AKA " Why I Want To Be Part Of The San Francisco Film Society". Last Wednesday, Oct 3rd, I gave my first address to the membership of The San Francisco Film Society as part of our Annual Funding Campaign Drive. We had a good turn out; I like to think it was for me and the organization, but the food and wine were both enticing too. I did my best to explain why I left NYC and headed to San Francisco. It required that I explain why I love cinema and what it means to me, as well as some of the issues facing filmmakers today and why we need the support of organizations like SFFS.
Thanks to Raqcoon Hayop who was there to shoot it and post it for prosperity's sake.
To effectively serve, preserve, embrace and enhance film and film culture, we must examine, participate, and evolve the broadest definition thereof. Film, as an art, culture, community, business, and science is consistently evolving – it may be a cliché, but it’s a fact that film cultures only constant is change. Film’s evolution needs to be embraced and experimented with --not feared.
Large well-financed interests are heavily committed to maintaining the status quo and as much as those corporate and business entities are the filmmakers' & film cultures' allies, those who love film first for the art and culture must act for the artists’ interests over those of pure profit. It’s a difficult balancing act that must be maintained, as alliances must be built so that business can enhance art. For the promotion of film culture, artists and their work -- and their ability to sustain themselves -- must remain the focus of all support and cultural organizations.
Film, and any program to support it, can never be only local, national, or international in scope. A film organization must embrace all three of these aspects as they influence and shape one another. Organizations need to serve locally, recruit, reach, and build nationally, and collaborate internationally. The health of film culture comes with the recognition of this interdependence.
The disruption of the film industry and culture, prompted by the digital revolution, requires a radical rethink of how our support organizations may best serve their constituencies. The cost of creation, execution, and marketing & distribution, within film culture & business has shrunk to such an extent that most barriers have been virtually removed, opening up opportunities for new explorations of form, content, engagement, and appreciation. Opportunity will never be the same as outcome though, and a pro-active force is required to move access towards execution.
Media literacy is thankfully on the rise and the dependence on a one-off feature film business model is on the decline – a double-headed transition that could usher in the end of the era of feature film form dominance and the birth of over-all content utility. Artists need encouragement & support to adapt their practices and work to extend into multi-form and cross-platform approaches, while simultaneously striving for real-world career sustainability.
As much as the technology, art, artists, and audiences have embraced some of these changes, the industry and market however have resisted them. This gulf offers a wealth of opportunity. However, a reception for change doesn’t necessarily carry with it the ability to do so; artists and their supporters lag behind the development of technology and require new training and knowledge to utilize it. The world’s economic crises and recessions – with their resultant industry & government based capital limitations -- further limit new business models and art forms from developing, let alone taking hold -- without some positive outside intervention. We must find ways to be more inclusive (and profitable!) for the private sector.
The divide between the haves and have-nots in the arts is reflected by the difference between Hollywood’s focus on tent-poles and Indieland’s reliance on micro-budgets, with the under-funded and artistically adventurous threatened with extinction unless brave new initiatives are undertaken. I exaggerate not -- when I speak to my producing brethren, they are usually on the cliff's edge, ready to throw in the towel. The art of filmmaking should not be relegated to hobby status.
Film is no longer a viable career choice for new artists, or those who want to facilitate them; instead everyone must now seek out secondary support occupations to pursue their passions (or be blessed by birth or patrons). The strategicly-wise among them have already embraced a shift from individualized creative expressions to more collaborative ventures. Long-range planning and infrastructure-building need as much, perhaps more, attention than the commitment to the individual visionary work. The shift from a product business model to that of a relationship with the people formerly known as the audience (to lift from Lance Weiler's phrasing) is a huge transition that won't be easy. I won't ask others to do what I myself am not willing to both do & exemplify.
Our entertainment economy, and the art it supports, was built upon the concepts of scarcity and control, but today’s reality is one of super-abundance and access – the exact opposite. To survive and flourish, today’s artist/entrepreneurs -- and those who support them -- must all embrace practices that extend beyond the core skills of development, production, and postproduction of their art and work – and even reach beyond the attention and practice of marketing and distribution. To flourish in these complex times, our film community must commit to a comprehensive strategy that emphasizes the full definition of cinema. We must embrace a comprehensive program of discovery, engagement, participation, collaboration, appreciation, presentation, value-exchange, and community-transitioning. These aspects are equal necessities for all participants to master if we are to enjoy a sustainable, diverse, and ambitious film culture. We need to develop best practices for this, providing support and direction. We can do this, but someone has to lead, and will never be an individual or a single organization -- but it's time is now.
Our art, culture, and support organizations must pivot to emphasize these needs, while also encouraging the experimentation that can lead to the best practices. Our emphasis on promoting success, while ignoring the "failures" that we could really learn from is simply wrong-headed. Despite my passion and commitment towards bringing new and ambitious work to the screen, I can not in good faith continue a project by project focus, as I feel that as personally satisfying as that has been, all of our ability to do so in the future will be severely limited without a widespread commitment to institute new changes and support. If all of us just continue to look out for our individual projects, we are fucked. We can't just keep making movies without giving equal attention to the overall infrastructure.
I trust that I am not alone in this new commitment and that I can count on the full and long term support of others in this mission. It is the reason that I wanted to come to San Francisco and lead the Film Society. I have always produced films in a manner that conserved costs but expanded ambition, and that is a view I will bring as I pivot my attention towards infrastructure, programming, services, and education. We will build it better together. There has never been a better time to be a story teller or an artist/entrepreneur -- we can not squander this opportunity.
Good bye NYC. Hello Bay Area!
Okay, read it if you want to. I don't want to make any demands. There are some more important things to do -- I understand. I just needed to get all the press together in one place. I wanted to send it to my Mom. So here it is. I am sure I am missing some, so let me know if you find any more.
Media Decoder – NY Times Blog (Michael Cieply)
Variety (Dave McNary)
The Hollywood Reporter (Tatiana Siegel)
Indiewire (Peter Knegt)
Thompson on Hollywood (Anne Thompson)
Thompson on Hollywood (Anne Thompson)
Deadline (Mike Fleming)
The Wrap (Steve Pond)
The Wrap (Steve Pond)
Movieline (Brian Brooks)
Screen Daily (Jeremy Kay)
Real Screen (Kevin Ritchie)
Movie City News (Ray Pride)
We Are Movie Geeks (Michelle McCue)
Filmmaker Magazine (Scott Macaulay)
Film Sociey of Lincoln Center Blog (Eugene Hernandez)
Keyframe (David Hudson)
Film Festival Today (Sandy Mandelberger)
Awards Circuit (Terence Johnson)
Chicago Tribune (William Pfaff)
Arthouse Convergence Blog
San Francisco Chronicle (Pam Grady)
KQED News (Cy Musiker)
7x7 Magazine (Jackson Scarlett)
Pixel Vision – San Francisco Bay Guardian Blog (Cheryl Eddy)
SFist (Andrew Dalton)
Film Leaf (Chris Knipp)
San Francisco Chronicle (correction)