Friday, March 23, 2007

Successful Filmmakers Cause Pain

I am volunteering at the Dallas AFI Film Festival, because I do things like that. I like film festivals in general and Short Film Showcases in particular. The short film showcases tend to be more crowded than other programs, and they also have the most enthusiastic crowds.

Here’s why – only newbies make short films. Do you ever hear about Stephen Spielberg’s great idea for a 6 minute short? Do you think that Tom Cruise looks up from his spiral notebook of Deep Scientology Thoughts and proclaims to his handlers and yes men, “Hey! This weekend would be a great time to film a dramatic scene where I can hone my acting ability! Let’s just do because we care about art, not money!”

Of course not. Short films, especially ones by first time directors, are made out of love and care. It takes a village to make a short film. Or an extended family.

And that is who shows up – friends and family. And they’re going to love whatever is on the screen no matter how crappy it is because THEY HELPED MAKE THIS HAPPEN. This is their moment to sit back and admire their own handiwork. And if this great happening happens to be a tasteless waste of time, no one will admit it, lest they look foolish. And clapping at every name in every credit does not make you look foolish because everyone in the three rows around you is doing the same thing, except some of them are hootin' and hollerin', too.

The only problem is when the short film programming pits first-time filmmakers against each other. Like the one I was assigned to.

One film on the program was for kids. Wellllll, it was not necessarily made for kids (it was an adult thinking back to childhood), but it was chock full of kids. Almost all of the scenes had children frolicking all through the background. And all of the little child extras came en masse to see their collective screen debuts.

Unfortunately, the film with the kids in it came after the other two short films. And the first of these was a “comedy” about a guy who creates a magic formula that makes women want to have sex with him (HA!) until he gets mobbed by women so much he just has to kill them all (HAHAHA!!!). During the scene where he is having a threesome in the back of a taxi (OH! MY SIDES! STOP THE HILARITY, PLEASE!), the parents of all the under-eight-year-old crowd decide it is time to pack up and go home.

The director of the filled-with-kids film got upset about this and complained to the staff. Because I was the peon-on-duty, all I saw of the conflict was the moment of first escalation. “I’m sorry, I am just a volunteer. Let me take you to the program director’s table, and you can make a formal complaint to them.” Apparently, the director calmed down enough to make it through the rest of the screening (minus the prepubescent entourage, of course), but wrote a nasty note to the marketing department when all was said and done. Yes, a few feathers were ruffled, but a crisis was averted.

I wondered if anyone else saw this happen, and how they felt about it. I got my answer when the screening ended and all of the friends and family clustered around each other, so happy that they had all made it to the big time. I walked over to the “comedy” troupe, put on my listening ears, and heard the director of the drug-rape-kill “comedy” bragging to the little “comedy”-loving entourage about it.

“Did you see those people walk out? That guy took, what, like five fuckin' kids out of my movie? You didn’t see it? Aw, man , it was FUCKIN’ AWESOME! I FUCKIN’ RULE!”

And then, the inevitable high five.

This is where I differ from most up-and-coming filmmakers. I would like my film to be seen, to have people enjoy it, and then want to pay me lots of money for unique pleasure of owning the DVD. No where in my agenda does making people walk out of my film fit – especially when they’re in a friends and family crowd.

Maybe someday I’ll learn.

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