Further analysis of the movies we have seen throughout the module, and the making process of each one of them, reveals how challenging filmmaking is, both producing-wise and from the director’s point of view. Independent filmmakers, through many years, have been struggling to make a living out of their art, whilst thousands of obstacles occur in the production, that affect their creative vision. In order to prove my thesis, I would like, in particular, to address the problem by presenting three, out of many, relevant examples: Living in Oblivion, Bonnie and Clyde and The Five Obstructions, which I consider strongly appealing in the subject.
Tom DiCillo's 1995 film Living in Oblivion is an amusingly honest portrayal of how low budget movies are being made, whereas making of the film is very interesting in itself. The movie tells a story of a small, amateurish crew, struggling to make a film with small resources they have access to. According to the director’s diary, Living in Oblivion and Eating Crow, this description perfectly maps the actual process of making Living in Oblivion. Referring to the diary, there were two factors that inspired the director in making the film. In the conversation with an old friend, who admired the perspective of working on film sets, DiCillo describes his realistic vision of it. “You might be all ready for the scene, (…) and out of nowhere a light goes off, a car radio comes on, someone sneezes. And that moment you had-that fragile rare moment of truth-is gone forever. It’s a nightmare.” (DiCillo, Faber & Faber, 1995). The second consideration came from watching a 1991 documentary, Heart of Darkness, about making of Apocalypse Now, which is when he realised that no matter how hard and exhausting the process of making a film may seem to be, the outcome is priceless. It is worth pointing out that Apocalypse Now, on the other hand, is a valid example of how having too much money for the production is not necessarily better than not having enough. “We were in the jungle, there were too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane.” said Francis Coppola at the Cannes Film Festival in 1979. In the documentary he calls the movie a $20,000,000 disaster and talks about going insane and having suicidal thoughts throughout the production (Heart of Darkness 1991). DiCillo admits he was “overwhelmed by the lush, lyric beauty they had created from this chaos” (DiCillo, Faber & Faber, 1995). Having seen Apocalypse Now, I could not believe myself, how he managed to achieve anything on the chaotic set. Due to those two factors he came up with the idea for a short film and presented it to his close friend, Catherine Keener, who immediately agreed to participate in the project. Thus, with a budget of $35,000, a 16mm camera and a bunch of friends, he planned a five-day shoot, in which not only did everyone agree to work for free, but each one of them put some money for the film. Last but not least, DiCillo talks about “the interplay between illusion and reality”, that he has created whilst making the movie. He was fascinated with the image of having two cameras facing one another, each having its own crew, which created what he calls “a gigantic, living mirror image”. Despite of all the issues, DiCillo admits how enjoyable the production of Living in Oblivion, in fact was. Working with a small crew with no restrictions turned out to very convenient, as neither time nor money was a reason to be stressed about. Ironically, technicians ended up teaching actors how to do their job. Some of the unrehearsed, improvised acting, with spontaneous suggestions from the director, turned out to be good enough for one take. “This atmosphere created the most efficient and exciting set I’ve ever been on” he says (DiCillo, Faber & Faber, 1995). In his book, Tom DiCillo points out major issues he came across when making and, most importantly, distributing his movie. He proves how important it is to make the ‘right’ decisions, yet you never know, whether any brilliant opportunity escapes you when you refuse one offer in favour of a seemingly better one.
The following, second movie of my choice is an example particularly interesting in terms of its preproduction. Seldom do we hear stories told from a writer’s point of view, who struggles to find a great director willing to make a movie written by an amateur. “Well here we were: an idea for a movie, a love of movies, a sense of the kind of picture we wanted to write and absolutely no knowledge at all of the movie business” said David Newman and Robert Benton in their book on making of Bonnie and Clyde (Wake, Faber & Faber, 1998). In 1960s those two American, at that time inexperienced screenwriters, wrote a highly influenced by the French New Wave script based on a legend of a couple of criminals, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Given that the writers were strongly inspired by Francois Truffaut’s oeuvre, he became the first person, to whom they would entrust the script. Luckily, they happened to know a woman, who put them in touch with the French director. As soon as he read the treatment and he gave them “first, his enthusiasm, second, his knowledge, and third, his problems in scheduling” (Wake, Faber & Faber, 1998). Despite that, they never gave up and decided to go to East Texas in order to seek for the locations, talk to people who knew the real Bonnie and Clyde and listen to the original language, so they could insure absolute accuracy in the dialogue. They met a lot of interesting people, some of whom claimed that Bonnie and Clyde were not violent at all and newspapers done them, whilst others remembered an expression of violence from a young age. Due to Truffaut’s suggestion they then got in touch with another French New Wave genius, Jean-Luc Godard, who immediately endorsed the script and agreed to make the movie.
However, his approach caused precariousness in producers, as he wanted to make it in three weeks and did not care even about going to Texas. According to him “if it happened in life, it can happen in a movie”, no matter where they would film it. Therefore, the script went to the drawers many times and there was a point in the preproduction when they all nearly gave up. “Our producers, who were trying to the best of their ability to get the project going and who never lost faith, mirrored our depression. All was lost.” (Wake, Faber & Faber, 1998).
Not until Truffaut suggested the idea to Warren Beatty, whom he considered to be perfect for the role of Clyde, have they moved on with the process. The actor not only became interested in the idea as a leading star, but as a producer as well. He approached various American directors, all of whom refused to undertake the role. Even though the producer insisted on Arthur Penn taking the opportunity, he had turned the writers down many times before. “If i have to, I’ll lock myself in a room with him and I wont let him until he says yes” doggedly claimed Beatty, and so thanks to his stubbornness, he managed to convince Penn. The director took over the initiative and successfully made the movie, which as far as the writers are concerned turned out to be exactly how they wanted. ”Once there is a director, he is the boss. The absolute boss. And so it should be.” the writers claim to have learnt a relevant lesson on movie business, “Ultimately, his vision becomes the primary one. Always, the worth of the final picture stands or falls on his ability” (Wake, Faber & Faber, 1998).
Unlike my two previous examples, for some filmmakers the process of making a film is not that straightforward and is not necessarily about avoiding obstacles but imposing them to oneself. In 1995 Lars Von Trier, together with Thomas Vinterberg, created an avant-garde filmmaking movement, the Dogme 95 Manifesto and the Vow of Chastity. The document was a list of visual and technical rules to be followed in making a film. Its purpose was a game, in which director is forced to come up with creative solutions to problems posed by limitations. Twenty eight years before that, in 1967, Jørgen Leth made a documentary named “The Perfect Human”, which became an ultimate inspiration to Lars Von Trier. In 2003 both directors made a documentary, “The Five Obstructions”, which is a perverse game between them. Von Trier, out of admiration, challenges his mentor to remake the masterpiece by flowing the given rules. The film presents an amusing role reversal, where the apprentice surpassed his master. Lars Von Trier, anchored by Jørgen Leth’s documentary and challenges him to remake it, following an indisputable set of rules. Those controversial restrictions are meant to urge the documentarist to come up with creative ideas that are good enough to satisfy his competitor. Even though Lars is not always entirely happy with the outcome, he remains on a hiding to nothing. It is an endless battle between a pair of talented individuals but they still have to fight it to prove their points to each other. “As we all know it is the attacker who exposes himself.” admits Von Trier at the end of the film (The Five Obstructions 2003). Ultimately, the mischievous game is a lesson to both artists, as they discover to be equal to one another, despite their diversity in style.
One of the biggest disadvantages of independent films is the fact that, as soon as you lose the audience attention, you lose the opportunity of making another film ever again. Truth be told, independent filmmakers are very dependent on the audience and critics. Not only is it difficult to young inexperienced people, such us myself and my colleagues, but it is a huge challenge, that every producer, director or writer, even the successful ones, goes through every day of his career.
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