Can Only Indies Make Truly Romantic Movies?

This past Wednesday I screened Andrew Haigh's WEEKEND for my HopeForFilm/Goldcrest Screening Series. It is a truly romantic film. It may be a gay love story, but in it's tale of a one night stand that could become something more, Haigh's has tapped into a longing and hope that I never feel in any corporate filmmaking and is entirely universal. It makes me wonder if when creators are forced to think first about the market, if their work will be deprived of love and romance.

When I select films for my screening series, I write a letter to everyone on my invite list trying to explain why I selected the film. This is that letter and why I think you should go see WEEKEND this very weekend.

Dear film fans,

What is romance really? Where does life differ from what the movies offer us? Can romance ever be depicted honestly on screen? If the screenwriter or director's hand is too obvious we see the mechanics of the film and it can't be trusted. Hollywood has relied for a century on the beauty and notoriety of its stars for audiences to make the leap. In the indie world, we rely often on the dialogue, the ideas, the wit to seduce us along with the characters. Sometimes I think it never is honest, but then sometimes a movie comes along and convinces me otherwise.

And what about sex? You can't really have honest romance in a contemporary film without also having sex portrayed on screen; it is part of the equation after all. How can sex be positioned in an honest way so that we don't feel taken out of the fiction we are following, and then start wondering what the filmmakers are really trying to say with the way they are portraying it. Representation and signification take away much of the immediacy, and thus the pleasure. I have given up hope that sex and cinema can truthfully collaborate more than once, but fortunately a film occasionally graces us and that proves it can be done.

At the end of the day, what I am talking about is the challenge of portraying emotional truth through physical action and the challenges of story construction on screen. And let me tell you, I know firsthand: it ain't easy.

It is so refreshing when a filmmaker seems to come out of nowhere, deprived of funding, working truly out of the system and off the grid, challenging themselves, the audience, even the entire system as it is currently structured and delivers something, that despite all the limits and challenges they faced, soars beyond what the corporate or government-supported industry is able to produce. Andrew Haigh has done that with his film WEEKEND. Don't be fooled, he may make it look easy, he may make it look simple, but this is not that at all. It is a work where everyone is working at their peak, sharing the vision, reaching and striving -- and hitting the mark.

Folks often say that a great deal of directing is casting (I don't fully agree with that) but clearly Andrew has benefited by his choices. The two leads are as natural in their roles as Haigh is in how he uses the camera. All throughout the movie,I forever believed I was watching life as it is led . I don't think this phenomenon is due just to the high level of acting or the precise casting. It comes from trust, and a three way trust at that: the director with his actors, the actors with their director, and the actors with each other. Whether it is a lack of judgement, or a clear-hearted love, an openness or an understanding, there is an incredible honesty happening between all up on the screen. When one recognizes it, one also recognizes how incredibly rare it is.

WEEKEND is the story of a one night stand that might grow into something more. It happens to also be a gay story, and one that doesn't shy away or try to play it straight. In doing so, not being shy about the people, the world, and what they do, Haigh aslo captures the depth of its story in a way everyone should be able to relate to. If life is often the challenge of reducing the space between who you want to be and who you are right now -- the gulf often between thought and expression -- then in choosing to have one character still not fully accepting who he really is, Haigh has tapped into the universality of the specific world he has chosen.

WEEKEND is nothing less than both challenging and refreshing cinema, and it is also a whole lot more.

Response To An Open Letter From FilmUtopia's Clive Davies-Frayne

Clive Davies-Frayne, bugged by my endorsement of Scott Macauley's brilliant, slightly-tongue-in-cheek, letter from the future, took the time on his Filmutopia site, to write an open letter to me.

I love how conversations can grow and flourish these days, across borders, opening our minds to different perspectives and greater understandings. I am a big believer that this sort of discussion is the way that solutions are found. Although I know I won't be able to make a habit of answering such open letters, but since Clive got this started I thought I would keep the ball up in the air a bit. Clive asked the following question (and a few more), and I will do my best to answer.
Is distribution really the biggest problem facing the independent movie sector?
I don't really subscribe to the all-or-nothing approach, but distribution, and it's cousins the marketplace and marketing, are definitely among the issues. The indie sector has flourished over the last twenty or so years. These movies weren't being seen previously although they still got made. We've watched their box office, and the expectation there of, soar. The folks who distribute mainstream indie product have gotten incredibly skilled at their job at getting the word out about the films they select. But the filmmakers themselves have only recently started taking responsibility for some of this task.
Building all filmmaker's skills at marketing and publicity is certainly one of the tasks before the community these days. If you ask me this should be an equal emphasis and film schools and advocacy/support organizations. It's interesting that there are many labs for content creation but none on marketing and distribution. If the last decade in indie film was about the demystification of the development, production, and sales process, then this next period will hopefully do the same for discovery, promotion, presentation, and appreciation.
Getting the word out about non-mainstream or mass market indie work is a huge problem in the industry. If you are a true indie film lover and want to know what is new and good, where do you go? All these films show up at film festivals all over the country, but are soon forgotten. Newspapers don't cover them. How do you know where to even learn more about them? I started a website called HammerToNail to do something about it. There, filmmakers write about the films they love. We don't publish the negative reviews because there are enough haters already out there. I personally don't publish reviews because I have too much on my plate already and it is not where I think I can be most effective.
I do think it is crucial we all take a big hand in getting good work seen and spoken about. I encourage audiences to do this regularly. I encourage all filmmakers to take on the role of curator. I started a screening series with my partner Anne Carey and the good folks at Goldcrest in NYC. We have screened over twenty films this year. We send out about 1000 invites to these screenings to "influential media types" where we write a personal letter explaining why we admire the film. The theater only sits about 60 so it doesn't compromise box office potential but builds the base of early adopters. I generally run the Q&A afterwards. AFTERSCHOOL was one such film that we screened which later got a small theatrical release. I sent an email blast to 120 NYC directors asking them to support each other and this film specifically and agree to run Q&As nightly at the theater to build an audience; I conducted one Q&A myself. We all have to band together to get the word out if great work is to flourish.
Screening series and review blogs are extension of the work I have done on film juries and mentorship programs. I do as much of these as I can. It is exhausting and a big time commitment. I enjoy each of these a great deal. I wish I could do more of it but I am still trying to figure out how to earn a decent living. It's interesting that when I do such things in other countries, there is often government support, but here it is always pro bono. It becomes a time management issue where I often have decide where I am getting paid (it never is substantial enough to say "one for me, one for them").
I maintain another blog called TheseAreThoseThings. It is a curatorial blog where I talk about the films, music, and other things I love. I wish I could do more of this but man am I busy. I try to bring more attention to the things I love, particularly to the things that I feel might be overlooked. I could use some more help on this. You might be right though Clive; beyond these blogs, screening series, and Q&As, perhaps there is more that I could do in general to promote other people's work. I would like to be more efficient and successful at getting the word out. I look forward to any suggestions people have about how to do this.
It's true that we need much more discussion on what makes work good or at least better. I wrote up a 32 part article called "Qualities Of Better Film" on a column called "Let's Make Better Films" on HammerToNail. It was a lot of work and some folks found it helpful. I admit I was disappointed that it didn't generate more discussion. I develop a great number of projects. I have probably produced more films by first time directors than anyone else; it's more work focusing on new directors and new writers and is not as financially rewarding as other approaches. I do it because I love new voices and new approaches. Four of our scripts have been nominated for Oscars. I think this is both because we know when to push harder to get something "right" and because we also know when to leave well enough alone. Suffice it to say though we usually go through thirty or so drafts on a script. In the years I spend developing a project I don't get paid; I do it on faith that we will get to where we need and others will recognize the necessity of getting the work made.
Ultimately, I think what generates good work is simply making better work. I have been involved in over 60 films. I think they are pretty good. At times I fight so hard to make them better (in my opinion) or make sure they get seen, I damage some relationships in the process. I know this is not good for my "business" but I think it is good for the business over all. Getting movies made and getting them out to the audiences doesn't come from anything other than good and thorough work. I started with no connections or any money or any real knowledge, but I did have a great love of cinema and I took both an appreciative and critical approach. I work hard to make sure I am inspired about work in general today as I was when I started. I hope to make another 60 or so films, and to both make them better and to work better. I think that labor will have a greater effect than anything I can ever say.
As I said before, I helped found HammerToNail. The work that has been done there has not been seen as widely as it deserves, but it has been very inspiring to me. Generally traveling the film festivals and viewing the submissions that come into my company (did I say we get over 3000 annually), I find three or four directors that I think will develop substantial bodies of work. Due to the filtering the HammerToNail crew did for all of us, last year I recognized at least eighteen new directors (from America alone)whose work I will follow their every move of. Good work is being made and talked about, you just need to work hard to find it and use the right tools. Spreading the word about those tools seems to be what people need most right now.
Regarding self-distribution and whether it makes sense for films of certain budgets, you are right in saying that it doesn't. But I do believe it could. The point is that the model is just now being built and it is the entire communities responsibility to build it. There has always been a self-defeating attitude amongst certain creators that they can't get involved in the business or promotion. It is an absolute necessity that they do in my opinion. I have always approached budgets as something the market sets. We don't have government support for the arts in my country so I have not had the luxury of any other way of thinking. To design a film that requires a cost that can't be recouped is irresponsible and generally will have a devastating effect on all of us. We need to rebuild the model from the bottom up. We have to design our work for a price that justifies experimentation. When we find success, we can then build on top of it.
There's a lot more to be said on all these topics. I am glad you found THE SAVAGES and I will certainly check out the film you recommend. I wish I had time to keep on writing but I have to surrender my computer to my nine year old son who wants to tell his friends about what he's learned in the last 24 hours about Bakugan and the Lego mini-fig he just customized. And besides I have some scripts to read and some movies to make a bit better. Thanks for the letter and the discussion. I do think we can solve all this working together, provided we get a little help from some friends.

List: Blogs That Will Review Undistributed Films v2.0

Producer Jake Abraham has been producing the distribution of his latest film Lovely By Surprise (screened at the This is that Goldcrest Screening Series mind you!). They've had to find folks all of this land of ours to review it. Luckily for the rest of us, he's found a great amount. Even more fortunate is the fact that Jake recognizes that Truly Free Film Culture can only come by sharing information.

We should all send Jake our thanks for this totally awesome list of blogs that will review undistributed films:
http://1416andcounting.wordpress.com/
http://1minutefilmreview.blogspot.com/
http://1stthursday.blogspot.com/
http://www.1up.com/
http://www.24framespersecond.net/
http://www.academichack.net/
http://www.aintitcool.com/section/reviews
http://alsolikelife.com/shooting/
http://www.altfg.com/blog/
http://andthewinneris.blog.com/
http://anothercinemablog.blogspot.com/
http://antagonie.blogspot.com/
http://antidisartsandent.blogspot.com/
http://antigravitybunny.blogspot.com/
http://arbogastonfilm.blogspot.com/
http://www.armyarcherd.com/
http://artandculturecuratorscorner.blogspot.com/
http://artforum.com/film/
http://www.artofthetitle.com
http://aschenker.blogspot.com/
http://www.avclub.com/channels/film/
http://www.awardsdaily.com/
http://awcgfilmlog.blogspot.com/
http://www.badlit.com/
http://www.bestweekever.tv/
http://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/
http://bigmediavandal.blogspot.com/
http://bigmikesmovieblog.blogspot.com/
http://www.blackbookmag.com/pop-culture/movies
http://bleeding-tree.blogspot.com/
http://blog.aspiringsellout.com/
http://blogcabins.blogspot.com/
http://blogcritics.org/video/
http://blog.spout.com/
http://blog.synoptique.ca/
http://blog.nicksflickpicks.com/
http://blogs.indiewire.com/tully/
http://boozemovies.blogspot.com/
http://bowens-cinematic.com
http://boxofficeguru.com/
http://boxofficemojo.com/
http://www.boxofficeprophets.com
http://brightlightsfilm.blogspot.com/
http://www.brokenprojector.com/wordpress/
http://bubblegum-cinephile.blogspot.com/
http://celluloideyes.com/
http://cerebralmastication.blogspot.com/
http://chicksonfire.wordpress.com/
http://christiandivine.wordpress.com/
http://christiandivine.com/film.htm
http://chud.com/articles/blogs/
http://cigarettescheap.blogspot.com/
http://cinebeats.blogsome.com/
http://cinefantastiqueonline.com/
http://cinemabecomesher.blogspot.com/
http://cinemafist.blogspot.com/
http://www.cinemaisdope.com/
http://www.cinema-quebecois.net/
http://cinemaslave.wordpress.com/
http://cinemasparagus.blogspot.com/
http://www.cinemastrikesback.com/
http://cinemastyles.blogspot.com/
http://cinematech.blogspot.com/
http://www.cinematical.com/
http://cinematicpassions.wordpress.com/
http://www.cinemaviewfinder.com/
http://www.cinepassion.org/
http://cinevistaramascope.blogspot.com/
http://cinexcellence.com/
http://www.coffeecoffeeandmorecoffee.com/
http://colemancornerincinema.blogspot.com/
http://coolercinema.blogspot.com/
http://coosacreek.org/mambo/
http://criticafterdark.blogspot.com/
http://criticalculture.blogspot.com/
http://www.criticker.com/
http://www.criticsnotebook.com/
http://crowesmostlymovies.blogspot.com/
http://www.cultographies.com/index.shtml
http://www.culturesnob.net
http://cutprintreview.com/
http://www.cyndigreening.com/
http://www.dailyfilmdose.com/
http://daily.greencine.com/
http://www.dailyplastic.com/
http://www.darkhorizons.com
http://www.davekehr.com/
http://davethenovelist.wordpress.com/
http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/
http://www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com/
http://dearjesus.wordpress.com/
http://doodadkindoftown.blogspot.com/
http://www.driftglass.blogspot.com/
http://www.dvdbeaver.com/
http://dvdpanache.blogspot.com/
http://www.dvdverdict.com
http://eddieonfilm.blogspot.com/
http://www.efilmcritic.com/
http://www.emanuellevy.com/blog/
http://en.wordpress.com/tag/glamorous-excess/
http://www.eonline.com/uberblog/the_awful_truth/index.html
http://www.esotericrabbit.com/blog/
http://eternalsunshineofthelogicalmind.blogspot.com/
http://facetsfeatures.blogspot.com/
http://fadedsilverscreen.blogspot.com/
http://fastcheapmoviethoughts.blogspot.com/
http://fataculture.wordpress.com/
http://feelingsoblahg.blogspot.com/
http://ferdyonfilms.com
http://www.film-a-thon.blogspot.com/
http://filmbabble.blogspot.com/
http://filmbo.blogspot.com/
http://film-book.com/
http://www.filmbrain.com/filmbrain/
http://filmdr.blogspot.com/
http://www.filmdrunk.com
http://filmexperience.blogspot.com/
http://www.filmfodder.com
http://www.filmforthesoul.blogspot.com/
http://filmfreakcentral.blogspot.com/
http://filmicability.blogspot.com/
http://filmindustrybloggers.com/
http://www.filminfocus.com/
http://blog.filmjabber.com/
http://www.filmjerk.com/
http://filmjourney.weblogger.com/
http://www.filmlinc.com/fcm/fcm.htm
http://www.filmmakermagazine.com/blog/
http://www.fimoculous.com/
http://filmofthemonthclub.blogspot.com/
http://www.filmradar.com/indie_blog/
http://www.filmstew.com/
http://filmstudiesforfree.blogspot.com/
http://filmthreat.com/
http://www.filmwalrus.com/
http://filmyear.typepad.com/blog/
http://finalgirl.blogspot.com/
http://flickfilosopher.com/
http://www.flickipedia.net/
http://floydfortnightly.blogspot.com/
http://fox-tractorfacts.blogspot.com/
http://freenikes.blogspot.com/
http://fromthefrontrow.blogspot.com/
http://www.frothyruminations.com/
http://gatewaycinephiles.com/
http://getafilm.blogspot.com/
http://getmcneil.blogspot.com/
http://giallo-fever.blogspot.com/
http://www.girishshambu.com/blog/
http://daily.greencine.com/
http://gregtreadway.com/
http://grunes.wordpress.com
http://www.guardian.co.uk/film
http://www.hammertonail.com/
http://headquarters10.blogspot.com/
http://he-shot-cyrus.blogspot.com/
http://hilariousbookbinder.blogspot.com/
http://hokahey-littleworlds.blogspot.com/
http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com
http://www.hollywoodchicago.com/
http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com/
http://www.hollywoodinterrupted.com/
http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/index.jsp
http://www.hollywoodwiretap.com/
http://www.horschamp.qc.ca/
http://houseofmirthandmovies.wordpress.com/
http://www.ifc.com/blogs/indie-eye/
http://www.ifc.com/blogs/thedaily/
http://www.imdb.com/
http://www.incontention.com/
http://www.indiewire.com/blogs
http://insidesocal.com/reeldeal/
http://www.insidethegold.com
http://invisiblecinema.typepad.com/
http://itswhereilive.blogspot.com/
http://jasonwatchesmovies.blogspot.com/
http://www.jaysmovieblog.com/
http://jfrazier57.blogspot.com/
http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.com
http://www.killfee.net/
http://kolson-kevinsblog.blogspot.com/
http://lazyeyetheatre.blogspot.com/
http://listeningear.blogspot.com/
http://www.livingcinema.net/blog/
http://livingincinema.com/
http://looker.typepad.com/looker/
http://lostintheframe.blogspot.com/
http://www.lucidscreening.com/
http://www.mcnblogs.com/filmessent/
http://www.mcnblogs.com/thehotblog/
http://mcneilmatinee.blogspot.com/
http://melbfilmblog.blogspot.com/
http://www.metacritic.com/
http://mgoer.blogspot.com/
http://milkplus.blogspot.com
http://misfortune-cookie.blogspot.com/
http://www.montrealfilmjournal.com/index.asp
http://mooninthegutter.blogspot.com/
http://www.moviecrazed.com/
http://moviedearest.blogspot.com/
http://www.movieposteraddict.com/
http://www.movieprojector.blogspot.com/
http://moviesetal.blogspot.com/
http://moviesintofilm.com/index4.htm
http://moviewaffle.wordpress.com/
http://www.moviezeal.com/
http://www.movingpictureblog.blogspot.com/
http://www.mrqe.com/movies/special/indy1?i=8
http://mss.typepad.com/blog/
http://www.myspace.com/scriptgirl411
http://www.myspace.com/shockcinemamagazine
http://mynewplaidpants.blogspot.com/
http://mysterymanonfilm.blogspot.com/
http://www.nationalenquirer.com/
http://www.nerve.com/CS/blogs/screengrab/default.aspx
http://noirishcity.blogspot.com/
http://www.notcoming.com/
http://notesoncinema.wordpress.com/
http://oggsmoggs.blogspot.com/
http://www.oneguysopinion.com/
http://online.wsj.com/article/film_review.html
http://opalfilms.blogspot.com/
http://outlawvern.com/
http://outoffocus.typepad.com/
http://outofmud.blogspot.com/
http://parallax-view.org/
http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/
http://philnugentexperience.blogspot.com/
http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/
http://www.popcornreel.com/
http://www.popmatters.com/pm/blogs/short-ends-and-leader/
http://www.premiere.com/Coming-Soon
http://prr5345nostalgic.blogspot.com/
http://quietbubble.typepad.com/
http://www.radaronline.com/exclusives/
http://randgandb.blogspot.com/
http://rantocracy.blogspot.com/
http://rantsofadiva.blogspot.com/
http://recycledfilm.net/
http://www.reelviews.net/movies.php
http://reporter.blogs.com/risky/
http://www.reverseshot.com/
http://www.revue24images.com/
http://www.rickmcginnis.com/movieblog
http://rikuwrites.blogspot.com/
http://www.road-dog-productions.com/weblog/
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/10010552-gigantic/
http://roundtablepictures.blogspot.com/
http://www.rowthree.com/
http://sallitt.blogspot.com/
http://www.salon.com/ent/movies/
http://sarcastig.wordpress.com
http://www.screeninglog.com/
http://www.screenjunkies.com/
http://www.screenreport.com/
http://www.screensavour.net/
http://screenville.blogspot.com/
http://selfstyledsiren.blogspot.com/
http://www.sensesofcinema.com
http://sergioleoneifr.blogspot.com/
http://seul-le-cinema.blogspot.com/
http://shoottheprojectionist.blogspot.com/
http://showhype.com/movies/
http://www.silentmovietheatre.com/blog/index.html
http://sillypipedreams.blogspot.com/
http://simondor.com/blog/
http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/film_current.asp
http://www.slashfilm.com/
http://smugglingcantaloupes.blogspot.com/
http://soiledsinemass.blogspot.com/
http://somecamerunning.typepad.com/
http://www.soundtrack.net/
http://soundtrackgeek.com/
http://spiltpopcorn.blogspot.com/
http://www.spling.co.za
http://steadydietoffilm.typepad.com/
http://www.strangecultureblog.com/
http://sunsetgun.typepad.com/sunsetgun/
http://www.theaspectratio.net/
http://thedancingimage.blogspot.com/
http://www.thebadandugly.com/
http://theeveningclass.blogspot.com/
http://thefilmlair.blogspot.com/
http://thefuturistiswriting.blogspot.com/
http://www.thehollywoodinterview.blogspot.com/
http://www.thehousenextdooronline.com/
http://themanfromporlock.blogspot.com/
http://themovieblog.com/
http://theoscarigloo.blogspot.com
http://thepassionatemoviegoer.blogspot.com/
http://theplaylist.blogspot.com
http://theruedmorgue.blogspot.com/
http://www.tlablog.com/
http://toerifc.blogspot.com/
http://truespies.org/
http://www.trustmovies.blogspot.com/
http://tsutpen.blogspot.com/
http://twitchfilm.net/site/archive/film-news/
http://usesoapfilm.wordpress.com/
http://www.usmagazine.com/mustsview/movies
http://valleydreaming.blogspot.com/
http://www.venicemag.com/
http://verasbiggayblo.blogspot.com/
http://www.vincekeenan.com/
http://vinylisheavy.blogspot.com/
http://weblogs.variety.com/thompsononhollywood/
http://weekendterrorism.blogspot.com/
http://whatisthislight.blogspot.com/
http://whatsontv.co.uk/blogs/movietalk/
http://whenthedeadwalktheearth.blogspot.com/
http://wherethelongtailends.com/
http://www.wildlines.blogspot.com/
http://wileywiggins.blogspot.com/
http://wondersinthedark.wordpress.com/
http://www.yggnoise.com/category/film
http://www.zeroforconduct.com/
http://www.zoom-in.com/blog

I have more to add to this list thanks to the recommendations that came in when I posted v1.0. I will post them shortly. Maybe someone out there will sort them for the rest of us. Maybe some of you could let us know what of these sites are the best ones. Maybe one day I will have the time to tag this post with all their names.
So much to do...