THE OFFICIAL FLIXTOUR JOURNAL
"ALL ABOARD! ... FOR FUN!"
The sometimes sad, sometimes happy, always harrowing experiences of a no-budget independent filmmaker on the road with his tiny little movie.
October 8, 1998 - The Beginning
9:25 am - I arrived in Philly last night. I was supposed to fly in today but I had a cousin in town staying at the Airport Marriott on business, so I came in early for the visit and the free room. Can you blame me? Can you? Huh? I got on the plane in Los Angeles with a slight cold and got off the plane deaf in my left ear. Cabin pressure made me feel like Jimmy Page after a night in front of a Marshall stack. Woke up this morning and almost have my hearing back. It still sounds like I've water in my ear but this too shall pass. And what about my back! Oy, and my knees! And my .... oh .... uh, do I sound like someone's grandfather? Actually, I feel fine. Well, other than my ear but .... All right, enough about that. On to the Flixtour.
Tonight's the first screening of "Life Sold Separately" and I'm cautiously excited. I'm assuming that there'll be a lot of film students there. And that's what makes me nervous. Why? Well, when I was in film school at USC, we had a class called 466, in which the studios would send their new films over for us to watch. Usually the director would come down, sometimes with the stars and producers in tow. And more often than not, the class would absolutely tear these poor guys apart, assuming they didn't like the film. Of course, I never did that, but the other students would and I generally got quite a kick out of it. Granted, we were tearing apart such modern day classics as "Rambo - First Blood" and some horror film about Barbara Hersey getting raped by the ghost of her dead husband (if these movies sound kind of old, well -- they are. I graduated from USC in 1984. And I just made my first independent film, you ask with a slight hint of derision? Well, what can I say? I'm a late bloomer.) But now I'm worried that the big ol' Wheel of Karma is creaking around to crush me in its gears with an audience full of smart ass Rutgers-Camden students. But it would only be fair, I guess. But I sure hope it doesn't happen. I mean, I'm a guy coming in with an earnest little $30,000 film. I'm not Fraser Heston bringing down the premiere of "Mother Lode," fer cryin' out loud. Well, we'll see tonight. Fingers crossed.
October 9, 1998
1:02 am - Well, what can I say? I could lie and tell you that we really packed them in tonight or I could be honest. Oh, what the hell? I'll lie.
Boy, did we pack 'em in tonight! It was standing room only! I couldn't believe it. There were actually people fighting for seats. At one point, things got so desperate that the police were called. Several indie-hungry film students were carted off to the hoosegow on the charge of improperly using a theater seat. And then ... the ... um .....
Ah, forget that. Like the proverbial George Washington, I cannot tell a lie. Oh, I'd like to. Heck, I wish I could. Oh, the lies I'd tell! Like the one about me having lunch with Abraham Lincoln. I tried that one a few times but no one believed me. I guess I just didn't tell it convincingly enough. But right now I'll be honest:
Tonight was a lightly attended event. Very light. Extremely light.
HOWEVER, I am in no way discouraged and I'll tell you why ("Oh, do tell us, Mr. Feig. We're all waiting upon your every word ... if we can keep from falling asleep, you ponderous mothergrabber"). I am not discouraged because what we are doing with Flixtour is ...
New things don't always work right away. Most businesses have a break in period, a period in which they expect to incur some losses as they find their footing and build their client base. And that's what's going on here. Tom McPhee had warned me that Rutgers-Camden hadn't done well attendance-wise in the past. So, I was prepared. Then, it was pouring rain all day here in Philly (or Philadelphia, as the kids say). Then, I discovered that this is a commuter college, and it happens to be in a ... well ... how do I put this nicely? Um ... a seedy area. All right, "seedy" doesn't really conjure the image of this place accurately. Let's say, for the sake of rhetoric, that Camden is a bad part of town. So, now we'll add up these factors.
a) History of low attendance,
b) torrential rain, and
c) an area that you don't particularly want to hang out in at night.
The sum total? These all add up to, well, about seven people in a theater that holds 660 people. Let's just say, we had plenty of extra seats on which to put our coats. Now you're asking yourself, "Why's he telling us all this? It doesn't make Flixtour sound very good."
Well, if you say that, then you're part of the reason that alternative distribution will have such a hard time taking off. To encounter a few failures when you're trying something new is normal. If we stopped now, then our new system would never become a working system. We have to learn from our failures. What I learned was, hold screenings at Rutgers-Camden during the day. There's a very interested student body here and a lot of film and arts students. They'll come to the movie but like any of us, they want to make getting to the movie as easily as possible. So, that's the solution. Day screenings in Jersey, so students and faculty can attend directly after classes or during lunch.
So, that's my take on what you might call the "bad stuff" that happened at the screening. Now, the good stuff!:
Rutgers-Camden is the best place I've screened my film, from a technical viewpoint. I'm showing it during Flixtour on VHS because I'm not happy with my 16mm answer print and because I want to have my film shown in stereo sound. The video projector they have at Rutgers took my VHS tape and filled a large movie screen with its contents, "Life Sold Separately." It looked great, 35mm sized. Then, they had the soundtrack hooked through the theater's sound system and suddenly I was hearing things on my production track that I'd never heard before. It was loud and clear.
Also, the students who attended were great. We had a really good question and answer session afterward and all ended up talking a lot longer after the Q & A had officially ended. One of the guys that runs the theater asked if he could have a copy of my film and since I brought quite a few tapes, I told him "sure." I love the thought of my film being passed around and watched by college students. It would be a dream for my film to become some underground hit. Heck, I'd just happy if people kept watching it and passing it around, hit or no hit.
So, what I'm saying is, in this new world of what I like to call "Un-dependent Film Distribution," we have to take our lemons and make lemonade, and before we chug it down, we have to take that lemonade to a lab and have it analyzed so we can figure out what was wrong and what was right. I'm looking forward to my next gig, which is College Miscordia tomorrow (Saturday, the 10th). It is only through perseverance that we "undependent" filmmakers will prevail. We're forging a new network of distribution for all the good films that are just too small to get through the politics of the current film festival circuit. We need this to work if we want our films to reach audiences. We cannot get discouraged. The rewards are too great.
Stay strong, stay happy and stay together.
And, by all means, brush your teeth every once in a while. I mean, c'mon, man. Where were you brought up? In a barn?
(Why can't I ever end on an upnote?)
October 11, 1998
12:32 am - Just heard on CNN that Bono from U2 wrote a screenplay for an "independent film" that's going to be produced. It's going to star Mel Gibson and be directed by Wim Wenders. And yes, that's right, folks, they're calling it an independent film.
I think thing's have gotten a little out of hand.
And so, I am now making a new term official. I'm not even going to copyright it. I give it to the world in hopes that it will clear up a little confusion. It's a term I made you aware of in my last entry but now I'm giving it its official launch. Use it. Love it. Make it happen (but at least give me credit for it if it takes off big):
You can even drop the hyphen.
Let it roll off your tongue.
It'll drive your old English teacher crazy because it couldn't be more grammarically incorrect. But it's accurate.
Webster's Dictionary may soon have this entry in the U's: "Undependent film - (un-dee-pen-dent fill-mmm) noun - definition - any recreation or representation of life on either chemically-coated celluloid or electronic or digital videotape or computer disk that is made at a low cost and delivered to an audience using means outside of the traditional Hollywood system of theatrical distribution. See Independent film, archaic usage."
The time is nigh.
I'm not slighting Hollywood. I think the Hollywood system is great. It's brought us almost all the movies we've loved over the last century. I enjoy seeing big Hollywood films. It's just that the Hollywood system is like the auto industry. It's a business. It's big business. It's one of the biggest businesses in the world. And it can generate a lot of money. And that's its main objective. What other objective could a big business have? If it didn't, it wouldn't be a big business. It'd be out of business.
If the studios are like the auto industry, then independent film started out like the guys who make custom cars. Inspired by the auto industry and yet not seeing versions of the cars they'd like to see, these guys started making their own cars -- cars that appealed to a smaller segment of the auto buying industry. But they were of their own design and they said something to the people who saw them. They were labors of love and they posed no threat to the auto industry. The two co-existed happily and without conflict. The auto industry had its Car Shows and the custom builders had their Autoramas.
And that's how independent film used to be. When "Stranger Than Paradise" came out, it played on the art house and film festival curcuit and gained quite an audience for itself. Same with "My Dinner with Andre." And Gregg Araki's films. And many others. These were considered art house films and their makers usually made money from this, coupled with a good European market for small, challenging films. Hollywood continued to make its blockbusters, independent film-loving audiences were happy knowing they were supporting outsiders, and independent filmmakers were happy to be getting their films to their most appreciative crowds.
But then something weird happened. Independent films took off. "Clerks" went through the roof, at least for a movie that cost relatively nothing to make. Then "The Brothers MacMullan" made a big splash. "Reservoir Dogs," "Pulp Fiction," "Sling Blade." All great movies and all very successful when compared to their budgets. It was as if custom car makers suddenly started selling tons of cars to college students. Detroit would say, "Gee, younger drivers really seem to dig these custom cars. You know what? We'd better start making some custom cars of our own so we can grab a piece of that pie." And so this is what Hollywood did, film-wise. And on top of that, they also started scouring the film festivals in search of ready-made products that they could pick up for less money than it would cost them to make the same film. The stakes went up and suddenly independent filmmakers were seeing pots of gold at the end of the festival rainbow. Those who pulled it off did great. But that was a very, very small number. The problem started when all the magazines and TV shows started touting these discoveries and then more and more indie filmmakers started going after the same pot of gold. Suddenly, people who had never thought about independent film started trying their hands in it, thinking it the quickest way to entering the high paying world of Hollywood filmmaking. And the next thing you knew, Slamdance was receiving 1,400 submissions in one year.
So where's my obtuse little history lesson going? Well, it's bringing us to the present day, a day in which there's suddenly a lot of little films sitting around waiting for audiences to enjoy them -- films that the film festivals can't program because of lack of screen space. And now all these earnest little films have been relegated to the equivalent of the Island of Misfit Toys from the Rankin-Bass production of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." But now Charlie in the Box is, for lack of a better example, a film titled "Life Sold Separately." The Polka Dot Elephant is a film called "Dreamer." The Squirt Gun That Shoots Jelly is "Little Shots of Happiness." And as all the other no-budget indie filmmakers out there know, there's plenty of other misfits populating the island, with more and more arriving everyday. And most of them are movies that would challenge and entertain their target audiences and yet they've been relegated to this no-man's land by a distribution industry that is simply faced with too much product. A few gems will always slip through but the majority will languish in the filmmakers' video collections and film vaults. And that's sad.
So, Undependent film must solve this. Undependent filmmakers must say, "I'm going to make a film and I hope it gets absorbed into the Hollywood system, but if it doesn't, I'm going to explore other ways to get it out there." Video projection, college tours, direct sales of video tapes, the internet, screenings in your backyard -- whatever it takes to get your film to an audience. Any audience. We might not make a lot of money but that's even more incentive to keep our costs down. Concentrate on script and story and characters and we can make our movies cheap. Shoot them on video if you have to. Our main concern should be making something we care about, a story we feel we just have to tell, and then doing everything we can to get it out there. As filmmakers, we have to make films because we love films. And we want audiences to love our films. Or learn from our films. Or be inspired by our films. Or be entertained by our films. The only thing our undependent films should be dependent upon is the audience.
And the irony is, once we really start doing this for the audience, once we start affecting them and drawing them into wherever we're screening our work, then Hollywood will come knocking on our doors.
And it'll be up to us whether we want to open the door or not.
It's a bit of a Pollyannic view of the world. And yet, that's the only view I care to have right now. Anything else will just make me stop trying, and I don't feel like stopping just yet.
I hope you don't either.
October 12, 1998
Today I drove for six hours from Wilkes-Barre, PA, to Bridgeport, WV. Tomorrow night I'll be showing my film at Salem Teikyo University. Looking forward to it.
Please stop refusing to break down in my stomach and kindly refrain from making me fart all night.
October 13, 1998
11: 28pm - I'm very, very happy right now. And I also learned a valuable lesson. Why and what, you ask? Well, I'll tell you.
I went by Salem Teikyo University this morning to make sure I knew where I was going for tonight's show (I got a tad bit lost on my way to the screening at College Misericordia the other night, but we go into that now -- in fact, we'll never go into that -- so, uh, why did I mention it? I wish to God I knew). As I drove through the backwoods highways of West Virginia to get there, I was found myself wondering why Flixtour had bothered to book me into such a small, remote university in the first place. I know, I know, that's a pretty elitist, high fallutin', city slicker way to think but what can I say? That's what I was thinking. When I finally wound my way up the wooded path off the freeway and saw Salem Teikyo appear like some tiny oasis, I thought, "Yikes, my high school was bigger than this place." I got out of the car and walked into the student union where the screening would be held, saw the Flixtour posters and my picture up on the board highlighting the night's activities and high tailed it out of there. On the way back to the hotel, I was quite perplexed. I wasn't really sure why I was going to show my film somewhere so small that had no film program.
Well, I got quite an attitude adjustment.
When the screening started, we had a nice sized crowd in attendance. And once my movie began, I became ecstatic. This audience of non-film students were reacting to my film better than any audience I'd ever shown it to, anywhere. They laughed at every joke. They laughed at jokes that I had forgot I'd written as jokes because they'd never received a response. They laughed at every visual joke and juxtaposition I'd directed. They reacted to everything! Even when the jukebox in the room next door started blaring and leaking through the wall during the third act, they were laughing and paying close attention to my film. Even when a baby that one of the students brought to the screening started making a great deal of noise, nobody seemed to notice. They kept watching and enjoying my film. And after it was over, they asked lots of questions and were so enthusiastic that I didn't want to let them leave. It was simply the best screening of my film I've ever had.
This was a great night for me. It makes the whole undependent filmmaking process worth while. This is why we should want to make undependent films. So people -- normal, civilian, non-movie making people -- can enjoy and be entertained by what we write and direct. This is the lesson I learned. Movies are made for audiences. Any audiences. Anywhere they might be or be going to school at. We don't make films for the converted. We make them for everyone.
I've never been more excited about filmmaking than I am right now.
If only I had the money to make another film these days.
Oh, yeah, that's the hard part about undependent film making, isn't it?
October 15, 1998
11:15pm - Back home in Michigan, the state of my birth, although I'm on the opposite side of the state from Detroit where I grew up. I'm just outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan, home of our finest president, Gerald R. Ford.
... well, okay, he wasn't our finest president. Actually, he wasn't even really in the top ten. Or the top twenty. Or thirty. Forty? Hmm, maybe. But, uh ... he was still a president, for cryin' out loud. And he did come from Michigan. So, cut me some slack, would ya? Criminey, always jumpin' down my throat, you indie filmmakers.
Hey, guess what? That's the only problem with my "Undependent Film" term. If you shorten it, we're suddenly making "Undie Films." I saw a good number of undie films at my bachelor party and let me say, if I had to be an undie filmmaker, then so be it. But, remember, the next time someone comes up to you and says, "Hey, wanna see my undies?," he or she might just be a filmmaker in search of an audience.
Or you're about to get lucky. Either way you can't lose!
Anyway, I digress.
Grand Valley State College is where I screened my film tonight. And it was another roaring success. Great crowd, great Q & A after the screening. And tonight we introduced something new -- exit polls. I know, I know, that sounds kinda corporate but stick with me on this one:
We're out at colleges showing our little films that Hollywood probably thinks are too small or uncommercial to be taken seriously. And yet we're finding that audiences really like our films and enjoy seeing them and would recommend them to their friends and would even like to buy a video if one were available. But for us to go to investors or distributors or studios and say, "Hey, college students really dig our films. How about investing in some of them?," well, the people we were meeting with would probably say "prove it." And so, with our little exit polls -- which is just a fancy way of saying "questionnaires that ask if you liked the film or not" -- we can walk in, drop a huge pile of paper on their desks and say, "Here, deny those, will you?" And then, who knows? Maybe we'll get more money to make more films or more distributors might want to help us bring our films to a wider audience. And then we can continue to make the films we want to make and we did it without big stars and big budgets and big distributors -- we did it by making good movies and by entertaining people.
That's the dream.
And if for no other reason, it's great for us as filmmakers to see what people think of our films. Being a filmmaker is a never-ending learning process, or at least it should be. We have to stay in touch with what people like and what people don't like. Not that we shouldn't do something in a film because it's a subject people don't want to deal with or aren't used to seeing yet, but because we should never lose sight of the fact that we're responsible to our audience in so far as we ultimately work for them, or at least different segments of them at different times. We can never please everyone but at the same time, we should try to please at least some of them. And this means showing them things they want to see, and sometimes it means showing them things they never thought of seeing. But it ultimately means wanting to make them come back and see our works again. And exit polls are the perfect way to do this. It shows us our weak points and it shows us our strong points as filmmakers. It's good to know if and when people got bored, or if and during what parts they got confused, or if they found that they wanted to see our movies again because either they missed something or they found it thought provoking enough to merit another viewing. And, from a purely egotistic point of view, it's just great to hear if people really liked our films.
And it's fun to have a written record of an audience's response. Something to show the grandkids, as the saying goes.
And so, the Flixtour exit polls were born.
So, crank up the undie films, put on a clean pair of undies (in case you get in an accident -- or if you've had an accident, well, then you'd really better change your undies) and be sure to enjoy our beautiful snack bar during the intermission.
Talk to you from Detroit!
October 18, 1998
12:47am - And the first leg of the Flixtour is now officially over. Tonight was the final screening of this trip and it saw us in beautiful Rochester, Michigan, at the always lovely Oakland University. The stunning Pontiac Silverdome is just a stone's throw from here and since there was an enchanting Lions game in town last night, I was stranded at my hotel because the traffic on the street in front of the lush AmeriSuites hotel was bumper to bumper and at an absolute stand still. So, I walked over to the delectable Mountain Jacks restaurant down the street and enjoyed a scintillating piece of swordfish, with a light, devil-may-care tomato salsa. All of which was complemented with a garden fresh vegetable salad and a heapin' helpin' of ... uh ... this is kind of boring, isn't it? Well, it may be boring to you, but it sure as shootin' was dee-licious for me! (All right, I'll stop using all those annoying adjectives in front of my nouns -- but it sure was fun for a while. I felt like a regular Rod McKuen. Or Rod Serling. Or Rod Stewart. Or rods and cones. Actually, I'm not really sure what I felt like, but I know it felt good.)
But, once again, I digress.
I've been hanging with Flixtour founder and Grand Poobah Tom McPhee and his right hand man Michael ever since I arrived in Michigan, since the Flixtour offices are here in Detroit. Tom and Michael accompanied me to Grand Valley State College and were also in attendance at the Oakland U. screening tonight. Last night, we all headed down to WDET public radio in Detroit, located on the campus of Wayne State University, to do an on-air interview with Ralph Valdez, F.O.U.F. (Friend Of Undependent Film). That went well and we made our plea to try and get non-college students to come on down to tonight's screening.
Well, this evening we had our biggest crowd yet and everything went great. The audience was very responsive and everyone stayed for the Q and A, although I think I got a little too long winded this time. I couldn't help it. I was excited to be in my hometown and was a bit too eager to please. I'm also never sure how much people know about the movie making process. If I start rambling on about the specifics of storyboarding when a majority of the audience doesn't even have a clue how movies are made, then I feel like I might as well be talking Chinese. But I think I probably went a little too basic tonight. When I found myself telling people the difference between a single camera and a multiple camera shoot, then I started hearing the voice coming out of my mouth going "Blah blah blah blah blah." But I think I got them back. The song and dance really helped. And then when I swallowed the sword, they seemed to become re-interested. And once I nailed my scrotum to a board, well then, I had them eating out of my hand.
Okay ... I didn't sing or swallow or nail my nuts to a plank. But I did answer their questions and no one tried to assassinate me after my talk, so that's gotta count for something, eh? Doesn't it? Hmm?
One thing that got me thinking tonight was a question that one student asked me. I had said that I could have made my movie for about five thousand dollars if I had shot it on video, as opposed to the thirty thousand it cost me to shoot film. He said, "Why would you shoot it on film if you could have saved all that money?" And I launched into an answer about how beautiful film looks when you project it and that there's nothing like the quality of film but as I was yammering on, inside my head I was saying, "Yeah, why didn't I shoot it on video and save all that money?" And I couldn't come up with a very good answer.
The biggest thing I kept going back to was that movies are just supposed to be shot on film. I remember when I was thinking about using video that I kept making the joke that movies shot on video all look like pornos. But then I realized that I'd never really seen a real movie shot on video. Oh, sure, there were a couple of experiments. "Norman, Is That You?," a twenty year old movie starring George Segal (I think), was shot on video and transferred to film. And since then there's been a lot of documentaries shot that way. But the truth is that I've just never seen that many narrative films shot on video.
When I saw Todd Verow's film "Little Shots Of Happiness" (also part of this season's Flixtour), it really blew my mind. It was a legitimate film and it was all shot on video -- a hi-8 consumer-quality camcorder, to be precise. And it was engaging and cinematic and everything a movie should be and yet it was shot on video. So, where am I going with this?
Well, for me, this is all about being open minded. It seems like the whole world of movie making has always been filled with rules about what you're not supposed to do. You're not supposed to shoot on video, you're not supposed to move the camera too much, you're not supposed to leave the camera too static, you're not supposed to shoot without a script, you're not supposed to have too much dialogue, you're not supposed to over-storyboard your film, you're not supposed to improvise, etc, etc, etc. The movie rule book is chock full of "don't's" and yet every year, someone comes along and does one of these "don't's" and ends up with a cool film and occasionally a Hollywood deal.
So, what I'm proposing is, while we should always be aware of what the rule book says -- I mean, let's face it, there's some "don't's" that make perfect sense and they're there to keep you from wasting your time and money and from ruining your project -- we should also be willing to break some rules, to test some "don't's," to take a chance on new techniques. It's our duty as undependent filmmakers to try and push some boundaries and experiment. Otherwise, the craft of filmmaking will never advance.
Actually, that's not true. It will always advance because there's always going to be someone in the world who's breaking the rules, many times because they don't know what the rules are and they frankly don't care. I once again must reiterate that I think it's important to study the rules because if we don't, we just throw out all the groundwork and hard work that's been laid down for us by generations of filmmakers. But once we know the rules, let's have a little fun with them. Let's take our chances because what better place do we have to do it than in the wide open world of undependent film? Even if we crash and burn, we can say that we tried something new.
Don't follow the crowd!
Don't believe absolutes!
Don't pick at your scab! It'll get infected ...
Oh, man, why can't I ever end on an upnote?
October 21, 1998
9:30am - I'm sitting on a Southwest Airlines jet winging my way to Dallas, Texas, via a connecting flight through Albuquerque, New Mexico, for a one-nighter at the University of North Texas. I've got a Styrofoam cup of coffee in front of me, into which I just dumped a load of non-dairy powdered "creamer" (actually, I only dumped half the packet into the cup -- the other half of the white, high fructose powder missed the cup and spilled directly into the keyboard of laptop computer -- well done, Paul). I've got a cup of orange juice in front of me, I've got a bag of airline-issue animal crackers, not to mention a bag of peanuts and a bag of raisins, also airline-issued and approved. I also have absolutely nothing to say. I just thought I'd torment you with some more of my meaningless narrative of life on the Flixtour road. Aren't you lucky? Well, aren't you?
I'll write more after tonight's gig at the University of North Texas. (Gee, I wonder if my film's too small for Texas. After all, isn't Texas the "big" state? Isn't it the state where they like everything big? Big steaks? Big skies? Big movies? Well, I'll find out. If you don't hear from me for a couple of days, send Tom McPhee out to find me.)
October 22, 1998
12:58am - Well, the University of North Texas is now in the history books. It went very well. We had a nice crowd and they were extremely responsive. There was a group in one part of the theater that was really enjoying themselves. A lot of laughing. They really seemed to like Dave "Gruber" Allen tonight. That's the great thing about going out with your film. You really get to see how different audiences react to different elements of the movie. One audience will laugh at everything, the next audience will really get into the plot and not want to laugh at the characters because they're feeling too sympathetic toward them. The next audience will laugh at the mean characters. The next will laugh at the goofy characters. Some audiences will laugh at obvious jokes. Some audiences won't laugh at obvious jokes but will laugh at subtle things that other audiences never get. It shows you that audiences have a very collective personality. Even though there's individual responses within the audience collective, the audience as a whole still tends to react as one. I've found with my film that I can usually tell what kind of audience it'll be within the first five minutes. There's a couple of jokes in the first scene of dialogue that are my indicator. From there, I can tell if it's the kind of audience I should stay and watch the film with because they're going to give me a response that I haven't had before or if they're going to react in a more standard way. It's just like when I used to be a stand-up comedian. I got pretty good at judging how an audience was thinking by how they would respond to my first few jokes. The difference was, as a stand-up, I could then adjust my performance to suit their personality. With a film, it's the same film no matter what and all you can do is sit back and see how the audience deals with it. As a control freak, I find that filmmaking let me trade one form of control for another. In stand-up, I had control at the time of the actual presentation of the product, i.e. my stand-up routine. In filmmaking, I had control during the production process and now have no control once the product begins rolling. I guess technically I do have control because the decisions I had during the production process still exist because the film doesn't change from screening to screening. But it's the inability to adjust the product to suit the audience-in-attendance that makes you feel like you suddenly have no control. I guess that's why you'd better take the entire production and post-production process pretty seriously. And, of course, you'd better be happy with your script in the first place.
That's actually the biggest thing I learned about filmmaking from making my own feature -- how important it is that every single element, no matter how small it is, be paid attention to and how you constantly have to consider the consequences of every single thing you put in your film. I remember during the sound mix, which has the tendency to be a real zone-out time (you're tired, you're excited to have the post-production process almost finished, and the sound mix always feels like a nitpicker's heaven), I would occasionally find myself about to say to the mixer, "Oh, I don't care. It doesn't matter if that's a little too soft or too loud in that one part. Let's just keep going." But then I'd realize, "Every single decision I make right now is going to be something I have to watch for the rest of my life." And that would always give me the energy to spend as much time as need be to make even the smallest sound effect or level right. Because, as I remember from some of my films in film school, there's nothing worse than watching your movie in front of an audience and going, "Oh, God, I hate this part. If only I had fixed that!" Because the irony is, no matter how much attention and care you take in during the process, there's still going to be things you see and say, "Why did I do that?" or "Why didn't I cut out of that sooner?" But those realizations mean you're growing as a filmmaker. At least you can say, "Well, it was a mistake but it wasn't because I was lazy during that decision."
Movies are permanent. We can never lose sight of that.
Making movies is epic in that way. Everytime we film something, we're putting it into the public record. It's always going to exist (unless it gets destroyed but let's not think about things like that right now). It's like putting a book into the Library of Congress. It's conceivable that thousands of years after we're dead, people are still going to be watching our films and judging us. And what's more, our entire generation will be judged by what we do. Because history has a way of doing that. Everything compresses and future generations don't tend to look at what happened from year to year. They'll look at our lifetime as a whole and make their decisions from there. And so, I personally feel a great deal of responsibility to my fellow human beings when I make a film or write a script or act in something. Obviously, you can't get too nuts with this kind of stuff or else you'd never be able to do anything. And a lot of my acting credits fly in the face of this -- I can't really believe that "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" is going to be looked at as something that was good for the world (I was a series regular on the show during its first season playing Mr. Pool, the science teacher, FYI). But it's an important thing to think about from time to time. If at all possible, it's a nice feeling to put something into the public record that we really care about, that says a little something about how we see the world and what we thought was right and wrong about our human situation. I know, I know, this all sounds like a lot of lofty crap but I think it at least merits an occasional thought. I personally am happy with my film and can at least say to myself, "Well, I made something that I'd be happy to have future generations watch and know that I was responsible for."
That's my little speech. Take it as you will.
Oh, and I'd like to end with a quote that I came up with while I was making my film but only just remembered last night when a student asked me a question about what I thought the director's role was in the filmmaking process. My quote is as follows:
The director is the only person on the crew who has already seen the film.
Profound? You bet! Put it on a T-shirt, or perhaps a coffee mug. And please, feel free to discuss. It'd go nice with a fresh cup of coffee and perchance a cruller.
And with that I leave you. Talk to you next week from Florida!
October 29, 1998
3:20pm - Well, here I am, on another plane, heading back to LA after a couple of screenings. I was in Florida this time -- one night in Orlando at the University of Central Florida and the next night in Pensacola at the University of Western Florida. Both gigs went really well. Two different types of audience, though. The folks at Central were good laughers and were enjoying all the jokes in the film. They especially reacted to the Dungeons and Dragons references. The Western crowd was completely different. To be honest, I thought they were just bored out of their minds by my film and I kept waiting for a mass exodus. They weren't laughing at anything. So, I was really expecting walk-outs and heckles. And then, suddenly, about a half hour in, when my character in the film gets a good putdown off on the bad guy in the film, the audience cheered and burst into applause. You could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather. Then, they were silent again for another fifteen minutes, then they applauded another moment of putdown from my character to the bad guy. And when the film was over, I realized by all the questions they were asking and the glowing comments they were giving that I think they liked my movie more than any other audience that has seen it. They were really into it and affected by it. It was a very gratifying experience. Our Q & A session went for a very long time and then a majority of the people stuck around afterwards to ask me other questions and give me their comments. It was really great. Also, I have to commend Western Florida for doing lots of campus PR for the film. They even went so far as to have a TV and VCR set up in the student union showing the trailer to my film on a loop. That's the way to do it. It's still tough at these colleges to get people to come out en masse because we're not only competing with students' studies but we also have a lot of competition from other activities and night classes. Many of the colleges I've been to are part of a thing called Network Event Theater or the Event Network Theater or something to that effect. I remember hearing about them in the past. They're a company that goes to various colleges around the country and sets up a college auditorium with a full digital projection system, then beams movies to the schools every few weeks or so. It's a pretty cool thing but the problem is that they seem to be beaming big Hollywood movies out to these schools, which puts us in a position once again of competing against films with huge budgets and big name actors. A lot of students have that attitude of "who's in your film," which once again defeats the purpose of undependent film (notice how effortlessly I'm slipping "undependent" into my lexicon these days?). It's great that they get these big films but at the same time, I hate to see them get jaded about seeing things that they wouldn't be able to see anywhere else. To be honest, when I was in film school, the studios used to send down Hollywood films all the time and most of us either rejected seeing them or else went and made fun of them. And when a small indie film would come in, we'd go and support it no matter what. I guess that's fascism of one sort or another because we weren't really being fair to the Hollywood pictures. But if they were good, then we'd enjoy them and be kind to the filmmakers. But if we weren't, then we could be pretty brutal. But, hey, that's what college is supposed to be all about, eh? (Oh, man, do I have a load of bad Karma coming my way if I ever make a studio picture!)
Something that came out of last night's Q&A session was the observation that one of the biggest reasons to make an undependent film is to make something that could normally not be made. That also includes doing things and telling stories in ways they ordinarily wouldn't be done. I talked in an earlier entry about breaking rules and this is a continuation of that discussion. For me, last night, it was specifically the observation that the characters in my film gesticulate a lot. Some woman in the crowd said that she liked the way the characters in my film acted naturally, the way they would adjust their clothes as they talked or use big hand gestures and that type of thing. I was very gratified to get that comment because that was something I specifically did. I love to have people in movies act as much like they do in real life as possible. I was recently put down by somebody in Hollywood who watched a short I directed and commented that I might be interpreted as a bad director because in an argument scene between my two characters, both actors were gesticulating wildly. This comment upset me because it was presented as if I had done something wrong, that I had missed something, that I was unaware of what my actors were doing. And it really bothered me because it told me that there's a rule out there that says that actors who talk with their hands must be deficient in their training and directors who don't correct this are no good. To which I say, BS. How many of us don't gesticulate when we talk? How many of us watch people in films who don't seem to act and react like we do? It's all part of that big, arbitary rule book that constantly gets paraded out and read from like the gospel. And the rules in it are all treated as immutable. That is, until somebody comes along, breaks the rule and it works. Then that revised rule is entered and suddenly it's a new rule that you're not supposed to break -- that is, until somebody else comes along and breaks it. And it's usually people on the outside -- independent filmmakers -- who break these rules. Sometimes it's through ignorance of the rules, sometimes it's to thumb their noses at the rules, but the bottom line is that from time to time rules get broken successfully and then everybody realizes that the old rule was wrong, or at least the old rule was not all-encompassing.
So, what am I getting at? I don't know. It's just that we have the luxury as undependent filmmakers to do whatever ever we want (it's one of the few, if only, luxuries we enjoy, so we'd better damn well enjoy it!). Experiment, take chances, be bold and, as I've seen on several T-shirts during my life, "Don't let the bastards get you down!"
Over and out.
November 8, 1998
9:58 am - I'm sitting at the Spokane Airport in Washington state and, quite frankly, I'm concerned about this ideological beast we're creating called Undependent Film. And my worry is as follows:
How the hell do we make this thing work?
All the good intentions and dreams of a world that accepts films from the fringe can't get around one fact and that fact is, IT'S REALLY HARD TO GET PEOPLE TO COME OUT TO SEE MOVIES THEY DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT. We as filmmakers walk around thinking that the world is desperate for alternatives to the Hollywood fare they see day in and day out and yet that's the problem right there -- they can see Hollywood fare day in and day out. There's no shortage of things to watch. There's tons of movies, there's tons of TV shows, there's tons of videos to rent, there's tons of cable channels to watch ...
There's entertainment overload.
And so, there's no real reason for people to flock to our sincere little films that have no movie stars, exotic locations or big special effects. I know this is true. I've seen it. I've been living it. The people that do come are very dedicated and very interested and into independent film and having them there definitely helps with the most important thing we'll all need and that's word of mouth. AND YET:
There can't be word of mouth without mouths in attendance to pass on the words. And THAT'S the problem.
I'll lay it out in all its ugly splendor so that we can see what we're up against and then we can try to solve all these problems and make our well-intentioned and important quest work. And so, allow me to play the bad guy:
Problem #1: You can't get an audience unless that audience knows there's something happening for which they can be an audience.
This sounds like an easy enough problem to solve and yet it's not. It's all about advertising, which costs money. LOTS OF MONEY. TONS OF MONEY, if you want to do it right. When I did a run of my film in Los Angeles, I spent a lot of money to put ads in the main entertainment papers (the Weekly's and those other free weekly papers that list all the arts and entertainment events happening that week). But I didn't have unlimited funds and so I could only afford to run one inch ads. For me, this cost a lot of money and so I was operating at the maximum of my monetary ability. In other words, I was doing everything I possibly could do in the print advertising department. Well, the ads literally generated no attendance. We would ask people who came if they saw the ads in the paper and everyone said no -- they were usually just friends of friends who had heard about the screening. So, even though we advertised like you're supposed to, trying to pull in a civilian crowd, it didn't work. Maybe if we had more money to run bigger ads it would have worked better. I don't know. It probably would have. But it's a mute point because neither myself nor other undependent filmmakers have the money to run big ads. Ergo, problem.
The other cheaper methods for promoting are to simply take to the streets with posters and flyers and paper the town. This is what I think has to be done when you have no real P & A (Publicity & Advertising) budget. And yet don't forget what you yourself usually do when you walk by somebody on the street who tries to hand you a flyer. You ignore them or take it and then drop it in the garbage. True, it's usually a flyer for a leather sale or Chinese restaurant or something like that, but even so, it's a tough road to hoe. I think it's our most viable road but let me be honest -- completely, brutally honest:
I for one don't want to spend my days as a filmmaker out on the street trying to get people to take flyers from me. But that's just me. I'm 36 and my days of having the enthusiasm to do that are waning. It's something that could very possibly bring in an audience, but it's also small scale unless you can recruit an army of people to do it, which you very well may be able to do. So, I end this analysis by shrugging and saying that there are ways to do it, but they're all very time consuming and small scale.
Problem #2: There's no real motivation for people to abandon their belief that movies without celebrities that don't come from Hollywood will be any better than ones without.
As I said earlier, there's so much product out there that there's a good number of movies with stars that are very good -- enough that people aren't really saying to themselves, "Man, I give up. Every single, solitary time I see a movie with movie stars that are made by Hollywood, I absolutely hate it. And so I'm going to start looking for movies that are small and not made by Hollywood because it's the only possible way I'll get a decent evening of entertainment." Let's face it. Hollywood makes good movies a pretty good percent of the time. And even if you don't consider them "good," they're entertaining enough for you to have a fairly enjoyable, escapist night at the movies. Hollywood films are great to look at, there's a lot that happens in them and we know that we'll have a shared experience with a large group of people because there's always a lot of people at the cineplex with us. It's also exactly because it's playing at the cineplex -- a place that's easy to get to and a place that I know if my movie's sold out, I can see another one. And on top of all that, I like the concession stand. Now, you tell me, what is the motivation for people, outside of cineastes and fellow filmmakers, to say, "I'm gonna head down to that weird theater in the funky part of town and see a movie I know nothing about instead of heading down to the multiplex which is by all those restaurants I like." Good reviews, advertising and word of mouth are the only things that will bring those people in, unless they're friends with the filmmakers or the actors. And this puts us back at Problem #1, and I can almost guarantee that 99% of the people we might hand a flyer to or who might see our odd little ad in the newspaper aren't going to substitute our movie for the new Adam Sandler film they really want to see as their one night a week out at the movies.
Are they jerks for feeling this way? Are they cretins? You may think they are but I don't. The fact is that most people in this country use movies as an escape from their problems, their jobs and their lives. They want to have fun and generally that involves not having to think too hard because they had to do that all day at work. That's the majority of the movie viewing public. To pretend it's not is to live in a dream world.
Am I sounding pessimistic? Like part of the problem? You bet your boots I do but, friends, I've been out there on a little thing called Flixtour.
There's an old Lenny Bruce routine in which he talks about the absurdity of comedians who say they want to work a "good room," meaning a venue that is known for attracting smart audiences. He says that there actually are good rooms to work -- the editorial office at the New York Times is an especially good room, he jokes. Well, I feel like I've been playing what I considered would be good rooms. When I found out I'd be on the college curcuit, I thought, "That's perfect. College students are really going to be into underground events like obscure independent films. They'll show up in droves." Well, guess what, everybody? THEY DON'T! I've been following around "John Carpenter's Vampires" and "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer," which the colleges have been booking into their big theaters, and that's what eveybody goes to see. That's what the students pack in for. And it's not even that I'm showing my film the same night as those movies. I'm usually showing a night or two before or after. But the students see those films coming in and get all excited because those are what they consider real movies. Then, they see that some oddball little film is coming that they've never heard of and they could absolutely care less. I've heard them say it. You should see the look on their faces when you tell them about it. The first thing out of their mouths is "Who's in it?" If you tell them that there's no big stars, then give you that "forget it" look and that's that. And so, a few people who are interested in filmmaking show up and we have a great screening and it's exciting and it makes me glad I made my film AND YET, it converts no one to our undependent cause. Maybe they'll tell their friends how good my film was and that they should see it but then my film's gone by that time and there's good feelings about me as a filmmaker among a tiny group and that's that. The students continue to pack in for the big films and they either like them or they don't but that's their night out at the movies and it's back to their studies and their lives.
And that's that. I don't blame anybody for this. People really don't have a solid reason to want to seek out and support underdog films because that cause has nothing to do with their lives. They're not filmmakers. They're not artisans. They're just people getting through their lives who like a little diversion from time to time. That's the extent of what film does for them. They've got lives.
And so, what this means is that the only way they're going to come to see our films are for them to hear enough about them and be absolutely convinced that this weird little film is going to provide them with the best possible movie-going experience they could possibly have that night. And how does this happen? See Problem #1.
Look, I'm not even going to keep breaking down the problems facing us because they all will always refer back to Problem #1. That's it. That's the key to everything. I can talk until I'm blue in the face but that's it. If they know about it and it looks good to them, they'll come. If they don't know about it, then forget it. And unless you're prepared to serve free beer and food or go to their houses and force them into a bus and truck them off to your screening, then you're up against Problem #1.
So, this is what I leave you. It's the question that must be addressed and solved. If we don't solve it, then we'll have to be happy showing our films to tiny groups. That's not a bad thing but I for one want my movie to be seen by as many people as possible, and at the same time, I don't want to make my movie my life. I want to make other films and don't want to spend the next year or two showing my film to ten or twenty people at a time, hoping to slowly creep up the total number of viewers who've seen my film to somewhere near the number that see a single film in a single theater in the cineplex in a single showing. Maybe I'm an ass for saying that but I said it and it's true.
So, Undies, put on your thinking caps with me and let's try to solve this problem. That or change the name of our movement to Pollyanna Films and pretend the problem doesn't exist. The choice is yours.
Harsh words from Mr. Feig. But nobody said this thing was gonna be easy (although I was hoping it might be a little easier than this!).
November 16, 1998
5:07pm - I'm in Batesville, Arkansas -- a place I can safely say I never in a million years ever dreamed I'd be at, mainly because I've never heard of it. But it's a nice little town -- emphasis on little -- and it seems like tonight's screening is going to be fun. Word is that the students found my web site and discovered that I'm an actor who's been in some things they know (the infamous "Sabrina," along with the ever popular, HBO perennial "Ski Patrol"), so attendance sounds like it'll be high. I hope so. That's the most fun way to show your film. Uh ... unless everybody hates it. But we'll hope for the best.
I mean, hey, I always do. Hope for the best, that is.
7:49pm - Well, I'm in the dressing room/office right behind the screening room at Lyon College. My film is just starting up and I'm overcome with the feeling that if I have to see or hear my film again anytime soon, I think I may go insane. That's the thing about making a film. It's always there, it never changes -- the same things you love are always there, the same things you hate are always there. The interesting thing is that the things you've always hated, you start to really hate, and the things that you really loved, you kinda start to hate too. I guess that's a little harsh. There's my favorite moments in my film that I still like to go into the back of the theater to watch, but I guess it's just the repetition of seeing it over and over and over and over and over ......
Uh, I guess you get the point. Movies weren't really meant to be watched by the director endlessly. It's good incentive to do another film, no matter what it takes. 'Cause, man, I'm tired of my film.
But that's just me.
Hey, here's a story that'll give you an idea what an undependent filmmaker is up against while he's out on the road:
I was looking in the mirror at myself while I was shaving before heading to the college and noticed that I had several stray nose hairs that needed tending to. I mean, I'm about to go meet a lot of college students and talk to them one on one after the Q & A and the last thing I want is for them to be sitting around the next day going, "I liked his movie but did you see how much nose hair he had?" So, I figured that I had enough time to head to a store and buy a pair of little scissors. And so, I headed out into the fine metropolis of Batesville. And I'll be damned if I couldn't find a pair of small scissors or a nose hair trimmer anywhere. I went to the mega-supermarket that sells everything that exists on the face of the earth and yet not only didn't they have any small scissors, but they looked at me as if I was insane for asking. I actually had to confess my nose hair problem in the hopes of clarifying what I was looking for but all I got was a wrinkled nose "eew, gross" look out of the girl in the pharmacy and no scissors. So, then I headed over to what was perhaps the most bizarre and depressing JC Penny I'd ever been witness to. It wasn't so much of a store as a concrete bunker. I guess that's how they look when they're part of a mall but when they're standing alone like this one was, then they just become something that resembles a very large cinderblock with merchandise inside. But, undaunted, with a nose full of unsightly hair, I trudged inside the JCP in search of scissors. And lo and behold, they didn't have any either. AND they looked at me like I was insane also. Each department would send me off to another department as if I was a boy scout being sent in search of a "bacon stretcher" as part of some cruel initiation. Finally, I was shown to the world's largest make-up and haircare kit that had a pair of the exact scissors in it that I wanted. However, it was an all-or-nothing proposition. I'd have to lay out about fifty bucks for what was a rather low-grade assortment of toiletries just to clip a few nose hairs out of my proboscis. And so, the search went on. After several more failures at stores ranging from grocery stores to drug stores to even an auto parts store, nobody had a pair of small scissors for sale! Just when I'd given up hope, I happened to see a one dollar store that I figured was my last hope. I went in and asked and without hesitation, the saleswoman bid me to follow her and she headed off purposefully into the store. Ah ha! Success at last, I said to myself. Look out, nose hairs. Your days are numbered. Well, she brought me over to a huge wall display of every haircare and toiletry known to man and proudly pointed to a pair of ... barber scissors! Rather large ones at that. At first, I didn't know if I should be insulted, being that I do have what some would term a rather large nose (okay, everybody would term it that way). But the sight of those scissors, any scissors, sent me into near euphoria. I immediately grabbed them, bought them and rushed back to the hotel to get a-trimmin'! And there, in the privacy of my own bathroom, I discovered that I COULDN'T GET THOSE BIG GODDAMNED SCISSORS TO CUT MY GODDAMNED NOSE HAIRS! The blades were made in such a way that the cutting edge was too far from the outer edge of the blade so that when you put them in your nose, they'd only cut the very end of the hair, thus leaving most of the hair intact.
So, now I'm sitting backstage, listening to my movie for the four billionth time, with a nose full of hair. And you think that the life of an undependent filmmaker isn't glamorous? Well, I say "ha."
I'll talk to you after the screening.
But I'll spare you the nose hair.
November 18, 1998
7:47pm - Well, as you noticed, I didn't talk to you after the film the other night because, well, I forgot to. Sue me. Hit me. Do what you want. I simply forgot. Sorry.
Right now, I'm sitting outside the screening of my film at Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas. Last night I was in St. Louis and showed my film at Webster College. It went well although the people that book the films at Webster pulled a fast one on us. They didn't know that I've been showing my film on videotape and when they found out, they refused to pay the price to the Flixtour people that they had contracted for. Even though there's nothing on the contract that specifies that the film is going to be shown on actual film, they called and made a stink the day of the screening after I'd driven all day from Arkansas to get there. Pretty cheap politics and pretty depressing for me. I had assumed that the whole purpose of booking Flixtour was to see a film (on video or film or from a flip book, if that's the way the director has decided he wants to show it for the best viewing experience) that you can't see anywhere else and then to meet and get advice from the actual director. They acted as if we had gone to Blockbuster and grabbed a video off the shelf and then charged them to see it. And it made me feel like a piece of garbage, being told, "We've had Oscar winning directors here for half the price." Well, first of all, they agreed to the price when they signed the contract, so if they have suddenly decided that they didn't want to pay that price, it's just "too bad," as the kids would say. Once you sign a contract, at least where I come from, that's it. But apparently it's not so in St. Louis. Now, if they feel that we didn't honor the contract by bringing a film on video and not on 16mm (and, as an editorial sidenote, I think I'd rather watch a movie on video, with great stereo sound, than watch a 16mm print through a glorified high school projector -- but, again, maybe that's just me), then they should look at the contract again. They said that since it said they'd be getting an independent film, that that apparently means that every film in the world that's released on video is apparently now a video and no longer a film. Which then means that the next time you rent "Citizen Kane" and "The Seven Samurai," you're not watching two of the greatest films ever made but in fact two of the greatest videos ever made.
I think I hear Welles and Kurosawa spinning in their graves.
Well, politics aside, the screening went great and the students and adults that showed up really enjoyed it and we all had a fun Q & A afterwards. And, may I say, it was a full price Q & A, despite the fact that Webster was paying half price. At least one of us honors our contract.
Today, I took the five hour drive from St. Louis to Emporia and am listening through the wall to the crowd watching my film. They're good laughers in there tonight, which is my favorite kind of crowd. Maybe it's just the old stand-up comedian in me but I like to hear people respond out loud. That's why I don't think I'll ever make a straight drama. Who knows if the audience is enjoying it or not?
The Emporia folks did a very good job of promoting my film. Their student union had posters up all over and they had also made large banners and hung them around, complete with cartoons of aliens and spaceships. I really love when the student activity people go the extra mile to promote these films. I know their incentive is low sometimes because they don't charge students to see the films, so I always appreciate when they actually want attendance and aren't just burning off their semester's activity allowance. So, in writing, I say cheers and thank you to Emporia State.
Uh ... unless they tear me apart in the Q & A, that is.
Talk to you later. And carry on, my wayward son.
Oops ... just a little Kansas flashback. Sorry.
November 22, 1998
9:45pm - Well, I guess I screwed up again. I'm back in Los Angeles and I didn't report to you at all from Lawrence, Kansas -- the home of the University of Kansas. But I'll tell you about it now.
It was very nice.
There. There you go.
It was a cool, nice place run by cool, nice people. Not cool temperature-wise. Cool attitude-wise. No, friends, temperature-wise it was COLD. At night it was, at least -- and also at six o'clock in the morning when I went down to my car to drive to the airport and my windows were all iced up and since the rental car company hadn't seen clear to put an ice scraper in the car, I had to use a credit card to clean off the windows. Yes, by the way, did I mention it was cold? (What a panty-waist I am.) Screening-wise, we had a good turn-out and everybody really liked the film. The Q & A went well and we had a lot of fun.]
And to catch up, the Emporia State Q & A went very well too. Actually, to be honest, that was the most fun I had at any of the colleges. For some reason, I just seemed to be "on" that night and the students were really into asking any and all questions about undie film. Plus, a lot of them recognized me from some of the movies and TV shows I've been in and, hey, I've got the size of ego that gets excited when people recognize me. It's cool. What am I, dead? I enjoy being recognized. Okay, I'm an ass. I've got a big ego. I'm immodest. But it's cool when your realize that people you've never met before or even live by have seen your work and remember it. The power of film, eh?
But, now that I'm back in Los Angeles and this season of the Flixtour is over -- it officially ended two nights ago at Oakland University in Michigan with Todd Verow -- I guess it's time to sum everything up. All the experiences. All that I've learned. All that I never thought I'd know about the college circuit and about undependent film.
Well, let's see. I could go two ways.
I could be a Pollyanna and talk about how enthused I am about the future of independent and undependent film.
But I won't.
I could tell you that I discovered that if you have any kind of name in this world, you can go out on the college lecture circuit and make tons of money, not to mention bag a lot of college girls -- that is, if you're not married.
But I won't. (And, for the record, I'm alluding to other people making tons of money and having a name in the world -- no, no, friends, I am not alluding to myself! I wish I was -- God, I wish I was! -- but, alas, I'm not.)
I could tell you about how I almost got killed on a backwoods Arkansas road driving to my gig in St. Louis because somebody stole the stop sign from a blind intersection about an hour outside of Batesville, Arkansas.
But I won't.
I could tell you about every airport and hotel and motel from New Jersey to Kansas that I stayed in, some of them so depressing that I actually had a view from my window directly into the service area of a lube shop, where I got to see a fat mechanic's butt crack as he changed a tire as my only means of entertainment, only to go to the gig that night and find that just seven people -- all friends of the student activities booker -- were my audience.
But I won't.
So, what the heck will I tell you about to sum up?
Um .... well ...
I don't know.
I guess if I tell you anything, it's just that I don't know how I feel about undependent film right now. I made my opinions about it pretty clear in a previous entry, but now that the smoke has cleared and I'm off the road and back in my house where I can think a little straighter -- history has a way of reviving itself in your head once you're no longer in the middle of it when it's being born -- I'm not sure where I stand.
I guess I have to admit a few things, and some of these things may upset you and others may strike a common chord in you.
First of all, not that I'm looking to be Rockefeller or anything, but I'd really like to make money. Enough money to be able to live comfortably and eat out and pick up the tab with friends and travel and all that. And that may cut me out of the group of artists and filmmakers that truly do it for the love of the art. Trust me, I love the art more than most people I know, but I've discovered a sad fact about myself -- I can't do this for free anymore. Or even for break even money. I want to make some money. Because not only is the money itself a nice thing, but it represents the fact that something good is happening with what I do. Or with what you do. It means that either somebody has deemed us worthy enough to give money to, or an audience has deemed our product worthy enough to come to and therefore to create a revenue that benefits us. It's a good thing anyway you slice it. Or at least it is in my book.
Second, it's nice to be respected. There's a difference between rolling into a college and nobody knowing who you are or caring and then showing them your film and suddenly they have more respect for you. Once that respect is there, in whose ever eyes are looking at you, it's a great feeling. It's nice to be set apart from the crowd that little bit, as someone who's done something that most other people haven't done and/or feel they could never do. It's a great feeling. I can't describe it to you but it is. And it's a perk.
See, I told you you might not like me after this but, what the heck, I've gotta be honest. You can at least respect me for that, can't you? Can't you? Huh?
On the up side, I really feel like I was a pure filmmaker/artist. I used my own resources to make something I wanted to make, I did it without intervention and so was able to make my final product, good or bad, the exact thing I set out to create. And then I took that product to the people -- directly to the people -- and shared it with them and got their feedback and took the occasional lumps. But I wasn't an executive in an ivory tower, a guy who has development and production meetings and goes, "Sure, I like it, but will they get it in Kansas?" Because now I know that they will get it in Kansas -- whether they'll get it in the offices of the ivory tower is the big question.
In other words, I cut out the middle man.
I was like a painter who sells his paintings out on the street. I did it and I put it out there and I heard what people had to say.
And that, my friends, is invaluable.
Hollywood should be required, by law, to have to go out from time to time and see their movies with a real audience in the Midwest. Because then they'll see what people really want and don't want from their entertainment and, more importantly, they'll occasionally have to take responsibility for what they've done.
English breakfast tea.
All the -ty's are good.
Although that Lapsong Soochee tea takes a little getting used to.
So, that's it. The end. No more Flixtour for me. No more taking my film from school to school and meeting all kinds of people. Oh, sure, I can still do it on my own but I think I've done my time, at least with this film. There's a point when you just become a sad ol' cuss pushing the same product when you should really be moving on. And I'm a-movin' on. Oh, sure, pardners, that ol' buncha film cans'll still be there years from now when I feel like pulling my movie out and entertaining a bunch of people. Or it might not even be years from now. It might be next week, if somebody asks me real nice-like (and, heck, they don't even have to be that nice when they ask -- they just have to allude to the fact that they'd like to see it and before you know it I'll have that hunk o' celluloid up and ready to show). But I'm unofficially retiring this one because, well:
a) I'm tired of watching it and
b) I'm tired of watching it.
So, from all of us at Flaming Shrimp Productions, the world's smallest production company, to all of you out their in the indie and undie world, this is Paul Feig, the Willie Lowman of Film, saying:
If you wanna make a movie, make a movie. Just make sure you know what the hell you're gonna do with it after it's made.
I love you all. (Well, except you ... yeah, you, the guy in the glasses. Can't say I like the cut of your jib.)
- Paul Feig
Back to the action!