What is Cinema?
This is a discussion that often leads to a lot of moaning and eye-rolling. It’s difficult to talk about without being called pretentious. But it shouldn’t be because objectively, there is a difference between entertainment and art.
Martin Scorsese was asked what he thinks of Marvel films, to which he responded, “Superhero films are like theme park rides.” He is not saying that these movies are bad, he’s just stating the fact that these movies are made with the sole purpose of entertaining the audience. The most important distinction between these so-called “popcorn-eating films” and “cinema” is that these box office hits are made by committee. There is not a singular voice, a human being, who has crafted the film from script to screen. Rather, movies like Fast and Furious or The Avengers are made in a room full of people trying to figure out how they can best manipulate the emotions of their audience.
That being said, in the last decade or so, within Hollywood and the studio system, there has been a switch. More and more big studios are putting their money behind action-packed, thrilling adventures, and less money into filmmakers who are trying to make art. Because there is less support from the Hollywood production companies, filmmakers who want to make “cinema” are forced to find new avenues.
If you are a filmmaker wanting to share your personal stories and artistic visions with the world, there are a few different paths that you can take. Some people are turning to new platforms altogether. Opposed to the traditional form of a film, these creators are using spaces like YouTube to create content that is not film, but that equally fulfills their artistic aspirations. Another option comes with the surge of independent film production companies. Companies like Annapurna, A24, LuckyChap, are all helping to put out amazing work that I personally find very reflective of individual voices and human creators.
Then comes the scariest option of all. Do it all yourself. Find a community of other filmmakers who are as excited and passionate as you are and make it happen. To quote the incredible Martin Scorsese again, “Make your own Industry.” By doing this you are not only giving yourself power over your destiny, but you are also providing yourself and your work freedom that you might not get otherwise. With the emergence and incredible advancement of the internet, there is ample opportunity to connect with people on a global scale. Therein lies nearly infinitely many possibilities which you can work with.
Using the tools provided to you, you can connect with a community of filmmakers, fund projects on a donation basis, and even distribute your own content with the possibility of making a profit. You can build a following. Find the people who you want to share your voice with, and now, instead of breaking your back trying to get yourself into the office of a studio head, not only have you just made your own film, but you have proved that your voice is missing from the conversation in Hollywood (and needed). You have proved that people are willing to stand behind and even financially back the art that you are trying to make. And if the traction is there, this proof can propel you to larger and larger platforms to ultimately share your films with an even wider audience.
Growing up, I was the youngest kid out of all of my cousins. When they would play games or go places, oftentimes I would be left out. It wasn’t to be mean, but I wasn’t big enough, old enough, strong enough, the list goes on and on. However, the most satisfying feeling is when I would figure out how to improve myself in whatever activity they were partaking in, and then I’d prove myself worthy of being included. On my own time, free of judgment or criticism, I could work on my skills. I had the freedom to be as bad, as weak, as young as I was, and through the freedom, I was more capable of honing in on my abilities. This same life experience is applicable to filmmaking.
If you are miraculously given an opportunity to make a film with a big studio right off the bat, you are learning in a pressure cooker. With filmmaking, similar to many other professions, the best way to learn how to do it, is by simply doing it. The wise Mike Nichols once said, “You only get to know what you’re not doing once, so don’t miss It.”
When you are first starting out as a filmmaker, the mistakes you make are critical to your development and your learning experience. It is the mistakes, the questions, and the subsequent solutions that will shape the creator that you become. If you feel like you don’t have the freedom to fail, you are missing out on some of the most important lessons of your career. This is just another benefit to making your own industry. You can fail, you can crash, you can burn, and you can do so freely and with the ever-present knowledge that these mistakes aren’t deviations from the path, but rather you building a path beneath yourself to ultimately achieve your goals.
I propose to all of the members here at Swila, let this community be a tool that you can use to propel yourself. Use the weekly exercises to hone your craft as a writer. Share other screenplays you are working on. Get excited about films and what makes cinema so important to you. And most importantly, meet people who are on the same rocky path that you are. Get feedback. Give feedback. Create with others. Let’s work together. Let’s make mistakes.
Let’s make our own industry.
Always be writing.
Tell better stories.
Never give up.