doc by myself, but I also felt that the treatment I’d be interested in would be the one with many voices. It’s just that kind of story. There was also something about the ethos and the kinetic, experimental nature of the movement itself that got me excited and made me want to try a parallel experiment with other filmmakers.

So I put out the word among filmmaker friends, got a website up (99percentfilm.com), did some outreach with press, and within a week we had about 30 people. In two weeks 50, and we’d been profiled in the NY Times, Filmmaker mag, etc. This helped us find more filmmakers all over the country, and ten weeks later, we’re around 75 strong.

And I’m not sure if this has been done before. I know there have been collaborative films, but have there been collaborative films about an ongoing current event, where the footage will be woven to make a cohesive film, not strung as individual pieces? I didn’t exactly research this before I jumped into it; it was just an undeniable impulse. But I think we’re doing something new here. And if not - OMG - someone please tell me how you did it.

Because at first, I thought my head would explode every five minutes. But somehow, we’re figuring out how to make a film about this movement from many perspectives, with people covering events as they happen all over the country (sometimes as coordinated national shoots), others doing outreach or editing, others taking on directorial roles and covering threads. It’s a crazy process, the logistics are challenging, but it’s exciting too. Amazing footage is rolling in, and I can’t wait to see the film we make! In the process of editing a quickie trailer (literally: it was edited with great patience and skill - from quicktimes - by Jill Woodward), I’ve become really excited about how good it can actually be. It’s a mystery that reveals itself piece by piece, day by day. But one thing has become clear: it’s working.

Which is great. Because this film was really scary for the first couple months, when we were just making it up as we went along, and hadn’t seen much footage. It’s a practice in letting go of ego, and it feels good (granted, that’s also because of the exciting footage coming in now, and because I can see the film taking shape. I might be less zen about it if that wasn’t the case.) I even respect the footage that comes in with a perspective other than my own, and I’m embracing and making room for that.

So, is this a contradiction of the things I said earlier about auteur films? I don’t know. Life’s a journey, right? I don’t think this process works for most films, but for THIS film it’s perfect. Even though I’m cursing my way through my days, I’m grateful for this experience (and I enjoy laying down a good swear or two any day). So right now, we’re putting out a general call for FCP editors (and there’s still some room for others). It’s not a free-for all; we have systems and leaders. We’re not Occupy; we’re filmmakers making a film about it in a process that in many ways, mirrors the movement. So if you’d like to, come join this infuriating, rewarding and exciting film. Auteurs welcome.

To give an idea, this Kickstarter trailer has about 20 filmmakers represented. I’ll write a follow-up super soon to talk about a new strategy we’re trying as part of our fundraising campaign. Stay tuned for that, in the meantime:

Audrey Ewell is a filmmaker living in Brooklyn, NY with her film partner Aaron Aites. They recently made the award-winning film Until The Light Takes Us, and they’re now working on a thriller called Dark Places. The 99% Kickstarter page is here.