New to this blog?
Sunday, April 21, 2013
The Eternal Struggle
A couple of years back, I was thinking about the push-pull dynamics in the struggle between cinematic art and the economic imperatives that rule the film and television industry. It’s a right brain/left brain thing, and although bridging that yawning chasm often seems impossible, anyone who hopes to achieve something beyond merely making a living in the creative end of this business will have to find a way. Unfortunately, talent alone – however extraordinary – is seldom enough. Orson Welles managed to craft brilliant, ground-breaking movies, but like the hapless protagonist of “Gulliver’s Travels,” eventually found himself tied down by a studio brain trust who could never understand – and were too frightened to trust -- his protean artistic instincts.
There are plenty of big-time directors who rake in gobs of money cranking out formulaic, CGI-intensive cinematic garbage for the suburban multiplex mass-market (Exhibit A: Michael Bay), and God knows how many earnest, deeply committed film-makers living on a shoestring while shooting and editing small, intensely personal films with cheap digital equipment. Although neither is an easy road, the former is more of a logistical management task than an artistic endeavor, while the latter remains a bare-bones labor of love. But there’s a lot of territory between those two extremes, where a few writer/directors are exploring the misty gray demimonde between art and commerce by making smart, interesting movies that do well enough at the box office to keep their careers alive. *
That’s no easy balancing act, but it can be done.
It appears that Derek Cianfrance, who made a splash with Blue Valentine back in 2010, is one such director. He discusses his new film, The Place Beyond the Pines (among many other things), in a fascinating interview that recently ran on KCRW’s The Business. Whether you're still in school or are a graduate staring at the harsh realities of trying to jump-start a career, anyone interested in writing and directing movies really ought to listen – and listen carefully – to what Cianfrance has to say. He speaks with startling honesty about the tortuous path he took, the mistakes he made, and the lessons learned along the way to becoming a bankable writer/director. There is so much distilled truth in this interview about the internal battle between art and commerce, the virtues of collaboration, the importance of continuing to work no matter what the venue, medium, or subject matter, the value of finding the right people to work with, and the need for those involved in any project to “crush their egos” in support of the group effort.
Whatever you think of his films (and having seen none of them, I have no opinion on his work), Derek Cianfrance is a man who has (as we all do over the course of time) learned his lessons the hard way, via the Joe Frazier School of Higher Education. He took his licks, then got up off the canvas to stay in the fight, find his footing, and eventually prevail -- older, smarter, and mentally stronger than ever.
I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a more honest, real-world dissection of what it takes to survive, grow, and succeed as a creative artist in the film business. His story should provide hope and encouragement that those with sufficient talent and drive really can find their way to writing and directing feature films.
It that’s your goal, then do yourself a favor and listen to what Derek Cianfrance is telling you. He’s been in your shoes, and knows what it takes to get where you want to go. Neither he nor anyone else can tell you exactly how to get there – everybody has to find their own way – but if you listen and learn, you just might be able to avoid a few self-inflicted bumps and bruises on your own long and winding road through the dense labyrinth of Hollywood.
At only twenty minutes or so, this one is well worth your time – so check it out…
* To my mind, a fine example is Christopher Nolan’s Memento