Scary Movie Month 2009 has officially begun and is off to a great start. I just finished Midnight Movie, a film I wouldn't have watched if not for finding it for $1 at a garage sale while visiting my Aunt’s cottage in rural Indiana. It’s a low-budget winner of the 2008 Chicago Horror Film Festival, which starts out pretty great and then, come the third act, falls into shit.
The movie got me thinking about this Digital Revolution we’re in. George Lucas declared it would change the face cinema; the Blockbuster Bubble would break, and on account of easier and cheaper productions, viewers would begin to demand more independent, and therefore personal films.
Well, this day has come and passed, and it’s when I think of American Movie that I finally understand why. I cannot imagine having to deal with film and analog editing systems while making my first short film. Having to deal with high development costs, lighting, delayed dailies and analog editing systems seem like few of the many obstacles that would filter my passion and drive towards achieving my final product. In the end, after all of incredibly laborious work, I believe I’d always ask myself, “Was it worth it for this?” Thinking about my first short film, although I knew quite a bit on how to organize scenes and let the story flow, it was only when I was done with the project that I realized how terrible I was at writing, condensing story and visualizing the editing. I know that my next film will be better, but I also realize the inevitable consequence of hating it upon completion. After all, if a person isn’t hating their project when its done, I imagine they probably aren’t learning too much as a filmmaker.
However, its only through making more films that a person can get better, and the idea of having to go through such a horrendously laborious process back in the day of analog systems and film is enough to make me conclude that the end result would rarely be worth the labor, and that the high costs and large doubts of the next project would quickly force me into throwing in the towel. Mark Borchardt spends thousands of dollars on Coven and although I haven’t seen it, I’ve been told it's pretty bad. How could anyone continually spend extravagant amounts of money only to be disappointed in the end? It's when I think about this that I realize the pioneers of the independent FILM movement of the 70s, 80s and 90s are the true cinematic heroes; whether they made it or not, they gambled far more than any of us ever will.
This brings me to the conclusion that just because more people can make movies doesn’t mean that there will more great movies. Look at the Number One slots at the box office, easily reserved for the most high tech or visually pleasing texts (though Zombieland’s current position is impressive). All the digital revolution did was make it easier to enact highly stylized modes of storytelling. Remember the steady cam shot in Goodfellas being the be all, end of all of steady cam shots? Not anymore, since Children of Men took this method the very extreme of perfection. The same goes for special effects; nowadays, there are absolutely no limits to the imagination. Its as if we’ve reached a point of trying to replace substance with style.
Strange enough, this is in direct accordance with our present culture. In this age of instant gratification, when no one can save a dime and everyone wants everything immediately, the world of entertainment maintains the same principles. Think of youtube; commonly if a video is longer than two or three minutes people will avoid watching it. In terms of children’s books, there are now super-short stories less than ten pages long. Reality shows allow us to avoid the bore of day to day life and witness the interesting portions.
All the digital revolution achieved was catering to the arenas in which its quickness and durability would benefit audiences. Thus, reality shows, youtube, and porn have all adopted the technologies successfully while George Lucas’s prediction of a new generation of independent filmmakers has failed.
The problem is that while a thousand people might be able to get their project completed, there are still only a handful of people who can actually tell stories. Just as literature could not rely upon laptops and the Internet in order to discover new voices, we cannot foolishly believe that better technologies necessitate better stories.
Whether spending thousands of dollars and countless years on a project, or minimal money and days on a project, it all comes down to the story, and if it’s terrible from its inception, it will be terrible upon completion. While Mark Borchardt had enough determination and drive for thirty moviemakers, his movie simply could not deliver through its inadequate and contrived story. Midnight Movie and other low-budget movies should be an inspiration to us all. If this terrible horror film can get financed, then maybe, in order to achieve develop a voice, we should all forget HOW we’re going to shoot our stories and focus on WHAT we’re going to be shooting.
The film revolution will never come from technology, but from an era in which our studies expand beyond the walls of film school. In the last hundred years film has undergone an immense change, from suggestive sex to oral sex, from no blood to fetishized violence. I have full faith that if people watch enough films they will see and absorb the proper way to make a film; there is no need to teach the 180 rule, parallel editing or the three-act structure when these rules could be learned through an individuals passion for watching films. What is needed is a change to the story itself, a way in which to deepen what has thus far been told countless times before. STORIES have only changed due to the modern technologies which have allowed STYLE to change. It's through the meticulous visual austerity of Kubrick, Scrosese, Hitchcock, Cuaron and numerous other directors, along with watered down censorship, that stories are reaching the peak of HOW they can be told. What is needed now is a focus upon WHAT is being told; thorough examinations of philosophical, scientific and psychological ideas in order to provide expert commentary on new and revolutionary stories. Instead of film aficionados pretentiously calling out stolen shots, they will begin calling out stolen ideas, themes and characters. If scholars are going to seriously analyze film in terms of feminist, sociological, psychological and philosophical ideas, then filmmakers should approach and include these topics with an equal degree of seriousness.