The End Of The Auteur Era Of Film?

People like to get credit for their work, but have they been getting the right credit for it? Are we able to recognize when something is a collaboration as opposed to a work of an individual who has hired a team to execute it? I pride myself on having produced films that could only have been the product of the unique vision of the director. That said, I have had a front row seat on how culture in general has been drifting and leaping into something more collaborative and think it just may represent the end of an era.

One of my early jobs in the film business was working as a Script Analyst for many of the NYC-based film production companies. I was always impressed by how many seemingly unique ideas were shared by many writers. There was a month way back when when I read five scripts all featuring dwarf bowling (okay, so some of the companies I read for were schlock producers, but you get the general idea). It became clear that we all harvest our information from similar sources and process it in not-so-unique manners. If all we are doing is acting as a filter, does it make sense to claim authorship still?

I was impressed with James Gunn, the director of SUPER, when he specified that "A Film By" credit would be false due to the collective efforts of all those involved. SUPER is very much "A James Gunn Movie" though, as that credit is more of a brand -- if you know James Gunn, you know what you want to expect from "A James Gunn Movie". Utilizing a brand is a much different thing than claiming authorship. Brands do help filter content for audiences. False authorship confuses things for communities everywhere.

I was similarly impressed -- moved actually -- when years ago I watched OUR SONG, Jim McKay's great film following three girls growing up in Brooklyn (and Kerry Washington's first role). In the opening credits, the "Film By" credit comes up, and then everyone who contributed to the film is credited. Nonetheless, having now recognized how unique McKay's work is (particularly here in America), it would not have been wrong to call it "A Jim McKay Film".

I frequently practice a form of blog writing that Bruce Sterling coined as a "Atemporality for the creative artist" (video here). The method goes a bit like this:

  • I have an idea or feeling about something, and spontaneously tweet it.
  • I witness what response the comment gets on Twitter and ponder it.
  • The comment is auto-posted to Facebook where those that it intrigues have more room to discuss it coherently.
  • I contribute on FB new thoughts on the subject that have been informed by the Twitterverse.
  • I consider all the conversations and write a post for my blog.
  • The blog goes up automatically onto the various social media sites and I see what response it gets.
  • I consider the comments (if any) that the post has and refine my ideas still further, possibly for a future tweet, update, or post.
  • With such a collaborative culture at work, it would be wrong to claim most ideas as my own, or even of a single author. I was heartened to see this recognition in Megan Garber's Neiman Lab response to Gabler's NYT Sunday Mag article last month "The Elusive Big Idea". It still surprises me how much our culture and media industry wants to promote egotism. I do not believe that credit grabs motivate creative thinking and such see no logical reason to hang onto false credits. In fact, it is the false credits that most reveal both the egotism and lack of creative thinking. With only one exception, can I think of any time that a credit discussion I engaged in was warranted (even if even then what was done was counter to industry-standard). But I digress...

    Garber writes:

    "Increasingly, though, the ideas that spark progress are collective, diffusive endeavors rather than the result (to the extent they ever were) of individual inspiration. Ideas increasingly resist branding. The idea of the idea is evolving. We don’t treat Google like a Big Idea — though, of course, that’s most definitely what it is; we treat it like Google. Ditto Facebook, ditto Twitter, ditto Reddit and Wikipedia. Those new infrastructures merge idea and practice, ars and tecnica, so seamlessly that it’s easy to forget how big (and how Big) the ideas that inform them actually are. Increasingly, the ultimate upshot of the Big Idea — the changed world, the bettered world — is bypassing the idea stage altogether. As we build new tools and, with them, a new environment, blueprints are byproducts rather than guideposts. We’re playing progress, increasingly, by ear. And, in the process, we’re becoming less self-conscious about change itself — and about our role in effecting it."

    I truly admire how this column and others like it have become community soap boxes to discuss the state of our industry and culture, to call attention to issues and options, and hopefully find some solutions. The plight of the independent filmmaker has progressed to the evolution of a truly free film community, and we are building it better together. The spirit of the collective endeavor is raging stronger every day and the results of this change of action and focus are shining brightly.

    As much as I was inspired to work in what I saw as the art form and medium that best defined contemporary existence, that inspiration came from those works of the great film auteurs. As difficult as it is to maintain this practice, I am inspired to keep pushing forward to help find some solutions by the commitment, labor, knowledge, and generosity displayed by the COMMUNITY on a general basis. Let's keep it up and lift it up to all that this culture and industry can truly be.

    Beautiful stories will be written by gifted individuals. Our greatest movies will be helmed by unique and committed visionaries. But neither is all that our world needs or even wants these days. In this time of superabundance and open access, it is the shared endeavor of communities that give to the culture they want, share what they love, and contribute to the efforts of many, that will carry us through to a better future. We are on our way and can not shy away from the hard work ahead of us, even if we do not receive credit for it.