Friday, Aug. 24.
I’m taking it easy today. I made such a mess in the back yard that Jane had to call a tree service to come in and repair the damage.
I wonder if such a service exists for crazed filmmakers. My snit yesterday has done little but further convince the folks at Gestation that I’m kkkkkrrrraaazzzzyyyy. And like all good parents they instantly got angry and cut off all communication. No one is talking to me now. The silence is deafening. Or maybe it’s just the enraged scream of the chainsaw still echoing in my brain.
A few days ago I was all set to take a leisurely blogstroll backwards through the gentle garden of memory; to trace the origin of the second main idea in Delirious; that of Stardom. I will return to it, I promise–if anybody wants to hear it. But, I thought you might find it interesting to observe this current drama with me while it happens. I will request however that the moment I begin to sound like Lenny Bruce strangling in his own rage, someone will let me know.
First, why am I bugging out? Any highschool guidance counselor can tell you that rage comes from fear. Filmmaking is not a profession you can do alone. It’s not like painting a picture you can hang in the bathroom or lean against the wall in the garage if it doesn’t turn out. No matter how small the budget every movie requires the faith and participation of hundreds of people. Just getting a foot of film to run through the camera takes years of tedious pursuit of The Money. Of course I try to keep my budgets as low as possible. But even so, if you needed to raise a million bucks, where would you get it? That’s a lot of money to hit your parents and ex-girlfriends up for.
So, you take the script to every single financing source that exists, or may one day exist. Then by some miracle you convince someone to give you the cash. No matter what their “artistic” faith in the film is, they have one objective for which you cannot blame them–to make their money back. And if the film, when it finally reaches the screen, plays for a week the repercussions affect everyone. The financier loses his cash and his faith in the filmmaker. The filmmaker then loses his credibility in the marketplace. As much as I genuinely value all the comments encouraging me to just believe in my vision, it is an increasingly arduous challenge to maintain that vision when financiers examine your “track record” and decide the risk of investing in you is not worth taking. I am immensely proud of all my films, even the ones that stumbled either creatively or financially. But this fact is inescapable: The fate of each film determines the ability to make another.
My last film, Double Whammy, was bought by LionsGate at Sundance in 2001. They never released it theatrically even though they signed a contract specifically agreeing to do so. That event had direct impact on how long it took to make Delirious. I would be an arrogant moron if I did not acknowledge my own responsibility in choosing to make both films. Neither is standard Box Office fare. But I still believe there was room in the marketplace for them. I’m not talking about success in Titanic terms. Success for a film like Delirious would be for it to be seen by enough people to give Gestation a profit and to encourage future investors to write me another check. There is no greater luxury for me than to be able to make another film. To contemplate right now the possibility that my next film, as a result of either mishandling or audience indifference, might take me another six years is…terrifying.
I also don’t believe in the hypnotic mantra of Box Office. I think numbers are obscene. But, in a business where nobody knows anything, numbers (being tangible) become realer than steel and just as cold and rigid. They give eternal validation to the distributors, financiers, stars and directors. Magazines and entertainment news channels regularly list an actor’s or director’s films with the box office grosses of each one. This public display of box office figures has taken on the weight of a religious proclamation. The numbers trumpet, “Look at me! I have gigantic value and power because all the commas and decimal points are irrefutable!”
And then of course the opposite is true; if your Numbers are terrible they get shoved in your face at every opportunity. This has happened on every one of my films. The numbers prove they are right. No matter that the ad campaign consists of a mouse running down Broadway with Living In Oblivion tattoed on its tail. Numbers don’t lie. No matter that Delirious has won major awards around the world and has received strong reviews here. You don’t have the Numbers; in other words people don’t want to see your film. And if they are persistent enough, and you are weary enough then the whispers of self-doubt creep up and start murmering in your ear, “They’re right. It’s your fault for making a film no one wants to see.” And you have to fight harder now because the battle is not only with the Numbers but with yourself. Right then is when they sharpen every steely numeral and stab you in the heart with them. Every time you open your mouth to say, “Wait. Wait. Can’t we just give it another few days?” the answer comes back: No; the Numbers. The Numbers.
Everywhere I went with Delirious, even in Istanbul, I was asked the same question: what is happening with American independent film? The answer I gave was always the same but the truth of my words did not hit home until 4 days ago. Gestation has said in their defense that the marketplace is brutally over-crowded. They are right. If a film–any film–doesn’t perform in the Opening Weekend theater owners quickly replace it with another instead of letting it build an audience. So, what does this mean? A small, independent film like Delirious has to pack the same box office punch as Superbad in order to survive. And if that is the new rule, then someone help me here; how does that make independent films different from Hollywood studio films?
It doesn’t. American independent film does not exist anymore. This is not sour grapes or cranky, defeatist pessimism. It is a statement of fact based upon the reality that is right in front of us. This is why this fight for a film’s survival sometimes takes on the intensity of life and death. Of course actual life and death is eminently more important, but there is something nearly as crucial in the struggle to establish and perpetuate a life career–no matter what it is; filmmaker, artist, musician, writer, chainsaw operator.
This why I sometimes get kkkkrrraaaazzzzy. This is why sometimes I speak up, I ask questions, I become “inflammatory.” This why I get labelled, “Indie auteur with a short fuse.” Because The Golden Rule in this business is, Don’t Say Anything. If you piss people off you burn bridges. They won’t work with you again; they won’t give you money and they won’t distribute your films. And this doesn’t just apply to producers, distributors and financiers. Sometimes a journalist will take offense at something you’ve said and retaliate with similar speed, vehemence and permanence.
A friend scolded me recently, “You can’t win by getting angry. You have to fight back by being crazy like a fox.” Good advice. I’ll try it; even though every fox I’ve ever seen has been either running from dogs or hiding under a rock.
ZEN MANTRA FROM MONA: “When clearing trees always make sure to leave two for the hammock.” Seriously, this could go in every fortune cookie in the world. Well, done Ms. EM.
THIS JUST IN: Gestation has taken out a significant-sized ad in today’s NY Times. They took my suggestion and listed all the strong reviews. To my great astonishment they have also placed an ad (smaller) in the LA Times. I sent an email expressing my appreciation and my willingness to continue doing press for the film. Now the only thing that has to happen is that someone actually goes to see the film this weekend. I’ll let you know Monday.