A documentary filmmaker making the transition into narrative asked me to recommend labs to develop their first screenplay in. We all certainly know of Sundance, and there are the prestigious MacDowell and Yaddoo colonies, but where else can one go? And what are the rules for MacDowell & Yaddoo? Who and what is eligible? And aren't they more like a place to work and consult with other artists as opposed to the Sundance model which is in depth meetings with mentors?
I have always found the entrenchment of the bureaucracy a pretty normal occurence in any field or job I have had -- film or otherwise. People generally promote people who are like them. The status quo grows more homogenous with every passing year. This is particularly true in high cost enterprises like the film industry.
I have breathtakingly talented students in my classes (I teach over 150 students each year), but they can't create art at home. Many of them don't have a home. They are bouncing between relatives, foster homes, homeless shelters, or friends' couches. If they are at home, it's usually one or two room living with their siblings. Many of my students complain that they can't do homework at home because there isn't a quiet space to do it. They can't go to the library, because the nearby libraries have all been closed. The one downtown is surrounded by drug dealers and prostitutes *during the daytime* -- forget about night. They can't participate in an after school program because they don't exist (other than sports).
For my students, dreams don't come true without guidance and support from someone outside their families and neighborhoods. They need someone to believe in them on a continuous basis. They've had to fend for themselves all their lives for the most part. They are desperate to belong to something. That's why you see so many of them in gangs. If they're not in gangs, they belong to a sports team or a church group -- something with regular meetings that they can depend on.
The author of the IFC article means well, and I think this "do it
yourself" advice would work with the middle and upper classes, where there is already support at home and in their community. But it won't work with the lower classes who have so many strikes against them already.
Perhaps this is why we don't see more filmmakers from the lower classes. The film establishment wants to believe that if you're good enough, like cream you'll rise to the top. That is incredibly naïve (or maybe it's deliberate so their friends and relatives can get all the jobs because "there's no one else" to hire).
If anyone thinks class doesn't exist in this society, come hang out with me in three weeks when school starts again. I feel the separation in the classes. Poverty and lack of opportunity are like pieces of sandpaper that wear you down, slowly but surely, every single day until you're defeated. This is something that crosses ALL color lines. You can be white and poor.
Sorry to get on my soap box, but I am disturbed by how some people simply don't how it is for some people out there. But many of these people can't be blamed for their ignorance, as they haven't spent time living and working with a disadvantaged population. Once you have "ground truth," you'd know better than to say "do it yourself, kid." That's essentially telling the kid to figure it out for themselves, away from you, so you don't have to get involved. If you want to make a difference, you MUST get involved for the long haul. It's a marathon!
Throughout history, the arts were primarily reserved for the upper class. Only recently (the last century or so) has the working class been able to pursue the arts – and that’s because education has become more available to the masses. Thanks to the Internet, emerging artists can live just about anywhere and submit their work in real-time to interested parties. You don’t have to live in LA or NYC anymore (although you still have to travel there sometimes for meetings).
The film community needs to create labs and grants that are specifically designed for under-represented people (race and gender), as well as labs and grants that are awarded on merit, not famous last names/relatives, graduation from the “right” film schools, etc. Note by “film community,” I mean studios, film festivals, and film institutes. Some places have already joined this bandwagon, but many more need to get on board with it. The labs and grants can be funded through sponsorships, donations, or a portion of festival/institute application fees.
Once these labs and grants have been created, the film community has to publicize the hell out of them. They can’t just rely on newspapers, Variety, or the Hollywood Reporter. Use Twitter, Facebook, IMDb, E! News, PEOPLE Magazine, Gawker, -- websites and publications the average person reads.
Announce the lab and grant opportunities through ListServs that service the faculty and administration of public schools and state colleges and universities – not just the private institutions. Add the lab and grant listings to PEN America’s Grants and Awards online database. Utilize non-profit organizations like Dave Eggers’ 826 National, Richard Hugo House in Seattle, Grub Street Writers in Boston, etc., to reach teens and writers in cities on top of LA and NYC (where many opportunities already exist).
Many low and middle class children across the US feel they can’t pursue the arts because it’s an “unsafe” business. They choose “realistic” jobs instead, usually because of prodding from their parent(s). Filmmakers need to give back and become mentors to children and teens in these communities, so the kids realize that they, too, can work in film – not just as actors or writers, but on a crew or in other ways.
It seems to me that filmmaking is a mostly closed business right now, filled with “secret handshakes” that folks from the outside don’t understand. The industry can’t remain incestuous, where the children of movie stars and movie execs get all the breaks and the “no name” people get none. Movies need voices from the outside, from all socio-economic levels, to remain exciting.
As for how to screen films to disadvantaged youth, I am shocked that the film industry hasn’t thought of this one: Show new films for a discounted rate at public schools across the US. Make Friday night the designated “Movie Night.” Every school already has an auditorium or gym with a big screen. Many schools use “Movie Night” as Student Council fundraisers – only they show old films for a fee, not new ones. Studios could debut films to the prized demographic this way, and give a percentage of the take to the schools’ Student Councils – thereby making everyone happy.
Certain DVDs could also be sold to schools and libraries if there’s an educational tie-in. These films could have websites with special lesson plans for teachers (available for a fee). Trust me, teachers love to show movies that relate to their course material (English, Math, History, Science, Health, Art, Vocational Education, etc.). Students are so visual these days that the Department of Education encourages the use of media and technology in the classroom.
In a nutshell, don’t expect working class youth in the US to seek you out, as they don’t know where to go. Seek them out, in the places they already frequent. This will require work on the part of filmmakers, but the artistic and financial return will be worth it.