You Too Will Be Glad You Moved Here

"Fog is cool" I said to myself as I stumbled in from a weekend nosh of idiosyncratic food and drink.  Diverse places and people in a city nestling with nature.  It sure isn't NYC -- and that's a good thing.  I took it as an omen that this video popped up as I thought of my wife  soon joining me here in my new home.  Change is a wonderful thing, particularly positive change and the joy of having someone to share it with.

How great would it be if San Francisco was the Indie Film Hub, and this time instead of a group of aspiring artists and entrepreneurs trying to make it, it emerged as a true community that knew that it had to work together, amassing and learning from mistakes, forever aiming to make deeply resonate work, regardless of individual authorship, work that celebrates the expansive aspects of life today, doesn't shy away from complexity or lack of comfort, and is based on exploration far more than declaration.  Ah, a person can dream....

10+ Things To Think About If You Want To Make Better Films

I watch a lot of films. I think I watch about 250 a year. I also watch a lot of films that never come out, that most audiences never get access to. I learn a great deal from the "noble failures", the films that have ambition but just miss the mark fully in execution. I honestly like these films and find pleasure in watching them, but I also know that most people like their entertainment and culture to be in a more perfectly realized state -- even if most of us don't have the resources to bring our work to that state. I think most people's taste is shaped by their training; we learn to like what we get -- unfortunately.

Yet I also think there are some things that always connect and strike a chord with the audience.  These universal pleasures are not story tricks or character traits per se, but  themes we discover in the stories that move us most,  concepts that help people relate and engage with the work we watch.  Yet, since it is summer, the movies that come to most of us are designed to separate us from our wallets; the movies of summer are supposed to be what most people want.  I go to check them out with the rest of the hordes, and I walk away with less than I entered with.  I am not just talking about the loss of money and time either, I have lost some of my spirit.  The filmmakers and the financiers, the huge team of collaborators responsible for getting the work in front of people, all seem to forget some of the good stuff.  Shouldn't we all be asking ourselves what really matters?  I think the answers still can be very entertaining.

Years ago, I had a sit-down with the filmmaker Michael Moore.  I confessed to him that I had formerly been a community organizer and felt a bit foolish sometimes having devoted my life subsequently to getting films made and seen.  I wanted to return to politics and bring about some change.  Michael stared at me a bit confused.  The room was silent for a minute before it reminded me that all my films were political:  that by giving characters respect and depth, by allowing the audience the room to make up their own mind, by demonstrating a commitment to quality and art -- verses just profit and dreck -- I was doing something very political.

I do try to think about the world, about the power of my labor and what I can add to the world.  I ask myself: "what is needed?" Sometimes these themes infect my stories and projects.  Sometimes they effect my polices and methods.  Sometimes they shape my commitments and relationships.  I think they make my films better.  I think they could make your life better too.  I think if we let them into our lives and art and business, we will build a better world together.  At least I am willing to hope that they all will.  And give my life, labor, and love to the effort to prove they might.

What am I talking about?  I am not really sure honestly, but I am happy to give a try to articulating it further.  My list's not in an order, and I am sure to miss some very important things.  I will fail.  I will get it wrong. But isn't that what a conversation is all about: a group endeavor to unearth something greater?

  1. Empathy - Making movies is a privilege.  Our path and those of others could have easily gone a different way with a little bit of influence, good or bad.  There will always be so many good movies yet to be made because all characters can be related to.  Until you can walk in another's shoes, you are not ready to begin the journey.
  2. Justice -Bryan Stevenson's Ted Talk speaks well of the connection we feel when we see and combat injustice in the world.  What could ever be a greater good?
  3. Change/Growth - It is so easy to get stuck in a rut.  It is so easy not to see the forest for the trees.  It is hard to keep a perspective on things.  We can't stand still.  I don't think we can do it alone.  We need to check to make sure we are always moving forward, and are loved ones are doing the same.
  4. Emotional Truth - People forget how to live.  We model ourselves on the world around us.  The surface of things takes precedence over the depth if don't commit to digging deeper. Simple is not what we are.  Go further. Creation requires an acceptance of responsibility for and with what is delivered.
  5. Identity - Who are we?  Who are they?  Why are we unique? Why are we the same?  What's not to celebrate?
  6. Specificity - There is a universal aspect to the culturally specific.   There is freedom in the commitment.  Freedom requires responsibility.  Limits expand horizons.  Make a commitment and embrace it.  Generalities, including this one, are all lies.
  7. Compassion - It is not easy.  It is not fair. No one has earned it.  We make mistakes.  The nature of human kind is to fail.  So get over it and let your heart lead your mind and body.  We can all relate.
  8. Generosity - It is not a zero sum game.  There is more than enough for everybody.  Getting yours does not means they can have more or get their first.  If we reach out and provide, everyone accelerates.  Nothing else feels better than giving it away.
  9. Curiosity - Does it need to be this way?  Could it be done another way?  Why them? Why then?  What lies beneath?
  10. Ambition - We all need something to aspire to and that is the role of art.  We show ourselves and everyone else what we could be.  If we refuse to settle, we lift everyone up with us.
  11. There is no end.  No list will be finished. No film truly completed.  It's an ongoing story with many authors, collaborators,  participants, and proselytizers.  We are mayflies on the windshield of history.  Evolution is the way of everything.

Can We All Improve How We Do What We Do?

Can we and the people we work with actually get better at the things we do?  And can we get better, faster?  Are there things that we can do for each other that might expedite the process?  How do we transcend the plague of doing well enough? On low-budget indie film shoots, the collaborators are of a wide range of experience levels.  Such  films are also chronically plagued by a paucity of funds and time.  Too much to get done, and not enough resources to really get it done perfectly, or sometimes even just well.  With a hundred things needing to happen at any given time, your head will pop if you concern yourself with everything that goes wrong.  It does seem like those that often do best are those that have learned not to sweat the petty, or perhaps some sort of zen-esque understanding of the world (that is combined with the sort of hyper-focus of concentration in the things that make all the difference -- and that will some other post further down the line).

The Serenity Prayer that Alcoholics Anonymous has adopted always seems fit as a method to manage the creative chaos that defines most film production.  Granted, I get some criticism in life for having too great expectations of people and things, believing always that one time we all will hit our high point, but I really think by dropping our ego, finding a way to point out what can be done better, explaining the reasons why, we can rise to the occasion and one day truly get it all in sync and do beautiful work.  I want us to do more and to do it better, myself included.  Let me get to that, but first, I think it's worth looking beyond the first three lines of the Serenity Prayer, and look at the rest of it:

Serenity to accept things we cannot change,
Courage to change the things we can, and the
Wisdom to know the difference
Patience for the things that take time
Appreciation for all that we have, and
Tolerance for those with different struggles
Freedom to live beyond the limitations of our past ways, the
Ability to feel your love for us and our love for each other and the
Strength to get up and try again even when we feel it is hopeless.
This post is about how to have the courage to change the things we can.  Let's assume we recognize what those things are.  What do we do to get them changed?

Many times on film sets, I see folks hesitant to say what they feel, not wanting to complain, not wanting to demand that things are better.  When things are sloppy or unsafe or could be handled in a better manner that will most likely yield a better result: SAY SOMETHING.  Don't be cruel, but be direct.  Explain, why you think it will work better if they did something differently.  Speak of the result you want to obtain.  But speak up.  Maybe you have to pause and wait for the right time to be truly heard, but speak up.

And when they don't get it right, take action.  Step in, get it done, and recognize when you have to make a change.  Be it a director or a producer, if I have heard it once, I have heard it a 100 times: "whenever I considered firing someone, I end up always wishing that I had done it then and there, and when I haven't done it, I always regret it."  Under the right circumstances, people can learn from those mistakes.  What are the right circumstances that help us all learn?