How Many Ways Can We Collaborate Around A Single Film?

We will work together to build it better.  We will use the tools we have, but not let them restrain us. Let's turn our limitations -- financial & otherwise -- into assets (may our chains set us free).  We will not let ego drive us away from an ambitious and interesting cinema.  Let's acknowledge that defining a true author in cinema is hard, and the act of creation is rarely original. Everything is a remix.In an era of Grand Abundance, it is best practice to be even more generative, but less authorial.  And if all that is where we are, where does it leave us?

I am always looking for new methods of collaboration and new ideas of how someone else might riff off of one artist's work.  Multiple authors have multiple arms and louder voices; their success is everyone's & their failure no one's.  If we encourage others to use our work for their own work, everyone wins.  Our work will get more traction and enter the cultural dialogue more fully, and the artist behind the secondary work is remaining productive, inspired and given new room to experiment with a tad less judgement swarming around it.

I love collaborative works like Star Wars Uncut.  I love cover songs for the same reason (but unfortunately the laws in this land are more restrictive for cinema artists than musicians).  I got inspired by Electric Literature's Single Sentence Animations for the same reason; the author picks a favorite sentence from a work, and then the animator and composer go to town.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg.  A leaping off point.  I want to see work travel and evolve in other people's hands.  How many ways can we collaborate?  Do we know our tools? Our potential?

Hal Hartley had mentioned to me recently that he was doing a series of shorts by the greatest American playwrights.  I was thrilled to then read about in the NY Times last week.

To celebrate its 50th season, Baltimore’s Center Stage has commissioned a series of 50 short films, written by 50 established and emerging playwrights, starring well-known stage and screen actors directed by the indie filmmaker Hal Hartley (“Henry Fool”).

Mr. Hartley shot the films in New York and Los Angeles over the course of about three weeks. Mr. Kwei-Armah said all the participants were paid “a token couple of dollars,” and several people donated their money back to the theater. The entire project cost about $50,000, which came from donations made by the theater’s subscribers and patrons.

Read the whole article here.  Watch the first video here, written by Anna Deavere-Smith.  I think it is great, harrowing, thrilling.  You'd be a fool not to stop reading this now and go watch it (just wish I could have embedded it).

As I said these are all just the tip of a magnificent iceberg. The YouTube Symphony was just the beginning. We are sure to have many more such experiments in the years ahead. Some will be full on narrative features.  Some experimental tone poems. Others scandalous hilarious sketch pieces.  The gates have been stormed.

The tools are being built.  On a similar note, Clay Shirky recently expressed the hopes that the Internet can now transform government and truly advance democracy (hat tip: Chris Dorr).

"T.S. Eliot once said, "One of the most momentous things that can happen to a culture is that they acquire a new form of prose." I think that's wrong, but -- (Laughter) I think it's right for argumentation. Right? A momentous thing that can happen to a culture is they can acquire a new style of arguing: trial by jury, voting, peer review, now this. Right?

A new form of arguing has been invented in our lifetimes, in the last decade, in fact. It's large, it's distributed, it's low-cost, and it's compatible with the ideals of democracy. The question for us now is, are we going to let the programmers keep it to themselves? Or are we going to try and take it and press it into service for society at large?"

Political change.  New art forms.  A better world. It all takes my time, but we do push it forward, together.

There's Nothing More Important Than The Third Act

By Scott Meek On this coming Sunday, forty years ago, Scott Meek took his first job in the film business.  I recently asked him if he had any lessons or advice he could share.

There is nothing more important than the third act as it's the third act that carries the momentum of everything that preceded it, that allows the sum to be greater than the parts, creates the meaning and offers the truest emotion.

If I have learned that films work this way and I still believe in the truest possibility of film and of art, then I should also have learned that all of us have three acts too, and that there we have a great responsibility to ourselves to make the third act meaningful by making it truly ours.

It's the act that is entirely owned by character. I have taken control of my own third act so that I can devote it to the person I love and the things I believe to be important,and to the experiences I am yet to have.

Enjoy your life, feel freed by its possibilities and here's a toast to worthwhile dramatic structures...

Scott Meek is the one of the few folks who have been something of a mentor to Ted Hope.  Scott has done a tremendous amount of good and meaningful work in the film industry, including helping to launch the directorial careers of Hal Hartley and others.  Back when he had had cascading tresses of hair, on September 16 1972, Scott became Deputy Manager of the National Film Theatre. All he could think about was that he had a job which allowed him to see up to a 1000 films a year while getting paid. His wonder that one can earn a living by watching films or by helping to make up stories remains untarnished.

How COLLABORATOR Happened & Why The Actors Did It

If you couldn't make it to the IFC Center in NYC on June 18th, you missed having Hal Hartley moderate a Q&A session with Martin Donovan, David Morse, Melissa Auf der Meur, and myself on how Martin wrote, directed, and got his debut feature made.

Ah, but no worries, the glory that is the internet brings the past back to you for your eternal enjoyment.  COLLABORATOR is currently available on VOD and will return to the IFC Center tomorrow July 6th, and then the Egyptian in LA on July 20th.  Please check it out.

 

Certain highlights to check out:

Hal Hartley & Martin Donvan on "What is directing" approximately 1745- 2250

David Morse, Hal Hartley, Martin Donovan, and me (Ted Hope): "What makes a director someone an actor (or producer) wants to work with" approx 25:00 - 31:00

For more of Martin's secrets, check out his interview with Marshall Fine here.

COLLABORATOR NY Screenings

This June COLLABORATOR will have two special screenings here in New York City before its July theatrical release. The first is June 18th at the IFC center, and the second is on June 19th at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. Hal Hartley will be there to present on the 18th, and Martin Donovan, David Morse, and Ted Hope will be there to answer your questions on both nights.

June 18th IFC Center 7pm Buy tickets online.

June 19th Museum of the Moving Image Buy tickets online.

Find out more about Collaborator on Prescreen.

Collaborator premiered at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic, winning several awards including best actor for David Morse.

Read director, writer, and star, Martin Donovan's thoughts on creating Collaborator.

Check out Collaborator's Facebook page, and find more information about the film and its upcoming release from Tribeca Film on VOD, iTunes, Amazon, VUDU on June 19th here.

And read about previous coverage of Collaborator on Hopeforfilm here, here, and here

Secrets Revealed! Hal Hartley On The Lessons Of THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH

Today, the 20th Anniversary edition of THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH becomes available.  You can order it here on director Hal Hartley's website.  This little film, put in the can for around $55K, and finished for about $125K, launched many a career (Hal, Adrienne Shelly, Edie Falco, Robert John Burke, Kelly Reichardt, Nick Gomez, Danny Liener, Bob Gosse, Whitney Ransick, Mike Spiller, Sarah Cawley, Chris Rogers and many more).  It changed my perspective on getting things done, on not waiting for others' acceptance or approval, and to instead use the power and will we all need to maintain.  I am confident it holds many lessons still for us all and am eager to leap into it again.  But what does it's creator have to say?   Hal speaks:

A friend asks me what, after twenty-two years, I might have learned (or not learned) from making my first feature film, The Unbelievable Truth, in 1988. What did I learn? The same thing I always learn (borrowing from Henry Miller): make films the way you like and die happy. What didn't I learn? Everything. That's why I'm still at it, I suppose.

Scientific Study Proves That Indie Films Make Youths Smarter

Well, it would be nice if such a study existed, but I guess everyone figures "why bother to fund what we already know". Ahem... Classical music sales did skyrocket though when a study found it made kids smarter. The state of Georgia even passed a law providing classical music CDs for every newborn child. Imagine that, with each new spawn, parents would be given a copy of Hal Hartley's entire catalogue. Harvey Pekar could be come a household name if the standard baby gift was American Splendor. Okay, maybe such greats as Ballast, Wendy & Lucy, Goodbye Solo and the such may not be so good for teen psyches, but hey Stranger Than Paradise is still a good primer in on studied cool and Primer will surely drive a few truly innovative business ideas (and innovative filmmaking at that).

But isn't it time that we all came up with some good plans to encourage greater appreciation? I am all in favor helping to up the ante in terms of originality, resonance, artistry, and ambition -- and I do believe that better films yields more better films along with greater attendance and all related windfalls -- but I also believe that the more auteur related films someone consumes or is even exposed to, the more they want to experience more of the same. Where's the indie film promotion corner in our public libraries? Where's the list of recommend films for high school curriculums? Anyone care to start these projects, or is everyone to busy writing their screenplays? I can't believe anyone is still dreaming of fame or fortune and the reality of the hardship of the life of creative individual in this country is well known -- so what's the hold up to such action? Isn't it in our interest to encourage deeper appreciation of the art and craft we have given our lives to?

Talking About The Early Days: Hartley, Gondry, Field, Puccini & Berman, and Motolla

Okay, this is also about talking these days too, but I didn't know how to put that into the headline.

I was interviewed on Wednesday by Aaron Aradilis for his BlogTalkRadio show "Back By Midnight" on the occasion of the DVD release of ADVENTURELAND. Martin Starr precedes me so that give you ample reason to tune in, but if you need more Anthony quizzed me on the big questions like why I wanted to make me movies in the first place. We cover Hal Hartley's early films, and the current state of indie film of course. We go into why it was obvious that Michel Gondry, Todd Field, and Puccini & Berman were obvious artists to back for their first narrative features. We even hit the state of film criticism and the crisis in print media. I guess we go on for awhile.. but of course you get to enjoy my nasal honk for most of it (and a couple good tunes off the Adventureland soundtrack).

A Producer's Contribution (Part 2 of 3)

Recently on this TrulyFreeFilms blog, Michael Walker of Pangofilms asked why more producers don’t invest in their own movies. This is part two on my attempt to answer Michael.

Walker’s question of why producers don’t invest in their movies brings us back to the perennial problem that most people think that producing is just about raising the money. The first film that I raised the financing for was Hal Hartley’s FLIRT, even though I had already produced about ten films by then. Producing has always been about making the best movie possible and making sure that the audience for it, sees it. The money part of the equation is just the steps needed to get to the making part.

It seems like until the late ‘80’s producing was solely the province of the wealthy and privileged. Up until then it also seemed like those that could pursue producing in this country, had to do it the Hollywood way – which meant that if you succeeded presumably you quickly became more wealthy and privileged. Producing will never be a secure profession in America, but it is open to those who are willing to work at it and have something to offer – not just the wealthy and privileged.

I don’t have money to offer – and never expect to – but my partners and I do make considerable investments in all our films. When we consider taking on a new project, we anticipate it will be a three-year commitment at the very least. Although we have had projects like AMERICAN SPLENDOR that only go through a few drafts (and go on to get nominated for the Academy Award), we also figure that each project will have a minimum of fifteen drafts. Some have forty or more. Each draft represent reading time, discussion, notes, and generally a fair amount of emotion. The scripts themselves require research through books, websites, and other movies -- more time, more energy, and more thought.  Even AMERICAN SPLENDOR was something that I had spent years developing before I brought to the writers, having already shot footage on Harvey & Joyce, secured the Letterman tapes, committed to a hybrid structure, and decided on the central theme of the project -- when Bob & Shari walked into the office they were like a dream come true, the perfect peg to fill the hole: a couple who had written bio pics and made docs on off-center pop culture.

A producer gets no glory for the films they create and make. A producer’s name is rarely recalled for the work that others have enjoyed. A producer is the one that each side looks to for solutions, and thus one that has to sacrifice to bring satisfaction. When the film works, it has no bearing for the producer on future rewards, as it will the actors, directors, and writers. When things go well for a producer, it means more people seek them out, more people expect them to pick up the tab. The producers I know are creative collaborators who put their heart and soul into their projects, but never achieve the ownership that might lift their savings into real levels of security.

The demands on a producer don’t change due to their limited finances however. Each project is also a relationship, or rather several. The filmmakers, investors, and collaborators all have real needs and need thoughtful attention. The forays that we make to investors, cast, crew, distributors, critics, and fans all depend on different relationships that we have put considerable time and effort into. If we are going to survive, theses other relationships will need to extend far past the singular film. How well we service these relationships will directly reflect what fruit we can bring to subsequent projects. Each new film is a risk, where all this historic good will, this capital we have raised, is tested and re-valued.

Add More Indies To The NATIONAL FILM REGISTRY

I have to admit that I generally like what films get selected for preservation via the National Film Registry.  I don't know if you saw the latest list of what got selected for 2008, but you can look at it here.  They add twenty five titles a year.

But what I bet you didn't know you vote for what is to be added.  Or so their website says.  All you need to do is send your nominations in to:

sleg@loc.gov

You can only nominate 50 films a year.  They have a handy dandy list of suggestions too.  They generally do a pretty great job.  There are a few areas though that need greater emphasis.
Indie films definitely need help.  Without the studio support, they tend to be a little less organized and being held under worst conditions.  The studios aren't going to let a moneymaker fall into disrepair.  A filmmaker who may own their negative but not the house they live in might just be a little different story from the one owned by the mega corp.
I have suggested they add in 2009:
Melvin Van Peebles' SWEET SWEETBACK'S BADASSSS SONG (1971)
Susan Seidelman's SMITHEREENS (1982)
Bette Gordon's VARIETY (1983)
Alex Cox's SID AND NANCY (1986)
Spike Lee's SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT (1986 )
Whit Stillman's METROPOLITAN (1990)
John McNaughton's HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1990)
Todd Hayne's POISON (1991)
Hal Hartley's TRUST (1991)
Gregg Araki's THE LIVING END (1992)
Allison Anders' MI VIDA LOCA (1993)
Ang Lee's THE WEDDING BANQUET (1993)
Tom Noonan's WHAT HAPPENED WAS... (1993)
Terry Zwigoff's CRUMB (1994)
Todd Solondz's HAPPINESS (1998)
Not bad for an initial fifteen.  Granted quite a few serve my self interest, but...  Let me know what I should suggest for the next 35.