If You Want To Make Movies, You Might Well Be Insane

The link between madness and creativity is undeniably there.  If you are, or know anyone in the indie film world, you know this is true without needing to see any further proof: it just goes with the territory, right?  And every day I try to get more movies made, seen, and appreciated, I see it clearer and clearer still.

My best advice to get a movie made remains to keep doing the same thing again and again, and expect to get a different result -- which I believe is one of the standard definitions of insanity. I take it a bit further with my metaphor though, because you aren't doing it right unless it really hurts a great deal.  I suggest that if you want to get a movie made you have to do something akin to running full speed towards a brick wall, sans helmet or pads, and expect that wall to open miraculously.  That's how you get a movie made: commit to do something that has no logic and expect your passion and commitment to change the outcome.  It's nuts. But....

And then let's look at what drives a large number of people in the field.  You want your image projected on a huge screen in front of a crowd and to spend millions of money to create and promote that image (verses using that money to somehow otherwise improve the world)?  What is that?  Ego magnified and unleashed?  And what is it that is going to get you there in the first place?  Hundreds of people's labor and money and sacrifice contributed in some way that falls far short of fair trade.  Isn't it crazy to say that is how it should be?

Or how about the creative impulse to make a movie in the first place?  How does that logic work?  You are going to sit down and write a script.  That's like saying you can build a world with worlds.  Okay, so maybe you've seen that done well so it's not totally insane, but think of the labor and time that needs to be invested to get you there.  Most scripts are written on spec, i.e. faith.  Worldbuilding requires you to believe each time you put those fingers to the keyboard that somehow all that money, all that labor, all those relationships and favors and deals, all that incredible generosity, will somehow make the choice to get behind that singular grand vision.  How can anyone expect that to happen?  You have to be nuts.

It's not just the practical on the ground proof or understanding of the process that proves the link between the creative act and the state of being bonkers: science backs it up further.

Psychology Today reported: "People with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (with the effect stronger in schizophrenia) were more likely to have parents and siblings who were in creative professions."  "The reverse sort of "non-creative" correlation was also true - folks with schizophrenia were significantly less likely to have relatives who were accountants and auditors."

Okay, does that mean that all of us in the passion business should stop procreating?  Or are we creating a new race that can chase windmills like no other?

In their article on raising a prodigy, the NY TImes put more icing on the creativity cake by pointing out

"Creativity & psychosis map similarly in the brain, each contingent on a reduced number of dopamine D2 receptors in the thalamus."

They are bedfellows.  And thankfully they get it on pretty regularly.  Shine on you crazy diamonds.  I don't know what I would do if it was not for you.  You make this world such a wonderful place.  Each effort leads to more and we get closer and closer to that glorious sun that warms our face and helps us to go on -- and certainly gets out of bed each morning.

Why Don't We Have MORE Mindblowing Movies?!!

We were promised jetpacks.

That pretty much sums up the state of culture for me. Maybe I am greedy. I have far more movies that I want to see than I have time on earth, so I shouldn't be complaining, right?  I know that we can match people with the movies that they will respond to so much better than we do now. Everyone is in a similar boat of grand abundance. But still...  We were promised jetpacks, and have cheese spread instead.

Is it that we don't try hard enough to create truly original work? Or is it some flaw in the environment, an outside contagion? In America, I recognize we have tremendously diverse work -- and granted it is remains a bit difficult to discover it, even when it is out there. But at the same time, since we have no actual government support for the cinematic arts, the films that are well funded are generally forced to pursue the path of what is expected to sell. Most people determine what will sell by what has sold before. It is not so surprising that most of the work is consequently derivative .

I remember once being told by an executive -- who claimed to truly love the mindblowing film I was trying to get support for -- that he would do my movie in a heartbeat...  provided I had ten other ones just like it, so that if he built an audience for groundbreaking work, the time and expense he went to building that community would not be squandered. I recognize that ours is an economy of scale.  Nothing can be done just for a single audience (right?). However, I also recognize that our biggest independent successes are frequently the films that are doing something very different from what the mainstream is doing (Paranormal Activity, The Passion Of The Christ, Farenheit 9/11).

So why can't we deliver movies that consistently take us to another place? Can't we train ourselves to deviate from the norm?  Why does so much of the work have to be so damn derivative?  What happened to the WTF moment being a staple of cinema?  Isn't part of the artist's obligation to show where we could go?  Had we been around in 1902 for Melies' A Trip To The Moon and then dreamed of where the voyage of cinema would take us, I can't help but think we would not still be stuck at this place and time on earth. We can go FURTHER. What is holding us back?

Why Make This Movie? 15 Answers To A Question That Should Be Asked More Often

You are a filmmaker. Maybe you are a director. Maybe a producer. Well, whatever you are, what if you didn't have to make the movie you've been trying to make so long with so much effort? Well, you really don't. We often work so hard for so long trying to get our precious films made that we also often lose sight of the fact that all creation is a choice. How can we prevent ourselves from forgetting that there is a right time for every choice?  And sometimes that time has passed us by.

Sometimes the process of putting our movies together has gone on for such an extent, we've moved on from the reasons that we wanted to make the movie in the first place.

What makes a movie important to make?  And important to make right now?  What are the factors that require us to make it now?  What should we ask ourselves, before pushing blindly ahead yet again? It's important to make a film when it is truly most important to us -- sounds logical enough, but I think we forget that when we are engaged in the process.  If we don't want to lose sight of what is needed to make a great movie, we have to make sure we don't lose sight of why we want to make the movie.  It is never enough to do something just because we can.  Most people think the question is "why not make this movie?" but it should be the positive version: you need to know why you should put your labor in service of a work.  I am sure there are many more good reasons, and I hope you will offer them. Here's 15 to get you started.

  1. You emotionally connect with the material.  When you try to talk about it, your eyes well up.  There's that thing about it that you connect to in such a deep way that it changes how you feel.  Stop trying to explain it -- just do the damn movie and get on with it already.
  2. I want to make movies that are about the time that I am living in, whether or not that is the time they are set in.  I don't believe that movies are reflective of our time just because they are made in our time.  That certain something, that observation that is truly defining -- sometimes expressed consciously, sometimes not -- is a reason to make the movie now.  If that reason is not there, maybe it is a reason not to proceed.
  3. I want to make movies that compel people to discuss them afterwards.  I often have felt that the definition of art is that it won't leave you alone -- it demands to be debated.  When I find something I know people will have a wide range of opinion on, it gets me excited.  I love imagining the arguments between friends and love ones that an idea, or an expression of that idea, can spark.
  4. Sometimes it's enough to go on an adventure.  Making movies is an addictive process as each one is different with a new team and a new set of problems and opportunities.  That's thrilling.  Movie making is consistent set of discoveries.  How great is that?  The challenge of a particular film can sometimes be enough to encourage it to get made or for one to participate in it.  There are some projects that have certain challenges to the physical making of it, that gives you the confidence to believe that something new will be discovered in the process.
  5. The production of some films is guaranteed to be a journey into the unknown or the uneasy -- both being fertile ground for self-discovery or self-actualization.  Whether one is a creative person or one who excels at supporting creative people (or maybe a bit of both) the challenge of the unknown, of what one may be fearful of, or even queasy about, is an opportunity to go further, to test one self and become more as a result.  Sometimes it is worth it.
  6. I think movies can change people.  I want to make films that can change people. I have always been drawn to stories that help us relate to people we might feel we have nothing in common to.  Movies allow people to walk a mile in another man's shoes.
  7. Certain movies and subjects help us to discuss, confront, even understand subjects and themes that we otherwise have trouble knowing how to talk about.  Movies put subjects into the cultural discussion. 
  8. Some stories have to be told.  Others have been told so many times before, I am not sure why we are returning to them yet again.  Beautiful work, incredibly personal work, work of honest emotion and truth -- I get why they need to be told.  Work that exposes what is really going on, or shows another point of view -- yes, that too.  There's so much out there that needs to be told in fact, I really wonder why our business and culture keeps on with the redundant and unnecessary.
  9. You have a relationship with the director or producer or actor or financier that is important to you.  People matter and working with those you like is a pleasure that is hard to match.  That said, you shouldn't do a movie as a favor, or else you will probably regret it.
  10. The instigating artist, be it writer or director or producer, needs to be championed and/or supported.  There are some artists that you can see that we need (aka the artist for our time) but have yet to be given the chance; you can tell though that they will make great work, even if what you are being offered is not quite that.  Still you must do it.
  11. The film could transform how a participating artist is perceived.  Now, I have not encountered a film yet that I wanted to do for the actor or the cinematographer or another collaborator, but I can imagine it could happen.
  12. I think movies can change the world.  I know that they have.  I don't really think any of mine have.  And that kills me. I have been at it a long time.  I need to give this a real try.
  13. You are the one -- or at least one of the only ones -- that can really help this to happen.  It's good to be needed, isn't it?
  14. You will make it better if you get involved.  The importance of this diminishes I think the more you get done.  And of course, this one doesn't matter if some of the other reasons aren't fulfilled first.
  15. You like it.  This is the final reason on this list and it is last for a certain reason.  I don't think it is ever enough to go through the challenge of making and marketing a work just because you like it.  It takes more, usually something else from this list.  That said, I can imagine that something will one day find me that I am compelled to make simply because I can.

SUPER's Rainn Wilson Gets Philosophical (Again)

Rainn gives back in a big way. I am a bit in awe in how generative and generous this man is. There's a reason why he has over 2 million twitter followers and it's not just because he's really funny. He cares about things. He cares about people. He cares about process. He's thoughtful. And he's one of the folks I am thankful for getting to know in this past year.

BTW, if you haven't encountered Brainpickings.org yet, stop delaying. It is where I found this vid and it is one of the best curated sites out there. Give yourself a gift for being so damn good this year and subscribe to their free weekly newsletter. It will make your new year even better.