Thursday, February 28, 2013

Making sense of it all

It's been a busy two months. I sent out some screener copies of Saberfrog, and have gotten a couple reviews – a very positive one from a German site called Search My Trash, and a rather more mixed review from Film Threat.

Getting that kind of public feedback for the movie has been a big shot in the arm. In the years since I started this blog, I've sometimes filled the slower months with blog posts about semi-related topics about filmmaking, discussions of movies that had some indirect kinship with Saberfrog, and the occasional flat-out rant about things that were bugging me about my generation and/or modern culture in general.

In hindsight, it seems like the plot of Saberfrog, and the writing, production and release of the movie, has been part of a larger effort to make sense of, adapt to, the world that's very different from the one I knew in my 20s. Over these past few years I've witnessed the rise of transmedia, the demise of Borders and classic Final Cut Pro, and a general shift from a world of sensitive artsy loners who were philosophical about art and filmmaking to a slicker, snarkier, hyper-social, on-demand world where there's more competition for attention and eyeballs.

I think the biggest shift of all has been the shift from a culture of analog media to a culture of digital media. People my age learned to embrace the scratchiness of a 16mm film screening, the grubbiness of a VHS bootleg, the mustiness of a used paperback. I remember “watching” scrambled pay channels that still let you listen to the sound even if the picture was garbled. I even remember fiddling with a TV aerial to try to pick up snowy, distant transmissions from stations in faraway cities.

It's not that those days were better, necessarily. It's just that we folks of a certain age learned to associate those kinds of analog artifacts with authenticity. Knowing that a work of art had some miles on it, or survived in only compromised quality, made it seem more rare and valuable somehow. Every counterculture aesthetic – from the hippies to the punks to the grunge slackers – embraced the idea that dirt and distortion and rawness made things cool.

But that was an analog attitude, and we're in a digital age now. There are no garbled or snowy TV channels – either you get a channel or you don't get it at all. People still like movies, but they're not held on a pedestal anymore. Movie theaters aren't these sacred cathedrals where you go to worship the art of cinema – they're just one of many possible outlets where a piece of “content” will become available. You can still make a low-budget movie, but you're no longer a one-of-a-kind hero for doing so, and if you do it's not supposed to have the bedraggled Clerks aesthetic – now it has to be shot on a DSLR and look like an Oscar-winning Hollywood cinematographer shot it in order to stand out as a professional production amid all the kittens playing piano. As a fellow producer recently put it, when you submit a movie to a festival nowadays, “you're competing against high school kids with cell phones.”

Saberfrog didn't seem like that weird a movie when I wrote it or shot it, because my head was still in the analog era, when people reached into their soul and pulled up something strange and raw and personal because that's what they had to do and because that's what independent film audiences were looking to see.

But perhaps it's a good thing that I didn't know any better, or I might not have made the movie. No matter how much the world changes, I think there will always be a need for people who see things differently, who have the guts/craziness/courage/foolishness to do what other people aren't doing. At the very least, it shows other people that such things are possible.

Sometimes, like Josh in the movie, I have an internal debate raging in my head. I wonder whether making low-to-no-budget movies is still worth the trouble, what kind of movies I should be making in today's world, whether there's a big enough audience for the kind of movies I believe in, and whether I have enough of the huckster instinct that it seems to take to promote yourself nowadays. But somehow I always end up coming to the same conclusion: Just do what you believe in.

And every effort opens doors. You end up going places you otherwise wouldn't have gone, and meeting people you otherwise wouldn't have met. And as easy as it is to get confused about where our online culture is headed, with all that crowding and diversity, you have to remember that no one is consuming all of it, that there are still niches, and that if you're smart and persistent then you can find the folks who get it.

I've been doing a lot of writing in the past couple months, and I'm plotting what my next project will be. It might be connected to Saberfrog in some way, or it might be something new with completely different characters. There's life in Saberfrog yet, but I'll probably be switching my energies to a new project in the next couple months. And I hope that those of you who've followed the Saberfrog journey this far will join me on the next journey as well.

Stay tuned …

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