I was going to write this up as an article for commercial publication, but frankly it's just too depressing - I don't think anyone would have touched it!
Like a lot of people who are, however peripherally, involved in the film industry, I get occasional emails (several a month, often) from people looking for internships and work experience. I don't really feel qualified to take anyone on, usually, because I do such an odd pastiche of work that it probably wouldn't train anyone toward a very specific career path. Also, doing this without paying them is a legal minefield in the UK, although I have on rare occasions taken people out for an odd day here and there on the basis that it should be done and I'm willing to take the small risk.
The main problem I find, though, when I talk to these people, is that they are often student or independent filmmakers (as if I'm not, often) who have the idea that full blown commercial filmmaking is effectively just like student filmmaking, only with more money. Let's be fair; to a large extent this is true. The upper end of indies and the lower end of commercial work cross over enormously. Many of the skills are basically the same, especially those non-technical skills which don't involve pretending to like people for one's own benefit.
But critically, there seems to be the idea that directors and writers (and editors and directors of photography and to an extent all of the creative trades) have a lot more freedom than they really do. In this sense, commercial filmmaking is utterly unlike the student-film-with-more-money ideal. There is generally no central creative (perhaps a writer-director) with overall creative control. Even if there is, he's almost always looking to financiers for permission to do things. Add on the stress of self-employment and it's clear that this student ideal of making movies to suit one's own whim while someone else pays is almost unheard-of.
The fantasy of filmmaking to which a lot of young people aspire does not exist, at least not unless you're James Cameron.
And no, I haven't only just realised this, but it's the first time I've had the will to write it all down. Awful, isn't it?
I would imagine similar sorts of fantasy's and delusions are imagined by young people in many other fields of work, for example, aspiring doctors or architects. Most students will not have the privilege of being tutored regularly by an experienced filmmaker who can relay how a current day commercial film set operates.
Fantasizing and naivety will always be a trait in the younger filmmakers trying to break into the industry. I think people that are serious about a career owe it to themselves to read up on accounts of people that have made it before. With the internet there are no excuses really. The amount of high budget behind the scenes diary's there are floating around online of top Hollywood films, its plain as day how much pressure everyone is under.
Actually I'm very cautious about reading books about established filmmakers because they are almost always written about spectacularly successful people and therefore tend to give people unrealistic ambitions. At the very least they tend to offer careers advice which is impractical for most people. Robert Rodriguez is invoked in these situations so often I've started to refer to it as the "Rodriguez Gambit". I have nothing against Rodriguez, who should be congratulated on his staggering good luck, but the idea that anyone should attempt to follow his example - which, as I say, involved enormous luck even then - is crazy.
Most people will never work on top Hollywood films; much less have any creative say in them. That role is reserved for a mere handful of people worldwide, and even then it isn't clear how much creative control they really have. The fantasy, as I say, is almost literally nonexistent.
Well, I guess I have to agree that the more money is involved, the less creative input you're allowed. But I wouldn't say that it's true for all the people who make a living out of filmmaking - I'm not sure that's what you are saying either, but I want to say it just in case.
For example, I started out in the editing department. My first internship was on a TV movie two-parters with close to a 3 million euro budget. OK, that's pretty far from an American blockbuster feature. But all the people involved in the project and that I worked with on a daily basis - the director, chief editor and assistant editor - had all the creative liberty they wanted, at least as far as the editing and final cut were concerned. Even better: I got to spend four weeks in the editing room with the chief editor and director discussing the cuts. Most of the time of course I would keep my trap shut and watch how the job was done. But every now and then the director would ask me what I thought of a particular cut or a scene after it had been altered. Me. An unpaid intern with zero credits.
I got several other jobs down the line, paid this time, as an assistant editor. The biggest one I got was on a 6-million-euro feature that had a theatrical release. Well, from what I saw and heard, the director had all the space he needed to let his creative freedom express itself. He made the movie he wanted to make. He did have the audience in mind when he was editing the film, but during the five/six months it took to get the project from the first dailies delivery to the final, mixed cut, I only saw the producers four times - and I was there every day in the main editing room - when they would come in and watch the cut then say what they thought. Nothing was ever imposed upon us as editors or upon him as a director. The producers knew he was the guy calling the shots, and any change they were in favour of would have to go through him for approval. Things were discussed and thought through between them, but never forced upon anyone. And again, both the director and the chief editor would regularly come to us - there were three of us assistant editors - and ask for our opinions on particular shots or cuts, and our "recommendations" were followed every time we managed to back them up convincingly. And who were we? Nobodies who were too happy to get experience on a feature like that one. We would have spent the six months in silence working factory-style for half of what they paid us if they had asked.
Maybe this is something that you can't find at all in Hollywood, or even the UK industry: I wouldn't know about them. Maybe you were only talking about features that have a 50+ million dollar budget. But my point is that there are people who make a living out of professional filmmaking - the chief editor on that feature I was just talking about has to turn down offers on a regular basis because of his busy schedule - and yet manage to keep the work about having their creative vision end up on the screen, and not just about meeting production imperatives and obsessing over returns on investment.
So err... I hope that somehow, that story can cheer you up in some way. But let me repeat that I agree with you if we're talking about major Hollywood productions. A lot of newcomers think that writing a screenplay that gets picked up by some studio will automatically grant them the right to do whatever they want with the picture.
Edited by Nicolas Courdouan, 26 September 2013 - 01:08 PM.
I get the impression that the situation you describe is pretty unusual, but that's not really what I was thinking about: more the studenty sort of situation where you're writer, director, editor and every other damn thing. Nobody but the Spielbergs of the world get that much control.
Apologies if I sound dense or something, but I'm not sure I got it. Do you mean a project where there is one single creative force behind all the aspects of the production (as in: the director is also the writer, the editor, the camera operator, etc.), or do you mean a project where the writer-director is at the centre of the decision-making process and calls all the shots (without necessarily being the camera operator, editor, etc.)?
If you mean the former, then absolutely yeah. I totally agree, but I also think that it's for the best. Films benefit greatly from the input of all the different people making them. When the balance is upset (the director wears blinders and wants to do everything, or the producers call all the shots) is when you start having problems.
If you mean the latter, I know for a fact that this is not a reality - as far as my limited experience in moderately-budgeted films is concerned.
This is hardly unusual to filmmaking, as someone has already pointed out. Young people growing up have big dreams that can be naive and overly ambitious. I don't think this is a bad thing. Over time your dreams become more tempered as you hone in on what makes you happy. Usually though you don't even know what you really want to do as you grow up. Most people gravitate naturally towards the most obvious professions: Rich and successful athlete, rich and successful filmmaker... Ect.
Most will not achieve the worldwide fame and immense wealth of James Cameron, or other internationally recognized directors and filmmakers. As Chris Doyle says though: You shouldn't try to be a rich and famous filmmaker, you should try to be a great artist.
And if you fall short, you may find that there is another way to be involved in the industry or in films.
Actually I'm very cautious about reading books about established filmmakers because they are almost always written about spectacularly successful people and therefore tend to give people unrealistic ambitions.
The contradiction is that the films made by idealism are the ones that last but not the ones that make a profit. The film industry is an example of market failure where every producer chases profit to the bottom
As a current filmmaking student at film school in London I have to say that the reality of film school is that we operate very much to the whims and tastes of our tutors. We work under restrictions of time, budget, delivery method and tend to have all are projects vetted and vetoed due to individual tastes or school ideology more than by practicality or artistic merit. It is very much how I imagine a major studio project would run with the tutors acting almost like the cliche of studio executives. It seems a very Hollywood system which is quite ironic considering we are in Europe and most films are made as multi nation co-productions sponsored by government bodies. I can't imagine that they try to exert too much control over the content of the films made.
I love quite a silly movie, MISTRESS, by Barry Primus (often described as a low-rent version of Robert Altman's THE PLAYER) in which the filmmakers are forced to make numerous changes to accommodate $$ men every time any of them wants to put his own mistress into the film.
At the end, the movie does not even resemble the original idea
Edited by Roman Latkovic, 26 October 2013 - 11:52 AM.