While watching Michelangelo Antonioni’s BLOW-UP recently I remembered that I never liked it, despite the fact that the Yardbirds are in it. It seems a long way from L’AVVENTURA, L’ECLISSE, LA NOTTE, IL DESERTO ROSSO, and even LE AMICHE, IL GRIDO, and CRONACA DI UN AMORE, all by the same director. Most of those films, especially the first four (which also had Monica Vitti as a common thread), changed my life in one way or another. A film that changes my life first gives me the feeling that I’m not alone. It first demonstrates that the same essence that is within me is also in some one else – namely the director. Once I understand that the film reaches down that far then I’m ready to learn from it. I must be ready, since it’s a treasure that I don’t want to squander. And it’s very personal.
I’ve also felt that way about many films by the director Andrei Tarkovsky, especially MIRROR, STALKER, NOSTALGHIA, and THE SACRAFICE. (It’s interesting that NOSTALGHIA was co-written by Antonioni’s long-time collaborator Tonino Guerra.)
For a long time I believed that people of such genius must have had no trouble finding the money to make their films. But as I read more about their lives and filmmaking experiences I learned otherwise. I learned that the shooting for L’AVVENTURA was closed down because of lack of money, and I learned how much Tarkovsky worried about getting the money to make his next movie. As I remember it, in his published diaries, it seemed that half the writing illuminated his anxiety either about finding the resources to make films, or about coping with his everyday life.
So I am reminded that the people who make the movies that change lives are no less human than I am. I remember so clearly thinking that they couldn’t be as human as me. When I was in high school Alain Resnais, director of HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR, was speaking one night at Smith College, about a hour from where I lived. Having seen and been changed by the film, I was astonished that it would be possible to be in the same room with the man who made it. My French teacher wanted to take me to hear him, but my parents wouldn’t allow it, sensing that she had an abnormally high interest in educating me about the French cinema.
And then there is the ridicule that many of them experience. I’m thinking in particular of the reception of L’AVVENTURA at Cannes in 1960. It was so derided that several critics felt moved to write a letter condemning the reception it received, and declaring that it was indeed an important film. It must not be easy to do the best one can do and find so little acceptance in the world. And to make films like these one must believe so completely in them. It must mean that the pain of rejection is all the more acute.
I started the effort to make LOST TO LOVE, after ten years of writing it on and off, by forming an LLC and looking for investors. The process of learning the process, forming the company, writing the offering, the operating agreement, and riders for various states in which I hoped to raise money, the writing of and printing of the business proposal, and distributing it and following up, took one-and-a-half years. At the end of that time I had spent a considerable amount of money on the process, and I didn’t raise any money for the film.
At one point two things happened. I attended a “no-budget” filmmaking workshop. The idea there was to look at how much money you have and make a movie for that amount. No time or money wasted on fundraising. This opened up a new way of thinking for me. Going into detail about how to make a movie on such limited funds I got a new appreciation for what “guerilla filmmaking” really is. It turned out to be much more extreme than I had imagined.
The second thing that happened was that Ryan K. Adams, a Seattle director of photography and producer, decided that LOST TO LOVE should be made on a “no-budget” basis. At the time I didn’t have the courage to spend my own money on it, which was necessary to make the film on this “no-budget” basis. But I was in the process of shedding a lot of old ideas, which was necessary to make the film, and one of them, which I will never forget from my days at NYU film school, was “never make a movie with your own money”. (I was also derided, by my teacher and film studies counselor Charles Milne, for reading Kierkegaard. He insisted I should be reading comic books if I wanted to be prepared for a career in the cinema. He might have been right, but I ended up with a second major in philosophy, which I still intend to fall back on if filmmaking doesn’t work out.)
Encouraged by Ryan’s enthusiasm, and by the fact that over the period of a few days he had begun pulling together a group of people that could actually physically get the movie made, I began to gather my courage, act completely against the grain of how I was brought up, and what I had been taught, and do what was necessary to make LOST TO LOVE—namely spend my own money.
A script consultant, Elaine Zicree, without whom I would not have been able to finish the script for LOST TO LOVE once told me, after reading the then current draft of LOST TO LOVE, that “No one at any studio will understand a word of what you write.” This statement made me laugh, but also rang true, and was both a disappointment and a badge of honor. I was becoming convinced that the only way LOST TO LOVE would be made was if I paid for it myself.
Stuart Baker, a filmmaker from Seattle, had also commented that the only way to show anyone what I intended to do as a filmmaker was to do it; that there was really no way to explain it otherwise. All these things contributed to the inexorable conclusion that I would have to do it myself, regardless of the cost to my sense of financial well-being, or my decline by other measures of well-being, comfort, or happiness.
Although it is a stressful experience, and difficult emotionally, to sacrifice to realize one’s dream or one’s destiny, the decision to do so has its rewards (although it’s often difficult to pick them out of the otherwise often moonless night of day-to-day life under these circumstances). I would do the same thing again given the same circumstances. (Although of course I would avoid spending the money that I did spend to raise money, and instead use that money to make the film.)
What are the rewards I mentioned? Sometimes I can only see them through the eyes of others who, for example, commend me for staying true to my goals and dreams for so many years. They say there aren’t many of us around (and I can see why). Sometimes it’s in the feeling that, or hope that, when someone sees LOST TO LOVE they will have a similar experience to mine (when I saw the films that mattered to me) that leaves them feeling enlivened, hopeful, and less alone. Sometimes it’s in seeing the excellent work and the heart that the actors put into their roles, and a feeling of pride in being a part of that, and a feeling that I need to honor that by doing the best job I can in finishing the film. Sometimes it’s in thinking of all of the crew members and production personnel who also gave so much to see that the film is made, and so therefore wanting to see the vision through in order to honor their work as well.
These are not very tangible rewards, but they keep me and the project moving forward in otherwise treacherously still waters.
- February 25th, 2011 - 9:53 pm