Filmmaking: Business or Personal?

By Andy Herren

I entered the Union’s Pine Lounge for the second morning in a row, ready for another great panel discussion and ready to see hordes of old people. The elderly were out again in full force, but I was also pleasantly surprised to see a friend my age at the event. Don’t get me wrong, we were two of about four young people at the discussion, so the over-the-hill crowd still dominated.

Today’s discussion was about the business and personal sides to filmmaking, and how business stifles creativity to a devastating degree. While the discussion yesterday was optimistic and full of the hope and love necessary to make films, today’s discussion was much darker and more pessimistic. The panel was full of seasoned veterans of film, and they were not afraid to emulate the state of crisis that the motion picture industry is in today. Hollywood executives call all the shots in the motion picture industry, the panel explained, and in doing so artistic expression and true filmmaking is lost.

Director Paul Schrader, who also wrote the scripts for Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, stated that “In five years there will be little left of the film industry as we know it.” He also proclaimed how “the multiplexes are starting to resemble mortuaries. You walk in and see what’s on the slab that week.” Schrader expressed his genuine concern that movies are not being seen, and his hope that the internet could change that. The panel all agreed that if movies are shown on the internet and cable when they can’t reach theaters, the film industry could still celebrate artistic expression rather than only presenting audiences with images that Hollywood executives are bankable.

Actor Joe Pantoliano, most notably known for his role on The Sopranos, was a breath of fresh air as he remarked, “It’s not about theatrical release anymore. It’s about getting people to see your movie. Marcia [Gay Harden] and I were partners in that we did not charge [Canvas director Joseph Greco] for our services.” An actor who cares not about making money but about making quality films for audiences to see is a rarity, and I wanted to hug Pantoliano for expressing such a sentiment. I approached him after the discussion, and his passion was still evident, as he urged me to get my friends to see Canvas and spread the word that it is a moving, important film.

Journalist David Poland revealed some dark truth about contemporary Hollywood when he talked of how “Fox Searchlight and Focus Features put out the independent image, and everyone thinks of them as such, yet in doing so these studios spend millions to put their films in theaters. True independents cannot do this.” The panel discussed true independent films, and stressed that the current generation of moviegoers is more interested in watching big budget movies on iPods than on going to see independent movies in the theater. I was upset by this, because I am in the generation they spoke of, yet I think that anyone who watches movies on their iPod is an idiot. I cherish going to the movies, and I know there are many people out there who are my age and feel the same way.

Panel discussion number two was definitely a downer, but it was still captivating. I made another friend today, too, as I sat in the crowd. A middle-aged man who had wanted to go to the festival for years but never made it sat down next to me, and as we discussed the films I got the sense that he was genuinely as excited to be at the discussion as I was. Films strike a chord with every generation, and great films have an audience who is hungry for them, as evidenced by myself, my middle-aged friend, and all my elderly homies at the discussion today.