What is a filmmaker?
Friday, February 11th, 2011
With the prevalence of inexpensive digital filmmaking tools, we are seeing a sea change in the way movies are made and watched. Storytellers who previously would have no means to create a film are suddenly able to access a whole new suite of technologies that can produce stunning images, sounds, and visual effects. It’s only going to get less expensive and more accessible. The gates have been opened, and people are rushing in.
It takes talent to make a good film, and this digital revolution has made it easier for talented people to express themselves. It’s become a familiar story – a young person comes out of the blue with an astounding film that they put together on their personal computer. Talent has shown its face! Twenty years ago, a kid with a great story to tell would face an entirely different battle to put their story on a screen: searching for financing, equipment, technicians to handle that advanced gear. Now, they can get remarkably close to that level with equipment that’s sold at Best Buy, and they can learn a suite of techniques in YouTube tutorials that were traditionally traded among a handful of artisans. They’ve got something to show now, a finished film, where twenty years ago they might have had a script. Is that talented kid a filmmaker? They are on their way, but they aren’t there just yet.
A wise man once said about being an artist – “This is not a young person’s endeavor. This is for old men and women.” This man didn’t mean that young people shouldn’t consider themselves filmmakers, or pursue that goal – but that those who will succeed in this game are in it for the long haul. They see themselves as filmmakers today, and they see themselves being filmmakers until the day they die. They are committed and serious and they don’t plan on going anywhere.
Let’s look at this through the lens of another art: cooking. A lot of people love watching The Food Network. A lot of people have fancy cookwear and a great stove. They may cook wonderful, complex meals from recipes, or even invent their own delicious dishes. Are they chefs? No. They are home cooks. A chef is something more. A chef may have certifications or degrees, or a pile of awards and a number of successful restaurants, but even a 20 year old with a tamale cart and a killer palate can be a chef. The difference lies in commitment, and the distinction comes from what that commitment does to a person’s output. Chefs have committed to make food service their life. They develop techniques and tastes over a lifetime in the kitchen, and they cook with commitment and love and personal flair, just about every day. That lifestyle creates someone with passionate and personal feelings about food, with an incredible sense of flavor, with strong relationships with quality suppliers and staff. They won’t accept anything less than the best from themselves, because cooking is their life, and their natural talent has been developed into something consistent and professional, yet passionate, through daily practice. People who enjoy food migrate to the restaurants of talented chefs to taste their innovative cooking, to engage with the story those chefs have to tell. They know that restaurant will deliver something beyond what they can whip up after a long day and a trip to Whole Foods, and they expect quality every time they sit at that table.
Audiences expect the same things from filmmakers. Film is an art, an elusive one that can take a lifetime to master. Someone who has made a great short film on their first time out now has a little cachet, and may have the talent to get moving in the world of film a bit faster than others. They are on their way, but until they make that commitment to spend every day of their life in that competitive and demanding kitchen of filmmaking, they haven’t truly become filmmakers. Filmmakers dream stories and images, breathe script outlines, aspect ratios, and focal lengths. They wake up in edit bays, shoot the last f-stop of waning light at sunset, and sketch camera setups on their way to set, wether they’re in the back of a Lincoln Towncar or the back of a city bus.
It is an incredibly fun and rewarding life, but it also takes a large measure of sacrifice. You’ll know when you get there, and you’ll probably get there because it is the only thing you can see yourself doing. Don’t be discouraged though – you can get there. How? That’s easy: make films! Start making them and don’t stop. Learn from each one and set your sights on elevating your skills on the next. At first, they don’t even have to be good! If you have something to say, if you have a story to tell, and you remain committed to telling it, you’ll get there. Every chef has that memory of the time they utterly ruined a meal, and every master filmmaker looks at their early efforts and can see only the mistakes. It is commitment that will get you there. It is passion and talent and a relentless desire to explore and improve. The hours are long, but the work is quite a bit like play!
So, are you a filmmaker?
Welcome to the kitchen.