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CHANGES IN THE COLLABORATIVE NATURE OF CINEMA

By in Blog, Featured on August 6, 2009

I wrote this in response to a recent tweet from Filmmaker Magazine editor Scott Macaulay, after our NEW BREED panel on ‘Creative Collaboration’ at DIY DAYS Philadelphia.  He wrote re: our panel on creative collaboration:  “I didn’t ask panelists to define it. Isn’t all filmmaking collab? What’s diff now?”  The following is to continue the dialogue: 

 CHANGES IN THE NATURE OF COLLABORATION IN FILMMAKING

 There are presently several ascending levels to degrees in which creative collaboration occurs in the making of a film.  On one end of the spectrum, collaboration could mean a Director communicates his/her vision and the Cinematographer adjusts to make the visuals resonate.  It could be a Director and Composer in a booth changing rhythms of music.  It could mean an Actor suggesting a line on-set. These old-school forms of collaboration are obvious to all – and this is one level of collaboration.   Great films, and incredible moments in cinema have been created this way, and until recently – it perhaps only this way.

Then there is, on the other end of the spectrum – something radically different and altogether new – what I would consider a higher level of collaboration in creating cinema.  To understand this new form of interdependent collaboration, you have to step back a moment and look at how far we’ve come technologically, and more specifically, how technology has shaped and empowered the next generation of young creative collaborators.

 A BREIF HISTORY OF KIDS WITH CAMERAS

 Sabi Pictures co-founder Zak Forsman and started making films with the first generation VHS camcorders at 12.  We worked together with kids in the neighborhood and our families  – taking ideas from everyone and each other – and created the movies mostly as we went along ‘in-camera’.   After us, came a micro-generation of self-taught filmmakers who had access to video cameras as a grade-school toy.  Now, they’re cutting features on their laptops complete with graphics and special effects.  Using the technology, they’ve learned from their mistakes and they’ve learned how to tell artistic stories.  They make movies organically and without a lot of money.  Their film school is watching independent and foreign films, hours of DVD bonus features, the occasional class – but primarily, the act of doing.  They are of any age. 

MULTI-HYPHENATES: THE NEW COLLABORATORS

 This intelligent, empowered new generation of young artist/filmmakers  are the new collaborators.  They understand intrinsically how to tell stories, and make movies organically – and how to make them engaging and real despite their budget limitations.  They collaborate interdependently rather than independently – they work with each other, not ‘for’.  Their power relationships are shifted in a way that fosters a creative spirit among all.  Any one member’s contribution to whole would be greatly affected if they were not a part of the project.  They are all empowered by the directors/producers – and quite often, they are all friends (or become friends).  This collaborative filmmaking team has learned together by doing – and doing everything together – and no one would dare suggest a particular task is ‘not my job.’ 

This generation of filmmakers (emerging everywhere) feels deeply entitled to more than whatever job they apply for.   They quit jobs that do not engage them – or lose interest in films that they cannot be fully invested in.  They are all, each and every one – a potential motion picture studio unto themselves – but they work together.  For the greater picture of the Arts vs. Commerce – this is a great victory for the Arts, for these emerging artists are not hampered by anything or anyone.  With the internet as an avenue for distribution, those with the clearest and most original voices – finally have a chance.

 These serious writer/director/producer/editor/shooters  understand that creative collaboration is actually working with other multi-hyphenate filmmakers to tell a story – and to share an ever-changing organic experience that is greater than any one person’s vision.  Despite their smaller crews, homegrown style, and simplified locations  – this next generation of creative collaborators work together in a radically new and exceptionally creative way.  By listening to each other, and allowing the possibility of improvisation to occur on set (be it dramatic or comedic) – the new collaborators of today foster a spirit of creativity and free expression from all involved with the project, from the D.P. to sound mixer to the stars.  There is a greater sense of shared pride on projects of this sort, and the results are often more engaging and honest.

CREATIVE INTERDEPENDENCE

 The only way I can describe this method of collaboration is to call it Interdependent Filmmaking. The way in which interdependent filmmakers work is to tell their film with each other – despite antiquated models of hierarchy on-set.  In fact the entire model of above the line and below the line breaks-down fundamentally when collaborating on this high level.   Everyone’s contributions are equally important and under the guidance and vision of a director (whose mission is to explore character, and tell the best story possible with input from the cast and crew) and a producer (whose mission it is to be flexible to change and to create a safe atmosphere where creativity is fostered) and their interdependent team.  Everyone has their roles, but everyone’s contributions are important and valued.  The relationship between the director and the actors are emboldened by these new production practices, and there is a process of mutual discovery during the experience of making the film.  

 These new highly collaborative artist/filmmakers are too smart for one role, and one role is far beneath them – they need to be a part of the crafting experience of the film, they have a tremendous amount to offer it tapped as a resource rather than just a helping hand.  These creative collaborators are empowered by their prior experience and knowledge (regardless of age), and by creating with/for each other.  They seek surprises on-set, they strive for honesty and deep emotion on screen, and ‘real’ performances. In fact, the new stories we see emerging were always written with the intention of being made (and revised to make things possible) .  The characters are conceived with—and fleshed out by—the actors that were always intended to play them.  Creativity is happening on-set while the production is on its feet – not just in the darkness of the writer’s room or editing bay.

 EMPOWERED BY SCARCITY

 Using social networks and the internet as an inexpensive testing and meeting ground for ideas and publicity, this New Sustainable Cinema trend of smaller, more collaborative films is fully empowered by scarcity in funding rather than hampered by it.  This is an amazing thing and different than experiences of the past.  Our limitations are forcing us to tell better, more inventive, more impactful stories.  Producers arrange to shoot guerilla, with DSLR cameras.  Directors and Composers that have never met in person, score an entire film online.   Actors that really care about their craft, seek out collaborative directors that could push their creative boundaries based on seeing their work online.  These nano-budget films are not only being created collaboratively, they are marketed to communities online, with the cast and crew interacting with fans to get the film out there.  It’s from start to finish and entirely interdependent effort. 

 And what has been the result of this changing nature of collaboration?   Nothing short of a resurgence of beautifully executed, meaningful cinematic stories.  These films are emerging everywhere – and without any debate or controversy over who gets the ‘film by’ credit.

END RESULT: FILMS OF VALUE AND MEANING (PAST & FUTURE)

In a way, it’s a throwback to films that were made in an earlier time in the history of cinema where the filmmakers themselves determined which films were made (though present interdependent cinema is comprised of films radically smaller in budget, size and scope).  At the time, most everyone understood that a good film was good because it was at once entertaining, artistic and meaningful.  People went to the movies for different reasons entirely, and as an art form – it was still discovering its voice.   The films that are being polished in the editing bays of many young filmmakers all over the country continue that search.  These are filmmakers making projects that couldn’t have been possible without the help of everyone involved.  The motivating factor is to create a good story and tell it well – and by any means necessary.  And their ideal – is to put the final work in front of audiences and fans in the hopes they someday make another.  

 

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