I’m two months away from my 26th birthday, and I just finished my life as a student — 22 straight years of school, the last 7.5 of them in film schools. I got 2 degrees in my back pocket, a BFA in live action motion picture production from NYU and an MFA in Animation and Digital art production from USC. I had an awesome time at these old storied film schools, and I got a ton out of them, but I’m going to level with you right now: you don’t need a degree to be any kind of artist. It was the perfect place for me, but there are so many other ways, so many more ways than even when I got started. Next to the metaphors in my pocket is a camera that can shoot and animate better films cheaper than any camera I could afford before grad school, and I know it’s in your pocket too, or in your messenger bag next to your little chamber of market research, post production, and distribution you call a laptop. Those are the things we all have, and the last thing you need is in you already if you’ve got it. The thing I had going in to school, before cutting or shooting actual film at a flatbed, before buying HD cameras and cutting video or learning effects or meeting the hundreds of friends and peers who I plan to take over the world with — the thing I still have now, and the thing which is going to let me and all my friends continue to succeed — is a stubborn belief that we can make it and a firm certainty that this is the best time for the art of storytelling in history.
But you, my friends — the foolish young upstarts like me who want to make new work and will find our own peers and audience as long there’s still breath in our lungs – know this already, and I’m not talking to you. No, this isn’t about us: We’re young, we’re stubborn and foolish where needed, flexible and excited where necessary, and we love what we do. If you are reading this and you’re between the ages of 10 and 40, you’re probably going to be just fine. This isn’t about us. This isn’t about the art or the craft or the market or the content or the opportunity or the new. By default, it’s also not about our transmedia siblings, whether they be the older in text, sound, or stage; or the younger in interactive media and games. We’re all going to be fine as long as people want stories, and that’s the thing that makes people people, so we are fine. This is more about the idiots saying we’re in an industry under siege and the other idiots who believe them.
It’s about “The Industry”, it’s about quotation-marked “Hollywood”. This is about the old guard. Studio big guys, this message is for you and everyone reporting on you: You’re not dying, now suck it the hell up and walk it off. I’m tired of hearing how the “film industry” is in trouble and/or dying. ESPECIALLY at the same time people are claiming the birth of web original content and the “golden age” of television. It’s all the same medium. It’s like claiming that written word is dying with one breath “because novel sales are down,” to only then say that short story prose is having a golden age with the next. You can’t do that. If it creates the illusion of motion synchronized to sound by playing still images in rapid succession, and if the audience can’t change it with out recutting it, it’s a motion picture, but I digress.
The film industry is not in trouble, and motion picture as an art form is definitely not in trouble — it’s just you, the old guard of the industry, pitching a fit because we’re changing AGAIN. We don’t need 30 tentpole films to succeed at making a damn good living, or even millions of people to see every story in the first day of release. Moreover, you don’t need to maintain a complete drought of original and interesting content in that one subset of the industry to be safe and find your “general audience” because trust me, we will leave you to go and tell our stories with our characters in any range of life style to story , from the fantastic (fighting giant monsters and magic) to the mundane (people’s lives with each other, of ever race, creed, orientation, or level of happiness we see fit to tell real stories), and we will find our audience. It’s cheaper and faster to start making films than ever, easier to make great and fantastic films than ever, and – most of freaking all – easier to find a niche to live in. More of us are going to be able to thrive, and produce, and survive making and telling the stories we want to than ever before. Fewer of us are going to be rich media gods of filmmaking but “oh no, what a nightmare!”
Great, there will be ten people like that instead of 30, but there will be tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands able to tell their story and make a life of it as opposed to hundreds who get to weave the tales now and the few thousand more who are allowed to work with them.
Look, I’m not saying you have to get rid of the tentpoles, fine, keep a few. We all love the bombast and the glitz, and we love it when it’s done well. And I also know how long and how pricy some of the films are to make. Animation, despite what the public and it seems most of the industry thinks, does not happen quickly, instantly, or automatically by computer, and it’s always going to take more time for more work compared to a mostly live action film, and let’s face it, the tentpoles are all so FX heavy that they’re half animated anyway. But you know which of those films end up lasting and having staying power in the long run? The ones which are well made, well crafted, and tell good to great stories in good to great ways.
And also the one’s directed to kids about talking cars. I can’t really explain that except for the fact that kids under 10 are freaking unhinged for cool cars. It’s okay, we’re even willing to let you do that.
But, here’s a suggestion: stop thinking you can make a good movie by just throwing money at it. How about you cut the schedule of tentpoles in half, put good people who love the stories on those movies with enough time to make them, and put the billions of dollars of savings into small picture investment; like the production, distribution, and promotion of 100 cheaper and more adventuresome films by almost anybody you can point at which will make back there money if a fraction of them succeed even moderately well? How about you consider giving the artists who care about the quality of their work a bit of ownership and leeway over their said work starting out, because we are doing it ourselves anyway, and we’ll do it with or with out you.
Look, guys: the mega-picture blockbuster model just doesn’t work every time, it really doesn’t. It doesn’t work every time for Spielberg, it doesn’t work every time for Lucas, and although it apparently works every time for Cameron, we all know that you’ll fail like a water soluble submarine if you try to be James Cameron while making the crucial-nigh-on-fatal mistake of not being that one guy actually named “James Cameron”. We also all know that the “Hollywood” that is the “Film Industry” is not the neighborhood in LA that has most of the views of the famed giant letters blocked by buildings, so stop acting like it is. We can and do work from almost anywhere, we can and do distribute to almost anywhere, and we can but do not watch things in 3D almost anywhere because ENOUGH WITH THE GODDAMN 3D ALREADY!
Do it well or not at all.
In fact, let’s just stick with that, people: do it well or don’t freaking do it. And don’t confuse doing it well with doing it the same: boys and girls will love good strong characters in leading roles regardless of whether or not they’re boys or girls, people will support two character who love each other if they love both the characters. People will love your badass longcoat regardless of race, creed, color, height, age, or species as long at they are true badass cutting an awesome silhouette in a long over coat cut from sturdy material.
Human beings like good stories, and good stories change a bit. Of course, some of this is guess work, but hey, I get it: sequels sell better, people love good franchises, big pictures make the amounts of green and hire the most people; but all of that hinges on at least a few people: A) caring about the goddamn movie they are making and B) knowing what the hell they’re doing. Just a guess.
Also, how about focus grouping how many goddamn blockbusters people are willing to put up with in one year? Or just being honest that you already know most of this — that our industry is temperamental and wee bit crazy all the time, and that we aren’t dying anymore than people who don’t have cable or satellite because Netflix, Amazon, Youtube, and Hulu stream everything they want to binge watch have stopped watching television? Radio didn’t die. Theater didn’t die. Books didn’t die. Film didn’t die.
It changes, It evolves, and you know damn well that you already know that better than anybody else. So stop it.
If, at the very least, you don’t want to change, if you’ve gotten too slow and bloated and refuse to keep up, and you want to keep thinking that it’s good business to make mediocre art with high production value that risks the net worth of a small to medium sized country on a single weekend 12 times a year, at least own it proud, and quit sniveling about it, and don’t let the ground smack you too hard when you meet it on the way down. And now, if you’ll excuse me, some of us have stories to tell.
BTW: Do you have any job openings? I could really use some steady work.